All Posts By

Ellen Slater

When You Shouldn’t Listen to Your Group Fitness Instructor

group fitness instructor

Group fitness classes can give you a fantastic workout and be ridiculously motivating and fun, too. And group fitness instructors are often their own breed of superhero, teaching and encouraging students of all fitness levels with seemingly endless energy.

A good group fitness instructor can make or break a class, much as a good professor can in college. If you’ve hated every yoga class you’ve ever been to, but then you go to one with an instructor you love, you might no longer be able to say you hate yoga. If you are an avid runner, but you go to a spinning class with a great teacher, you might just be convinced to switch up your cardio on occasion.

group fitness instructorSo, to preface everything else, group fitness instructors are freaking awesome – and I don’t just say that because I am one.

But as great as they are, and as much as they know what they’re talking about, sometimes it is better if you don’t listen to them.

Huh? Let me explain.

After a cycling class a few weeks ago, another somewhat discouraged student and I were talking to the instructor. See, one of the premises of these classes is who “wins” based on “points” that are calculated by some combination of calories burned, resistance used, and speed.

The other student was another young woman, about my size. That is, we are both pretty lean and on the low side of average height. When we were talking to the instructor about how we were frustrated that we couldn’t “win” class, she sympathized, because she is in the same situation in any class she takes. Simply, a smaller person burns fewer calories in general, so small female me expecting to out-ride a 6’3″ guy according to these points is not going to happen.

So, since the instructor knew this feeling, she also had some solid advice for combatting it. She told us to set our own goals for classes and (respectfully) ignore anything an instructor says that gets in the way of those goals.

How freaking simple, right?

No matter what setting you are in, whether you’re being led by a group exercise instructor or a personal trainer or an online workout program, you are the one in control of your workouts.

solo exerciserIf you go into a spinning class and just want to let your legs fly and rack up the miles, you can choose to skip the heavy hills and just go faster. If you head into a fast-paced vinyasa yoga class and realize that what you need is an extended savasana, you can lie on your mat and chill out instead of going through ten sun salutations and a host of inversions. And if you want to go to a lifting class and you know that adding weight to your bar is going to make you feel worse instead of better today, you can choose to lift a lighter, even if your instructor invites you to really test your limits.

Instructor’s note: If you want to do your own thing, please do take a spot in the back of the room so newcomers aren’t distracted by you in the front row doing something completely different than what I’m saying.

You don’t have to test your limits every day. Your group fitness instructor’s goals won’t always match your own, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you can’t take group fitness classes; it just means you need to get comfortable with doing your own thing and taking responsibility for your fitness.

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A Must-Read Message for All Health and Fitness Extremists

balance

Fitness so readily lends itself to extremes. For many people, it seems like you either spend the day on the couch with chips and ice cream or you schedule all of your workouts and prep all of your meals so you can be the “most fit”. But both of those strategies backfire quickly, and finding the right balance can be a serious challenge. Once you get moving, your fitness-loving instincts whisper, “More is better,” and, “That’s not good enough,” even when you’re exhausted and need a day to rest or are tired of your leftover roasted veggies. But the funny thing is, more exercise and vegetables aren’t necessarily better – and are often unhelpful. 

If you always work out more, you will probably overtrain. If you eat the same thing every single day, you will probably miss out on social activities (and a whole bunch of nutrients in other food). And if you never rest, you will probably burn out, lose your motivation, and then need a lot more rest to recover.

But you don’t want to lose your progress. You don’t want to sit down and realize how comfortable it is and never get up. So, you keep going, all while wishing in the back of your mind that you could just chill the heck out and figure out what balance actually means. That’s why you’re reading this.*

*This advice is solely from personal experience and intended for people who might be looking for a little reassurance or guidance. If you feel like this advice is impossible to implement in your life and you have a more serious problem, please reach out to professionals who can help you overcome addictions or eating disorders. 

If you can’t imagine a day without a killer workout…

… Try taking your gym time one day to go for a leisurely walk with a friend or a podcast, or spend that time foam rolling and stretching.

For me, getting some blood flowing feels good. It wakes me up. I like talking to the gym workers in the morning. It’s a very positive routine. But I used to feel like if I was making the effort to go to the gym, I might as well become a sweaty mess while I was there.

After months of this, the initial boost of energy my workouts gave me started fading into a serious mid-morning crash, so I started to reconsider my everyday workouts. Spending that time once or twice a week moving in a gentler way felt really good. Nothing changed dramatically about the way I look, but if it had, it would have come with a healthier mindset, so that would have been #worthit. 

If you often don’t let yourself give into your cravings…

… Eat a little every day (or every few days). If you make a food a staple of your diet, you know it’s always going to be there and you don’t need as much of it. My example? Protein bars. I kid you not – I really enjoy protein bars that much. If I don’t have one for months, as soon as I get my hands on one, I want ten. And… they don’t take up that much stomach space, so I can totally eat ten. But if I have one every day, or every few days, even though they aren’t necessarily the healthiest, I don’t ever feel like I need ten.

So, if you want a little chocolate or pizza or ice cream, try having a little – regularly.

When you tell yourself you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, your cravings don’t have as much control over you.

If you feel guilty when you aren’t “being productive”…

… Change your definition of “productivity”. For example, I recently started reading for pleasure (almost) every night. I’m not reading for school or professional development. I could be blogging or practicing yoga or cleaning some part of my house. But I sit down, turn off my electronics, and read. I used to feel so guilty about this, but then I decided it is productive.

How? Well, it relaxes me before bed and helps me fall asleep more easily. Otherwise, I would probably get sucked into Instagram and Facebook and some comparison trap, and then I’d go to bed feeling bad about myself and thinking about all the ways I’m not as good as every person on social media. And then I wouldn’t sleep, my body wouldn’t recover from my workouts as well, and I’d feel bad the next day, too.

Do you feel guilty when you go to bed early because you could be doing things? Well, you’re giving your body the chance to repair itself from whatever stress it is under. Do you skip stretching or avoid yoga because they don’t burn a bunch of calories? Well, they do increase your mobility and making your future workouts easier. Do you love to write but always neglect it because you’re never going to publish a novel? When you write, you’re developing communication skills and probably enjoying yourself, though. Isn’t that productive?

The Disclaimer

None of these methods are foolproof, but they serve as good guides with actionable steps to help you overcome your all-or-nothing mentality. You’ll probably still work out too much occasionally or eat eight brownies when you meant to eat one. You might still overextend yourself. All of that is okay – life is as much about balance in general as it is about balancing moderation and extremes. You learn from all the things you didn’t want to happen, and you’ll know how to handle the situation next time. Be gentle with yourself.

Check out these articles too:

Your Health Matters, and Fitness Can Help

back to school blowout

If you hang out with other fitness-minded people, you’re probably used to a frequent exchange of killer workouts and green juice recipes. If you get into that health bubble enough, it can even be hard to remember that not everyone lives that lifestyle. In fact, if I listen around campus, I hear people joke all the time about their unhealthy lifestyles.

“I’m 22. I know I should be in the best shape of my life, but I can’t stop smoking, drinking, and eating Easy Mac.”

“Same, honestly.”

No judgment from me. Really. Processed foods are designed to taste good, and for many, smoking and drinking are social activities. Friends are important to your health, too, and I’m not suggesting you ditch them exclusively for people who go spinning at 5am and eat bowl after bowl of roasted veggies. But maybe take your Easy Mac and add some carrots on the side.

fitness fit in Maybe you go for a drink with your friends after you take a yoga class together. Maybe you go for a walk instead of taking the subway every time. It’s not about overhauling every area of your life. No, it’s about finding little ways to make the life you love healthier.

And you’re never in too ‘bad’ of a place to start.

“Wow. I just got winded taking a shower because it was more activity than I’ve done in weeks.”

“Do you want to go to the gym with me?”

“Nah, I’m too out of shape.”

It can be hard to change your routine. And if you think everyone else knows what they’re doing, you’re dead wrong. Going to the gym can be scary.

You also don’t have to go. If you feel too out of place there, go for a walk. Go rock climbing if that sounds more fun. Or, ask some fit friends to help you out. Even if they aren’t experts, they have a little experience and will probably be happy to help you on your health journey.

You don’t want to go it alone; health can be intimidating. If you aren’t the person who hits the gym regularly and meal preps religiously, you might feel put off because it seems like a lot of work. I get it. Even though I am that person, sometimes it still gets to be overwhelming. That’s what happens when you try to do it all.

But here’s the thing: You do not have to do it all. You don’t even have to do a lot. Well, really, you don’t have to do anything. Still, I hope you do. Not for me, but for you – and your future self.

Confused?

We don’t always do a good job of emphasizing why fitness actually matters. A lot of the time it seems like we are blindly chasing #bodygoals or the next PR. We want to run faster, lift heavier, and get leaner. 

health matters battle ropesWhat if you could forget all that? I want you to try. Not because being fast or crazy strong are bad goals; sometimes they’re great.

Rather because at the most basic level, fitness is about health. It’s about making your quality of life better – and speed, super strength, or a low body fat percentage can’t really accomplish that.

But the extra steps you take to live a healthier life might. Strength training a few times a week might make moving out of your apartment that much easier. Eating fresher food might make your skin clearer or boost your energy. Going for a walk might just make it more enjoyable to run around with your dog.

health run with dog

Your health is not a joke and it matters way more than your physique – and you don’t have to make huge changes to improve it. A little fitness goes a long way.

Check out these articles too:

I Stopped Buying into the Idea of “Breakfast Foods”

Growing up, I was pretty married to the idea that there are designated “breakfast foods”. Things like cereal, pancakes, bagels, donuts, fruit, and sometimes eggs were my conception of what people eat for breakfast. Chicken and vegetables before noon? No way.

I laugh at my younger self now, because my standard quick breakfast is a bowl of roasted or steamed veggies, an avocado, and some turkey or salmon.

breakfast foods - avocado turkey broccoliWith a little food prep, it’s super fast, and it holds me over for several hours thanks to the balanced nature of the meal.

Other days, I’ll have a sweet potato with chicken and guacamole. And, yeah, sometimes I still have cereal and Greek yogurt or pancakes with almond butter and chocolate chips. 

What does this have to do with anything? It’s about the food rules we create for ourselves, either intentionally or by nature of the society in which we live. We tell ourselves we can only eat some foods at certain meals or eat at certain times of the day, simply because that’s how things are done. The problem is that doesn’t leave much room for listening to your body and figuring out what really works best for you.

Admittedly, pre- and post-workout nutrition is a little more specific. However, your body doesn’t have a timer to stop you from eating cauliflower first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed. Some days, that might sound good. Others, it might not. Your job is just to listen.

I honestly started making my breakfast a little more like a normal lunch or dinner when I started Whole30, because most of the usual “breakfast foods” are simply not allowed by the plan and a girl can only eat so many eggs. Ultimately, Whole30 wasn’t for me, but I did notice that I felt pretty great after a more lunch-y breakfast. So, I kept at it – not as a rule, but as an experiment that happened to go really well. Personally, I feel satisfied after a breakfast that isn’t sweet or all that carb-heavy. I’m ready to get on with my day, no sugar cravings in sight.

Similarly, I know that after my evening yoga classes, one of the most satisfying things for me is Paleo “oatmeal”, which is on the sweeter side.

breakfast foods - paleo oatmealWhile I was always a fan of “breakfast for dinner” as a kid, that’s not how I see it now. It’s not “breakfast for dinner”. It’s just dinner.

The same goes if I want pancakes or a bowl of cereal for lunch after class, or a bowl of carrots and tahini at 9am, or a massive cookie at 4pm.

All my food meets the same standards now: delicious, nourishing, and exactly what I want.

Check out these articles too:

When Instagram Eats Are Excessive

instagram eats

Let me start off by saying that my Instagram account is dominated by food. I’ll throw in a flat lay, fitness pic, or my dog once in a while, but mostly… food.

Why? It’s pretty and I love it. I like eating it, I like cooking it, and on a stressful day, my food probably looks a little more together than I do. Just being honest.

And you know something? I love Instagram. I have friends from Instagram I’ve never met in real life. I adore getting foodie and fitness inspiration from other people who are interested in wellness. Instagram honestly gives me opportunities I would not have without it. Technology is awesome.

But, of course, there’s a “but”. Actually, there are several.

The Bowl Topped with the Contents of Whole Foods

I love toppings. My salads better be a whole lot more than just lettuce, and my smoothie bowls will usually have some granola, nuts, and fruit on top. That’s not what I’m talking about. No. I’m talking about the yogurt that is topped with two different protein bars, an ocean of nut butter, an avocado, five bananas, a fried egg, a deluge of cacao nibs, a sprinkle of whatever superfood powder was on sale, and a bag of granola. Am I exaggerating? Only about the five bananas. (It’s more like two.) 

Is that bowl pretty? If you do it right, maybe.

However, it’s also something I am almost positive no one was doing before they cared how pretty their food looked. First, how can you taste any one of those components when they’re all competing for your tastebuds’ attention? Second, as much as I adore lots of food and healthy fats, it’s hard to believe that your average person is eating that much food at any one meal. That’s the sort of bowl that looks ultra healthy to the untrained eye, but is probably more than the average active person needs. If that’s really what you’re eating, cool. If that works for you, great. But if you’re posting it simply because it’s stunning and over-the-top, maybe mention that in your caption.

The Macro-Friendly #FoodPorn

Instagram practically explodes every time there is a new processed fit food that is supposed to be as good as dessert. I am as in love with protein-packed “ice cream” and the occasional protein bar or cookie as the next person. If you love it and eat it, post it. 

But please, recognize it for what it is. It’s a stand-in for the sugarier, fattier, more caloric version of dessert. Is it healthier? That depends on what your goals are. If you’re scared to eat Ben & Jerry’s, so you’re subbing it for Arctic Zero… rethink that restrictive mindset. If you just like Halo Top sometimes or it sits better with your stomach, there’s nothing wrong with that. I can relate.

instagram food pornAnd for the love of all that’s good in food, don’t top Halo Top with a Pop-Tart, six Oreos, a Quest Bar, and zero-calorie chocolate syrup… unless all that really tastes great to you. I can’t say I’ve ever tried it, but I’ve had all those things individually and while I guess it looks impressive, I really can’t imagine it tastes great. 

The Barely-A-Snack Meal

We all have different fueling needs. It depends on your personal chemistry, your activity, what you’re planning on doing tomorrow, and how much you slept last night, among 5392 other things. I’ve unintentionally been the person who doesn’t eat enough all day and doesn’t think much of it, only to be starving at night. Don’t be that person. Don’t eat spinach, a carrot, and two slices of turkey for lunch or a single egg with half an apple for breakfast.

On a different note, if this is you and you’re struggling with the idea of eating more, reach out for help here.

The Every Superfood in Existence Smoothie

As a foodie and fitness lover, I have jumped on more health trends than I care to admit. I love collagen, I feel best when I eat mostly Paleo, and I add maca and nutritional yeast to all sorts of foods.

But here’s the catch: I don’t think you need any of those things to be healthy. I just like them. 

instagram smoothieIf you see an Instagrammer adding six types of mushrooms, eight herbs, collagen, cacao butter, and three potions you can’t pronounce to your smoothie, you might feel like you have to do that. You absolutely do not. I love it when people admit that, but all too often, they make all that extra stuff seem vital. Those things are fun, and probably not unhealthy, but they are not necessary and anyone who tells you differently is lying. Those all cost a pretty decent amount of money that college students definitely do not need to be dropping on smoothie ingredients. 

Balance out your smoothie with some protein, carbs, and healthy fat. Toss in some spinach or another veggie to add nutrients. Go organic if you want. Don’t add too much sugar. Ta-da. No fancy superfoods needed.

P.S. It takes way less time to do that than to measure and add nineteen other things.

So as great as Instagram can be, it can also be a case study in all sorts of unhealthy and unnecessary behaviors. Just use your common sense about your own health and your own body, and you’ll be good to go.

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Three Reasons to Love Easy Workouts

You’re dripping in sweat, breathing heavily, and the endorphin high just kicked in. Yeah, you just crushed a super tough workout and you feel on top of the world. So, you should totally do this every day, right? Not so fast. Intense workouts are great for reaching fitness and aesthetic goals, but easy workouts have their merits, too. Here’s why:

You’ll avoid overtraining.

Along with rest days, easy workouts give your body time to recover. Pounding your joints and fatiguing your muscles days after day, even with adequate fuel, isn’t good for anyone. Your muscles rebuild when you rest, and if you never rest, you’ll feel it. You might overtrain, leading you to have a hard time focusing, sleeping, or motivating yourself to work out or eat healthily.

easy workouts so tired

By taking a few days a week to enjoy some gentle yoga, a nice walk, or even a low-intensity session on the elliptical, you’ll keep your muscles moving, but eliminate some of the stress.

You’ll keep your hormones happy.

We all know exercise releases endorphins.

Easy Workouts + Endorphins

But it also triggers cortisol, a stress hormone. Yes, exercise is stressful to the body. And if you’re perpetually stressed already, whether it’s about school, work, social life, or the future, exercise can just add to it. Too much cortisol can lead to everything from digestive issues to weight gain to insomnia. Not cool.

Regular exercise is great and tends to decrease cortisol, but too much of intense exercise elevates it. So back off a little bit.

You’ll give your mind a break.

You may be the biggest overachiever and lover of hard workouts in the world, but at some point, you’re probably going to struggle to motivate yourself to get to the gym. Obviously, rest days give you a bit of a mental break, but easy workouts help you get in some movement while also relaxing.

take it easy workouts

You’re busy, and maybe you don’t give yourself time to catch up on your favorite show, read a magazine, or scroll through Instagram. You can do that when you’re not pushing yourself to your limit at the gym! It takes some serious mental strength to power through HIIT sprints and heavy lifting routines. If you give yourself a few days of easier workouts, you’ll have the energy and motivation to crush your tougher ones, too. 

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Anytime Oatmeal Cookies

Sometimes you need a cookie, without the sugar crash.

There really aren’t many things better than a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie. I don’t know about you, but I can go to town on a tray. Like, 12 cookies are not lasting a long time in my house dorm. While that’s all well and good once in a while, I definitely do not feel my best when I’m consuming that much sugar on the regular. Enter: these anytime oatmeal cookies.

anytime oatmeal cookies

They’re made with oats and oat flour, coconut oil, and only a little maple syrup – and they’re totally customizable. Don’t like chocolate? Sub in your favorite nuts or dried fruit. Want them sweeter and more dessert-like? Add more maple syrup. Don’t have coconut oil? A little melted butter will do the trick.

I love eating them warm out of the oven (or, hey, reheated in the microwave), crumbled over Greek yogurt or a smoothie bowl for breakfast, or with some vanilla ice cream for a healthier dessert. Hence, the name: anytime oatmeal cookies.

Time: 20 minutes

When to eat them: Breakfast, snack, dessert… whenever you want some healthier sweets.

Perks: Low sugar, customizable

Sh*t you need:

2 T. coconut oil (or butter), melted
1 large egg
2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup oat flour
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (or desired add-ins)

The recipe:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with nonstick spray.

2. Whisk together melted coconut oil or butter, egg, vanilla, and maple syrup in a large bowl.

3. Add oats, oat flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt to wet ingredients. Mix until you have a dough.

4. Add chocolate chips or other add-ins to the dough and mix until dispersed throughout.

5. Roll dough into balls about 2 T. large (I used a 2 T. cookie scoop) and place on parchment-lined pan.

6. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Enjoy!

anytime oatmeal cookies gif

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What Does It Actually Mean to Listen to Your Body?

How many times have you heard a health professional say to listen to your body? They say your body knows what it needs. It’s supposed to tell you what to eat, how to work out, when to rest, and so much more. 

In reality, though, you probably decide all that stuff based on a whole bunch of other factors. What’s the latest superfood in the news? What workouts are your friends doing? How much exercise are you “supposed” to get in a week? How much time do you have?

I can relate.

Because, really, the problem here is that your body doesn’t speak English. You can feel when you’re tired, but you don’t know if your workout was too hard or you didn’t get enough sleep. Your stomach might be upset after dinner, but you have no idea if it’s caused by the pizza you ate or the plethora of stress you’re under. It’s easy to let your favorite foodstagrammer tell you to go dairy-free or pick up Crossfit because you overheard someone in your class who looks amazing say that’s what they do.

How do you know if that’s right for you, though?

Research.

research

If you’re curious about a new workout or dietary shift, look into it before you make any changes. The number one thing to check here is whether it’s safe (which means no crash dieting or working out until you’re sick). Talk to a doctor or other health professional about the changes you’re considering. See what people are saying about the pros and cons.

Check in.

Why do you want to make these changes? Do you want to get healthier, lift heavier, run faster, or are you pursuing aesthetic goals? Are you looking for a challenge? If you’re feeling good as you are, there may be no reason to change anything. The fact that someone else isn’t eating a certain food or is working out a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do the same.

Experiment.

If you’ve decided it’s safe and you want to try something new for a good reason, go ahead and do it.

Check in (again… and again… and again).

This is where you really need to listen to your body, and I’ll help walk you through it. These are just suggestions, but they should give you an idea of what to look out for.

If you’re eating differently, ask yourself:

  • How do I feel before and after my meals?
  • Is it different from before?
  • Are any problematic symptoms I noticed going away?

If you’re trying a new workout routine, ask yourself:

  • How do I feel during my workouts?
  • Are my joints hurting?
  • Am I dizzy?
  • Do I have enough energy to complete each workout?
  • Am I exhausted after a workout, or do I feel accomplished?

No matter what, ask yourself:

  • Do I feel awake and energetic throughout the day?
  • Are my “healthy” changes getting in the way of my social or academic life?
  • Am I enjoying eating/exercising this way?
  • How is my sleep?

Adjust accordingly.

listen to your body

Now you know what feels good (or doesn’t) and you can keep doing the same thing or try something new. It’s up to you – and your body. And once you start listening, your body will thank you.

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7 Things You’ll Learn from Your First Half Marathon

I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon last month. I fully intended to chronicle my training here, but only managed one blog post.

Why? Well, the short story is that the nagging hip pain I mentioned in that post was an injury. And then, just as I started feeling confident in my hip recovery, I fractured my ankle. And then, as soon as I recovered from that, I did the not-so-smart thing and ramped up my mileage really quickly so I’d be prepared to run in Florida. As a wellness junkie, I know this wasn’t a good idea (so I certainly wasn’t going to detail how I did it on a fitness site). Still, as a determined 20-year old who paid to run a Disney race, I was not going to miss the race if I could help it. 

Well, I did it. And amidst all the ups and downs, I sure learned a lot.

Some people will think you’re crazy.

Non-runners just don’t get the appeal of getting up on Saturday morning and running, but you know it’s a great way to start the weekend.

You need to eat a lot.

Your body will let you know this. After your runs, you need to refuel. And when you’re resting, you still need to fuel. Running requires a lot of energy, and so does everything else you do.

Time really doesn’t matter.

I went into my training with some time goals. Then, I got injured. When I started to recover, I really just wanted to be able to run the race, whatever my time. As I trained more, I started putting more time pressure on myself. By the end of my training, I was starting to feel the effects of building up my mileage so quickly and once again, just wanted to finish the race. My point? Be grateful for whatever your body can do. You put in some hard work to get to the finish line, no matter how long it takes you to get there. 

You might overtrain.

I didn’t mean to, but I totally did. By the week before I ran the race, I was exhausted, my whole body ached, I was starving all the time, and my sleep quality was terrible. I was overtraining. I rested a lot the week before the race and it turned out okay, but make sure you rest enough throughout your training cycle. 

People will think you’re running a marathon.

They will be impressed. Again, if you don’t run much, a long distance is a long distance. For a while, I would correct people who called it a marathon: “Oh, no. It’s just a half.” Then I decided that 13.1 miles is long enough and stopped saying “just“. A half marathon is great. Also, if you’re worried about your time (even though I told you not to be), most people will think it’s crazy impressive that you ran that far, regardless of the time.

Sometimes you won’t love it.

There will be times when you want to skip your runs or neglect stretching. You might get really tired of refueling and rehydrating properly. Sometimes, you’ll be sore and tired and achy. That might be a sign you need a rest day. That’s okay.

Mostly, you will.

You might run new, beautiful routes. Maybe you’ll run farther or faster than ever before. You will probably share endorphin-fueled smiles with your fellow runners. You’ll eat all the things, complain about foam rolling, and say, “Sorry, I have to get some sleep. My long run is tomorrow.” And mostly, you’ll love it.

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3 Yoga Mistakes You Might Be Making – and How to Stop

yoga

I recently obtained my 200-hour yoga teacher certification, and if you’ve talked to me ever, I’ve probably mentioned yoga (Don’t worry, I have other interests, too). In my last few months of teacher training, a lot of students have talked to me about their own yoga insecurities and I have picked up on little mistakes I see during class. Also, I believe yoga is a pretty misunderstood form of movement. Lots of people tell me they want to get into it, but are intimidated. 

And all I want to do is make it less intimidating and make you love yoga. Ready to give it a shot? Here are three common, easily-fixable mistakes to avoid. 

Mistake #1: Thinking you have to be x to do yoga.

The one thing that people always tell me about yoga is that they can’t do it. Why?

  • “It’s for flexible people.”
  • “It’s not a real workout.”
  • “I can’t relax.”
  • “I’m not strong enough.”
  • “I’m too big.”
  • “I won’t pay $330 for fancy yoga clothes.”

Some people are flexible, but not all that strong. Some people are strong, but not all that flexible. Doing yoga can help with both of those, and it will look different for different people. There are modifications you can take for all sorts of limitations or areas of discomfort. Don’t have super strong shoulders? Take chataranga dandasana on your knees. Can’t bend into a full wheel? Try bridge pose. You always have options in yoga! 

And you totally don’t need to buy Lululemon clothes. Just wear comfy workout clothes you can move in.

Mistake #2: Sacrificing good form to bend more.

 

A photo posted by Ellen (@myuncommoneveryday) on

Since a lot of people think yoga is all about being super flexible, a lot of people who come to class think that if they can bend more, they should. That’s not always true. If you’re locking out your joints, clenching your jaw, or pulling your shoulders up to your ears, maybe ease back a little. And if any pose hurts, stop. #commonsense

Mistake #3: Skipping savasana.

I confess: I used to be this person. I just worked out, so why would I want to lie around and nap? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Let me yell this at you: NO. Savasana, or Corpse Pose, is not a waste of time. And, frankly, even though you’re just chilling out on your mat, it’s not easy. Just telling yourself to relax doesn’t always work, and that’s exactly what you’re practicing in savasana. You spend most of your workouts, and even most of your yoga class, focusing on your body. This is the time to focus on your mind. You need a strong mind and body as you move through your daily life, so just hang out on your mat for a couple minutes at the end of class and quiet your thoughts.

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Breakfast Stuffed Sweet Potatoes – 2 Ways

Because breakfast and sweet potatoes should be eaten all day long.

When I started eating mostly Paleo, I found myself eating more sweet potatoes than ever. See, it’s easy to eat low-carb if you’re eating mostly Paleo foods, but I don’t do low-carb. I need my carbs, so I eat plenty of fruit… and sweet potatoes.

savory stuffed sweet potatoesAnyways, I’m thoroughly convinced that sweet potatoes are appropriate in any way any time of day. I love them roasted, baked, fried, microwaved, Hasselback-ed, and stuffed. They’re usually crazy cheap, which is perfect for those of us on college budgets, and they pair well with just about everything. So… you don’t have to choose between sweet and savory. Gotta love that.

sweet stuffed sweet potatoes

Time: 10 minutes to 1 hour – depends on how you prep your potatoes

When to eat it: Breakfast, lunch, or dinner! These have a great balance of protein and carbs, so they make meal as great for fueling an afternoon of studying as for post-workout.

Perks: easy, cheap, and packed with protein, potassium, and vitamin A 

Makes: 1, but is easily multiplied to serve more

Sh*t you need:

1 sweet potato (~7.5 oz.)

For savory:
2 strips bacon
3-4 baby mushrooms, chopped
1 handful spinach, chopped
1 egg
Salt & pepper, to taste

For Sweet:
1/2 c. yogurt of choice (I used Greek)
1 T. all-natural nut butter
Sprinkle of coconut and cacao nibs (or chocolate chips!)

The recipe:

1. Prepare your sweet potato. Depending on what kind of time you have, you can bake it or microwave it. To bake, preheat the oven to 425°F, pierce sweet potato all over with a fork, and bake on a foil-lined pan for about an hour. To microwave, pierce sweet potato all over with a fork, wrap the potato in a damp paper towel, and microwave for 6-7 minutes.

2. For savory: fry bacon over medium heat. Remove bacon from pan and set on paper towels to drain. Sauté mushrooms and spinach in leftover bacon grease. Chop bacon and add to spinach and mushrooms. Cook for one more minute.

3. Slice sweet potato open and stuff with bacon, mushroom, and spinach mixture. 

4. Grease pan and fry an egg to your liking. Top stuffed sweet potato with fried egg and dig in!

5. For sweet: slice sweet potato open and stuff with yogurt. Drizzle with nut butter and sprinkle with cacao nibs/chocolate chips and coconut. Dig in!

drippy stuffed sweet potatoesCheck out these recipes too:

5 Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Your Fit Friends

We’ve all been there: you glance at your calendar, realize you have a holiday party tomorrow, and you’re totally gift-less. You love your friends, but you’re crazy busy and sometimes forget to plan ahead. It happens to the best of us.

But no worries! Here are five gift ideas for your fit friends that work not only your limited college budget, but also your limited time frame. And hey, maybe you can get someone to give you some of them. 

1. A subscription box

gift ideas- subscription box

These are gifts that keep on giving. We all know it gets harder and harder to stay healthy as you get busier, but these boxes make it a little easier. Pay for a few months of a snack box or general fitness box and your friend will think of you every time a new one shows up at the door.

Bonus: all you have to do is sign up – the company takes care of delivery.

2. A massage

When you’re into working out, it’s important to rest and recover properly, but we don’t all do it. Get your friends a gift card to a nearby massage studio and remind them to take care of themselves!  

3. Energy bites

gift ideas -energy bites

Whip up a batch or two of energy bites and print out the recipe. Wrap it all up nicely and give your friends some healthy snacks for the holidays. Doesn’t everyone appreciate being given food? Plus, since you gave them the recipe, too, they can enjoy this gift long after the first batch is gone.

4. An insulated water bottle

Staying hydrated is key to staying healthy. It helps beat pain and fatigue, improves digestion, and can even improve your mood. Grab a good insulated one and it will keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot, making it as perfect for rehydrating post-workout as filling up on coffee for class.

5. A healthy cookbook

gift ideas- cookbook

Most bookstores (and even Targets) have a wide variety of cookbooks. You can get one for your gluten-free friend, one for your vegan friend, and one for your friend who eats anything at the same time. What’s that they say about teaching a man to fish?

So don’t stress about gift-giving this season, just use one of these easy gift ideas that are totally useful and require minimal effort – and have fun!

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3 Reasons To Work Out on Thanksgiving – and 1 Reason Not To

work out on thanksgiving

It’s the holidays, which means it’s that time of year when we get to take a little extra time off work or school, spend it with the people we love, and eat a ton of delicious food. It’s also the time of year when your news feed gets flooded with articles saying you’re eating way too many calories, telling you how to work out on Thanksgiving to maximize your afterburn, and that you better start running because that piece of pie or mountain of mashed potatoes isn’t going to burn itself off.

And while I’m all for working out, it should be done with a positive mindset. It should be about what fitness adds to your life (fun, energy, connection), not what it subtracts (calories). So while I’m not going to tell you not to work out on Thanksgiving – or any other day – think about why you’re doing it.

Work out because…

…it’s tradition.

Does your family dress up for the local Turkey Trot every year? Or do you all gather in the backyard for a competitive game of football after the big feast? Great. You get to spend time with people you love, make some awesome memories, and get some movement in. 

…you’re training for something.

Whether you’re a college athlete or a recreational runner training for a race, you probably have a training schedule. Unless Thursdays are usually your rest days, that schedule will probably tell you to work out on Thanksgiving. Sure, it’s a holiday, so you could totally skip that run (#noshame), but you could also probably just squeeze it in and stick to the plan. Thanksgiving dinner sounds like a pretty satisfying post-workout meal to me.

…you feel like it.

Maybe you wake up on Thanksgiving morning with boundless energy and the desire to lift some seriously heavy weights. Maybe the weather is beautiful and you’re home for the first time in months and you want to go for a run. Maybe you have been traveling a lot and you’re craving a good stretch, so you do some yoga. You do you. 

Don’t work out because…

…you “have” to.

You don’t have to! Are you going to eat a lot of wonderful food with your family? I sure hope so. But no one meal is going to ruin your fitness. So if you wake up exhausted on Thanksgiving morning and having the energy to work out isn’t in the cards, that’s okay. If all you want to do is relax with your family and cuddle your dog, do that.

Because, like working out, the holidays are for enjoying.

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Here’s Why You Should Take That Lunch Break

lunch break

People who know me know – I have an above-average appetite. I eat three full, substantial meals a day and lots of snacks in between. A lot of that food is healthy sure; and some of it is not. I mean hey, life can’t be carrots and kale all the time.

So, let’s forget about eating “healthy” foods for the time being, and focus instead on just eating.

And, for the record, I’m not talking about eating disorders. I’m just talking about the average, generally busy college student who simply forgets or neglects to eat.

Raise your hand if you’ve skipped a meal. (I’ve got my hand up high.)

Raise your hand if you regularly skip meals. Now, that I don’t do.

i love food

Why not? Well, frankly, I love food. Like I said before, I eat a lot—denying myself an opportunity to enjoy good food seems silly and unnecessary. Additionally, I love my body. Denying it the fuel it needs to study and stretch and grow stronger just seems rude.

But I often hear peers and classmates saying things like, “I haven’t eaten all day,” at 7 PM on the regular, and I’m always shocked. If I don’t eat within about two or three hours of waking up, I have a hard time functioning. I get tired, my brain doesn’t work as well, and everything’s just generally harder. When I ask how or why they don’t bother to eat, they usually say they have a slow metabolism or something to that effect. But I think metabolisms of all shapes and sizes still need food…

Turns out, I have science on my side. What are some of the scientific reasons you shouldn’t skip meals? I’m glad you asked.

Diabetes

Skipping meals can lead to increased fasting glucose levels and a slow response to insulin. If the pattern continues for an extended period of time, your risk of developing diabetes goes way up.

Rebound hunger

burger

Sure, you can go until dinner without having anything to eat all day, but then you’re likely to be so hungry when you finally do eat that you eat more than if you had just fueled yourself consistently throughout the day. This pattern of fasting and overeating can lead to bingeing behaviors, as well.

Mood swings

Eating irregularly can send your blood sugar on a roller coaster, and it takes your mood right along with it. If you’ve ever experienced hanger, you know this isn’t pretty.

Lack of energy

Those blood sugar dips can cause your energy to dip, too. If you’re juggling classes, your social obligations, a job, a life, you need to be on your game. You can only be active and involved if you have the energy to do it. Eating regularly can help you get there.

Eating regularly is just as important of a job as any other you have in your day, and it helps you do all those other ones even better. So go ahead and take that lunch break. It’ll power you through the rest of your crazy day – and your awesome life.

gilmore

How Fitness is (Literally) My Medicine

I’m thin and flexible, so I should have been a dancer.

I’m long-limbed, so I should have been a distance runner or a swimmer.

I love ice hockey, so I should have learned to skate.

badmintonGrowing up, I tried out soccer, dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, volleyball, and field hockey and quit them all pretty quickly. Frankly, as a child I would have rather been reading than running. I was still healthy enough—I ate relatively well and got outside to play with friends now and then, but fitness was not my priority by any means.

Around fifth grade, my health started to suffer. Though I didn’t know it then, this was the onset of four years of chronic migraines, which later turned into severe general whole-body pain that is concentrated in my neck and shoulders.

I can explain more about this later, but from this experience came a diagnosis: Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (Hypermobility Type).

EDS is a weird condition. It manifests itself completely differently in different people. But here’s the basic idea: my connective tissues and joints are loose, so my muscles overcompensate for the work the joints can’t do. This ends up causing “muscle knots” and a whole lot of pain. It also explains a myriad of my GI issues, joint dislocations, sleep problems, and crazy flexibility. So while the version I have is essentially harmless, it still has a significant impact on my life. I am in pain—quite literally—all of the time.

Many people with EDS end up debilitated and defeated, and/or use opioids to manage the pain. However, years of migraines have taught me that I am extremely sensitive to medication, so I am determined to manage my symptoms via other means.

And that’s where health, fitness, and self-care really came into my life.

I do cardio and get regular massages because they help manage my pain. I lift weights because strengthening my muscles helps protect my loose joints. I take walks when I feel my muscles tightening up from being still too long. I eat a lot of healthy foods because they make me feel my best. I have a regular(ish) sleep schedule. I try to take time to de-stress – even though we all know how hard that is when life is busy – because being tense is a great way to tighten up already-tight muscles. Yoga and I? We’re BFF’s.

My “fitness journey” is less a journey than it is a turning point. Suddenly, if I wanted to feel good – or even close to good – I had to work at it. So I do, regularly.

That being said, I choose to make the best of my situation every day and have absolutely fallen in love with the process. I adore yoga and lifting weights and running (when my joints let me). Spending time cooking and baking delicious food makes me happier than anything.

how fitness is my medicine

And I love, love, love sharing this passion with other people. Need a workout idea or a recipe? I’m your girl. That’s why I wanted to join Fit U. I want other people to love this process, too, and see that living a healthy life can be as good for your body as it is for your mind.