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Sugar, Sugar Everywhere!

Beware what’s in your favorite coffee drink!

Here we are in the midst of another season filled with sweet temptations. As spring slowly starts to make its appearance here in New York City, it seems like everyone is rushing grab all the sunshine they can find. This may involve adding bright-colored workout wear and sundresses to the wardrobe or shaking off the boots and slipping into cute wedges and sandals. There also appears to be a surge in sales of all those refreshing drinks that make you feel like you’re sipping on sunshine.  The problem is those sips are often loaded with more sugar than anyone needs in one day, let alone one serving.

On this Motivation Monday, I offer an important reminder that sugar doesn’t just live inside candy wrappers, cupcake shops and wine bottles. There’s also a ton of it lurking in coffee houses and smoothie bars in the form of frozen drinks that come in more flavors than nature ever intended. The short-lived run of the “Unicorn Frappucino”at Starbucks was the latest example of what’s behind every sip of so many frosty temptations. One grande whipped-cream sweet-and-sour concoction packed 410 calories; 16 grams of fat; 62 grams of carbs and 59 grams of sugar. I found it interesting the color-changing drink contained zero caffeine. (Then again, with all that sugar, who needed another jolt of energy?) Luckily by the time you’re reading this post, these drinks only continue to live on people’s Instagram feeds.

Please know, I’m not picking on Starbucks. One of my favorite treats at this time of year is a nonfat green tea Frappucino, and I’ve been known to enjoy a skinny mocha Frappucino once in awhile, too. The key is not to use a frosty coffee drink as a meal substitute. The nutritional value is next to null, and you’re almost always faced with the dreaded aftermath: the sugar crash.

Of course, some crashes are worse than others. With Easter eight days behind us, I think I’ve finally recovered from a full-blown sugar hangover. I cut out a lot of sweet treats during Lent but then went totally overboard on Easter Sunday. It started with several bowls of Cocoa Puffs before Church and by the end of the day, in addition to some great wine and pasta, I’d also devoured some homemade cake, countless chocolate eggs and a sleeve of chocolate chip cookies. So I basically made up for 40 days worth of  sugar intake – and then some. By the next day, my body was in serious sugar shock. I had a queasy stomach, a headache I just couldn’t shake and overall, I felt like a sluggish mess. 

When you get in the habit of eating whole, healthy foods, it’s amazing how the body reacts when you go off the deep end. Hating how your body feels from the damage is a great trigger for getting back on track with a diet of fruits, veggies, protein and whole grains while keeping the alcohol and dessert intake at moderate levels.

As my repeat readers know, I’d never advocate denying yourself the things you enjoy. Whether it’s a bacon burger with a side of cheese fries; pepperoni pizza and beer or even a couple of those large, frosty coffee drinks, we all deserve to splurge once in awhile. They key is to make sure those treats stay in their own “special occasion” category. The key is to keep it all in check, and know one good workout and one day of healthy eating is all you need to get right back on track with your goals to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Indulging CAN Be Good For You!

iStock_000018985469SmallThis Motivation Monday totally snuck up on me. Let’s just say things are a little crazy right now. So today’s post is all about keeping things simple, light and hopefully a little fun, too.

Some of my readers already know I’ve been studying for many months now to receive my Fitness Nutrition Specialist (FNS) certificate through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). It’s been great putting some science behind my longterm beliefs in what can be considered “healthy eating.” That includes learning how our bodies rely on the right balance of nutrients to function properly. One chapter I found particularly interesting was about a group that falls outside the nutrient spectrum – trace elements.

What are trace elements? They’re minerals the body needs in small amounts – less than 100 milligrams per day – and the total amount of each trace element in the body is less than five grams. Despite the small amount of space they take up in our overall anatomy, they’re crucial to many body functions and essential for growth and the normal function of our immune system. More specifically, the trace minerals we need are: iron, copper, zinc, copper, fluoride, selenium, iodine, molybdenum, chromium and manganese.

IMG_2723Now that I’ve gotten a little “science-y” on you, here’s where the fun comes in: a couple of these trace elements can be found in…drumroll please….chocolate, peanut butter, wine and some beers!

Copper – which helps with immune function and iron utilization -can be found in peanut butter and chocolate! (I should point out, it’s also found in organ meats, shellfish, nuts and seeds). Meanwhile, rich sources of chromium include dark chocolate, wine and beer (along with mushrooms, asparagus and prunes.) Chromium plays a part in the normal use of insulin to promote glucose use.

So, while I’m not here telling you to overload your cabinets  with chocolate and booze, I thought you wouldn’t mind learning that indulgences really can be good for you – in moderation, of course! Along with making the taste buds happy and boosting your mood, you’re actually giving your body things it can use. The next time you enjoy that dark chocolate square or savor a glass of your favorite vintage, smile and know it’s all part of the plan to have fun, be fit, and feel fabulous!

Five Dos & Don’ts for Healthy Living

Smile & Keep It Simple! Photo by Leslie Hassler

Smile & Keep It Simple!
Photo by Leslie Hassler

On this particular Motivation Monday, I feel the need to keep things as simple as possible.

After a four-day mini-marathon helping my parents start cleaning out the house they’ve lived in for the past 35 years and my mom’s birthday, my muscles and my brain are just a bit fried. So, for the sake of everyone facing a manic Monday, I thought I’d offer some basic elements for how I keep my healthy lifestyle in check.

Here are my top five dos and don’t for healthy living:

1) DON’T skip meals for an entire day in anticipation of a big event at night. DO eat small, sensible meals every few hours before the celebration so your blood sugar levels stay consistent and you don’t over-do-it once you arrive. One hour before the party, try to have a satisfying snack with some protein. My go-to: string cheese and a couple of clementines or an apple.

2) DON’T sabotage all your efforts at the gym by drinking sugary drinks while you workout. Unless you’re running up and down a court or field for 90 minutes or more, stick with water to stay hydrated. Can’t stand plain water? DO feel free to add a drop or packet of zero-calorie flavor crystals to your water bottle or opt for no-calorie versions of the popular sports drinks.

3) DON’T go to the gym when you have symptoms of something beyond the sniffles. If you have a serious cough or stomach issues, do everyone a favor and skip the workout and stay home. DO, however, maintain a consistent exercise schedule with a combination of cardio and strength training to help boost your immune system and fight off the bugs when they try to bring you down.

4) DON’T let exercise become an obsession. Pain beyond the typical aches and pains following a tough workout or extreme fatigue are warning signs that it’s time to rest! DO take at least one rest day each week to let your muscles recover and give your entire body a re-charge.

5)DON’T skimp on sleep. Many people fail to realize that exercise, healthy eating and getting the proper rest are all necessary for staying on top of your game. DO wrap up your workout at least two hours before bedtime and stop texting, emailing and all your other social-media activity at least 30 minutes before lights out.

Remember, sometimes keeping things simple is the best way to stay on track with your goals to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

New Food Find

Newest Go-To Meal: Grilled Fish & "Superfood Pilaf"

Newest Go-To Meal: Grilled Fish & “Superfood Pilaf”

Today’s Motivation Monday message is all about fuel. If you make a commitment to move more, it’s crucial to give your body the fuel it needs to keep moving – both in and out of the gym. Since people are always asking me what I eat to stay healthy, I thought I’d share one of my new favorites. On top of being tasty, it goes from my microwave to my plate in about seven minutes. Anything but a master cook, I always look for foods that are nutritious, filling and super easy to prepare.

My newest find is a Trader Joe’s product called “Superfood Pilaf.” An organic combination of quinoa, sweet potatoes, kale and carrots, it’s rich in iron, dietary fiber, vitamins A and C and it’s the perfect complement to a piece of grilled chicken, fish or lean red meat. It’s also a nice break from the “ordinary” brown rice or the whole grain farro I usually make.

IMG_2399The bottom line is you don’t have to spend tons of time in the kitchen to follow a healthy lifestyle. A little bit of prep goes a long way. For me, that means spending a little time every Sunday chopping and slicing fresh produce into individual serving containers that I can grab each day of the week. Along with an ample supply of microwavable frozen veggies (like the “Superfood Pilaf”), I also stay stocked with go-to proteins like chicken breasts or frozen tilapia filets. Taking two minutes in the morning to move a piece of protein from the freezer to the fridge to defrost can mean the difference between grilling up something healthy for dinner or ordering something filled with extra calories, extra grease and extra guilt.

I’m always on the lookout for easy-to-prepare and healthy meals or snack items, so if you have one or two, I’d love to hear from you! Remember, striking a healthy balance between diet and exercise is the best way to stay on track with your goals to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

My New Favorite “Fit” Food for the Fall

IMG_1127Since I’ve already offered some tips on how to adjust your fitness routine with the change of seasons, I thought I’d shift gears slightly on this Motivation Monday to tell you about a new staple in my fall diet: farro.

I’m sure many of my fellow Italians are thinking “are you kidding, Laura? Italians have been cooking with farro for nearly 2,000 years!”  Well, I might be a little late discovering this wonderful whole grain alternative to rice and pasta, but you know what they say, better late than never!

Farro (FAH-row) is a whole grain, but has a richer, almost nutty flavor compared to the somewhat bland brown rice. While it isn’t a complete source of protein, like quinoa, a cup of farro has about eight grams of cholesterol-lowering fiber. It also contains minerals like magnesium, which is known to relieve tension and finally, it contains “smart carbs” that break down slowly and keep your energy levels stable.

For me, farro has become my go-to for adding a little “bulk” to dinner when that piece of grilled chicken or fish and a side of veggies just isn’t enough. This is especially true on my double-dose workout days of  fasted cardio in the morning followed by a Physique57 or other group exercise class in the evening. A serving of farro satisfies my craving for “comfort food,” and the fiber content helps keep me feeling full for awhile.


No-fuss dinner: grilled chicken (with mustard), farro and broccoli

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m definitely not a cook. So the other thing I love about farro is how easy it is to prepare. (At least using the 10-minute version I buy at Trader Joe’s.) All I have to do is boil water, throw in a bag of farro, let it cook for 10 minutes, strain it, add some seasoning and maybe a few sprays of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” and that’s that.  I put the leftovers in my fridge and nuke them throughout the week. (I usually get about 3-4 servings from out of one bag.)  You can also add cold farro to salads for lunch and I’ve heard some people even like it hot for breakfast with some fruit as an alternative to oatmeal.

If you have any healthy farro recipes you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them! It’s always fun finding a new zero-guilt item to add to the pantry or fridge so you can give your body the fuel it needs and stay on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

A Special Workout Wednesday Team Effort

One favorite you'll always find in my fridge!

One favorite you’ll always find in my fridge!

I hope everyone’s enjoying this first Workout Wednesday in October! With the mercury rising into the 80s today here in New York City today, I wish I was at the beach but I’ll gladly take the sunshine!

I returned from my morning cardio session to find a link ready to share to my guest appearance on another website today. Robin Plotkin is a registered dietitian,  nutrition expert and creator of She lives in Dallas, TX and after meeting in Cyberspace through the land of Twitter, she asked me to share my food buying and eating habits to be featured in her “Inside the Fridge” series.  Click here to read my guest post.

I close with a big thank you to Robin for the opportunity to appear on her website and a wish for all of you to use the new month as a time to add some new healthy habits to your lifestyle so you can continue on your journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Let Those Super Bowl Sunday “Sins” Motivate You to Move Today!

super-bowl-sundayIf you’re looking for your Monday dose of motivation to get your body moving, let me ask you just one question: what did you eat yesterday?

If you’re in a food coma today, you’re in good company. I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear Super Bowl Sunday is the second-biggest calorie-consumption day of the year after Thanksgiving. Just how many calories are we talking about? Well, think of this: the recommended daily caloric intake for people looking to maintain their weight is roughly 2,000 calories. On Super Bowl Sunday, the majority of Americans eat close to 2,800 calories…in about three hours.

The simple truth is whether you’re a football fan or not, Super Bowl Sunday has become an American tradition like apple pie. I think it’s simply because the Big Game offers a great opportunity to get together with family and friends and indulge in many of the foods most of us try to avoid on a regular basis.

Yes, even I tend to go a bit overboard on Super Bowl Sunday. So I can guarantee I’ll be pushing a little harder at the gym after work today to burn even more calories than normal. (I’m pretty sure getting up off the couch to dance along with Beyoncé’s half-time show didn’t do the trick.)

With some help CalorieKing, I put together a playbook featuring some of America’s favorite Super Bowl foods. Considering many or all of these items may have been on your game day menu, I’ll let you add them up based on how many pieces, slices or serving sizes you enjoyed. As you calculate the numbers in your head or using your iPhone, I imagine you may have found a good reason to get up off your chair and start your next run or workout immediately.

  • Doritos’ Tortilla Chips, Cool Ranch Flavored (12 chips) = 140 calories
  • Lays’ Potato Chips, Sour Cream & Onion Flavored (17 chips) = 160 calories
  • 5 Pigs-in-a-Blanket = 470 calories
  • 5-wing serving of hot wings = Anywhere from 300 to 597 calories (depending on the sauce and dip they’re served with)
  • 1 Slice of Cheese Pizza = 240 calories
  • 1 Slice of Pepperoni Pizza = 298 calories
  • 1 Slice of Papa John’s “The Works” Pizza = 330 calories
  • Bowl of Chili = Calories range from 300 – 600 based on the recipe. (e.g. cheese v. no-cheese)
  • 1 Light Beer (12 oz) = 96 calories
  • 1 Regular Beer or Ale (12 oz) = 150 calories
  • 1 Regular Soda (12oz) = 140 calories

Whether or not you cared about which team won, I hope you had a fun Super Bowl Sunday! If that included going a bit overboard with the food and drink, no doubt you had your fun – which means today’s your chance to get back on track with your plans to be fit and feel fabulous!

Frantic Friday

Ending a Crazy Week on a Happy Note!

What a week!

I honestly haven’t felt this “off” in quite some time. There will be more about that in Monday’s post, but for now, I want to end the crazy-business-trip and edit-from-hell-themed work week on a positive note that’s also filled with gratitude.

It was during my ride to the airport Tuesday afternoon when I learned my blog was voted one of the “Top 25 Wellness Blogs” on SkinnyScoop. For those of you who don’t know, SkinnyScoop is a great website designed for a female audience looking to recommend and discover the best of everything from books and beauty essentials to parenting products.

Thanks to a couple of nominations and a few votes, I came in among the bloggers who write about fitness, healthy lifestyle and/or weight loss voted into the Top 25 during September 2012. I’m honored to be among this great list of bloggers! I’ll be sure to check out their writing and encourage you loyal readers to do the same!

Thanks to all of you for your support and for inspiring me to continue my writing, even during the rough weeks! It’s because of you that I look forward to continuing on this journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!


Summertime, Baseball & Bad Food Choices

One of my favorite “treats” of the season!

Last Friday, my friend Rob and I were chatting about our weekend plans during an edit session. That’s when he asked a question that left me stumped: what could he eat that night at CitiField while watching the Mets take on the Reds that wouldn’t leave him feeling totally sluggish for the 10 mile run he had planned for the next day?

Listen, when I get to cheer on my beloved Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium, I know it’s going to be hard to eat anything super healthy during the game. Know what? That’s okay! Part of my stadium experience is indulging in some of the higher-calorie items that you’ll probably never find in my kitchen like hot dogs, steak sandwiches, beer and brownie sundaes.

Rob and I ended up in a “deep” discussion to weigh his options. (Don’t worry, we still met our deadline!) I’ve never been to CitiField, but I was pretty sure he’d be hard pressed to find fresh grilled chicken or fish or a veggie-loaded salad. So, my simple suggestion was to watch his portions.

Instead of having two hot dogs or one hot dog and a sausage with peppers, I recommended he choose one or the other and have a bag of pretzels on the side rather than French fries or nachos. As for the libations, I told him to stick with light beer and drink a bottle of water in between each beer to cut down on the total number of suds consumed during the game.

Making small changes like cutting back portion sizes (if you really want those fries, share them with a friend!) and eating sensibly throughout the day before you head to a venue with less-than-optimal food choices are a couple of ways to enjoy yourself without going overboard.  Also, the every-other-drink rule is one I follow whether I’m at a ballpark or a BBQ. It’s a great way to keep your alcohol consumption -and all the sugar and calories that go with it – in check. Since one of my mantras is “everything in moderation,” I find no reason to skimp on summertime fun!

In the end, Rob ate a small cheeseburger, drank only a couple of beers and loaded up on the water. On Saturday, he woke up and conquered his 10 mile run. Success!

This scenario illustrates what I consider to be the wonderful domino effect that fitness can have on your life. You get into a regular workout routine, look forward to your run, swim, kickboxing or Zumba classes and enjoy the endorphin rush you get from breaking a sweat. Before you know it, the last thing you’ll want to do is negate all your hard work  by putting bad fuel into your body.

In a world filled with unhealthy relationships, diet and exercise are two things that happen to work in perfect harmony to keep you on the path to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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