Part I: You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are

Credit: oursoleintent.com

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“You’re stronger than you think you are.”

 

If you’ve ever taken one of my spin classes, you already know that this is my motto. Whether I’m shouting it from the bike when we hit a round of Tabata (right after a monster hill climb of course), or gently encouraging the friend who wants to get her health and fitness back on track, it’s something I wholeheartedly believe. Each one of us is SO much stronger than we realize.

 

We have unlimited potential.

 

This idea of being “stronger than we think we are” has gotten me through some rather trying times in life. From making the conscious decision to enter eating disorder recovery to being confident enough to audition as a spin instructor and pursue my personal training certification, I had to remind myself that the possibilities were endless if I just tapped into that fire burning inside me. Everyone has had these moments in life–moments when they’ve doubted their strength or questioned their ability to succeed at something. These moments are driven by fear– namely fear of failure. In just these past few months alone, I’ve had the chance to apply this concept to my life once again in a new and scary way– both literally and figuratively.

As I started to write this post, I planned to go in a completely different direction before the words took a form of their own. All my writers out there know exactly what I mean :) . I read through the post at least seven or eight times trying to decide if it was even worth sharing such a personal account– after all, who cares about MY life story, right? Well, in the spirit of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I decided to take a leap of faith– no fear, just truth. If I can touch one life, or motivate one person to believe they truly are stronger  than they think they are (eating disorder related not), well, my fears are unfounded and my job has been done.

 

And wouldn’t you know…

Here you are, reading my truths.

THANK YOU.

 

Once I hit 1,000 words and realized I was only halfway done with the point I was attempting to make, I realized I have two pretty distinct stories to tell about two pretty distinct times in my life. So in order to save you from reading a novel on your iPhone or tablet screens, and to best tell my story, I’ve decided to split the post into two separate parts. The next post will go up later this week. As we head into Part I, allow me to give you some context…

 

A little over 8 years ago I hit rock bottom.

HARD.

 

Rock bottom lasted for so many months that I started to give up on life as I knew it. I was suffering from a debilitating eating disorder–anorexia nervosa, lost touch with amazing friends–both old and new, drifted from family and loved ones, and was forced to take sophomore year off from college. Life was so miserable and lonely and at times that I didn’t even care to see the light of the next day. I felt like a failure.

When I looked in the mirror I saw a monster and when I looked inside, I saw the same thing. I was unrecognizable to myself in every way shape and form that one could be– physically, mentally, and emotionally. I was living a vicious cycle of starvation, weight loss, over-exercising, hospital admittance, back to home, starvation, weight loss, over-exercising, hospital re-admittance (etc…)– this cycle lasted too many times to count. I was trapped.

Occasionally, it would become too much for my family or doctors to take and the cycle would be peppered with inpatient/outpatient programs that sucked me even deeper into the secret world of eating disorders. Having come from a place in my mind where I thought I was alone with this eating disordered mindset to essentially living in a test tube with other people who’s irrational weight and body thoughts were just as crazy– if not crazier– than my own, well, let’s just say that could make anyone lose their mind.

The first few tries with these programs failed miserably. I had never identified myself with have an eating disorder before. Even after the first handful of times I was admitted into the hospital, I thought my medical team was crazy for putting such a seemingly negative label on me. In my head, I was trying to be “healthy” — I was just exerting more willpower and more control, than the average human being. Even in failure, in my mind I was still winning. Yet every time I entered one of these programs, my Type-A competitive personality got the best of me. If I couldn’t win anywhere else in my life, at least I’d win at this. So, instead of getting physically and mentally better, my disease fed of of the other girls’ illnesses. At my most vulnerable I learned how to be better at anorexia.

 

Then something happened.

I looked around, and everything was moving but me.

 

After months of living this deadly game I started to realize something. My friends were back in school. They were getting internships, dating new people, making new friends, living with new roommates, going on trips, studying abroad, and filling their Facebook feeds with silly, drunken photos of their weekend escapades.  ME on the other hand? Ashley, the straight “A” student who loved to run, dance, and write– the same girl who had big dreams to tackle, thrived off of success, and was always moving towards a goal– was completely stationary.

 

I was holding myself back from everything I loved and everything I desired to be.

I was my own worst enemy.

 

And THEN I was readmitted to the hospital. At this point in the game the doctors, nurses, and CNAs knew me too well and they all knew the drill (weight check, Ensure, blood work, Ensure, EKG, Ensure, bed rest, Ensure, IV fluids, Ensure, forced feedings, Ensure, vitals, Ensure, repeat). I felt like a nuisance– a stupid, stupid, girl who couldn’t get it together. Here I was chugging water before every doctor’s appointment so I could try to “trick the scale” into believing I didn’t need to go to the ER–and for what? For a few more days of “freedom?” Living this way was NOT freedom. It was a death wish. 

I truly never wanted to become “one of those ED patients” who spent years of her life in and out of the hospital because she couldn’t do the one thing every human is expected to do to survive– EAT. I felt bad for those patients, and a part of me felt so separated from them…yet I was becoming just that. But it wasn’t always about the food. It wasn’t always about the calories or the way my hip bones protruded “just so.” It was about self-worth and the high expectations I had set for myself. The one thing I had going for me in life was also the one thing that was sabotaging my recovery– CONTROL. If I could just harness that disciplined energy and use it for something good, deep down I knew I could beat this.

 

I HAD no choice.

At this point it was a game of life or death.

 

The real saving grace of this whole destructive situation was school. I WANTED to go back to college. I WANTED to succeed. I WANTED to make a difference in the world, and most importantly, I didn’t want to disappoint my family. Heck, I was the girl who needed to be 10 steps ahead of everything for my own peace of mind, and here I was 100 steps back. I knew I had to work towards a goal and I knew I couldn’t go back to UMASS Amherst where my eating disorder began (I was scared about what people would think of me, and the memories were too difficult to face–plus, it was way too easy for me to hide and slip back into old ways at such a big school). I also knew I was on a strict timeline– those transfer applications had to be IN. When my doctor (who specialized in THE toughest love around) told me there was NO WAY I’d be able to go back to school by the fall, the fighter inside me came alive. Miss another year of school. HELL. NO.

 

Tell me I can’t do something and I’ll prove you wrong– take it or leave it, that’s me.

 

And wouldn’t you know that was the LAST TIME I was ever admitted to the hospital :) . I was ready to try this recovery thing for real. So right there in my hospital bed I wrote my essays and filled out my transfer applications and just a few days later my parents were driving me to the renowned Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders in Philadelphia. I was committing to my recovery, and on my own terms.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies from there. A few days into my stay I was celebrating my 20th birthday on bed-rest in a new home with dozens of people I didn’t know. I wasn’t allowed to use a phone or computer and I felt detached from the world around me (this is to keep you focused on recovery). Out of fear (due to lack of control) I started to revert back to my eating disorder minded ways. I’d secretly throw out or spit out any medicine I was instructed to take for the fear that it was some sneaky “weight-gaining drug” (for the record, they were just vitamins and yes, I understand how insane it seems now).  I’d pour out cups of Gatorade I was supposed to drink to balance out my electrolytes. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to silently exercise and I’d do squats during my morning shower– until I was caught for both and put back on bed rest for misbehaving (this poor behavior is a very big no no in ED treatment– especially as I was on strict exercise restriction). Clearly, I was still very sick in body and mind. I was scared. And I needed to be there for a while–and I was.

After a few weeks I started seeing young women who came to center after me leaving before I did, and once I started to feel physically stronger (no more bed rest or grounds restrictions) I realized I needed to focus on something deeper than how skinny or fat I felt or I wasn’t going to get anywhere. Now that I had the proper nourishment and brain capacity to start thinking clearly, I needed to find the root of the anorexia and heal my mind. Sounds simple, right? Hardly.

I’ll be honest, this piece is still a work in progress– even close to eight years into recovery. For me, my eating disorder wasn’t always just about being skinny. Yes, of course a large part of it was about this, but again, it all came back to wanting control. During my freshman year of college I felt pressure– mostly from myself–to be the best, look the best, and feel the best. I wanted to have it all– the brains, the beauty, and the body to match– and I feared I wasn’t good enough. In my mind, you were supposed to go to college to find yourself. You were supposed to leave that high school persona behind and MAKE something of yourself. I wanted to be extraordinary, and I wanted people to take notice–because anything less than the best just wasn’t an option in my book. And guess what? I’m still that same control-driven girl today, but in a different (healthier!) way.

 

I want to be successful,

I want to be happy,

I want to be healthy,

& I want to make a difference.

One day I hope I will :) .

 

When it came time for me to leave Renfrew a few months later, I certainly wasn’t 100% ready and the work wasn’t done (unfortunately insurance dictates this piece of the puzzle) but this time, I was on the right track. With the love and support of a few friends and family, and with my incredible Mom by my side, I was recovering beautifully enough to go back to school at Roger Williams University that fall. A fresh start with a new environment, new friends (who I’m lucky to call my BEST friends), a new, supportive boyfriend (who I’m still madly in love with :) ), and a new beginning was JUST what I needed. And while life was far from perfect (I still had to attend class, drive to the doctor once a week, and visit the campus health center for weigh-ins twice a week until I could prove I was stable), I was far from where I started.

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Credit:www.positiwitty.com

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The next 3+ years looked pretty perfect on the outside, and for some time they were. But I was so fearful of my past and so adamant about it never happening again that I often wouldn’t check in with myself to see how I was really feeling inside. I tried very hard to hide my past– I never mentioned a thing to my boyfriend until well after we both graduated, and I didn’t fill in all my roommates until we practically became sisters.

 

I wanted to keep moving forward and never look back– constant motion made me feel best.

 

The next part of my story highlights my journey through recovery from then to now. Even all these years later, I was recently shocked to realize that some of those same self-destructive behaviors were still living in me in an entirely different way and continuing to hold me back from being my best self. Be sure to check back here in a few days for the next piece to my story –Part II: You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are :) .

 

Healthfully Yours,

Ashley Michelle

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Hey 2014…WHERE Did You Go?? (A Pre-New Year Reflection)

 

WOW.

Another year gone by– just like that.

 

I know I say this every year, but as I get older, time really does seem to fly. I mean, it feels like just yesterday I graduated from college, moved to the city, went vegan, and started this blog. Now–4 years later– so much has happened in my life (both good and bad), but I feel like I’m finally on the right path and taking the right steps to become the person I want to be.

 

“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” –George A. Sheehan

 

Isn’t it funny how much things change?

 

People change. Relationships change. Priorities change. New friendships are forged, old friendship are revisited,  and sadly some friendships just fizzle away. As time passes, it may be hard to remember why certain things seemed so important to us and why other things didn’t seem important enough. Regardless, no matter how much change takes place in our lives, it’s vital to recognize one little fact– when transformations take place, we’re not giving these parts of our lives up…we’re gaining something else much bigger. We’re unearthing a deeper connection to ourselves that will hopefully take us one step closer to realizing our dreams.

 

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” – Anaïs Nin

 

This year has been quite a year for me– and my life has changed a bit since my last New Year’s blog post. On the upside, I’ve had the chance to visit some wonderful places and see some wonderful things. I traveled to California and celebrated my 27th birthday at a delicious vegan restaurant outside of L.A., I enjoyed a sun-filled, tropical, Aruba vacation with my loving boyfriend, spent time with family and friends over the summer in beautiful Cape Cod, and enjoyed the “City that Never Sleeps” in all its holiday glory. I also had the chance to see four of my closest friends walk down the aisle and marry the loves of their lives (there really is no better feeling in the world than knowing that the people who you hold so near and dear in your heart now have their hearts taken care of for the rest of their lives :) ).

On the fitness front, this year has been extra exciting. I became a Spinning instructor at my gym, Healthworks Fitness Center for Women, and I finally took the plunge and am in the middle of pursuing my NASM Personal Training Certification. For a time I was diligently studying for the GRE, as I plan to pursue my Master’s degree in a health/fitness concentration at some point in the near future, but until I can decide 100% what field I want to be in (and seeing as I have none of those pesky science requirements completed before I can actually apply to any of the programs I am interested in) this chapter of my life is still a work in progress– something I am still learning to be okay with :) . I love nothing more than expanding my knowledge and constantly learning new things, and I am lucky that my passion (health and fitness) is an ever-developing field. This means I’ll always have something new to discover and share with all of you!

On the downside, this year has also had its challenges (but we’ll keep it light for today :) ). For starters, I have not devoted half of the time and energy I want and need to devote to this blog and my other writing prospects. My full-time job has changed quite drastically and while more responsibility and new challenges are privileges I gladly welcome, I have found that after stressful day at work and long hours on the computer, my creative energy starts running pretty dry (as I write this post, I am on my first real vacation since April– and those creative juices are finally flowing again! Woo hoo!). The funny thing is, this blog makes me pretty damn happy, and once I just sit down and start writing, I feel at home and I quickly forget about any stress that may be wearing on me. In actuality, I should probably be writing MORE to de-stress after a yucky day.

 

One of my goals for 2015?

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Credit: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

 

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KEEP WRITING BABY!

 

There are so many things I want to share and so many things I want to accomplish– including trying out and reviewing a variety of fitness classes in the Boston area (so far these past few weeks I’ve conquered BODYPUMP, SoulCycle, and Turnstyle Cycle!). I also plan to tackle some other group fitness certifications. I’d love to teach a variety of classes at my club and/or other local gyms. But most important of all, I want to challenge myself.  Sure, taking on more responsibility at work, studying to become a NASM-CPT, and working towards graduate school are challenges in themselves…but I want to challenge my mind and body in a few different ways in 2015.

 

First, I want to push my body to be stronger and fitter than ever before– and I want to do it the healthy way.

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Yes, I workout like crazy and eat healthy, but I certainly don’t get enough sleep and I certainly don’t always give my body all the recovery it deserves and needs (this personal training certification is teaching me so much already!). So this year, I vow to check-in and listen to my body and give it what it needs when it needs it a little more diligently this time around– I have a feeling the results will be surprising :) .

 

Second, I vow to be at peace with where I am now.

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It’s so easy to get caught in up everyone else’s lives– who’s coming, who’s going, who’s accomplishing what and when. The truth is– NONE OF THAT SHOULD MATTER! Facebook and Instagram (of which I both use and love!) make it so easy to compare yourself to the rose-colored life presented by others– to worry about who’s buying a house, who’s getting married, who’s having kids, who has a kick ass job, who’s losing weight/gaining weight, and who’s making more money. The fact of the matter is, life isn’t a race– and for someone like me who is VERY competitive…I can easily get caught up in the whole “Keeping up with the Joneses”  thing. But when I really step back and think about it– I realize what’s the rush? I’m on my way to becoming the successful, happy person I want to be and as long as I’m reaching my goals…I see no reason to want to be like anyone but myself :) . Everything is going to fall into place exactly when it’s supposed to.

 

Third, I want to bring a whole lot more LOVE into my life this year.

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That means I’m focusing on what’s really important– relationships. Family and friends bring color to your life, and when you start to let those loving relationships fade away, the color fades too. I know it’s impossible to stay connected to everyone (and not every relationship is a positive one that deserves your time and attention) but it’s important to hold on to the people in your life who make you want to be a better person — both inside and out. I for one know I’ve (unintentionally) lost touch with some pretty spectacular and special people over the past few years. Life gets crazy, careers take precedence, people move, and time flies by. That’s why I’m making it my goal to fill my heart up with as many family and friends  (and memories!) as I can this year. (Hey friends, wanna hang?! Reach out to me! :) ).

 

So what’s my plan for 2015?

Sit back and enjoy the ride!

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Well… maybe we won’t sit ;)

 

I have plenty on my plate to keep me busy, and of course I’ll keep you all informed about new developments along the way. But like I said earlier, time isn’t getting any slower and I intend to live and love every moment to the fullest. So cheers to 2015 everyone! Let’s hit our goals and make some great memories. You’re going to see (and hear!) a heck of a lot more from me this year ;) .

 

Healthfully Yours,

Ashley Michelle

 

 

Hey prettyfitlifers! I LOVE to hear from you!

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What do you want to see on Pretty Fit Life this year?

What kinds of articles/recipes/fitness tips?

Let me know!

The content on this blog is for YOU!

 

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Confessions of a Health Nut: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Newsflash!

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Being healthy is hard

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Sometimes you just have to bend over backwards for wellness. (Credit: fitsugar.com)

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And in more ways than one.

 

Sure, exercising every day and staying away from those pesky sweets and unhealthy eats is tough enough in itself, but you might find that following a meal and fitness plan isn’t your only worry while traveling along that path to wellness. So here’s the real truth:

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Living a healthy lifestyle can be pretty darn lonely

In fact, it’s downright ISOLATING at times.

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Until now, I haven’t openly discussed this dirty little secret on the blog– but I feel as though it’s a worthwhile topic to address because I know I’m not the only person who can relate to this feeling of isolation. With so many social activities out there revolving around eating and drinking, it’s a struggle to find the appropriate balance between friends, family, fun, and fitness– heck…I’m still working on it every single day. Throw an even more specific lifestyle choice into the mix– such as veganism, vegetarianism,  gluten-free, raw, Paleo, and/or alcohol-free diets (etc…)– and forget about it. Things just got way complicated for you social life.

See, as human beings it’s natural to WANT to fit in. This can help explain why we feel so much discontent when people place unwanted attention on our differences or make us feel like the odd one out in a group (for more information about the psychology of conformity, check out this link). When you make the decision to embark on a personal wellness journey, you may find yourself internalizing this even more– especially if the people around you have different lifestyle plans or agendas for themselves (just check out this post about how I first navigated going vegan).

The point is, whether good or bad all change is pretty uncomfortable at first– for both you and the people you surround yourself with. If you’re cutting back on unhealthy foods and alcohol because you want to revitalize your body and lose a few stubborn pounds, you can expect that your best friend might get a little ticked off when you suddenly don’t want to go out for “Margarita Monday” anymore. In the same vein, your mom might be pretty offended when you turn down her famous made-from-scratch red velvet cake, and your boyfriend might be bummed out that Mexican night has died because you’re trading in cheesy nachos and sour cream for a Whole Foods run and a spin class after work. No wonder you’re stressing girlfriend–talk about pressure :( !

 

When you reach this uncomfortable juncture, your brain gets busy trying to make everything feel alright again. I find that one of two things will typically happen in this situation:

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You throw away all of your progress and hard work altogether by giving in to peer pressure for the sake of fitting in, making things “easier,” and avoiding the dreaded “guilt-trip.”

or…

You isolate yourself completely and avoid all social situations that make you to feel judged or require you to fall off the wellness wagon.

 

Now, neither of these situations are ideal. In fact, they both have the potential to carry some pretty heavy consequences. First of all, you’re apt to feel an overwhelming sense of guilt when you don’t follow your healthy lifestyle plan–not to mention you may partake in some unsafe measures to negate your slip-up (like drastically restricting calories or binge exercising). Second of all, your relationships with your friends and family are bound to suffer if you keep playing the “excuses game.” This will only leave you feeling more lonely and depressed as time goes on– especially when your friends stop calling you to hang out altogether because they assume you’ll just say no (I know I’ve developed a serious case of the “FOMOs” (that’s short for “fear of missing out” for those wondering ;) ) once or twice after seeing a friend’s photo from ”Girls’ Night Out” pop up on my Facebook or Instagram feeds sans little old Ashley).

 

The point is, many people– myself included– struggle with this “all or nothing” attitude when it comes to health and wellness.

 

Some people fall into patterns that are a bit more extreme and they attempt to protect themselves from social situations and negative judgements though isolation, while others feel as though they’re in a constant cycle of self-sabotage and failure because their wellness plans keep getting interrupted or postponed. So what’s a girl to do? You want to get healthy, hot, and fit so you feel and look amazing inside and out, but you don’t want to sacrifice fun or friendships. First thing’s first–you’ve got to put things in perspective…

 

Here’s what’s really happening when the people around you learn about the lifestyle changes you’re making…

 

Your friend/boyfriend/family/coworker is feeling threatened:

1.) Put quite simply, your friends and family are afraid you’ll change too much. Remember, these are the people who love you for WHO YOU ARE NOW–vegan, Paleo, 10 lbs heavier/skinnier, fit or not–and they’re afraid you’ll go find new people like you to accommodate your new lifestyle, or you’ll suddenly think you’re better than them altogether. As long as these relationships are not toxic to your health, you and I both know that this isn’t going to happenso remind them :) !

 

2.) There’s also a chance that specific people in your life know deep down that they should be thinking about getting healthy and fit themselves– but perhaps they’re not ready. Your lifestyle change is only serving to reinforce what they already know they should be focusing on. As a result, these people might (unintentionally) take their inner angst out on you by putting down your new lifestyle or making you feel bad.

 

3.) Lastly– in many cultures people (especially family) show their affection and feel a great sense of pride through cooking food for the ones they love (Italian families, I’m looking at you!). It makes sense then, that much of the frustration your loved ones may express regarding a new dietary plan/lifestyle change could really be the internal fear that they won’t be able to take care of you or provide for you anymore. Explain to your loved ones that just because you don’t want grandma’s lasagna anym0re…it doesn’t mean you don’t LOVE your grandma! Remind them that you can bond over all sorts of things–movies, photos, lunch or dinner out at a restaurant so you can pick your own meals (etc…). And if you really need some extra ammo to prove being healthy CAN be fun and taste good after all…just whip up a batch of your favorite vegan cookies and win them over that way ;) .

 

Your friend/boyfriend/family/coworker doesn’t understand– and they don’t want to:

1.) You have to accept that you’re going to run into people who just don’t get it, and no matter what you do or say…they aren’t going to have a magical revelation and whip up green smoothie for breakfast or accompany you to Friday night yoga. Try not to take it personally. More importantly, don’t shove your healthy agenda down their throats– it will only make them resent this “new you” or the healthy ideas you have even more (plus–the last thing you need to hear while embarking on a new wellness journey is someone else putting down the choices that aim to make you a happier, better version of yourself).

 

2.) Likewise, if you sense your colleagues want to roll their eyes every time you start talking about kickboxing or cross-fit– don’t talk about kickboxing or cross-fit :) ! It sounds silly to have to censor yourself and not talk about the things you’re passionate about, but if doing so will strain your relationships sometimes (sadly) it’s best to just keep mum. Remember, you can choose your friends but you probably can’t choose your boss or your co-workers. Stick to business in the office or try engaging in conversation about different topics–after all, health and wellness is just one facet of your beautiful, wonderful self.  If someone is truly interested in your protein shake regimen or daily lunch runs, they’ll ask you! Do your health and wellness thing and let them do theirs–who knows– maybe someone will surprise you and you’ll meet a new fitness buddy that way.

 

3.) If you’re vegan/vegetarian (etc…) and your Dad still insists on asking whether you want a hamburger or a hot dog at the next family cookout– laugh it off or ask him to grill you up the BEST veggie burger you’ve ever had. Some people may not acknowledge that you’re eating habits are here to stay (remember, you’re making lifestyle changes, not starting a crash diet), but you can humor them by not letting it get to you. Instead of focusing on the things you CAN’T eat…focus on the things you CAN. For example, you could simply say something like this:

 

  • “Thanks anyways! I’m really looking forward to a tasty veggie burger, a HUGE salad, and a baked sweet potato YUM!”

               And/or change the subject…

  • “Did you SEE that unbelievable baseball game last night! GO SOX!”

4.) It can be quite challenging– not to mention frustrating– when your significant other is not on board with your healthy lifestyle changes. When the person who is supposed to love and cherish you no matter what doesn’t agree with something that’s truly important to you, it hurts! First, try explaining the reasons for your shift:

 

  • So you can feel more confident/sexy, so you can be a happier person for your significant other.
  • So you can love yourself as much as you love your partner.
  • So you can live a long and healthy life with your loved one 
  • (etc…)

See how he/she reacts. Perhaps you can invite your significant other to join in on this wellness journey with you– a team effort! (Plus, this could open the door to exciting date ideas that don’t involve indulgent dinners and fancy cocktails– more on this below!). If you discuss all of this and they still don’t agree with your health and wellness plan, as sad as it is, it may be necessary to consider whether the relationship is doing more harm than good for your health and well-being. If your relationship becomes a source of constant argument, anger, and discontent…this toxic environment can actually negatively affect your progress and your happiness. Remember: If somebody truly loves you, they love ALL OF YOU! 

 

5.) SAY YOU’RE HAPPY :) . The next time someone starts getting cheeky about your healthy lifestyle– stop the conversation before either one of you gets heated and just say “You know, this is really working for me and I’ve never been happier!” (end scene!). Oftentimes this is the best way to get people off your back. I mean, what kind of person will argue with that response?? (And if you find someone who does— they aren’t worth your time anyways. TRUST me).

 

Okay.

Now you understand what’s happening with the people around you when you make a big lifestyle shift, so what’s next?

Make a (Healthy) Game Plan!

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1.) Revamp Girls’ Night Out:

Evaluate your goals and situation accordingly. Can’t bear the idea of missing a GNO? Make a plan ahead of time! There’s no need to cut off your important friendships because you’re afraid of self-sabotage. If you know you are going to feel terrible about yourself after an evening of fruity cocktails and late night drunken pizza–SET BOUNDARIES FOR YOURSELF SO THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN! I personally love using the myfitnesspal app on my iPhone to plan out my day when I know I have an event of some sort where I could be tempted to stray away from my healthy meal plan. This way, you can allocate yourself a glass (maybe two :) ) of red wine, a healthy veggie-based dinner, and perhaps a light appetizer without throwing calorie caution to the wind.

Another tip? Make sure you are the FIRST to order! Studies have shown that when ladies dine together in a group setting, if the first person orders a healthy meal, the others are more likely to follow suit. Coincidentally, this goes the other way too! If someone orders and unhealthy meal first…the other ladies in the bunch are more likely to order in a similar fashion. While it’s certainly okay to indulge every now and then, there’s no need to go overboard and tax your body when it’s been doing so well! Perhaps you can even suggest the restaurant spot and pick a place that has a range of healthy options on the menu already.

 

2.) Date Night! 

When people are in love, the last thing on their minds are calories and (most ;) ) cardio. Along with all the fancy dinners, comfort food, and sharable desserts for two, morning snuggles and breakfast in bed often take precedence over working out when you’re in a relationship. Suddenly, you might find yourself getting a teensy bit soft and fluffy– just like that amazing cinnamon roll from your fav brunch spot down the street…oopsie! Again, while there’s a time and place for indulging, it’s not healthy (or sustainable) to do this all the time. Use the same strategy that you devised for your girls’ night– seek out healthier menus, come up with a meal plan accordingly, and opt for a nice post- dinner cup of coffee or tea at a cute little café instead of splitting that molten lava cake. There’s no need to write off date night altogether– just be smart about it. Remember, if you truly love someone, you should want them to be healthy and happy too. Who knows, your behavior might just rub off on your significant other and open the doors for all kinds of new and healthy date night activities! (Picnic in the park, star-gazing, daytime road trips…the list goes on!)

 

3.) Work Events:

Ah work events. These can be a bit tricky– especially when you have no choice but to attend. It doesn’t help that corporate dinner parties are best known for their extravagant spreads of not-so-healthy foods. And in addition to the artisan cheese platters, bacon-wrapped scallops, and greasy steak frites, you can usually count on some pretty tempting dessert trays and plenty of alcohol to boot.  Be cognizant of the fact that you may need to exercise some serious restraint with all this free food hanging around. But no need to panic my prettyfitlifers! The best way to combat unhealthy cravings is by filling up on healthy, filling, food before hitting the buffet.

My suggestion? Have an organic apple and a small garden salad squeezed with lemon prior to your event. The fiber will fill your belly right up and help you to stay away from overindulging. Once at the event, scope out the food situation and pick a couple of healthy appetizers to nosh on. If the meal is a sit-down dinner, check out the menu and try to select the smartest dinner option– you don’t need to worry about eating the whole thing. If you feel comfortable, ask the waiter/waitress to make a few changes (steam or grill veggies instead of sautéing them, ask for dressing on the side, and hold the sauce etc…). It’s also quite common for people to become anxious at fancy work events and eat mindlessly. Be aware of yourself when this happens and practice focusing your attention back to the interesting conversation and surroundings.  Grab yourself a vodka soda or a seltzer with a lemon wedge and enjoy the night.

On the other end of the spectrum, if there are really no healthy or appropriate dietary options available at your event, you may worry about being scrutinized for not eating anything at all  (after all, the rules of society say “social events are for eating!”). This is the situation I find myself in most often– and it is definitely a huge source of stress and discomfort for me to this very day. The fear of unwanted attention and judgement is enough to make me want to skip out altogether (and sometimes I do) but I know that’s the easy way out and not always the best way to handle these uncomfortable situations. The first thing to do? STOP worrying about what you think other people think!

Personally, one of my biggest concerns when it comes to my vegan diet is the fear that other people will assume I’m stuck up or high maintenance. What I wish people would see is that I’m friendly and outgoing and love to chat and make new friends when I don’t feel anxious about people passing judgement. So, let that person shine through! Get out of your comfort zone and engage in conversation, because that’s really what most events (work or social) are all about– networking and making connections! If someone calls you out, explain that you’re vegan/vegetarian/trying to be healthier and you ate before the event so you could still attend and enjoy everyone’s company. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, just say you have food allergies and they’ll most likely step off. Another trick? Fill your purse with some healthy snacks (trail mix, granola bars, apple wedges, cucumber slices, dates etc…) so you have something to munch on every now and then and plan to make yourself a nice, healthy dinner when you get home (or whip up a quick protein shake if it’s too late to prepare a full meal). 

 

4.) Try something new!

There are so many fun things to do with your friends, significant other, and family members that don’t involve dirty martinis and cake to the face (I know, shocking right? ;) ). This is your time to be creative! Get outside and go exploring, take a long walk, go for a run, hit the beach, get a massage, or try a trendy fitness class. Go to the movies, visit a museum, sign up for a painting/cooking/belly dancing course, test out a vegan restaurant, or host a healthy dinner party/potluck at your place. The options are endless! And don’t be afraid to pick an activity that doesn’t revolve around food!

 

5.) Cut toxic ties/Create new relationships:

As I mentioned before, if someone in your circle is consistently doing more harm than good, it could be time to let go. That doesn’t mean you have to cut off all communication with this person forever, but if their mere presence is triggering and stressful– that’s not a positive or happy relationship to be in. Remember, relationships are about being with the people you care about, enjoying conversation, and connecting on a deeper level no matter what you do (some of the best times I’ve ever had with friends involved sitting on a couch in our pajamas while doing absolutely nothing at all except being with each other). Forget about the people who don’t understand and instead, surround yourself with positive people who do! This is also an excellent opportunity for you to meet new people and make some new friends who share the same passions as you. Chat up that cool girl who totally rocks it in your fitness class, or reach out to some fellow bloggers or Instagrammers. Do a search online to see if your city hosts any health and fitness related conferences, networking opportunities, meet-ups, or free activities in the area. I know my city (Boston) hosts all kinds of vegan events and I’m sure yours does too :) .

 

Now, I hope you understand that this post is NOT meant to steer you away from a healthy lifestyle by any stretch of the means– if anything, I hope it serves as a reality check that YES, being healthy is pretty damn tough when we’re living in a not so healthy world– BUT IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE! 

 

Yes, you WILL have to try harder.

Yes, you WILL have to plan.

Yes, you WILL be uncomfortable.

And YES,  you will have to work to strike a proper balance between your healthy lifestyle and your social life.

 

In the end, however, you are the only one who is capable of gauging what works best for you.  And you know what? No matter what you do, if it feels right it will pay off in the end– I promise. In the meantime, if you’re looking to meet another BFF who loves kale and cardio as much as a kid loves candy…REACH OUT TO ME! I’m always looking to expand my network. And if you live in the Boston area, a lunch date to Life Alive is in order. Email me at ashley@prettyfitlife.com :) .

 

Keep on keeping on my prettyfitlifers!

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

 


Build a Better Smoothie: A Step by Step Guide

CONFESSION: 

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I have a dangerous addiction…

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To smoothies, that is.

 

Okay…so “dangerous” might seem like too strong a word, but that’s exactly what my smoothie concoctions are…dangerously delicious :) . In fact, I’ve rarely met a smoothie I haven’t liked. I mean, it’s pretty hard to make a mistake preparing something that gets pulverized into a drinkable form– no boiling, baking, sautéing, or julienne-ing necessary. Seriously. It’s pretty much the easiest snack, meal, or treat you can (quite literally) whip up!

 

Pressed for time? Make a smoothie!

Hungover? Make a smoothie!

Looking to revamp your diet? MAKE A SMOOTHIE!

 

Okay, okay. I know what you’re thinking– I understand how booties, baubles, and a killer pair of heels can make a girl go wild, but can a smoothie really be that exciting? In one word, YES! And after taking a quick trip to the grocery store you’ll be creating healthier, tastier smoothies while increasing their nutritional value in no time at all. JUST BEWARE– not all smoothies are created equal! If you’re not careful, your “healthy” beverage can quickly become a sugar and fat trap. But don’t worry! With a little guidance you’ll be drinking your way to heath and wellness. Thankfully, I’m just the gal to show you how it’s done :) .

 

Step 1 : Choose your base

(Ready to have your mind completely blown? THERE AREN’T ANY SPECIAL HEALTH BENEFITS OR NUTRIENTS EXCLUSIVE TO DAIRY MILK! You can easily get vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats from a variety of non-dairy milks– and YES– this includes calcium. But buyer beware– make sure the milk you purchase is fortified, and ALWAYS choose the unsweetened version to avoid excess sugar).

  • Almond milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Coconut water (coconut water contains a decent amount of sugar– take care to cut back on high-sugar fruit like bananas, mangos, figs, tangerines, cherries, and grapes when incorporating a base with high sugar content). 
  • Hazelnut milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Oat milk
  • Soy milk
  • Water
  • Pretty Fit Note: Stay away from juice! If you are already adding fruit to your smoothie this will cause it to have wayyy too many grams of sugar and carbs (and not to mention calories)  for one drink.  

Organic nut, soy, hemp and oat milks are fantastic alternatives for those  trying to cut dairy from their diet. Personally, almond milk is my favorite smoothie base. The creamy texture and nutty taste give my smoothies just the right consistency and flavor I’m looking for. Plus, almond milk is super low in calories (only 35 to 40 calories per cup in the unsweetened brands) and contains the calcium and vitamin D my vegan body needs! With any of the milks mentioned above, be sure to buy the unsweetened versions or you could find yourself unknowingly drinking over 15 grams of sugar before you even add anything else to the blender. Yikes! I also suggest taking a look at the ingredients list and aim to avoid purchasing milk with the ingredient carrageenan– a seaweed-derived texturizer found in meat, dairy, toothpaste, processed foods (even some organic products and infant formula!) which can lead to severe gastrointestinal inflammation among other health risks. My favorite (safe!) brand is Whole Food’s 365 Plain Unsweetened or Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk. (Research regarding the side effects of this controversial additive is still new but growing. I encourage you to do some research on your own, or check out some helpful links in my Sources List below).

 

Step 2 : Pick your greens

(Leafy greens –full of vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals– are some of the healthiest foods you could ever eat. Their high water content keeps you hydrated, while their high fiber content fills you up, lowers your blood-pressure, and lowers your bad cholesterol. For more detailed information about the specific health benefits of the greens below, visit this link).

  • Collard greens (rich in calcium!)
  • Cucumber
  • Dandelion greens
  • Kale (rich in calcium!)
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts (Sprouts can contain up to 100 times more enzymes than raw veggies and fruit– this helps your body to extract more amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and essential fats from foods you consume– so eat up!). 
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip greens
  • Watercress

 

According to the latest dietary guidelines, the average person should aim to consume at least 2.5 cups of vegetables a day (Pretty Fit Note: For lettuces and other raw leafy greens, you would need to eat 2 cups to get the equivalent of 1 cup of vegetables). Now, for someone like me who eats veggies with every meal, hitting 2.5 cups doesn’t seem like much trouble, however, the majority of Americans don’t reach the recommended daily dosage–and that’s where I come in :) . Adding greens to your smoothie is the easiest and most painless way to help get proper the nutrients you need in one quick and easy swoop. I go through bags upon bags of spinach in one week alone– I find it’s the easiest to blend. Still weirded out by the green tint in your drink? Don’t worry! You’ll be adding so many other tasty ingredients to your smoothie you won’t be able to taste a thing– I promise. So don’t go holding back on me now! This is your chance to get a little nutrient crazy. Your body will thank you.

 

Step 3 : Get fruity!

(Fruit is full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that ward off disease and keep you healthy! The bonus? It will satisfy your pesky sweet tooth too! The natural sugar is a better alternative to the unhealthy, refined stuff.)

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Bananas
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cherries
  • Guava
  • Honeydew melon
  • Kiwis
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Mangos
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
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Now it’s time for the fun part! The fruit you add to your smoothie really sets the flavor profile of your beverage– so don’t be shy…get inspired! If I’m craving something tasty and tropical, I’ll throw half a cup of pineapple and a few chunks of banana in the blender. If I’m feeling sluggish and run-down, I’ll make an antioxidant-rich smoothie with a cup of mixed berries and watermelon. If I want to detox my body and improve digestion, I’ll whip up my Green Superstar Smoothie using half of a pear and half of an apple. Just take care not to go overboard– fruit is full of fiber, minerals and nutrients that are good for you, but too much fruit can equal lots of extra sugar, carbs, and calories! According to the latest dietary guidelines, the average adult should aim for 2 cups of fruit in a day (if you exercise less than 30 minutes each day). I try to use no more than one cup of fruit in my smoothies since I often have fruit for a snack during the day. However, if I’m feeling extra fruity on a particular occasion (ha-ha-ha ;) ) and one cup just won’t do it, I aim to pick fruits with a low sugar content like raspberries and blackberries. Check out this helpful link for more information about the sugar content of popular fruits.

 

Step 4 : Mix it up!

  • All-natural extracts (almond, anise, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, hazelnut, peppermint, vanilla).
  • Almond meal (for when you need a dose of healthy fats and extra protein!)
  • Avocado (this ingredient creates a silky, smooth, indulgent smoothie!)
  • Bee pollen (not for strict vegans– bee pollen is said to enhance energy, boost the immune system, and support the cardiovascular system).
  • Canned pumpkin (full of vitamin A, iron, and fiber)
  • Chia seeds (blend or mix these in at the very end and let you smoothie sit for 20 minutes or so– the chia seeds will expand in size and thicken your beverage right up. Plus they’ll give you a healthy dose of Omega-3 fatty acids to boot!).
  • Coconut oil (full of medium chain triglycerides that have the ability to raise HDL– good cholesterol. Coconut oil may also help to encourage weight loss).
  • Dates (a heathy alternative to sugar)
  • Flavor-infused liquid stevia (you can find this at Whole Foods or online– I love the SweetLeaf or NuNaturals brands). 
  • Flax seeds (always choose ground flax– this allows for better absorption).
  • Honey (in moderation! Not for strict vegans).
  • Maple syrup (in moderation!).
  • Molasses (in moderation!).
  • Powdered stevia
  • Powdered peanut butter (100% organic, 95% less fat, and 45% fewer calories than regular peanut butter– perfect for when you’re craving that peanut taste without all the extra fat calories!).
  • Protein powder (I stick to organic, raw protein powders like Garden of Life RAW and limit protein powders that contain soy protein isolate-- a genetically modified type of soy that resembles estrogen). 
  • Shredded carrots
  • Spirulina
  • Sweet potato (gives your smoothie great texture).
  • Tofu (preferably mori-nu silken tofu– it comes in a small cardboard box and lacks the aftertaste present in your typical water-packed tofu).
  • Vanilla beans (enhances flavor BIG TIME).
  • Yogurt (plain soy or coconut-milk based–sometimes I like to use a few tablespoons to thicken up my smoothie. Just keep an eye out for sugar content on those nutrition labels!)
  • Xanthan gum (a thickening agent that will make your smoothies more pudding-like–but BE WARNED! A little pinch goes a long way!).
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Now here’s where the real danger begins. Pump up the nutritional value and play around with flavor, sweetness, and consistency by adding some unique ingredients to your smoothie (I gave a little more commentary in this section because some of these ingredients might not be as well-known to everyone). Some of my favorite healthy add-ins are almond extract, canned pumpkin, chia seeds, dates, ground flax seeds, raw protein powder, and vanilla flavored liquid stevia.

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Step 5 : Get spicy!

  • Cilantro (a powerful, natural cleansing agent).
  • Cinnamon (regulates blood sugar, lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, contains natural anti-infectious compounds).
  • Nutmeg  (aids in sleep, strengthens your immune system, acts as an anti-microbial, helps ease digestive troubles, keeps your brain sharp/may help protect it from degenerative diseases).
  • Cayenne pepper (boosts your metabolism, fights inflammation, prevents stomach ulcers, and reduces bad cholesterol levels).
  • Ginger (eases digestion, eases nausea, reduces inflammation, and protects against certain cancers such as colon and ovarian).
  • Parsley (protects against rheumatoid arthritis and is a rich source of anti-oxidants and folic acid).
  • Raw Cocoa Powder (cocoa is one of the highest polyphenol-containing foods!).
  • Turmeric (turmeric is a powerful, natural anti-inflammatory– I take turmeric pills every day).

 

Spices have incredible health benefits–some  have the ability to curb inflammation, detox the body, boost flavor, curb appetite, and lower blood pressure. They’re also the perfect addition to any smoothie! I adore the combination of cocoa powder and cayenne pepper (spicy chocolate is one of my FAVORITE flavors) as well as nutmeg and cinnamon (it reminds me of the cozy holiday season!). For my water-based green smoothies, I’ll throw in a handful of cilantro and parsley to help balance my body and get it back to an alkaline state. (For more information about transitioning your diet and body to an alkaline state, check out this link).

 

Step 6 : Ice, ice baby

This one’s easy. Toss in a few ice cubes to make your smoothie extra cold and creamy :) . I wouldn’t have mine any other way!

 

Step 7 : Blend it up

If you are lucky enough to own a Vitamix, you can blend any and every ingredient under the sun in one of those babies. While I don’t personally own a Vitamix (yet!) I do own a Ninja blender (which I use on the regular) and it’s pretty amazing. I’ve also used the Magic Bullet and Nutribullet in the past– they can blend most things pretty well, but I prefer to make big batches of smoothies at a time so I can prepare/freeze them for the whole work week (therefore, upgrading to a blender-style Ninja was the best option for me). Now, all that’s left for you to do is blend up all those crazy ingredients you pulled together and let the magic begin!

 

Step 8 : Top it off

  • Almonds
  • Chopped walnuts
  • Coconut butter
  • Coconut cream (stick a can of full-fat coconut milk in your fridge overnight, pour off the liquid that has risen to the top, whip it up in a bowl with some vanilla and stevia, and you have thick and creamy coconut whipped cream! Perfect for a dessert smoothie). 
  • Dark chocolate shavings (in moderation!).
  • Hazelnuts
  • Hemp hearts (increases satiety, prevents spikes in blood sugar, acts as an anti-inflammatory, improves digestion, and is full of amino acids, Omega-3 fatty acids, and metabolism-regulating Omega-6 fatty acids). 
  • Honey (not for strict vegans).
  • Goji berries
  • Granola (watch out for too much sugar!).
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Nut butters (almond, hazelnut, cashew, peanut butter…).
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Raisins
  • Raw cocoa nibs (a healthier, lower-sugar alternative to chocolate!).
  • Sea salt (just a pinch can create a tasty flavor profile).
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soyatoo (soy-based, canned whipped cream– you can purchase this in the milk section at Whole Foods).
  • Soy nuts
  • Spices (see above)
  • Unsweetened coconut

 

I just can’t deal with a naked smoothie! As soon as I pour the final product into a big tall glass, I have this incessant need to get all fancy smancy– I MUST make my smoothies pretty after they’re done (hence why my Instagram is filled with #smoothie pics ;) #sorryimnotsorry). Aside from looking lovely and tasting great, many of these toppings have a variety of health benefits that can also boost the health benefits of your beverage. Some of my favorite toppers are hemp hearts, raw cocoa nibs, and unsweetened coconut.

 

Well. There you have it folks! For all of you who thought smoothies were boring…THINK AGAIN! If these lists don’t get your imagination going, I don’t know what will :) . And don’t be afraid to get a little crazy— after all…that’s where the fun begins! I’d love to see all the creative combinations you come up with, so feel free to tag me on Instagram @prettyfitlife, or use the hashtag #prettyfitlifeHAPPY BLENDING!

 

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

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Sources:

Is Carrageenan Safe?

Doubts surface aboutsafety of common food additive, carrageenan

Harvard– Vegetables and Fruits: Get Plenty Every Day

MyPlate Food Groups: Fruits 

8 Healthiest Leafy Greens 

Is Coconut Oil Healthy? 

5 Surprising Health Benefits of Hemp 

Cocoa Powder Health Benefits 

Health Benefits of Cinnamon 

Health Benefits of Cilantro 

Health Benefits of Ginger

Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper

Health Benefits of Parsley

Health Benefits of Sprouts 

Difference Between Non-Dairy Milks


Back in Action! Rockin’ Your New Year’s Resolutions

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I have three addictions.

 

Shoes.

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Statement necklaces.

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And SMOOTHIES…

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I swear — I’ll never get bored with a single one of them as long as I’m experimenting with the latest trends (YES. Smoothies can be trendy. And NO I will not be giving up any of these three things for a New Year’s resolution. You can’t make me).

 

Shoes and jewelry exciting? Sure! I’d bet most of you are on board with that. But smoothies? You’re probably thinking that they can be pretty boring– but I beg to differ! In fact, this past fall I did a 30-day smoothie challenge and wasn’t bored one bit! It all started when I kept Instagramming pictures of my tasty smoothie concoctions day after day. Finally, a friend asked if I was doing some sort of smoothie challenge. When I told her I wasn’t, she demanded I create  little a project out of this thing in the form of a 30-day challenge. It sounded pretty fun to me so I obliged.

 

Besides.

I never turn down a challenge.

 

For 30 days I had a healthy vegan smoothie for lunch and/or dinner (sometimes breakfast too!) and experimented with different ways to keep them interesting. And you know what? I enjoyed whipping up tasty recipes so much that I extended challenge well beyond the 30 days. You may think I’m crazy, but allow me to let you in on a little secret….

 

If you do something over and over again, it becomes HABIT! (Promise).

 

Eventually that habit will become routine, and routine ultimately shapes your life. Once you truly put your mind to something and get in a groove, it becomes much easier for you to implement change into your daily life. Some people say it takes 21 days to create a new habit, but I don’t exactly believe that’s true (and neither do scientists). The reason? Everyone’s brain is different. For instance, it usually takes me three or four days before I can get into a new routine, but it may take someone else longer– and that’s okay! Change is never easy, but it does get easier over time (you know it’s the truth!).

 

And what better time for change than now?!

Can I get a “Happy New Year?!”

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Credit: brit.co

 

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Now that it’s officially 2014, the resolution season is upon us (over a week upon us at that!)…and you know what that means– everyone and their roommate, sister, brother, mother, boyfriend, uncle (etc…) is promising to exercise more, eat right, start a cleanse, and lose those stubborn pounds. First of all, I applaud you for wanting to take charge of your health– there’s absolutely nothing wrong with resolving to be a healthier, happier, better version of  YOU. However, moderation is key and tackling your resolutions in a healthy, mindful way will make all the difference in the world when it comes to resolution success.

 

While I can’t exactly be there in person cheering you on at the gym, cooking up your dinner, and reminding you to put down the pint of ice cream (I swear I would if I could!), I can help to get you on the right track. I’ll be here posting healthy recipes, ideas, and motivating tips to keep you inspired along the way–feel free to Instagram, tweet, comment, and Facebook me with your progress! I love to hear from my prettyfitlifers :) (P.S. WATCH OUT WORLD! I just got a Ninja blender over the holidays so keep an eye out for all my tips and tricks for building a better smoothie!).

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And don’t worry if you haven’t set any healthy goals yet– you have the ability to start now!  But to get you started off on the right foot, I thought I’d share a few of my tried and true tips for success first:

 

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Ashley’s Tips for Success:

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1.) Be realistic:

That list you made with 20 different resolutions? Guess what. You’re biting off more than you can chew, and that’s a recipe for failure. Try to pick the resolutions that mean the most to you (stick to one to five, although even five is a bit generous) and focus all of your energy there. After all, there’s no need to overwhelm yourself before you’ve even started! Set yourself up for success, and success will be yours. REMEMBER: A New Year’s resolution doesn’t need to start the minute the clock strikes midnight on January 1st. You can start today, or you can start tomorrow or the day after that. JUST REMEMBER– YOU NEED TO START :) .

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2.) Be specific:

Do you want to eat healthier? Do you want a toned, energetic body? Do you want to try a vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free diet? Rather than just saying these things, PLAN out how you are going to accomplish these goals. Your focus should be on making lifestyle changes that you can carry over from year to year rather than starting crazy crash diets and cleanses that will keep you on track for a week only to make you irritable, starving, and ready raid the cabinets for a decent snack. Instead, plan out a specific approach.  For example, start eating healthier by packing a healthy, veggie-filled lunch the night before so you aren’t tempted to hit the vending machines or unhealthy cafeteria food at work. Get a healthy, toned, energized bod by cutting out processed foods and sugar and make a point to sweat it out (almost) every day (yes, walking and yoga can count! Just crank up the intensity ladies). Try a plant-based diet, but taper off slowly. Swap regular milk for almond milk in your oatmeal or smoothies and commit to eating fish/meat only three (mayyybe four) times a week. As you get more comfortable with creating hearty, plant-based recipes, you can reduce meat consumption further (i.e. eat organic meat just 1-2 times per week, cut out cheese and dairy etc…).

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3.) Write it down!

Once you know the direction you’re headed…WRITE IT DOWN! Buy yourself a pretty little notebook and create a contract for yourself based upon the plans you’ve devised above. Use the notebook to keep track of your successes, and yes, even failures. A slip up doesn’t mean you’ve blown the rest of 2014…after all, you have the whole entire year ahead of you to make up for it! Write down the mistake, accept that it happened, and move forward. Having to write down that you didn’t do something is often motivation enough to get you back on track and working even harder than before.

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4.) Hold yourself accountable:

Tell people your plans! I don’t mean you have to broadcast all over Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but if that’s your thing…go for it. Tell your best friend, your boyfriend, your roommate, you mom and let them know how motivated you are to keep up your healthy New Year’s habits. Have them to check in with you or ask you how it’s going. If those who are close to you know your plans and feel as though they are a part of them, they just might cut you some slack when you ask if you can host a healthy dinner party at your place instead of  heading out for game-day pizza and beer :) .

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5.) Be positive:

I can’t stress this one enough. BE POSITIVE, BE POSITIVE, BE POSITIVE! Change takes time– it isn’t going to happen overnight. But you are going to hit your goals much faster if you are positive during the process. Negative energy is crippling– believe in yourself and have faith. If you want change badly enough, you will get there. You’ve already committed…that’s the hardest part of all. Now sit back and enjoy the ride!

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6.) Reward yourself with love and happy things:

Okay, this sounds a bit fluffier than it really is but hear me out. Changing your lifestyle, being healthy, and keeping New Year’s resolutions are hard! be sure to love and honor yourself throughout the process. Meditate, buy yourself a nice book, take a bubble bath, get a manicure, buy new workout clothes, get a massage, take a nap, bake a healthy treat (don’t reward yourself with naughty food!)….the option is yours! Set some goals for yourself in that little notebook of yours and do something nice for yourself each time you reach one. After all…you deserve it!

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 It also doesn’t hurt to find a little inspiration :)

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Credit: quotesandsayingsblog.com

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Credit: herbalife mom

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Credit: thethingswesay.com

Credit: Pinterest.com

Credit: yourdailyenlightenment.wordpress.com

 

Credit: Pinterest.com

Credit: dailypositivequotes.com

Credit: peachypalate.com

Credit: Pinterest.com

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My new year’s resolution?

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To get back into my blogging schedule! Life got a little hectic these past few months, but I’m back and better than ever before. I can’t wait to share my healthy posts with you all and I can’t thank you enough for all of your loyalty and support– I love each and every one of you to the moon and back. And if I can leave you with just one word of advice as you head off to conquer those resolutions for the rest of 2014, it’s this:

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Stay motivated and you will amaze yourself at what you can do!

 

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Healthfully yours,

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Ashley Michelle xo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Running: The Heart & “Sole” of it

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“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”– John Bingham

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Did you know that June 5th was National Running Day? I know that was a few days ago, but after social media started blowing up with everyone’s updates, tweets, and images from their “National Running Day runs,” it got me thinking about what it means to be a runner. So, in honor of this day, I too decided to take a break from blogging and devote some extra time to the road.

 

As I laced up my sneakers, powered up my iPod, and headed out to run my favorite 6-mile loop around the Charles River… I paused. Given the fact that it was National Running Day, it only seemed appropriate to use this run as a time to reflect upon what running really means to me—after all…I wasn’t always a runner. So I shut off my iPod and hit the streets in silence– ready to breathe in the warm spring air and stay in the present– a far cry from my usual plugged-in, zoned-out, training-driven runs.

 

Then, I did what I do best.

I ran.

 

With nothing to distract me– aside from the occasional biker or a small family of geese crossing my path– I had plenty of time to get lost in my thoughts and reflect. Around mile three, I was feeling pretty amazing– light, yet powerful on my feet– breathing hard,  yet slow and steady. With the warm sun on my face and the salty breeze in my hair I almost forgot I was in the middle of the city.

 

It was then that I started thinking about why I run in the first place. I began to think about how grateful I am that I even can run. I thought about the Boston Marathon and I thought about my first 5K….

 

Clearly running goes much deeper than a pair of snazzy sneakers, some fancy leggings, and a Lululemon zip-up. It’s something you grow to love deep down in your soul–and it’s a relationship you must nurture if you want it to love you back.

 

In fact, come to think of it… running has been one of  the longest relationships I’ve ever had. Growing up I was always a very active child. I spent my time running around and playing outside with the neighbors, taking multiple dance classes a week, and participating in organized sports, however, I didn’t get my first real taste of running until back in middle school when my Dad convinced me to join the cross-country team. I was a tiny little thing, so I guess running looked like it should come naturally, and, well, I suppose it did–in fact, I was quite good! I entered a few local races and  actually placed…or sometimes WON. Once I started a little collection of those gold, plastic trophies and race teeshirts…I was hooked. I was officially a runner. And that’s when I began to truly understand what it meant to be a part of the running community.

 

Running isn’t just a hobby–

It’s a character-defining sport.

 

I know this may sound far-fetched to some, but I truly believe I became the person I am today because of running—namely because of  my amazing track and cross-country coach, Mr. Estey, and my inspiring track and cross-country teammates who quickly became like a second family to me. From the very beginning I understood that running takes discipline, commitment, patience and perseverance– these traits have shaped my entire life and defined me as a person to this very day.

 

How so? Well, first of all I learned very quickly that when it comes to running, (or getting anything I want in life), no one will ever be able to put in the work for me. When you race or when you run, your soul is right out there for all to see—plain and simple. There’s no hiding on a race course or on a track, there’s no hanging out on the sidelines, there’s no passing the ball to someone else to take the pressure off your back, and there are definitely no timeouts.When you run, you’re showing the world what you’re capable of and just how badly you want it.

 

Talk about sheer pressure.

Not to mention sheer glory when you succeed. 

 

But just like any other relationship…my running relationship has certainly had it’s fair share of ups and downs. As I got a little older and headed off to high school, I (naturally) wondered what else was out there. I flirted with the idea of trying out a different sport in the past, but never made any moves…until I finally fell under the spell of something else–something that looked more attractive, more fun and more popular: cheerleading (much to my father’s dismay). I swooned over the adorable uniforms and the fleeting promise of teenage stardom, much like a 14-year-old girl crushes on the “bad boy” in school. Thankfully this was just a stint of adolescent rebellion, and soon enough I ran back into the comfortable arms (and ratty old sneakers) of my first love– running.

 

Over the next few years, running and I endured a lot together. We won some races, lost some races, set PRs, and suffered through shin splints, blisters, exhaustion, foot injuries, and a terrible bout of mono. I cried, I celebrated, and I cried some more over the stress and emotions that came along with running–yet we still worked through the hard times and pushed on. I trained well, qualified for a few State Championships, and ultimately became Captain of my high school cross-country team in my senior year. Then, like most high school relationships, we took a break when I went to college. I became too busy with classes, and studying, and meeting new friends. I traded my long, relaxing runs for fast-paced, interval-driven gym sessions. Staying fit wasn’t a fun hobby anymore–I worked out to forget about a stressful day and because I was petrified of the dreaded “freshman 15″ associated with the first year of dorm-living.

 

And then I got sick.

And for the first time ever I couldn’t run.

 

When I was sick I was put on 100% exercise restriction. For two years I wasn’t allowed to exercise at all…even walking up a flight of stairs or across campus (when I was well enough to return to school) was considered a workout. I was miserable. For someone as active of as me, it felt like a death sentence (as pathetic as it sounds). Eventually I recovered and became healthy enough to run again, but my body had become incredibly weak and sore and stiff and tired easily from all that time off. I could finally get back to my normal routine and yet for the first time ever I didn’t want to run– it had come naturally to me for so long, and now I could barely run a mile without my legs screaming in agony. I needed to rebuild my muscle from scratch in order to gain strength and flexibility– basically, I had to retrain my body all over again. So, I hit the gym instead.

 

The frustration with my body continued–this time because it just couldn’t do the things it used to. Gradually, I (sadly) started to lose that spark inside of me– the one that once defined me as a runner. Even though I slowly grew stronger over time (the resilience of the human body truly is amazing), running just wasn’t the same. The only time I would go out for a run was when I couldn’t get to the gym or when I was away for the weekend and needed to get in a workout. Essentially I only ran when I had to. I stopped timing myself and tracking my mileage on these runs– out of fear I wouldn’t live up to my own high standards. When I graduated college and moved to Boston, I immediately joined an expensive gym, created a vigorous workout schedule, and stuck to it. It was easier to take these classes, go on those machines, and work out for this long rather than be alone with my body and mind on the road. I was still afraid I wouldn’t be good enough for me– or for the runner I used to be.

 

But then something started happening at work…

 

As soon as the warm weather arrived, I noticed that more and more people were going out for a run during their lunch break or at the end of the work day– and for good reason. When it comes to running in the city, you can’t find a better location than my office. As I mentioned in a previous post, my company is located on the border of Cambridge and Boston right along the beautiful Charles River. This river route gives runners the option of running a 2-mile, 4-mile, 6-mile, or 8-mile loop– perfect for runners at any level. And that was just the beauty of it– whether someone was training for a marathon or starting to run for the first time,  people of all levels were hitting the road and giving it their best shot… and they were loving it.

 

Every time I saw an employee come back from a run, I couldn’t help but notice how happy and refreshed they looked. I mean, what better way to relieve stress while also energizing the body and mind? Science has already proven that exercise can do just this. According to the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, exercise releases chemicals (endorphins) that make you feel happy while also releasing chemicals that suppress stress and anxiety inducing hormones (adrenalin and cortisol).  Similar findings published in these two articles found in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine  have also discovered that exercising during the work day improves mood, health, and overall productivity (additional evidence was also presented at an annual meeting of the  American College of Sports Medicine).

 

Okay, so I’m sure most people know all this information already– exercise = a happy and healthy you!  However, doing the same old exercises every day can get pretty darn stale and take some of the fun, relaxing benefits of working out away. I was starting to feel pretty burned out from my gym-centered workout routines, and I knew I needed to do something else that exercised my mind as well as my body (yes, I know yoga is SO beneficial for the body and mind but I still haven’t warmed up to the idea of it yet– maybe that will be my next mission ;) baby steps, right?). For me, running was that “something” that used to do just this. Way back when–on the days when I wasn’t working on pacing or racing– it wasn’t rare for me to go out for a run with no idea where I was headed. I liked to call these “fun runs”– just enjoying everything around me and letting curiosity lead the way.

 

Finally.

I was ready to try it again.

 

So with nothing to lose, I laced up my sneakers, put the watch away, and decided to go for a nice, easy run along the river– enjoying the views until I felt like turning around. I wasn’t going to worry about pace, or mileage, or the number of calories burned. I was going to run to escape the world (if only for a few minutes) and to appreciate my body for all that it can do. And you know what happened when I put all the negative thoughts about being good enough aside?

 

I ran like the wind.

 

That’s right. I still had it in me after all :) . A year later, I’m still running whenever I get a chance (I’ve even entered a few races!). Yes, I still hit the gym on most days, but when I need a different type of workout– one for the heart and the sole (like what I did there? I know, I’m good ;) ), I lace up my running shoes and hit the road. And while I’m out there I make sure to thank the Universe for giving me strong and healthy legs that carry me through strenuous workouts–even though they never seem to get the breaks that they deserve. I thank them for putting up with the 5:00 AM workouts and the late night workouts when I know they’d much rather be resting in bed than hitting the gym or hitting the road. But most of all, I thank them for never giving up on me, and never letting me forget that once a runner…always a runner.

 

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“Believe that you can run farther or faster. Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn-out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself.” – John Bingham 

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

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Sources: 

Exercising at Work

10 Reasons Play Can Make You Healthy and More Productive

Exercise May Make You a Better Worker

Does Exercise Make You Happy?

 

 

 

 


Reach the Beach 2013!

 

Photo credit: EF Education First

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“Unless it’s crazy, ambitious, and delusional it’s not worth our time.” –Anonymous

 

 

What could possibly be crazier than cramming 12 co-workers into TWO vans, for 24 hours, on ZERO sleep? How about cramming 12 sweaty co-workers into TWO vans, for 24 hours, on ZERO sleep– all while running 200 miles in between?!

 

I know what you’re thinking…

“That’s insanity! It’s pure MADNESS! It can’t be real!”

 

First of all, yes, it is real. And second of all you’re 100% right–it actually is just as insane as it sounds. But you know what? (And here’s the craziest part of all)…IT’S FUN! And that’s pretty much EF Education First (“EF” for short) in a nutshell…

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Crazy, ambitious, & FUN.

 

Just another day in the EF Boston office (Photo Credit: Facebook- Say Hello to the World)

 

It’s easy to be all three of these things when you consider what EF does. The Swedish-born company is the world leader in international education– and it specializes in educational travel, language training, academic degree programs and cultural exchange. And seriously, what’s more fun and exciting than TRAVEL?

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(Judging by my reaction to the Duomo in Florence… not much :) )

 

Now, for those of you who haven’t heard of EF, don’t worry– you’re going to be seeing a WHOLE lot more of us (and our signature color,“disruptive pink”) around the Boston area soon enough–the new Cambridge office (which will serve as the North American headquarters) is set to open in May of 2014. It’s located right along North Point Park on the Charles River where Boston, Cambridge, and Charlestown come to meet. Just check out the stunning design below…

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Opening May 2014

 

You see, EF has a knack for taking things to the next level–whether we’re building a striking new office (do you SEE that glass waterfall!), killing it in sales, or planning an extravagant summer party…maintaining a level of normalcy is one of the only things that EF doesn’t do well.  So, when a slew of fabulous and fit EF staff showed an interest in running, organizing a simple 5K just wouldn’t cut it for this young, hip, n’ happening (not to mention quite competitive) company. Instead, the EF Running Club was created! And it wasn’t long before EF staff started putting together running teams and competing with each other to see who could log the most miles during the work week. (In addition to bragging rights, the team that racked up the most mileage won some pretty sweet new running digs, compliments of EF;)).

 

It should come as no surprise, then, that EF jumped at the opportunity to participate in Reach the Beach– a New Balance sponsored relay race that takes running to a whole new level of extreme.

 

The RTB Relay is a 200-mile relay race that starts in Princeton, MA at the Mount Wachusett Ski Area and finishes at Horseneck Beach State Reservation in Westport, MA. The relay consists of 12 person teams that rotate through 36 transition areas as they cover the full 200 miles. This means that each relay team member runs three legs of varying lengths and difficulty. For the super competitive runners out there, there’s also an Ultra Distance division which has a team limit of six members. The runners in this “elite” group rotate in a set order once the race begins and are obligated to follow this rotation until the final runner Reaches the Beach. For instance, I ran a total of 19.33 miles split into three legs– 6.71 miles, 5.97 miles, and 6.65 miles respectively.

 

Last year a few brave souls from the EF Boston office ran the relay race and absolutely LOVED it– in fact, some staff loved it so much that they even signed up for the New Hampshire relay a few months later. So this year, because our office is full of  crazy, athletic, and all-around awesome individuals (and a pretty cool CEO who also happens to be quite the athlete himself), EF decided to sponsor seven teams of our own and run the race as a company…

 

 

EF Boston RTB Group Shot! Sorry for the fuzzy image quality (Photo Credit: Norbert Lorscheider)

 

A WHOPPING 103 OF US.

 

And so the EF staff banded together, split into seven teams (by office floor), came up with silly team names, and decorated 13 vans (each floor had two vans, but the Elite team only had one since they’d be running all 36 legs of the race themselves–those crazies!). My team, the ninth floor, came up with the team name “Amigos Rapidos.” We decked out our van with sombreros, maracas, blow-up burros and cacti and hit the road (literally).  Thanks to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, all of the EF runners were able to document our journey for the full 200 miles. I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos from the race below :)

Cool kicks. Cooler kids. #EFRUNS! (Instagram: jbarbato34)

Don't worry guys...I made plenty of peanut butter sandwich fuel for everybody--vegan and non-vegan (note the honey and Nutella)! (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

Just the EF Ultra Elite team mascot in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall at EF...no big deal--totally normal. (Instagram: onefoodguy)

Oh you know...just noticing how much EF is owning the roster ;) (Instagram: onefoodguy)

RTB starting line-- Ready to RACE! (Instagram: Alex Digregorio)

EF is ready to go! (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

EF Elite team ready to kick off RTB. (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

Just chillin' on the chairlift at Wachusett Mountain (starting line). (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

Aaaand we're OFF! (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

Amigos Rapidos-- My awesome team van! (Instagram: prettyfitlife).

Amigos Rapidos' silly van decor. (Photo Credit: Katie Sullivan)

Just hanging out with the amigos (Photo Credit: Reach the Beach)

Ready for my first handoff! (Instagram: dwardlet)

Finishing strong! (Please disregard my ugly race face. K thx!) (Instagram: rhauck)

Van ride sing-a-longs (Instagram: iamdianabanana)

Ready to GLOW for our night runs! (Instagram: meaghanmurray)

EF staffers are hardcore. And epic. (Instagram: jbarbato34)

Getting ready for my (scary!) night run... (Instagram: iamdianabanana)

My awesome team (The Amigos Rapidos!) waiting for me to finish my final leg. (Instagram: dwardlet)

Both of our vans running across the finish line together :) (Instagram: meaghanmurray)

Time to celebrate! (Instagram: prettyfitlife)

The "Amigos Rapidos" at an EF happy hour reunion (Instagram: dwardlet)

 

Running Reach the Beach reminded me how much I love to race. I guess years of competitive running (and the perfectionist-induced stress that accompanied it) made me a little wary to get back into racing once I hit my 20′s…but something about this race resonated differently. Sure, I’ll always have that competitive edge to me, and I’ll sure as heck be shooting for that next PR, but I also realized that running isn’t always just about getting to the finish–it’s about believing in yourself, believing in others, and having some fun making friends while you’re at it. Running is a community and I’m realizing it’s an awesome one to be a part of again :) . In fact…I’ve already signed up for two more races just this summer! (The City Sports Back in the Day 10k 80′s themed run & The Falmouth Road Race ).

 

What do you think? Maybe I can rack up a few more of these babies (and find a few new running buddies too!) before summer ends… :)

#RunningSummer

 

Reach the Beach Medals :) (Photo Credit: Reach the Beach)

 

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.” — John Bingham

 

He certainly says it best.

Keep running people :) .

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

 


Wake-up with Pre-Workout Chia Shots!

Photo Credit: discovergoodnutrition.com

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Wake up with determination.

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Go to bed with satisfaction.

 

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I’ve always been a morning person. I was that girl who signed up for those dreaded 8:00 am classes in college and gladly took an internship which required me to get up at 4:30 am everyday during the summer and senior year (I worked for a morning show at a TV station and I LOVED every second of it).

 

Yes, Some may call me crazy.

But I prefer to call it dedicated :) .

 

Fast forward a few years later and I’m still exactly the same. I’m very particular about what time I get up in the morning and I even set my alarm on the weekend (I consider sleeping past 7:00 am late– for me at least!). I’m suppose this is because I’m super particular about how I like my day to pan out–i.e. I’d rather tackle my errands and responsibilities as early as possible so that I have more time to relax (and blog!) later in the day as opposed to rushing around trying to get things done before bedtime. It probably doesn’t surprise you, then, that I was also the girl who finished her papers/projects days before they were due. No all-nighters in the library for me! I know. SUCH a dork.

 

I find that the same level of particularity can be applied to workout schedules–people tend to be either morning workout warriors or late night sweat sesh gurus. Some people like to hit the gym after dark to work off the stress of the day while I love to get in a hardcore workout first thing in the morning (shocker, I know) because I believe it sets a healthy tone for the rest of my day.

 

The problem with this?

Breakfast.

 

During the week, I get up at 5:00 am and I’m at the gym by the time it opens at 5:30. The last thing I want to do that early in the morning is eat, but halfway through my morning spin class… I’m always absolutely starving. Ironically, however, breakfast is my absolute favorite meal.  I find nothing more relaxing than waking up on a weekend, making a hot cup of tea, catching up on the news and preparing a healthy breakfast before I hit the gym. I’ve also noticed that when I eat a nice substantial meal… that’s when I get in my very best workouts. Still, during the week, it’s been difficult for me to make this happen.

 

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that people and breakfast are weird. For example, my boyfriend could be running 30 minutes late to work but he’ll still find a way to sit down to eat a bagel with cream cheese and leisurely drink two cups of coffee every. single. morning. Me on the other hand? I’ll spend the extra time doing my make-up, whipping up lunch, or ironing an outfit while I scarf down a handful trail mix and make a run for the bus. I also have a friend who prefers to eat an entire dinner and then go for a nice long run. The mere idea of running on a full stomach nauseates me, but it works for her. The real trick is finding what works (and feels) best for you. I clearly needed to find something that worked for me and my early morning workout routine, so that’s when I started brainstorming….

 

What can I eat first thing in the morning that’s easy on the stomach yet provides enough energy to power me through a workout?

 

Enter Chia Shots :)

 

 

 

Now, if you’re a frequent reader of my blog you know exactly how I feel about the powerful little guys known as chia seeds (you can read all about them plus get a pretty delicious recipe in my post here). To make a long story short, they’re amazing! Don’t believe me? Just check out all of these fabulous health benefits they have to offer below:

 

  • They deliver the max amount of nutrients with the least amount of calories.
  • Chia seeds have 2x the protein of any seed or grain.
  • They have 3x as much iron as spinach.
  • Chia seeds increase stamina and energy over long periods of time (they are becoming a favorite among marathon runners!)
  • They can aid in weight loss (chia seeds absorb up to 7x its weight, and expand to curb appetite/make you feel full).
  • They are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, also known as ALA.
  • Chia seeds can reduce overall cholesterol and increase good cholesterol (HDL)
  • They are heart-healthy in that they have one of the most concentrated sources of Omega-3 than in any other food (even salmon).
  • They also contain high amounts of Omega-6 (both Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids cannot be made internally and must be obtained through diet).
  • They contain the essential minerals such as sodiumphosphoruspotassium (2x as much as bananas), manganese, and calcium (5x more than in milk!).
  • They are FULL of antioxidants (3x as much as blueberries!).
  • Chia seeds have 11 grams of dietary fiber in one ounce (the soluble fiber improves digestion and helps to reduce glycemic spikes)
  • They do not need to be ground like flax seeds in order to reap their benefits.
  • Chia seeds have a long shelf life and do not spoil as quickly as other seeds (like flax-seed).
  • They soothe heartburn and calm the digestive system due to the gel-like substance they form when mixed with a liquid (this is especially helpful for people with IBS).
  • Chia can relieve itchy skin (in oil form)
  • They can help to balance blood sugar/prevent glucose spikes

 

Sounds like the perfect powerhouse food to me!

 

 

Now, I will be honest– chia seeds can take a little getting used to. When soaked in liquid, they expand up to 7x their weight and develop a gel-like coating. The consistency reminds me of tapioca pudding (I grew up eating tapioca and rice pudding, so it has never bothered me that much). Don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to reap the benefits of chia seeds if you don’t love the texture in a pudding form (blended into a smoothie, sprinkled over a salad, mixed into my Weekend Workout Oatmeal–don’t worry, recipe to come!), but I urge you to give the soaked version a try– when you discover how great you feel after eating them you won’t be turning back :) . PLUS, the best part of all is that you can mix this recipe up the night before, toss it in the fridge, and voilà! It’s ready for you in the morning before you head to the gym.

 

Now you can have a quick and tasty-pre-workout snack that will power you through your gym sesh!

 

Pre-Workout Chia Shots

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup of unsweetened almond milk (add more or less milk depending upon how thick you want the consistency of the chia shots– i.e. do you want to drink it or eat it with a spoon like a pudding)
  • Slightly under 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract (or almond extract)
  • 1/2 packet of stevia
  • Cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice (to taste)
  • Optional: Add in some powdered peanut butter or cocoa powder (to taste), raisins, a spoonful of granola, a few chocolate chips, a drizzle of 100% maple syrup, or a some slices of banana.

 

Directions:

  • Measure out chia seeds in a small glass, mug or bowl.
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  • Pour almond milk over the chia seeds.
  • Add stevia, your extract of choice, and any other fun surprises you might like. Mix well.
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  • Chill in the fridge overnight (just give the chia pudding a good stir before you eat it in the morning) or wait 10 minutes and mix well if you want to eat it right away.
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  • For an actual “chia shot,” pour chia pudding mixture into shot glasses and shoot em’ back! (Actual shot glasses are totally optional– feel free to use a spoon if you’d like :) ).
  • Follow these chia shots with a small, healthy breakfast post-gym and you’ve set the groundwork for a nice, healthy day!
  • Note: Of course these shots can be eaten any time of the day for a healthy snack or even for some protein-rich post-workout fuel. And if you’re looking for a more substantial snack, breakfast, or a healthy dessert– simply double up the recipe for a bigger bowl of Chia Power Pudding.
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So eat up early birds!

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And never go hungry during a workout again. 

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Cheers to that! ;)

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

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Hot for Healthworks! (Plus a FREE 5-Day Trial Pass!)

 

 

Roses are red,

 

Violets are blue.

 

Jewelry is nice…

 

But Healthworks is too! ;)

 

x

 

Sure Valentine’s Day is all about loving your hunni, but that doesn’t mean all the single ladies have to suffer through this sparkly, chocolate-covered, heart-filled holiday alone. Heck…even us hitched chicks need a place to unwind and relax and get away from the dudes in our lives for a hot second.

 

Thankfully Healthworks Fitness Center has the Boston girls covered!

 

First of all, anyone who knows me knows I am absolutely OBSESSED with Healthworks, so please allow me to apologize in advance for this full on love fest that’s about to ensue. You see, Healthworks isn’t just my gym. It’s my sanctuary (I’m not even being dramatic. It’s just THAT amazing). Obviously if it’s that incredible it’d be a crime to keep this jewel of a place all to myself, so when I heard Healthworks was having an Open House week from February 11th- February 17th…I knew I just had to share this little secret with my loyal readers ;) .

 

It all began when I stumbled into Healthworks for the first time around a year and a half ago. I had been living in the city for about six months when a couple of ladies from the Cambridge location (Danielle and Lisa :) ) popped by my office on a rainy September afternoon to hand out some free-trial passes to our employees. At the time, I was going to a $10-a-month gym right across the street from Healthworks and I was pretty much hating life (sweaty, smelly men and limited and/or broken equipment in a stuffy, steamy  basement-level gym doesn’t exactly sound like fitness bliss to me). I was trying to budget and save money wherever I could, but this whole discount-gym-thing just wasn’t cutting it. I could feel myself getting softer, weaker, and less motivated by the day. Working out at that place just wasn’t giving me that mental and physical boost I needed. Something needed to change…

 

Enter Healthworks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moment I stepped into this women’s fitness center, I felt like I had entered a dream. The sweet smell of eucalyptus filled the air, a fresh selection of natural granola bars, drinks and other healthy snacks greeted me at the front desk, and a smiling staff member handed me a fluffy towel as I walked into the cozy, clean and inviting locker room– eyes wide, mouth gaping (did I mention classical music was playing? Angels might as freaking well have been singing from the heavens at this point). And by the time I made my way upstairs to the fitness center, I was instantly hooked. The gym had more cardio machines, weights, and fitness equipment than a fitness fanatic like me would even know what to do with (kettlebells, bosu balls, and TRX? Hello?!). But don’t let the huge variety of equipment intimidate you. The incredible team of Healthworks trainers are more than willing you show you the ropes (you even get a free personal training evaluation and a free training session when you sign on to become a member.)

 

But the real kicker?

I knew I’d never have to wait 30 minutes or more for a darn stair climber, treadmill or elliptical ever again.

EVER.

There’s plenty of equipment to go around.

 

 

 

Perhaps the only thing better than the copious amount of fitness machines are the wide array of group fitness classes the gym has to offer (have you read about my obsession with Bosu training?) And when I say wide array, I’m talking OVER 100 group fitness classes a week FREE with your membership!

 

Yup.

FREE!

 

From cycling, yoga, and pilates to tabata, cardio strike, and boxing…there’s truly something for everyone no matter what your age. And after a grueling workout or a killer class, what better way to relax than by treating yourself to an assortment of spa-like amenities.

 

Yes.

You read that right.

SPA.

 

 

 

Healthworks offers a selection of spa services including massages (Lymph detox and hot stone treatments? Yes please!), acupuncture (stress relief? Okay!), a eucalyptus steam room (cold? What cold?), a whirlpool (sore muscles? Not here!), and a sauna (rough day? Sweat it out!). Oh yea. You also get a complimentary 25-minute massage when you sign up. BAM.

 

And last but not least, the most refreshing part of all?

The staff at Healthworks are FABULOUS.

 

Every single time I walk into that club, I’m greeted with a smiley “Hey Ash!” and sent off with a cheery “See ya tomorrow!” Whether a staff member is working at the front desk, training a client, or teaching a group fitness class, they truly make you feel more like their “BFF” rather than “just another client at the gym.” I can tell you…after a long day at work this simple kindness is much appreciated :) .

 

So, clearly you know how I feel about Healthworks Fitness Center for Women, but don’t just take my word for it… test it out for yourself!  I promise– after just one visit to this fitness paradise, you’ll be hooked. It won’t be long before you start to get excited to go to the gym and  you start to look forward to your next workout (you can call me crazy now…but just you wait!). When your gym is pleasant and fun and you’re surrounded by motivating people who push your limits and believe in you… that’s when fitness becomes FUN. And when fitness is fun, healthy changes set in and that’s when true miracles happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And isn’t that what we all want in the end?

Positive, healthy, growth and change?

I sure think so!

 

The Healthworks Mission:

“At Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women we empower women to be strong, both physically and mentally. Our mission is to be the leader in women’s health and wellness by providing exceptional experiences through fitness, service and support throughout our clubs and the community.”

 

What Sets Healthworks Apart:

  • More than a 100 Group Fitness Classes a Week
  • Rated “Best Personal Trainers” by the Boston A List
  • Spacious cardiovascular area featuring televisions and movies
  • Free weight & stretching area
  • Group exercise studio
  • Exclusive Cycling studio
  • Complimentary fitness & equipment orientations
  • Spa-like locker rooms with full service vanities
  • Childcare
  • Massage
  • Complimentary towel service

 

What YOU Get:

  • Initial evaluation with a Personal Trainer and one Personal Training session
  • A free Small Group Training session of your choice, including BURN, drop10, various bootcamps, and more!
  • A relaxing 25-minute massage
  • Full access to all group fitness classes
  • Complimentary strength, cardio and stretching orientations
  • Use of wet areas, including eucalyptus steam room and dry sauna, to relax and rejuvenate
  • Complimentary gym and bath towel service
  • Access to spa-esque locker rooms, equipped with amenities to make getting ready a breeze
  • AND, if you desire, we also offer childcare, personal training, massage, skin care, acupuncture, health coaching and nutrition consulting.

 

 

So are you DYING to try Healthworks yet?

Yes?

Well, you’re in luck!

 

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In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Healthworks is spreading the love and holding an Open House all this week from February 11th- February 17th. Each of the four Healthworks locations (Back Bay, Cambridge, Chestnut Hill, and Coolidge Corner) will offer specialty Group Fitness Classes, complimentary Small Group Training for you and a friend, complimentary acupuncture, shopping, pampering, food, and live music all week-long. Click here to get access to a 5-day guest pass and click here to check out the schedules for each fitness center.
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Already a member?  No sweat! Your friend can also use the complimentary guest pass (above) during Open House week or for any 5-day duration in February, and if they join during Open House week, they’ll receive a $0 enrollment fee and you’ll get a referral ($5 off your monthly membership dues!). Sounds like a win/win, huh?

 

So… what are you waiting for?

 

Go ahead.

 

Treat yourself something extra sweet this Valentine’s Day

 

(Or convince your special someone that a gym membership will get them wayyy more brownie points than a box of chocolates!)

 

After all, loving yourself is the sweetest kind of love of all :)

 

 

Healthfully Yours,

Ashley Michelle

 

 

Photo credits: Healthworks Fitness Center


Be a Workout Warrior!

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“Motivation is what gets you started….

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Credit: http://aoinspiration.com

 

 

 

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Habit is what keeps you going.” — Jim Ryun

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Keeping in step with my “Fit for Life” series in these past few posts, I decided it was important for me to cover exercise and fitness. While a balanced diet is vital to you health, weight-loss/maintenance efforts, and over all well-being (as I covered in my last post)…physical activity is just as important. Why? Because if you’re looking to feel stronger, healthier, leaner, stress-free, beautiful, powerful and pretty much ahhh-mazing (and who wouldn’t want that?) you need a combination of good nutrition and good-quality exercise.

Now, I know sticking to an exercise regimen can be tough. We’re tired after a long day of work and taking care of the kids (or in some cases the boyfriend/fiancé/or husband!). Our weekly girl’s nights and happy hours are wayyy more tempting than a hot date with the treadmill. It’s so gosh darn cold outside you’d rather give up your Lululemon Wunder Under Leggings than walk to your car and drive to the gym (and no I won’t judge you for rocking Lulu even if the closest they’ve come to a gym is when you pass it on the way to the grocery store). But the reality is, with fitness…there is no secret potion, special pill, or magical fairy dust to create results for you.

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The reality?

 

You need to wake up and you need to GET TOUGH.

 

So that’s exactly what I’m going to be.

 

 

Photo Credit: iheartinspiration.com

 

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It’s no secret that America is facing a serious health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 35.9% of adults over the age of 20 are obese and  33.% of adults over 20 are overweight. Even scarier? 18.4 % of adolescents age 12-19 are obese, 18% of children age 6-11 are obese, 12.5% of young children age 2-5 are obese. Also according to the CDC–one-third of all Americans are obese and not one city in the U.S. has an obesity rate of less than 20%. People sit in a car on their way to work, sit all day at work, hit up the vending machines when they need a boost, grab fast food on their way home, or get home so late they can’t eat a healthy meal at all (cue the nighttime snacking). Grocery stores are full of all sorts of sneaky, false-advertised, processed, refined, and sugary junk that clogs up our bodies and keep us craving more of  (and spending more on) that bad stuff.

 

And we can’t forget about stress.

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Photo Credit: www.nhs.uk

 

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According to the American Psychological Association, 44% of Americans say their stress level has increased over the past five years. And did you know that stress can actually lead to obesity? Of course, everyone deals with stress differently, but scientists have actually found evidence that supports the stress/obesity connection. The study shows that stress is linked to biochemical changes which then trigger the cravings that can lead to overeating, emotional eating, and obesity. Top that off with the addictive properties of unhealthy foods, and youve got yourself a killer combination (literally).

Now let’s play a game for  minute. I want you to think about the last time you were stressed at work. Would you rather have reached for a bag of carrot and celery sticks or that bowl of candy on your co-workers desk and the cake in the break room? My guess is that your first instinct is to reach for the sugary, carb-filled, fattening, processed comfort foods. You see, stress has the ability to trigger certain hormones in the body which then play a role in the whole “pass-me-the-chocolate-before-die” process. When these chemicals and hormones are thrown into overdrive during stressful times, that’s when unhealthy-eating is most tempting. Below, I cover 3 of these sneaky fat-storing and craving -inducing buggers…

 

1.)  Serotonin: Serotonin is one of these hormones and it could be the reason you’re grabbing for the fatty, processed, carb-filled foods when you’re stressed out. Serotonin acts as the body’s “feel good” or “happy” chemical, and when you eat carbohydrates your serotonin levels rise–so do those “happy” feelings. This makes you feel warm and fuzzy all over for the moment…but that’s it. Your problems are still going to be there after you finish that slice of cake!

 

2.)  Cortisol: Cortisol is another stress hormone that I’m sure you’ve heard about before. When you are stressed out, your cortisol levels rise. Chronic stress can cause your body to release extra cortisol, which increases your appetite and cravings and signals the body to store fat.

 

3.)  Neuropeptide-Y: Lastly, there is a less well-known molecule that has a hand in fat storage. Studies show that the body processes food differently when under stress. When you are stressed,  neuropeptide-Y is released from the nerve cells and encourages fat accumulation. Fatty, sugary, carb-filled diets further promote the release of this molecule.

 

 

So, in a nutshell, a common scenario goes something like this…

 

 

Photo Credit: Bing

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Okay. This is a tadddd extreme, but still–the point is valid. You get super stressed/sad/angry so you crave something sweet and sugary and/or fried and fattening to make you feel happy (for a minute) because you think “I deserve it!” This quickly becomes an addictive cycle every time you’re stressed. This unhealthy eating habit then causes you to gain unwanted weight and pick up even more unhealthy habits (those addictive cravings will do it to ya!). This makes you more stressed and causes your body to activate all of those fat-storing hormones that (once again) cause you to continue eating poorly, gain unhealthy weight, and become even more stressed than before.

 

SHEESH!

 

What a vicious cycle. All of this sounds pretty counterproductive, don’t you think? So… what does help with stress and the risk of obesity/weight gain?

 

 

EXERCISE!

 

 

Photo Credit: liftrunplay

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I’m just going to come right out and say it– I believe exercise can cure almost anything (or at least many of) the health problems riddling our society today. If you don’t believe me…Google it. The studies are endless.  Check out some of the fabulous health benefits of regular exercise below.

 

Exercise can help you…

 

  1. Control your weight
  2. Improve your mood/reduce depression
  3. Reduce stress
  4. Increase energy
  5. Combat disease (heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, heart attack, stroke, metabolic syndrome, depression, type 2 diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and many others!)
  6. Sleep better
  7. Ignite your sex life <3
  8. Find a new hobby
  9. Think clearer
  10. Look amazing!
  11. Get stronger
  12. Make friends!
  13. Live a longer, more fulfilling life

The list goes on and on and on (check out this NY Times article here for a more in-depth report on the health benefits of exercise). All of these things sound pretty great huh? I mean really people. There’s no excuse not to exercise (it’s actually more harmful if you don’t. Just check out these  two articles).

Now, I do understand that not everyone can go to the gym or workout every single day (we do have a life to lead after all)  and let’s face it, life loves handing us responsibilities that are non-negotiable. However, there’s a difference between allowing outside forces to hold you back from exercising and getting healthy and allowing YOURSELF to hold YOU back from exercising and getting healthy. I want you to be honest. If the real person keeping you from achieving your dreams is in fact you…something needs to change.

Like I said…there’s no secret potion or a magical unicorn ready to fly you to the gym. If you want change…you have to make it happen yourself. You have to wake, up, get to that fitness class, drive to the gym, go for a run, practice yoga or whatever you choose to do.  It takes motivation and it takes hard work but I promise it’s worth it. But you already know that don’t you? Chances are, if you’re still reading this post, it’s because you want to make a change…

 

You want to be a workout warrior.

You care about your health.

Congrats.

I have faith in you! 

 

And while I’m not going to sugarcoat it and tell you it will be easy right away, I can tell you there are plenty of ways to motivate yourself and ease yourself into a fitness regimen that will make working out both easier and fun over time. The list below includes some tips and tricks that have helped pump me up and keep me on the path to health.  Hopefully they will pump you up and keep you in check as well :)

 

Photo Credit: Healthworks

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Tips and tricks to get you to “Workout Warrior” status!


  1. Schedule weekly workouts ahead of time! This way, you don’t have to make the “to gym or not to gym”decision on the fly (C’mon, you know the answer will be “not to gym”). Going out with friends after work? Then get up an hour earlier and workout in the morning.
  2. Treat workouts as appointments…NO EXCUSES! Would you cancel your hair appointment or that mani/pedi? Didn’t think so. Want to really look and feel fabulous? Working out is the best kind of makeover– both physically and mentally.
  3. Lay out your workout clothes night before: This is little tip makes getting yourself out of bed for a morning workout that much easier. If your clothes are all good to go and ready to throw on…it’s harder to say no (heck, sleep in them if you have to!)
  4. Pack your gym bag before you go to bed: If you work out during the day or after work, it’s hard to say “forget it” when your bag is already packed and ready to hit the gym. Heck, change at the office before you leave so you really have no excuses for hitting the gym after work.
  5. Try something new and fun! Tabata? Zumba? Spin? Pilates? Aerobic pole dancing? Whatever! Just get moving :) . If you keep yourself from getting bored, you’ll keep it up.
  6. Buy cute new workout clothes: If you buy em’…you’ve gotta find a time to wear em’ right?? So go on. Treat yourself to something nice.
  7. Get fitted for the right sneaker: This is SO important. Wearing the right sneaker can prevent injury and make all the difference in your workouts. So please don’t just buy those neon yellow sneakers because they’re super cute. Buy them because they FIT. If they also happen to be adorable too? Bonus!
  8. Hire a personal trainer: When you’re paying someone to help you workout, believe me…you’ll show up. Those guys are NOT cheap.
  9. Take advantage of deals/coupons/specials: Groupon, LivingSocial, RueLaLa…you can find some great deals here if you want to test out fitness classes, boot camps and gyms before committing yourself to something full-time.
  10. Find a workout buddy! If someone else is counting on you, you most likely won’t want to flake out and skip a gym sesh. Plus, having a workout buddy is a great way to keep yourself in check and keep each other motivated.
  11. Set an alarm: Set an alarm on your phone to workout and set a couple other alarms throughout the day as reminders to remember your goals.
  12. Buy a trashy magazine: Hey, if that’s what it takes to get you on that stairclimber…go for it girlfriend!
  13. Make a new playlist: Sometimes a brand new mix of music is all you need to get amped up and ready to sweat. Another fun idea? Have your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband make a playlist for you! It adds a fun element of surprise to your workout.
  14. Split your workouts up: This is probably my most helpful trick of all– I choose to split my workouts up so that I do half before work and half after work (or on my lunch break when the weather allows for a nice run). I find I am able to get in harder, intenser, more effective workouts or get in an extra fitness class this way because it makes each separate workout seem short and sweet. In reality, both workouts are anything but.
  15. Invest in simple at-home gym equipment: Oh, it’s raining/snowy/windy/too cold/too hot outside? Good thing you have weights, a jump rope, resistance bands, and a yoga ball at home! Check out some easy at home fitness routines here and here (without equipment)or  here and here (with equipment).
  16. Log your activity: Channel your inner elementary school self and make a sticker chart or a “money jar”. Give yourself a gold star every time to sweat it out or add a buck to the money jar. Spend on something nice ;) .
  17. Reward yourself:  Did you run a 5k or workout everyday for a week? Finally nail that yoga pose or hold a plank for one minute straight? Woo hoo! Reward yourself with clothes, a mani/pedi a massage (etc…) or anything that makes you feel fabulous! Just remember– you are not a dog–don’t reward yourself with food. A healthy snack is fine…but just because you ran five miles doesn’t mean you get to chow down on a plate of sweet potato fries (They’re still fries. Don’t pretend they’re calorie-free). Believe me, you won’t feel good about it after.
  18. Exercise even if you’re tired: NOTE: This does NOT mean exercise if you’re rundown. This means exercise if your feeling lazy or if you’re hungover. I promise…it will wake you up, give you a healthy glow and put a pep in your step in no time.
  19. Most importantly…CHALLENGE YOURSELF! Exercise isn’t supposed to be easy. And it sure isn’t supposed to be comfortable. So… get comfortable with being UNCOMFORTABLE! that’s the only way you’ll see results and get all the health benefits you possibly can.

 

 

I’m SO excited for you to begin your journey to a healthier, happier, fitter you. I believe in you, and I hope YOU believe in yourself too!

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If you can make a promise to commit to a new, healthy, positive routine and if you’re honest with yourself and you DO YOUR BEST… there is no such thing as failure.

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Don’t forget to remind yourself every day how amazing you really are, and as hard as it may be…try not to get discouraged. Remember, NO ONE IS PERFECT. You’ll find your way there. I KNOW it!

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For now, here are some inspirational quotes to get you motivated :)

 

Photo Credit: Coeur Blonde

 

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Photo Credit: Healthworks

 

Photo Credit: Healthworks

 

Photo Credit: Women's Health

 

Photo Credit: Healthworks

 

Photo Credit: Healthworks

 

Photo Credit: Pinterest

 

 

Photo Credit: Pinterest

 

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

 

Photo Credit: Pinterest

 

Photo Credit: Healthworks

 

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

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Sources:

 

Mayo Clinic: Health and Exercise

CDC Fast Stats: Obesity and Overweight

CDC Obesity Data

APA Key Findings: Stress

Everyday Health: Food, Mood, Stress & Dieting

Livestrong: Your Body on Exercise

Long Beach Business Journal: Obesity Epidemic