10 Things That Happen When You’re a Perfectionist

Hello, my name is Ashley and I am a perfectionist.

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Phew, okay. It feels great getting that off my chest. I know, I know, you’re all SHOCKED by the news, but seriously– let’s talk about this devil of a word for a second.

I’ve been quite open about how perfectionism played a heavy role in my past struggles with anorexia and exercise addiction, but eating disorder aside,  perfectionist like tendencies have always been present in practically every aspect of my life — and I know many of you can relate. So in the spirit of Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post (because numerical list articles are seriously my favorite articles of all time), I present to you my very first countdown article on Pretty Fit Life! A little tongue in cheek, a little earnest, and hopefully thought-provoking for my fellow perfectionists out there (you’re not alone!). The struggle is real, but don’t worry, we’ll all learn to be imperfect one day :)

 

1.)  Spontaneity is literally your worst nightmare:

(Cue the horror music). Routine keeps you sane—for the most part anyways. Sure, you like the idea of road-tripping cross-country with nothing but a change of underwear and a toothbrush, but in reality an alteration of plans requires advance notice and proper preparation (so you can at least look like you’re letting your hair down for once).

 

2.)  You don’t know how to relax:

In fact, downtime gives you straight up anxiety. You hate lazy people and fear someone will think you’re one of them if you aren’t chronically busy. You don’t believe there’s ever “nothing to do” and have an equal amount of jealousy and intrigue for people who seem to have that whole “just chillin’” thing down pat.

 

3.)  You set an alarm on the weekends…sometimes multiple:

Heaven forbid you sleep past 7:00am—after all, that would mean you’ve practically wasted the day away! If you haven’t worked out, checked your emails, prepped your food for the week, and run all of your errands before 10:00am, then clearly you’ve failed at life! When you do have a day off from work, you intend to make the very best of it by completely scheduling out your whole day out hour by hour—even the fun stuff.

 

4.)  Your new place is never “finished”:

You have dreams of your new home looking like something straight out of an HGTV special, but paint is permanent– just like the scar that will be left on your heart when you find throw pillows that match that “Bohemian Paradise” theme and you’ve already settled on “Shabby Chic.”

 

5.)  Meditation and yoga are the bane of your existence:

You SO want to be a yogi, goddamnit! Some of the most successful people in the world meditate and practice yoga every day yet you can’t get through two minutes without wondering when your car had it’s last oil change, and if you should consider switching your cat’s food to that expensive, organic, non-GMO ish…

 

6.)  January 1st is the calendar marker for another “midlife crisis”:

Yes, you have a midlife crisis–every year. You make lengthy lists of resolutions, apply to new jobs and/or Master’s programs, purchase a pricey gym membership, and shout phrases like “What am I doing with my life!?” You commit that this year will finally be the year you find yourself, and for a while you believe it– until the snow melts at least.

 

7.)  You fear you’re never good enough:

You question whether people like you, whether you’re good enough at your job or at your relationship, and whether you’re a success or a failure. In fact, you probably question this every day. Unless you’re being acknowledged or praised, you feel you’re being condemned. You live in fear of disappointing others—especially yourself.

 

8.)  You second guess everything:

You’ll never be truly satisfied with your decisions—even if they were the right call to make at the time. For you, the grass is always going to be greener on the other side and you’ll spend your whole life wondering “what if I did this instead of that…” Yes this will come up A LOT, but you also know it’s toxic to spend too much time here—dwelling in the past will prevent you from looking to the future.

 

9.)  You don’t know what “happy” is:

Happiness seems like a magical, sparkly, unicorn that everyone can see but you. Yes, you get happy feelings like a normal human being, but whether or not you actually are happy…. you’re not so sure. You tell yourself “I’ll be happy when I (fill in the blank).” But when one goal is attained, you just immediately set another one, and then another one—preventing you from basking in the glow of achievement for long. Long story short, happiness comes from within–it’s just going to be a little harder for you to find it.

 

10.) No one knows how insecure you feel:

You’re a PERFECTIONIST for crying out loud! That means you’re perfect, REMEMBER?? False. Sure, on the outside you’ve got it together. People actually admire your crazy schedules, to-do lists, daily routines, and disciplined workout regimens– but little do they know how much time and energy it takes to keep up with this perfect persona. Little do they know that deep down, we wish we were a little more human like you—because it’s starting to look pretty perfect…

 

So, let’s just all take a word of advice from Tay Tay herself…

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 And learn to be a little more like Michelle Tanner.

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Because blue-haired, Bride Wars Kate Hudson is right…

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I mean…even Beyoncé isn’t perfect ;)

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Healthfully Yours,

Ashley Michelle


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


Eating Vegan in California

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I think I’ve found my calling.

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Eating…

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& traveling…

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& eating some MORE!

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Eating healthy, that is ;)

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(New TV show perhaps? I’m looking at you Food Network!)

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A couple of weeks ago, the boyfriend and I took a quick trip to California to visit some family who live right outside of Los Angeles. I had never been to the West Coast before so I was looking forward to experiencing the warm weather and the laid back Cali lifestyle à la Katy Perry, KUWTK, Real Housewives, and The Hills (I know, I know…go on–judge me!). Yet, even though I had the chance to (window) shop along Rodeo Drive, catch a glimpse of the famous Hollywood sign, and experience the fabulous-ness of Beverly Hills–for me, the most exciting part of the trip was something different…

 

So what was my fav thing about this little getaway?

THE FOOD OF COURSE!

Duh ;)

 

Los Angeles is known for much more than its sexy beach bodies, high-profile celebrity residents, extravagant movie sets, and TV studios. Los Angeles also happens to be one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the United States! (Other cities include Austin, TX, Portland, OR, New York City, NY, Chicago, IL, Seattle, WA, Salt Lake City, UT, Las Vegas, NV, Boulder, CO, and Richmond, VA– according to PETA). So–naturally–as soon as we booked our flights I began Googling vegan restaurants in the area.

 

For once I finally knew that keeping in line with my plant-based diet while traveling would be a piece of (vegan) cake!

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(Oh, and spending my early mornings running around the city in nothing but shorts and a tank top in mid-January was a pretty sweet bonus too :) ).

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This was perhaps the first time I’ve gone away and felt completely nourished and healthy and didn’t suffer any travel-induced tummy troubles– large in part thanks to my Kimberly Snyder probiotics (for those of you who have been wondering, I highly recommend you give them a try–they’re worth every penny). So, rather than bore you with my itinerary day by day, I thought I’d keep this post short and sweet and give you what you really want…PHOTOS! Yes, you better believe I Instagrammed my little heart out all the way through every Cali breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and restaurant. I apologize in advance for any poor image quality– all of these photos were taken with my iPhone! And of course (as always), if you have any questions about my trips, or if you want some tips and tricks for easy vegan traveling, please comment, emailInstagram, or Tweet me! I LOVE hearing from my prettyfitlifers :) .

 

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This became my typical Cali breakfast-- tea, fruit, and peanut butter on a rice cake (best enjoyed on an outdoor patio overlooking the water ;) ).

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Sometimes I'd get a little creative... peanut butter + banana = love. TRUE LOVE.

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A shot from our first vegan lunch stop! We ventured to Veggie Grill-- a vegan/vegetarian-friendly, fast-food-type chain (think Panera). I got some roasted root veggies and a side of sesame kale. The boyfriend ordered fish tacos (see background) and loved them. ee wasn't quite up for a vegan challenge yet! Don't worry...he'll get there!

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The kale needed a little extra somethin' somethin'-- so I asked for a side of creamy ginger-tahini sauce. Perfect.

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YES!!! WE MADE IT TO GLOW BIO! (The amazing organic café/restaurant created by the one and only--my idol-- Kimberly Snyder!). You might just catch one of her celebrity clients hanging around the café or drinking a Glowing Green Smoothie if you're lucky ;) .

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Of course I couldn't decide what to order. Everything looked amazing! Finally, I settled on a veggie and quinoa teff wrap (teff is a supremely healthy, gluten-free grain with amazing health benefits-- it's full of B-vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants). I've been avoiding gluten and heavy carbohydrates for a few weeks now and I feel incredible. Still, I often crave some substantial (yet healthy) carbs and this wrap was JUST what I needed. Oh. And obviously I had to order a "Glowing Green Smoothie" on the side-- even the boyfriend drank some!

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The boyfriend also tested out Kimberly's "Raw, Vegan, Taco, Gorilla Wraps" -- made with walnuts, cumin, coriander, salsa, tamari, chili powder, and collard greens. UM...YUM?? I deemed we were splitting our meals as soon as I had one bite of this incredible creation. The recipe is straight out of her Beauty Detox Foods book and you can bet I'll be replicating it myself!

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After a day of walking around Long Beach later that week, the boyfriend and I needed some quick eats. We found a cozy Lebanese restaurant and ordered some appetizers to nibble on. This spicy hummus was particularly divine.

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I also ordered a side of spicy roasted veggies-- I prefer dipping vegetables in hummus instead of filling up on empty pita bread calories.

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This was by far my favorite visit of the trip! Native Foods Cafe is the premier chef-crafted vegan restaurant in the Cali area. It has attracted praise from publications like VegNews, USA Today and Zagat (among others!). The boyfriend and his dad were kind enough to take me here on my birthday on our last day in California.

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Native Foods Cafe has been around for over 20 years! So cool. They also have an incredible selection of infused waters and iced teas-- I mixed some citrus green tea with watermelon fresca. So tasty!

 

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It was super hot out the day we went to lunch here, so I ordered the Ensalada Azteca Salad-- a cool and refreshing bowl of crunchy veggie goodness. I enjoyed my meal so much I mayyyyy or may not have begged the cashier to open a Native Foods Cafe back in Boston :) . Someday? Please??

 

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Here's a close-up shot of my delicious lunch. The currants and pepitas were an excellent touch!

 

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Here's the boyfriend's amazing looking meal-- he wasn't so amazing upon first glance at the menu however (I could see a small wave of panic hit his face as he scanned through the lunch options). I don't think he quite realized that this was truly a 100% VEGAN restaurant. With words like tofu, seitan, quinoa, and "Native Chicken" in every dish, I had a feeling he was regretting the suggestion. In the end however, he was a true sport and tried something new--tempeh tacos slathered in guacamole, cilantro, fresh veggies, and a creamy chipotle sauce. And you'll NEVER believe what happened...HE LOVED IT! In fact, as soon as we got home to Boston, he ran out to buy all the ingredients and made himself tempeh tacos for dinner 3 days in a row--Vegan. Win.

 

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My boyfriend's Dad is a little more adventurous when it comes to vegan eats (he had been here before). He enjoyed a Greek Gyro Earth Bowl over quinoa and topped it off with peppered seitan, hummus, and a lemon-garlic sauce. Yum!

 

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Okay...so it had to be done. I mean, COME ON! How could I turn down a big ol' bowl of these babies. These sweet potato fries were delectable--a hint of cinnamon really rounded out the overall sweetness of the dish.

 

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Shot of the interior: The café looks simple but don't let that fool you-- the food is anything but.

 

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The Native Foods Cafe is in a unique little location-- it's centered among a little village of shops that pride themselves on offering organic/sustainable items. This little boutique is actually an organic nail salon! I didn't have time to stop for a quick mani, but I'd love to stop by the next time I visit.

 

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This Vietnamese restaurant was right across from Native Foods Cafe. I love the natural look of the patio seating area. When I have a chance to go back to California, I want to test it out for sure.

 

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Right around the corner from Native Foods is a funky looking wine bar and restaurant-- check out those wine bottle chandeliers! Future craft project...?

 

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LOVE this idea! All of the restaurants in this little green community put their menus in their respective mailboxes. No more walking all over creation to find a restaurant that everyone agrees on :) .

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I ADORE this-- a beautiful quote written on store-front stairs across from Native Foods Cafe.

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The sun wasn't cooperating, but I love this wooden sign "road map."

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For dinner every night the boys fired up the grill to cook up some meat and other manly things, but I didn't mind--this meant I had the full reign of the kitchen! My dinners in California tended to be a slightly different version of the same meal in order to keep things quick and easy. I'd start by roasting a big pan of spicy garlic veggies (peppers, onions, mushroom, zucchini, summer squash etc...) drizzled with teriyaki sauce and tossed atop a salad with a dollop of hummus instead of dressing. Add a small scoop of rice on the side and voilà! dinner is complete. For this particular meal I added some low-fat cilantro pesto and sweet and spicy chipotle sauce to the rice (a Whole Foods find!) as well as a couple of slices of avocado to the mix. The pita bread in the front of the picture (also an impromptu Whole Foods buy) was quite a treat-- it was stuffed with lentils and spices and tasted incredible with a dab of the pesto and spicy chipotle sauce on top. Sadly, they don't make it here on the East Coast-- I practically tore apart our Whole Foods trying to find it! :( .

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Another version of my roasted veggie dinner salad-- topped with mango salsa and cashews.

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The lighting is rather harsh here, but this is the typical scene from our nightly patio dinners. Eating outside reminds me of family summers down the Cape...I can't wait for June to get here already!

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Another roasted veggie salad with spicy cilantro rice.

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A close-up of my mango salsa veggie salad.

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If I ever opened up a cupcake store-front, THIS is what I'd imagine it would look like. I mean, how adorable is this place?! The boyfriend and I stumbled upon the bakery (called Casey's Cupcakes) while shopping at Fashion Mall. Obviously I had to take a closer look...;)

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Not vegan, but this cake is so pink and girly I could die.

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CHEAT ALERT!!! Wouldn't you know...a VEGAN cupcake ;) . This is possibly the BEST vegan cupcake I have ever tasted-- and I don't even like chocolate cake! The frosting was absolutely PERFECT (boyfriend agreed). Now, if only I could have smuggled a few more on the plane ride home...

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Here's a shot of the interior. Check out the colorful cupcake display!

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Okay, so I promise I did manage to purchase some non-edible souvenirs to take home from California. I'm a sucker for inspirational quotes and messages, so when I saw this bracelet at an adorable shop called Laurenly Boutique I had to snatch it up. After all, every now and then we should all remind ourselves that we're beautiful-- inside and out :) .

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I also picked up an infinity knuckle ring (all the kids are doing it, right??).

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After a restless night of traveling home from California, my body was craving some healthy post-flying fuel. I made some almond cocoa chia pudding topped with coconut and honey roasted cashews to properly fuel up after a loooong flight and relaxing trip.

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While I’ll gladly eat West Coast food any day, I’m still an East Coast girl at heart. Keep an eye out for a future post where I’ll share some of my favorite vegan hot spots around the Boston area. Who knows where my next adventure will take me… :)

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

 

 


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Eating Vegan in Spain

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” — Saint Augustine 

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Beach umbrellas in Malaga

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This year has been pretty incredible. I mean–ME–the same girl who was once afraid of planes and never used to take vacations or go anywhere exciting–has been to Italy, Aruba, and now SPAIN all in just nine months. So allow me to let you in on a little secret…

 

I finally caught it.

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My plane to Madrid!

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I’ve got the TRAVEL BUG.

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First and foremost, let me offer my sincerest apologies for being missing in action this summer. Thank you Prettyfitlifers for being so understanding during my brief hiatus. I’m beginning to realize that blogging is pretty darn close to a full-time job, especially as I find myself getting pickier and pickier with the content I aim to feature on my page. I promised myself when I started this blog that I would never put up a post just to put up a post. Everything that I publish is carefully thought out, written, photographed and edited until it’s ready to be put out there for all of you :) . Unfortunately, this means that each post can take quite a bit of time to go live! Writing for Pretty Fit Life is my true passion, however, seeing as I already have a full-time (paying!) job–and a new one at that– when work calls, I must answer :) .

 

And thank goodness I do…or I never would have been given the opportunity to go on this amazing trip to Spain!

 

You see, Spain wasn’t soley for pleasure (though I still enjoyed every second of it). I actually had the opportunity to go on an EF Tour for work. What does that mean exactly? Well, for 11 beautiful days I criss-crossed my way through Spain, hitting Málaga, Granada, Seville, Córdoba, Madrid and Barcelona all along the way. And I wasn’t alone on this action-packed adventure–I was accompanied by a group of middle school students, a handful of teachers, another EF staffer (known as a tour consultant), and one awesomely patient tour guide.

 

Crazy? Probably.

Educational? Absolutely.

Amazing? Yes. DEFINITELY.

 

Unfortunately I didn’t have enough room in my luggage to pack my computer on this little trip–YEP…this girl packed for 11 days and only brought a carry-on. BOO-YA! (Those of you who know me understand that this is an INCREDIBLE feat—I once brought a hairdryer camping for goodness sake). I did, however, have my phone. So even though I couldn’t blog in real-time (as much as I’d hoped I could), I managed to Instagram my way through all six cities.

 

And I don’t think I missed a beat…

I took almost 1,000 photos.

 

Okay, so I was definitely “that tourist” who took pictures of anything and everything (a rock Ashley? Really??). But I was just so memserized by every little piece of this gorgeous country that I wanted to document it all (thankfully, by the end of my trip I had become much more selective with my picture-taking). I’m equally embarrassed to admit that I went to Spain not really knowing much about the country’s incredibly rich history. But all that changed the moment I met Laura–our EF tour guide. This incredible lady knew it all! I would never be able to fit everything I learned into just one blog post (and don’t worry, I won’t turn this into a history lesson) but just so you can see exactly what I was up to while on tour, here’s a little breakdown of my trip day by day:

 

Experience Spain

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Photo Credit:

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Day 1: SPAIN!

Fly overnight to Spain

 

Day 2: Málaga & Granada

Meet my Tour Director and student group at the airport. Relax on the beach in Malaga before traveling to Granada.

 

Day 3: Granada

Take a guided tour of Granada, visit the Alhambra, visit a Moroccan tea house, attend a traditional flamenco show.

 

Day 4: Granada & Seville

Visit an olive oil farm, travel to Seville, take a walking tour of Seville, attend a classical flamenco show.

 

Day 5: Seville

Take a guided tour of Seville, visit the Seville Alcázar, visit the Seville Cathedral, visit the Seville Bullring, enjoy free time in Seville, take a salsa dance lesson, take a boat cruise along the river at night.

 

Day 6: Córdoba & Madrid

Travel to Córdoba, visit the Mezquita, continue on to Madrid, try vegetable paella.

 

Day 7: Madrid

Take a guided tour of Madrid, visit the Royal Palace, take a walking tour of Madrid, visit the Prado Museum.

 

Day 8: Madrid

Visit a local school, visit Dali exhibit, enjoy free time (aka shopping + sangria :) ).

 

Day 9: Madrid & Barcelona

Experience an AVE train to Barcelona, take a guided tour of Barcelona, visit Parque Güell, take a bike tour around Barcelona.

 

Day 10: Barcelona

Take a walking tour of Barcelona, hit the beach and explore the city on my own.

 

Day 11: USA

Depart for home :(

 

Yep. Our days were pretty jam-packed. And thanks to our knowledgeable tour director, they were pretty awesome too. Laura guided us through each day in each city perfectly. She also guided us through breakfast, lunch, dinner and every meal in between–YES–she even managed to help little old vegan me not go hungry. In fact, Laura made me feel like quite the VIP, calling restaurants ahead of time and speaking to the chef to ask (en espanol of course) whether or not certain meals were made with (or could be made without) dairy, eggs, beef stock, chicken, fish (etc…). Now, I successfully ate my way all through Italy as a vegan, so I figured Spain would be pretty similar. And while Italian food is still my favorite (helloooo can you say soy gelato??) Spain proved to be a pretty manageable place to maintain a plant-based diet– it just meant getting a little creative every now and then.

 

The fantastic thing about Spain and Italy is that they rarely use butter in their cooking (unlike traditional American fare). Instead, olive oil is the product of choice– this makes perfect sense given the fact that these two countries are the leading olive oil producers in the world (Spain accounts for 43.8% of the world’s production while Italy accounts for 21.5%). This took a lot of the guess work out of ordering food since I wasn’t left wondering whether or not butter was used to cook my veggies, rice (etc…).  And even better? Where there’s olive oil, there are bound to be plenty of olives!

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"Aceitunas" (olives) + sangria = the perfect afternoon snack :)

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And olive trees…

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Unripe olives on an olive tree in Seville

 

And hanging out near those olive trees also happen to be plenty of orange trees (just my luck! :) ).

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In addition to olive oil, did you know that Spain is one of the world’s foremost exporters of oranges?  Orange are everywhere (especially in Seville). I was amazed by the amount of fruit dotting the public trees.  One afternoon after lunch I reached up and plucked a big, juicy orange from one of the many trees lining a busy street in Seville but our tour director quickly shooed my hand away and informed me that the fruit was not for eating. Turns out there was a reason why all of those oranges were still sitting pretty in their branches. You see, in Spain there are three main types of oranges– sweet oranges (Valencia oranges), blood oranges, and sour oranges (Seville oranges). Turns out all of those oranges I saw in the trees were the sour oranges, and they were still up there because they’re too bitter to eat as a piece of fresh fruit alone. Instead, sour oranges are used to make marmalade, liqueurs, spices, and teas. I actually had the opportunity to try some fresh marmalade at a Spanish olive oil farm and it was pretty tasty– much more bitter than the sugary stuff we have here, but yummy nonetheless.

 

I also had the opportunity to taste test some of the farm’s fresh olive oil and learn some fun facts about the oil. For instance, olive oil should always be stored in a dark container because the light can putrify it (so all that olive oil in clear glass bottles? Don’t buy it!). We also learned all about olive oil production (it’s quite tedious, so I won’t get into it right now but feel free to read all about it here!)  Instead, let’s focus on the important stuff…

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Olive oil tasting in Seville

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Like sangria…

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And “cerveza” (beer)…

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And “alimentos” (food)…

 

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And more sangria…;)

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(Okay. So clearly you now know my weakness…)

But naughty drinks aside…let’s talk about the food! Since this trip was essentially an all-incusive tour, most of the meals were already planned out. This meant that we had set menus at area restaurants or ate set meals at the hotel restaurants. Now, I’ll be quite honest and admit that not every meal was a hit on this trip– for the first couple of nights at our hotel in Granada I was served a plate of soggy and bland canned green beans, artichokes, carrots, cauliflower, and white asparagus (not exactly the tastiest meal in the world)– but thankfully the food situation got much better, especially when we went out to eat.

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A disappointing meal...

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An amazingggg meal! :)

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I already mentioned that the Spanish love their olive oil, so no need to worry too much about butter– but the Spanish also love their pork…which meant I had to be extra careful about asking for things  ”sin carne” (without meat) when it came to ordering food. Thankfully the most popular type of Spanish cuisine — tapas– provided me with plenty of veggie options to choose from.

 

Tapas are a variety of small appetizer plates (both hot and cold) and snacks that can be shared with friends or combined to create a full meal. This was perfect for me because all I had to do was order a few veggie plates and I’d have a complete dinner. Plus, I loved being able to sample and taste a few different things rather than order just one main course off the menu.

 

Some of my favorite things to order were “pimientos de padrón” (small, sweet, green peppers roasted in olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt), “aceitunas” (olives), “verduras asadas” (roasted vegetables), “espinacas con garbanzos” (spinach, olive oil, garlic, and garbanzo beans), “humus” (hummus), “champiñones salteados” (mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and white wine), and “pan con tomate” (bread topped with tomato, olive oil, and garlic).

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Roasted pimientos

 

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A bowl of olives is a tapas staple!

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Roasted veggies never get old. I could eat them every day.

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Looks terrible...tastes delicious! You've gotta trust me on this one...

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Hummus is yummy in any country :)

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Bad lighting, good mushrooms!

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"Pan con Tomate" is the perfect snack after a day of touring

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Soup, better knows as “sopa” in Spain, is another typical menu item I was thankful for. Almost every restaurant has some sort of veggie-based soup to choose from which made eating out much easier for me. The most common soup I came across in every city was gazpacho. To my surprise, however, traditional gazpacho soup is not the same kind of gazpacho we have here in the United States. Spanish gazpacho is a cold, tomato-based soup made by blending tomatoes, soaked bread, cucumbers, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and salt in a food processor until silky smooth. The first time I saw the soup, I was convinced there had to be dairy in it because it seemed to have a creamy consistency. Nonetheless, the waiter assured me gazpacho is dairy-free and the smoothness comes from blending the oil and bread (I Googled the recipe later and confirmed the waiter’s explanation was the truth :) ).

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Silky smooth gazpacho

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Oh…and did I mention it tastes amazing??

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Another popular soup on many menus is “sopa de lentejas,” or lentil soup. I  would order this option over gazpacho when I felt I needed to get an extra dose of protein in my veggie-heavy diet.

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Hearty but healthy lentil soup

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As popular as tapas are in Spain, this wasn’t my only option for every single meal. I was actually able to enjoy a few well-rounded vegan dinners here and there as well. Couscous, lentils, grilled veggies, salad, and the popular Spanish rice dish known as “paella” were all fair game. I even found a couple vegan restaurants– one in Madrid and one in Barcelona. Sadly, the Madrid restaurant was closed when I finally had a moment to slip away and venture out on my own, but I was able to test out the vegan restaurant in Barcelona :) (pictures below!).

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Couscous mushrooms blood orange salad

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Marinated veggie taster plate-- Spain goes "simple vegan" :)

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Saffron gives this vegetable paella a beautiful golden hue

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Simple salad with white asparagus-- I found this to be a salad staple in Spain

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Roasted peppers, peas, asparagus, tomato, and rice plate-- drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled in sea salt...perfection!

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More roasted veggies...

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Pecan couscous with curried carrots and eggplant

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This meal was SO good...I asked for it again! Peas, tomatoes, rice, peppers, lettuce (with less olive oil this time). Simple!

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Pineapple carpaccio for dessert-- looks unimpressive...tasted INCREDIBLE!

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Assorted melon for dessert. The yellow melon is a Spanish melon and is quite possibly the most sweet and tasty melon I've ever had!

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Even a tea girl like me had to have some Spanish coffee...or "espreso" in this case :) .

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Believe it or not, aside from enjoying amazing vegan Spanish food, I also enjoyed some amazing places!  So, I wanted to leave you with some fun photos in addition to food photos that I snapped over the course of my trip. Enjoy!

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Famous Flamenco show in Granada-- the studio is built into a cave in a mountain!

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Yes, even in Spain I found my bubbly water :)

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Rioja-- a delicous Spanish wine and newfound love

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Street in Cordoba

I found my knight in shining armor in Spain!

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A beautiful sunny day in Barcelona (plus my attempt at an artistic "selfie"...)

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More dried fruit

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On a boat cruise in Seville

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Fountain in Barcelona

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The 1992 Olympics Barcelona Fish sculpture

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The Sagrada Família in Barcelona

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Enjoying sangria in Madrid :)

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A view from my morning run in Granada

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Ceiling decor in Barcelona

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Gorgeous flowers in a Seville garden

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Original Roman bridge to Cordoba

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Bullring in Seville

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Flamenco cave in Granada

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The Barcelona shoreline

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Overlooking Barclona

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Fancy Spanish melon

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Flamenco dancer in Granada

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Biking in Barcelona

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Church tower in Cordoba

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A little friend I made during my morning run in Madrid :)

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At the Park Güell in Barcelona

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Park Güell in Barcelona

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Even the doors are pretty in Spain

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The streets of Malaga

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Beach in Malaga

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Plaza de España in Seville

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Mezquita-- the Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba

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Enjoying the marina in Barcelona

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Driving between cities we saw lots and lots of sunflower fields. Absolutely gorgeous!

Olive trees at an olive oil farm

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Entrance to Alcazar-- Seville Palace

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Cake from a (wait for it!) VEGAN restaurant in Barcelona!

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Veggie and bean burgers also from the little vegan restaurant in Barcelona

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Fancy ceiling lamps in Granada

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Striking a pose in Barcelona

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Not all those who wander are lost.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

 

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Fabulously Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

 

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Sources:

Olive Oil Production

Experience Spain EF Tour 


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