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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Build a Better Smoothie: A Step by Step Guide

CONFESSION: 

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I have a dangerous addiction…

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To smoothies, that is.

 

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

 

Pressed for time? Make a smoothie!

Hungover? Make a smoothie!

Looking to revamp your diet? MAKE A SMOOTHIE!

 

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

 

Step 1 : Choose your base

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

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

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

 

Step 2 : Pick your greens

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

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

 

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

 

Step 3 : Get fruity!

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

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

 

Step 4 : Mix it up!

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

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Step 5 : Get spicy!

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

 

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

 

Step 6 : Ice, ice baby

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

 

Step 7 : Blend it up

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

 

Step 8 : Top it off

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Healthfully Yours,

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Ashley Michelle

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Sources:

Is Carrageenan Safe?

Doubts surface aboutsafety of common food additive, carrageenan

Harvard– Vegetables and Fruits: Get Plenty Every Day

MyPlate Food Groups: Fruits 

8 Healthiest Leafy Greens 

Is Coconut Oil Healthy? 

5 Surprising Health Benefits of Hemp 

Cocoa Powder Health Benefits 

Health Benefits of Cinnamon 

Health Benefits of Cilantro 

Health Benefits of Ginger

Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper

Health Benefits of Parsley

Health Benefits of Sprouts 

Difference Between Non-Dairy Milks


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

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I have three addictions.

 

Shoes.

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Statement necklaces.

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And SMOOTHIES…

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

 

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

 

Besides.

I never turn down a challenge.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And what better time for change than now?!

Can I get a “Happy New Year?!”

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Credit: brit.co

 

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

 

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

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

 

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Ashley’s Tips for Success:

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1.) Be realistic:

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

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2.) Be specific:

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

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3.) Write it down!

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

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4.) Hold yourself accountable:

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

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5.) Be positive:

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

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6.) Reward yourself with love and happy things:

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

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

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Credit: quotesandsayingsblog.com

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Credit: herbalife mom

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Credit: thethingswesay.com

Credit: Pinterest.com

Credit: yourdailyenlightenment.wordpress.com

 

Credit: Pinterest.com

Credit: dailypositivequotes.com

Credit: peachypalate.com

Credit: Pinterest.com

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My new year’s resolution?

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

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

 

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Healthfully yours,

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Ashley Michelle xo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

 

 

Roses are red,

 

Violets are blue.

 

Jewelry is nice…

 

But Healthworks is too! ;)

 

x

 

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

 

Thankfully Healthworks Fitness Center has the Boston girls covered!

 

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

 

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

 

Enter Healthworks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

But the real kicker?

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

EVER.

There’s plenty of equipment to go around.

 

 

 

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

 

Yup.

FREE!

 

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

 

Yes.

You read that right.

SPA.

 

 

 

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

 

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

The staff at Healthworks are FABULOUS.

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Positive, healthy, growth and change?

I sure think so!

 

The Healthworks Mission:

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

 

What Sets Healthworks Apart:

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

 

What YOU Get:

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

 

 

So are you DYING to try Healthworks yet?

Yes?

Well, you’re in luck!

 

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

 

So… what are you waiting for?

 

Go ahead.

 

Treat yourself something extra sweet this Valentine’s Day

 

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

 

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

 

 

Healthfully Yours,

Ashley Michelle

 

 

Photo credits: Healthworks Fitness Center


Oh Baby, I LOVE BOSU.

http://www.google.com/imgres?q=Bosu+ball+pictures&start=111&hl=en&client=safari&sa=X&rls=en&biw=1637&bih=848&tbm=isch&prmd=imvns&tbnid=foqshLm3YR4LpM:&imgrefurl=http://www.livsstiloghelse.no/trening-fitness/baller/bosu-ball-both-sides-up/&docid=NYsgFWJUCYV_TM&imgurl=http://www.livsstiloghelse.no/wp-content/uploads/bosu-ball-original.jpg&w=500&h=400&ei=RPrJT8uPM4u66AHpgTU&zoom=1&iact=rc&dur=359&sig=106564150008472462792&page=4&tbnh=154&tbnw=201&ndsp=37&ved=1t:429,r:14,s:111,i:116&tx=79&ty=69

A few months ago…I started a new class at my gym called BOSU Challenge. It quickly became a favorite.

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No. Scratch that.

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It’s become my OBSESSION!

(Seriously, my boyfriend bought me my own BOSU ball as a gift).

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For those of you unfamiliar with a BOSU, it is the funky looking piece of gym equipment that resembles half of a yoga ball you’ll find stacked in the corner of most fitness centers. If you haven’t heard of a BOSU (or just haven’t paid much attention to the stack of them at your gym), my suggestion is to fix this immediately.

Ask a trainer, take a class, YouTube some exercises. Do SOMETHING. You’ve GOT to try it!

I have started noticing my body was getting fitter and firmer in all the right places after only a few classes. And you know what…it’s made me feel so much more confident and strong inside and out!

Yesterday, I took a class at the Boston Center for Adult Education (a great non-profit adult education center where you can sign up to take a fun class on anything from cake decorating and cocktail making, to learning a language and designing a website). I’m a big nerd and LOVE school (I’m currently trying to find a way to go back for my Master’s– fingers crossed) so when I found out there was a one time, all-day writing class being taught by all the top Boston magazine editors…I was SO in (a full post about my whole day at the BCAE is coming soon!).

One of the classes I signed up for was ”Health and Beauty Writing.”

PERFECT, right?!

Anne Vickman (Associate Editor and Weddings Editor for Boston Magazine) taught the class and gave our group a bunch of fabulous tips on how to make it in the writing world. She then had us spend 45 minutes writing an article that could potentially be printed in Boston Magazine’s “This is Just a Test” section, which highlights new health, beauty, or lifestyle trend worth testing out that’s relevant to the Boston area. Immediately, I KNEW I had to talk about BOSU.

So, I thought I’d use this post to share the article I submitted at the end of my class. It recounts my first day of BOSU Challenge. I hope you like it! Also, please feel free to offer any feedback, I’d really appreciate it!

And seriously…go buy a BOSU ball or just join Healthworks. It’s SO worth it!

 

Healthfully yours,

Ashley Michelle

 

This is Just a Test: Get Bikini Body Ready with BOSU

A crowd of determined women of all ages begins squeezing into the main fitness studio at the Healthworks Fitness Center, Cambridge. Immediately, everyone starts scrambling to stake out the prime spots in the class, marking their territory with blue BOSU Balls, yoga mats, and various sized free-weights.

For those of you unfamiliar with a BOSU, it is the funky looking piece of gym equipment that resembles half of a yoga ball you’ll find stacked in the corner of most fitness centers. It is most fitting then that the hour-long class the women (including myself) are waiting for is called BOSU Challenge, a favorite among Healthworks members. This is quite evident given the fact that class is already filled past capacity and it hasn’t even begun yet.

Yeah, it’s just THAT good.

To give a little bit of background, the BOSU Balance Trainer was invented by David Weck in 2000, and since then, it has become an increasingly popular piece of gym equipment given its ability to intensify cardio, target multiple parts of the body at once, and more importantly, obtain GREAT results.

According to the official BOSU website, the word “BOSU” originally stood for “Both sides up,” since it can be used on either side, the platform or the dome. Over time its meaning has been altered to stand for “Both sides utilized” as a way to showcase its versatility compared to more traditional training.

Training with the BOSU ball facilitates functional balance training, which “encompasses an evolved performance approach that involves the whole body” and requires some degree of motion and stabilization the entire time. Bosu Challenge does just this, and incorporates a variety of high-intensity drills, cardio combinations, and strength training moves using the Bosu ball, free weights, and yoga mats. Each move requires you to engage your core and focus on balance, thus giving you the perfect all-over, summer-body workout.

While still waiting for class to start, each additional woman walking into the room is immediately hawk-eyed by the rest of the group. No doubt they are attempting to inconspicuously search her hands for the class’s coveted “golden ticket.” This ticket means she has signed up for the popular class well in advance, thus confirming her entrance. Even so, this doesn’t keep some people from trying sneak in to one of these already crowded classes sans-ticket. Class-goers and instructors alike frown upon this practice.

To secure a spot for BOSU Challenge, taught by the infamous “Sean” at Healthworks gyms across the Boston area, you had better sign up at least 24-hours in advance. To gain entry into this particular Saturday morning class, I was forced to set my alarm for 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning and sign up on the Healthworks website.

At exactly 11 a.m., and Sean comes strolling into the studio wearing a black warm-up suit and matching black sneakers with bright yellow bottoms.  He looks like a much larger, much more solid, much more intense version of Billy Blanks, but something about him is kind and sweet, in a “big-teddy-bear” kind of way.

Some of the women in the front row (who have already been warming up with squats and lunges) greet Sean with high-fives. I can tell just by looking at them that they’re the class regulars. They’re in great shape, and I wonder if they have Bosu Challenge to thank.

Sean pumps up the high-energy music (some of the best work-out remixes I’ve ever heard) and turns to smile at the class

“Okay guys! Get movin’!” he shouts as he demonstrates running on and off the Bosu.

After a quick warm-up, he gets right into the routine.  The next thing I know we’re doing mountain climbers, laterals, planks, leg-lifts, push-ups, burpees, squats, lunges, bicep curls, shoulder presses, and jumping jacks without stopping to rest in between.

Only 15 minutes have gone by and I’m already dripping with sweat.

The rest of the class is just as intense. During our last set of leg lifts on the Bosu, I am almost ready to give up as I desperately try to maintain my balance using my left knee while extending my right leg out to the side. I’m shaking uncontrollably when a smiling Sean comes up beside me, puts his hand on my shoulder, and says, “Great job, you’ve got this!”

I peak around the room and see all the other women in class shaking, grimacing in pain too. But none of them are giving up. I pull it together and make myself push through the pain threshold until I hear “3, 2, 1! You’re done! Great job guys!”

There is no doubt I’m more exhausted than I’ve ever been before after a fitness class, but it’s the BEST kind of exhaustion to feel. It’s the feeling you get when you know you’ve given everything, and not an ounce less.  I have no doubt in my mind that taking this class every week will make your muscles stronger, your body more fit, and your trouble spots firmer just in time for bikini season. After all, I feel like my backside has risen two inches already, and that’s just after completing one class!

No wonder those women in the front look so great. They keep coming back for more!