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The Exercise Rule That Will Keep You Fit Forever

by | May 19, 2015
Photo by lintmachine

Photo by lintmachine

Have you ever started a new habit with a lot of enthusiasm and built up some great momentum? Maybe you were able to workout three times a week for an entire month. It feels great, and every day you stick with it you’re strengthened to continue tomorrow.

But then something happens. You have to go away to a wedding a long weekend, or your kids both get sick at the same time and force you to drop everything to care for them.

Your momentum is broken, and when things settle down you find yourself ordering takeout and skipping your workout to watch the latest episode of The Voice (it’s cool, I won’t tell anyone).

Momentum can be both a blessing and a curse. When it’s on your side you feel amazing and it becomes a catalyst for even more positive behaviors. When it’s against you it somehow saps the motivation out of almost everything you do. I call this lazy couch momentum.

To avoid succumbing to the lazy couch momentum I follow one simple rule:

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How to Start a Habit You Don’t Enjoy

by | May 12, 2015
Photo by douglemoine

Photo by douglemoine

Something amazing happened this morning.

Instead of hopping out of bed, having breakfast, then plunging myself headlong into work, I casually sipped my coffee, ate my muesli, then wandered into my office for a 30 minute meditation session before even turning on my computer.

What’s amazing isn’t that I’ve done this once, but that I’ve been doing it for months.

Even more amazing is that I love it.

Meditation is not an easy habit to develop, because the reward is not immediate or obvious.

Sure I know what the reward is in theory. Meditation is supposed to help me focus better, reduce stress and increase contentment.

It should help me be more creative and do better work. It should help me build deeper relationships with the people I love. It should be easier for me to appreciate the important things.

Only it’s incredibly frustrating to try to focus on my breath when new thoughts distract me every few seconds. It takes time out of my day I could really use for other important things. And during most of the session I feel like a total failure.

I want all those benefits, but gawd I’d rather watch paint dry.

Of course meditation isn’t the only habit that fits in the “I know I should, but this really doesn’t feel very rewarding” category.

I felt the exact same way about flossing my teeth, which I now do daily (even on vacation!).

For you maybe it’s getting enough exercise or eating vegetables that still feels more like a chore than a rewarding habit.

So how can you get over the hump?

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Wisdom Wednesday: Stop Checking Nutrition Facts

by | May 6, 2015
Photo by Enokson

Photo by Enokson

Most people don’t believe me when I say I remember learning about mitosis in 5th grade, but I do.

And I’m not talking about the kind of remembering where I vaguely recollect learning *of* it. I was fascinated by the stages of prophase, metaphase, anaphase and telephase, and couldn’t believe that our chromosomes did such a beautiful dance every time a cell would divide.

I mean, have you seen it?

In high school, biology was always my favorite subject. I even took an extra class in physiology just for funsies.

And after dicking around as an English major for a few years at Berkeley I ultimately graduated with a degree in molecular and cell biology. (I won’t tell you the kinds of grades I got in my MCB classes, because you’d hate me.)

That’s how much I love biology.

As you can imagine, this kind of devotion to the microscopic secrets of our body added plenty of fuel to the fire of my dieting obsession.

Calories, carbs and fat counts? Couldn’t get enough of ’em. I had piles of notebooks filled with each sinful and virtuous molecule I consumed, and took an embarrassing number of nutritional supplements.

Had the Quantified Self movement been around back then, I would have been a disciple. (Soooooo glad it wasn’t).

I know the temptation to count and quantify what you eat. It feels good. It feels like control.

But it isn’t.

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Introducing Homo nutritiocus: The Perfect Eater

by | May 4, 2015

Photo by Kaptain Kobold

Since the discovery of the vitamin, scientists have hypothesized the existence of a previously undiscovered species, Homo nutritiocus. Homo nutritiocus or Nutricons, as I like to call them, eat for one reason and one reason alone: optimal health and nutrition.

Nutricons are completely rational about their food decisions, which is why they are so insanely healthy. They eat three balanced meals every day and always include five to seven (depending on the current health recommendations) servings of fruits and vegetables.

Green leafy vegetables and lean protein are their favorite foods, of course. They never add extra salt to their food, because flavor is irrelevant. They do treat themselves to dessert every now and then, but only in moderation.
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How I Learned to Cook Without Recipes

by | Apr 29, 2015

darya-veggies-blog

Going away to college was a huge shock for me.

I was so neurotic about food at the time that I refused to live in the dorms and pay for the required school meal plan. So I got an apartment with some friends and attempted to feed myself for the first time in my life.

Oh boy.

For the first few months I ate out every meal. In Berkeley this was fun since there’s so much great food, but the novelty eventually wore off.

I also didn’t appreciate the extra 25 pounds that all seemed to pile onto my thighs. So I decided to start making more meals at home.

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The Real Reason You Don’t Cook

by | Apr 28, 2015
Photo by BruceTurner

Photo by BruceTurner

Yesterday I told you that cooking is the habit that has had the biggest, most positive impact on my life. But unless you’re already a regular cook you probably thought this was super depressing.

People who don’t cook inevitably groan when I suggest that cooking is the solution to their problems.

Cooking? Ugh. Something about it just makes it sound like so. much. work.

Even struggling your way through one meal is a pain. Taking the time and effort to actually learn to cook regularly? That’s just nuts.

Or at least there’s no way you could do it right now. Maybe you’ll do it this summer or something. (Translation: it will never happen)

But I also told you yesterday that there was something deeper lying underneath your aversion to cooking. Because the truth is that if you really found cooking rewarding, then you’d figure out how to make it happen day after day.

So what is it exactly that separates those who cook from those who don’t? What is it that can transform cooking from a tedious, burdensome chore to a fulfilling, creative endeavor?

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The Single Most Important Habit You Need for Better Health

by | Apr 27, 2015

Woman Chopping Parsley

Have you ever tried something new for your health because you heard it was good––like buying cereal with extra fiber and calcium––but didn’t notice any real difference in how you look or feel?

You *hope* it is helping you be healthier and strengthening your bones, but you don’t have any way to know if it’s actually doing anything.

Most new habits people try fit into this category. They’re low impact and you get very little or no immediate feedback on how it will impact your life in the long run.

There’s no immediate benefit and, when it comes down to it, you have no good reason to keep doing it.

There are many problems with habits like these. One big one is that with no feedback you don’t know if what you’re doing is helping, hurting or just plain pointless. You have to act on faith that nutrition science (or wherever your advice came from) is steering you in the right direction––not something I’d recommend.

But an even bigger problem is that habits without an immediate and meaningful reward are the first to slip when life gets the better of you.

Would you rearrange your day to make sure you can do something that may or may not be important to you at some unspecified future time? I know I wouldn’t.

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Away Court Habits: Living Well on the Road

by | Apr 20, 2015

Photo by ikarl67

When I was a kid I used to dream of one day having a job that would take me all over the world.  I have always loved to travel, so in my brain I envisioned a non-stop vacation filled with exotic places, foods and adventures.

Of course, reality is nothing like that.

There is a huge difference between traveling occasionally (whether for work or play) and traveling regularly, several times per month.

When traveling is a special occasion, there really are no rules. Foodists have accounted for periodic indulgences in their healthstyle already.

But when travel becomes your normal, your Home Court Habits become diluted and you need to integrate a new set of (much more complex) habits to make up the difference.

Recently my travel schedule has moved from periodic to frequent. And adjusting my healthstyle to account for the change hasn’t been easy.

Putting aside the difficulty of eating well at airports and on the plane, simply being outside your familiar environment can throw off even your most ingrained habits, like cooking and exercise.

After 6 months––and much trial and error––I’ve finally developed a set of Away Court Habits that help keep my healthstyle in check while traveling.

I won’t pretend that these are as powerful as my Home Court Habits, but after nearly two weeks away on my last adventure I came home feeling pretty darn good about my state of health and fitness.
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Wisdom Wednesday: Moderation is for Suckers

by | Apr 15, 2015
Photo by broterham

Photo by broterham

Moderation might be the most overused word in the entire nutrition universe.

I know, I know. You like the idea of not restricting yourself and being able to eat anything you want so long as it’s not “too much.”

It sounds healthy. Balanced. Sane.

You might have even mistaken some of my willpower bashing here at Summer Tomato as an endorsement of moderation. Something like, “Use a little willpower, but not too much.”

It sounds lovely. If only it actually helped you achieve your goals.

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Do You Secretly Hate Your Workout Classes?

by | Apr 13, 2015
Photo by Nottingham Trent University

Photo by Nottingham Trent University

Recently a good friend told me she was struggling to maintain her workout habit. She could force herself to go to a class every now and then, but it wasn’t enough to keep her in the shape she prefers.

She was relying on willpower to get herself to go and it wasn’t working.

“In order to build any habit it has to be rewarding,” I explained. “You need to love it so much that you’re willing to rearrange your day to make sure you can do it.”

I know this firsthand, because it happens to me all the time. Especially when you have a flexible schedule, something my friend and I have in common.

Every week meetings, calls and opportunities come up that conflict with my workout. But skipping workouts makes me miserable, so unless it’s a life or death situation I reschedule everything else before sacrificing my workout time.

There’s no way that would happen if I didn’t love my workouts.

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