Thursday, June 30, 2011

Facing Fear and Finding Nemo - Part 2

"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it."
- Charles R. Swindoll

Yesterday  I revealed my irrational fear of snorkeling and my mission to conquer it.  The time and place was my recent vacation to Turks & Caicos. 

The second day on the island we were at a secluded beach on the south side.  The water was crystal clear and quite shallow.  A perfect place to get used to the mask, something that previously made me feel claustrophobic.  Sitting in water no higher than my knees, I practiced wearing the mask and mouthpiece.  Head above water, just sitting there wearing it.  Baby steps.  It's all about baby steps. 

In the same depth of water, I walked around on my hands and put my face in the water next.  Once that eerie silence of water filling your ears crept in, my gut reaction was to pull my head out of the water.  Five years ago I would've pulled the mask off and retreated to the beach.  Not this time though.  I made a promise to myself that when I felt panicked, I would take some deep breaths and evaluate the situation.  Deep breath.  Another deep breath.  It passed.  I went on to deeper water and did the same thing.  By the end of the morning I was comfortable in the mask, being in the water, and even annoyed because there were no fish to see!

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Snorkeling for the first time at Taylor Bay

The next day we went to the other end of Grace Bay, where there is a reef right off the shore.  This would be more of a challenge for me but also more rewarding since there would actually be some scenery!  I practiced in the shallow water again to make sure the previous day wasn't a fluke.  It wasn't.  Then it was time to swim out to the reef.  The first time I stuck my head down and saw how deep the water was, that familiar feeling crept in.

Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.

It passed.

I was out there for about an hour that first time taking in all the sights.  It was beautiful!  After taking a break and a walk along the beach, I went out again for another 25 minutes.  Elated might be a good word to describe how I felt. 

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View of the reef in front of Coral Gardens resort

Later in the week we booked a snorkel tour.  Despite my previous two days of success, this would be like returning to the scene of the original crime.  Jumping off a boat.  In open waters.  With who knows what swimming beneath you.

Not going to lie, I was nervous climbing down the boat's ladder.  Before I did anything I took my deep breaths and told myself "you are OK".  Just like the previous days, I was off and keeping up with the group.

As I got into the groove, there was a bit of commotion from the group ahead of me.  I popped my head up to see what was going on.  Our tour guide was pointing to something right beneath him.  "What is it?" someone asked.  "A barracuda."

I froze for a second.  Breathe.  It was the biggest and most exciting thing I would see in my brief snorkeling history and I was not going to miss it.  Slowly, I swam closer and got a good view.  I floated above it, just watching, when it's mouth opened revealing it's set of unfriendly teeth.  It started to drift closer to the surface and toward our group.

The familiar feeling of panic tried creeping in again.  Deep breaths blocked it.  After carefully observing the barracuda, I reminded myself how he was floating around just like us.  And how his teeth are made to target fish much smaller than me.  Just like that, I was able to let go and enjoy the experience.

What was the big difference between now and 2006?  The situations were very similar.  The major difference was my reaction. 

In 2006 I reacted based on fear, therefore giving my power away.  Last week, I removed myself from the situation for a split second to see it for what it really was and chose my response.

The same holds true for any situation, especially health-related ones.

Maybe you're afraid to join your local gym or approach a personal trainer for help.  You've never exercised a day in your life and are embarrassed to admit it.  Surely, they will get frustrated trying to teach you how to do a push-up or will laugh at your lack of coordination needed to do a lunge. 

Step back for a second and think about it.  Taking no action at all means no results.  Everyone was a beginner at one point or another.  The difference is those who chose to take action progressed and became better.  And the truth is, most people who work in the fitness industry do so because they want to help people.  They expect to teach you how to do push-ups and lunge correctly.

Think about any 4th of July picnics you might be headed to this weekend.  You're faced with a dessert table of brownies, a cake iced like an American flag, a couple pies, cookies, etc.  The aroma of sugar, chocolate, butter, and more sugar surrounds you.  They all look so good and this is a celebration after all, isn't it?  Before you know it there is a small slice of everything on your plate.  How unpatriotic NOT to try the red, white, and blue flag cake!

But if you take a deep breath and think for a minute, that will count as your cheat for the week, which you hadn't planned on using so soon.  Instead, maybe the bowl of fresh cut fruit in the back corner of the table is a better option.  It will satisfy your sweet tooth and allow you to keep that cheat meal in your back pocket for another time.  That's how you make a good decision rather than letting your taste buds take you down in a sugar coma before the fireworks start.

Whether it be accomplishing a fitness goal, making a smart nutrition choice, or facing a barracuda, you have the power to choose your reaction.  Stepping back from the situation for a split second will let you logically evaluate your options rather than acting on sheer emotion or impulse.  It makes the path you're traveling far less foggy.


By the way, I never did find Nemo but I did see a whole school of Dory's!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Facing Fear and Finding Nemo - Part 1

"Always do what you are afraid to do."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

In 2006 I went on the second tropical vacation of my life to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.  I had big expectations, which included snorkeling for the first time so I could see all the characters of Finding Nemo in real life.  Except Bruce the shark.  I had no interest in seeing him up close.


The snorkel excursion was booked and I was pumped.  Each couple took speed boats out to the middle of the ocean to meet a larger catamaran.  Once on board, we were given a brief overview and snorkel gear was passed out.  I was so excited to see the magnificent colors below the water's surface I barely paid attention, threw on my gear like I was Jacques Cousteau, and jumped right in the open water.

The expectation I dreamt up quickly gave way to reality.  My fins felt like lead weights.  I was convinced water was seeping in my mask, flooding my nose and the salt burning my eyes.  I struggled to consciously breathe out of my mouth while bobbing up and down in the waves.  I tried putting my head in the water to see what everyone else was so calmly admiring.  The muffled silence of being underwater sounded like deafening terror to me. 

The enormity of the ocean made me feel so small and so powerless.  I panicked.  I riped off my mask so I could breathe and quickly swam toward the boat to cling to the ladder.  Somehow I kicked off my fins so I could scramble back on board. 
On the boat, my heart was going a mile a minute and my breathing frantic.  My husband, boyfriend at the time, tried to calm me down from the verge of tears.  I've never felt so defeated and out of control in my life.  Not to mention frustrated that I was sitting on the boat paralyzed by fear while everyone else was in the water enjoying themselves.

A number of reasons contributed to my snorkeling aversion.  I never really was a strong swimmer.  The mask made me feel claustrophobic.  Also, I'm not fond of being in a body of water where other things are swimming with me.  That's their home, not mine.  They don't want me in it.  But most of all, I handed over control to my fear instead of keeping it for myself.

With my upcoming vacation to Turks & Caicos quickly approaching, I was determined to accomplish that forgotten goal.  I put it in writing, the opportunity presented itself, and there was a limited timeline to complete it.  I shared my ambition with a few people near and dear to me to make myself accountable, in addition to the piece of notebook paper it was written on.  There was no chickening out.  Five years had gone by from my disastrous first attempt at snorkeling and it was time to turn a new page.

This is already a bit long-winded so I broke it into two parts.  Check back tomorrow for the conclusion.  And, yes, this does pertain to health and fitness.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Living Well in Turks & Caicos

Last week, I was on the beautiful island of Providenciales in the Turks & Caicos Islands.  When I'm on vacation I like to relax and recharge as much as possible, however I still manage to stay active and eat well for the most part.  Old habits die hard, I guess.


In addition to daily walks on the beach, a bike ride on some crappy hotel bikes, and some snorkeling I managed to do a couple more intense training sessions.  The resort's fitness center wasn't anything to write home about and there wasn't anywhere great to configure the TRX.  Therefore you have to make use of what you've got - the beautiful Grace Bay beach.




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no this is not photoshopped and it is even more magnificent in person


To get started, my husband and I did a light jog on the beach and some mobility exercises to loosen up before the tough stuff.  The high intensity portion consisted of sprints combined with body weight exercises.  A beach chair and umbrella at the next resort over became a convenient marker for distance, approximately 100 yards away.


We sprinted down to the marker, stopped and performed a designated body weight exercise before sprinting back to the start.  Each working period lasted no longer than a minute.  We took turns so one recovered while the other worked.  The recovery periods were about 2 minutes by the time we waited for the other to finish and for the occasional tourist strolling along the beach to get out of our way.  We did four rounds total, which looked like this:


Round 1
Sprint to marker, 15 squat jumps, sprint back to start


Round 2
Sprint, 20 mountain climbers per side, sprint


Round 3
Sprint, 10 split jumps per side, sprint


Round 4
Sprint, 12 alternating straight arm side planks, sprint


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Alternating side planks


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Sprinting back to the start


After the hard part was over, we did a quick stroll on the beach to cool down (if that's possible in tropical weather).  All in all, the entire session was under 30 minutes.  Fine with me.  I'm on vacation.


TCI also had some awesome island specialties.  One of which is conch (pronounced "konk").  The other is rum punch, but that's not really appropriate for a health blog so I'm going to focus on the sea mollusks.  Conch is prepared in a number of dishes: fritters, cracked, chowder, salad, burgers, tacos, etc.  You name it, they can make it.  The consistency is similar to clams or calamari - a little dense and slightly chewy, but delicious nonetheless.


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Conch creole from Da Conch Shack - AMAZING!

We even went on a snorkel tour where the first mate dove for our lunch, which was freshly prepared conch salad.

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Spike from Island Vibes tours


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Live conch before he met his unfortunate fate


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Conch salad

So why am I telling you all this?  Well, conch is really good for you!  It's very high in protein with very little fat.  In a 4 ounce serving there's about 18 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of fat.  It's also a very good source of folate, vitamin B12, and magnesium to name a few.  Unfortunately, supply in U.S. waters is very low.  But next time you're in a tropical locale where it thrives, give it a try!


Monday, June 20, 2011

On "Island Time"

I am neck deep in crystal clear turquoise waters and rum punches this week so unfortunately there will be no blog posts.  Today is my first wedding anniversary and my husband and I decided to go on a second honeymoon to Turks and Caicos.  Next week I will have an awesome beach workout and some healthy local cuisine to report on.  That is, if these rum punches don't kill me first.

See you next week!


P.S.  It is not a good idea to brag about how much you deadlift/bench press/squat/etc.  Your husband will be significantly less willing to haul your 50 lb suitcase around for you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

High Fiber/Protein Chicken Dinner in 20 Minutes

I purposely left out any mention of beans in the title because I wanted you to give it a chance.  Beans are awesome!  They are high in protein, fiber, potassium, iron, and folate.  In addition they're great if you're on a tight budget since they can replace or extend more expensive protein sources in a meal.

This recipe is from Cuisine Lite, a special edition of Cuisine at Home magazine.  The recipe boasts it can be made in 15 minutes or less, however I'm a bit of a slow chef so I upped mine to 20.


White Bean & Roasted Red Pepper Chicken

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 can (15 oz) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup diced jarred roasted red peppers*
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp minced lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley leaves**
  • salt and pepper to taste
Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Cook according to preference (grill, saute, poach, bake, etc.).  I did mine on a grill pan on top of the stove.


Combine beans, roasted red peppers, lemon juice, zest, parsely, and salt to taste.  Mix well.  I place the mixture over low heat, which is not instructed in the original recipe but I prefer the entire dish to be warm.


Spoon bean mixture over cooked chicken breasts and serve.  I paired this with a gigantic salad and it was a great, easy meal.


Let me know if you try it - enjoy!



* I roasted my own red peppers.  I just have beef with the jarred variety.  I never use the entire jar when I buy them and even though I refrigerate them, they go moldy on me in a blink of the eye.  So annoying.  Anyway, place a pepper cut side down on a baking sheet and place it under a broiler.  Remove it once the skin starts to blacken and place in a covered bowl.  This will make it sweat and make the skin easy to peel off once it's cooled.

** Fresh parsely came right from my deck.  I'm growing herbs for the first time and they're still alive two weeks later!  Just had to brag.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My "Big 5"

Forgive me while I get all "life coach-y" for a second, but I just have to share.  Burn some aromatherapy candles and put on some new age music if you really want to set the mood.

Earlier this month I attended the Perform Better 3-Day Functional Training Summit in Providence, Rhode Island (best conference ever, hands down).  All the leading industry experts had common threads: clearly written values and principles dictating how their businesses and lives operate.  Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove's Results Fitness has ten core values.  Todd Durkin is big on the "Big 5".  Not only have they created their credo, they remind themselves of it daily and all their actions are inspired from it.

I decided to sit down and create my own "Big 5".  Nothing was flowing out of my pen the first couple times I tried.  No wonder why these people are so successful.  This is tough stuff!  I decided to give it one more shot and just like that everything fell into place.

My "Big 5"

1.  Love unconditionally
Do a favor without asking for one in return.  Give a compliment without it being backhanded.  Maintain a relationship without keeping score.  Sometimes it's hard to do but it is the most rewarding.  I truly believe when you are able let go of expecting something in return and give for the sole purpose of giving, you receive it tenfold.

2.  Fear only fear
Don't be afraid to make your move.  If you don't, you'll never get ahead.  Yes, the outcome may not be what you hoped for but at least you aren't left wondering.  When I'm scared or anxious about something, I remind myself of my skydiving experience a few years ago.  "Really?  You're afraid of *insert XYZ*?  You're afraid of XYZ, but you had no problem jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet with some dude nicknamed 'The Flying Dutchman' attached to your back?"  Talk about perspective.  Note to self:  Go skydiving again for 30th birthday.

3.  Be great
To me, this means putting 100% into everything you do and leaving nothing on the table.  When you're training, don't wonder if you could've gotten another rep or sprinted faster.  Do it.  At the end of the work day, did you finish every task on your to-do list or were you on Facebook all day?  Rather than going through the motions put all your effort into a task.  It's a reflection of you.  Successful people aren't successful from half-assing everything. 

4.  Promote passion
Find what shakes you to your core and experience it often.  Are you an animal lover?  Do you channel your voice into writing or music?  Maybe you never miss a game of your favorite sports team.  Whatever it is, it should excite you and give you fire.  Make time for it.  It's good for your soul. 

5.  Sweat often
Of course I'm going to have one health-related item in my list.  Actually, I believe it holds more weight than the other four.  If you don't give 100% effort into taking care of your own body, you won't be able to give 100% anywhere else in your life.  Move your body, fuel it with whole foods, and give it adequate rest. 

*Bonus: Laugh daily
My first wedding anniversary is next week so in honor of that I threw in an extra.  Don't take yourself too seriously.  Laughter makes life so much more fun.  I can honestly say I've laughed every day for the past six years and 68 days because I'm lucky enough to have a partner in crime to be totally goofy with.

  Photo by Jerry McGaghey

Blow out those aromatherapy candles and turn off the chanting monks.  Hopefully I didn't lose you completely or make you gag too much.  The point is, you need to identify the values that are most important to you to be successful.  Then, live by them.  How you reach your goals, especially health-related ones, will be much clearer when you have a solid base of principles to spring from.

Monday, June 13, 2011

TRX and Body Weight Circuit

I've been really inspired by Rachel Cosgrove's Spartacus and Spartacus 2.0 workouts so I decided to create my own.  This was a metabolic challenge using nothing but myself and my trusty TRX.  It's a little light on the lower body for a reason - mine was super sore from the previous day's workout.  It still spiked the crap out of my heart rate so I consider it a win.


Perform each exercise for as many repetitions as you can in 45 seconds.  Use the remaining 15 seconds of the minute to set up for the next.  Complete all ten in a row.

Rest for two minutes and repeat the entire circuit.  I only had time for two rounds, but a third time through would make for an exceptional workout.  Enjoy!


* Switch sides on the second circuit.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hippocrates = Ground-breaking Fitness Guru?

"If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health."

- Hippocrates, 400 B.C.



Dude knows what's up.  He solved the nation's obesity problem before we even had one (before we were even a country really).  A balance between proper nutrition and regular exercise is the safest way to health, you say?  Shut the front door... 

It's so funny how we scoff at this idea in the modern age.  Like we're going to use our technological advancements, "cutting edge" diets, and just-10-minutes-a-day-with-this-machine to uncover new secrets.  There isn't a secret to uncover because it's already been found.

Stick with the basics.  Eat well with whole foods and move your body regularly.  And good health is yours for the taking.

Think about this the next time you're tempted by the next exercise or diet craze claiming to be "the answer".  The real answer was already discovered centuries ago.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Whole Wheat Chicken Quesadillas

The other day a friend/personal training client told me I should write a cookbook after we spent half of our session talking about various recipes.  Umm, I don't know about a cookbook, but it was good inspiration for some new blog posts!

We rarely eat out in my household, so I do the majority of the cooking.  I hate not knowing what goes into my dish, exactly how it was prepared, whether or not someone spit in it, etc.  Preparing my own food gives me control of the ingredients, portion sizes, and preparation.  So I thought I'd start sharing some of the meals I conjure up on a regular basis.

Note:  I don't count calories so there's no breakdown.  There are tons of free websites out there if you want to know.  Also, maybe because I'm Italian (don't let the married Polish last name fool you) but I typically eyeball things rather than measure.  So if I neglect to give exact measurements, it's not a typo.  That's just how I roll. 

So on with my first blogged meal...

Whole Wheat Chicken Quesadillas

This is a quick and easy weeknight meal to throw together in a pinch.  The veggies, black beans, and whole wheat tortillas give it way more nutritional value than certain Mexican restaurant chains that serve what looks like dog food sandwiched in a shell. 

You'll need:
  • Cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast (seasoned with sea salt and black pepper), cut into small pieces
  • Green and red pepper, diced
  • Mushroom, diced
  • Canned corn kernels, drained
  • Canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Reduced fat shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • Canola oil

Time saving tip:  Start cooking your chicken first.  Then chop your veggies and portion out the remaining ingredients while it cooks.


Heat a skillet to medium heat and lightly brush with canola oil.

Arrange a thin layer of shredded cheese over half of the tortilla.  Top with green and red pepper, mushrooms, corn, black beans, and chicken. 


Fold the tortilla in half and place on the skillet.  Place a weight on top of the quesadilla to flatten and press it.  I nestled a smaller skillet on top of mine.  Cook until the tortilla is a golden brown on each side and the cheese is melted.

Cut in half and serve with fat free sour cream and homemade guacamole**.  Enjoy!



**Maybe if you're lucky I'll share my signature guac recipe in the future.