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A Few Of My Favourite Things -- The May Edition

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In February I wrote my first "favourite things" blog. (If you are bored with your breakfast, check out fave thing number one). I had such fun researching and compiling the list that I decided to regularly write a "favourite things" list. If you missed my March edition, don't worry -- you can read it here. (If you get "hangry," take a look at favourite thing number six. I have learned to always carry a snack, and presto: no more "hangry" Kathleen.)

Really, as I said last month, what is the point of being a trainer and thus constantly discovering new yummy recipes, "fun" workouts, fitness mantras, and motivational tips if I don't share my findings with all of you?

So, without further preamble, here is my list for May.

1. Favourite meal: Hot/cold salads.

Everyone who knows me knows that I LOVE salads, and that I believe in preparation, preparation, preparation. I live by the philosophy that the key to health is setting yourself up for success; in terms of food this means I always have healthy ingredients prepped in the fridge so I can make a healthy meal just as quickly as I can microwave a pizza. My fridge is filled with cut up raw vegetables, grilled chicken, beans, quinoa, washed spinach, and other salad greens.

I have always loved salads, but recently my salads have become EVEN BETTER; now instead of just having cut up vegetables, beans, chicken, quinoa, etc in my fridge, I also have a container of roasted vegetables, steamed vegetables, and (if I have barbecued on the weekend) leftover grilled vegetables. That way I can make a hot/cold salad or quinoa bowl.

To make a hot/cold salad "Kathleen style," start with a base of salad greens, add cut up raw veg, a protein, and then the pièce de résistance: the reheated hot vegetables. Top with a nutritious homemade salad dressing (I like a quality oil and mustard). YUMMY!

2. Favourite type of exercise: Thoracic rotation.

"Thoracic rotation" is basically fitness jargon for "upper back mobility exercises."

The vast majority of us sit WAY TOO MUCH. Sitting can contribute to upper back and neck pain, a hunched forward posture, and a stiff and less-than-supple spine.

To mitigate the negative effects of sitting, try the following thoracic rotation exercises.

A. Start lying on your left side with your knees at 90 degrees and your arms straight out in front of you. Move slowly -- the point is to feel the different portions of your spine move. First let your right arm slide slightly backwards until your right hand touches your left wrist. Don't bend your right arm. The motion has to come from your upper back, not your shoulder. Slide your right arm back to its starting position. Continue to rotate; each time you move, rotate your torso and head slightly further to the right. Eventually you will get to a point where you can't rotate any further. When that happens, let your right arm fall to the right side and hold this stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

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B. Start on your hands and knees. Keep your pelvis stable as you circle your right arm backwards like you are doing the backstroke. Turn your head in the direction of your arm. Aim to look at your foot, but don't let the foot move. Alternate sides for 10 to 20 reps.

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3. Favourite motto: Don't get discouraged; just "find your kiwis."

Too often health is framed as deprivation: an existence based on the cake you can't eat and the social activity (like drinking) you have to cut out. It is no wonder so many of us yo-yo diet and exercise -- who wants to feel constrained and deprived?

Instead of understanding health as all the things you have to give up, adopt what I call the "find your kiwi" approach. A "kiwi" represents something healthy that you truly love -- or at least something healthy that you don't despise; one is always more apt to continue a program when it includes foods and activities one likes.

Put together two kiwi lists. Fill the first list with nutritionally dense yet scrumptious food options. When you find yourself falling into the "poor me, I can't eat X" mentality, instead say "which of my yummy kiwis am I lucky enough to eat today?" Make the second list "exercise kiwis" -- activities that don't feel like a chore, such as going on a bike adventure with your kids, dancing around the living room, walking the dog, or gardening.

4. Favourite way to keep myself from over indulging: Tell myself to "always stay within the top tier of the cake."

When I am tempted to let one unhealthy choice snowball into five or six, I remember an image of a tiered cake I found in Judith Beck's book. Imagine a wedding cake with food choices written on each of its multiple tiers. Each tier represents an amount of food consumed in a sitting. 

The top and smallest tier has something like a 100-calorie cookie written in it. In each lower tier the choices get more extravagant. The next tier might include two cookies, a piece of cake, and a hot chocolate that, if eaten, would total 800 calories. By the final tier -- the bottom layer -- there are thousands of calories of food listed within the box. 

The lesson is that mindfully eating small portions of indulgences we love is a healthy part of life -- but mindless binges are not physically or psychologically healthy. You can easily compensate for a small indulgence by going for a walk or eating more vegetables the following day.

If you let that one choice snowball into multiple indulgences it will take days (even weeks) to get back on track. Aim to only ever eat the top tier of the cake, and take the time to actually enjoy the food you are consuming. 

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