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Relaxing Against Stress in Chicago

My Healthy Journey: Spring Cleaning Your Life

This last year has been a long and busy one, and I’m going to be pretty honest when I say I’m exhausted, filled with stress, and not feeling very healthy. The good news is that while I feel that way, it’s not entirely true.

I started working a lot of overtime last May, and it didn’t end until December. And even when I stopped working extra, I was still very busy when I was on the clock.

More than 46% of Americans’ workplace stress is caused by their workload, so I know I’m not alone in putting stress on myself to get things done. And when your levels of this kind of stress get too high, you’re more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other disorders, according to The American Institute of Stress.

Then, in February, I started packing to move again. I tried my best to declutter my stuff. (I donated a lot of old clothes and tossed any traces of college notebooks and many unnecessary knick-knacks. And after moving all my books, I’m once again wondering if a Kindle is the way to go, but you just can’t replace the smell of physical books!)

From there, my pup and I moved into my friend’s apartment, where we’ve gained the company of this gorgeous (and crazy) puppy.

Quinn, Our New Friend

So you could say that I’m probably suffering from one problem that’s causing that exhaustion: stress, stress, and more stress.

The good news is I’ve been taking steps to fight it.

First, my boss and I worked out an arrangement where I get to work from home on some days. Not only does this make eating healthy easier (I don’t have to be as prepared in advance) and allows me to document my food on our Instagram any day of the week, but it also lets me have a few days a week that I know will be calm(er). No matter how crazy things online get, I’m sitting in my own bed with my best stress-buster, Tootsie, by my side.

Tootsie By My Side
I mean, just look at that face.

My friend is also a certified physical trainer, so, now hold your breath on this one… I’ve also been going to the gym! *gasp*

I know, it’s been building to this for over a year, and finally, I’m a pretty regular gym-goer.

The first day, I was shocked by how weak I’d really become (doing 10 real pushups was really hard), and I’ve had a number of realizations about how pullups make me hate everything. The first few weeks, I was so sore I could barely stand.

But I’ve finally hit a groove. Some days I run, others I’ve been focusing on simple weight training, mostly using body-weight exercises. And, I’m not sore all the time anymore, so we’re making progress!

As spring has rolled in, I’ve also been getting out with those lovely dogs more often to the park across the street. And even better, I’ve been taking full advantage of all that spring produce starting to show up at the grocery store.

Rally, our online wellness tool, has a mission that has you focus on fruits and veggies, which I’ve been working toward accomplishing. Essentially, you try to cover at least half of your plate with fruits or veggies at least twice a day. (Follow me on Instagram to see how I’m trying to work in more fruits and veggies.)

And most importantly, I took a short break. The American Psychological Association has some great ideas to help you bust up your workplace stress, including taking time to recharge.

I recharged by going to Chicago, where I ate some of my favorite food, like Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes, Eataly, and Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill.

Chicken Tacos at Frontera Grill
Best guac ever, chicken tacos, and black beans with plantains so good they will unleash your hidden love of plantains, all at Frontera Grill.

And I visited the Van Gogh art exhibit and Dylan’s Candy Bar, did a little shopping, and saw a wonderful live concert at the Chicago Theatre.

Chicago Theatre
(Son Little opening for Leon Bridges, if you’re curious.)

And how am I maintaining my sanity the rest of the time? I’ve been:

Scarf for My Sister-in-Law

  • Trying to work more fruit into breakfast and brunch

Fruit-Filled Brunch!

  • Focusing on salads and, pretty regularly, tacos inspired by those amazing ones from Frontera Grill (Just so you know, they have great seasoning packets available at most grocery stores!)

Tacos for Everyone!

 

And find more ways to relax from Nicole’s last Chasing Health post!

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Taking Back Relaxation in the New Year

My Healthy Journey: New Year, New You?

This year has been long and tiring, and for the last few weeks, I’ve been left wondering what I could say about my goals for 2016. Honestly, I hadn’t been thinking about goals for the new year, I was too busy trying to get through the day.

Unlike last year, I don’t have a long list of the things I plan to work on. Instead, it will be a few important things that just keep coming to the top of my mind when I think about my life.

Live my life with the day-to-day in mind

I tend to focus on the long-term, big picture stuff, which means that relaxing and fun usually take the backseat. I need to make my own happiness a bigger priority, even when it’s in the face of my goals. Life is short, and I will regret those lost moments with my friends and family one day.

One of my best friends just got engaged to someone wonderful, and she’s the first person (besides my brother) whose wedding will actually be important to me. This both makes me feel like I’m getting old (I know, most of the people who follow this blog are laughing at me there), and makes me feel like, by not living in the moment, sometimes I’m missing out. And I do not want to miss a moment of the good stuff for her wedding.

I’ll be using some of the tips from this Health.com 30-day calendar to help me get started.

Learn something or do something

For example, I want to write books one day. However, when I get home after writing for work all day, I rarely sit and write fiction. I need to prioritize learning to improve the things I love, the things I want to have long-term importance in my life. I think that taking action on these passions will make me feel more fulfilled, even if I never get a book published.

Spend some time on myself everyday

I was cooking everyday, and now I’m not. I was getting enough sleep, and now I’m not. No matter how hectic things get, in 2016, I need to make time for myself a priority, both to be healthy and happy.

(I’m going to start by using the gift certificate for a massage that I got for Christmas!)

Cut back on the stuff in my life

To gear up for another move come the end February (I know, I can’t believe it’s been that close to a year already), I need to simplify my life. Get rid of all the clothes I never wear from my retail days, my 3 old pairs of boots that all have holes in them, and the old perfume bottles I’ve been moving from place to place, and make it easier on myself to live as a nomad. Hopefully this simple guide to de-clutter can help me get started.

Spend less time in the virtual world

I spend almost all of my time online. Part of it is my job, and part of it is my desire to know more about a field I want to spend the rest of my career in, and part of it is getting sucked into scrolling through my own personal Facebook and Twitter for no reason for the 50th time that day.

(Does anyone else struggle with the need to always make it back to the last thing you’d seen on social media? I know it’s silly, especially since I know how Facebook works and that it’s already not showing you everything it could, but I get such obsessive satisfaction from making it back to the beginning.)

There are things in the real world that I love doing, but instead, I spend almost all of my time, free and at work, buried in a computer. It’s time to bring some analog, some print, and some real world back into my life.

Follow along with me as I dive back into my passions, clean up, and move yet again in 2016 on our Instagram.

And you can use the improved Rally app or site to set your own healthy resolutions for 2016. From quitting smoking and taking your pills on time, to making time for laughter or exercise, Rally can help you have a healthier year.

Eating Mindfully with Fresh Veggies

My Healthy Journey: Eating Mindfully with Rally

Eating Mindfully

I’ve recently started a new diet (which you’ve seen some pictures of if you follow me on Instagram). I am doing a cleanse of sorts with it, and I will eventually be taking some supplements, but the point is really about developing a better relationship with food.

That is what the eating mindfully challenge from Rally, our wellness tool, is really all about. It asks you to stop and think before you eat that morning donut from the break room.

So, the rules of what I’m doing food-wise are pretty simple. I’m eating breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, dinner, and I can have another evening snack if I need it. (As a person who was eating maybe two meals a day and can’t really have dessert, I pretty much never need it.)

Within those meals, I’m trying to get a protein, a fruit or veggie, and a complex carb (whole wheat pastas and breads, potatoes, beans, etc.) in with each meal. For snacks, I’m usually mixing a fruit or veggie with some protein.

Besides that, I’m just avoiding processed foods as much as possible. Nothing with added sugar or salt, no soda, no coffee, no alcohol, and the big sacrifice, no candy! (Although, I may still be sneaking the occasional square of dark chocolate…)

(I should also add that I’m not getting rid of salt altogether. A sprinkle of salt on meat before you cook it or on fresh corn can make all the difference, but I’m going really light on this. And the good news is, I’ve always preferred pepper, so I’m just adding LOTS of that!)

What That Actually Looks Like

So, a rundown of today to give you a better idea:

For breakfast, I had a smoothie made with frozen berries and banana, oats, and pineapple coconut water. And I ate a scrambled egg for protein.

For my morning snack, I had a kiwi, blueberries, and strawberries. (Because I worked from home this morning, my snack and breakfast were closer together than normal, so I wasn’t very hungry and skipped the protein.)

For lunch, I had a half turkey sandwich on whole grain bread and a half spinach salad with lots of veggies.

For my second snack, I had homemade cinnamon apple chips (Cooking Light has some good recipes for this), and turkey lunch meat with a few red pepper strips.

For dinner, I will be using some herb pork tenderloin I made earlier in the week with some whole wheat pasta, roasted tomatoes and zucchini, and half an avocado (before it goes bad).

How I Actually Do It

And this is very much how I cook. I rarely use recipes, and I tend to throw in whatever is ripest in my kitchen. I also cook for one a lot, so I know I’m not going to want to eat the same things 8 days in a row. So I will do one thing that I can use many ways.

This week, I cut apart a pork tenderloin into 6 pieces, and I made them 3 different ways. The first way was what I’m using tonight. For that herb version, I just coated the pork in olive oil and then sprinkled it with salt, pepper, and rosemary.

Then I made a pineapple version. I just mixed about a teaspoon of soy sauce, about a tablespoon of honey, and a tablespoon of fresh pineapple juice, then I coated the meat in it. I topped each piece with a fresh pineapple ring before going into the oven.

And last, I made a quick peach reduction version. For that one, I put about a half cup of frozen peaches (fresh would be even better!) into a small saucepan and thawed them on the stove. Then I added 1-2 tablespoons of honey and brought the whole thing to a nice boil. Then I turned it down and let it simmer for at least 5 minutes to thicken. Then I just poured it over my meat.

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Then I popped all of those (sectioned off with foil between the different flavors) straight into the oven. It baked at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. (Again, I don’t usually use a timer, I just check on things. So always make sure to cut your meat to see if it’s cooked through when following my slapped-together recipes!)

The Payoff

I served the Pineapple Pork Loin with a roasted sweet potato (which was just a sweet potato cut up, tossed in a little olive oil and seasoning, and popped in the oven at the same time as the pork) and fresh green beans. I also made a quick fresh salsa with another slice of fresh pineapple cut up and some red bell pepper that I served on top of the pork. This was delicious and the pineapple and honey got all sticky and crunchy on the outside.

Pineapple Pork Loin

I had the Peach Reduction Pork the next day, and I served it with more green beans and a Corn, Avocado, and Tomato salad, which is a super quick and tasty side. I used frozen corn which I steamed in the microwave, and then mixed it with half an avocado and a few sliced cherry tomatoes.

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I’ve also done the math on those recipes for calorie tracking in my fitness binder, and the entire Pineapple Pork Loin meal was just 354 calories, and the entire Peach Pork meal was just 458 calories (based on a 4 oz. portions of pork).

So, How Can You Eat Mindfully?

  1. Start with fruit and veggies! Skip the garlic bread side and have a salad.
  2. Eat proper portions, because you can’t actually eat an entire bag of Cheetos and get away with it everyday once you lose the metabolism of a teenager.
  3. Just eating better snacks can make a huge difference. Skip the donut and try one of these:

What a 100-Calorie Snack Looks Like
Image via SPARKPEOPLE

Loving my food pics on Instagram? Comment on them there when you want to see the recipes here on the blog!

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Fitness Binder

My Healthy Journey: Rally and My Fitness Binder

My move is complete! While I have no furniture outside my bedroom (partly from a very trying, calorie-burning, failed attempt to get a couch through my front door) all of my things and my dog have successfully made the transition.

A new kitchen and plenty of living room space for yoga (because falling down is a lot easier in a room with no furniture) have made it time to refocus on my healthy journey.

Right now, I’m working on small steps. I’ve bought some running shoes, and now that the weather has finally gotten up out of sub-arctic temperatures, it’s time to take action.

If you’ve followed my journey, you’ve heard about our wellness tool, Rally. Rally helps you evaluate your health with an easy test and then has you pick challenges in order to earn coins, which you can use to enter drawings for rewards.

Rally is a great way to hold yourself accountable to your goals each day, and I’m going to help connect you to ways to make your Rally goals happen. I’ve done a few of the challenges before, and while I’m not going to do all of them permanently, I am going to spend all spring testing them out and connecting you to resources to meet your goals.

The first two challenges that I’m going to test out and help you with are cooking at home more and tracking what you eat.

I had tracked what I ate before with a handy app called MyPlate. I still recommend it, but I’ve taken a different route this time.

I’m a writer at heart. I’ve been saying I was going to be a writer since I was 4, when I wrote my first book, which was about bears. (I realize this might make me sound like Dwight to you lovers of The Office, but my bears weren’t eating beets. They were being ballerinas and astronauts. You know, real bear stuff.)

While humiliating myself is always a fun side effect of blogging about my life, I bring this story up for a reason. I like writing things down, and I’ve always liked writing things down. There is nothing so satisfying as putting a physical check mark beside a task. I work on the Web team, and I still keep a physical planner and to-do list.

So I’ve decided that maybe I stopped keeping up with the app (conveniently right around the holidays) because there was no satisfaction or memory in it for me. If I write something down, I feel it and remember it. If I just select an item out of a digital list, I will not remember how many calories those Skittles are costing me every day.

So I’ve made myself a My Healthy Journey fitness binder. I’m using it as a one-stop, life-hub of organized information. It’s amazing.

I started with supplies. I bought a beautiful binder that I can live with carrying around every day.

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Then I gathered office supplies:

  • Plenty of paper (for printouts).
  • Grid paper, which is perfect for making lists. All of the little boxes make perfect check boxes right alongside your tasks.
  • Binder dividers, a three-hole punch, and a large variety of highlighters, pens, and markers.
  • Plus my laptop, grocery list, and coffee because no morning project unfolds well in my house without coffee.

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The first thing I did was waste a lot of time on Pinterest looking at fun, inspirational typography. As a writer and designer, I’m a font geek, and I decided that I would start each month of my binder with some hand-drawn, cute, inspirational quotes. My dog and I worked on this in bed while watching documentaries. (She hated it because it meant I wasn’t petting her…) While it might sound like a waste, it has truly made me love my binder. My beautiful binder and I have formed a loving bond through hours of coloring. I definitely recommend it.

Then I printed some things that are actually useful. First up is a weekly printable meal planner. If you search for that online, you can find tons of free downloadables, both with and without grocery lists. Or you can try the one I chose or this colorful other option. I opted for a simple planner and to continue to use my awesome Wonder Woman grocery list. Choose whatever works for you.

Then I printed off some calendars. I have a planner for work, but I don’t like to put personal stuff in it because not only do I sometimes show it to people when scheduling social media plans, but I also don’t look at it outside of work. So this calendar will have things like my dentist appointments, the dates my prescriptions run out, and the dates all my different bills are due. I naturally color-coded all of this with highlighters, like an organization geek.

The last important piece of the puzzle is a printable daily food log. Again, there are lots of these to download for free on the Internet. This blog inspired me to make the binder and has a log you can download, or WebMD has an especially good Food Journal. With a little computer magic, though, I made my own, which combined spaces for food, calories, and exercise and has a water section to remind me to drink more water. The best part about making it yourself is you can add anything you want. Do you want a space for vitamins, medicines, or even reminders for things like flossing? Add anything that you think a physical reminder will help you stick with. You can also download My Healthy Journey Food Journal (it’s two pages, so you can print it double-sided!)

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I’ve only been doing it for a week, but so far, I’ve noticed that I remember how many calories are in my food far better when I’m forced to calculate and write it down myself every single day. You really think about your choices when you know you have to add that candy onto your day’s calorie total. The menu planner also forces me to sit down at the beginning of the week and plan out meals. While I haven’t stuck to it perfectly, it really does make grocery shopping and cooking much easier to plan for.

And just in case you need some ideas when you sit down to plan, here are 50 Healthy Dinner recipes you can try, or follow us on Pinterest for new healthy recipes all the time.

And follow me on Instagram, where I share inspiration and my healthy journey, mostly through food.

Here’s a taste of the day in the life: bright green Pea Pesto Pasta, Raspberry Sorbet (a go-to dessert at just 120 calories a serving), and Pineapple-Lime Salsa Chicken Tostadas with Corn Guacamole for just 380 calories. (The chicken is of my own invention. I just put 2 chicken breasts into a crockpot with a small can of chopped up pineapple tidbits, a quarter jar of salsa, and the juice of a lime and cooked it on low for 8 hours. Then I shredded it for delicious, sweet and savory tacos.)

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Join me there in making cooking and health more fun, one image at a time!

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