Yearly Theme Update & How I’m using Streaks to Stay on Track

If hindsight is 2020, maybe 2020 wasn’t the best year to pick health as my yearly theme. Nevertheless, here we are.

I’m nearing my 4th month of working from home due to the pandemic, and the biggest lesson I’ve learned during those 4 months is just how easy it is to slip out of a routine.

Skipping things I didn’t pay much attention to, like my afternoon walk, now suddenly have an incredible power to spiral my default behavior right back to sitting on the couch if I’m not careful. At the same time, I’m also being mindful that it’s okay that I’m not performing at the levels I normally would. These, after all, are not normal times, and giving myself a break is necessary at times.

With that being said, my intention for this year was and still is to focus on my health. I’ve just had to readjust my expectations to effectively fight the gravitational pull towards my couch. For that, I’ve been taking a page out of the ideas in James Clear’s Atomic Habits and BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits and accepting that doing something regularly, even if it’s small, is better than doing nothing at all.

I’ve been using a combination of Apple’s Activity app and Streaks to set my goals. Using the Activity app’s trends tab, I set my goal to be only slightly above my average. If the app says I’m getting about 9 minutes of exercise a day, I’ll set my goal to 10.

Right now I have goals set in Streaks for “Move” calories, walking distance, stand hours, exercise, sleep, and meditation. Streaks syncs with Apple Health as well so the actual effort of tracking my goals is minimal, and because the goals themselves are only slightly more than what I usually do in a day, I’ve actually been meeting the goals almost every day. In fact, most days, I exceed them. Contrast this to a few weeks ago, when the idea of meeting any of them let alone all of them seemed out of reach – this is a win in my book.

Because I’m going off of the average trend, the goals feel achievable even on my worst days. More importantly, as the trend goes up, I’ve been incrementally increasing the goals (albeit slowly), which much to my surprise hasn’t felt as onerous as it had in the past.

Maybe, by the end of the year, I’ll be back up to where I’d hope to be, but for now, making progress a little at a time feels good. And feeling good is something we could all use a little more of right now.

More Efficient Meal Planning

I wanted to take a bit of a detour on the blog today and share something that I’ve been trying out recently to simplify things at home and save us a bit of money in the process. (Added bonus, it’s also helping me be more healthy so it’s also contributing to my year of health).

I received a copy of Cook Once Eat All Week for Christmas, and it’s been getting used just about every week since.

In essence it’s a cookbook centered on meal planning, but if by meal planning, you’re thinking you have to eat the same thing packaged into containers for a week straight, think again. The recipes are each quite different.

Meal Prepped Food In Containers

Prepped Ingredients from Week 1

The title itself is actually a bit of a misnomer. You don’t actually cook once. You actually cook throughout the week. What you actually do once is most of the meal prep, which cuts the time you spend on cooking during the rest week down to 10 or 20 minutes.

There are a few things about the book that have made it work for us more-so than other cookbooks or recipe services we’ve tried in the past:

  1. Each week is based around 3 main ingredients (usually a protein, a veggie, and a starch). This means we can save by buying things in bulk even though we’re only a household of two with limited freezer space.
  2. Each week features 3 recipes that serve 4-6 (plus two bonus meals). Well before this book, I found that planning for 3 dinners at home is the perfect amount for us each week. Three dinners (plus our usual night or two out or ordering carryout) usually leave just enough leftovers for lunches or nights when only one of us is home without throwing away a ton of food. This has taken a lot of the guesswork out of which meals to make each week. I just pick a week and those are my three meals. For larger families or those who prefer to eat in every night, I realize 3 meals isn’t enough, but for us, it’s just about perfect.
  3. Grocery lists are already made. Each week also comes with a pre-prepared grocery list meaning as long as we stick to those 3 meals, our grocery list is practically made for us give or take a few usual extras like milk, coffee creamer, or some time of fruit.
  4. Ingredients are straight forward. I’ve tried meal planning services in the past, and the one thing I couldn’t stand was always having to buy some obscure ingredient. Not only did this require a special trip to a grocery store other than Aldi, I often never used the items again. This book seems to feature pretty common ingredients. There have been a few items Aldi hasn’t stocked but they’re often pantry items I’ve reused in subsequent weeks. As we start to stock our pantry properly, I’m finding that our grocery list is becoming mostly just meats and produce.

Unexpectedly, I’ve found a couple unexpected bonuses as well:

  • Prepping everything on a single day means the kitchen only gets really messy for one day versus multiple days. Most of the messy steps requiring pots, pans, knives, and cutting boards have already been taken care of prior to cooking during the week.
  • It simplifies trash and compost. We tend to do our shopping and meal prep on Sundays or Mondays which happens to be around the time we set out our trash to get picked up for the week so most of the packaging gets thrown out almost immediately. I also keep our compost bin out and open while prepping so the bulk of our scraps get tossed into the bin all at once rather than having to open it several times throughout the week.
  • Last but not least, I find I’m getting more confident in the kitchen. I don’t mind cooking, and I’ve never been told I’m terrible at it. That being said, I tend to gravitate towards making what I’m comfortable with and that tends to be some variation of a cheesy chicken casserole found on Pinterest. This book has pushed me out of my comfort zone both in terms of flavors but also by helping me improve overall skills.

The book is composed of 26 weeks of recipes. Rather than working straight through from Week 1-26, we’re working through the weeks based on what’s in season (based on a chart included as an online extra). Thus far, we’re halfway through our 5th week and have made Weeks 1, 3, 4, and now 8.

Food in Casserole Dish

BBQ Chicken Broccoli Cauliflower Rice Casserole Before it went in the oven

Admittedly, some weeks have been home runs (e.g. Week 1) and others not so much, so I’m recording our thoughts on each week in Evernote in hopes that I can find at least several to rotate through. As an added help on my part, I’m also snapping photos of each week’s worth of prep and recipes and including them in Evernote as well. Not only does this allow me to have the recipes on my iPad while I cook, which I prefer, I can also pull up the recipes or prep instructions while I’m away from home if I need to. For our home run recipes like the Loaded Cauliflower Casserole from Week 3, I’ve also added just the recipes themselves directly to my recipe manager, Paprika, in the event we just want to make the recipe on its own.

All in all, this book has taken most of the guesswork out of cooking for the week. Cooking is almost fun again. We’re eating at home more and we’re eating much better too. Two thumbs up for this book from me.

Smarter Hydration Reminders with Ulla

This week I’m taking a break from my normal app posts and posting about something a bit more simple. Last week, I wrote about how I’m using Keyboard Maestro to remind me to drink water when I’m at my desk, but I recently received a small device that works wherever I’m at and I just had to share it.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve explored countless options: expensive water bottles that track your drinking, less expensive apps for your phone that nag you to drink, even drawing timelines on existing water bottles. None of them worked for me.

I’m not sure where I first read about Ulla, but boy am I glad that I did, because it just works! It’s a simple $25 device that you can strap onto ANY water bottle or cup you already have using an included silicone band. Once on your water bottle, it will blink obnoxiously every 30 or 40 minutes to remind you it’s time to drink. That’s all. It doesn’t beep or buzz your phone. There’s no app involved. Just a tiny little clip on device with a battery that should last for 6 months.

I’ve had it for a little over a week now, and I can say, it works. I almost always have my water bottle within sight, and the blinking light is nearly impossible to miss. The few times I have missed it have been met with my friends asking “Why is your water bottle blinking?”

I was skeptical at trying it, but for $25, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Check out the video.

The even better part, Ulla has a Refer-a-Friend promotion. You’ll get $5 off and I will as well. Check it out, and if you’re interested use code R3C588 at ulla.io.

First Impressions of the Fitbit Force

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Happy Friday!

I’m pretty excited right now because my Fitbit Force got here a day earlier than I thought! I got a Fitbit Flex in June and was planning to do a review on it, but I just didn’t get around to it, so today’s post will be a bit of a review on the Flex and my first impressions of the Force.

So to start this off, I preordered my Flex and it arrived in June. After a LONG wait, I was beyond excited when it finally came in the mail. I set it up, and it’s been on my wrist ever since (aside from when it was charging). It took a bit to figure out all the taps, and I’m still not entirely sure I have them figured out. I usually just tapped until I got the alarm to go off, or got it to buzz for sleep mode. {Not a fantastic design there…} My main issue, one that everyone else seemed to have was with the wear and tear of the wrist band. After 2 months of wearing it, it was a wreck. It actually started to separate around the window that the tracker shined through, and I had contacted Fitbit who quickly sent me a replacement band. {I honestly wonder whether the bands were on backorder for so long because they had so many issues with them.} (Note: The pictures used in this comparison show the original band I received. I decided to continue using it until it fell apart. It’s nearly split completely at the base now.)

Anyway long story short, despite the band issues, I loved my Flex. No single device has motivated me to stay active more than this thing, and for that, it’s worth it’s weight in gold. When I heard about the Force, it was a no-brainer. I preordered it as soon as I could. I did have some hesitation after realizing I can’t wear it in the shower, and I can’t change the band, but I decided I’d hope for the best.

So about the Force. {and pardon the bad lighting in these pictures…}

Packaging (shown above) was VERY similar to the Flex. I again got the Black.

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Fitbit Flex on the left/bottom. Force on the right/top.

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Original black Fitbit Flex band (6 months of wear); Fitbit Force, unused black Fitbit Flex band

Upon taking it out the packaging, I was surprised to see that the band does look to be made of a slightly different material than the Flex. {This may be a good thing… *fingers crossed*} Also gone is the recessed Fitbit logo that tended to collect dirt. In it’s place is a slightly raised logo that’s barely visible. {I like.}

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Fitbit Flex on the left, Force on the right.

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The Flex’s cable has a sort of pocket to hold the tracker, whereas the Force doesn’t.

The charger is sporting a slightly longer flat cable instead of the Flex’s round cable.

Set up was a breeze. I simply set up a new device to replace my Flex, and everything was done in under 2 minutes.

Easy as pie.

screen

Right now my only gripe is that I can’t seem to find a way to get the screen display to stay on. The line you see next to the MI is the screen animation starting to wipe away the stats. It took me forever to get my camera to focus in time to get a picture. I’m not sure it’s possible or if I’ll even want it to, but for watch lovers, having to press a button to check the time may be a pain. {In trying to find a way though, I did discover it has a timer…} Update: After reading the Force 101 tutorial, the timer is for sleep. Why a timer, I have no clue. Not exactly intuitive on a watch-like device. Maybe Zzzz’s would have been more appropriate than a timer.

Now I’m off to package up my Flex which will be going to my very lucky mother who seems to be getting lots of gadgets lately thanks to me.

Do you have an activity tracker? I’ve always wanted to try the Up because it looks so much more stylish.

Signature Update

Has Fat-Shaming Gone Too Far?

Hi everyone,

Today, I’m going to take a break from the normal content of my blog to actually talk about something quite controversial right now – the topic of fat shaming. Now, if this isn’t your cup of tea, you’re welcome to stop reading this. My aim in writing this post isn’t to bash people with body types, lifestyles, health issues, or even opinions that differ from my own. This just happens to be one thing I actually have an opinion on, and I’d like to share it. If you don’t agree with me, that’s perfectly fine. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, and I fully respect that.

For those of you who don’t know, the internet has been buzzing about a photo posted by Maria Kang, a mother of three, showing off what I’d say to be a pretty amazing body for any woman who had a baby 8 months earlier with the caption, “What’s your excuse?” Now I commend her for the way she looks. I don’t even have any kids, and I definitely don’t look like that. However, many people on the internet found the picture and caption insulting. This isn’t the first of this either. In fact, not too long ago, Matthew Inman of the Oatmeal was criticized for his character the Blerch when people claimed he was responsible for fat shaming after a fan dressed up as the character at a comic convention. {For anyone who doesn’t know of Inman’s comics, most are written in a very in your face and shocking way, but I don’t think fat shaming was what he was going for.}

When I saw both Kang’s photo and Inman’s Blerch, I didn’t find them shameful. I found them inspiring. Here’s a woman who lives an incredibly busy life, has had 3 kids, and still has time to take care of herself! {Really, what is my excuse?} Inman runs ultra-marathons, and he still has that evil voice in the back of his head screaming about cookies and watching Netflix. {just like me!} So are we now saying that anyone in the fitness industry is partaking in fat-shaming because they are trying to promote a healthy lifestyle? Are Karina and Katrina of Tone It Up shaming “fat” people by posting inspiring stories of TIU girls who’ve transformed their bodies each week? Is Cassey Ho of Blogilates shaming people when she advertises a shirt stating “Muffin tops are for muffins only?” Or are these just healthy, active people simply trying to inspire other people interested in improving themselves?

Now, you see, I’m small. I’m 5’1″, and I typically weigh under 115 lbs. I’m sure anyone who’s ever struggled with their weight is probably cringing. {Of course a skinny girl would be writing this…} But just as people stereotype people that don’t have an hourglass figure, they also stereotype “skinny” people. I’ve lost track of how many times people have remarked, “Wow, you mean you actually eat?” At times, even my own family members have forced me to put extra food on my plate “because I’m too small.”

I’m here to say being small does not equal being healthy. I may be a size 0, but I want to fall over and die after jogging a quarter mile, and that’s not healthy. Health isn’t always as black and white as how big or small you are, and health isn’t based on one simple number. Health is based on a combination of factors. I once had a PE teacher who ran constantly. Her classes weren’t your average B.S. gym class either. You learned things in her class, and you left sweating and sore for days. In her lessons on BMI, she told us that based on her BMI, she would be considered obese, but that was purely because most of her weight was muscle. Someone who runs at least 8 miles a day who actually truly taught P.E. was technically obese according to BMI.

I don’t think Kang and Inman were specifically targeting “fat” people. I mean, do you think that healthy people, or skinny people, don’t have excuses?  They don’t wake up and think, “Gosh, it’d be so much nicer to sleep in?” or see a piece of cake and think “That piece of cake looks amazing?” They both admitted to struggling in the past. I routinely plan to fit in morning workouts and routinely sleep instead. I might make protein pancakes for breakfast only to have a Whopper with cheese and chocolate cake for dinner. The point is, people like Kang or Inman recognize that these things working against us do exist. We simply find ways to work with our excuses and motivate us to do better rather than letting excuses consume us.

I’ll be the first to say I’m lazy when it comes to working out. I want to run a 5K someday, but sitting here writing this blog post in sweat pants seems so much nicer than going outside for a run right now. When I get home after work, watching Netflix seems way easier than putting on workout clothes and putting in a workout DVD. Living a healthy lifestyle takes work. It’s a commitment, and no it’s not always enjoyable or easy, but I keep trying because I enjoy taking care of my body.

Now I know there are a lot of people saying that society pressures people to look a certain way. I’m not going to disagree with that. I really respect companies that put weight requirements in place for models to ensure they aren’t too skinny. I work out and try to live a healthy lifestyle for ME and no one else. I like being able to see the changes in my body that pushing myself brings about. I love the feeling I get after a workout. I love how I feel when I eat better. {but I also love the occasional Snickers bar… – Everything in moderation} On the other hand, I also worry about messages we’re sending to kids about it being okay to be inactive and not eat healthy. I grew up in a house where you played outside until it was dark there and you had to eat your all vegetables before you got up from the table. Is it more important to teach kids how to live a healthy lifestyle or teach them to ignore it because it’s okay to live in front of the TV eating Cheetos every day?

What honest really prompted me to write this were the excuses other people have been giving to Kang’s photo. Now first of all, no one is saying you have to look like Kang, so I’m going to take those excuses out of the picture, and I realize some people may have legitimate excuses like disabilities, but the ones I’m seeing are not like that. I’m talking about excuses like being too self conscious to work out at a gym, not having enough money to work out, or a bad childhood. Many skinny people also dislike working at a gym. I happen to have anxiety in social situations, so I actually prefer to work at home. If you don’t have enough money, guess what? Your own body is a great piece of gym equipment. A bad childhood doesn’t mean you have to let it affect you for the rest of your life, it’s a reason to go to counseling.

I’m not sure where “fat-shaming” will go. My current feeling is that it’s already gone to far in that people are confusing inspiration and success stories with shaming. I can say I enjoy inspiring photos and silly comics like Kang’s or Inman’s. When I want to have a piece handful of candy or complain that I don’t have time to work out, it’s things like this that keep me going because I know I’m not alone and it is possible. If you’re fine with your lifestyle, by all means just don’t pay attention to these people. If you want to improve your health, realize you aren’t alone. Even the best of us struggle, and there’s entire community of people who have your back and are willing to push you back up when you have an excuse or your own Blerch is screaming at you to stop.

Signature Update

Living a Healthier Lifestyle

One of my overall resolutions is to live a healthier lifestyle. I’ve been one of those lucky ones who have been blessed with a good metabolism, so I’ve never really had to worry about what I eat or exercising for that matter. I’ve also never been the active type, but more of the “sit in front of a computer all day, and watch TV all night” type. But somehow, over the years, I’ve shrunk rather than getting larger. {As shocking as this sounds} most of my clothes from elementary school that I still have {but would never wear} still fit. My clothes from my high school years are actually a few sizes too big now. While I’m thankful for that, I have begun to realize it will likely not last forever, and now that I’m working full time and spend 40 hours or more sitting at a desk in front of a massive 27″ computer screen, I figured now is probably a good time to start making some changes.

The first change I made was cutting the majority of the caffeine out of my life.

Backstory: When I was in high school, I only drank soda. Soda for breakfast, soda for lunch, soda before bed. I would actually have panic attacks if I didn’t have soda. That’s when I realized it was really bad and decided to give up soda. For 2 years, I drank flavored water and teas {and an occasional Sprite}. In college, I developed an unhealthy obsession with Monster energy drinks and was actually buying them by the case. If I wasn’t drinking Monster, it was Mountain Dew. I decided that probably wasn’t great, so I, again, went back to teas and water. Fast forward to the past year or so, I kept up with mainly drinking tea and water, and then my mother bought a Keurig. She was the only coffee drinker in the house so it made sense to her, but the Keurig made it easy to quickly make a cup of coffee and soon everyone in the house was drinking coffee. I would bring a 20oz. travel mug to work each day and on the weekends I’d have at least 2 cups a day.

The first day back to work this year after the holidays, I was dragging my feet as I got ready {because who really wants to go back to work}. I ended up rushing out the door because I like to be early to work, never late, so I quickly threw my lunch together and decided to skip the coffee. More than a month later, and I haven’t had coffee at work. I do have a cup on the weekends, and I occasionally splurge for Starbucks, but overall, the coffee habit is gone. Some afternoons {when it’s really slow at work or I have somewhere to be later that night} I pick up an energy drink from the vending machine, but gone are the days of multiple sodas, energy drinks, and cups of coffee. They’ve been replaced with bottles of water. I’m trying to track my water consumption, and have been using an app on my iPhone called Habits Pro. I got it for free during a sale, but it looks like the developer created a new version that’s free called Track & Share. It’s not the prettiest app, but it’s the best app I found so far.

That leads me to another change, being more active.

Fitbit Flex

My job requires me to sit in front of a computer all day, and although I love the wonderful Apple products my work has provided me with, I’m quickly realizing it’s damaging effects. Sitting in front of a 27″ display has really messed up my eyes. The good thing about all the water I’m drinking now is I’m forced to take more frequent breaks from the computer to walk to the other side of the building where the bathrooms are – good for my eyes, good for my body, and I’m staying hydrated. It’s still a work in progress though and sometimes I do forget to get up and move around. I’m currently saving for FitBit’s new Flex activity tracker which is supposed to be released in the Spring. Until then, I’m using an app on my phone called Moves to track my steps. {I forget to bring my phone with me a lot though so this isn’t too accurate.} I’m hoping that the Flex, given that it’s always on me, will solve that problem.

My third change – exercise.

Beach Babe DVD by Tone it Up

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you may have picked up on my latest obsession with workouts from Tone It Up. I know I’m not going to be tiny forever, so I might as well get in the habit of working out. Not too mention, I’d really love to not be out of breath after climbing one flight of stairs or my 10 minute walk from the parking lot to my office. Being able to fit in a size 0 doesn’t mean you’re healthy. Each week, I get an email from Tone It Up with a workout schedule. I plug the workouts into my Filofax and I generally try to stick to them, but sometimes I do change them up. Yesterday for example, I added the Bikini Sculpt workout from the DVD because I wanted more of a challenge. The hardest part of working out for me is getting the motivation to do it. I love the energy I get from working out. I love the results. I love that I can walk to my office without huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf trying to blow down the three little pigs’ houses, but when I get off of work, after 8 hours in front of a computer, I’m ready to be in sweat pants, eating dinner, and watching a movie. So today was day one of my decision to try waking up earlier to work out before work. Needless to say, I woke up early, only to reset my alarm back to it’s normal time and climb back in bed. Tomorrow we’ll try again I guess.

My last change comes out of necessity of the third change – eat healthier.

I’ve never been one to eat much. I don’t pig out on sweets and snacks {typically}, and I’d rather have an apple over a candy bar {or broccoli over french fries} any day. I love food, don’t get me wrong, I do pig out, and I do eat but I hate preparing it, or going to get it for that matter, so it’s easy for me to not eat much. A typical week day for me would probably consist of a granola bar for breakfast; a sandwich on whole wheat bread, apple sauce or cottage cheese, and some snacky item (gummy snacks, chips, wheat thins) for lunch; and dinner is either whatever my mother decides to cook, or some crappy microwaved burrito type thing. That lifestyle probably worked while I was lying around the house all day, but now I’m actually being more active. I’m not working out to lose weight, but to be healthier in general so I’ve had to pay better attention to what I’m eating, and how much so that I’m not dropping weight. I don’t know that I’ll ever be one to count calories or keep a food journal, but for now I’m just trying to eat better foods and a bit more of them.

Do you have any resolutions to be healthier {I assume most people do}? How’s it going for you? Feel free to ask any questions or share tips. I’d love to hear them.

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