If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I have been creating a series of short, daily workouts for my followers to help them fit movement into their busy lives. Known as The Daily 15, The Daily Shorty and the Morning Dose, these workouts have been my savior over the past month, because juggling full-time work, caring for an infant, maintaining a household and starting a business has been incredibly challenging and a graduate-level exercise in time management.
Despite the fact I love working out because it is my therapy and "me time," quick workouts are often the best I can do right now. Similarly, although I love cooking, on most days, I probably have about 15-20 minutes to dedicate to meal preparation for any given meal, and so I have been scouring the Internet for healthy recipes that can be made, start-to-finish, in under 20 minutes (I'm quite sure Rachel Ray's empire would have been built on 15 and not 30-minute meals if she had children of her own...).
I recently stumbled upon a 15-minute pasta dish that is perfect for spring and so easy and delicious to make that I felt compelled to share it with all of you. Not only did The Man, The Au Pair, and I love this meal, but so did Beautiful Baby A, who is enjoying her solids more and more as she approaches 10 months old and has 4 teeth showing!
The recipe, appropriately entitled 15-Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta, comes from one of my favorite blogs, Oh She Glows. If made with gluten-free noodles, it is vegan, nut-free, refined sugar-free, soy-free and gluten-free, but full of flavor.
My only modification to the original recipe, which can be found here, was to add halved cherry tomatoes to the pasta after mixing it with the avocado sauce. This adds a pop of color as well as some extra veg nutrition (I know, I know. A tomato is a fruit not a veg...), and I really think it makes the dish. I recommend serving this with some Ezekiel garlic bread, along with a side of roasted asparagus (because it is spring, after all). As written, the recipe makes 3 servings, but feel free to double or triple it if you have a bigger family or want leftovers for lunch the next day.
15-Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta
9 ounces uncooked pasta (I used tiny pasta so that it was baby-friendly)
1-2 cloves garlic (I used 2, which was perfect for us)
¼ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, plus more for a garnish when serving
1-2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. EVOO (that's Extra Virgin Olive Oil - an homage to the 30-minute cook herself)
1 ripe, medium avocado, pitted
1 Tbsp. water
¼-½ fine sea salt (I left this out because extra salt is a no-no for babies, and we didn't miss it at all)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Approximately ½ cup of cherry tomatoes, halved (add more or less, depending on your preference)
Lemon zest, for serving
1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
2. While the pasta is cooking, process the garlic, basil, lemon juice, EVOO, avocado and water in a food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more oil or water. Season with salt (optional) and/or pepper to taste.
3. When the pasta is finished, drain it and put it back into the pot. Stir the avocado cream sauce and the cherry tomatoes into the pasta until combined.
4. You can gently rewarm the pasta if desired or serve it at room temperature. Top each serving with a little lemon zest and some fresh chopped basil, if desired.
If you would like to receive more healthy, quick recipes, sign up for my newsletter and follow me on Facebook. And if you have any fast and tasty recipe suggestions of your own, please leave a Comment below.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
For several decades, I have focused on working out and eating healthy, organic foods in an attempt to stay fit and promote good health and overall wellness. With numerous fitness and nutrition certifications and bad genetics (i.e., an extensive family history of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's), I know that what I put into my body and how I treat it play critical roles in determining whether those bad genes remain in the background or move to center stage and become the main act.
I also have tried to reduce the amount of toxins I am exposed to in in the rest of my life. I don't smoke and I do everything I can to stay away from second-hand smoke. I avoid hard liquor (beer and wine are another story and a work-in-progress...). I don't use harsh chemicals or cleaners in our home, and I go to the local natural food store every week to get reverse osmosis water for our family.
But when it comes to what I put on my body - lotions, potions, shampoos, washes, lipsticks, blushes, creams, etc. - I have been far less diligent. As a self-proclaimed personal care product snob, the performance of products has always been critical to me, and while I have dipped my toes into the world of "healthier beauty" numerous times, I have generally been disappointed with the results and gone back to using old favorites from the department store that quite frankly performed better.
And yet as an educated health and wellness professional, I know that what I put on my body is as important as what I put in my body when it comes to overall health and wellbeing. Your skin is your largest organ, and the proliferation of transdermal patches worn on the skin for the delivery of medication clearly reveals that what you put on your skin is very quickly absorbed into your bloodstream.
In essence, you are not only what you eat, but you are also what you wear on your skin.
With this knowledge, I have spent over a decade searching for products that are both high-performing and also clean and safe, a search that became even more critical to me after having Beautiful Baby A (BBA) last summer and after my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer (for the second time) this winter. While doing research on safe, non-toxic baby care products on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database, I stumbled upon a relative newcomer to the industry - a brand of skincare, cosmetics and personal care products that not only outperforms my (former) favorite department store brands, but that lives and breathes its mission of putting safer products into the hands of everyone.
The brand I discovered is Beautycounter, and that discovery has improved my health and the health of my family.
If you are not familiar with EWG, it is a non-profit, non-partisan, independent environmental research organization that specializes in research, education and advocacy in several areas, including toxic chemicals. If you are familiar with EWG, numerous Beautycounter products are EWG-verified, and every single product I looked up, got a green light from the organization. No other company I researched compared.
Beautycounter was founded by Gregg Renfrew, a former high-powered player in the retail industry, who was inspired to start the company after becoming a mom herself and realizing that the seemingly "all natural" and organic products she was using on her children contained toxic ingredients that were scientifically linked to cancer, reproductive issues and hormone disruption.
The U.S. has only banned 30 ingredients from use in personal care products due to toxicity. The European Union has banned over 1,300. Beautycounter goes above and beyond both standards and includes over 1,500 questionable or harmful ingredients on its "Never List" (i.e., never will they be used in their products), all while ensuring that their products are as high-performing and luxurious as any other brand on the market. And they truly are.
Those of you who know me or have followed me for a while here or on Facebook know that first and foremost, when it comes to health and wellness, I am an educator. I have spent a large portion of my life studying and researching all things fitness, nutrition and wellness and freely and honestly sharing this knowledge with others to help better their lives in the same way that having and applying this knowledge has bettered mine.
I am not a salesperson, and I have turned down numerous opportunities to support or represent other companies and products in the past because I pride myself on speaking the truth and only associating myself with brands and products in which I truly believe. So, when I had the opportunity to partner with Beautycounter and make its mission part of my own, it was a big deal for me, but I feel compelled to become a part of its movement to put safer products into the hands of everyone because I love my friends and family members. I love their children. I love my child. And I want to share with all of them - with all of you - whatever information I can about how to live a longer, healthier, happier life.
Ultimately, I truly believe in this company, its products, and its mission, and I want my family to be as safe and healthy as possible.
And so today, I launch my new business venture as a Beautycounter Consultant. If you are interested in finding out more about the company, its mission, how to spring clean your personal care wardrobe and incorporate safer and healthier products into your home; or would like free samples of some of my favorite products or a one-on-one consultation with me, send me a note to kathleen(at)bellsandpeppers.com or leave a Comment below. I would love to share my experience, knowledge and honest, straight-forward reviews and recommendations to help you incorporate healthier habits into your life. You can also learn more about Beautycounter on my Beautycounter website.
Until next time, be happy, healthy, safe and beautiful,
I feel like a fraud.
I've often warned of the dangers of social media, since most people use it as a "highlight reel," only posting their happy, shiny moments and never the unfortunate moments that are a part of real life, particularly #realmomlife. This can make the rest of us, who are scrolling through our Facebook feeds sitting behind a locked bathroom door late night whilst downing a glass of wine and shoveling chocolate soy ice cream into our mouths trying to embrace the only "me time" we have gotten in weeks, feel inadequate and like failures.
And yet, if you look at my Facebook page recently, you might think my life is all rainbows, roses and unicorns. I, too, have fallen into the "highlight reel" trap, and it's time to come clean.
Like so many of you, I'm struggling right now to keep the many balls I have in the air from crashing down all over me.
I'm struggling to break free from what seems like an endless to-do list and find just a few moments to take a deep breath and have some fun.
I'm struggling to figure out who I am and who I want to be after having Beautiful Baby Ava (BBA) last June. After spending nearly 43 years focused on academic, professional and athletic achievement, I find myself in a place where I never thought I would be - madly in love with my little girl and wanting to experience life alongside her every day. I want to make her homemade meals and kiss her boo-boos when she bumps her head. I want to be there to witness all of her developmental milestones and see her smiling face every morning when she awakens.
At the same time, I long to find the time to use my talents and intellect for something truly meaningful - like helping others become healthier, happier versions of themselves - and I desperately miss certain aspects of my old life. Like catching a movie or a TV show every now and then. Or taking a bubble bath. Or going out on a random Tuesday night with friends. Or reading a book or a magazine. Or having time to dry my hair and put on makeup. Or wearing something other than leggings or sweatpants. Or doing nothing.
You see, my life right now - like many of yours, I suspect - is a whirlwind of tasks, with little, if any, downtime. It's Groundhog Day, and that day looks like this:
Get up at o'dark-thirty to pump before I workout, so I can get in a training session before BBA wakes up. I'm exhausted, because BBA still wakes up 2-4 times a night to feed, which I hoped to end with Cry It Out, but her pediatrician told us that would be "mean," because BBA is feeding at night because she is too distracted to feed much during the day, so she is really hungry, which means my over-a-year-long stretch of not getting a full night's sleep is still going strong.
Rush to get in my newly-invented Daily 15 (15-minute, intense workout) and maybe have time to grab an Almond Milk Chai Tea Latte from Peet's on my way home, which is basically the only thing I do for myself during the day (and yet I feel guilty for spending $5.67 every day on a sugary tea drink...). Walk Bailey the Pup, feed BBA and put her breakfast together, maybe have time to shower (or maybe not), throw in a load of what seems to be a never-ending pile of laundry (how can a baby possibly produce so much laundry?), grab a quick bite for myself and start working.
My new workspace is in our garage, next to my gym equipment, since my prior home office space (our dining room table) is near where BBA spends her time playing with The Au Pair (and my prior gym is now BBA's nursery). If there is a less inspiring environment in which to work or workout than a garage that is actually used to store a car and tools and bikes and baby strollers, etc., I'm not sure what it is.
When I get breaks from work, I feed BBA (I know "breast is best," but I am looking forward to weaning her when she turns one in exactly 2 months and 3 weeks - but who's counting?), fold laundry, do other random housework, put BBA's lunch together and go back to my dark cove to resume work.
After I finish working, I rush (see the trend here) to get dinner made for the family and BBA before The Au Pair is off duty, since cooking dinner with an active, crawling 9-month old is a nightmare. Once dinner is made, I'm on BBA duty, and we play or go for a walk and often FaceTime a family member until it's time to eat.
I get dinner on the table for The Man, the Au Pair and me, and try to shovel my food in quickly while feeding BBA her meal (usually my meal is cold by the time I get to it). I clean up after dinner (The Man helps if BBA is too tired to stay up), and then I start BBA's bedtime routine, which includes a bath every other night, a long feeding (sometimes 45 minutes), and some soothing music (more for me than for her, I suspect).
By the time BBA is down for the night (or rather, for the next 2-3 hours), I am exhausted, and while I have aspirations of staying up to watch a movie with The Man or do some reading, I generally retreat to the bedroom and go to bed, knowing that in a few hours, I'll be up again to feed the little miss.
Rinse and repeat.
It's a real struggle to juggle a full-time job; manage a household; start up a health and wellness business; keep up with a blog (big fail - my last post was January 2nd, people!); maintain my own kettlebell skills; spend quality time with The Man (who is also incredibly busy running a small business); care for my mom, who was diagnosed with breast cancer this winter, just had surgery and now has to undergo radiation and chemo treatments; and take care of our 17-month old puppy.
I suspect many of you understand how I feel, particularly if you are a new mom or dad (or an old mom or dad, or a busy executive, or really just about anyone these days), but I find it strange and unfortunate that so few people talk about their challenges. For a while, I thought I was "the only one" who was having difficulty keeping up with it all, but as I began to express my struggles with several close friends, they started opening up about their own difficulties, which is why I decided to write this post.
You see, having BBA is the best thing that has ever happened to me. And it is also the most challenging. Raising a child is monumentally difficult, especially if you are Type A+ and have high standards, and while it is easy for others to give the advice that my standards and expectations will have to "change" (i.e., lower), it is much harder to take that advice and run with it without feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt and failure - and quite honestly, without going against the core of who I am. And figuring out who I am and what I want to do "when I grow up" now that "Mama" has been added to the very top of my bio is something that is stressing me out more than I could have ever imagined.
While I don't have any answers or words of wisdom to share on this topic right now (perhaps some of you do?), to those of you who feel like you can't do it all or be it all. To those of you struggling to keep up. To those of you who are truly grateful for what you have but who also long for aspects of a previous life, I want you to know that despite what you see on your Facebook feed and Instagram, it is OK to feel this way. You are not a bad person for both loving and hating your life right now. And you are not alone.
Why I Am Throwing Traditional New Year's Resolutions Out The Window (And How To Make Positive, Life-Long Change)
New Year's. The time we get brand new calendars, set brand new goals, and start over with a clean slate. A slate that generally stays clean for maybe a few days or a few weeks, until it is tarnished with a glass of wine here and a cookie there. And then the grandiose resolutions we were so committed to on January 2nd are quickly forgotten, and we fall back into our regular routines and habits, and we vow to try again next Monday, and then the following Monday and the following, and ultimately enough Mondays pass that we decide to wait until next New Year's to change all of our bad habits in one fell swoop. Which, of course, dooms us to failure from the start. Again.
Throughout the years, I, too, have succombed to this circular pattern. Historically, I spend hours, days and even weeks pondering all of bad habits I want to change and the good habits I want to incorporate into my life. The list is very thoughtful and comprehensive, detailing commitments in all facets of life - fitness, nutrition, finances, spirituality, personal development, relationships, household, etc., etc. And if I am being honest (and this blog is all about honesty and authenticity), I may get through a week sticking with perhaps 1 or 2 of my 10+ resolutions before I fall off the wagon (and decide to try again next Monday...).
This year, my resolution prep was no different. I even invested in a few, quite lovely (and actually very useful and highly recommended) workbooks from Leonie Dawson that help guide you to your yearly personal and professional goals, and I spent precious hours over the Christmas holiday analyzing the current state of my life and creating a long list of things I resolved to do or not do in 2017. Save a certain amount of money. Start a nutrition and kettlebell coaching business, in-person and online, attracting a certain number of clients and making a certain amount of money each month. Read at least 2 books a month. Declutter our entire house. Find a new church community close to where we live. Cook through all of the recipes in my friend Tess Challis' Radiant Health, Inner Wealth cookbook (I still plan on doing this...more in an upcoming blog). Obtain my RKC kettlebell instructor certification. Cure cancer. Bring peace to the Middle East...
But when I returned from my holiday visit to my hometown, I had what Oprah would call an ah-ha moment that would support my desire to constantly improve and become a better person but get me out of the vicious New Year's Resolution circle. As I contemplated the type of person I wanted to be in 2017 and reflected on the type of person I became in 2016, when I ventured into motherhood for the very first time, I remembered an article I once read by a renowned Stanford University professor and expert in human behavior change named BJ Fogg, whose research has found that long-term behavior change is only truly possible by taking itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny baby steps consistently over time. I then looked at my lovely, 6 1/2-month old daughter, the Beautiful Baby A (BBA), and realized that the only resolution that seemed worthwhile for me to make in the upcoming year is to strive every day to be a little better and to do a little better for her, so that I am consistently striving to become the type of person that I would like my lovely, 6 1/2-month old daughter to be.
This is, of course, probably the tallest order when it comes to New Year's Resolutions I have ever made, but since BBA is learning everything about life right now from me (and her dada), there could be no commitment more important, more impactful or more meaningful.
Ultimately, I do not want my daughter becoming a victim of the New Year's Resolution monster. I do not want her getting trapped in the all-or-nothing, perfectionist-or-bust perspective on life. I do not want her spending her Sundays every week telling herself she'll start being the person she wants to be tomorrow. I do not want her Decembers to be spent binge watching trash TV on the couch while she stuffs her face with sweets and holiday cocktails (obviously, after she turns 21...) in anticipation of starting over in January by drinking only green smoothies and working out twice a day. This rollercoaster is not only frustrating and demoralizing, but it causes us to spend our lives knee deep in our imperfections, flaws and failures, rather than focusing on all of unique and wonderful traits that makes us the special and beautiful human beings we all are.
So this year I challenge you to think about your New Year's Resolutions a little differently. To look at the areas of your life you'd most like to improve and to commit to doing just a tiny bit better or a tiny bit more today. That may mean having a few more sips of water today than you did yesterday. Or donating $1 to your favorite charity rather than $0. Or getting up 1 minute earlier. Or going for a 5-minute walk. To support this process and keep myself accountable, I will be posting The Resolution Daily every day on my Facebook page (are you following me on FB, and if not, why not?), providing daily advice and tips on how to make consistent and tiny improvements and ditch the transform-every-aspect-of-your-life-overnight New Year's Resolution mentality once and for all.
WDIWMDTB. Who Do I Want My Daughter To Become. That is my mantra for 2017. And whether you have children or not, I challenge you to think about this mantra as you move forward with your life each and every day this year, and resolve to take just one, baby step closer to becoming that person yourself. What tiny step are you going to take today? Leave a Comment below and share.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
In last week's blog post, I talked about 3 easy steps you can take to avoid gaining weight this holiday season. Sticking with the holiday theme (because isn't that where all of our minds are this month?), I want to address a common issue raised to me this time of year, i.e., the challenge of fitting in workouts with packed calendars, lots of travel, and no access to exercise equipment on the road. So to simplify working out for all of you busy road warriors this holiday season (or for anyone else challenged with fitting exercise into his/her busy schedule), I have designed a simple workout template to create big-bang-for-your-buck workouts that can be done in a small space, with virtually no equipment, in just 6 minutes, scaleable for a total beginner up to the most advanced athlete. Just follow these 4 steps to design your own, individualized workout.
Before beginning any new exercise program, consult with your doctor and/or medical professional. Even working out at the Beginner level can be strenuous if you are injured, out-of-shape, have a medical condition, are drunk (or hungover), or just having a bad day. So please be safe rather than sorry and check with your doc.
Identify your fitness level, from Beginner - someone who is either brand new to exercise or returning after some time away - to Intermediate or Advanced. Extreme fitness fanatics with a high-level of skill might enjoy the Advanced Challenge moves provided below.
Based on your fitness level, select one exercise from each of the following categories: Upper Body Pull, Lower Body Push, Upper Body Push, Lower Body Pull, Core and Power. Note that Upper Body Pull movements are notoriously difficult to do without equipment, so I have included a few that require either bands and a door attachment, which you can purchase for very little money on Amazon and easily pack in a small carry-on, or an apparatus to do a chin-up/pull-up for the advanced level, which you likely can find while traveling at a local playground (monkey bars!) or in a hotel gym. I have also included a few exercises with my absolute favorite piece of travel-friendly exercise equipment - the Valslide - which is also inexpensive, compact, and can provide you with a gym's-worth of exercise moves (If you are going to workout on hard floors and not carpet, be sure to order the Valslide Booties as well; or you can get the Valslide Essentials Kit, which comes with the booties and a DVD to teach you lots of great Valslide exercises).
The exercises in each section are listed in the order of difficulty, starting with Beginner and moving up to Advanced Challenge moves. For descriptions of how to perform any exercises for which I do not directly provide a link, I highly recommend using Bodybuilding.com's Exercise Guide, which lists exercises alphabetically and provides videos of the moves. Of course, there's always the Goog and YouTube, although I caution you to only use quality sources. If you have any questions or concerns about any of the exercises, please email me, and I'm be happy to help.
Upper Body Pull
Wall Slides - Beginner
Band Pull Apart - Beginner/Intermediate
Inverted Table Row (Caution: Use a sturdy table) - Intermediate
Chin-up - Advanced
Pull-up - Advanced Challenge
Lower Body Push
Wall Squat - Beginner
Bodyweight Squat - Beginner/Intermediate
Reverse Lunge - Intermediate
Bulgarian Split Squat - Advanced
Pistol Squat - Advanced Challenge
Upper Body Push
Wall Push-up - Beginner
Incline Push-up - Beginner/Intermediate
Push-up - Intermediate
Decline Push-up - Advanced
Close-Grip or Plyometric Push-up - Advanced Challenge
Lower Body Pull
Hip Bridge - Beginner
Valslide Leg Curls - Beginner/Intermediate
Single-Leg Hip Bridge - Intermediate
Single-Leg Bodyweight Deadlift - Advanced
Single-Leg Valslide Leg Curl - Advanced Challenge
Plank (On knees) - Beginner
Bird Dog - Beginner/Intermediate
Plank (On elbows) - Intermediate
Plank (Push-up position) - Intermediate/Advanced
Valslide One-Arm Slide - Advanced
V-ups - Advanced Challenge
Total Body Extensions - Beginner
Jumping Jacks - Beginner/Intermediate
Jump Squats - Intermediate
Jump Lunges - Intermediate/Advanced
Skater Jumps - Advanced
Burpees - Advanced Challenge
Based on your fitness level, choose an interval combination for completing each exercise. Intervals are highly effective means of boosting your metabolism by combining intense periods of work followed by a period of rest. I like to keep interval combinations (including work and rest periods) to a total of one minute.
Beginners should spend less timing working during the minute than resting, so good combinations for beginners are 15 seconds of work followed by 45 seconds of rest, or 20 seconds of work followed by 40 seconds of rest (but starting with 10 or 15 seconds of work and 45-50 seconds of rest is great if that is what works for you). Some exercises may be more difficult for you than others, so adjust your intervals accordingly.
Intermediate exercisers should strive for equal work to rest periods, so 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of my rest is my favorite combination.
Advanced exercisers should strive to spend more time working than resting, e.g., 40 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest, or 45 seconds of work followed by 15 seconds of rest.
Because it is important to follow these work-rest periods exactly and not guesstimate, I highly recommend downloading the free Gymboss app, which will allow you to easily set your interval time and number of intervals. Or you can invest in an actual Gymboss timer (I have one and love it), which is relatively inexpensive, tiny, and includes a band so that you can easily wear the timer on your arm while you workout.
Design your workout and get moving! Once you have selected your exercises from each category and your interval combination, all you need to do is figure out how many sets (or rounds) of the exercises you want to do, set your timer and go! An example of a Beginner workout might be one set (i.e., a single, 6-minute round) that might look something like this...
Beginner Workout Example
Perform WALL SLIDES for 15 seconds, rest for 45 seconds, then move directly to WALL SQUATS. Hold the Wall Squat for 15 seconds, rest for 45 seconds, then move directly to WALL PUSH-UPS. Perform the push-ups for 15 seconds, rest for 45 seconds, then move directly to HIP BRIDGES. Perform the bridges for 15 seconds, rest for 45 seconds, then move directly to the PLANK (ON KNEES). Hold the plank for 15 seconds, rest for 45 seconds, then move directly to TOTAL BODY EXTENSIONS. Perform the extensions for 15 seconds and then congratulate yourself for a job well done!
If you have more time and want an additional challenge, you can do 2-5 total rounds of the workout, totaling up to 30 minutes at most. Take a one-minute break between rounds, and be sure to keep yourself well hydrated.
You may be wondering whether you need to perform a warm-up before completing this workout. While doing a brief warm-up is always preferred, if your time is limited, a warm-up is not required since these exercises use only bodyweight and are therefore self-limiting (i.e., your body will only let you do as much as it can physically do). If you do have an extra minute or two to complete a brief warm-up, I recommend dynamic movements like forward and backward arm circles, high kicks, and marching or jogging in place. If you have a few minutes to cooldown, finish with a few basic stretches like those found here.
And there you have it. A short and simple workout template that allows you to workout anywhere, at anytime, with no excuses! Wishing you a healthy and fit holiday season.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
The holiday season is in full swing, and that means that the average American will gain approximately 1.3 pounds before the calendar flips to 2017 - pounds that generally remain with us throughout the new year. To avoid "being average" this holiday season but still enjoy all of the festivities that this time of year brings, I have 3 simple steps you can follow for the entire month of December to avoid holiday weight gain without sacrificing fun with family and friends.
Step #1 - Establish your Daily Bare Minimums and stick to them every day in December, no matter what. Most diets fail because they are too restrictive to follow long term, and certainly the holiday season is not the time to try to enforce overly stringent diet and fitness rules. Daily Bare Minimums (DBMs) are simple, healthy habits that you do on a daily basis, regardless of how hectic and chaotic your life is. It is critical that your DBMs are easy enough that you are 90+% certain that you will be able to successfully complete them every single day. They should focus on areas of your life that need improvement so that they help you progress on your health and fitness journey. I recommend choosing three DBMs and no more - one that focuses on nutrition, one that focuses on fitness/movement, and one that focuses on lifestyle. My December DBMs, for example, include eating produce (a fruit or veg) at every meal or snack, engaging in purposeful movement for at least 20 minutes every day, and limiting my daily to-do lists to only 3 items. Once you check the box on your DBMs, regardless of what happens the rest of the day, consider that day a resounding success!
Step #2 - Create a rule around alcohol consumption. One of the biggest culprits of holiday weight gain is alcohol, not only because alcoholic drinks can be calorie bombs in themselves (one cup of spiked eggnog can add up to more than 400 calories, which is a quarter of the daily calorie allotment for the "average" woman), but also because drinking can lower your inhibitions and cause you to munch (and munch, and munch) on lots of high-calorie foods (and consume greasy and fattening breakfasts the next day to "cure" your hangover). This holiday season, I recommend creating a "rule" for yourself when it comes to alcohol consumption. That does not have to mean avoiding alcohol completely (although it could), but it may mean limiting yourself to 1-2 drinks per day (which is what is recommended from a health perspective, by the way). Or drinking a glass of water after each drink before having another. Or only drinking at parties and never at home. Or having no more than 7 drinks each week. Pick your poison and follow your self-designed rule for the entire month, and you will save yourself hundreds - if not thousands - of calories, and probably a hangover or two (which makes sticking with your fitness DBM much easier, too!).
Step #3 - Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. As a new mom to an infant and a puppy who is trying to start up a blog, training for her kettlebell instructor certification, and keeping a household in (somewhat) working order, I can fully relate with those of you who find getting the recommended 7-8+ hours of sleep every night a challenge. With the stress and chaos of the holiday season, however, there is likely no other habit that will benefit your health more than getting your zzz's. The studies are clear - the more sleep-deprived you are, the more weight you are likely to gain, not only because sleep deprivation causes your body to release cortisol and hold onto fat, but also because getting insufficient sleep causes you to eat more (some 300 calories more a day - which adds up to a 2 1/2-pound weight gain during the month of December!) because it increases your hunger hormone (ghrelin) and decreases your satiety hormone (leptin). It is also unlikely that you will be as physically active during the day if you did not get enough sleep at night, so if there is one thing you can do this month to help stave off the holiday weight gain, it is to ensure you get at least 7 hours of sleep every single night. No matter what.
There you have it. 3 simple steps to avoid being average this December. Here's wishing you an amazing (and weight gain-free) holiday season!
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Since giving birth to Beautiful Baby A (BBA) this summer, I have found myself frequently saying "I can't wait until she [INSERT EXCITING DEVELOPMENTAL MILESTONE]..." or "I look forward to [INSERT FRUSTRATING ASPECT OF BEING THE MAMA OF AN INFANT] to be over" - focusing on the promise of the future rather than appreciating the beauty of the moment. When I catch myself thinking these thoughts, I consciously stop myself in my tracks, remembering what I have been told by many friends and family members and have read in all of the baby books - "enjoy every moment because they grow up too fast." Looking backwards on life, it is easy to recognize the nuggets of joy in even the most trying moments, and I do not want to regret wishing away all of life's little blessings, even if they are hidden behind a mask of displeasure.
I have always disliked fall. Not because of the characteristics of the season itself, which actually are quite lovely, but because the cooler days of fall always remind me that winter is just around the corner. Cold weather, snow and ice, dark and chilly mornings and equally dark and chilly late afternoons. All of the things my warmth- and sun-loving self despises.
Life has its seasons, just like the weather. And each season has its ugly, challenging, and trying moments, and each season has within it a magnificent beauty if you choose to focus on the moment at hand and take a closer look. This morning, as I walked BBA on this gorgeous fall day - her 5-month "birthday" - I embraced one of those moments, which inspired me to write this post despite the fact I had almost finished a completely different blog for the week. The air today was unseasonably warm, the trees were seasonably colorful, and I was happy and grateful for having this moment with my amazing child. I was not thinking about my to-do list. I was not thinking about my future. I was not thinking about the season that is to follow. Because we really don't know what the next season of life will have in store for us. All we can be sure of is what we have right now, and the right now is perfectly amazing if you open your eyes to its wonder.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I challenge you to take time each day to focus on the wonder of your life right now at this very moment - and on the nuggets of joy and happiness for which you are grateful. And in the depths of winter, when the winds are whipping and the air is frigid, remember that without the dormancy of winter, trees would never know the grandeur of sprouting in spring.
Until next time, be happy, by healthy - and be grateful,
My early experience with kettlebells was not a love-at-first-sight fairy tale. In fact, I can't even remember the first time I picked up a kettlebell, a somewhat primitive-looking, cast-iron cannonball-like piece of fitness equipment with a handle. But after experiencing my second knee injury in 2012, a stress fracture in 2014, burning out from running numerous marathons and half marathons and becoming pregnant at the age of 42, I turned to kettlebells to help keep me in shape when high-impact workouts and heavy barbells were banned by my doctor due to the high-risk nature of my pregnancy.
I worked out with kettlebells up until the day before Beautiful Baby A (BBA) was born, and I credit kettlebells for keeping me in good shape during my pregnancy and for allowing me to return to my pre-pregancy weight within just a few weeks after giving birth. By that point I had already decided that I wanted to share the power of kettlebells with others, and so I committed to preparing for the Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) instructor certification, one of the most highly respected and grueling kettlebell certifications around. That means I get up at the crack of dawn before baby awakens, 5 mornings a week (beginning at just 2 months postpartum), throw on my workout clothes and head to the garage for an intense, 45+-minute training session. I am often tired, having been up much of the night nursing an infant. Now that autumn is upon us, it is dark and cold when I descend upon the garage, and there is usually nothing I would like better than to stay under the warm covers and snooze for another hour or two. So what is it that keeps me training so hard, day in and day out, using up the only real "me" time I get right now - and why should it matter to you?
Here are the top 5 reasons why I believe kettlebells are the solution to just about everyone's struggles, whether you want to get fit, stay fit, or just get in a good workout every now and then; whether you are old or young, a highly-drive career-person, a stay-at-home mom, a retiree, an athlete, a workout newbie or something in between.
#1 Kettlebells are ACCESSIBLE. In early 2015, I participated in a 12-week course at my CrossFit box that focused on building strength using the traditional barbell lifts. While I thoroughly felt like a bad-ass bench pressing and deadlifting, once the class was over, I did not keep up with the training, since setting up a squat rack at home with a barbell, weight plates and a bench was not feasible due to the expense, the amount of space required, and the need for special flooring in case you drop the bar (which I frequently did when I was increasing the weight of some of my lifts). Kettlebells, on the other hand, are relatively cheap and take up virtually no space, and with just one or two kettlebells, you have an entire gym's worth of strength and conditioning workouts at your fingertips. This makes kettlebells accessible to just about anyone, particularly those of us who may be too busy to head to a gym on a regular basis or who live in an itsy-bitsy apartment or condo.
#2 Kettlebells are PORTABLE. Last summer, The Man and I went on vacation for a week during the time I was doing a 100-Day Challenge, during which I completed 100 different workouts and made 100 different healthy meals in 100 days. I was able to continue with the Challenge during our trip without missing a beat by simply packing a kettlebell into the car, which enabled me to get in both cardio and strength training workouts outside with a view of a gorgeous lake. Kettlebells are highly portable, and for that reason, they are the perfect tool for anyone who is on the go or on the road.
#3 Kettlebells are VERSATILE. Treadmills, elliptical machines, rowing machines, and stationary bikes are great (but expensive) pieces of equipment for getting in a solid cardio workout, and dumbbells, barbells or resistance bands are wonderful tools for toning muscle and building strength. But invest in 1 or 2 kettlebells, and you have the makings of an entire gym's worth of cardio and strength workouts, at minimal cost, and you can tuck them away in a corner in even the tiniest of apartments. Because of the shape of the kettlebell, it is not only perfect for strength moves like squats, presses, rows and deadlifts, but it is also a cardio conditioning powerhouse with ballistic moves like the swing, clean, snatch and jerk. Additionally, because kettlebell workouts are non-impact (in other words, no jumping or plyometrics), kettlebel weights range from just a few pounds to several hundred pounds, kettlebells can be used by just about anyone regardless of age or fitness level. When it comes to fitness tools, I have found kettlebells to be the most versatile piece of equipment in the gym.
#4 Kettlebells are EFFECTIVE. Whether you want to build strength, lose weight, tone muscle or achieve a combination of the above, kettlebell workouts just flat out deliver results. In a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a 20-minute, kettlebell interval workout was found to burn 20.2 calories per minute (over 400 calories in just 20 minutes), which is the equivalent of running a 6-minute mile pace for 20 minutes straight and a higher calorie burn than any other form of exercise with the exception of cross-country skiing UPHILL at a fast pace (and who does that?). During my pregnancy, I worked out almost exclusively with kettlebells, and they helped me stay in shape, gain a healthy amount of weight (22 pounds), deliver a beautiful 7 pound, 8 ounce baby, and bounce back quickly postpartum (my doctor cleared me for light cardio only 4 weeks after my C-section). Since having BBA, I have also focused on kettlebell workouts since I am training for my RKC certification, and without dieting (I am still breastfeeding - and I am eating a bowl of almond milk ice cream right at this very moment...), I am in better shape than I was before I was pregnant and weigh 8 pounds LESS than I did prior to pregnancy. Ultimately, kettlebell workouts are highly effective in helping you reach your fitness and weight loss goals without the need to spend hours in the gym.
#5 Kettlebells are FUN. It's virtually impossible to stick with a fitness routine long-term unless you are enjoying yourself, and I find kettlebell workouts to be a blast! Perhaps it is because of their versatility and the ability to switch between strength and cardio moves with the same piece of equipment (because variety is the spice of life). Or maybe it is because swinging and throwing around a heavy metal object after a long day in the office or at home with baby is incredibly therapeutic. Regardless, kettlebell workouts are fun and keep me coming back for more, which is critical since consistency is the most important thing when it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle.
Kettlebells have become my personal, one-stop-shop for all things fitness, and I encourage you to give them a try, too. As with any other piece of fitness equipment, I highly recommend that you meet with a trainer experienced with kettlebells to learn proper form before you begin swinging away at home on your own. If you have any questions about anything kettlebell-related, please let me know. Happy swinging!
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
The biggest mistake we all make when trying to lose weight or get in shape (and why less is truly more)
"Starting on Monday I'm going to workout at least 45 minutes every day and limit my calories to 1400 a day. I'm going to drink 10 glasses of water daily, and avoid carbs after 11 a.m. and fast after 7 p.m., and eat sweets only on holidays that begin with a "C." I'm going to start meditating 20 minutes a day to reduce stress and get at least 8 hours and 20 minutes of sleep a night. I'm going to stop drinking alcohol, and get in at least 15,000 steps a day, and..."
Perhaps I'm exaggerating a little here, but even though I am not a gambling woman, I would bet a lot of money that just about 100% of us who have tried to lose weight or get in shape have played the ol' "I'll start on Monday" game (or the game with very similar rules called "I'll start on January 2nd"). We create a long list of habits we intend to immediately change or adopt once Monday comes, and by Thursday (or Wednesday, or sometimes even Tuesday), we throw in the towel because we can't stick with the numerous rules we created for ourselves. And so we wait for another Monday or another new year to arrive, at which time we've gained even more weight or gotten in even worse shape, and the vicious circle continues.
You have probably heard (or experienced yourself) that "most diets fail." In my experience, however, (and I am a prolific reader and dedicated student of all things diet and nutrition), just about every single diet I have ever studied will absolutely help you succeed in losing weight if you follow it as prescribed. Whether it is a diet that promotes counting Points or counting carbs, avoiding animal products or following a Paleo-style of eating, cutting out sugar or adding in protein shakes - all of them ultimately are designed to tilt the energy balance to more calories out than in and will promote weight loss.
The problem with - and failure of - most diets and the "I'll start on Monday" mentality, is that they are not sustainable. Once we go "off" the diet and return to our regularly scheduled programming (i.e., our regular lifestyle and way of eating), the scale starts to creep back up...and up...and up.
The #1 mistake we have all made when trying to lose weight or get in shape is to take on too much at one time, to adopt an "all or nothing" mentality, and to go "all in." Because if we do not adopt healthy habits that are sustainable for the long term, how can we possibly think we will have results that are sustainable in the long term?
I decided to write about this topic after several friends contacted me over the past month asking for help in their weight loss journeys. All of them listed a litany of healthy habits they were striving to adopt, and just reading their emails and listening to them on the phone made me exhausted. They felt overwhelmed, and I felt overwhelmed by their overwhelm, and overwhelmed is not a feeling any of us want to have for very long.
If you are someone who is struggling to lose weight or get in shape and the "all-or-nothing" mentality has not served you in the past, I challenge you to trust me and my training and spend a little time exploring the world of "less is more." Pick one fitness habit you wish to adopt that you are 90+% confident you can accomplish (e.g., working out for 5-10 minutes, 3 days a week), and pick one nutrition habit you wish to adopt that you are also 90+% confident you can accomplish (e.g., drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning), and only focus on those 2 habits for 2-4 weeks. Make no other changes. Create no other fitness or nutrition rules for yourself and go on with your life just as you are doing so today. Once you nail those habits on a daily basis, add just one more fitness and nutrition habit to the mix - both of which you are almost 100% positive you can accomplish and that seem so easy you wonder if they could possibly make any difference in your weight or fitness level - and follow those for a few weeks. Rinse and repeat.
As you gradually build tiny but sustainable habits into your life, you will be amazed at the results over time. You might not lose 20 pounds in 20 days, but you may just lose 20 pounds for life. What do you have to lose (besides a few unwanted pounds)?
To learn more about the power of one change at a time, I highly recommend checking out the writings of Leo Babauta - blogger, journalist, author and minimalist guru. His book The Power of Less completely changed my philosophy on life - and my philosophy on fitness and nutrition - and helped me get into the best shape of my life by doing less. Additionally, I highly recommend checking out the articles on Precision Nutrition's web site - the company through which I have both of my nutrition certifications. PN is one of the most successful nutrition coaching companies in the world, and they have built their business on helping clients make one small habit change at a time.
Finally, if you need help deciding what small changes might have the biggest impact on your health journey, please feel free to reach out to me for guidance and direction. In the meantime, take a breath, give yourself a break, and enjoy the power of doing less.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! It is hard to believe that Beautiful Baby A (BBA) is now old enough to be referred to in months rather than weeks since she officially turned 4 months old on October 6th! It has been amazing to observe her growth and development over the past 16 weeks. Since I provided my last BBA update 6 1/2 weeks ago, she has reached a number of milestones, including: (1) sleeping through the night consistently, but then (2) experiencing the dreaded "4-Month Sleep Regression" (going from waking once at 4 or 5 a.m. to waking 3 times throughout the night); (3) going on her first beach vacation (and laughing at the waves while we dipped her feet in the water); (4) and on her first boat ride; (5) getting her first savings account (with a whopping .01% interest); (6) drooling nonstop; (7) grabbing at everything, especially my hair (she has a grip that suggests she sneaks out at night to get in a few sets of heavy kettlebell farmer's carries); (8) discovering her love for dance (when I start dancing, she kicks and bounces and flails her arms around with a big smile on her face, laughing and trying to imitate my moves); and (9) finding her "voice," which is a high-pitched squeal that will not necessarily win her a spot on The Voice.
As for mama, I have weathered the past two months quite well, since BBA has spent most of it sleeping consistently and napping regularly. I am continuing to train for my Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) certification to become a kettlebell instructor, which means I get up super early 4 days a week (before baby rises) to train in my garage gym, and then I work with my amazing trainer Andre at Fitness on the Run one additional day each week to help perfect my form in the major kettlebell exercises, most particularly the clean, which is currently my nemesis. Perhaps it is the training, or the breastfeeding, or the fact that I often miss meals because I am so busy (like missing dinner last night and breakfast this morning), or maybe it is because I am not spending my days sitting at a "desk job," but I now weigh over 8 pounds less than I did before I became pregnant, and instead of having to invest in bigger clothing post-pregnancy, I actually have to buy a pair of smaller jeans for the fall since my old pairs literally fall down when I wear them.
The biggest struggle I have had over the past 4 months since having BBA is overcoming the tremendous sense of guilt that accompanies new motherhood. As someone of Irish descent who was raised Catholic, I am intimately familiar with guilt - it's basically in my DNA - but being a mom takes it to an entirely new and unprecedented level. I am constantly wondering whether what I am doing will screw up BBA forever. And when I try to comfort myself by thinking that there is probably not much I can do that can really screw her up forever, I remember stories about Adolf Hitler, whose atrocities later in life experts blame on his troubled childhood. If I let BBA "cry it out" at night, will she resent me, no longer trust anyone, not develop a sense of self-confidence, and ultimately eff up the entire world?
You see the rabbit hole new mamas are prone to go down.
(And by the way, right at this very moment, BBA is screaming uncontrollably in her crib, after I put her down to sleep about an hour ago. I have gone in twice to comfort her and am asking myself how long I should let her cries continue before I go in again?)
Every single day I wonder if what I am doing is enough to help BBA develop and achieve the milestones all of the baby books talk about and whether the activities I am doing with her are the right ones. I constantly question whether:
(1) Spending nearly every waking moment with BBA during my 6 1/2 months of maternity leave will negatively impact her ability to grow into a strong, independent woman? or
(2) Letting BBA play alone on her play mat in the kitchen while I am making dinner will negatively impact her social development? or
(3) Giving BBA only a few minutes of tummy time will negatively impact her physical development? or
(4) Forcing BBA to do tummy time every day, even though she despises it and it makes her cry, will negatively impact her emotional development? or
(5) Will allowing BBA to "watch" the Today Show in the morning with me negatively impact her brain development? or
(6) Etc., etc., etc.
And so it goes...
Ultimately, what I am realizing as a new mama is that guilt is toxic. Guilt masks the fact that most of us are doing the best we can with what we have at any given moment. It does not allow us to appreciate our "wins," and instead causes us to focus on the "what-we-could-have-done-better-had-we-knowns." Guilt does not allow you to bask in the beauty of the now or dream about the possibilities of the future, instead causing you to dwell on the past with uncertainty and regret.
Guilt kills the joy in life.
When you are about to have a baby and nervous about motherhood, you often get the advice from other moms just to "trust your motherly instincts" and "do what feels right to you." And I think this is the key to mothering and basically the key to living a life filled with joy and happiness and with limited guilt. One of the biggest lessons I have learned as a new mom is that you should throw away just about every single baby book anyone has given you, because I am convinced that they are written by people who have never spent any real time with a real baby. They make you stressed out and cause you to feel guilty about your inadequacies and failures. Instead, talk to real-life moms who have experienced real-life mom issues, and you'll get real-life tips and tricks that are far more valuable and practical. And then trust your motherly instincts and do what feels right to you.
Whether you are making parenting decisions or decisions about work or finances or relationships or what to eat for dinner, don't compare yourself to the Jones'. Don't spend hours, days or even weeks questioning decisions you've already made and can't change. Don't allow the information you have today to cause you to look back with regret on choices you made when you didn't know what you know now. Instead, do your research, arm yourself with the information you need to make decisions today and in the future, and then go with your gut.
And if you need a reminder of the awesome humility of your own humanity, repeat the following mantra to yourself:
"I am doing the best I can with what I have at this very moment."
And you are doing the best you can with what you have, mama.
Until next time, by happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! I’m Kathleen, the Kettlebell Mama. Welcome to bells & peppers – a blog dedicated to all things related to fitness, nutrition and healthy living. As an athlete, trainer, nutritionist, cooking instructor, attorney, senior executive and new mom, I have learned how to balance my personal health and fitness goals with paying the bills, spending quality time with family and friends and pursuing a demanding career – without losing my mind! My goal is to inspire, empower and provide you with simple strategies to help you become your healthiest self in a balanced, realistic and sustainable way. Feel free to read more about my story here. Thanks for visiting bells & peppers!