Hello, friends! I was going to start off by apologizing for taking a brief break from blogging last week, but I'm not going to apologize, because I'm not really sorry about it. The Man, Beautiful Baby A, Bailey the Pup and I went on our very first family vacation since BBA was born, visiting a friend who lives at the beach in Delaware. As the consummate multitasker, I recognize that I need to learn how to monotask and practice being present in the moment, because the weeks with BBA are going by so quickly (it is hard to believe she is 3 1/2 months old!), and I do not want her baby-hood to flash by me in a blur.
Being present in the moment this past week meant spending time with the family on the beach, introducing BBA to the ocean, taking her on her first boat ride, and going on an early morning walk on the boardwalk with friends. It did not mean trying to find time during the vacation to write a blog post. Now I am back home, and since BBA has settled into her crib for the night, it is time for mama to get back to work.
I have had several requests to share some of my favorite healthy recipes, because it seems that most of us struggle with food, and yet - for better or for worse - what we eat has more of an influence on our weight and our overall health than what kind of purposeful movement we engage in or how often or how much we exercise. As a "vegetable-arian" (the word my nephew used to describe me when he was younger, because "you just eat vegetables, Aunt Kathleen"), I strive to make dishes that even meat-eaters love and won't suspect are healthy (after all, The Man is an omnivore). The following 2 recipes have been taste-tested time and time again by friends and family with varied food preferences, and they have been a hit every single time. These dishes are not only healthy and tasty, but they are quick and easy to make!
Lentil Sloppy Joes - Serves 4
Sloppy Joes are an American classic, and since the flavor comes from the seasonings and spices - not from the meat - it is easy to recreate the dish into a healthier veggie version without losing the taste. I developed this recipe after finding several other healthier versions of Sloppy Joes, significantly modifying the recipes to satisfy my tastebuds.
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped (optional, but adds some extra veggie goodness)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (14 oz.) tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. chili powder (to taste)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 cups pre-cooked brown lentils (I use 1 package of Trader Joe's refrigerated Steamed Lentils to save time - canned lentils would also work, or use dried lentils to make them from scratch, of course!)
4 sandwich/burger rolls
1. Heat the EVOO in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes longer to soften the vegetables.
2. Add the remainder of the ingredients to the skillet (minus the rolls!), and stir gently to mix well. Cook for 6-8 minutes or until hot throughout. Serve on a bun.
Veggie "Tuna" Salad - Serves 4-6
Even when I was a little girl, I didn't like eating meat or fish, with 2 exceptions - chicken and tuna salad sandwiches. I have fond memories of my grandmother making me tuna melts when she babysat, and years after giving up eating animals, I was happy to find a worthy replacement for an old favorite. Veggie "tuna" salad recipes are aplenty in plant-based cookbooks, and I have perfected my own version over time after trying many different versions. Even The Man, a fish-loving Norwegian, gives this dish two thumbs up!
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas (approx. 3 cups), drained and rinsed
1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped (optional)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
A handful of shredded carrots (totally optional, but adds a little crunch and some additional veggie goodness - I use pre-shredded that I get at Trader Joe's to save time)
Approximately 1/4 cup onion (I prefer red), finely chopped (add more or less to taste)
Approximately 1/4 cup dill pickle relish or chopped dill pickle (add more or less to taste)
1/2 cup mayo (for a vegan version that is the only non-mayo I have found to be as creamy and tasty as the real thing, I highly recommend using Sir Kensington's Fabanaise, a new brand that gets its creamy texture from aquafaba, which is the "bean" liquid you usually rinse down the drain when you strain a can of chickpeas; it is incredibly healthy and super yummy - a winning combination in my book! I found this at both Whole Foods and a little local health food store.)
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Add chickpeas to a food processor or blender (or use a fork or potato masher, which is what I do) to grind/mash them into small, flaky pieces. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the salt and pepper; mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a bed of lettuce or spinach or in a sandwich (or on an English muffin with a little melted cheese or vegan cheese for an authentic "tuna" melt taste!).
I encourage you to add these recipes to your weekly menu and let me know what you think in the Comments section below. And for more easy, fast, tasty, healthy and family-friendly recipe ideas, stay tuned to future blog posts (shameless plug!).
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends, and welcome to the inaugural bells & peppers Q&A post – you asked, and I deliver! But first, the recovering attorney in me feels compelled to include the following disclaimer: I am not a doctor, a nurse or a health professional. As a certified nutritionist, I am not licensed to TREAT illness through nutrition or other lifestyle changes, and it is important that you seek the advice and recommendations of your medical professional, particularly when dealing with a medical diagnosis such as high cholesterol.
OK. Attorney hat is now removed.
So what the heck is cholesterol anyway?
Several of you asked me this week to address the issue of high-cholesterol, and this is not a surprise, since 1 in 3 Northern Americans suffer from this problem. Cholesterol is a sterol (fancy that – chole“sterol”…), which is a molecule found in animals that is essential to the production of certain hormones, including the all important vitamin D (Did you know vitamin D is a hormone and not a vitamin? Now store that in your memory bank for your next game of Trivial Pursuit.). Cholesterol is also a component of all of our cell membranes. Our bodies produce cholesterol – our livers to be more exact – to the tune of 1-2 grams per day. You also get cholesterol from foods, more specifically, from animal-derived foods like meat and dairy (plants do not have cholesterol). Strangely, your body produces more cholesterol when you eat certain foods with more cholesterol, such as saturated and trans fats, providing a double whammy.
There are 2 types of cholesterol – HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein), although technically, HDL and LDL are not really forms of cholesterol but rather lipoproteins (as their names suggest) that carry cholesterol throughout your body (another Trivial Pursuit factoid). HDL is often referred to as “good” cholesterol and LDL as “bad” (or “lousy”) cholesterol, basically because HDL transports extra cholesterol to your liver for disposal, and LDL transports cholesterol and fat from your liver to the rest of your body. LDL is also the main ingredient in blood vessel plaque, which can build up and cause blockages that lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD). So when assessing your cholesterol levels, you want your LDL levels to be a good bit lower than your HDL – having a high HDL level is actually a good thing.
And why is cholesterol such a bad thing?
Historically, individuals with total cholesterol levels over 200 mg/dL were considered to have “high” cholesterol, although new research suggests that 150 mg/dl might be a better cut-off. There has been a significant amount of controversy recently over the impact of cholesterol on health and whether it really is as problematic as we were once led to believe, since there are some cultures in the world where cholesterol levels are generally “high” but whose populations do not suffer the same cardiovascular issues we have in this country (and nearly half of all heart attacks occur in people with “normal” cholesterol levels). In fact, researchers are now even questioning whether the egg, which has been maligned for years as a major culprit in the high cholesterol epidemic, actually is a problem at all when it comes to your cholesterol levels.
I have done a good bit of research on the issue of high cholesterol and its relationship to heart disease because my family history includes individuals who have suffered from both, including my dad, who passed away of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2013. What the most updated studies suggest is that our emphasis on cholesterol numbers does not provide a holistic picture of our health or propensity for cardiovascular disease. The research suggests instead that the combination of your cholesterol levels and the level of internal inflammation in your body, measured by the level of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) in your blood, a substance released by cells during the inflammation process, is more telling in terms of your risks of heart disease.
Basically, atherosclerosis, or the hardening and narrowing of arteries that is responsible for heart disease, is an inflammatory disease, and as the walls of your arteries become more damaged due to inflammation, it becomes easier for LDL particles to “stick” to the walls, build-up and cause blockages (my apologies to the heart doctors out there for this simplistic explanation). Ultimately, if you have high cholesterol or are concerned about heart disease, ask your doctor to test your CRP level. A level under 1 mg/L is considered “low” and over 3.0 mg/L is “high,” while levels between 1.0 and 3.0 mg/L are considered “average.”
One interesting side note is that they are finding that plaque build-up in the brain might be responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease (and my dad suffered from a blocked artery, a heart attack and later Alzheimer’s – a coincidence?), which may explain why renowned American neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta has declared that when it comes to lifestyle habits “what is good for your heart is good for your brain.”
So all of that is interesting, but what can I do if I have high cholesterol?
Now, what you really want to know is what to do about high cholesterol. Again, your first step should be to visit your doctor, get your cholesterol and CRP levels tested and discuss a comprehensive treatment protocol with him/her. Depending on the results of the tests and your risk factors, that protocol might include taking statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs that are among the most widely used medications in this country. With about 28% of Americans over 40 taking a cholesterol-lowering drug and more than 90% of these individuals on statins, it is clear that statins are big business.
While statins play an important role in treating some patients with high cholesterol, like all medications, they can cause undesirable side effects, such as memory loss, type 2 diabetes, diarrhea, headaches, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, etc., and the reality is that most cases of high cholesterol (not all, but most) can be managed through nutrition and lifestyle changes alone with only positive side effects. In fact, the research shows that by making certain dietary changes, in particular eating a more plant-based diet, you can lower cholesterol as much – if not more – as you can by taking statins.
Now let’s get to the “meat” (pun intended) of this post – what dietary and lifestyle changes do I recommend for someone suffering from high cholesterol (and remember, this is not a “treatment” for high cholesterol, it is merely my suggestions for leading a healthier lifestyle). It turns out, the same habits that have been shown to lead to overall good health, vitality and longevity are those that seem to play an important role in naturally reducing high cholesterol levels.
As I discussed in a previous post, one of my absolute favorite books on health is The Blue Zones, by New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner. This book discusses the research conducted by National Geographic on five of the healthiest and longest-living populations in the world, analyzing the commonalities in their diets and lifestyles, as well as other scientific findings, to create a “prescription” for lasting change that may add years (healthy years) to your life. As I re-studied the list of recommendations from The Blue Zones, I was struck by the fact that they are almost identical to the recommendations provided in recent studies on how to lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. These recommendations include:
To learn more about foods that can help lower cholesterol, check out this article from a little university called Harvard.
For more tips on simple steps you can take each day to live a healthier and happier life, please contact me at kathleen(at)bellsandpeppers.com. Or post questions on this topic or others in the Comment section below. As always, I look forward to your questions, ideas, recommendations and requests for future Q&A topics. And stay tuned for next week, when I will give you some of my favorite, healthy and super tasty recipes that fit today’s recommendations!
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! We all know that a key part of being fit - in addition to working our hearts with cardiovascular exercise and our muscles with strength training - is including stretching in our exercise regime to improve our flexibility. And yet with the exception of the dedicated yogis out there, stretching is often the part of a workout that most of us skip (or skimp) because we are pressed for time and don’t think it pays the same dividends as more vigorous types of training.
The research suggests, however, that flexibility training is as critical to aging gracefully as cardio and strength training, and it may even be the “fountain of youth” when it comes to fitness, as proclaimed by Tony Horton, the uber fit and unbelievably youthful 58-year-old creator of P90X. Certainly, if we do not continue to work on our flexibility as we age, we will end up becoming one of those individuals who can’t bend over to tie his or her shoes, and we will be more prone to injury and incapacity in our later years.
The good news is that working on your flexibility does not require much time. Just 5 minutes of stretching a day is generally sufficient, and there are numerous free online resources to help you develop a daily flexibility routine, for example this quick-and-easy routine from Real Simple. There are also incredible resources to help you add yoga into your life (do a search on YouTube), including my new favorite resource, which is designed for beginning yogis, Beachbody On Demand's 3 Week Yoga Retreat.
While flexibility training is important for your physical health, learning to be flexible in all aspects of your life is important for your mental health, your emotional health and for the health of your relationships.
I am someone who has never been particularly flexible. I have never been able to do a split. I do not enjoy yoga - although I aspire to be the type of person who enjoys finding her zen. I am a dedicated to-do lister and find great pleasure in creating lengthy and ambitious daily to-do lists and diligently crossing off each item on the list before the end of the day. I am committed to be timely at all times, and I do not have much tolerance for being late or for those who are late. I do not like clutter, and I do not like things in my house being out of place.
Basically, both my blood type and my personality type are A+.
Since having my first child 12 week ago, however, I have learned the importance of working on my flexibility. During the early weeks of Beautiful Baby A’s (BBA’s) life, I realized that I would have to minimize the number of items on my to-do lists, and now I have come to terms with the fact that it is better to ditch the daily to-do list entirely. Instead of being the person who arrives perfectly on time (or likely a little early), I now ensure I give others a range of time at which I might arrive, since you never know whether a nap will go long or whether there will be a last-minute diaper change or feeding. And with little time or energy to spend on housework, I am learning to accept that my dining room table has toys strewn across it and that there are unwashed dishes currently sitting in the kitchen sink.
This transition has not come easy, and it is very much a work in progress – I am only in the beginning stages. But like yoga, learning to be more flexible in other aspects of your life is a practice – a journey. A process of self-development and self-improvement that is as critical to your ability to age gracefully as stretching your muscles. Because research suggests that having a Type A personality increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and depression, among other ailments.
So, I encourage you to spend some time each day focusing on your flexibility. Touch your toes. Do some side bends. Let some items on your to-do list slide. And leave your bed unmade. Commit to practicing flexibility in all aspects of your life, and you may just be setting the stage to live a longer, healthier and happier life.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! "It takes a village." I've heard this saying many times, generally when someone is describing what it takes to raise a child, but I honestly never really understood the importance of having a "village" until I gave birth to my own child 11 weeks ago. Since The Man and I do not live in the same state as our families, we have spent most of the past few months taking care of Beautiful Baby A (BBA) on our own, which has been challenging at times, highlighting the benefit of being surrounded by family and close friends to help with baby.
The need for a village is not limited to childrearing. Our ancestors - dating back to the earliest days of civilization - organized in communities to provide support and protection in all areas of life, because even cavemen and cavewomen recognized that together we are stronger. Only in the recent years have we strayed from this practice in the U.S., often living far away from our families in neighborhoods in which we don't even know our neighbors.
How many of you live in a neighborhood in which everyone has large front porches? Probably not many of us (and certainly not me). I am convinced that the demise of the front porch, which served as a venue for relaxation and conversation with neighbors and passersby, along with our culture of busy-ness (i.e., too busy to stroll through your neighborhood or relax on the front porch, even if you are fortunate enough to have one), are partially responsible for the demise of a sense of community in our "communities."
When it comes to wellness, surrounding ourselves with a village of like-minded individuals is also critical to achieving our health goals. In fact, the key to the success of the most successful weight loss and fitness programs is that they foster a sense of community among the program participants.
Weight Watchers is the world's oldest and most recognized diet program, and what set this program apart from any other since its inception in 1963 is its focus on bringing together participants for support and camaraderie - initially, in the form of gatherings at founder Jean Nidetch's home, and later at meetings in Weight Watchers centers. While the Weight Watchers diet itself has changed numerous times throughout the years and has never been more than a play on the old calories in/calories out equation, the one constant, and arguably the key to the program's success for over half a century, is the sense of community, common purpose and accountability built into the program through its regular meetings.
In more recent years, the CrossFit craze can largely be explained by the unique sense of community and accountability that is fundamental to the program. While weight lifting and high-intensity interval training can be found in numerous other strength-and-conditioning programs, the focus of CrossFit on fostering a supportive community among its members sets it apart from the rest. If you have ever been to a CrossFit class, you have likely experienced first-hand the power of a group cheering on fellow classmates and high-fiving each other after a particularly difficult WOD ("Workout of the Day"). In fact most CrossFit boxes (a.k.a. gyms) market this community spirit as much as they market the CrossFit workout, and it is common to find a calendar of box-sponsored social and service events prominently displayed on its website alongside its calendar of CrossFit classes.
Even Beachbody, the fitness giant that produces programs like P90X and Insanity, has mastered the art of making what otherwise would be solitary, at-home fitness programs a community event. After the company began selling its products through coaches who sponsor "Challenge Groups" by virtually connecting individuals who are doing the same program at the same time, Beachbody's success and profits soared. The company has even recently launched an app (because "there's an app for that") that is designed to better connect Challenge Group participants with each other and their coach. It is clear that the best of the best in the health and wellness industry find a way to leverage the power of human connection to sell their products and services while sparking life-changing transformations.
In the bestselling book The Blue Zones, National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner summarizes the 9 commonalities between the very different lifestyles of the cultures in the world with the healthiest and longest-living populations. One of the commonalities is that these populations are part of the "right tribe," i.e., social networks that favorably shape their health behaviors. "If you look at cultures around the world where people are living the longest, it's never because individuals are trying to do it," says Buettner. "They live in a culture that nudges them to do the right things and makes the right decisions for them."
If you have struggled to achieve your health goals - weight loss, improved fitness or performance, increased energy, better sleep habits, reduced stress, etc. - and you have tried to go it alone, stop looking for the next best diet or the next best fitness program or the latest and greatest book. Instead, start looking for a community of like-minded individuals with similar goals who can provide support and accountability as you go through the journey together. These communities can be in-person or virtual. They can take the form of running groups, meditation circles, fitness classes, online forums, Facebook groups, cooking clubs, etc. The key is that there is great power in a group to motivate and inspire, when motivating and inspiring ourselves is very often the biggest obstacle in the way of us achieving our goals.
Ultimately, we are stronger together. Find your village, and I guarantee you will experience great success.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! You know you’ve said it. We all have. On days (weeks, months or maybe even years?) when your to-do list is as long as your arm. “I just don’t have the time to workout,” you tell yourself. So you don’t. And then you set off to tackle the rest of the items on your list. Like picking up the dry cleaning. Returning a pair of shoes to Nordstrom. Writing a new blog post. Stopping by the grocery store for a loaf of bread, a carton of milk and a stick of butter.
I understand busy. Trust me. But here’s the tough love part. And if you can’t handle tough love, stop reading right now and go back to work checking items off your to-do list. It is a scientifically proven fact that engaging in regular, purposeful movement (what others might refer to as “exercise” or a “workout”) is one of the most important factors to living a long and healthy life (I’ll discuss the other factors in upcoming blog posts, so stay tuned – yes, shameless plug). So, if one of your top priorities in life is to make it a long and healthy one, then one of your top priorities every single day should be engaging in some form of purposeful movement.
Let me say this another way. If you keep tell yourself you “just don’t have time to exercise,” then you are telling yourself – scientifically and statistically speaking – that you are OK with ultimately having less time on this earth and spending more of that less time in doctors’ offices and hospitals and less of that less time with friends and family.
The concept of “exercise” or “working out” can be intimidating. It elicits visions of meatheads in big box gyms staring at you while you trip over your own feet doing the grapevine in a roomful of women who not only look like supermodels but also perform as if they were born to do the grapevine. You might think you have to invest in an expensive gym membership or an hour or more each day of exercise. You might avoid outside exercise because it is too cold where you live. Or too hot. Or you might live in a 200-square foot, studio apartment with no room to boogy Zumba-style.
But purposeful movement isn’t scary. It does not have to involve a gym, and studies have shown that doing just 10 minutes a day of purposeful movement has dramatic benefits to your health and wellbeing. You can go for a 10-minute walk outside, or even walk around your house. You can invest in $5 resistance bands and do 10 minutes of resistance training in a tiny spot in your home (or outside). You don’t even need a resistance band, because you could do air squats while you’re brushing you’re teeth in the morning; do lunges while you’re talking to your mom on the phone (you know you always multitask when you talk to your mom on the phone, right?); do push-ups (on your knees or otherwise) and planks during the commercial breaks of your favorite show. You can engage in an impromptu dance party in your living room while holding your newborn (wait, that’s me). The key is, it all adds up and everything counts.
Perhaps you do not know where to start or how to begin, and that is the real reason you keep telling yourself you “just don’t have time to exercise.” That’s where I come in. I can design a workout for you that fits your lifestyle, your time constraints, your physical limitations and your preferences. I can make suggestions to you for workout videos that can be done in the comfort of your own home, with minimal equipment, in a small space and in a short period of time. I can even refer you to a ton of free videos on YouTube that can satisfy your need for daily purposeful movement and help get your object in motion. Because we all know that an object in motion stays in motion, but getting that object to make its first move is the biggest challenge.
This is not a sales pitch. I’m not trying to sell anything. Other than tough love. Because if “10 minutes (at least) of purposeful movement” is not at or near the top of your to-do list every single day, then your health is just not a priority in your life. And the gift of health is the most important gift you can give yourself and your family.
Think about it. Then go update your to-do list and let me know if you have any questions.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! When you have a baby, there are 2 pieces of advice that nearly everyone who has children gives you. First, they tell you to "nap when she naps." Second, they counsel you to "cherish every moment, because they grow up so fast."
Well, I admit I have failed miserably at following the suggestion on napping. I've never been a good napper, and for the first 7 weeks or so of Beautiful Baby A's (BBA's) life, her naps were so unpredictable in terms of timing and length that I just did not get into a routine of going down when she did. Even if I was a good napper, however, I have no idea how I could have kept up with the rest of my responsibilities at home while snoozing throughout the day. Even when I was training for the Boston Marathon and a Half Ironman-distance triathlon at the same time, I never had more laundry than after having a baby due to frequent and unfortunate pee, poop and puke incidents (what I refer to as the "Deadly Triad"). Then there's writing thank yous to all of the wonderful friends and family members who blessed BBA with gifts. Shopping for food and making food - or at least trying to find a moment to eat food. Keeping the house in some semblance of order. Tending to our 10-month old puppy. Researching photographers and scheduling a baby photo shoot. Trying to put together a photo album of the photos from the baby shoot (a work-in-progress, or more accurately, a work to be started). Ordering and writing and addressing baby announcements. Trying to write in BBA's baby book (a total failure that I gave up after several weeks of horrible guilt). Hosting and entertaining family and friends who are excited to meet BBA. Oh, and trying to fit in workouts - one of my top priorities for my own physical and mental health - and launch this web site. While The Man has been an incredible help with all of these tasks, and I am immensely and eternally grateful that he switched jobs the week before BBA was born to one that has him working from home rather than his previous job in which he was out of town every week, I ultimately have only "napped when she napped" less than a handful of times in the past 9 1/2 weeks.
As for the advice on seizing the moment - carpe diem - I am trying to appreciate every single moment with BBA. Because even though some days have seemed like they have lasted for ever, it is ultimately true that the time flies so quickly, and I know that in the blink of an eye, she is going to transform from the sweet, innocent baby, who finds comfort in nestling against my breast, into the moody teenager, who (gasp!) yells at her mama "I hate you!".
Overview It is hard to believe that it has been 9 1/2 weeks since BBA entered this world, and those weeks have been filled with a series of firsts. First bath. First photo shoot. First shopping trip. First meeting of her grandparents and aunts. First "social smile" (i.e., a smile that is not caused by baby trying to relieve gas). First time jogging with the family (in her jogger stroller, of course) First road trip. First sleep through the night (just joking - I am still waiting for this one!).
Although my attempt at creating an artistic and memorable baby book failed miserably, I have diligently been writing in the Mom's One Line a Day Five Year Memory Book that I picked up at a local shop 10 days after BBA was born on her first shopping trip. There is just enough room to write a sentence or two each day about key events or happenings, and even though I have never been good at writing in a journal, I am finding it very easy to keep up with these brief entries on a daily basis (generally, in the middle of the night when I am nursing her). I know one day I will truly appreciate and cherish looking back at my writings - on the series of BBA's firsts (and seconds and thirds...) - and on my fears, trepidations and excitement about being a new mom and my deep gratitude for BBA.
Growth BBA weighed in at a healthy 7 pounds, 8 ounces at birth, and then, as is usually the case with newborns, she lost weight and dropped into the "sixes." When we visited her pediatrician for the first time after she was born, the doctor expressed minor concerns about her weight, and we were asked to come back later in the week to do another weigh check. When we went to her 2-week pediatrician visit, the doctor informed us that our primary goal for BBA between that time and our next doctor's visit (at 8 weeks) was weight gain. Perhaps BBA is like her mama, and when she is given a goal or challenge, she goes in with all she has, but through her 7th week of life, BBA nursed almost non-stop - every 2 hours (or less) around the clock. This feeding frenzy paid off, and at her 8-week pediatrician appointment, she weighed in at 12 pounds, sporting squeezable chubby cheeks, a plump belly and "fluffy" thighs that are made even more adorable by her knee dimples. Combine her healthy weight with her current hairstyle, which I have affectionately called a "Monk Mullet" because she is losing hair on the top of her head but the hair on the back and the sides is staying put and growing longer, and I think BBA looks like the modern-day, feminine version of the Buddha.
Development It really was no surprise to me that BBA was both strong and active from the start. When she was in my belly, I could feel her kicking me every night and joked that maybe she would become an Irish dancer, and from day 1 outside the belly, she was kicking and flailing her arms around almost non-stop. She also had pretty good head control from her earliest days, and she is gaining more control over her head every day, as we try to give her regular "tummy time" (which frustrates her immensely). She has not yet gained control over her arm movements, and it is sad to watch her bang herself in her head while waving her arms in the air as if she just doesn't care. Because of her constant, intense activity, we had to invest in some industrial swaddles with velcro - SwaddleMes - and yet somehow, BBA still manages to get her arms out of these swaddles at night, even though there is strong velcro designed to hold everything in. Ultimately, it is clear she does not like to be contained, a trait she gets honestly from both of her parents, and for the same reason, I am struggling to get her to enjoy time in the baby carrier (which I would greatly appreciate since it allows me to do other things while holding her - like write this blog - and also helps protect her from perpetuating the flat-head look she has started to develop). Although right now, she is sleeping in her Lillebaby Complete All Seasons carrier, so we might have turned a corner here.
Note that I have purchased, tried and returned so many baby carriers to Amazon that I feared they might divorce me as a customer. What I've learned is that baby carriers are one of the most difficult - and yet important - pieces of baby gear to "get right" - both for you and your baby. Some seemed to require a PhD in baby carrying in order to use (like the highly-acclaimed but highly-frustrating Moby Wrap). Others just did not seem to provide enough support for a newborn or position them in an ergonomically-preferred position (like the Mamaway Sling). And then there were those (like the original Baby Bjorn) that had no lumbar support for mama, which is critical after baby's weight moves into the double digits, or those that were too warm to wear in the 90-100-degree temperatures we have been experiencing for the past month.
In terms of other developmental milestones, BBA is finally (as of the past two weeks or so) sleeping much better (4-5-hour stints at a time at night), and taking naps more regularly in the morning and afternoon (who knew you had to "train" babies to take naps, even when they are completely exhausted?). She enjoys looking into lights and is good about visually following objects when you move them around. Her favorite pastime is gazing at Wee Art Cards for Baby, which are flashcards with black-and-white pictures of animals (since newborns are able to see black and white much better than other colors). She also likes to listen to mama sing and play the keyboards and has taken a particularly liking, quite strangely, to music from Tom Petty (which has given me the opportunity to teach her the important lesson that looks aren't everything). I talk to her constantly as if she understands what I am saying, and so far have "taught" her how to put on makeup ("although you won't need it for years, darling"), how to cook several meals and how to hand wash dishes ("water, soap, scrub, water").
Extended family & friends BBA has had the opportunity to meet a number of friends and family members over the past 9 1/2 weeks. Her very first visitors arrived the day after we got home from the hospital, and since then, we've had a relatively steady stream of visitors come to meet baby. Auntie Eileen came for just shy of a week in early July, providing great help to mama and dad, and Auntie Kristin and Meemaw (The Man's mom) also came to town in July, even enabling The Man and me to have a date night (of course, this sleep-deprived new mama fell asleep in the movie theater, but it was still a glorious evening out of the house!). BBA's first "road trip" took place in early August, when I packed her and our pup Bailey into the car (and more luggage, baby and dog stuff than my minimalist self could ever have imagined needing for a few days out of town) and drove to my hometown so that BBA could spend time with her Nani (my mom), and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. We are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends, family and neighbors, and it has been nice getting to spend time with them over the past few months.
Postpartum fitness and nutrition This blog would certainly not be complete unless I spoke a little bit about my postpartum fitness and nutrition efforts. I have been incredibly lucky that despite the fact I had a C-section (BBA was breech), which is considered to be major abdominal surgery, I had a pretty easy recovery, and I never even had to take any of the pain medications prescribed to me. I healed so quickly, that at 4 weeks, my doctor gave me the go-ahead to engage in "light cardio" (including "light" jogging), and I took care to move slowly as I eased back into workouts that were more strenuous than my daily walks with the family and core exercises from Jessie Mundell's To Pregnancy & Beyond program, Lindsay Brin, Carriefit's Flat Belly System and Breaking Muscle designed to help close the slight gap I had developed along the center of my abs (a common "injury" associated with pregnancy, known as Diastasis Recti). Note that I continue to do these core exercises 3-4 days a week, as I work on building my core strength. At 6 weeks, I was cleared for "all exercise," and the timing fortunately coincided with the start of a new Women's Fit Club at my CrossFit box (CrossFit South Arlington), which takes place twice a week and is specifically geared towards pre- and post-natal fitness (and babies and children are welcome to join!). Additionally, I began swinging my beloved kettlebells again, which I missed dearly, and I am starting to get coached to train for my Russian Kettlebell Challenge kettlebell certification, which requires intense training for up to 6 months and will be my primary fitness goal as 2016 draws to a close and 2017 begins.
The Man and I have also just started going on early morning jogs with BBA and Bailey the Pup in place of our daily morning family walk sessions, as temperatures finally begin to drop a bit and our amazing Bumbleride Indie jogger stroller finally arrived at our absolute favorite baby store, Baby Blossom.
While I am engaging in daily exercise or purposeful movement, I am not following any particular nutrition plan yet. I credit my ability to return to my pre-pregnancy weight - and basically my pre-pregnancy shape - so quickly on taking care of myself during my entire pregnancy, i.e., working out regularly (on average, 5 days a week for all 9+ months) and eating well (and not necessarily "for 2"), along with almost non-stop breastfeeding (which often got in the way of allowing me to eat myself). By 4 weeks postpartum, I was back at my pre-pregnancy weight after having gained 22 pounds over the course of my nearly 10 months of pregnancy, and at 9 1/2 weeks postpartum, I am actually 5 pounds less than when I learned I was pregnant last fall. Anyway, while I am trying to generally eat a healthy, plant-based diet to provide good nutrition to BBA, I am also cognizant that I need to consume enough calories to support the two of us and not continue to lose weight, so let's just say I've had my share of sweet treats over the past few months and leave it at that. Note that BBA appears to have inherited her mama's lactose-intolerance, so dairy is a big no-no for this plant-based eater as well.
Our little family Being new parents is definitely an adjustment for a household, and when combined with too little sleep, mama's hormonal shifts, basically zero one-on-one time with your significant other, and a fleeting sense of "what the eff have we gotten ourselves into?", it can put a bit of a strain on even the best relationship. The Man and I have had a few tense moments over the past few months, but ultimately, we are really enjoying our new little family and finally settling into a new, happy normal at home. Bailey the Pup also took a little time to adjust to this new life, and he experienced jealous, older sibling syndrome in the early weeks, evidenced by him not eating much and sneaking off to "protest poop" on the rarely used 4th floor of our townhouse. He is now back to his old self and seems to really like spending time with his little sister.
So, that is a quick overview of the first few months of BBA's life and my first few months as a mama. I will check in regularly here to provide updates as the weeks and months progress - because as everyone says, they grow up so quickly, and I want to savor every single moment of the glorious life with my lovely newborn.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! Over the years, I have developed a true love of cooking. I generally find my time in the kitchen therapeutic, and it serves as both a creative outlet and a means of providing the gift of health to my family (and myself!). I fully subscribe to the theory that the less time we spend in our kitchens, the more time we spend in doctors’ offices. Renowned food writer Michael Pollan wrote an entire book centered around the hypothesis that the increase in the obesity epidemic and obesity-related health problems in the U.S. and other parts of the world (such as Type II Diabetes, or “diabesity”), is directly linked to the decline in the amount of time we spend in our own kitchens (versus at restaurants or drive-through windows). The book, aptly named Cooked, provides a strong case for the proposition that if we only did one thing differently, i.e., cooked more of our own meals, we would be significantly more healthy. After all, do you have a bottle of high-fructose corn syrup or a can of trans fat in your pantry?
Prior to having a baby, on most weeknights – and for several hours on Sundays – you would likely find me in my kitchen, sipping a glass of wine while I put together relatively elaborate plant-based meals for The Man and me. In fact, last summer, I embarked upon a 100 Healthy Days Challenge, in which I made 103 different healthy (and often complex) meals (and finished 100 different workouts) in 100 days, chronicling my experience on Facebook.
This spring, as I entered the third trimester of pregnancy, I followed the advice of my friend and amazing vegan chef and cookbook author Tess Challis, purchased a box freezer for the garage and made double of every meal I cooked, freezing half to eat after baby arrived. I called this endeavor Operation Freeze Food Before Baby (Operation FFBB), and for the first 6 weeks or so of Beautiful Baby A’s (BBA) life, my freezer meals played a key role in providing The Man and me with nutrition, since almost all of our time was spent tending to our newborn (or trying to catch a few minutes of sleep).
As my freezer meals began to dwindle, I was faced with the dilemma of wanting to cook healthy meals at home for the two of us, but struggling to find blocks of time away from baby to do so. I certainly did not have the time to make the types of elegant meals I was putting together pre-baby. “Hacks” are defined as “clever solutions to tricky problems,” and my current tricky problem – and likely many of yours as well – has been finding the time to prepare homemade, healthy meals.
Trying to figure out a solution to this problem, I remembered a simple meal formula I first encountered in the book No Meat Athlete, in which the author Matt Frazier wrote about creating simple meals out of “a grain, a green and a bean.”
Elaborating on this concept a bit, I decided to experiment with different variations of “Meal Bowls,” using my own (somewhat less poetic) formula:
Starch + Produce + Protein + Sauce & Seasoning (or SPPS for short)
For the base of my bowls, I choose a Starch – think brown rice, polenta, potatoes (roasted, mashed, sweet, baked), oatmeal, couscous, quinoa, etc. These are generally easy to make (throw in a pot with water or in the oven and let the appliance do all of the work), and you can easily make several varieties in bulk (e.g., during one of BBA’s naps), and use them to mix-and-match meals during the week.
I then select one or more fruit or veggies to layer on top (the “Produce”). Fruit just requires a little chopping. Vegetables are often kept raw (or lightly steamed) – particularly since it is summer and there are so many glorious veggies in season (and record high temperatures make using heat in the kitchen less appealing). To make this step even easier, I have been purchasing pre-chopped and pre-washed veggies at Trader Joe’s, such as shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, brussels sprouts, etc. If you wanted to roast or steam some of your veg, you can also do so in bulk on a day when you have a little more time.
Next, I add a plant-based Protein. Some favorites are Simple Baked Tofu from my absolute favorite cookbook in my extensive collection - Tess Challis’ Food Love - (the tofu is as easy to make as the name suggests); canned beans (while I aspire to be the type of person who cooks only with dried beans, in reality I am the less-than-perfect type of person who enjoys the convenience of BPA-free canned beans); steamed tempeh; nut butters (great with oatmeal and fruit for Breakfast Bowls); veggie burgers, veggie meat(less)balls; and lentils (Trader Joe’s has pre-steamed brown lentils in the refrigerated section). Again, nothing complicated here that can’t be thrown together in a matter of minutes. If you eat animal products, in addition to a few meatless options, you might want to choose 1 or 2 versatile animal Proteins (such as chicken or ground beef) to cook in bulk once a week and use in various dishes.
Finally, you have the Sauces and Seasonings (S&S). I have been experimenting with different themes of Meal Bowls – Mexican, Italian, Thai, Indian, Burger Madness, etc. – and the theme has dictated the S&S. Pre-made marinara, salsa, guacamole, hummus, BBQ sauce, etc., are all great options on busy days, providing flavor and pizazz to your Meal Bowl. On days I have a little more time, I’ll consider making some homemade sauces and freezing them in advance. Fortunately, I still had a wonderful Thai green chile sauce and some homemade marinara left in the freezer from Operation FFBB, which came in handy this week with several of my creations.
The result is a quick and easy meal that is as healthy as it is tasty, allowing me to deconstruct some of my favorite meals and get them on the table in a matter of minutes. So far, I have mostly created my own bowl concoctions (although I also made the yummy Mexican Polenta Bowl from Food Love), but I also purchased a new cookbook called Vegan Bowl Attack! that I look forward to using to make additional bowl concoctions when my ideas run dry. These Meal Bowls have become my favorite nutrition hack as I try to navigate life with baby and perhaps Meal Bowls will become a favorite of yours as well. Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts - or share your own creative Meal Bowl ideas!
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! Welcome to my new blog “bells & peppers”. Many of you know that this is not my first foray into the world of blogging, and I had a short but relatively successful run on my blog “Life and Other Minor Complications.” This is, however, my first experience blogging on my own web site – a site I eventually hope to expand to include health and wellness coaching, fitness programming, etc. For my first blog entry, however, on my brand spankin’ new (and still work-in-progress) web site, I thought it would be prudent for me to explain the why behind this site and the title “bells & peppers.”
Now for a little context setting…I have been engaged to my amazing fiancé (affectionately referred to as “The Man” to protect the identity of the innocent) since October 2013, after a romantic proposal at the finish line of the Cleveland Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon. The following month, I paid a visit to my gynecologist for my annual exam, and after hearing about my engagement and in light of my impending 40th birthday that same month, she encouraged us not to wait to try to have children if we were considering it. I took her advice to heart, and The Man and I spent the next 2 years trying to have a baby, with no success. Having decided against pursuing fertility treatments, we were monumentally disheartened last summer when tests revealed that my egg supply was almost dried up, and my doctor told us that without fertility, we had basically no chance of having a baby (and even with fertility, chances would be slim).
After hearing this news, I allowed myself an appropriate amount of time to pout, and then I decided to take action rather than take the news lying down. As a lifelong athlete, Precision Nutrition Level 2 certified nutritionist, certified Turbulence Trainer and certified Food for Life cooking instructor, I turned to what I have always felt are the keys to all things health and wellness – daily movement and healthy eating – and I decided to challenge myself to 100 days of completing 100 different workouts and making 100 different healthy meals, not so creatively calling my experiment the 100 Healthy Days Challenge.
I repeat my advice to take a great deal of exercise, and on foot. Health is the first requisite after morality. – Thomas Jefferson
Let food be thy medicine… – Hippocrates
Fast forward to the end of my 100 Healthy Days Challenge in early October 2015, and within a week of successfully finishing workout and meal 100 (actually, meal 103) in 100 days, I learned that I was pregnant at the age of 42. Fast forward again, almost 10 months later, and as I sit here typing, my beautiful, healthy, 8-week old daughter (affectionately referred to as "Beautiful Baby A" - or "BBA" for short - to protect the truly innocent) is just waking up from her mid-morning nap, and it is time for me to take a break and tend to her...
When I asked my doctor how this could have happened when my test results indicated I was no longer baby-making material, he simply stated that “we don’t understand everything.” As for me, I was quite certain that my focus on the simple formula of daily movement – primarily strength training with barbells, dumbbells and my beloved kettlebells (collectively, the “bells” behind bells & peppers) – and eating healthy meals based on an array of colorful fruits and vegetables (the “peppers” behind bells & peppers), played a significant role in creating a healthy environment to support the creation and growth of a healthy baby.
And so I hope that through this blog, I can leverage my decades of experience as an athlete and my years of training in health and fitness to inspire, empower and provide you with simple strategies to help you become your healthiest self in a balanced, realistic and sustainable way. If you are someone who is looking to lead a healthier, happier life, I encourage you to join me on this journey.
Until next time, be 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!