Do What Works for YOU!

We’ve come to the end of another amazing 6FIT Challenge. For me, these 6 weeks have flown by in a fury of charting, dancing, half-marathon training, and home-buying. I have so much to share about the 6FIT journey – finding my way through the food challenges, finding the right fuel for many different types of workouts, and finding an amazing group of positive and supportive teammates. That’s all coming up in short order, I promise. But for now, I want to sum up what I think is the most important take-away from 6FIT: Find what works for you!

Borrowed from the always-inspiring lululemon!

Borrowed from the always-inspiring lululemon!

Many 6FITters will be familiar with this from a seminar during 6FIT, but it bears repeating as we’re being “set loose” into the big, bad world of our own decision-making.

Over the past 6 weeks, 6FIT has presented many different challenges: no dairy for 1 week, burpee day (groan), vegetarian week, 14-min workout challenge, and more. We’ve paid attention to every little detail of our eating, drinking, exercising, and sleeping patterns with the goal of finding which healthy habits works best for each of us. Now, it’s time to take what we’ve learned and apply it to “the real world.” A world in which we don’t get points for eating veggies or doing burpees, but we still reap all the fantastic benefits. It’s time to pick our heads up out of our charts and focus on the big picture of what we’ve learned through 6FIT. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1.  Move more.
  2. Sleep more.
  3. Eat more whole foods, avoid processed foods, and be more mindful of what you’re eating.
  4. Drink more water.

But the biggest thing I’ve learned from my 6FIT experiences is that making healthy choices and changes is actually easier than you think, and a lot more fun, when you find what works for you! It’s easy to get caught up in short-term results or setbacks: the number on the scale, the idea of looming bathing suit season, 6FIT points. But it’s even much more important to focus on the end goal – being healthy for the long haul. We’re only given one body, and we have to live in it for our whole lives. Making healthy habits that take care of our bodies will benefit us in the short term AND the long term. The best way to ensure that we can stay healthy and active for years to come is by creating a healthy lifestyle. That looks different for everyone, but I think it’s safe to bet that it includes staying active and eating nutritious food. If you don’t feel like you’ve quite found what works for you yet, here are a few things to consider…

GET MOVING

It is so important to find something that you have fun doing, and then get out there and get moving!

Take a few seconds to think about what types of active things you truly have fun doing. Be honest! There is a ton of variety available to us, so there’s no point in wasting time and energy on something you don’t like.

What gets you moving may be different from what your mother, coworker, or neighbor likes to do. It doesn’t have to feel like a chore (or even feel like exercise) to give you amazing health benefits. You won’t stick with anything that you dread doing. For instance, if running isn’t your thing, don’t run. I personally hate going to a gym by myself and trying to lift weights, so I never do it. But I love to run. I really, truly love it, so I do a lot of it. In addition to running, I prefer functional fitness training (think tree-climbing, stair-running, and dancing) and I prefer training in groups or with a friend. I’ve built my fitness routines around those types of activities because that’s what works for me.

In addition to deciding what types of exercise you like best, if you’re motivated by group activities, then find a person, or a group of people, who like to do the same activities. Trust me, they’re out there! A buddy or group will not only help you get out there, but also help you stick with it. There are so many different ways to be active, sweat, and be healthy, and when you find what works for you it is so much easier to make it a regular part of your life.

EAT FOOD

I’m a fan of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, which you can read about here. I’ve also mentioned the 80/20 rule before. I really believe in it, especially when it comes to food. To summarize the rule: 80% of the time, stick to your healthy lifestyle, and 20% of the time, allow yourself some wiggle-room to enjoy whatever you want. “All things in moderation” is a big mantra for me. Personally, when I feel deprived, I feel defeated.

Take a few seconds to imagine eliminating something you truly love from your diet, or your life. For me, it’s a really close toss-up between chocolate and wine (cliché, I know, but so true). Not going to happen!

Focusing on trying to make 80% of your food choices healthful, nutritious whole foods, and then allowing some room for treats, creates a sustainable balance. Given all of the temptations we’re faced with every day, making good choices is a lifelong challenge. But when we learn to make good choices, rather than trying to restrict or eliminate choice, we create a healthy lifestyle that will benefit us far longer than any diet.

PRACTICE

Try out different exercise styles, and different healthy eating strategies, to figure out what works for you. For those of us who’ve done 6FIT, the weeklong food and fitness challenges provide an easy window through which we can see what works for us, and what doesn’t. I will never be a full-time vegetarian, but I can do it for a week, and incorporate healthy meals from vegetarian week into my regular diet. When you find something that does work, it’s easier to incorporate it into your daily life.

And remember, everything is always more fun with friends! Find opportunities to build bonds with people who share your desire to live a healthy lifestyle, and make an effort to keep up those relationships. Even after you achieve the current goals you’ve set for yourself, there will always be new goals to work toward and new challenges to overcome. Having the support and encouragement of other positive, healthy people will always be a benefit to you – and you can do the same for them!

Most importantly, find what works for YOU, and get out there and HAVE FUN!

Cheers!

Staying Fit on a Budget

I’ve met a lot of wonderful ladies through DanceFIT and 6FIT. Among them, my 6FIT teammate Allison. When I go to Zumba, if Allison isn’t there in the front row, something just doesn’t feel quite right. She’s a DanceFIT regular, 6FIT veteran, and generally positive and healthy woman. I was thrilled when she agreed to do a guest blog post. She has some great tips for staying fit on a budget. Enjoy!  ~Danielle

AllisonHi all! My name is Allison and I am a 26-year-old graduate student at Boston University. I am currently working on my Ph.D. in biology and hope to graduate in the next year or so. I was raised in Hanover, MA (about 20 miles south on Boston) and enjoyed tap dance and figure skating to stay active when I was young.

I started working out at DanceFit (consistently) about a year ago, and I have never looked back. DanceFit is the first fitness program I have ever stuck to. I was a member at a gym about 500 ft. from my apartment, and even though I was paying >$60 per month, I never went! The classes at DanceFit are so fun and engaging and the staff is approachable, knowledgeable, and super nice.  I have never been more pleased with a fitness program, and the best part is that my mind and body feel amazing.

Staying Fit on a Budget

As a graduate student in the expensive city of Boston, one can imagine that my wallet is very thin. Between expensive gyms and the fact that fresh food is pricey, a healthy lifestyle can be expensive! Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce the cost of staying fit and healthy.

1.  NEVER go to the grocery store hungry and always bring a list. Whenever I go to the grocery store hungry, I end up throwing random impulse items into my cart and they add up quickly. Having a list of items to purchase also prevents me from buying things that I don’t need. I like to go onto Pinterest before I go to the grocery store, and pick out a few recipes for the week.

2. Don’t waste food.  This may sound like obvious advice, but I am astonished by how much food gets thrown out (by others, and sometimes by myself!). Eat leftovers. Utilize the freezer. Be creative, and use leftovers to make a brand new dish.

3. Cook with cheap foods.

  • Beans are packed with protein and fiber, they are extremely versatile in recipes, and inexpensive.
  • Eggs are one of the best sources of protein and are delicious any time of day (not just breakfast). A dozen eggs costs less than $2
  • Tuna usually costs close to $1 per can, and is an excellent source of protein to throw on top of a salad, or eat as a sandwich with whole wheat bread.
  •  Quinoa is a whole grain full of protein that takes on whatever flavor you want. Similar to rice, it can be used as a filler (for example with ground turkey and tomatoes to make stuffed peppers), as a side, in a salad, etc. etc. A little quinoa can go a long way.
  • Frozen veggies are super cheap and will never go bad.

4.  Go for a run or workout at home…these won’t cost you a dime! There is also plenty of exercise that can be done around the house: vacuuming, doing laundry, shoveling, etc. etc.  Always a win-win situation.

5.  Look for deals. Websites such as Groupon often offer deals for fitness classes. This gives you the opportunity to work out for a reduced price and try something new. If you are a student, always ask about a student discount. DanceFit offers 10% off for students.

6.  Don’t forget to have fun! I won’t lie…as a young woman in the city, I enjoy going out with friends and enjoying a few drinks. When possible, host friends at your place, or visit friends instead of going to bars. Bring a bottle of wine and a healthy snack.  Resist late night munchies by always having a snack, such as a banana in your purse. When at a bar, order something that won’t ruin all of your hard work. Have either a glass of wine (good for you in moderation!), or a vodka soda. Don’t forget to get your exercise in, and DANCE!

Allison at a race

Always remember that by staying fit and healthy, you are making an investment in yourself. Don’t feel guilty about money that you spend on health and fitness, as it will pay off now and in your future!

 

PB Oat-Date Energy Bites

I was looking for a dairy-free whole-food snack the other day, and some 6FIT friends had sent around a No-Bake Energy Bites recipe that sounded really interesting. Instead of chocolate chips, I mixed in some chopped dates. They’re still sweet, but they don’t take over the flavor. Plus, they make these high-energy bites a little healthier. I didn’t have all the ingredients in the original recipe on hand, so I modified it a little bit.  I loved what I came up with, so I thought I’d share…

Peanut Butter Oat-Date Energy Bites

  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted (I use large flake unsweetened coconut, spread it on a plate and toast it in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until toasted.)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (if using a drier peanut butter, like many natural varieties, you may need to warm it slightly with the honey and mix them together so that it will mix easily with the other ingredients.)
  • 1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped (or chocolate chips)
  • 1/3 cup honey, or maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients until oats are thoroughly coated. Press the mixture into an even layer in an 8 x 8-inch baking dish and chill at least 30 minutes. Cut into 1-inch squares, or roll into 1-inch balls. Store in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 1 week. This recipe can easily be doubled.

The original recipe also called for 1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ and an optional 1 tablespoon chia seeds. I didn’t have those things on hand so I omitted them, but I’m sure they would be good additions.

Cheers!

My Favorite Granola

I was never a big granola-eater. I always shied away from the store-bought stuff because of the high fat content and/or cardboard taste. But this granola changed all that.

This recipe makes a lot of granola, and it lasts about 2 weeks or so. It's  also great for sharing!

This recipe makes a lot of granola, and it lasts about 2 weeks or so. It’s also great for sharing!

As I increased my workout schedule last year, and started running longer distances, I found that the combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in high-quality granola gave me much-needed energy, without hurting my stomach. But I tend to like home-made over store-bought, so while preparing for a 2-day relay race last fall I decided to make my own granola to take on the trip. It’s based on the Super-Chunky Granola recipe  from Cook’s Illustrated and the DIY Cookbook – and not just because I work there, but because so many of my coworkers had raved about it. Turns out, this is probably one of my favorite recipes from 2012.

Fresh from the oven, the granola is a solid layer that can be broken into whatever size chunks suit your preference.

Fresh from the oven, the granola is a solid layer that can be broken into whatever size chunks you like.

I was also inspired by Molly Wizenberg’s dedication to granola-making, and sometime in the fall of 2012, I actually became the kind of person who makes homemade granola on a regular basis and keeps it in mason jars on my counter. That came in very handy this week when it was time to tackle the 6FIT “Hunt Gather Grow” challenge. It’s one of the toughest challenges in 6FIT, but also one of the most beneficial. The goal: eliminate processed foods. Eat and drink only things that you could hunt, gather, or grow. Now the “you” in that statement is a bit general. Lean proteins are on the menu during this week, but that doesn’t mean we need to go hunt our own chickens. I didn’t personally grow the kale in my smoothie this morning. Hunt Gather Grow speaks more to the original state of the food we’re consuming. Is it a real food? How much has it been processed? This is not an attempt at the “paleo” diet, or anything like that. It is simply a challenge to be mindful of the basic ingredients in everything we eat, and to choose whole foods over anything processed. The 80/20 rule still applies, and we get one “immunity item” for the week – something that doesn’t fall within the HGG guidelines, but we get to eat it anyway. Many people choose coffee, bread, or cheese (that’s mine). This granola recipe meets the criteria for our Hunt Gather Grow challenge, which is just one more reason why it’s my favorite granola.

My Favorite Granola

Makes about 9 cups.  Based on Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, March 2012.

Don’t be mislead by the long ingredient list. This recipe is super simple. All spices, except the salt, are optional – this is just my favorite combination. Feel free to play and figure out what you like. Chopping the nuts by hand is the first choice for superior texture and crunch. If you prefer not to hand chop, substitute an equal quantity of slivered almonds or chopped pecans. (A food processor does a lousy job of chopping whole nuts evenly.) Do not use quick oats.

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 4
 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 
teaspoon salt
  • 1/3
 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 
cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2
 cups (10 ounces) raw pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, chopped coarse (I typically do a blend of 5 ounces pecans, 3 ounces almonds, and 2 ounces hazelnuts)
  • 2
 cups raisins or other dried fruit, chopped if desired (I use golden raisins, dried cherries, and dried cranberries. Use just one of your favorites, or a combination.)

1. Prep: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine: Whisk maple syrup, vanilla, spices, and salt in large bowl. Whisk in oil. Combine oats and nuts in another bowl, and then fold into syrup mixture until thoroughly coated.

3. Bake: Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across sheet into thin, even layer. Using a large, stiff spatula, compress oat mixture until very compact. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking (do not attempt to stir mixture). Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. Stir in dried fruit. You’ll likely need a very large bowl for this step. Transfer to airtight containers. (I like to store mine in mason jars, but zipper lock bags work well too.) Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

About this recipe:

When making a snack that’s intended to give me sustained energy, I try to avoid refined sugar like the brown sugar in the original recipe. So, I played with the ingredients a little bit, and subbed honey for the brown sugar. Side note: In my limited understanding of the topic, honey contains monosaccharides, fructose and glucose, which when separate are more accessible to the body for energy than when connected as a disaccharide in sucrose, or regular sugar. But don’t quote me on that. I also decreased the oil a little bit from the original, just because it worked and I wanted to use a little less fat.

But my favorite modification is the nuts. Instead of choosing just one kind, I mixed pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts. All that variety in flavor and texture means this granola never gets boring! You can use a mixture of whatever nuts make you happy. After making a few basic batches, I tried a spiced variation and that became my new gold standard. That may change come summer, but right now I’m really loving all of the warm spices. You can leave out or modify the spices to suit your tastes.

After the granola is baked, consider these other mix-in suggestions:

  • 2 cups chopped dried pears
  • 2 cups chopped dried apples
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped dried apricots

This variation might be the one for summer: Tropical Granola with Dried Mango

Reduce vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons and add 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger and 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to maple syrup in step 2. Substitute coarsely chopped macadamia nuts for some of the nuts, and 1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut for 1 cup oats. After granola is broken into pieces, stir in 2 cups chopped dried mango or pineapple.

Cheers!

Challenge Accepted & Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash

I’ve been wanting to tell you about 6FIT. It’s an awesome 6-week health & fitness challenge at DanceFIT studio, and it means a lot to me. We kicked off a new 6FIT Challenge last week, and the energy has been amazing! I have to admit, I feel like I’ve been feeding off of that energy so much more than I’ve been contributing to it over the past week. I had planned on heading into this 6FIT with tons of time to focus on food and exercise, and writing – then life intervened. Last week, what had been a casual home-buying search turned serious overnight, and my husband and I were suddenly knee-deep in real estate details. I’m certainly not counting any chickens before they hatch, but so far the madness of the past week has been well worth it (fingers crossed for continued smooth sailing).

6FIT Spokespeople

Left to right: Nicole, my fellow 2013 DanceFIT Spokesperson, Gina, owner of DanceFIT Studio & creator of 6FIT, and me!

Even though I’ve been a little distracted, I’ve actually been very grateful for the structure that 6FIT provides. Logging all of my food, exercise, sleep, water, etc, may take a few extra minutes throughout the day, but it has been hugely helpful in making me take a breath every now and then to check in and make sure that I’m still taking care of myself amidst the temporary insanity.

So, what is the 6FIT Challenge? In a nut shell, teams of at least 6 people compete for the best prize ever, improved health and fitness (so, we all win!). Participants strive to eat whole foods (least 6 servings of veggies and fruit a day), exercise 6 times per week (with 1 mandatory rest day), and log it all in a shared Google spreadsheet. Each team is made up of a mix of people who take classes in studio and virtually (via Skype), so some of my teammates are spread out around the country. It’s powerful! There’s TONS of motivation from teammates and DanceFIT staff. And the 80/20 Rule is a big part of the philosophy of the program.

These are the official 6FIT Rules:

1) Commit to exercising 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week

2) Hold yourself accountable for your food and drink intake by logging daily

3) You are required to attend 4 DanceFIT classes a week (6FIT includes unlimited classes during the program)

4) Sleep 7+ hours a night

5) Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day

6) Participate in the challenges each week (for example: vegetarian week, Hunt, Gather, Grow week, cardio challenge week)

7) Attend Monday Zumba or Pilates, and the 6FIT team meeting. (There’s a different version of this requirement for the Virtual teammates)

It’s called a “challenge” because, well, it’s challenging. But in the end, if we can take away a few strategies for healthier living, we’ve lived up to the challenge. How do we measure our success? 6FIT participants get points for servings of fruits and veggies, exercise completed, hours of sleep, ounces of water consumed…and we lose points for things like servings of sweets consumed. But it’s all about the balance. There should be + and – in the logs. Food and fitness points are averaged, so you can’t be successful if you go overboard on one and ignore the other. Just like in real life. 6FIT is a great way to try on different ways of eating and exercising to see what works in the long run. It’s all about finding sustainable strategies for improving or maintaining health and fitness. Plus, it’s fun! The competition aspect can be very motivating, and the team dynamic is encouraging. If you ever get the chance to participate in something like this, or actually join me for a 6FIT challenge at DanceFIT, I highly recommend it.

We’re about a week and a half into the current 6FIT Challenge, and it’s so much fun to see what everyone is eating, and what types of exercise people are doing. There is always such a huge variety, and everyone gets lots of inspiration from the food and fitness others are logging. Teammates are motivating each other through email and our 6FIT Facebook page. Recipes are being shared. Quinoa is the food of the week, so people are sharing lots of fun, creative quinoa recipes. Here’s one I came up with recently, and it’s very flexible for whatever you like in your quinoa.

Dried cranberries would also be very good in this recipe. You can change out the pine nuts for whatever kind of nuts you like or happen to have on hand. Just make sure they’re toasted so they add a nice crunchy element to the filling. Don’t skip the cheese because it helps bind the filling a little bit. You can use a variety of different cheeses according to your taste.

Quinoa and Spinach-Stuffed Acorn Squash

Serves 2

2 acorn squash (1 1/2 pounds each), halved lengthwise and seeded

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed

3 cups baby spinach (3 ounces)

1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1. Roast Squash: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush cut sides of squash with 4 teaspoons oil, season with salt and pepper, and lay cut-side down on baking sheet. Roast until squash is tender and edges of flesh are lightly browned, about 45 minutes.

2. Make Filling: Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in quinoa and cook, stirring often, until quinoa is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and continue simmering until quinoa is transparent and tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook until just wilted, 1 minute. Off heat, stir in 3/4 cup cheese, and pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Put it together: Flip roasted squash over on baking sheet and mound quinoa mixture into squash, pressing lightly to pack it in. Sprinkle filling with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Return to oven and bake until cheese begins to brown and filling is hot, 5 to 10 minutes.

Cheers!

Let’s Do This!

Hi! I’m Danielle, and I’m new to this. So please bear with me.

Making my family's traditional meatball recipe at Christmas (no, that's not my kitchen, but I wish!).

Making my family’s traditional meatball recipe at Christmas (no, that’s not my kitchen, but I wish!).

I’m a chef, a wife, a runner, and an only child. You’ll probably hear a lot about these things as you get to know me better. I LOVE to eat, and, thank God, I love to exercise. My love of food and eating has been life-long (I grew up in a restaurant), but that last part is new – like less than a year new. It’s not that I hated to exercise before. I’ve always been a pretty active person. But until last year, I rarely got excited about exercise. Then I was introduced to DanceFIT Studio, and everything started to change.

One year ago I was struggling to find an exercise routine that I could stick with, struggling to find a consistently healthy approach to eating, and struggling to lose the same 15 pounds that had been haunting me for years. When a good friend of mine found DanceFIT on Daily Candy we decided to give it a try. It was February, and I had just finished testing a lot of dessert recipes at work. (I’m a Test Cook for America’s Test Kitchen, which basically means I cook and eat almost all day, every day. More on this in future posts!) So, all those desserts had me feeling sluggish and gross, and had basically erased all the hard work I had done to get in shape for my cousin’s wedding the previous autumn. My fitness routine needed a shake-up, and boy did it get one! After my very first Zumba class at DanceFIT, I was hooked! The fun atmosphere, the great instructors, and the challenge of new classes (like BalletFIT – I’m not exactly built like a ballerina!) all had me coming back for more. When I heard about the 6FIT program – 6 weeks of team fitness and food challenges – I was intrigued. I like challenges! 6FIT seemed like an awesome new challenge for me. I had no idea how truly life-altering it would be! I met an amazing group of people who inspired me to improve my eating habits, get active on a daily basis, and generally live a healthier, more balanced life. For me, the various food challenges in 6FIT were a fun way to try on different eating habits, and they helped me figure out how to incorporate healthy habits into my life in sustainable ways.

6FIT also showed me how much fun I can have exercising. I completely gave up going to my old gym because I was having WAY more fun at DanceFIT. In the summer, a fellow 6FIT-er took me to a November Project workout (an early-morning outdoor workout tribe), and reignited my love of outdoor fitness.

Hiking and playing in the snow back home (Upstate NY).

Hiking and playing in the snow back home (Upstate NY).

I even started running again, and found that I really loved the simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other – and then going faster! All of this combined to skyrocket my fitness to a place I never thought possible. I even started racing again, and ran a faster 5K and half-marathon last year than I ever thought I could. And I wouldn’t have done any of it without the spark that is DanceFIT. The people and the energy there opened me up to a world of fitness possibilities, and now I have tons of energy and I look forward to being active and getting sweaty every day! (Not to mention the huge boost I get from dancing in a room full of smiling faces.)

In 2012, I became stronger, leaner, and faster than ever before – without stepping foot back in a traditional gym! I’ve surpassed goals that have eluded me for so many years, reached goals I didn’t think I could reach, and now have goals I never even dreamed I could set. I still have more that I want to accomplish, and my goals are evolving all the time.

I am honored that I’ve been selected as a DanceFIT spokesperson, and I’m really excited for the start of the next 6FIT program (Monday, January 21). My goals this time around include reining in my sweet tooth, planning meals at home ahead of time, and dedicating extra time to stretching after my workouts (aka avoiding injuries). I’m looking forward to sharing the challenges and successes with a new 6FIT team – and with all of you.

Cheers!