Don’t Fall for These Six Holiday Diet & Exercise Myths

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‘Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry!

But indulging with abandon has a way of backfiring around this time of year — especially when we’re full of reasons for  getting back on track tomorrow.

Only the problem is that ‘tomorrow’ is almost a month from now. 

So to help separate fact from fiction, Marsha Hudnall, president and co-owner of Green Mountain weight management program, shared with me her top five myths about diet and exercise around the holidays.

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Bottom line: It’s cool to partake in all of the festivities, just keep your wits about you!

Myth No. 1: Diet before and during the holiday season.

Reality: Learn to eat mindfully instead (i.e. listen to what your body is telling you and try to be aware of when you are full or satisfied). Make decisions that leave you feeling good about yourself and your choices, even if one of those choices is to have that delicious dessert. It’s not about ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ foods. It’s about eating in a way that makes you feel satisfied — both while eating and afterwards.

Myth No. 2: Double up on your workout to shed those extra calories.

Reality: Regular physical activities that you enjoy are as beneficial for optimal health as they are for weight management. It’s less about burning calories and more about moving to feel good, which sets you up for making better choices. Exercise in excess is usually not healthy — and even worse, an injury could keep you from feeling less than merry this season.

Myth No. 3: Weigh yourself daily to help control your eating.

Reality: Lets face it — we all fluctuate on a daily basis when it comes to the numbers on the scale. Weighing yourself often only has a negative impact on self-esteem and decreases motivation for self-care. Focusing on how your state of mind and your energy levels helps you make smarter, more sustainable eating choices.

Myth No. 4: With a little planning, you can successfully navigate six holiday parties in one evening.

Reality: Over-committing can cause stress, which often leads to emotional overeating. Try committing to fewer parties and hosting simpler celebrations. Being more relaxed will help you actually enjoy the holidays, which also helps set you up for success in the New Year and beyond.

Myth No. 5: It’s okay to overindulge during holiday celebrations; you can “get back on track” tomorrow.

Reality: Eat what you want to avoid the feelings of deprivation that drive overeating, but try being more of a foodie during the holidays (and year-round!). By being particular about what you eat, you’ll choose only those items that truly delight your taste buds and leave you feeling like you indulged without going overboard.

Myth No. 6: When it comes to leftovers, it’s ‘the more, the merrier!’

Reality: If having extra food or leftovers lying around drives you to eat more than you need, considering donating it to local shelters or giving it away to family members, neighbors, etc. It’s a great way to share the love during the holiday season without packing on those unnecessary pounds.

How do you keep holiday weight gain at bay?

Fave Fix: Farm to Fit Delivers Farm-Sourced Dishes to Your Doorstep

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Chef Jeremy prepping breakfast, courtesy of Farm to Fit

We all know that living a healthy lifestyle has just as much — if not more — to do with properly fueling your body as it does with hitting up the gym. Yes, I’m talking about balanced meals, portion control and keeping calories in check. Simple, in theory, but many of us (me included) struggle with regularly putting it into practice.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not perfect when it comes to eating habits. For every beautiful nutrient-packed, whole-food meal I proudly make from scratch, there are a few nights each week where Ben and I find ourselves dining in a restaurant, grabbing something on the run or (gasp!) microwaving up a frozen pot pie, which was one of my early pregnancy cravings. Don’t judge. 

While we try to batch-cook on weekends as much as possible, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. But we still want to prioritize healthy, home-cooked meals — now, and especially in the first few months after Baby H comes when we know we’ll be even shorter on time, sleep and energy.

One potential solution? I’ve got to credit Ben with this one: Farm to Fit, Portland’s own locally-sourced, portion-controlled, chef-powered meal delivery service. He met the owners and was intrigued by the description (I mean, it’s gotta be good to survive in a foodie town like this, right?), so we tested it out recently to give ourselves a break from the daily shop-chop-cook-collapse grind.

Chicken fajitas, courtesy of Farm to Fit

Chicken fajitas, courtesy of Farm to Fit

Farm to Fit graciously sent us a week’s worth of the 1,200-calorie a day plan, knowing that there would be plenty of wiggle room in there for ample snacking in between. Disclaimer: neither of us is on a diet — especially me right now — and while we don’t count calories because of our activity levels, we do snack consistently throughout the day to maintain weight and muscle mass.

The meals — breakfasts, lunches and dinners — arrived neatly packaged in an insulated cooler and each dish was labeled with nutritional info and microwave directions, if needed. Farm to Fit also included a handy print-out with a suggested order for consuming the meals, which is probably partly to do with the balance of calories for each day and partly to do with some foods being more perishable than others

Regardless, we dug in and were pleasantly surprised with the amount of food, the taste and the variety. Some of my favorites were the breakfast crepes (eggs, ricotta, spinach, basil, mozzarella, parsnip puree…oh, that puree), beef pho lunch (timely for rainy Portland soup-slurping weather), along with a perfectly-cooked and tender balsamic-glazed steak (with horseradish creme fraiche, sugar snap peas and a yummy root vegetable gratin). Ben also loved the paella with chicken, chorizo and shrimp, plus the Grecian frittatas with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, olive, feta and sausage.

As you can see, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill delivery meals; Farm to Fit’s team takes as much pride in meal planning, sourcing and prep as any of the restaurants around town. And the best part? You can enjoy some of Portland’s freshest seasonal produce in the comfort of your own home — without spending all of your free time in the kitchen.

Kahlua pork, courtesy of Farm to Fit

Kahlua pork, courtesy of Farm to Fit

Farm to Fit offers flexible weekly meal plans that are portion controlled, with the option of 1200, 1600, or 2000 calories per day, plus gluten-intolerant, low carb and diabetic-friendly options. Customers can choose from three-, five- and seven-day meal plans that are conveniently delivered every Monday and Thursday around Portland (for a $5-15 fee) or can be picked up at a number of specified pick-up locations around the area.

Menus change with the seasons to take advantage of fresh produce, and Farm to Fit makes more than 21 different meals per week. The company is also committed to locally-sourcing other ingredients, wherever possible; here’s a list of their local farm partners.

If you’re a picky eater, don’t despair; Farm to Fit also offers a special Signature Dish plan, which allows clients to customize menus to suit their tastes. Other special requests and/or substitutions can also be made at an additional charge.

Since Ben and I do enjoy cooking when we can, we’re not likely to use Farm to Fit indefinitely. However, it’s something we’re planning on signing up for intermittently when we want an occasional break, and Ben mentioned it might be a great way to take some of the pressure off when Baby H comes, so we can stay committed to eating healthy, nutritious meals while muddling our way through the early weeks of parenthood. Yes, please. 

Grilled Oregon coast salmon, courtesy of Farm to Fit

Grilled Oregon coast salmon, courtesy of Farm to Fit

For more information and ordering details, visit Farm to Fit’s website or call 503-688-9248.

How I Run: Team LUNA Chix PDX’s Megan Fuetterer

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In honor of our inaugural Team LUNA Chix Portland Run season, I’ll be introducing my teammates via this interview series throughout the next few months…get to know these impressive ladies, and come join us for a run Monday nights from 6:30-7:30 pm in Portland (click here for details)! 

Have you ever met someone and immediately just hit it off? That was Megan Fuetterer and me over coffee a few months back.

We were introduced by a mutual friend and quickly bonded over a shared love for food and an active lifestyle. Fast-forward to the present, and I’m not only taking weekly spin classes from her at Revocycle, but we’re also running together Monday nights with other LUNA Chix gals.

What I love about Megan, though, is that her awesomeness is outweighed only by her humbleness. Not only has she recently launched a successful company (Zest Nutrition), but she has also made a professional home at OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital where she enjoys working with kiddos and their families as a pediatric dietitian.

Oh, and did I mention she’s also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a certified spin instructor and an Ironman triathlete whose healthy pumpkin pie recipe was featured on the TODAY Show? There’s nothing this lady can’t do, and I’m excited to learn more about smart fueling as we tackle our first LUNA Chix run team season together.

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1. What’s your favorite route? Forest Park, but when it’s sunny out, there’s nothing quite like running on the PDX waterfront. My morning loop along the waterfront was featured in Runner’s World last year as the Rave Run!

2. What shoes do you wear? I am currently running in Nike Fly Knit Lunar 3s. Prior to these, I wore Newtons for years and loved them! They have lugs under the ball of your foot, which prevents heel striking and ultimately leads to a more efficient stride. They definitely helped improve my form.

3. What other run gear can’t you live without? My iPod shuffle. It clips onto my shorts and is weightless. Good tunes can energize me even on my most unmotivated days.

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4. What’s your best time-saver or “runhack?” In high school I got in the habit of wearing my running clothes to bed for early morning practices. That way I could literally set my alarm three minutes before I needed to leave the house. I still do this on nights I want to squeeze in as many minutes of sleep as possible.

5. What running-related thing are you better at than anyone else? Listening to my body. If I’m pushing and my body is pushing back, I ease up and honor that. Our body gives us signs for a reason. I think yoga has been the biggest help in teaching me self-awareness.

6. What do you listen to while running? Anything with a good beat and an uplifting message. The key for me is constantly finding new music to keep it fresh.

7. What are you currently training for? For the first time in eight years I can happily say I am not training for anything! Wow! I am getting married in September, and I want to fully embrace the months leading up to the wedding. My fiancé and I still run for fun together in the mornings before work. It actually is a great time to talk about wedding plans.

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8. What are your recovery & sleep routines like? Sleep, sleep, sleep! I aim for eight hours per night. If waking up early to run means less than seven hours of sleep, I skip the early workout and get the Z’s instead. Recovery, for me, comes in the form of food. I always eat an adequate meal of carbs, protein and fat within 30 minutes of a run, then continue to stay properly fueled and hydrated throughout the day.

9. What’s the best running advice you’ve ever received? Smile. Even if it hurts, smiling tricks your brain into having a good time. If you aren’t having fun, what’s the point?

10. What’s your favorite running-related memory? My senior year of high school Track & Field, my 4×4 team made it to the finals at the state meet. Right before the starting gun went off, someone started shooting fireworks off nearby. My last ever lap around the track in an organized meet was with fireworks lighting up the night sky overhead. I ran my fastest split time and my team took 3rd in state. It was unforgettable.

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11. Fill in the blank: I’d love to go on a run with ________.  Chrissie Wellington.

12. Anything else you want to add? For tips on fueling for fitness and everyday life, visit ZestfulNutrition.com 🙂

Thanks, Megan! I’m hungry (see what I did there?!) for making more memories during our adventures together this season. 

Runner friends, shoot me a note — info (at) kineticfix.com — so I can feature you, too!

This Spud’s For You: Health Benefits of the Humble Potato

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I used to avoid potatoes like the plague because, well…chips, fries and vodka. But then Ben and I did our Whole30 experiment at the beginning of the year and developed an entirely new appreciation for the tasty little tubers (particularly the sweet variety).

Their association with famine and high starch content aside, potatoes don’t deserve such a bad rap. Sure, when fried to a crisp or drowned in butter they can be less than healthy, but when eaten in their whole, unprocessed form they’re actually quite the nutritional powerhouses.

And popular, too — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, potatoes are the leading vegetable crop in the United States and the fourth most-consumed crop in the world (behind rice, wheat and corn).

Yup, we each consume an average of 55 lbs. of frozen potatoes per year, 42 lbs. of fresh potatoes, 17 lbs. of potato chips and 14 lbs. of dehydrated potato products.

So whether you’ve always been a proponent of the potato or you’re learning to love them all over again, I found a handy little guide (below) to help you make the most of this versatile veggie.

You say poh-tay-to; I say bring on the phytonutrients and fiber!

Reasons to Love the Humble Potato
“Reasons to Love the Humble Potato” on Health Perch

What’s your take on taters? 

Recipe: Raw Coconut Macaroons with Cacao Nibs

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Remember when I wrote about my recent almond milk experiment?

Well, when all was said and done, I was left with a bowl of expensive delicious almond meal that I couldn’t bear to throw out. And since the food processor was already dirty, I figured I might as well take a stab at this recipe from the lovely Jessica Mishra, a friend who is a health coach and yoga teacher in San Francisco.

Mishra made these decadent little nibbles for one of our SweatGuru events, and no one could believe that they were all-natural, packed with nutrients and brimming with healthy fats. I made a few tweaks — like using dates instead of maple syrup — and am excited to share what has become a favorite after-dinner treat in our house!

Raw Coconut Macaroons with Cacao Nibs

Ingredients: 

  • 6oz almond meal (I use leftovers after making almond milk)
  • 2 cups unsweetened, finely-shredded coconut
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp water
  • 5 pinches sea salt
  • 8 dates, pitted
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs

Directions: 

  1. Combine almond meal, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, water, salt and dates in food processor, blending until mixture has a uniform consistency.
  2. As the food processor is running, gradually add in coconut oil until fully incorporated.
  3. Transfer mixture to a bowl, and stir in cacao nibs.
  4. Using a spoon, scoop mixture into hands and press to form into small balls.
  5. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Here’s a look at the process, starting with the inspiration for this recipe: what’s left in nut milk bag after I make a batch of almond milk.

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The coconut oil helps bind all the ingredients together, so you’ll want to scrape the food processor once or twice to make sure everything’s evenly distributed.

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And don’t worry — it’ll be pretty crumbly. Here’s what it looks like after transferring the mixture to a bowl and adding the cacao nibs.

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If you try to roll them, you’ll end up with a crumbled mess — so gently “pack” scoops of the mixture between your palms to form into balls.

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Two more tips: Sprinkle with a dash of coarse sea salt if you like that sweet-salty mix, and separate balls between layers of parchment paper when storing.

How do you make use of your almond-milk remnants?

The Almond Milk Experiment

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Our recent Whole30 experience left Ben and I between a rock and a hard place when it came to morning coffee: Either drink it black or pay a hefty $1 or so per ounce for the deliciousness from Portland Juice Company.

Now wanting to blow through our grocery budget, I knew there had to be another way. Sure, we could fudge our way through with store-bought almond milk, which even when it’s organic and free of lactose, soy, gluten can have some nasty additives (just Google “carrageenan,” for example).

So that left us (read: me) with one, final option: Making it home-made, which I was trying to avoid at all costs — literally and figuratively.

A little math:

  • Nut-milk bag: $10.99
  • 6 oz package of raw almonds: $4.99
  • 12 oz package of dates: $6.99
  • Finally getting over the fear of using my food processor: Priceless

Is it worth it? Well, I might not be the best person to ask since I love my dairy and have since added it back into my diet — in moderation, of course (#BecauseIceCream). But almond milk is a delicious alternative for people with dietary restrictions — especially with the addition of dates as a natural sweetener and pumpkin pie spice for an extra kick.

Making it on my own not only was a learning experience, but it also got me thinking about all the extra gunk I’m consuming in my usual store-bought, sugar- and chemical-laden creamers, so although I don’t expect to make it regularly, I will add it into my repertoire of “every-now-and-then” recipes.

Here’s a look at the process:

Step one: Purchase nut-milk bag. Get mocked by husband when you tell him you’re “going to the store to buy a nut bag.”

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Step two: Soak almonds. Overnight, ideally, but for at least a few hours or until the nuts plump up.

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Step three: Rinse almonds and place in food processor with 3-4 pitted dates and a few cups of fresh water. Blend.

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Step four: Clean up explosion of water from said food processor. Locate manual and read instructions about not filling above “fill line.” Oops.

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Step five: Repeat step four. Clean up second mess, and wonder if you assembled it incorrectly. Nope — just too much liquid. Again.

Step six: Finally blend (for 1-2 minutes) until white and frothy. Smells lovely.

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Step seven: Hold open nut-milk bag over a large bowl and pour mixture into bag to strain. Gently squeeze to get excess liquid out.

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Step eight: Store in airtight container. Preferably a mason jar, particularly if you live in Portland, to cement neo-hippie status.

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Now…what do do with the almond remnants? I’ve got a recipe for that, too! Stay tuned…

Have you made home-made almond milk?

The Whole30 Truth, and Nothing But the Truth (+ giveaway!)

Credit: Chef Pete Evans

Credit: Chef Pete Evans

In mid-January, Ben and I started Whole30, which we viewed as a 30-day “experiment,” a fresh start for the new year. If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s a “short-term nutritional reset,” designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract and balance your immune system.

Sounds awesome, right? Well, where the rubber hits the road is in the rules: Eat real food. Avoid added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, sulfites…or any food product with a hint of anything like that in it.

Easy, in theory. We eat fairly healthy. We exercise. We expected it to be difficult at times (him: peanut butter and flavored coffee creamer; me: cereal and dessert after dinner). But what we didn’t expect was an experience that will forever change the way in which we view our food.

So, what’s it’s like to eat “clean” for 30 days? Truthfully, it’s hard. Not only are we used to grabbing whatever we want off the grocery store shelves, but our bodies are, sadly, so accustomed to being jacked up on sugar and artificial stuff that there’s even a timeline of what you can expect — both mentally and physically — as the month unfolds.

Full disclosure: Neither of us experienced anything as drastic as the “carb flu,” although we did blow through five jars of almond butter in the process. And there may have been a few nights at the beginning when I put myself to bed early in order to escape from the after-dinner dessert cravings… 

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But, reflecting back on the experience, we learned some valuable lessons:

1. I’m not in the habit of reading food labels. I learned this the hard way after using what I thought were W30-approved almond milk and hot sauce on day one, only to realize later that both products had a bunch of additives in ’em. #Whole30Fail

2. There’s a lot in our food that isn’t “food.” As we perused the grocery aisles, Ben and I had bust out our phones and Google ingredients in things, most of which we couldn’t pronounce.

3. It’s tough to find whole-food products. They’re out there and are becoming more popular, as you’ll see below, but they’re not the default; you’ve got to make an effort to seek them out.

4. It’s not a diet. Don’t necessarily expect to lose weight. My number on the scale stayed the same, although my jeans do feel a little looser, so that’s a bonus!

5. There is sugar and soy in every.thing. If it’s not listed in the ingredients outright, it’s hiding behind a pseudonym. Do your research, and read those labels!

6. Food is very social. We didn’t realize this until we made a double-date for dinner the first Friday night. Two glasses of water and bun-less burgers, please. Wah-wah.

7. There’s a difference between stuffed and satiated. Well, duh. But no, really — bread baskets, apps and desserts used to be a free-for-all. Making better decisions about food has means no more nights riddled with regret — and heartburn.

8. Cooking is key. A month straight of hard-boiled eggs, broiled chicken and steamed veggies would get old fast. There are so many easy W30-approved recipes out there, and they’re delicious! Here’s one of our favorites, in fact.

But… I do have one confession to make: Snacks, which I credit for helping me get through the past 30 days. Although they’re technically discouraged — you’re supposed to aim for three large meals instead — I took a hall pass because I’ve got a pretty active workout schedule.

Here are a few of my favorite W30-approved game-changers: So good, you’d never guess they’re actually good for you!

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Meat snacks: Both Chomps Snack Sticks and Nick’s Sticks deliver all the goodness and none of the garbage. Made from grass-fed beef (Nick’s also has free-range turkey), which is higher in omega-3’s, all the sticks are gluten-, soy-, hormone- and antibiotic-free, but the best part is that they’re shelf-stable (great for on-the-go!) without any synthetic preservatives. I love stashing them in my purse for emergency mini-meals.

Nuts, seeds & bars: Aside from an admirable brand mantra, Living Intentions makes some downright addictive sprouted nut, seed and trail mix flavor combinations; I’m partial to the Rosemary Garlic Gone Nuts, in particular. Chapul Bars also made me a cricket convert; their chocolate-coffee-cayenne Aztec Bar (packed with protein, iron and vitamin B12) hits the spot — seriously, almost better than a brownie.

For workouts, my new pre-sweat-session obsession pick-me-up are Yawp! Bars, which are a delicious grain-free alternative to granola bars because they’re dehydrated ’til crispy (another confession: I already ordered a second box because I can’t gt enough of ’em).  And, finally, Barnana — literally, just dehydrated bananas — is an unbelievably good mid-workout fuel with its mild flavor and candy-like chewiness.

Sauces & flavorings: My biggest tip for tackling Whole30? Flavor up that food! Paleo Powder takes seasoning back to basics with an all-purpose rub that’s free of MSG, gluten and sugar; it gives a great kick to meat, veggies and eggs. Our go-to weeknight dinner was chicken breasts, baked with this and a smidge of white wine.

And then there’s Tessemae’s, my absolute favorite find (thanks to Erica for the heads up!) — not just for the spunky nature of the company, but also because they keep it real (real yummy) when it comes to all-natural condiments and dressings. The Lemon Garlic dressing was a life-saver for salads. Another tip? Try their Lemon Chesapeake dressing over salmon and braised greens!

Hydration: I read that drinking rooibos tea could help combat sweet cravings due to its deep, earthy vanilla taste, so I stocked up on Numi’s version. It’s caffeine-free and full of antioxidants, so it’s also become my afternoon drink of choice with a splash of home-made almond milk.

And as important as it is to replenish fluid and electrolytes when you’re working out, you’d be hard-pressed to find many without added sugar, carbs or artificial flavors and colors. That’s why I’ve also been using elete’s Electrolyte Add-in, a pure, flavorless liquid electrolyte concentrate that contains magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride in order to help facilitate proper muscle and mental function. It’s gotten me through countless long runs and rides these past few weeks!

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As for my final take on the program, it’s something I’d highly recommend. Think of it this way — it’s a month with some occasional discomfort (mostly mental) in exchange for something that has the potential to impact you for the rest of your life in a positive way: A new relationship with food.

Removing the junk out of your diet helps chip away at some of the emotional baggage regarding what we eat and why, as well. Your taste buds will reset, you’ll regain control over cravings, you’ll feel healthier overall…but most of all, you’ll learn to approach life after Whole30 with a whole new outlook.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ben and I had a running list of post-Whole30 restaurants to visit and items to eat! We fully intend to indulge in them, too — although this time it’ll not only be deliberate, but also in moderation so we can truly enjoy it.

Have you tried Whole30? What’s your take?

Also – it’s your lucky day! Yawp was kind enough to offer a mixed case (12 bars, four of each flavor: Naked, Cafe Mocha and Coconut Chai) up for grabs. Enter here via a Rafflecopter giveaway!

Recipe: So-Good-You-Won’t-Believe-What’s-In-‘Em Pancakes

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I may very well be the second-to-last person on Earth to have tried this recipe, as a quick Google search will reveal that it’s been circulating the interwebs for quite some time now. But in the off-chance you’re that lucky last person to have heard about it, I wanted to share it again here.

Which culinary magician originally invented this? No clue. I just happened to find out about it from a former co-worker, Claire, who posted some pictures on social media that had me drooling. Cue the following morning’s brunch where Ben and I tweaked a double batch and devoured the entire thing ourselves.

Traditionally, it’s a two-ingredient pancake with just banana and eggs. But in lieu of drenching the ‘cakes in maple syrup (damn you, Whole 30!), we spiced things up instead and added some extra protein to make them a more substantial meal.

So-Good-You-Won’t-Believe-What’s-In-‘Em Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 Tbsp almond butter

Directions:

  1. Add bananas, eggs, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice to a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Mix until smooth with an immersion (or regular) blender.
  3. Cook on pre-heated griddle, greased lightly with coconut oil, until both sides are browned.
  4. Keep hot, and serve immediately — with almond butter!

I love recipes where you can throw everything into one bowl; you can also change the flavor profile by adding other spices, fruit, cocoa powder, etc.

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Next step? Blend, baby, blend! Don’t be surprised if the batter gets all aerated and frothy.

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Spoon batter onto a hot griddle, and flip when pancakes are bubbly and have set.

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Cook on the other side for about a minute until lightly browned and cooked through.

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Layer hot ‘cakes with almond butter…and get ’em while they’re hot!

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Have you tried the famous two-ingredient pancakes?

I Feel the Need…the Need for (Chia) Seed

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As I was reviewing my goals for 2015 the other day, it struck me that there’s one, big gaping hole: Nutrition!

Between all the talk about training, racing, facing fears and choosing new challenges, I neglected to address the fact that fuel is a critical factor in overall health, performance and being able to push yourself.

And nothing against people — I’m looking at you, Chad Johnson — who claim to flourish with fast food, but I have a feeling that a diet chock-full of Big Macs would only land me in Big Trouble.

So as part of my “train smarter” goal, I’ve been reading this book and doing a lot of thinking about food as fuel. Not only trying to weed out a lot of processed junk (you’d be surprised how tough this can be!), but also attempting to consume more nutrient-dense foods — i.e. those that deliver the biggest “biggest bang for the buck,” meaning lots of nutrients for relatively few calories.

That’s where chia comes in. No, I don’t believe it’s a nutritional silver bullet, but it is purported to have twice as much protein as most grains and five times more calcium than milk. Factor in some good amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, soluble fiber, potassium and antioxidants, and I figured it’s a good addition to my healthy-eating regimen.

So what do you do with it? Well, here are four simple ways I’m slipping this little seed into my diet:

1. Chia-Specific Recipes: You may have seen my recent recipe for overnight oats, which has since become a family favorite for the tapioca-pudding-like texture, but there are countless ways in which chia can be used in recipes; check out these over at BuzzFeed.

2. Sneaky Substitutions: Simply swap in chia seeds for eggs or oil in recipes by mixing a tablespoon of chia seeds with one-quarter cup of water; use as a thickener for soups, sauces and puddings; or add chia seeds to an herb, seed or granola mix to bump up the nutrient factor.

3. 10,000-Year-Old Red Bull: In his book, Born to Run, Christopher McDougall studies a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and reveals their secrets — one of which is a drink called Chia Fresca (or iskiate), which features chia.

4. On-the-Go Snacks: Nope, it’s not just in the bulk food section of health food stores; chia’s now mainstream and in a number of products — just make sure it’s nothing super-processed or sugar-laden.

My new favorite mid-run snack are these Mamma Chia Squeezes (low in sugar, and all-natural chia + fruit + veggies), and instead of juice, I’ll grab one of their Vitality Beverages, which has added benefits of omega-3s, antioxidants, dietary fibers, as well as complete protein, calcium and magnesium.

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Have you jumped on the chia bandwagon? 

Fave Fix: GoodBelly 12-Day Belly Reboot

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The holidays tend out to bring out the crazy in all of us, right?

Case in point: After months of excess, we toss kale in our grocery carts and halfheartedly call it “eating healthy” (even though we’re buying roughly twice as many calories per serving in food now, as compared to the holidays, says this study) or commit to a crazy cleanse or restrictive diet that’s destined to leave us yoyo-ing throughout 2015.

Why abuse your gut in an effort to lose it?

My suggestion instead: Be nicer to your belly with a 12-Day Belly Reboot.

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The kind folks over at GoodBelly contacted me to check out their new program, which launched just in time for the New Year. During the Reboot, you drink one 8 oz. glass or one shot of GoodBelly a day for 12 days. Along the way, you’ll be able to track exactly what’s happening in your body and get extra motivation in the form of tips and coupons.

“Since probiotics do their work in the belly and beyond, there hasn’t necessarily been a way to see tangible results of their impact on overall health, ” said Alan Murray, CEO of GoodBelly. “Our new Belly Reboot was created to offer consumers a way to really track and understand how probiotics can impact the way they feel in just 12 days.”

Made with the well-researched probiotic strain, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (LP299V®), GoodBelly supports digestive health. Unlike many other live and active cultures, though, LP299V survives passage beyond the stomach’s acidic environment in order to support the rest of the digestive system, and ultimately overall health.*

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GoodBelly offers multi-serving quarts and single serving shots, available in flavors like Blueberry Acai, Mango, Pomegranate Blackberry and Strawberry. Each serving packs 20-50 billion live and active probiotic cultures to promote healthy digestive and immune systems, as 70 percent of the body’s immune system resides in the digestive tract.*

I kicked off my  12-day test just as things got hectic around the holidays. The juice was delicious, and the shots were convenient (some sweet, some tart, depending on the flavor), but best of all? Between last-minute shopping stress, unusually decadent meals, lots of travel and — to top it off — an especially active cold and flu season, I was not only able to stave off sickness, but also keep my energy up and banish bloat.

If you’re on the supplement bandwagon, like me, you may already take probiotic pills. In that case, GoodBelly’s a great way to add some variety (not to mention extra vitamins and calcium) to your diet. And if you’re new to the idea, it’s an easy — and delicious — way to augment your healthy eating habits for 2015.

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“We believe that what you eat and drink has a direct impact on your overall health,” said Murray. “Which is why we’re committed to creating functional beverages in exciting flavors that are easy to drink and absolutely delicious.”

Now, that’s really going with your gut.

For more information on the GoodBelly 12-Day Belly Reboot, click here.

*Some studies suggest GoodBelly’s probiotic may help balance the bacteria in your gut when consumed daily as part of a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle. GoodBelly is a food product and not a treatment or cure for any medical disorder or disease. If you have any concerns about your digestive system, please consult a health care professional.