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Live Fit & Prosper

eat well. exercise. love life.

Blackberry Balsamic Chicken Salad

Summer is here — or so I am told. The Bay Area is flirting with sunny days, but they’re still the exception and not the rule. And besides, it’s the Bay Area. It isn’t summer until it’s 55 and foggy every day.

Regardless, its the time of year that I come out of hibernation. I get excited about produce and cooking and lifting and dancing. My lifestyle shifts and with it, so goes my diet. The dish du jour right was created in a friend’s kitchen many years ago and promptly forgotten. Then, about a month ago, she asked me to make it. I wracked my brain for what I had put together “that one time [I] came over, and we watched the live recording of Rent and [I] made that amazing salad.”

Here’s what I knew: I pan fried chicken. I used the drippings as dressing. There were walnuts and blackberries.

So, over the last month or so I’ve been working with those little clues and finally have a tested, actual final(ish) product. It changes a little with every attempt, but the core flavors are the same.

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Blackberry Balsamic Chicken Salad

Pan-Fried Chicken Ingredients

  • 1 package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp of granulated garlic
  • A generous sprinkling of sea salt
  • Olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of a medium skillet)
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Optional:

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced

Salad Ingredients

  • 1 package blackberries
  • 1 box arugula or spinach or spring mix
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 2 avocados
  • 1oz goat cheese (or herbed goat cheese) my fave part
  • 1 handful of walnuts, roughly chopped

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Instructions

Step 1: Get the Chicken Rolling

  • Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Turn on the burner to medium-high.
  • Optional: add the diced garlic and chopped onion to the bottom of the pan, and lightly brown before adding the chicken.
  • Use scissors to cut the chicken into thin (1in) slices and spread evenly in the bottom of the pan.
  • Add balsamic, salt and garlic powder.
  • On medium heat, cook chicken until browned on one side (7-8 minutes, maybe? I don’t know).

Step 2: Prep the Salad ingredients

  • Place lettuce in extra large salad bowl.
  • Add red onion, blackberries, walnuts, and cheese on top of the salad.
  • Seed the avocado and cut a criss-cross pattern on the meat. Squeeze the meat into the salad.

Step 3: Finish the Chicken

  • Flip the chicken and let brown on the other side (3-5 minutes maybe?).
  • How do you know when it’s done? Cut it open. Pick your thickest piece and cut it open. If it is pink in the middle, keep cooking it for 3-4 more minutes.

Step 4: Final Steps

  • Remove chicken from heat and pour into the salad bowl.
  • Using tongs, mix the salad with the chicken and drippings.
  • Eat.
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Keto/Grain Free Sesame Wasabi Chicken

Preparing your meals in advance is a great way to improve your eating habits, reduce your spending, and fuel your fitness goals.

This delicious Sesame Wasabi Chicken took a total of 15 minutes to prepare, cook and serve (or pack) and will feed me and my partner for the next four meals (that’s two lunches and two dinners each) at a cost-per-serving of roughly $3.50 (less if you already have soy sauce +wasabi).

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Ingredients

4 tbsp Wasabi, 1/3 cup sesame seeds, 1/3 cup gluten free soy sauce, 12 boneless chicken thighs, 2 tbsp garlic powder, 2tbsp onion powder, 24 oz kale and ~1/4 cup olive or avocado oil.

Instructions

In a medium bowl, combine garlic powder, onion powder, wasabi, sesame seeds, soy sauce and chicken. Mix with your hands until chicken is evenly covered.

Add oil to large pan. There should be enough to cover the bottom of the pan.  Heat oil on medium-high. Once small bubbles appear in the oil, add chicken. Cook on medium-high until chicken is brown on one side, and then flip. Both sides should be golden brown, and cooked all the way through.

Chicken
On medium-high heat, the outside of the chicken browns, and some of the fat renders into the bottom of the pan. These drippings+the oil, make a delicious dressing for the kale.

Remove chicken from pan. In excess oil and drippings, saute the kale.

If you have too much kale for the pain, drain some of the drippings and saute in stages.

Serving Instructions

Divide chicken and kale into individual containers. I invested in Pyrex rectangular glass containers with no-leak lid. Store in refrigerator. Reheat in microwave, employ common sense for power level and length of time.

2015-08-31
I like to keep avocado and tomatoes at my desk to add some extra calories and nutrients to my lunches. After reheating, I add them to the container and devour.

Allergen Notes

I am very allergic to wheat and corn and developed this recipe to accommodate for that. If you are allergic to any of these ingredients, find viable substitutes.

Soy sauce is often fermented with wheat. If you have a wheat allergy, be sure to read all of the ingredients.

Also, remember that soy is often grown in rotation with wheat crops, vastly increasing your risk of cross contamination. In fact in this 2010 study, one sample of soy flour contained 2,925 parts per million of gluten. 

I personally have not had a specific problem with gluten free soy sauce, however, you know your tolerance. If that level of cross contamination is a concern, look for substitutes like this one.

Wasabi is a root, similar to horseradish. I buy pure powdered Wasabi on Amazon and mix it in batches, because the stuff I can find at the store often contains food starch or other additives. And anyone with a severe corn allergy will tell you, any additive of dubious origin puts you at risk for contamination. Food starch and vegetable oil both often contain corn.

10 Reasons to Get in the Pool (and how to get started)

10 Reasons to Start Swimming

Should I start with the fact that it is friendly to your joints? Or that it has been shown to lower cholesterol, increase flexibility and improve balance? Maybe I should talk about the mental health benefits? Because it offers all those things, and then some.

  1. It is a full body workout. Every stroke or kick is a cardio, resistance and strength training exercise.
  2. It is a great way to burn calories. According to the American Academy of Sports Medicine, a 170lb person can burn up to 704 calories in an hour of swimming. Here’s a chart breaking down the research.

    Swimming Cals
    Source: http://www.nutristrategy.com/caloriesburnedswimming.htm
  3. It’s easier on your joints.
  4. It carries numerous mental health benefits, including reducing anxiety and depression. 
  5. It can help with exercise-induced asthma. 
  6. It scales with your fitness abilities. Swimming can be as easy or as hard as you make it without being overwhelming.
  7. It improves heart and lung capacity (optimizing your cardio skills).
  8. It improves flexibility and mobility.
  9. It is really good for your heart and lungs.
  10. It’s really fun. Trust me on this. Splashing around for an hour every few days is a total blast. You should try it.

Need more proof? See what the CDC has to say. Or, you can check out the Cleveland Clinic’s analysis.

Swim Bag Checklist

  • Swimsuit
  • Goggles
  • Kick board – like this one
  • Pull buoy – like this one
  • Towel – try this quick drying, anti-microbial towel. It’s compact and doesn’t mold even when it spends all day in my gym bag
  • Ziploc bag for wet suit and towel
  • Toiletries for showing after your swim – lotion, shampoo, conditioner, shampoo, toothbrush, deodorant. Save money by using re-usable travel size toiletry bottles and filling them with the stuff you already use at home.
  • Foot protection – bring cheap flippy floppies (like these) to wear in the shower and then anti-fungal foot spray for after your shower.
  • Clothes (including underwear. I have …a friend… who is notorious for forgetting her underwear after swimming.)

Where and How to Start 

First, you should find a gym with a pool or go to your city/county’s parks and recreation website to locate a public pool with lap swim hours. Second, gear up using the handy checklist above. Find an accountabilibuddy, seek help from an online coach or in-person personal trainer (like me!). Set a consistent workout plan, and stick to it for at least 30 days.

I’ve included a copy of the program I used with my client when he decided to start swimming. It’s geared towards a very beginner, who may not have been in a pool since childhood swim lessons. My client outgrew the program in less than a month, and was ready to set more challenging goals.

Beginner Swim Workout

Note that this plan includes some water aerobics moves. I taught Aqua Aerobics in high school, and fell in love with the extra resistance / low impact workout it gives you. Even as you get more advanced, warming up and cooling down with aqua aerobics is a great way to get moving.

Inspiring that Difficult Client – find what they love and make it easier for them

I have a weight loss client -lets call him Marcus – who hates  most exercise. We’ve been working together since 2011, and finding programs that he will stick with has been a great challenge. It’s  not that we haven’t tried many, many things either. We work with  kettle bells, the TRX straps, we’ve done HIIT, Pilates, lifting and yoga. Sometimes, things will stick long enough for him to see progress, or to develop great form, but after an eight week cycle, he just seems to resent our current program.

Despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them, I love working with Marcus. It’s clients like him that drive me to do my very best as a trainer. Here’s why:

I have to stay on top of my game

Difficult clients to motivate require an even more vocal cheerleader, who can guide them through low spots and push them past their frustrations. When I prepare for our session, I can’t just set an agenda based on any other session I’ve done with him. Sure, we do exercises in a progression to allow him to build the stability and strength he needs to complete them in the future. But instead of running him through the same series every week, I get to do my research and learn other ways to work those same muscle groups.

It is an exercise in empathy

Marcus is easily overwhelmed by unfamiliar and complex exercises. In order to be effective, I’ve had to learn to put myself in his shoes when the going gets tough. Over the last four years, I’ve improved immensely in my understanding of my clients’ difficulties on their paths to a healthier lifestyle. And I’ve had to apply this understanding in a way that continues to keep them showing up to our sessions, and making healthy choices when I’m not there to coach them.

Through Marcus, I’ve learned how difficult navigating the weight room can be, especially when you are shy, or  unfamiliar with the weights. We have spent a number of our sessions familiarizing him with the equipment, and focusing on technique, instead of shooting for buckets of sweat.

Additionally, I am learning to identify exactly what Marcus dislikes about exercise. And since I am growing to understand why he is so reluctant to stick to any given routine, I am able to work with him.

Which brings me too…pool workouts!18222f6de4c8c4ad13e0288dbc68012c

So, like I said, we started working together four years ago. My core philosophy as a trainer has very little to do with aesthetics. I don’t deal in stick thin, but instead take clients who are very interested in building a healthy lifestyle that they love. This philosophy drives me to build programs based on client interests, as well as their fitness goals.

This is why Marcus and I replaced our morning lifting/TRX routine with pool workouts. I am overjoyed with how much his attitude has changed. We started swimming 9 weeks ago, and he is still showing up, enjoying himself, and making decisions that allow him to get in the pool more often.

When you think about it, losing weight in the pool makes sense. The pool allows clients to work on building strength and develop muscle, without straining their joints. It is efficient, working stabilizers and major muscle groups, while also serving as killer cardio. It can help correct muscle imbalance and chronic pain, because it gently works nearly all your muscle groups. Clients who are prone to overheating, are able to work harder while staying cool. In fact, they don’t even know when they’ve started to work up a sweat. And finally, since it improves posture, balance, flexibility, and cholesterol, functioning in real life can become markedly easier.

Hard Won Victories 

Marcus is down 30lbs. He is able to walk up a San Francisco hill without stopping. He’s started to choose healthier eating habits, and is even working out without me  more often. All of these things are victories. They are the milestones we’ve been chasing together for the last four years and through empathetic and open communication, we’ve found something that he loves. And that is invaluable.

Just Keep Swimming

For more information on the benefits of swimming, including workouts for beginners, check out these links:

http://www.bucknell.edu/athletics/recreation-services/swimming-information.html

https://experiencelife.com/article/learn-this-skill-a-faster-freestyle/

http://watchjackitakeitoff.com/5-training-tips-for-beginning-swimmers/

There just aren’t enough hours…or are there?!

Schedule

I have a lot going on. I work full time as a Paralegal, I am actively taking clients, finishing my last two classes for my Bachelors and studying for my NASM Personal Trainer Certification (and don’t get me started on how much time I spend on Instagram). It’s challenging sometimes to fit self-care, exercise, and time for my dog and partner into my daily routine — even if those are the most important things to me.

Recently, I’ve really felt like I need to get back in touch with my inner dancer, so prioritizing ballet without sacrificing study time, climbing or my clients become a key priority.

So, like any neurotically well-organized crazy person, I made myself a schedule. Using a Google Sheets template, I set up a calendar that allows me to visualize my daily agenda. Since implementing it, I’ve gotten more workouts in, which means I am seeing some killer results, my partner and I have made more time for each other, and I still have time to study and see clients!

It has worked so well, that my partner has started using it as well. We share a sheet with our respective schedules. It has improved our communication, and helped us carry reasonable expectations for one another.

Explorations In Keto Pizza

Between clients, studying for my NASM certification, and getting so stinking close to my bachelors degree, I almost never have time to make really delicious keto snacks. I often favor pre-cooked ground meet, sliced cheese, and raw broccoli in the interest of saving some time. But sometimes, I find amazing, easy recipes, that let me get my pre-workout snack on, without sucking up my precious free time.

Given the sodium, calories, and carbs (in the tomatoes), I try to only eat this kind of thing before I get a solid workout in. Otherwise, it really is a divine cheat meal, that would knock you out of ketosis.

Salami Pizza

Ingredients –

  • Italian Seasoning (to taste)
  • Salami (sliced medium-thin)
  • Tomato Paste
  • Heirloom tomato (sliced)
  • Mozzarella (sliced)

Instructions –

Preheat the oven 475 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine tomato paste and Italian seasoning. Place salami slices on a baking sheet. Put a dollop of tomato paste and a slice of tomato on each piece. Then, use the mozzarella to press down the other ingredients, so they are covering most of the salami. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Bake until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbling.

Seriously, wait for these to cool before shoving them all in your mouth at once. They are going to smell and taste AMAZING, but you really don’t want to burn the crap out of your tongue. I…have a friend…who learned this lesson the hard way.

Rainbow Chard, Walnuts, and Lemon, OH MY!

rainbow chard

I eat a lot of red kale. It’s my absolute favorite food. I like it more than BBQ. Let that sink in for a second.
But no matter how much I love kale, I can’t eat it every day (I mean, I can — but I shouldn’t).

So, in search of some good alternatives, I stumbled across this recipe and it looked delicious and I wanted it so bad. Unfortunately, I’d already spent $40 on vegetables (that’s a lot of vegetables) to get me through the weekend. I didn’t have pine nuts, nor did I have Parmesan cheese. I did have rainbow chard, and walnuts, and lemon and sharp cheddar cheese. So I pulled together my own little recipe and it’s ab-so-lute-ly delicious.

Sharp Cheddar Chard w/ Lemon, Garlic Basil and Shallots

Ingredients

13 to 14 oz. Rainbow chard (about 1 large bunch)
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 Cup chopped Walnuts
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1/4 cup grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves (8 to 10 large)*
*substitute with a  generous helping of dried basil
1/2 Lemon, juiced
1 small shallot, diced

Directions

1.  Cut the chard into 1/2″ pieces but slicing along the short side of the stalk.
2. Course chop the walnuts into small pieces
3. Combine, chard, shallots, lemon juice, basil into a large mixing bowl.
4. In a wok or a medium/large pan heat the olive oil pour in the contents of the mixing bowl. Stir constantly.
5. Cook for 6-7 minutes, until chard is wilted and walnuts are warmed through.
6. Mix in cheese
8. Serve. Enjoy. Be Healthy!
Serves 3-4 (or 1 if you’re really really hungry – like just pumped iron hungry).

Nutrition
Nutrition (Photo credit: Susan von Struensee)

Nutrition Highlights

Chard, Swiss (cooked, boiled, drained, chopped), 1 cup (175g)
Calories: 35

Chard contains Vitamins A (10717IU), C (31.5mg), K (573mcg) iron (3.95mg), calcium (101 mg), magnesium (150mg), potassium (961mg) and fiber (3.7g).

Chard has an amino acid score of 40, with a profile that complements walnuts.

Additionally, chard is moderately anti-inflammatory.  And did I mention that it is absolutely delicious?

Walnuts (1 oz)

Calories: 173

1 oz of walnuts contain 7g of protein, 1.1 mg of manganese, 4.2 g of monounsaturated fatty acids, 9.8 g of polyunsaturated fatty acids, 562mg Omega-3 and 9260 mg Omega-6.

Lemon Juice (from 1 lemon)

Calories: 12

1 lemon’s worth of juice contains 21.6 mg of Vitamin C.

Cut Sugar, Cut Weight

High-fructose corn syrup for sale
High-fructose corn syrup Photo credit: Steven Vance)

Too much sugar wreaks havoc on your diet. Just like all things, the right kinds of sugar in moderation will not kill you. In fact, it isn’t even all that bad. But, not all sugar is created equal. Sugar when naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables is not altogether terrible for you. Your body can break down the naturally occurring sugars and to use them for energy. In fact, your body uses glucose converted from complex carbohydrates and proteins as its main energy source.

However, sugar is added to processed foods and then consumed in excess, it is the enemy. A high sugar diet is one of the great weight loss and overall health saboteurs being linked to problems including poor nutrition, weight gain, tooth decay and increased triglycerides (raising your risk for heart disease).

1. The Horrors of High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup (a.k.a. Corn Sugar) is the most common artificial sweetener added to processed foods and drinks. Although it is chemically similar to sucrose (table sugar), HFCS is a processed sweetener that may have even more adverse effects on your health and your waistline. The jury is still out whether HFCS is any worse for than table sugar or if it is just as bad.

HFCS has also been linked to diminished cognitive function, dehydration, and obesity. Many healthcare professionals and researchers also claim that HFCS also impairs liver function and contributes to ADHD.

 Developed in Japan in the 1960’s, HFCS is a relatively new food additive and the research on its ill effects is still in its infancy. From a manufacturer’s perspective, HFCS is a miracle food. It is sweeter than sugar and cheaper to produce. So, of course HFCS is “big food’s” staple sweetener for products ranging from ketchup to coca cola. But just because it’s in many, if not most, processed foods, does not mean that you should eat it.

2. Daily recommendations – Eat less sugar

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the USDA recommends we reduce calories from added sugars and saturated fats. Together, saturated fats and added sugar should not exceed 5% to 15% of your total caloric intake daily. This is further clarified by the American Heart Association, which states that women should consume no more than 100 calories per day of added sugar (artificial or otherwise). Men should consume  no more than 150 calories of added sugar. In laymen’s terms, women should not eat more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar and men should eat a maximum of 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Ideally, you are eating less than that but unfortunately, that isn’t the case for most Americans. On average, Americans consume 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, which calculates out to about 355 calories. 

3. How to Cut your sugar intake

  • Read your labels. How much and what kind of sugar is in the packaged food you buy?
  • Cut out sodas, sports drinks, sweetened juice, sweetened iced teas, etc. You don’t have to do this overnight. Start slowly, cut your soda / sweetened drink intake by a quarter for the first two weeks. Then, cut that new amount by half and continue to do so until you are ready to make a clean break.
  • When you crave something sweet, eat fresh fruit. Avoid baked goods, candy bars, and other heavily sweetened treats.
  • If you enjoy a frozen sweet treat after dinner every night, eat unsweetened frozen yogurt instead of ice cream during the week. Save the rich stuff for the weekend and/or when you are celebrating.
  • Drink more water. When you would normally have a glass of juice or a soda, quench your thirst with water. All of that sugar does nothing for you nutritionally and therefore, it should not be a key component of your daily diet.
  • Cut back on condiments. And make sure you know what is going into the condiments you do it. Sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup is found in ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, mustard and even pickles – all the more reason to read your labels.
  • Eat fresh food. Packaged foods often contain unhealthy additives, like sugar, that are not good for you or your waistline.
  • Avoid blended coffee drinks. While caffeine may contribute to weight loss, super sweet Fraps and white chocolate mochas are terrible for you. The next time you are at Starbucks, ask for their nutritional information. I promise, it will be eye-opening.
  • Snack on healthy, natural foods like nuts, raw veggies,  and yogurt, not pastries, candies, and processed convenience foods.

Even if you only follow these suggestions sometimes, every bit helps. Know that you are not going to have the perfect diet overnight, so don’t get discouraged.

Read your Labels

Cumin label, close up
Cumin label, close up (Photo credit: tvancort)

A really quick and easy way to kick-start your weight loss is by taking time to read the labels of the food you consume. According to a new study conducted by the University of Tennessee, Arkansas and the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural Finance Research, and the University of Santiago de Compostela, reading food labels may help to prevent weight gain and obesity.The study indicated that people who read food labels were generally slimmer than those who do not. In fact, women who scanned the labels of their processed foods were on average 8 pounds lighter than their counterparts who did not read labels.

When you go to the grocery store, for every package you pick up, you should read the nutritional information AND the ingredients list – especially the ingredients list. Because, while the calorie count and fiber/sugar/carbohydrate breakdown is important to know, you should also be aware of what is going into the food you consume.
Why? Well, the grocery store is a veritable minefield of diet-destroying, nutritionless, “food” that does little more for its consumers than contribute to their waistline and myriad chronic health conditions. By reading the labels, you are making an informed decision about what you are putting in your body, instead of trusting that the cleverly packaged and marketed items are going to fuel you appropriately.

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