Friday, November 30, 2012

Children in Crisis: Kids & Our Food System

  I've made my feelings on the US Food System fairly clear during my 15 months writing Sabrina's Crossing.

  Unfortunately, the problems go beyond what we are putting on our plates for any one meal. And they go much deeper than any one individual.

  Our system is broken at the core.  

  I recently watched the HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation, a four-part series that explored the obesity 'epidemic' in the US, and came away shaking my head.

  Part 3, "Children in Crisis" (the full video is below), examined the steadily rising obesity rates among America's children.

  The marketing of foods to children, the national school lunch program, and sugary drinks (soda and juices) were the prime focus.

  While I don't have kids myself, I can't help but see that there's a problem. We should not be seeing a country of unhealthy children; struggling with their weight as youngsters, and living an overall unhealthy childhood. As the documentary notes this "will probably be the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents."

  Kids should not have to be on diets. They're kids! But with obesity rates tripling in just one generation, and rising chances of developing obesity-related cardio-medabolic disorders and side-effects (Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, etc), it's clear this is not just an isolated problem.

The Happy Meal. Sold by everyone's favorite ogre: Shrek.
  Yes, problems lie on the home front as well. But the blame cannot come down solely on parents. If it was just an individual problem, we would not be seeing rising rates across the board, throughout the country.

  As cliche as it may sound: kids are our future. We should be doing all we can do to protect them, and set them up for successes, instead of allowing them to be exploited. 

  The problem lies in our system. 

How Washington Has Gone Soft
  Instead of making strides in policy in recent years, either by overhauling school lunch programs, regulating what foods are marketed to children, or even a 'soda-tax', the food and beverage industry has won fight after fight at every level of government during the last decade.

  There have been attempts to go healthy, but we've failed thus far.

  In late-2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law by President Obama. The act instructed the USDA to develop higher nutrition standards based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. It was to invest more money than ever before into the school lunch program, and other food programs for children.

Pizza and fries. A common lunch at school.
  The act would immediately increase the quantity of fruits and vegetables served, limit french fries to only be served two times per week, require grains served be whole grain, and reduce saturated fat and sodium in lunches.

  But less than a year later, the bottom fell out. Remember the 'pizza as a vegetable' debacle last November?

  Congress took huge steps backwards with a spending bill that essentially nullified the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. By keeping french fries on the daily menu, allowing pizza to be classified as a vegetable, and delaying the requirement of whole grains, Congress failed our children.

  In 2011, there was an effort to develop one consistent set of nutrition standards regarding food marketing to children. Standards set by experts, not dictated by manufacturers and advertisers. Congress created the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG), which was made up of experts from the CDC, FDA, USDA, and FTC.

A healthier, more well-rounded lunch. What it should look like!
  The IWG was tasked with improving the nutritional profile of children's diets. In July 2011, they proposed principles that would lower the levels of sugar, salt, and fat in the majority of foods marketed to children.

  Once the food industry got wind of the healthier proposals, there was huge push back. A joint hearing was called in October 2011 where there were complaints of policies going too far, and 'declaring war on many healthy products'.

  The food industry won out again. After the hearing, Congress declared that the IWG completely withdraw their recommendations, and 'conduct a study, and report the findings to Congress'. As of March 2012, no further progress has been made on the IWG study.

  In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama's childhood-obesity campaign went from criticizing food makers to only promoting exercise after lobbyists weighed in with their opinions, and more-importantly, their dollars.

Michelle Obama's Let's Move program
  Health experts have compared the tactics of the food industry to those used by Big Tobacco to fight stricter regulations. The most popular argument is to allow the food industry to regulate itself. The companies themselves decide what is, and what is not, healthy food. 

  I've talked about food labeling tactics before. Such as making health claims on sugary cereals. That comes from self-regulation.

  The food industry's interests do NOT lie in protecting children, or our overall health.

  $1.5 billion per year is spent by the food industry marketing food products to children. Young children don't understand what marketing is and how it works. They see a fun cartoon, or their favorite character, and want the related product. Essentially the food industry buys our children.

  For example, the worst cereals nutritionally are the ones that are marketed most-aggressively to children.

  This is not a new discussion. For 30 years, there has been an active debate in Washington over whether or not we should limit advertising to children. 

  In many European countries (you knew I was going there), where obesity and diet-related disease rates are much lower, there are warning labels (France), food and beverage advertising to children bans (Sweden and Norway), and bans on TV ads, including celebrity endorsement, for candy and fast food (Ireland).
                                                                       Who's responsible for getting us back on track?  
What child doesn't want Cookie Crisp for breakfast?
Yes, there is personal choice and personal responsibility. But there is also such a thing as social responsibility. 

  We encountered the same strong push back and roadblocks in regard to smoking, public health and the tobacco industry. But look how regulation and tobacco/smoking is looked upon now. 

  I see our food industry in the same light. And it's just as serious of a problem, if not more-so.

  Here are two small examples of the quality of foods marketed to children: 1) In the breaded chicken and mozzarella Lunchable by Oscar Meyer, there are 80 ingredients listed. Shouldn't it be three: chicken, cheese, and bread? The other 77 ingredients accounts for processed junk.

  And who eats Lunchables -- kids!

  2) In strawberry fruit roll ups, the ingredient list doesn't even include actual strawberries. It's all chemicals, and it's all marketed to kids.

What do we do?
  We need to hold industry leaders and our politicians accountable and demand that the lack of regulation for the food industry be addressed. That we don't allow the big dollars influence school lunches. The health of the younger generation is too important.

  In the past 15 years, the percentage of new cases of Type 2 diabetes (what used to be called adult-onset) among children has from three to 50 percent. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has tripled.

  What's more, a 2006 USDA report states that the percentage of children who are overweight has doubled and the percentage of adolescents who are overweight has more than triple. This has nothing to do with looks, and everything to do with health.

  Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease, what previously were 'adult-only' ailments, are now becoming more and more common in children and adolescents. These conditions arise primarily from poor diets and consumption of poor quality foods.

  We need to fix our system. It's more than personal choice and responsibility. Our leaders must get tough on the corporations, and we must tell the food industry enough is enough.

   In the meantime, exercise our right to make healthy choices. Educate ourselves about the food we put on the dinner table (and in the lunch box). We each can do more! 

  If you have the time, which I hope you do, watch "Children in Crisis", the third installment from HBO's The Weight of the Nation. And let me know your thoughts!

Kids Get Hooked Early and Often
How Washington Went Soft on Childhood Obesity
Congress to Kids: Drop Dead
Time to Stop Marketing Food to Kids
Jillian Michaels Podcast 9/15/2012
2006 USDA Report

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Amp Up Your Workouts with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Red Rocks. How's this for an interval workout!?!

  The Holiday Season is here!

  For many of us that means busier schedules, and yummier foods than usual. And if exercising is a part of our regular routine, maybe we should try to get more bang for our buck in the workout department to go along with our hectic holiday lives.

  Or maybe we've hit a plateau, or are bored with our workouts, and are looking to spice things up a bit? Maybe pounding away on that treadmill or bike is getting tiresome? Whatever our workout-complaints are, here are some ways to shake things up a bit!

  These are some tried and tested ways to amp up your workouts, change the status quo, and get your heart thumping: 

HIIT -- (High Intensity Interval Training) is exactly what it sounds like: intense cardio performed in a series of intervals.

Luscher Farms -- my field of choice for sprints.
  What makes HIIT any different, or any better, than your run-of-the-mill cardio? The payoff for a shorter, more-intense workout is that after a HIIT session, your body spends the rest of the day expending energy to recover!

  This is called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), or 'after-burn'. It means that you consume a great deal more oxygen recovering from the workout than you would have if you'd just done a steady-state workout.

  HIIT allows you to burn "up to nine times more fat while sitting on the couch later that night than you would have if you'd spent an hour on the treadmill at a moderate pace." But it has to be intense -- no slacking allowed!

Three examples of HIIT that I use on a regular basis, mostly in my off-season are:
  • Hills/Stairs -- Find a hill, or a set of stairs, in your neighborhood -- something that takes roughly 20 seconds to run. After a sufficient warm up (10-minute jog, for example), perform a series of 10-15 sprints up the hill, or stairs. Walk, or jog back down for your recovery, and repeat. After 10-15 repetitions, finish with a 10-minute cool down (and don't forget to stretch!). This works the same if walking is your preferred method of cardio!
  • Sprint Intervals -- If you can't find a hill or a good set of stadium stairs, surely there's a field or track in your neighborhood! Again, after a good warm up, it's time to hike up the intensity: sprint for 50 yards. Then recover, by either jogging or walking, for another 50 yards. Repeat for 10-15 minutes. I like to do my sprint intervals on a football field because it's a nice flat/soft surface, and the distances are already marked for me. I don't need to look at a watch, I just sprint 50 yards, then recover for 50 yards. No thinking involved, just run! And don't forget your cool down!
  • Machine work -- Both of these workouts can be performed on a treadmill, bike, or elliptical. For hills/stairs, you increase the incline for 20-30 seconds, then return it to normal for your recovery time. For the sprint work, you increase the speed for 15-30 seconds (depends on how hard the sprint is!), and then return it to a comfortable pace for your recovery. Again, these can be done as walking workouts as well!
Tera and I getting ready to run the stairs at Red Rocks.
  The point of interval workouts is to raise your heart rate very quickly, and then during your recovery, return your heart rate to a lower pace. This will increase your fitness level overall (you will recover quicker the more often you do it).

Push Outside Your Comfort Zone
  The trick is that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone: the more you push yourself during the 'sprint' phase, the better results you will see. And of course, the more 'after-burn' effect you will see.

  Clearly you need to have a good base fitness level to perform HIIT workouts. You can't just jump off the couch, straight into sprint workouts. That's a recipe for disaster. And you should not do HIIT workouts every day. Your body needs time to recover from intense workouts, and should only be done two to three times a week.

  If you find yourself having difficulty maintaining a high intensity throughout your workout (or want to give interval training a try, and you're new new to the working out game), you are better off performing more moderately-paced 'endurance' cardio. But try to push yourself with a few harder minutes sprinkled in throughout the session. This will help increase your metabolism (although not as much as with HIIT), as well as your overall fitness, which may lead to you eventually including HIIT workouts as part of your routine.
High Intensity Interval Training.
Tabata Training -- is a very specific, rigorous kind of HIIT. Tabata is becoming more and more popular because it can be done very, very quickly and it simultaneously improves your anaerobic AND aerobic conditioning. Tabata develops your ability to sustain explosive bursts of strength and speed, along with improving endurance. 

  If you TRULY only have 20 minutes to squeeze in a workout, try Tabata, it'll torch you! I have given it a shot a few times this season, and have found my legs were shot the next day. Something I never feel the day after something like a 40-minute run.

  Again, it is suggested that you have a good, if not GREAT, fitness level for Tabata training -- because if you cannot sustain the intensity, you will not see the results in the short time.

  Any exercise can be incorporated into Tabata training. Pay close attention to the 'sprint' phase, and the recovery phase: notice that the sprint-time is twice as long as the rest-time. The basic outline of Tabata training method is:
  • 10-minute warm up
  • 20 seconds of intense training (all out sprint)
  • 10 seconds of rest 
  • Total of 8 sessions/rounds (making the entire Tabata session 4 minutes long)
  • Cool down and stretch
  True Tabata training is not supposed to last longer than one session.

  Whether you're looking to spice up your workout, or get a more-intense workout, in a shorter time, give interval training a try! Your extra hard work will pay off. And it's always good mentally and physically to change up your routine -- it keeps us on our toes, and forces our bodies to adapt.

  Good luck, and let me know what you think!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Road Game in Paris

Picture day on the beach.

  After securing our first win last Saturday, DMBC Dunkerque hit the road this Saturday looking for our first road win of the season. This time in Paris.

  You're never not excited to go to Paris. No matter the reason, no matter how short the stay. Just being able to say, 'I'm going to Paris' or 'we're playing in Paris' is fun. There's an extra buzz about it, and a feeling of excitement as the bus navigates its way through the city.

  A road trip to Paris also meant a shorter bus ride for us. Something that is always appreciated. For once we didn't have an overnight trip on the bus. So it was a different experience to wake up on game day in my own bed, and then travel to the game.

  We had INSEP (Institut National du Sport de l'Expertise et de la Performance) on the slate this time around. I compare INSEP to that of the college playing experience in the US. They live, study, train, and play together.

  An extremely young, athletic, and very talented team. INSEP features France's best and brightest from the younger generation. They're training to be France's next generation of stars. But until then, as a professional, you cannot lose to them. So the pressure's on.

Institut National du Sport de l'Expertise et de la Performance
  INSEP came out of the gate hot. They couldn't miss. Mostly due to our passive defense. But to give their young players credit, they were making and finishing plays. INSEP knocked down every thing they put up, and we were looking at a 10-point deficit right away.

  As we increased our defensive aggressiveness and intensity, we were able to slowly chip away at their lead. By being passive defensively, we allowed the INSEP players to be comfortable and play at their own pace. We couldn't allow that to continue. As a defender, you have to make the offense uncomfortable. Especially if they lack the experience, like INSEP does. Put pressure on their players, and make them play a little faster than they want to play.

  Though INSEP maintained a small lead, we kept our heads, didn't get down mentally, and were able to draw even towards the end of the first half. Eventually we took the lead, and never looked back, taking a four-point lead into the half.

vs. Calais earlier in the season.
  A four-point lead is nothing, so we needed to make sure we came out of the second half gate more focused, and more aggressive than we did to start the game. And we did exactly that. Gradually we were able to increase our lead by exploiting our advantage inside, sustaining defensive pressure, and knocking down open shots from the perimeter. 

  A double-digit road win -- you really can't complain! Everyone contributed, and every win is a good win, isn't it? We're progressing, and I feel our team getting better and better. And that's exactly what you hope for, week-by-week, as your season progresses.

  After a fun celebratory team dinner at a restaurant in Paris, we hopped back on the bus with our first road win in hand. Let's hope there are many more to come!

  Two wins is a start. But it's up to us to continue to work to improve because it's certainly not enough!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A French Thanksgiving

2012 Thanksgiving crew!

  As I wrote last year, it's always a bit strange to spend Thanksgiving abroad. It's the only holiday I spend overseas that isn't celebrated in Europe. So while my American friends and family at home are readying for a big feast together, life goes on, just like any other day for me in Europe.

  My willingness to do something special for Turkey Day while in Europe always depends on the people I'm around: if they want to have a Thanksgiving dinner, I am more than happy to oblige.

  Thanksgiving Dunkerque 2012 Edition wasn't too different than the previous year's version -- except the addition of 10 more people to the dinner table. This year I would cook for my teammates as well!

The tedious task of cubing loaves of bread!
  Since my team would have two practices on the real Thanksgiving, I would have to settle for celebrating a day early. Having only a midday practice on Wednesday would allow me to cook the majority of the day, and prepare a hopefully-delicious meal for everyone.

Dressing: the final product.
  After we finished practice, I went straight home to begin my marathon day in the kitchen. I had done a little prepping the night before, but not much. (Note to self for future Thanksgivings: it's okay to prep the night before!)

  Dinner was to be around 7:30. And I knew my guests would start to arrive around seven, so I had roughly five hours to get everything ready. Time was ticking!

  Here was my menu:
  • Oven Roasted Turkey Breast & one thigh, for those dark meat lovers (no whole turkeys to be found this time of year in France!)
  • Homemade Dressing from scratch
  • Sweet Potato casserole
  • Green Bean casserole
  • Peas & Pancetta
  • Cranberry sauce (made from dried cranberries, since fresh cranberries are nowhere to be found here)
  • Mashed Potatoes (this was the one thing I would NOT be preparing! Thankfully. my friends V and Bruno would take care of the taters.)
Yum yum!
  I was to take care of the Turkey Day food, while I left the drinks up to the wine experts: my French teammates and coach. They also brought a little dessert as well.

  The tricky part about Thanksgiving, as many of you know, is managing your kitchen so everything is ready on time! For me, this is always where the panic sets in. I have a TINY kitchen, with counter space the size of a checkerboard, to go along with a microwave-sized oven.

Bon appétit!
  The turkey and the dressing (cooked separately) monopolize so much oven time on their own, I had to cook the casseroles ahead of time, and plan to heat them up as the turkey and dressing were finishing up closer to eating time. I started getting stressed as I sat, chopping onion and celery for the dressing, when I was realizing I needed at least two more sets of hands, and at least one more oven!

  Thankfully, one of my teammates lives next door. So I was able to put her oven to good use. But you forget how long it takes to chop everything up! I chopped as fast as I could, while concentrating not to chop a finger off, as the sweet potatoes cooked in the oven.

  The rest of my afternoon was spent running between ovens, checking and re-checking recipes, stirring, tasting, and Skyping with my mom for re-assurance. I was finally able to jump in the shower, and be somewhat-presentable for dinner, and get my apartment ready for my guests.

  The food was the first, and only thing on my mind. Delicious food trumps all, so that was my focus. I knew my teammates, coach, and friends would give me some leeway in the hosting department as long as I put a good dinner on the table.

My plate. Think I need some more turkey.
  My favorite Thanksgiving day food is the dressing (stuffing, whatever you call it). It's not really Thanksgiving for me unless I've had a heaping helping of my favorite breaded food. Since there's no prepped/pre-packaged dried croutons in France (that I can find), I have to make my own.

  I actually kind of enjoy this aspect, but it's just incredibly tedious! I buy a few loaves of fresh bread, cut them into one-inch-or-so cubes, and then leave them to dry out overnight. This is the only time when stale bread is a good thing!

Lots of first Thanksgivings here.
  I'd made dressing (I guess it's not stuffing if it's never stuffed inside the bird!) the same way the year before, but I remember it being a little too dry. So this time around, I made sure to have extra liquid on hand to keep that from happening. That definitely did the trick, cause I have to say my dressing was delicious!

  It was finally time to eat! I could see a few puzzled looks on some of my teammates' faces as they sat down to the table. So I explained to them what everything was, what my favorite things were, and encouraged them to dig in.

  You're always nervous about the food turning out. You spend so much time and energy preparing everything, your worst nightmare is be bad food -- and with all those people there no less! But after I loaded up my plate, and took my first bite, I was happy! And when I heard a few  'ahhhh trop bon' from my teammates, I could relax.

  All in all, I had 14 people over for Thanksgiving dinner this year: 10 adults, and four kids. It was a lot of work, and I was truly exhausted after the night was over. But I had a great time cooking, and sharing some of my family's Thanksgiving traditions with my team. And I loved that I was able to provide several first Thanksgivings as well!

  While celebrating holidays are never quite the same without your family, this year's Thanksgiving was a pretty good alternative. Hope you and your families had a great Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Knocking that Monkey Off My Back

vs. Calais last week.
  My shoulders immediately felt 20 pounds lighter. Like that monkey who had been sitting up there for weeks, who was growing heavier and heavier each week, jumped off the instant the final buzzer sounded.

  A big sigh of relief. And an even bigger smile.

  That's what happens when you win. After six weeks of coming up empty.

  DMBC Dunkerque had a great week of practice. I was forced to watch from the sidelines for most of the week because of a nagging 'thing' with my foot. My teammates did a great job all week, playing hard and playing intense, getting ready for our upcoming game. Since I was out of practice most of the week, I was a little unsure how my foot would feel come game time. But I managed to make it through the game okay.

  With a great week of practice under our belts, we were ready -- and due for a win.

  After settling into the game versus Limoges, we slowly pulled ahead by 10-12 points. We were aggressive, and got Limoges into foul trouble. And we took full advantage as we maintained that lead into halftime. But when you've yet to win a game, no lead is comfortable. You're on edge, and you're focused til the game is in the books.

  I knew Limoges would not go away quietly. Their players were too talented to keep at bay the entire 40 minutes. As they shot lights-out (over 60% for the game), Limoges chipped away at our lead, cutting it to six or seven several times throughout the third quarter. We always managed to respond, and continued to keep them at a somewhat-safe distance.

At home vs. Pau, earlier in the season.
  Because of a couple injuries to our back court (one during the game, and one in a prior game), our bench was shortened. With no subs, our legs were weary by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. Limoges settled into a zone to protect their players who were in foul trouble, and to limit our scoring from the inside.

  With tired legs, and a score that was growing closer and closer, those shots from the perimeter got tougher and tougher to knock down.

  We struggled to score. Actually, we were ice cold, and didn't score for five minutes. So Limoges crept closer -- eventually taking the lead midway through the fourth.

  Maybe in prior games, this was where the game would take a turn for the worse, and we would fall further and further behind, eventually losing when the horn sounded. But not this time around.

  I can't help but think that extra bit of focus and effort throughout the practice-week came in handy when the game was on the line. Defensively, we made rotations we hadn't made earlier in the season. And we were patient on offense, searched to find better shots. And then knocked those shots down. Simply stated: we made the plays we had to make to win.

  And let me just say how great the feeling was to have a smile on my face when that final buzzer sounded. Onto the next one!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Not 'Just a Game'

vs. Pau

  There are times when I think that I take basketball too seriously. That I need to lighten up, and not let what's happening on the court affect my life off the court. There are many more life-pressing issues in the world to worry about than how the ball is bouncing. It's just a game after all, right?

  But for me, it's much more than that. And it always has been. 

My Job
  Basketball is my job. And basketball is the sole reason I am where I am in this world.

  If it weren't for basketball, wouldn't be anywhere near Europe. I'd be in the US, working, living my life there, doing who knows what, who knows where.

  I'm not here to sight see and travel. I'm not here to experience the culture. I'm not here to learn a new language. While those are added benefits to the job, the sole reason I am in Europe, is to play basketball. And to play it well.

  When basketball is going well, I may find time to do those other things. But when it's not going well, I could care less.

  Call it having a one-track mind.

  Yes, I enjoy being abroad. Living in a different country, and experiencing different cultures and ways of life. I would not trade my experiences with anyone. But if I was not getting paid to play basketball, I would not be here.

A Visitor
  I do think it's different, being a foreigner in another country, playing professional basketball than it is being a pro, playing in your native country. One is not necessarily easier than the other. It's just reality.

  When you're 'home', you have more distractions -- more outlets. Friends, family, everyday life, familiar surroundings.

  I am a visitor here. When things don't go how I want them to go on the court, I have fewer outlets, away from the game, than those players who are home.

  For example, Sunday morning, after a game, you wake up, and everyone back home is sleeping. It's the middle of the night. So you try to find other ways to occupy your mind and your time. But for me, many times -- especially after a tough game -- my mind goes right back to basketball.

  So yes, you can feel isolated. 

Losing Never Sits Well
  No matter where I am -- home, Oregon, Colorado, France, Sweden, Italy -- you'll never find me smiley and happy after a loss, or after a particularly bad practice. Losing, and playing poorly puts me in a bad mood. Sorry.

  And it takes playing well, and winning, to get me out of that funk. What can I say, I'm a bad loser.

  Maybe that's not the right way to react to losing, but that's me. Maybe it isolates me even further, or puts more pressure on me. But it's what I need.

How I Got Here
Yeah, I take basketball seriously.
  Taking basketball seriously is what got me here in the first place.

  It was coming home right after school, and going straight to the gym. It was absolutely hating to lose, so much so, that I couldn't sleep. It was spending the majority of my summer's working on my game and my conditioning. It's going to bed a little earlier than you want because you have practice the next morning. It's getting extra treatment so you're feeling 100% when it's time to play.

  I've never lost that attitude, and I don't expect to anytime soon.

  My point is, that's who I am. Why would my attitude about basketball change now? Like you, I take my job seriously. And I want to do it well.

  So while I might think, 'sheesh Sabrina, don't take things so seriously', I can't.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Supermarket Sweep

  Between sneaky food labels and grocery store-tricks, navigating our way through the supermarket can be a difficult task.

  I think a lot of us are making the effort. We're reading labels, we're being conscious of the things we are buying at the store. Or at least we're trying.

  But how many times have you looked at a box at the store, and had no idea what you're looking for? No matter how much we talk about it, deciphering food labels is still confusing!

  Why? Because advertisers and food companies play on the health-buzzwords of the moment, and adjust their packaging and advertising accordingly. They're trying to sell their product, and make money. Period.

  I listened to a few podcasts recently that had some great information in regard to helping us decipher those tricky food labels, and navigate through supermarket traps. 

Food Label Tricks
  Whole foods, fruits, veggies, etc, are at the top of everyone's 'eat right' list. But we also know how convenient, and readily-available processed foods are. Here are a few pointers in distinguishing between healthy options, what may appear to be a healthy option. 

  • Local does NOT mean it's healthy
 - The phrase 'buy local' or 'locally produced' just means you're helping the environment because energy does not have to be used to ship products across the country/world. And buying local obviously benefits local farmers, who live in your own community. Since the food doesn't have to travel as far, nutrient content is greater because the fruits/veggies don't sit and oxidize. 

- Local does not mean Organic. At farmers' markets, don't presume just because they're LOCAL, that they're ORGANIC. Ask!! 
  •  Gluten Free foods are not health foods
When zero doesn't mean zero.
- Gluten free does NOT mean 'healthy'. Production of gluten free foods have exploded in recent years, but they should not be the latest health rage. Gluten free foods are for people who are ALLERGIC to gluten, and suffer from Celiac disease. If you don't have Celiac disease, you don't need to be eating gluten free foods. Many times, gluten free foods are higher in calories, have less fiber, and are more expensive! 
  • Trans Fat Labels
- We've all seen the label across the top of the bag of chips, or crackers: 'Zero Trans Fat'. But in actuality, there still can be up to a 1/2 gram of trans fat per serving. Most baked, packed goods (processed foods) purchased from the grocery store have trans fat. For example, a box of Ritz Crackers contains 14g of trans fat.

- Why all the hubbub over a half gram of trans fat? Studies show a strong link between consumption of trans fat and an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and depression. The American Heart Association says that we should have no more than TWO grams of trans fat per DAY. If just 3% of our daily calorie allowance comes from trans fat, we've increased our risk to develop heart disease by 23%.

Whole Grains, it says. We know better.
- The take home: stay away from processed foods and you'll steer clear of trans fat! If you see 'hydrogenated' ANYWHERE in the ingredients list, there's trans fat. Put it back on the shelf. 
  • Whole Grain/Whole Wheat Labels
- It needs to say '100% Whole Grain/Whole Wheat' NOT just 'Made with whole grain'. If it's 'made with' there can be just a fraction of actual whole grain used. 
  • Natural food label
- I did an entire blog last year on the Natural food label. It's completely unregulated, and honestly, doesn't mean a thing. Natural is no healthier than a product not labeled  'natural'. But it surely will cost more.

  For the food companies, it's all about making a profit. They will do all they can to keep their production costs down, all while telling us their product is healthier than the competition's. Even if that means playing on words, looking for loopholes, and tricking the consumer.

Click to enlarge.
Navigating the Supermarket
  There are two supermarket tips many of us have already heard. 1) Stay on the perimeter of the store -- because the refrigerated/produce sections are on the periphery; while processed foods are in the center aisles. And 2) Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

  While those are helpful, the following tidbits are a little more specific, and hopefully will keep us on the right track!

  - Can you categorize the food into either a) Animal, b) Vegetable/Fruit or c) Mineral? For example, what is a chocolate chip cookie? Or a Cheeto? If you can't put it into one of those three categories, it's not food! It's chemicals and artificial ingredients, also known as, processed.

  - Make the cashier work! Things with bar codes = no. Those are processed foods. Things the cashier has to enter-in numerically = yes. That's produce.

  - Go with a gameplan. Don't buy things that aren't on your list.

  - Choose the shortest lines (obviously!). But studies have shown the longer you wait in line, where all those goodies are so nicely displayed, the more your will power is tempted, and the more-likely you are to buy those impulse items.

Navigating the supermarket can be tricky!
  - Invest in NUTRIENTS  not CALORIES. We complain that good food is costly. Instead of buying a bag of sweet potato chips or fries (at $3 a bag), buy sweet potatoes (at roughly $1 per pound). Broccoli instead of Cream of Broccoli soup. Buy strawberries instead of Smuckers jam. These options are 1) Less costly, 2) Less processed, and 3) More nutritious. Products in it's natural/original state are more healthful, and less expensive than when in the processed state.

  - Choose what you buy organically wisely. I've written previous blogs on the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. Produce that should always be bought organically (because of their thin skins, and the presence of pesticides and toxins on them), and produce that is okay to buy conventionally. Organic meat & dairy to avoid the anti-biotics and hormones.

  - Be wary of the natural food stores -- the Whole Foods of the worlds -- many times they grossly overcharge for certain products. Compare prices between markets. Sometimes Safeway has the same product for far less money. Pay attention, you'll be surprised!

  Do you  have any tips for avoiding supermarket tricks and money traps? Sharing is caring!

  Hope this was a helpful entry, at finding the true healthy buys, and keeping a few extra dollars from being thrown down the drain! 


Monday, November 12, 2012

If It's Important, You Will Find A Way

DMBC @ Calais.

  Part of my Sunday was spent browsing through my blog entries from the previous year.

  On occasion, I'll go back through older entries, looking to update them or revise them. It's also interesting to see where my mind was at, and what exactly I was doing just a short-year-ago.

  That's the cool thing about having a digital diary of sorts. You can go back through, any date, whenever you want.

  After another tough game on Saturday, I may have also been looking for something to fall back on -- a little encouragement, or motivation.

  One particular post I came across stuck out immediately. It addressed the following graphic, and dealt with motivation and our priorities.

    This graphic reminded me of a few valuable things:
  • You can only control yourself, and the things you have the power over. Your effort. Your attitude. Your words.
  • You cannot make anyone care any more, or any less about something, than they already do. As much as you may try, it's only going to be as important as it is to THEM.
  • Excuses get you nowhere. They're a waste of time, and a waste of energy. They just hold you back from achieving what you're supposedly striving to accomplish.
  A 0-6 record is a tough pill for me to swallow. It's difficult enough just to think about, let alone write down, for all the world to see. But it's prime time to stop making excuses, keep a positive attitude, take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror, and start putting in the work to earn some wins.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Once a Runner

  Admittedly, I'm not much of a reader. Definitely not a bookworm, per se. Never have been.

  I've always read out of necessity rather than enjoyment. While I do read my fair share of articles and the like, to stay informed and to learn about the pressing issues of the world, reading for fun is always one of the last things on my to-do list.

  I recently finished a book (that took me WAY too long to read) that I thought would be interesting to blog about. So here goes...

  The title gives it away. Yes, Once a Runner is a book about running. And runners. But it's about more than that.

  Really, it's about motivation. Dedication. And work ethic.

The Story
  Once a Runner is a novel by John L. Parker Jr. originally published in the late 1970s. The story follows the main character, Quenton Cassidy, an elite collegiate runner, through his mission to run a sub 4:00-mile. Through bumps and bruises, trials and tribulations, Cassidy pushes on.

  Eventually, Cassidy drops out of school, and moves into isolation to focus solely on running, and his training. He's training for one meet -- the climax of the book -- the Southeastern Relays where he'll be lining up against the world's fastest miler, John Walton.

  The story really ramps up the last few chapters when we reach the culmination of his training: the mile race.

  As Cassidy prepares for the starter's gun to fire, I was nervous. Maybe not as nervous as Cassidy himself, but my heart was thumping. It was as if I had gone through the training runs with him. I'd seen the sacrifices he made. I wanted him to do well, and couldn't wait for the race to start.

  But I won't spoil the ending. 

Running Equals Real Life

Half Marathon finish two summers ago, with my brother.
  Outside of the story, here are a few 'real life' lessons I came away with after reading Once a Runner. 

Believe in Your Training
  When the chips are down, you must rely on your training -- your habits. You have to believe in the things you have done hundreds, thousands, millions of times. Your training prepares you for the difficult times you are sure to encounter. You have to have faith in the work you have put in -- trust in yourself and your work, 100%.

  In the book, as the race is coming to a close, there's the final kick. The last dash to the finish line. It's when you're the most tired, and will attempt to run as fast as physically possible. Maybe you can't even feel your legs. It's at this time, your stride, your form, your habits, are that much more crucial.

  You cannot go away from your running form in hopes of stealing a few seconds. All that will result is flailing arms and bad form; two things that will surely lose the race for you.

  Trust your habits. Especially when the chips are down. 

  Even with months of training, there will be spur of the moment decisions to be made. Ones that you've never encountered. Go with your gut, and react. Once you've made your decision, you're in it 100%. No second guessing.

Believe it, Achieve it
  'If the mind believes it, the body achieves it' is a quote that can be related a great deal to running, to anything, to be honest. The body can do unimaginable things when you really put your mind to it. If you REALLY commit to it, and want it, you CAN achieve it.

  Cassidy quit school, and moved to the boonies, just to focus solely on his training. He sacrificed things socially and scholastically, just for the sake of being the best runner he could possibly be.

  I, for one, can't imagine the pain and the hurt elite runners endure. What Cassidy describes is nothing I've ever felt, nor want to feel (though, maybe my college days on the track can compare somewhat). But it's inspirational. If you want something bad enough, and you're willing to put in the work, your body will respond with near-miracles.

  The interval workout described near the end of the book, is a prime example. Cassidy runs 60 quarter miles, and literally runs himself into the ground. And for what? It was just a training run!

  It shows what can be accomplished when you wholeheartedly commit to something. 

Mo Farah crossing the finish line in the 2012 Olympics.
  The night before the meet, Cassidy goes out to the track, and walks through the entire race. Through visualization, he tries to conjure up the feelings, the emotions, the physical ailments he is sure to encounter during the race the following day. Whether you believe in visualization or not, it's been shown to be a useful tool in achieving successes, in and out of competition.  

Never Give Up

  Don't let up til you've passed the finish line. When human-beings are involved, you never know what can happen.

  Numerous times, Cassidy says the third lap (out of four) of the mile race is equivalent to life's tough times. 'The third lap was to be endured and endured and endured.' You just have to get through it, physically and mentally. You can't allow the third lap (and life's rough patches) drag you down, causing you to lose the race.

  He goes onto say that it's a time for the 'most intense concentration, the iciest resolve.' How does that NOT correlate to the bumps in the road we HAVE to endure in order to come out on top? You don't bow out, or balk when the payoff is just around the corner!

Self Confidence  
  Cassidy was a little uncertain of himself leading up to the mile race. Even though he'd put in an incredible amount of training, he had just the tiniest bit of doubt, wondering if he was ready. I've found this to be true for myself going into games as well (Have I done enough? Am I ready?). And I wonder if it's the same for every competitive athlete.

  I feel like that ounce of doubt, is what puts you over the edge, and allows you to focus that much more. When you're 100% confident, or maybe overconfident is a more-appropriate word, you're not as tight, not as focused as you should be. You're cocky. And it's then, that you might stumble. That TINY bit of doubt in your mind is what keeps you sharp, in my opinion.

  During the race, Cassidy thought Walton, his main opponent, was a machine. That he was unbeatable. In that moment, he was beaten. He had self doubt, and believed he couldn't overcome the strength of his opponent. But then he saw Walton falter down the stretch, just the slightest slip up. And that was enough motivation to give Cassidy life for one final kick.

Out for a jog a few summers back.
Free Therapy
  I find running to be peaceful. Mind clearing. Invigorating. Euphoric at times. Yes, it can be monotonous, boring, and difficult too. But I find the overall positives outweigh the downfalls.

  In the book, Cassidy deals with controlling his emotions and nerves going into the race. In order to be at his best, he must keep them under control. He reminds himself to breathe. The equivalent of dealing with life's stresses, no?

  Sure, Once a Runner is a book about running. And that might not excite a lot of people. But it offers so much more than that. I've found there's a lot that can be related to our lives, in general, from the characters and the story.

  Good story. Great motivator.

  If you have a chance, give it a read!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reality Check: Is This the Political Atmosphere We Want?

Election season's over!

  I had a blog all ready to go today. And it had nothing to do with the election or politics. But some thing's been eating at me this election season, and now is as good a time as ever to address it.

  It seems to me that we, as Americans, have a problem. Safe to say, that you've seen it too. I know, because I've seen the fed-up posts on FaceBook; the 'now we can go back to being decent human-beings' posts.

  Really? Why was it acceptable to NOT be decent human-beings? Just because it was election season?

  When did our political atmosphere become so polarizing? When did we become so fragmented? So hateful even?

  How do we expect to move forward and progress? We don't even respect each other's opinions.

  I'm far from a political junkie, and still relatively young in this voting game, but it seems to me that year after year, the gap between the right and the left widens further.

  That's not how it should be. And that's not the atmosphere that will most-benefit our country.

  How was the atmosphere 20, 30, 40 years ago? I know a lot has changed, just in the past few years, with the influx of social media and information being at our fingertips 24/7. But we cannot allow those advancements to change us for the worse.

  We need to demand more from ourselves, and maybe more importantly, more from the media.

The Media Effect
  Like it or not, the media has a great deal of power over us.

Blue vs. Red?
  If we continue to watch it, they'll continue to put the bickering, hateful, argumentative stories on air. Because it sells. In turn, we become hateful, bickering, argumentative people; that get nothing accomplished.

  We voted at the polls yesterday, let's vote with our viewership as well. Every day. 

  Demand better from our mainstream media, or seek out other sources. Simple as that.

Not 'Us" versus 'Them'
  We all know, to accomplish anything in this world, we need cooperation and teamwork. We need both sides in this fight to make our country better. There cannot be a huge crevasse between the left and the right. If we truly have OUR country's best interest at heart, we need both sides to make progress.

  It's not 'us' versus 'them'. We're all Americans, remember? We're in this together. We need to, at the very least, respect each other's opinions. Once we have that, then maybe we can work on compromise.

  Am I naive to expect more from us?

  I watched President Obama's acceptance speech. He talked about this very thing. We're not red and blue states. I hope he's right when he says we're not as divided as the pundits say we are. But as I take a look around me, I'm told otherwise.

  He seems confident that he can lead us closer together. I hope he's right. But there's a lot of work to be done, by US all.

More to be Done
  While we're at it, there are a few more things we should address:
  •  Having 100s of millions of dollars (billions???) thrown into campaigning is NOT OK. There is entirely too much money involved in our elections.
  • It's not OK that people's right to vote is threatened. Every American deserves the right to cast their vote. And in a timely manner. Four+ hour wait-times at the polls are unacceptable.
  • Church and state were separated in our First Amendment for a reason. Religion has no place in our government.
  • Campaigning needs a serious overhaul. It's not OK to demonize the opponent, and tear him or her apart. It's not OK to lie and cheat our way to the top.
  No one's going to fix it by themselves. So it's up to us to demand the change, and demand the compromise.

  These are just my two cents, and thank you for being patient through one last political essay (from me). But I doubt I am alone in thinking like this. I just think we need a little wake up call before we go too far. 

  What can we do to make a change for the better, and be 'decent human-beings' no matter the season?