Simple Tricks for Avoiding Sugar this Holiday Season

By Janet Luhrs,

Did you know that sugar is the new fat? Yup. It is. And with the holidays right around the corner, I’m going to show you a plan that will help you avoid being tempted. 

First, understand why sugar is the new fat. Check out these 10 reasons why sugar is bad for your body and brain. I highly suggest that you print this list and post it where you’ll see it often. Read it every day as motivation to stay strong. 

But let’s go a few steps further. Once you understand why sugar is not good for you, plan ahead for how you’re going to get through the holidays without falling into sugar temptation. You not only want to “get through” the holidays but you want to enjoy them. You’ll have a hard time enjoying the holidays if you’re wracked by guilt because you ate loads of sugar treats.

Did you know that sugar consumed during the holidays actually stays in our cell proteins for four months? Yes, four months! That’s a long time. Remember that little piece of information when you’re tempted to cave and eat just one little cookie here or one little piece of pie there. So here’s my advice – stay ahead of temptation and plan ahead. Instead of simply sailing into the holiday season and being surrounded by tempting sweets everywhere you turn, create a plan ahead of time that will help you avoid these pitfalls. After all, you don’t want to blow all of the hard work you’ve been doing getting in shape and making healthy food choices the rest of the year. So don’t let sugar temptations take you down!

Here’s your plan:

  • Drink plenty of water: Keeping yourself hydrated will help you battle cravings. Carry your water bottle with you and add a little fresh lime or lemon for a refreshing boost of flavor.
  • Eat ahead: If you are going to a party and there is sure to be an overload of treats, have a balanced meal before you go. Your insulin levels will be balanced when you arrive and hunger cravings will not so easily tempt you. 
  • Be rested and manage your stress: When you are stressed and tired, you are more likely to give into temptation and use sweets for comfort food.  Once you do that, as you know, the “comfort” is short lived and you pay the price. To help with stress and sleep, check out meditation classes in your area. Any kind of meditation is good for you – just find a class that fits your schedule and then do the work. A really great intro class is a series called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. Check out their website and then look for classes in your area:  Another way to meditate is Transcendental Meditation or TM. There are likely classes in your area:
  • Consume good quality proteins and fats: They contain anti-inflammatory properties and help to counterbalance extra sugar intake.
  • Don’t deprive yourself completely: Feeling deprived often leads to binges or even just a bad mood. So plan ahead and know when and how you will reward yourself with just a bit of your favorite treat. But here’s the big key – make sure you set yourself up to win and not fail. How? Find teeny treats and freeze the rest. For example, don’t buy a whole pie and think you can just have one piece – it’s way too tempting to have just one more piece and one more and pretty soon the whole pie is gone.Instead, enjoy chocolate-dipped strawberries or bananas, hot chocolate made with skim or soy milk, or flavored greek yogurt. For more ideas, click here.
  • Team up: Get a friend who is also trying to cut back on sugar and have a plan to text message each other daily with encouraging words. The buddy system really does work and you can find fun ways to reward one another for your successes.


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Simple Tips for Improving Your Running Form

By Janet Luhrs,

Running is one of the simplest forms of exercises there is. Most likely it is the oldest! It takes very little “gear” and people of all shapes, sizes, and ages can run. There is no need to make it complicated and attaining good, efficient running form is simple to do.

If running is so simple, then why the need to work on proper form? The other end of the spectrum is poor technique. This can lead to inefficient form and injuries. If your form is poor, your runs can start to feel like a chore and stress injuries can increase. Even the best runners have room for improvement and work with technique coaches to clean things up.

No need for a high priced running coach today, we have some basic tips that you can consider on your own and you will likely see some changes in your runs as you focus on these.

  • Relaxed, yet focused posture: Lead with your chest and hips together, keeping your shoulders straight so they don’t roll inward. As you run, keep your torso straight, leaning very slightly forward to direct your body in a more aerodynamic motion. Straight shoulders allows for fuller, more open lungs.
  • Relax: Keeping your torso, shoulders and arms free of tension is key to efficient form and eases up stress on your joints.
  • Footstrike: While this topic alone can get complicated, keep it simple by being aware of how you land on each stride. Virtually all runners hit rear footstrike, md footstrike, or fore-footstrike. No one is the perfect position, but all three have their pros and cons. Make sure you area not landing on the outside or the inside edge of your foot.
  • Balanced stride: Your legs should not be over striding and reaching too far out in front of you to grab the ground. Your feet should strike the ground as they are under you, not in front. Knees should be flexing at a 90 degree angle once you are warmed up and into a good strong run.
  • Arm position: Your arms are there to counterbalance your leg strides. Keep them comfortable and fluid and not overly crossing your body. Take care not to over-pump your arms, thereby wasting valuable energy. Keep them at a 90 degree angle.

Start there focusing on these basics and you will see some improvement in your form and your endurance. You will take something that you already enjoy and make it that much better! If you want more detailed information on running form, check out this post…but keep it simple!

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Simple Nutritional Planning for a Healthy Diet

By Janet Luhrs,

Living a fit and healthy life is something that takes proactivity and planning.  However, sometimes… well…ok, quite OFTEN our busy schedules make  planning for our meals a bit of a challenge.

So let me swoop in and make it easy for you, by showing you how to pare meal planning down to the basics. Pay close attention here because if you make this easy, you’ll be way more likely to make healthy choices and keep it up.

Here’s a big factor that torpedoes a healthy diet: looking at food options as a long list of do’s and don’ts.  Too often this restrictive approach leads to negativity around food and erratic success. Unless you have allergic or other health reasons to restrict certain foods, adopt an approach of balance and wisdom. Here are some easy tips:

Eat Fat! Yep, you read that right. Make sure you choose good fats that are heart healthy such as polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. These fats are found in olives, almonds avocados, pumpkin seeds and oils such as olive, peanut, and canola. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in trout, salmon, flaxseed and walnuts.

Protein: the most basic building block of the human body and essential to our immune systems, hormones, tissue repair, and building muscle is protein. Animal proteins are fish and poultry. Red meats are good protein sources, as well, but take care to limit those due to higher levels of fat to protein ratios that can also raise cholesterol. Again, no need to put steaks on the forbidden list, just stay in moderation. Consult the USDA recommendations for how much protein for your age, sex, and activity level.

Carbs, carbs, and more carbs!  Yes, they are ok!  Again, consumed in moderation and make sure you choose good vs bad carbs. Your body needs carbs to burn for energy. Chose those that are nutrient rich such as whole grains and complex carbs such as brown rice, quinoa, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Stay away from processed “empty” carbs such as desserts, white bread, and rice, and fruit juices. (Eat a piece of fruit instead of juice.)

The other factors to consider are adequate vitamin and mineral intake, keeping sugars to a minimum, and consuming enough water.  Regarding vitamins, make every effort to consume most of your vitamins through the unprocessed, healthy foods you consume. Supplements should be considered…supplemental, not the prime source. Make sure you are consuming the 13 essentials for optimal health.

All sugars, natural (such as honey and fruit sugars) are metabolized the same in your body. Fruit sugars and honey are a better choice for your tea or other drinks due to the added nutritional benefit. But too much is still too much.

Too much sugar intake weakens your immune system and provides the best environment for bacteria to grow which promotes inflammation and weight gain.

Keep these simple facts in mind as you make informed choices about your nutritional plan and you are well on you way to a full and vital healthy lifestyle.

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Basic Components of an Effective, but Simple Workout Plan

By Janet Luhrs,

You already know this, but creating a workout plan can be really confusing. You look around at what other people are doing or you read stuff online, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s also easy to feel like you’re not doing enough.

When I try to compare myself to others or grab too much information online, it’s easy to feel defeated even before I start. 

So I simplify my approach, and that frees me up to do what matters and do it well.  All you have to remember are three basic components that you need to incorporate into your simple workout plan throughout the week: cardio, strength training, and flexibility. Anything after that is icing on the cake.

·       Cardio: By definition, cardiovascular fitness is the ability of your heart, lungs and organs to consume, transport and utilize oxygen. As you perform cardio exercises (you should be doing cardio an average of three times each week), you are forcing your body to use oxygen to burn fat cells and stimulate your metabolism. This means partaking in any sustained physical activity that causes the heart to pump blood and oxygen at higher rates than it does during normal daily activities. Examples include running, cycling, lap swimming, jazzercise, hiking, kickboxing, jumping rope, and even trampolining. Various resistance machines such as treadmills, stair climbers, ellipticals, and stationary bikes, are also a great way to get a cardio workout. Even weight lifting can be a form of cardio if you lighten the weights and do more repetitions at a faster rate. Various sports can be an excellent cardio workout such as basketball, soccer, and rugby. A cardio workout can be any activity where your heart rate is elevated over a sustained period of time and where talking starts getting difficult. 

·       Strength Training: Physical exercise that uses resistance to contract your muscles and builds strength is considered strength training or weight training. Free weights, resistance machines, exercise/resistance bands, kettle balls, and even your own body weight are ways that you can conduct strength training. Incorporate a basic strength training workout 2-3 days a week, taking care not to work the same muscle groups two days in a row since weight training is essentially tearing down your muscle as you build it back up again. A simple plan is to alternate upper body-lower body if you strength train two days in a row.

·       Flexibility: Good flexibility is needed to perform every day activities that require bending, lifting, squatting, pushing, and pulling. As you improve your flexibility, your cardio and tone will also respond and improve. People often get injured when they put more emphasis on cardio and strength training and ignore flexibility. Flexibility is so important that virtually all college and professional coaches stress flexibility as a necessary part of athletic training. So think of flexibility as the third leg on the three legged stool of good fitness – you should do flexibility training in each and every workout session (3-5 times per week). Examples of flexibility training are yoga, barre, Pilates classes and tai chi. There are countless videos on YouTube on flexibility workouts and they can be done just about anywhere with very little or no equipment. A good flexibility workout will work on all the major muscle groups in the upper and lower body and also the spine.

So get rid of complex expectations and make sure your workout incorporates the three areas above and you will see results before you know it!

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Ten Minute Healthy Crockpot Recipes

By Norelle Done,

There’s a reason why the term “comfort food” was invented – sometimes we need it! For me, that desire starts happening in the fall, when the weather gets colder, the days shorter, and I come home from work in the dark. So I decided to give myself the ultimate comfort food experience – I hauled out my old, trusty crockpot. You remember those things from 50s nostalgia? My crockpot is still one of my all-time favorite kitchen appliances.

Think about it – I work all day, and my husband works all day. Lots of times, the last thing we want to do when we get home is cook. And on those dark, fall days? We love nothing more than the idea of walking into the house being greeted by the smell of a hot dinner bubbling on the stove.

Enter our crockpot. When I’m in a crockpot mood, I’ll spend some time on the weekend pulling together a few simple crockpot recipes, and I’ll also do my grocery shopping, so I have all of my ingredients ready for the week ahead. 

Crockpots are so wonderful, because all you have to do is throw the ingredients into a pot in the morning before you leave for work, and by the time you return at night, the house smells like heaven, and dinner is ready. I am a huge fan of crockpots – especially during fall and winter. Plus, fall gives you a chance to take advantage of some of the great seasonal bounty. Here are a few easy and healthy crockpot recipes to get you inspired:

  • Ten minutes is all it takes to prepare this Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup recipe. The chicken and black beans add important protein. If you can get them, I suggest using fresh tomatoes in place of canned, and substitute gluten free tortillas as needed. However, it’s also a good idea to keep canned tomatoes on hand so you can still enjoy recipes like this when you don’t have fresh tomatoes, and when you don’t feel like going out to the store. 
  • Talk about taking advantage of the fall harvest! Lots of important beta-carotene and more vitamin A than we can count in this Slow Cooker Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup. The antioxidant properties make sweet potatoes a most important veggie to target, and lentils provide dietary fiber and plenty of folate and iron.
  • Protein packed Granny’s Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili will keep you warm on cold fall nights and is perfect for tailgate parties, too! Spend just 15 minutes in prep time in the morning. This one serves well with corn bread or over whole grain rice for more nutrition.
  • This Jerk Turkey Slow Cooker Soup has a nice south of the border kick to it and is also packed with protein.The fire roasted tomatoes and chilies will keep you warm at night!
  • It doesn’t get any easier than tossing the whole chicken into the crock pot with  veggies over the top and you are good to go! Your hardest work with the Slow Cooker Chicken Soup will be the 8 minutes it takes to slice the carrots, celery, and onion. For this recipe, you can cut and prep the veggies and store them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them. Talk about ridiculously easy!

Now you’ll have plenty of time in the evening for your workouts or just relaxing, as you try out some of these recipes. And please share your favorite crockpot recipes with us, too!

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Super Simple and Sneaky Ways to Slide Protein into Your Diet

By Janet Luhrs,

When you’re working out regularly, doing your strength training and cardio – it’s really important that you build lean muscle mass. And that requires additional protein in your diet.

Not too many of us want to consume more meat, so take a look at this fabulous list of plant-based protein sources. And remember, it’s best to eat your protein within 30 minutes to an hour after a workout. That’s how you’ll re-build muscles faster.

Here you go!

  • Chia Seeds: These little guys pack an incredible 11 grams of protein in every 2 tablespoon serving.  Add some yummy crunch to soups, salads, baked goods and casseroles. I add a few tablespoons to my oats in the morning – just pour some raw oats in a bowl, add a few tablespoons of chia seeds, and pour boiling water over this just to cover. Let it sit for maybe 5-10 minutes until the oats and chia seeds have softened. Top with fruit and almond milk.
  • Cottage Cheese: This is a great low calorie/high protein snack option – especially mid-afternoon. Dip in some crunchy sweet peppers and carrots to add their fiber and vitamins to help you fight off the temptation for empty snack calories. 
  • Spinach: Yep, you heard that right, this power packed veggie is one of the best green sources of protein with over 4 grams per one cup of cooked spinach! Who knew?
  • Nuts: Add almonds, cashews, pumpkin and sunflower seeds to any salad recipe or stir fry. I keep a baggie of mixed nuts in my purse and it’s very effective for my afternoon ‘crunch crave” while adding important protein at the same time.
  • Quinoa: This fabulous rice and pasta alternative is making a hit and for good reason. I sometimes eat it in the morning as a breakfast cereal, alternating it with oats (add fresh or frozen fruit, nuts, raisins and almond milk). You can also substitute it for pasta, or add cooked quinoa to muffin or pancake batter for an added protein punch, since it’s one of the highest sources of protein and other healthy minerals.
  • Protein powder shakes: Add whey protein to any fruit or veggie shake after your workout and you are facilitating some important muscle recovery.
  • Eggs: Go for the perfect protein and keep a bowl of hard boiled eggs on hand in the fridge as a sneaky way to not only add protein but fight off snacking urges. Make a batch of flourless egg muffins to take you through breakfasts all week long. There are endless recipe variations to keep your taste buds happy and start your day out right.

You can see that adding protein to your diet is easier than you thought. With just a bit of advance planning, you will have improved your daily protein intake considerably.  We would love to hear some of your tricks of the trade!

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6 Simple Tricks to Keep You Motivated for Fall Workouts

By Janet Luhrs,

Although fall weather can provide some of the nicest opportunities for outdoor workouts, depending on what part of the country you live in, there can also be some blustery days. Plus, the lack of daylight can sideline even the best of intentions. 

So let’s come up with a plan for fall workouts that gets you past any roadblocks – before you get stuck in a foul weather rut.

  1. First, if you haven’t already – get in the groove now, while the weather is still nice. If you get into a workout schedule now, you’ll be a lot more likely to keep it up when the weather changes. Depending on where you live – time is of the essence because it won’t be long before short days and cold or rainy weather set in, and if you’re not already in a workout groove – it’ll be much harder to get going later.
  2. Get a workout buddy: Promise each other to email or text at the beginning of each week and set a time to meet and workout together. There is strength in numbers and accountability works.
  3. Invest in some good outdoor gear: Modern technology has created some very breathable rain jackets and pants. Also think about a hat with a reflective stripe and even some new running shoes as a promise to yourself that you will put them to good use.
  4. Join a gym: Keep your options open for those absolutely horrid evenings after work. In a gym you can still work out while enjoying light and warmth.
  5. Dance it off: In addition to your other workouts, joining a dance class one night a week through the yucky weather gives you an indoor option and keeps you moving.  If you have not tried salsa or Mambo, you have a workout waiting for you. 
  6. Try circuit training: Nothing busts you out of your rut like a great combination of cardio and strength moves. This combination boosts your calorie burning and gets you fit faster. Check out the details here.

Ready to go? Get moving now and you’ll have a great foundation ready when you hit a roadblock. These plans are simple and they work! Try them and let us know how you are doing.

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To Avoid Injury While Training, Follow This Advice

By Janet Luhrs,

As you and I both know, there are endless forms of weight training exercise these days. I’ve written about some of the options in the past, but for now, let’s focus on your form – regardless of the type of program you use. The single most important advice I can give you – especially when you’re over 50 – is to spend the money on a personal trainer before you ever lift a weight. I suggest hiring the trainer to meet with you at least three or four times, so she or he can help to make sure your form is correct. I cannot emphasize enough that this early training is well worth the money because in weight training – form is everything. If your form is not correct, you can really injure yourself. In general, here are a few tips about form:

  • Warm up: All successful weight training programs will include a good warm up to get your muscles warm and ready for the challenge. Spend a minimum of five minutes in aerobic activity. Make sure to include warm ups for your arms and shoulders since just five minutes on a treadmill will not likely warm up these muscles. Both ellipticals and Nordic Tracks are good options for this.
  • Speed is your enemy: Most people execute their exercises too quickly as they pop the weight back into the starting position. Slow down and focus on keeping your elbows in, your shoulders stable, and your spine in good position. When you combine bad form and speed, you are asking for torn ligaments or even popped vertebrae.
  • Let your muscles generate your momentum: This means not arching your back or rocking your body to lift the weight. But when you’re just starting your weight training program, it’s not easy to tell whether your back is arched while you’re lifting weights. Again – this is a very important reason why you should hire a personal trainer for the first few times, so you’ll get to know how your body feels when your alignment is right. If you do feel the need to arch your back when lifting weights, that’s an indicator that your weights are too heavy. We have all seen the big guy in the gym grunting and throwing huge weights around with a lot of noise and bravado. Don’t worry about him and focus on your correct form. If you stick with weight training, and stick with keeping your form correct, you’ll slowly be able to lift more weight. When it comes to weight training, slow and steady wins the race! 
  • Ignore everyone else: Too many people see their private weight training session as an opportunity to compete with other athletes in the gym. Remember, your goals are gaining strength, achieving definition, and staying healthy.  Trying to compete with the person next to you is a sure-fire way to get injured. 
  • Focus on that muscle at that moment: Here’s what I mean. For example, it sounds obvious, but if you are doing a bicep curl, your bicep should be the focus of your mind and you should feel the contraction primarily in that muscle. Each time you lift a weight, focus on the muscle that’s doing the lifting – not on the person next to you and not on your whole body. Maintaining this focus plays a role in injury prevention and getting the maximum benefit for your muscles from the exercise. 

Keep these points in mind so you can maximize your time spent weight training and minimize injuries and frustrations.  Happy Lifting!

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It’s Not Rocket Science! 5 Ways to Revamp Your Diet for Better Nutrition

By Janet Luhrs,

I’m guessing you’ve tried many times to get on a clean, healthy eating plan. But sometimes the complexities and detailed food prep, not to mention the endless list of forbidden foods is overwhelming, isn’t it? Add to that the need to consider high protein, low carbs, good carbs/bad carbs, vegan, Paleo, GMO, and… well, don’t you sometimes just want to curl up in a ball and eat popcorn? Hold on – start with my simplified list of what’s good for you:

  • Eat Clean: Simply put, no to very little processed foods. Begin phasing those out in favor of foods in their most natural, fresh condition with few or no ingredients added
  • All carbs are not evil: Learn what “Skinny carbs” or “resistant starches” are and add them to your diet to help you get the important fiber needed for digestive health and also increase fat burning.
  • Water, water, everywhere: So DRINK it! Keeping your body well hydrated is the key to good internal health for many reasons. Icing on the cake is that drinking plenty of water is key to weight loss and a good metabolism.
  • Something is fishy: Get your omega-3 fatty acids, but get it safely. Seafood lower on the food chain is lower in toxic mercury, so focus on these: shrimps, wild and Alaska salmon, scallops, domestic tilapia, oysters, and domestic squid. Avoid farmed fish of all kinds.
  • Get nutty: Nuts and seeds are a great source of power-packed vitamins, calcium, vitamin E, minerals, protein, and fiber. Make sure to stay away from oil roasted and salted. Top on the list are almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, cashews, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp, and sunflower seeds. Avoid peanuts as they tend to be high in the carcinogenic mold, aflatoxin and also are notoriously high in pesticides.

It doesn’t need to be that complicated to make a few changes and get you on the path to a cleaner, leaner you.  Adopt these 5 basic guidelines to start with. And DO think of these as guidelines, not rules or restrictions. Let us know how your changes are going and tricks you have found to give you success.

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How to Plan a Simple Workout Routine and Get Results

By Janet Luhrs,

Are you in a rut and tired of depending on an expensive personal trainer for your next workout plan?

Perhaps you are just starting out in the world of fitness and have no idea where to start. No worries if either one of these scenarios is where you find yourself, it is much more simple than you think to come up with a great and effective workout plan for yourself.

  • Know your goals Are you looking for weight loss? Building muscle?? Training for a Triathlon? Or improving your cardio fitness? The plan you devise needs to reflect your goals.
  • Know your experience level Are you a beginner, intermediate, or experienced at working out? How you design your workout is dependent on where you are at in your understanding of fitness and your experience with various types of exercises and workouts already.
  • Know your availability Be realistic about how often each week you can either get to the gym or workout at home. The intensity and frequency is determined by how often you will work out.
  • Know your resources Will you have access to a gym? What kind of equipment, machines, or classes will be at your disposal? Will you need to purchase a few new pieces? It doesn’t make sense to plan to do a kettle ball workout if you cannot have them available to yourself.
  • Know your body Not only should you understand your current levels of strength and cardio, but also know your injuries and weak areas. You must keep these in mind as you are choosing your specific exercises.

Break your weekly schedule into 3 major strength training days, with two days of cardio on the off days. On your each of your 3 strength training days choose two of the following muscle groups and by the end of the week, you will have challenged each area twice over the course of the week.

  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Legs
  • Triceps
  • Chest
  • biceps

At the heart of all of this is to keep it simple and designed specifically for who you are and your current level of fitness. When you focus on establishing a good foundation with a smaller list of effective exercises rather than a long list of complex ones, you are more likely to stay consistent and see results.

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