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About ten months ago, I was dealing with a significant health scare.

I had lost more than twenty pounds and was continuing to disintegrate, despite my avid attempts to consume high numbers of calories. I was exhausted all the time, sometimes unable to get out of bed. Most concerning, I had developed bruises – lots and lots of bruises – originating on my lower legs and slowly moving up my body. The bruising occurred in the most random places and after a few months my legs resembled a grape skin’s opaque purple.

This was the third time in my life I had experienced this unexplainable bruising. Doctors were never able to determine out what was wrong with me — eventually, they just went away, and I went on my merry way as if nothing had occurred.

Thankfully, last year I finally received my prognosis:

Celiac disease.

This autoimmune disease is one of the most common chronic conditions in western countries yet remains overwhelmingly un-diagnosed. It affects approximately 1 in 75 people. Only 1 in 4,700 are ever diagnosed.

Doctor disconnect

Large-scale studies on this condition are extremely recent (most have occurred within the past 10 years). Previously, celiac disease was not taught in medical school and few doctors knew much (if anything) about iteven gastrointestinologists.

The vague and common side effects of celiac disease pose another problem. Symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Unexplained bruising

Most of these symptoms, when brought to a doctor’s attention, seem relatively inconsequential.

But the risk is real.

The basics of celiac disease

People with this condition suffer intestinal damage when they consume wheat, barley and rye products (which contain gluten). Their bodies view these nutrients as invaders and send out lymphocites (a type of white blood cell) to attack the villi of their small intestines. After years of this autoimmune attack, the villi become flattened and are no longer able to absorb any nutrients from food consumption.

Undiagnosed, celiac disease leads to a multitude of other health problems. The risk of gastrointestinal cancer increases 40 to 100 times the risk for non-celiacs. Risk factors for oteoperosis, lymphoma (another form of cancer), arthritis, nerve disease, and thyroid disorders (among many others) are also significantly heightened.

The only treatment for managing celiac disease is living a completely gluten-free lifestyle.

Times are rapidly changing

Within the past 10 years, celiac disease has transformed from a relatively unknown condition to the poster child of a new way of life. Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular, due both to the dramatic increase in celiac diagnoses and the media’s recognition of its health benefits even to those whose bodies tolerate gluten.

Most chain restaurants now offer gluten-free menus and there is even a gluten-free aisle at Safeway. There are many types of gluten-free flours, gourmet gluten-free cookies, gluten-free pizza crusts. If there was a time to start living gluten-free comfortably, it is now.

Caution

Many individuals who do not suffer from celiac disease specifically suffer from gluten intolerance, which poses many of the same health risks. Anyone who is attempting to steer clear of gluten needs to be aware of all the products they need to avoid. Despite the obvious culprits (practically anything with a dough is off-limits), gluten hides in soy sauce, some brands of vanilla extract, and almost all pre-made sauces. Most companies now include gluten in the allergen section of their nutrition labels, and it is important to verify that what you’re eating is safe. Even the most miniscule amount of gluten can cause a major disruption in the small intestine.

It is recommended that following a celiac diagnosis, you replace any cooking utensils that ever hosted gluten. You will need to buy a new toaster. New frying pans. New cutting boards. New spatulas.

Gluten is a sticky, tricky substance. It cannot be washed off.

It was initially difficult for me to learn how to live gluten-free, but nearly one year post-diagnosis I have found many delicious substitutes to my favorite meals and I am eating healthier than ever.

Well…except for my daily dessert indulgence. It is a godsend that chocolate, ice cream, and marshmallows are naturally, delectably gluten-free.

Strength training is paramount to any fitness routine, even if your goal is simply to lose weight.

Strength training increases your muscle mass, which in turn raises your Basal Metabolic Rate. It also does wonders for your endurance and strength. While muscle weighs more than fat, it actually takes up less volume. This means that, with a higher muscle percentage, your jeans will fit looser even if you weigh the same amount as before.

When done correctly, strength training routines also accelerate your heart rate and provide many of the same benefits as cardiovascular exercise.

The following is a sample full-body strength training routine I have developed. It should take approximately 45 minutes to complete. To get the most out of strength training, attempt to do these exercises twice a week and move as quickly as possible from one exercise to the next.

Detailed instructions for all of these exercises can be found online. If you are unfamiliar with any of them, be sure to look at these instructions before going to the gym.

Each exercise in the set is intended to be repeated three times before moving onto the next set.

Sample Strength Training routine

Set 1

Set 2

Set 3

Hopefully this routine will help plan your next trip to the gym.

But remember, all of your exercise does not need to be planned in such a rigid fashion. Sometimes on a beautiful day, taking your puppy on an impromptu hike is much more enjoyable than hauling free weights around the gym.

We are meant to enjoy those beautiful days.

I believe many people fail in their exercise endeavors due to a lack of knowledge.

It is easy to spot people at the gym slowly pedaling on exercise bikes, perusing magazines and playing games on their cell phones. These individuals might even frequent the gym, putting in their time, yet receive lackluster results. While all exercise is beneficial, certain types of activity are more effective than others.

Throughout my years of personal training, I have developed a simple yet effective weekly exercise program that can be applied to nearly all fitness levels.

Cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is an essential part of any fitness regimen. Essentially, cardio exercises significantly accelerate your heart rate for an extended period of time. Typical examples of cardio include walking, running, and using an elliptical machine or a spinning bike.

My personal recommendation is the elliptical machine. Multiple studies have suggested that exercising on this machine burns as many calories as running on a treadmill but results in minimal negative impact on your joints. Unfortunately, running is probably the best cardiovascular exercise but wreaks havoc on your knees and ankles. In the long run, I simply do not believe it’s worth the risk.

Another great option is group fitness classes. There are a plethora of different kinds to choose from, and it is difficult not to competitively push yourself when you are working out with a room full of other people.

I recommend working 45 minutes of cardio into your schedule three to five times each week. The full 45 minutes does not need to be done in one session, and can be broken down into smaller segments if necessary. There are two basic kinds of cardio:

Interval training (IT) has been found to be more effective both at burning fat and calories than consistent cardio. IT essentially works by shocking and confusing your body and is similar to alternating strength exercises so your body does not become complacent. (Our bodies are magical machines, and over a period of time certain exercises become less effective because our bodies get used to performing the movements.)

A 1-10 scale known as the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a helpful tool if you decide to perform IT cardio. A scale of 2 is perceived as light exertion, such as stretching. A scale of 5 is perceived as medium exertion and you should be beginning to sweat. A scale of 7 is perceived as moderate exertion and it should be difficult to speak. A scale of 10 is perceived as your hardest exertion; you should not be able to keep this pace for longer than one minute, and speaking is impossible.

The following is a sample 45-minute IT routine performed on the elliptical machine. Pay attention to your strides per minute (STM’s) on the machine:

  1. Warm-up: 5 minutes at Resistance 3. The purpose of the warm-up is to slowly increase your heart rate and prepare your muscles for more intense exercise. You should be able to carry on a conversation relatively easily. RPE=3.
  2. 3 minutes at Resistance 5. Try to keep your STM‘s at the same pace you kept during the warm-up. The increased resistance will force you to work harder and further increase your heart rate. At this point, carrying on a conversation should be slightly difficult. RPE=5.
  3. 2 minutes at Resistance 7. Your STM‘s will probably decrease, but resist the temptation to slack. For the last 30 seconds of this interval, stride at the fastest pace possible. RPE=6-8.
  4. 3 minutes at Resistance 5. Increase your STM‘s as you decrease the resistance. Either through resistance or speed, you should be operating at RPE=7-10 for the remainder of the workout until the initial and final cool-down.
  5. 2 minutes at Resistance 8. For the last 30 seconds of the interval, stride at the fastest pace possible.
  6. 3 minutes at Resistance 6.
  7. 2 minutes at Resistance 9. For the last 30 seconds of the interval, stride at the fastest pace possible.
  8. Repeat steps 2-7.
  9. Initial cool-down: 5 minutes at Resistance 5. At this point, allow yourself to slow down while continuing to keep a steady pace. RPE=5-6.
  10. Final cool-down: 5 minutes at Resistance 3. The purpose of the final cool-down is to slowly decrease your heart rate, cool down your body and catch your breath. RPE=3.

This is a difficult workout that will significantly improve both your fitness level, strength and lung function. It is not for the faint of heart, but it provides results.

The most important thing to remember is that you are competing against yourself. With practice and dedication, you will find yourself increasing your STM’s throughout each interval.

Look forward to dessert

I will be the first person to admit that the main reason I became interested in fitness was because I was so interested in chocolate.

Some people get cravings to drink or go fishing. I get cravings to bake.

Brownies, cupcakes, chocolate-covered marshmallows; I make at least one batch of something every week. I often try to pawn off these creations at school presentations or as gifts to my friends, but sometimes these treats never make it out of my kitchen before they make it into my stomach.

I have eaten an entire batch of gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies in one night. By myself.

Recently.

I am not exactly proud of this, but I also do not harbor any intense feelings of guilt about those sweet, sticky nights. This is an integral aspect of my approach to life, love and health: I don’t regret doing things that make me happy. Instead, I strive to be dedicated enough to counteract them in other areas of my life.

Moderation and making up for a lack thereof

One of my mottoes is “save it for dessert.” Most of my meals are healthy and I attempt to stay consistently active throughout the day. However, dessert is a daily occurrence for me. Sometimes an obscene amount of dessert. This indulgence keeps me sane and satisfied, and makes eating my vegetables and taking the stairs worthwhile.

My chocolate might be your spaghetti and meatballs or Cuban cigar. We all have our individual vices, and with certain restrictions I would argue that we should allow ourselves those vices (attempting to do so in moderation, of course).

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All veggies and no chocolate makes Karina a grumpy girl!

It seems counter-intuitive to me to live a healthy life if you are not happy enough to enjoy it. So I implore others to spend time pondering what parts of their lives they really look forward to. Is it positive behaviors, like watching the sunset with your daughter? Or negative behaviors, like a few too many drinks after a long day?

In most cases, it’s unnecessary to deprive yourself completely.

Moderation in all things is essential.

The fantasy

I believe that when most people make resolutions, they are tempted to imagine their lives the way they wish they were, opposed to the way they really are.

My personal favorite is pretending like I am a morning person.

I have this wonderful image in my mind of waking up refreshed at 6:00 A.M., leaping straight from my bed into my running shoes. I run three miles, come home, and make myself an egg white omelet. I walk out of the door on time for work or school, peppy and energized…

The reality

…and then I wake up. To my fourth alarm. My dog is licking my face and I am very late. I brush my teeth, throw my hair in a ponytail and put on the first outfit I see. The only exercise I get is racing against the clock.

I fully understand how difficult it is to schedule one-to-two-hour blocks of time to exercise, particularly when you are balancing an obscene amount of critical items on your to-do list. Some days I can spare two hours, and when I get back from these workouts I feel incredible.

Often, however, getting to the gym is not even a remote possibility.

23 years of experience has taught me that waking up at 5:30 A.M. is not an option, either.

The solution

Fortunately, the 45 minutes of exercise recommended by the Attorney General does not need to be consecutive. This recommendation can easily be divided into three 15-minute intervals spaced throughout the day at your convenience. Taking a brief walk after a meal is often the best way to stay active on days when outside obligations are overwhelming.

Another thing to consider is incorporating activity into your daily life. Small choices really do add up over the course of a month and take little extra energy. Consider:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Parking further from your destination
  • Doing 25 crunches during commercial breaks
  • Stretching while watching your favorite show

Give up your favorite fantasies and throw out your favorite excuses. Life is exactly the way that it is right now, and that is not likely to change anytime soon. You know your personality, body and schedule better than anybody else.

So make time.

Calories. It always comes down to calories.

In my last post, I discussed some of the easiest ways to keep track of how many calories you ingest on a daily basis. But the importance of this information can be confusing to people who don’t fully understand how calories affect their bodies.

A calorie is essentially a unit of energy. Our bodies take in calories through food and beverages, and we use these calories to keep our organs working and our muscles moving. Calories are essential to being alive. However, when we take in more calories than necessary, our bodies hold onto these calories and store them as extra mass in case we need them as a future energy source.

Applying mathematics to fitness and nutrition

In the beautiful engine of our bodies, 3,500 calories equals one pound of fat. This means that if we eat 3,500 extra calories, we will gain one pound. If we lose 3,500 calories either through exercising or restricting our diet, we will lose one pound. This part is simple mathematics.

The math gets a little more complicated once you take an individual’s basal metabolic rate (BMR) into account. This metabolic rate refers to how many calories someone expels simply by being alive for 24 hours. It is easy to calculate your BMR online. Unfortunately, online calculators are not as accurate as tests conducted by a personal trainer, but I have found them to be relatively accurate. Search for one that asks for your activity level.

Knowing your BMR makes maintaining or losing weight easier. My BMR is approximately 1,600 calories. If I consistently eat 2,000 calories for nine days, I will gain about one pound. I can easily reverse this daily 400-clorie gain by working out for 45 minutes.

Knowledge is power. Arm yourself!

The (sometimes counter-intuitive) truth

Did you know that a plain bagel has more calories than a chocolate glazed doughnut?

About twice as many, in fact. And its 53 grams of refined carbohydrates are not much better for your body than the doughnut’s 12 grams of fat.

While every brand’s calorie count is different, you can easily validate this information by searching for “calorie count bagel” in the internet search engine of your choice. Compare this information with the results from “calorie count chocolate doughnut.” I encourage you to do this. I DARE YOU. The proof will probably surprise you.

Do you usually choose the bagel or the doughnut? Why? If you absolutely love the taste of a bagel in the morning with your coffee, then by all means; enjoy that delicious bagel. But I know many people who chose the bagel (when they wanted the doughnut) because they believed it was the healthy choice.

I was astonished when I discovered the average restaurant Caesar salad has close to 1,000 calories; that’s practically two BigMacs! There are many foods that seem like they should be healthy, when in reality they are far from nutritious. It is incredibly important to take the time to learn what’s lurking in your favorite beverages, snacks and entrees.

Make use of technology

There are plenty of websites, books and phone applications that exist to inform users of nutritional information . My favorite is Myfitnesspal, which is an amazing website that also has one of the best iPhone apps I’ve ever used. The app is free, and it takes about thirty seconds to search for calorie counts for both homemade and restaurant recipes. You can even add these foods into your application’s food journal. It will subtract this number from your allotted calorie count for that day, as well as its fat content, sodium content and fiber content.

Take advantage of this wealth of information at your fingertips. There is no need for expensive nutritionists or even personal trainers. I found that after a few months of detective work, I was more comfortable estimating calorie counts and also became more creative with my meals. Websites that contain calorie counts also often share low-calorie recipes.

Apply your knowledge

I don’t think it’s necessary to count calories every day for the rest of your life. In fact, that kind of obsessive behavior is actually the opposite of what I’m endorsing. You will quickly find that you can easily estimate your calorie count for the day. You can estimate¬† how many calories your sandwich had, because you remember the calorie counts for wheat bread, turkey and mayonnaise.

You just have to roll up your sleeves and do some research.

Calories in vs. calories out

If you ingest more calories than you expel, you will gain weight.

If you expel more calories than you ingest, you will lose weight.

If you are hoping to be successful in any kind of wellness program, you need to learn what you are really eating. Once you’ve discovered this information, you are well-equipped to make the truly important choices in life: Do you want the extra piece of bread with dinner, or the extra piece of chocolate cake?

Or should you walk another thirty minutes…and eat both?

I fell in love with two men when I was six years old.

Their names were Ben, and Jerry.

I have loved them ever since.

Quality chocolate rates among good music and close friends in its ability to positively affect my mood. I have been the designated dessert maker in my family for as long as I can remember, and to this day my nightly indulgence is one of the few consistencies in my life. When I think of youthful bliss, I imagine children licking ice cream cones as pink liquid cascades down their fingertips. Things seemed so much simpler back then.

Today’s media-driven society is fueled by images of flawless female bodies marketing quick and painless weight-loss pills. It is estimated that approximately eight million Americans currently struggle with some form of an eating disorder. In a society where both mothers and their 12-year-old daughters are dieting, sugar and carbohydrates have become the designated “evil” food groups to be avoided at all costs.

But I beg to differ.

I have come to the conclusion that the secret to happiness is finding a true balance between the competing forces of life. This is particularly true when it comes to delicious food.

We all want to have our cake and eat it, too; but we also want to fit into our skinny jeans. I firmly believe that people must care about their health…but only as much as their happiness.

The secret is moderation, in all things good and bad.

Strict deprivation only leads to feeling — you guessed it! — deprived. Following an intense diet without any leeway usually leads to a night of binging.

My next few blog entries are dedicated to finding that perfect balance between being healthy and being happy. They do coincide, after all — when applied correctly.

We’ve all been there (or at least us lucky ones):

Boy meets girl.

Boy likes girl.

Boy takes girl on a date.

Boy and girl change Facebook status to “In a relationship.”

Boy and girl fall in love.

Boy and girl fight.

Boy and girl break up.

Boy and girl change Facebook status to “Single.”

Boy (or girl) is heartbroken.

Well, lucky me (I say sarcastically): I just got dumped. On our anniversary. And I was in love — still am.

It hurts.

Considering this is the “personal” portion of my blog, I’ve decided to discuss this extremely personal process that everyone must go through during a rough break-up, especially when they were not the person who wanted to end things. Fortunately for myself and other grieving love-lorned folks, there is a WikiHow dedicated to this exact predicament! It is nearly as popular as the WikiHow “How to lose weight.”

So apparently, I’m in good company. Here is their advice.

How to get over your ex in 14 easy steps:

  1. Think through everything thoroughly, but not obsessively. There were probably multiple reasons the relationship didn’t work out, and it’s healthy to recognize and appreciate these aspects. Consider things you did to contribute to the demise of the relationship, and identify what you have learned about yourself in the process and what you will look for in a future partner.
  2. Don’t rethink your decision or situation. It is so easy to play the “what-if” and “if-only” game. The fact is, it’s over, regardless how perfect it “almost” was. Do not romanticize the relationship or play games with yourself hoping your (ex) partner will change their mind.
  3. Keep your space. Break away from the person completely until it is possible for the two of you to have a strictly platonic relationship. Even if you have decided to remain friends, it will be nearly impossible to get over someone if you are still receiving phone calls, text messages or Facebook updates from them.
  4. Cope with the pain appropriately. A stage of denial is natural and often must be overcome before acceptance sets in. Recognize your mistakes, but focus on the fact that you did your best. You will find someone else.
  5. Deal with the hate phase. This is another natural stage, but get over it quickly. It is a toxic waste of time and energy, and while hating someone can take away from the pain, it’s not good for your soul.
  6. Talk to your friends. Focus your energy instead on spending time with people who love you and are willing to support you through this difficult time. Having these people remind you that you are special and lovable takes away from the pain of losing your lover, giving you strength to move forward.
  7. Write all your feelings down. Try composing poetry or writing in a journal — even a blog! Don’t edit yourself as you go, and you will likely find that patterns emerge and you can develop insight into why the relationship wasn’t meant to be. “Just because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean it wasn’t a necessary part of your journey to becoming who you need to be.”
  8. Make a list of reminders. Keep an honest list of all the reasons the relationship wasn’t right and keep that list with you. When you start missing the other person or feel the urge to contact them, pull the list out! Read it and re-read it if necessary. Stay strong and positive.
  9. Out with the old, in with the new. Clean your apartment, reorganize your room, start reading a new book. This is the perfect time for new beginnings.
  10. Remove memory triggers. Take down any lingering pictures and keepsakes from your relationship. Remove anything from your personal space that causes a heart twinge when you see it. Throw it out or put it in a box far, far away.
  11. Find happiness in other areas of your life. Focus on things that make you happy and content. Start a new hobby or take a class in something that’s always interested you. This is a time for you. Enjoy being your top priority. “The best revenge is living well.”
  12. Stay active. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins and is a great stress-busting tool. It also renews confidence and feelings of self-worth. (Here’s a humble tidbit strictly in my opinion: the second-best revenge is looking and feeling GREAT!)
  13. Let go of the negative emotions. Recognize that no relationship is a waste of time and that whatever happened is simply a stepping-stone for bigger and better things to come. Fondly remember the good times and learn from the bad.
  14. But…remind yourself of the negative things. “The LESS attractive you find them, the quicker you’ll get over them.” Did they have a questionable fashion sense? Did they incessantly quote awful movies? Whatever your turn-offs were, focus on them. (My advice alters this slightly: I think it’s healthier to focus on the negative things that directly affected your relationship, instead of the person themselves. Were they unwilling to work through disagreements and instead ran from them? Did they make you feel unworthy or unstable? I believe focusing on these characteristics helps you form a better idea of what you need from a potential mate.)

Easy as that, right?

Of course not.

It’s called the grieving process for a reason, and there will be good days as well as bad. I anticipate it will take time and a lot of work for me to fully recover from this particular relationship, but I am confident that I absolutely will. I found this logical step-by-step advice helpful for dealing with the decidedly non-logical emotions that coincide with any significant break-up.

I have no idea how I ever survived without my iPhone.

From GPS navigation to searching the internet to facilitating my new ScrambleWithFriends addiction, my iPhone is never far from reach and is by far my most valued possession. I honestly don’t know what I did back in the day when my phone was only good for calling and texting.

After reviewing some of my favorite calorie-counter applications, I discovered a recent Mashable article boasting the 10 best iPhone apps that assist in weight loss. And they’re all free!

Who knew this handy invention could change our waistlines as well as our communication habits?

  1. Calorie Tracker. This app streams from Lance Armstrong‘sLIVESTRONG.com website and allows users to search and track their daily calorie, fat, carbohydrate and protein content.
  2. Lose It! Coined a “weight management application,” users enter their statistics and create personalized weight-loss plans based on the desired weight loss per week. Graphing tools track progress as the days and weeks go by.
  3. 40-30-30. Search for your lunch, and this app shows the percentage of carbs, proteins and fats in your meal. It is a great way to track your nutritional intake.
  4. iPump Free Workout. Two full-body workouts developed by an exercise physiologist are shown with detailed images portraying the desired movements. A workout log is provided to track user activity.
  5. StepTrackLite is essentially a pedometer in your phone. Throw it into your purse or back pocket and it tracks your daily movements as well as your pace.
  6. iMapMyRun uses GPS capabilities to track the user’s speed, distance and pace. An optional Twitter feed is also provided.
  7. iSPINNING allows users to track their distance, pace, speed and heart rate during bike rides or spinning classes. Additional equipment is necessary.
  8. Pret-a-Yoga Lite shows beginning yogis how to perform basic yoga exercises and even walks users through breathing patterns.
  9. 2Fat uses age, weight, height and waist circumference to estimate a user’s BMI and body fat percentage.
  10. Heartbeat quickly calculates a user’s heart rate and beats per minute. It works by tapping the screen each time your heart beats, so it’s probably best used in a gym opposed to on a long-distance run outside.

I was slightly surprised that my personal favorite, MyFitnessPal, didn’t make the list.

Get with it, Mashable — MyFitnessPal combines Calorie Tracker, Lose It! and 40-30-30 in one handy tool!

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