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Do Something Different

2020 is a year like no other. (How’s that for an understatement?)

Except maybe 2021. We don’t know yet what 2021 will look like because nobody knows what the future holds. And since it seems nobody has ever really lived through a pandemic like this before and we don’t have a proven protocol to follow, we’re left shooting from the hip and doing our best to surf the current tidal wave.

Life sure is topsy-turvy.

Lately I hear a lot of people wondering and worrying about when things will “get back to normal.” Understandably, they want to get back to their normal social activities, travel plans, work and school schedules, etc. I am not immune to these thoughts. Holy cow do I miss traveling. It actually leaves me with a deep, physical longing in my belly when I allow myself to think about it. Same goes for not being able to dine out with friends. But at the same time, I wholeheartedly believe that waiting for life to be “normal again” and dreaming of life as it once was is counter-productive to achieving a state of well-being now.

The pandemic has brought fear and forced change into our lives. And with fear and change comes uncertainty, which is unappealing and unfriendly to the majority of people. Human beings, in general, are not designed to cope well with uncertainty. COVID-19 is giving us an opportunity to rise to the challenge.

What if, instead of spending our energy resisting reality, we fully ground ourselves in the present and  treat this timeframe as an opportunity? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do differently immediately to bring more joy into my life?
  • What small thing can I do immediately to positively enhance my health?
  • What have I always wanted to learn and how soon can I get started learning this skill/topic/sport/etc.?
  • Since life is upside down anyway, what innovative new thing can I try that I wouldn’t do if life were “normal?”

This is our opportunity to show up differently in life.

So today I learned how to play a C-chord on the guitar. A single chord! I’ve wanted to learn to play the guitar for fifteen years. Finally, I played one single, stinking chord. So fun.

P.S. There are no guarantees that life will ever return to normal. So take a deep breath, open your mind, and start getting curious.

xo,

Claudine

Early Autumn Moroccan Stew by Andrea Bemis

Though I’ve raved about the cookbook Dishing up the Dirt by Andrea Beamis before, it’s so dang good it’s worth mentioning again. This gem hasn’t let me down yet, and therefore I highly recommend you add it to your kitchen library. As winter nears and cooler temperatures (along with the pandemic) drive many of us back inside, I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who’s devoting more time to home cooking again. ‘Tis the season for more warming soups and stews, which is why this recipe caught my eye. So good. So, so good. Just what a pandemic winter calls for.

Since it’s late autumn at the time of this writing, I omitted the eggplant and used canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I also subbed wild rice for the quinoa since wild rice is local to Minnesota.

Early Autumn Moroccan Stew by Andrea Bemis

Yields: 6-8 servings

1 cup dry quinoa

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

2 medium-sized carrots, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1 medium-sized sweet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

1 medium-sized eggplant, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium-small zucchini (or summer squash) chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

2 large tomatoes, chopped, or 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes

3 1/2 cups vegetable stock (homemade or store-bought)

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed and drained if from a can)

1/2 cup dried currants

fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

full-fat yogurt for serving (use plant-based for a vegan option)

fresh lemon juice for serving

minced parsley for serving

1/2 cup toasted almonds for serving

 

Prepare quinoa (or wild rice, if following my lead) according to package instructions.

In a stew pot, heat the oil over medium-high and saute the onion for 2-3 minutes. Add the cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne, and allspice. Cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the carrots, sweet potato, eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, stirring often. Add stock and bring the stew to a simmer. Cook on medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the chickpeas and currants, and season to taste with plenty of salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the chickpeas are warmed through.

Ladle the stew over the quinoa (or other grain) and top with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of lemon juice, parsley, and toasted almonds.

xo,

Claudine

Red Curry Kabocha Squash Soup

I’ve been working virtually from my family’s cabin on Lake Kabetogama (near the Canadian border) for the last week or so, and in true Northern Minnesota fashion fall arrived overnight last night. We woke up to 39 degree temps and drizzle, so the first thing I thought of this morning was soup!

Last week I was enjoying grilled corn and shishito peppers, but now overnight my food dreams have drifted to squashes, pumpkins, apples, and the flavors of autumn. If the autumnal cooking bug has grabbed you too, here’s a fav recipe I highly encourage you to play with. This Red Curry Kabocha Soup never disappoints. If Kabocha squash is hard to find in your area, substitute another variety you enjoy like butternut that isn’t too stringy or watery. 

Red Curry Kabocha Soup

Yields: 8 servings

1 medium Kabocha squash

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 tablespoon red curry paste, or to taste

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 lime, juiced

½ cup fresh basil, torn into pieces

2 tablespoons lemongrass, finely chopped

2 small jalapeno peppers, diced

6 cups chicken stock

14 ounces coconut milk (whole or reduced fat, whichever you prefer)

salt, to taste

Heat oven to 375º F. Slice squash in half and scoop out seeds and stringy guts. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and put face down in a roasting pan. Rub peeled garlic with a little oil and toss into pan along with ½ cup water. Cover and roast for 30-40 minutes, or until squash is tender and garlic is caramel-colored. When cool enough to handle but still warm, scoop out squash flesh and toss squash shell.

In a large soup pot, heat remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. Add onion; reduce heat to low. Cover and sweat onion until translucent, about 7-10 minutes.

Whisk together curry paste, fish sauce, lime juice, basil, and lemongrass. Add mixture to large soup pot along with roasted squash, garlic, and stock. Stir in diced peppers. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and heat through. Puree soup in a blender or food processor. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.

xo,

Claudine

Drunken Beans

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I couldn’t resist sharing a recipe template for drunken beans – frijoles borrachos – that we’ve been eating up (literally) like nobody’s business at our house.

A dear friend mentioned she’d just added them to her cooking list, inspiring me to rotate them into our own meal plan for the week. For those of you who’ve never tried drunken beans, they’re basically just beans simmered in dark beer with onion, bacon, and a handful of seasonings, which results in a super flavorful and satisfying meal or side dish.  Virtually all of the alcohol from the beer boils out during cooking, so you don’t have to worry about anyone getting tipsy from eating them.

Though I’m no expert, I think drunken beans are usually made with pinto or black beans, but I picked up some dried local heirlooms at the farmers market last week called Good Mother Stallard, and they turned out deliciosos. Good Mother Stallards look like a speckled pinto and are slightly larger than your average pinto. I picked them for no other reason than they are beautiful, grown locally, and I felt drawn to them. I’m certainly not a drunken bean expert, but I don’t see why you couldn’t use red beans or another specialty bean you enjoy. I’ve heard Peruvian or Mexican yellow beans are another good choice.

During this strange time we’re living in, when COVID-19 is shutting down major meat processing plants and panic buyers are even causing some of our small farmers to sell out, many people are considering the benefits of eating more plant-based dishes, which is usually not a bad idea. The average American needs more plant-based meals in his or her diet. Beans are filling and therefore make an excellent substitution for meat. They’re also nutritious and contain protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, and important vitamins and minerals, such as folate, manganese, potassium, iron, phosphorous, copper and magnesium. Beans are also considered helpful for lowering LDL cholesterol, the type we don’t want climbing too high.

Though this template calls for bacon, you could easily leave it out. I hope you give them a whirl!

Drunken Beans

  • 1 lb dried beans like pinto or Good Mother Stallard, rinsed and preferably drained overnight
  • 4 pieces (uncooked) bacon, diced (optional)
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and diced (a poblano would also be delicious)
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle dark, gluten-free beer (or any dark beer, if you’re not sensitive to gluten)
  • 1 tablespoon brown coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 -1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Soak beans overnight or for eight hours. Drain and then place in a large sauce pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender, 45-60 minutes. When tender, drain remaining water and set aside.

Cook bacon in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until crispy, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and transfer to a separate plate. Set aside.

Reserve 1-2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the sauté pan and discard the extra. Add onion and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent. Add garlic, and sauté an additional 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add beer, beans, brown sugar, oregano, chili powder, salt, and cumin, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and continue simmering uncovered for about 15 minutes.

To serve, stir in the bacon and lime juice and top with fresh cilantro. Delicious served with a side of chicken or alongside your favorite tacos or burritos!

March Madness: Shaking up Your Life

March Madness is here. No, I’m not talking about the NCAA tournament; I’m talking about cabin fever, the deep longing for spring, the burning desire to feel the sun’s warmth as we enjoy long walks outside without fear of slipping on the ice and breaking a bone. Mother Nature dealt Minnesota and much of the U.S. a winter fit for the history books, which has made many of us (even those of us who “love” winter) feel like we’ve come down with more than a mild case of madness. 

March is also my birthday month. March Madness indeed. People close to me know I tend to go somewhat crazy with birthday festivities, but this year I’m approaching the month more intentionally than past years. I’m being extra choosy about where I spend my time, energy, and money. I’m sure I’ll enjoy a few glasses of wine over various birthday excursions, and I’ll likely indulge in a substantial piece of flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and hopefully a few fresh mint leaves (not that I’ve given it much thought, of course), but aside from those indulgences I’ve decided this year’s March Madness is dedicated to pushing me forward and closer to the best version of myself I can be.

After all, the best way to honor the gift of another year of life would be to honor and take excellent care of this life and body I have now.

So I scheduled a few 1-on-1 strength training appointments in addition to my group sessions at Discover Strength since staying strong as I age is paramount. I also booked a couple bodywork sessions to reward myself for my planned extra physical activity. I’ve already had a fun night out dancing with a friend, and I have another March dance date on the calendar because dancing makes my soul swell in a tsunami of joy.

My whole point in sharing all this is to stir up a little curiosity in you: what could you do for yourself this month that would be extra loving? Real self-love and self-care is about giving our body, mind, and spirit what it needs. What could you commit to for a month? What would make your soul swell in a tsunami of joy? A month is simultaneously a manageable AND significant amount of time in which to make powerful changes. Don’t hesitate. Just go for it. Be brave and shake up your life a little.

 

Love,

The Birthday Girl

Exploring Generosity

“Paradoxically but wonderfully, focusing on someone else’s happiness will actually make you happier.” — A.J. Jaobs

 

What does a generous life look like?

How generous could I be if I really set my mind to it?

How much is enough?

 

I’ve spent the last year exploring these questions – both in my own life and in others’ lives – and making some intentional efforts to be more generous with my resources: time, energy, knowledge, and money. Early in 2018 I was gifted with several amazing acts of generosity, and it was life-changing. I guess I wanted to do what I could to pass it on.

 

I have had the great gift of having some mentors in my life whose generosity stuns me sometimes: my dad (and my mom when she was still alive), some dear close friends, also some clients. To see them share their abundance with others – whether that abundance shows up in the form of money, time, mentorship, or energy – has been nothing short of inspirational. They got me wondering, “What would it feel like to be able to give like that?” And also, “What kind of ripple effect could I make in the world if I dug deeper and shared more?” I decided I would practice the art of generosity on my own scale beginning immediately.

 

When I set the intention to be more generous, I wasn’t sure what it would look like. My husband and I can certainly support ourselves, but we also aren’t dripping in wealth (at least by U.S. standards). It does help that we’re both happy living pretty simply. We forgo luxuries like cable, and my hubby is one of the 5% of Americans who still doesn’t have a cell phone and thus avoids that nasty bill. We also avoid buying junk that has a high likelihood of ending up in a landfill anytime soon. All of that said, once we’d met our savings goal I wasn’t sure how much “extra” there would be to give away. Would I be willing to give away what didn’t feel like “extra?” I also wasn’t sure how much time and energy I was willing to give away since I take great pains not to overbook myself.

 

I was, however, committed to exploring what was possible.

 

Here’s what I learned on my exploration into generosity:

 

  1. I had more money to give than I thought I would. This was a fun realization. It helped that I sort of made it into a game. My brain started reframing potential purchases in terms of, “I could buy that adorable pair of boyfriend jeans, or I could save that $89 for part of the next donation to _______.” Framing it that way, the answer always became clear quickly. After all, however adorable they were, I don’t really need another pair of jeans. Do you? Get this: before I knew it, I had $500 ready to donate to a favorite charity simply because I stopped myself from buying about five new pieces of clothes. That felt both significant and easy. I was able to do this several times throughout the year, and I enjoyed seeing it add up.
  2. Time is as valuable as money. We hear it all the time, but I’m not sure we truly value time as money’s equal. Here’s the truth: We are all going to die, which means time is perhaps our most finite resource. To give our time away in the form of volunteering or mentoring others means we’re giving that person or organization part of our life. Wow. Talk about generous. I decided I could easily give away 2-4 hours of my time every month without feeling overbooked. That adds up to 24-48 hours over the course of a year.
  3. It’s impossible to be generous without being in a place of gratitude. Have you ever noticed how stingy people tend to complain more and not seem particularly grateful for what they have? Yes, that’s a gross generalization, but we’ve all known people who stink of that familiar and toxic attitude of, “I don’t have enough so I’m not going to share.” Generosity simply cannot exist without gratitude. This got me thinking that the first step to being generous is most likely practicing gratitude (which has also been shown over and over to be awesome for our health).
  4. Small gestures make a big impact. Being generous doesn’t have to bankrupt you. Sending a spontaneous greeting card, giving a tiny gift, even giving someone a used book you’ve already read but know they’ll enjoy: these small actions make a difference. People feel loved when you think of them.
  5. Giving people “the benefit of the doubt” is another form of generosity. Exploring this angle of generosity was profound: how can I be more generous in my attitudes and assumptions? At one time or another most of us have probably heard the sage advice telling us to assume others are always doing the best they can in any given moment. That can be a hard practice, but I found that I saved myself from some useless ruminating when I decided to simply give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Examples:
    1. When a friend said something I found to be hurtful, I assumed she didn’t mean it and let it go. It was out of character for her. Heck, we all say things we don’t mean sometimes.
    2. When someone I was counting on professionally didn’t follow through on a deadline – screwing up my schedule big-time – I listened patiently and believed her reasons for not being able to deliver on schedule. She’s trustworthy and has a lot on her plate. End of story.

 

In fact, there are a million small acts we can do as we move through life that I now consider generous: Allowing a car the space to merge in front of us easily (even if it’s not technically their turn), giving an extra pair of mittens to the homeless person standing on the corner, inviting a friend over for a delicious, home-cooked meal, babysitting a relative’s kids, even just offering someone who’s going through a tough time a friendly, non-judgmental ear.

 

Beware: once you start, it’s a bit catching.

 

Over the course of the year I also stretched the limits of my comfort zone and invited other people in my life opportunities to be generous, whether that meant donating their skills, products, or money to a cause, joining me at a benefit, or just straight up asking for something. It was all very low pressure, but it was still uncomfortable. It’s hard for me to ask people for things. Some people took me up on the invitation, others didn’t. It’s all okay. The ripple effect is rippling-on.

 

Since Thanksgiving is a time when many of us are inclined to count our blessings and share what we’re grateful for, I thought this seemed like the right time to share a bit about my journey with generosity, which is still in its infancy. I look forward to seeing where it takes me in the coming years when I’m able to drop my training wheels.

 

This post is dedicated to Dad, Alice, Catherine, and Mary. xoxo.

Thanksgiving: My Favorite Squash Soup

If foods could be our friends, then squash would be my best friend. For the record, I don’t actually believe foods are our friends – they can’t love us back, and they’re no substitute for real human connection. Foods are just foods. But again, IF they could be our friends, then squash would be my Bestie. I enjoy everything about this beautiful food – the natural sweetness, the complex and varied flavors from squash to squash, the vibrant, cheerful color, its versatility. I’m salivating just writing about it.

 

So it’s no surprise that every year for Thanksgiving I make some version of squash soup as one of our side dishes, but I give a wide berth to the common, overly sweet versions that include apples, maple syrup, or sugar and leave my taste buds feeling manic. In my (humble) opinion, those versions usually do a disservice to the natural sweetness squashes like Kabocha, Butternut, and Delicata have to offer, leaving nothing but the taste of sugar behind. Instead, why not allow the sweet, rich flavors of squash to reveal themselves naturally, whispering themselves into our taste buds instead of shouting at us?

 

The recipe below does just that. I can’t remember where I got the original version of this one, but I’ve tweaked it plenty over the years. Add more peppers or curry paste if you want more heat, less coconut milk if you want it more squashy, more basil if you love it, or use a different squash besides Kabocha (although a traditional acorn squash would probably fall a bit flat). Honestly, there’s not much you can do to ruin this soup unless you add too much fish sauce or lime juice. It’s a delicious twist on a fall classic. Have fun playing!

 

Red Curry Kabocha Soup

Yields: 8 servings

1 medium Kabocha squash

4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 cup yellow onion, diced

1 Tablespoon red curry paste, or to taste

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 lime, juiced

½ cup fresh basil, torn into pieces

2 Tablespoons lemongrass, finely chopped

2 small jalapeno peppers, diced

6 cups chicken stock

14 ounces coconut milk (whole or reduced fat, whichever you prefer)

salt, to taste

toasted coconut flakes for garnish (optional)

 

Heat oven to 375º F. Slice squash in half and scoop out seeds and stringy guts. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and put face down in a roasting pan. Rub peeled garlic with a little oil and toss into pan along with ½ cup water. Cover and roast for 30-40 minutes, or until squash is tender and garlic is caramel-colored. When cool enough to handle but still warm, scoop out squash flesh and toss squash shell.

 

In a large soup pot, heat remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. Add onion; reduce heat to low. Cover and sweat onion until translucent, about 7-10 minutes.

 

Whisk together curry paste, fish sauce, lime juice, basil, and lemongrass. Add mixture to large soup pot along with roasted squash, garlic, and stock. Stir in diced peppers. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

 

Simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and heat through. Puree soup in a blender or food processor. Adjust seasonings, if necessary, and top with toasted coconut, if desired.

Dairy: To Eat or Not To Eat?

Beginning in childhood, most of us were taught that dairy was good for us. We drank milk daily and freely snacked on cheese sticks and yogurt so we’d have strong bones and teeth. The USDA Food Pyramid recommended 2-3 servings of dairy daily throughout the 80’s and 90’s, which means we were encouraged to have some form of dairy at nearly every meal. After all, these foods are rich in calcium and protein; therefore, they must be critical for good health, right?

 

The discussion of dairy can become complex quickly. Yes, dairy can be a healthful food for some people, but it’s not healthful for everyone. In fact, it’s one of the top three most common food sensitivities, along with gluten and nuts. Negative reactions to it can range widely, including acne, eczema, rashes, asthma or other breathing problems, a persistent cough, seasonal allergies, headaches, digestive distress (stomachaches, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas), and more. Dr. Walter Willett, MD, PhD and chair of nutrition at Harvard, estimates that 75% of the world’s population is genetically unable to properly digest dairy products. That’s a staggering statistic! In addition to those of us who are sensitive to dairy there are also lots of folks who have a full-blown allergy and can’t ingest it at all without having a dramatic, life-threatening reaction (often involving anaphylaxis).

 

While it’s becoming more widely known that dairy may have some pitfalls, the revelation that a food group long touted as healthy could be at the root of someone’s health concerns can still feel confusing at first if you, too, were taught that dairy was unequivocally good for you. Dairy is a prime example of how every individual walking this planet is unique and why we simply can’t make blanket statements about how certain foods are “good” or “bad.” As the saying goes, “One person’s food is another person’s poison.”

 

Dairy can be troublesome for a few reasons. Some people don’t have an enzyme called lactase that breaks down the lactose (milk sugar) present in dairy (lactose intolerance). Other people react to casein, the main protein present in milk. Other people yet notice they don’t do well with the antibiotics, pesticide residues, and effects of homogenization and pasteurization found in conventionally-raised dairy but seem to tolerate organic, pasture-raised products better. And lastly, there are numerous exceptions and nuances within the big category of “dairy.” For example: Some people can handle yogurt, which is fermented and contains beneficial bacteria for our gut ecosysem, but can’t eat cheese. Other people can enjoy hard cheeses like Parmesan and Peccorino Romano, which have enzymes present that help our body digest that food, but can’t touch softer cheeses like cheddar or Swiss without feeling rotten. Some individuals can sauté things in butter and feel fine, but they can’t drink a glass of milk without getting sick.

 

Additionally, cow dairy is different from goat or sheep dairy. Many people who can’t handle cow dairy do just fine with goat or sheep products. One shouldn’t assume that all of these foods will produce a similar reaction. Yes, it can all feel a bit confusing and muddy.

 

If it seems that your body tolerates dairy and you decide to continue consuming it, please seek out quality sources. Your body deserves the best! Check out a farmers market or neighborhood coop and find out who’s offering quality dairy in your area. In Minnesota, we have a couple favorite sources, small farmers who take great pride and exceptional care of their animals, products, and land. They don’t give their animals antibiotics unless absolutely necessary (and then that milk is discarded until free of the antibiotic residue), and their animals enjoy roaming and eating outside in an environment natural to them:

 

Stony Creek Dairy

PastureLand Cooperative

 

Both of these farms produces 100% grass-fed dairy, which means their products are more nutrient-rich than conventional dairy. Specifically, they will be richer in vitamin D and omega 3 essential fatty acids.

 

If it doesn’t look like anybody in your area is producing pastured dairy yet, Organic Valley is a nationwide company with a good reputation for providing quality products.

 

Foods are just foods. They are not inherently good or bad, and we’re not going to learn whether or not our body likes a certain food by reading an article about it. If you’re feeling confused about whether to eat dairy, the only surefire way to learn whether a certain food is healthful to our unique body is to take a break from it, experiment with it by reintroducing it, and then listen – and respect – our body’s messages after we eat that food. If you’ve had a nagging, persistent health concern that feels mysterious and seems to evade a firm diagnosis, a food sensitivity is often the root. Dairy can’t be labeled a bad food, but it does lead the pack of potential suspects.

Strength Training for Increased Metabolic Rate & Fat Loss

Somewhat recently, I’ve resumed a focused strength training journey. Those close to me know that exercise, in general, isn’t my favorite thing to do. I’m pretty transparent about the fact that exercise will easily fall off my to-do list if I give it an ounce of wiggle-room. Cook a nutritious meal? Check. Meditate? Check. Exercise? Fine, I suppose.

There are a few exceptions: dance, yoga, walks with my husband, and Pilates are activities I look forward to, and now I’m realizing I can add strength training to that short list, which delights me to no end. After just a couple of months of focused strength training – twice a week at most and once a week when my schedule gets more hectic – I’m already noticing feeling stronger and leaner. Some jeans that had become pretty tight around my hips are fitting again and I’m feeling more comfortable overall.

So I thought I’d share a few things I’m learning and reinforcing about metabolic rate and fat loss as I travel this strength training path myself:

 

  1. The variability in your Resting Metabolic Rate or “Basal Metabolic Rate” (the number of calories required to support normal bodily functions and the number of calories you expend each day when you aren’t physically active or exercising) is attributed largely to the amount of muscle tissue on your body. The decline in your metabolic rate that occurs as you age is usually blamed in large part to a wasting away (atrophy) of muscle. If you strength train and regain or retain your muscle tissue, your metabolic rate should improve.

 

  1. Strength training has a positive, acute effect on metabolic rate. When you strength train, your metabolic rate is elevated between 7-11% for the next three days (I like that fact a lot!). This effect exists for beginners or experienced exercisers alike.

 

  1. Strength training has positive, chronic effect on metabolic rate. When we add muscle tissue to any part of our body, we burn more calories constantly to support that new muscle.

 

Additional Thoughts

The information above has been adapted slightly from an informational card I received from my trainers at Discover Strength. The workouts at Discover Strength focus exclusively on strength training, which I believe in wholeheartedly – especially as we age. I often recommend strength training to my clients and friends because I believe it’s helpful for just about everyone, whereas other forms of exercising – like intense or prolonged cardio – can be devastating for people with compromised adrenal function, hormonal imbalances, or heart conditions. Even if you have an injury, there are usually ways you can continue strength training while protecting your injury.

 

I do, however, disagree with some of the philosophies that I’ll call “black and white thinking” about strength training and its correlation to weight loss, many of which are routinely promoted by gyms and well-meaning (and well-educated) trainers. Here are some other points I want to emphasize:

 

  1. Strength training is not the end-all-be all when it comes to “exercise” (as many trainers would have you believe). Don’t strength train twice a week (the recommended amount) and then just sit on your petudie for the other five days. Our body needs consistent movement. Yes, I recommend strength training, but I also hope you’ll continue to strive for 10,000 steps a day and find other activities you enjoy to keep you moving. Yoga? Dance? Team sports? Biking? Move it or lose it. (And remember, this is coming from someone who would rather sit on her petudie, if given the option.)

 

  1. Weight loss is not as simple as calories in, calories out, as many personal trainers tell you and want you to believe. A conversation my trainer and I were having about this very notion started getting a little heated (just a little) when he very earnestly tried to tell me that as long as you’re increasing your muscle mass and maintaining a caloric deficit you’ll lose weight. (He even dared to say that ‘hormones don’t matter’ when it comes to weight loss. You can imagine how I reacted to that.) Yes, the “calories-in-calories-out approach” works for some people, but not for everyone. Hormones play a profound role in how your body burns calories and how willing your body is to surrender and burn stored fat. So do food sensitivities and some medications. I’ve worked with many clients who severely restricted their calorie intake to 1000-1200 calories a day in an effort to lose weight. Guess what: their weight didn’t budge. Until you balance hormones, heal the thyroid, balance blood sugar, or uncover pesky food sensitivities, that weight is likely going to hang on like a death grip.

 

  1. Strength training doesn’t make women bulky. If you’re a woman, it’s going to be very difficult to bulk up, even once you’re lifting heavy weights. Women usually become more lean through strength training. Men are the ones who bulk up thanks to their higher levels of testosterone. I’ve talked with many women who are afraid to lift weights because they don’t want to bulk up. You can let that fear go.

 

If you haven’t lifted weights before, I encourage you to give it a shot and to begin your journey with a personal trainer until you get the hang of it. Just as with any exercise, it is possible to injure yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. Trainers will make sure you have the correct posture and are lifting a weight that’s appropriate for you. These two things are important not only for safety but also for achieving the results you want.

 

Conclusion: Physical Strength = Mental Strength

On a final note, many years ago a gym-owner friend said something that lodged itself in my brain and never left me alone. She said, “Increased physical strength breeds mental strength.” I’ve thought about that idea a lot since she mentioned it and especially since embarking on a more disciplined strength training regimen myself. I’m starting to see what she meant when she said that. Strength training pushes your limits. There are times you’re faced with lifting a weight heavier than you once could have imagined yourself lifting. Sometimes you can actually feel your muscles tearing as you near the end of your rep sequence (not to scare you), and you want nothing more than to drop the weight right then. Sometimes you have a day when your body can’t lift as much as it did three days earlier, and that feels frustrating. But it’s all part of the journey. Just like everything in life, there are days when we feel like a warrior, and there are days when we aren’t sure we can accomplish even simple tasks. Strength training teaches us that as long as we continue to show up, we’ll figure out a way to handle whatever task is in front of us and hopefully do a little bit better than last time. It’s all about showing up and giving it your best, which is exactly what the mentally strong do over and over.

Please Pass the Protein

Protein, protein, protein. There’s no doubt about it, protein is the macronutrient du jour. People everywhere are following high-protein diets and singing its praises, such as increased muscle mass and weight loss, which has landed this macronutrient squarely in the spotlight. But do we really know what we’re talking about when it comes to protein? And is there such a thing as consuming too much protein? Let’s explore this macronutrient a little and try to carve out some clarity.

 

Besides contributing to weight loss and preserving muscle mass, protein makes up the building blocks of your hair, nails, hormones, and blood — the cells of which break down and rebuild themselves all day, every day. It also helps to build and repair muscles, organs, tissues, and bones, and it plays an important role regulating blood sugar. In other words, it’s super important! Yes, most everyone should include quality protein at each meal.

 

The recommended daily intake (RDI) for protein is 46 grams for sedentary women and 56 grams for sedentary men. A more specific recommendation is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (0.36 x body weight = recommended grams of protein per day), but this still doesn’t take into account your activity level and what your goals for your health are. Do you want to gain weight? Lose weight? Build more lean muscle? Depending on how active you are and who you ask, many people believe the recommended daily intake for protein is far too low; personal trainers in particular may suggest up to 100 grams of protein per day for a really active individual with some serious fitness goals (note: NOT somebody sitting in front of a computer all day). So you can see there’s lots of wiggle room within “expert recommendations.” As always, the question of how much protein your own body needs is going to be unique to you, and it will likely take some experimentation to discover what amount is ideal for you.

 

Protein Sources

While most of us immediately think of meat when we hear the word “protein,” there are actually lots of different protein-rich foods. While meat might be the most common protein-source in the United States and widely promoted as the most useable form of protein for our bodies, there’s also protein in eggs, fish, dairy, whole grains, beans, soy, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and in things like protein bars and protein powders.

 

Here’s a short list of protein content for some common foods you may already be eating. If you briefly reviewed what you ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the last couple days right now, you could probably do a quick tally of your average protein intake for each day:

 

½ cup oats = 13 grams protein

1 cup quinoa = 8 grams protein

1 large egg = 6 grams protein

½ cup lentils = 9 grams protein

1 cup black beans = 39 grams protein

3 oz salmon = 21 grams protein

3 oz chicken = 23 grams protein

1 chicken breast = 53 grams protein

¼ cup almonds = 6 grams protein

1 cup whole milk = 8 grams protein

6 oz Greek yogurt = 17 grams protein

1 cup cottage cheese = 27 grams protein

2 Tbsp chia seeds = 4 grams protein

1 oz pumpkin seeds = 5 grams protein

1 cup broccoli = 3 grams protein

½ cup tofu = 10 grams protein

protein shakes = 20-35 grams protein per shake, varying widely depending on the brand and protein source – check the label for accuracy.

 

As you can see, it’s not very hard for most of us to consume enough protein.

 

In fact, it’s important to know you can consume too much protein, just like you can eat too much fat and too many carbohydrates. Excess protein in the body is related to several health concerns, such as constipation, bad breath, low blood sugar, dehydration, and kidney damage, especially if you follow a high-protein diet for an extended period of time. It can also lead to weight gain, which can feel puzzling to people since protein is promoted almost exclusively as a weight loss tool. But yes, excess protein is usually stored as fat, just as all excessive calories we consume will be stored as fat.

 

Speaking of excessive consumption, it’s worth noting that even though nuts are a protein source they are primarily a fat, and they are extremely dense in calories. Yes, they can be a healthful food, but they can also cause weight gain if we allow ourselves to go too “nuts on nuts.” If weight loss is one of your goals, be sure to become familiar with portion sizes for nuts.

 

Quality

Protein is not just about quantity; it’s also about quality. I am especially passionate about the quality of animal protein people consume. I promote organic, pasture-raised, 100% grassfed meat, poultry, and other animal products free of added growth hormones and antibiotics. I also promote wild-caught fish. Believe me, I know these foods are more expensive, but the benefits to our health and the health of the animals and our environment are more than worth it.

 

If you choose to buy animal products from farmers who raised their animals organically on pasture, you can rest assured that those animals enjoyed good health and the nutrients in that product will translate to your own health. You can also know that the production of that food is part of a system that builds healthy soil for generations to come and contributes to a healthy planet and food system. Everybody wins.

 

If you choose to buy products that come from animals who were raised in a conventional or factory farm environment, it’s important to know those animals consumed antibiotics in their feed for the duration of their lifetime to keep them from constantly being sick, which you will then ingest when you eat that product. (In fact, 80% of the antibiotics that humans consume in their lifetimes come from the meat they eat.) You will also be ingesting added growth hormones, which were used to help that animal grow larger, and unfortunately, you will be consuming meat that is lower in nutrition because that animal was raised on a diet in an environment (inside) that is completely unnatural to that animal.

 

To be clear, the protein content remains the same no matter which product you choose, but the quality and nutrient density of that protein varies widely, and that has a profound difference on your health.

 

Conclusion

I’m committed to sharing information about both plant-based protein and animal protein. I will simply encourage you to experiment with different proteins to discover what works best for your body at this time in your life. If you are a heavy meat eater and have been for a while, I encourage you to experiment with more plant-based sources for a couple months and see how you feel, especially if you are overweight. Honestly, most people I work with could use more plant-based foods in their diets. On the other hand, if you are underweight or have been a vegetarian for a while and you’re noticing some trends with your health that concern you, it may be time to experiment with small amounts of animal protein or different types of protein in your diet. I know this is easier said than done, and I respect everyone’s feelings about meat. I trust that through experimentation you will be able to successfully guide yourself in finding the right life-affirming, energy-producing protein sources for you.