Sugar-Free Anything

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A common idea among most people who are trying to get healthy is that sugar-free options are the better options.

Wrong! Don’t fall into the sugar-free trap!

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Illustration: Marina Mendez

Here is the main problem with sugar-free things: immediately you think there is no sugar, so it’s obviously healthy.  However, it’s still sweet. Why? Because they use artificial sweetener.

That stuff is bad news.

These artificial sweeteners are ridden with chemicals that do terrible things to our bodies.  They’ve been shown to increase appetite (which kind of defeats the purpose) and cause damage to organs.

Let’s look at Diet Coke, for example.  When my boyfriend found out he was diabetic, he decided to live on Diet Coke.  He was upset about the whole thing, so I let him do it.  Trips to the movies became a little rough when the large soda we typically shared now had to be a Diet Coke.  I cannot and will not ever be able to handle the taste of it.  Ignoring the fact that aspartame (the sweetener used) is terrible for you, it tastes like straight up chemicals.  Just it’s taste alone screams “don’t drink me!”

Lauryn, a lifestyle blogger at The Skinny Confidential, has a post about the sugar-free syrups from Starbucks.  Her posts are extremely driven by her personality, but they do offer some accurate information.

Along side her recommendations, I would suggest to try natural sweeteners if you really need to add something. I personally try to avoid adding much.  I avoid soda like the plague and I drink unsweet tea or water.

However, everything is okay in moderation.  I need sweetener in my coffee–not a lot, but I need it.  I don’t drink coffee everyday, and I don’t use an excessive amount of sweetener, so it’s okay for me to use it (it’s not sugar-free, though).

So throw away all those “diet” drinks and sugar-free substitutes. If you need a little bit of sweetener, use something natural.

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Dealing With Stress

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This week’s post is a little different than usual.  It has more to do with mental health than physical health.  But in the end, both still go hand-in-hand.

Illustration: Marina Mendez

Illustration: Marina Mendez

The end of the semester is quickly approaching, and with that comes a lot of stress.  However, everyone deals with stress on a daily basis, so tips about managing it are always useful.

Stress can come from a lot of things and it can also cause a lot of problems.  When I was younger, I used to get physically sick from stress.  It still happens to me sometimes, but I’ve gotten better at managing it.

Now I can tell that I’m getting stressed when I’m not able to concentrate.  Reading my assignments (let alone my textbooks) becomes really difficult. I get headaches, and I start getting really unmotivated to do anything. When this happens, I’ve learned that no matter how much work I have to do, I need to take a break.

Part of my problem is that I tend to be a perfectionist.  Surprisingly, that’s not always a good thing.  It leads to a lot of anxiety even with the simplest things.  The advice that helped me was actually given to me in elementary school.  I was the girl who always did her homework, always got an A, and never did anything wrong.  That was until one day in fifth grade when I completely forgot my homework.

I remember this so clearly, because I was pretty traumatized for the first two minutes when I realized I had nothing to turn in.  I was going to get a zero! That just did not happen to me.  Then, because I was on the verge of crying (I now realize how ridiculous this was), my teacher came over to talk to me.  He said, “You aren’t always going to be able to get everything done, and that’s okay.”

That was it, but it was really all I needed.  I quickly got over it and his advice has stuck with me until this day. Granted I still had a few freak outs and it took a little while to permanently sink it; but accepting it has made getting through high school, getting my AA degree at the same time, and surviving my first year away at college so much easier.

So to finish off this post, I have some stress relieving suggestions for when you just have to drop everthing and take a break:

  1. Give yourself a salon-worthy manicure and pedicure, or go out and get one.
  2. Workout. Do whatever works for you.
  3. Have a healthy snack, or go for your favorite treat. My personal favorites are strawberry banana smoothies and chocolate chip cookies.
  4. Retail therapy–not always the smartest decision, but it is effective.
  5. Binge on Netflix.
  6. Take a nap. Sleep deprivation never helped anyone.

Hopefully my story and some of my tips were useful.  Leave any tips you have for dealing with stress in the comments below!

Making Restaurants Healthy

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It’s my mom’s birthday weekend, so we all met for dinner last night.

Going out to dinner every once in a while is one of my favorite things to do, especially if it’s a restaurant that I really like and don’t get to go to often.  However, like many of us, I tend to disregard my healthy eating habits as soon as I walk through the door.

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Eating out at restaurants makes sticking to a healthy diet a little more challenging.  Not only are you tempted by all the unhealthy (but super delicious sounding) options, but you also have to deal with the excessively large plates that people typically mistake as one serving.

Will power is the main component to eating healthy at restaurants.  You have to be okay with passing on that giant bowl of pasta or fried chicken and opting for a healthier option. You also have to keep in mind that you do not have to eat all of your food.  That’s what to-go boxes are for! Trust me, you’ll feel ten times better if you don’t eat that entire steak in addition to the loaf of bread you had when you first sat down.

Another tip is to learn healthy key words.  Look for menu items that are grilled and baked instead of fried.  Also, try to look for choices that are more centered around vegetables.

An important thing to remember about restaurants is that you can always ask for substitutions.

For example, tonight I had a veggie burger and asked for my side of fries to be substituted with seasonal vegetables.  Also, I had unsweet tea and water instead of soda.

I know I could’ve had a much healthier dinner, but another part of a healthy diet is being able to treat yourself.  That is what I like to keep in mind when I’m at a restaurant.  While it’s important to try and pick healthier options, it’s also important to be able to eat what you want.

What are your tips for eating healthy at restaurants? Leave your comments below.

The Wonderland of Whole Foods

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There are two major issues that everyone has when they’re trying to get heathy:

  1. They buy “healthy” foods but don’t look at ingredients.
  2. They think said “healthy” foods are expensive.

I’m definitely guilty of the first problem.  I typically do all my grocery shopping at Publix because it’s convenient, but since not all of their products are organic or free of genetically modified organisms, it’s probably not that great for me.  This is why you should read labels people!

The second problem is more of an unavoidable one.  Healthy foods are (slightly) expensive.  It’s a fact.  However, I’ve figured out a method to help me get over that: make unhealthy food unavailable.

This is where Whole Foods comes in.

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You can tell from the unique design of the outside that whole foods isn’t an ordinary grocery store. Photo: Marina Mendez

soaps and toiletries

It’s not only about food at this store. It’s about having a healthy body overall and helping the environment. Photo: Marina Mendez

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You can find various samples of their products around the store. Photo: Marina Mendez

soup bar

In addition to groceries, there is a buffet style section in the deli. Here you can find different types of already cooked food. Photo: Marina Mendez

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They offer a variety of foods from being healthy, vegetarian, vegan or gluten free versions. Photo: Marina Mendez

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You can even purchase pet food so your furry friends can get the taste of a healthy lifestyle, too. They have unrefrigerated food and other pet care products as well. Photo: Marina Mendez

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There is a coffee, smoothie, juice and tea bar in the bakery to meet your needs while shopping. Photo: Marina Mendez

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Whole foods is filled with both familiar and unfamiliar healthy products and brands. Photo: Marina Mendez

 

Whole Foods is dedicated to providing people with healthy options that meet their strict quality standards.  Their goal is to help customers understand and easily have access to a healthy lifestyle.

You can read about Whole Food’s history and standards on their website.

Going back to my trick of making unhealthy foods unavailable, Whole Foods does the job by letting me pick out the most affordable products on their shelves but still making sure they’re good for me.  I might be paying a few dollars more than if I had bought the cheapest version of that product on a typical grocery store shelf, but I don’t think about that since the option isn’t there.

I didn’t think you could develop an obsession with a grocery store.  However, my love for whole foods has proven me wrong.

How do you manage to stay healthy? Do you love Whole Foods as much as I do?

 

Let’s Talk About Spin

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For someone who used to be active four days a week, for a minimum of three hours each day, the transition into college life has been rough on me.  Not having time to work out, not really knowing how to work out, and only being able to eat from the dining hall has been driving me mad.

So we’re going to talk about spin.

Why? Because I’m insane and just took my second (despite the first one being months ago) class today.

Spinning has become one of the popular “group fitness” activities, and it should be. I can attest that it is an extremely effective method of working out.

My face is still red and the class ended two hours ago.

Not only are there a lot of benefits to spinning, but it’s also a relatively simple workout.

I’m not saying that it’s for everyone, because it gets pretty intense, but it’s great for a lot of us. I personally like it because it is low impact, so it’s easy on my knees.

It’s considered a full body workout and because it uses high-intensity interval training you are able to burn so many calories. (So. Many. Calories.)

Teen Vogue and Huffington Post both have good articles about what to expect and why you should do spin. I personally don’t know if I agree with their suggestion about bringing padding for your seat, but everything else is good to know.

What I enjoy most about spin class is the atmosphere. The room is dark, the trainer is motivating you to an unnatural level, the music is awesome, and I promise that as soon as the class is over you’ll feel so much more energized (despite being exhausted only seconds ago). Granted, I still wanted to go lay on the floor after and my legs felt like jello walking up the stairs, but I feel so accomplished and fit.

I recommend everyone to try a spin class at least twice if they are capable.  They can be difficult, so always give it a second try with a different instructor.  Believe me, this class was much better than the first for me.

Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are on spinning!

Going Gluten Free

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Recently I’ve been thinking about making some changes to my diet.  I already eat moderately healthy, but like most people, there is emphasis on “moderately.”

For the month of January, I decided to try going Vegetarian.  It went well (even though I ate a cheeseburger on the first day of February) so I’m assuming I have enough will power to try other changes.

There’s been quite a few people following a gluten free diet for it’s health benefits even if they don’t gave allergies to gluten.  So I’ve decided that I’m going to try it.

First off, gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, barely, rye, and triticale.

People who suffer from celiac disease treat it by following a gluten free diet.  This is because gluten causes their small intestines to inflame which leads to additional complications.

Unlike some more simple ingredients, it can sometimes be hard to identify what does or doesn’t have gluten in it.  This and a matter of convince, makes following it frustrating in the beginning.

But like any other diet change, there are tips to get you started.

 

Naturally gluten free foods:

  • Unprocessed beans, seeds, and nuts
  • Fresh eggs
  • Fresh meats, fish and poultry (however, most breading, batter and marinades contain gluten)
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Most dairy products

Some grains and starches can also be gluten-free as long as they aren’t processed with other gluten-containing products. Some of these include:

  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Flax
  • Rice, soy, corn, potato and bean flours
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Soy

Some major obvious things to avoid are:

  • Barley (also malt, which is made from barley)
  • Rye
  • Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
  • Wheat

However, because some wheat products can go by various names, there are some products that you should generally avoid unless there is a “gluten-free” label on them:

  • Beers
  • Breads
  • Cakes
  • Candies
  • Cereals
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • French Fries
  • Gravies
  • Imitation meats
  • Pastas
  • Processed lunch meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces
  • Seasoned snacks
  • Soups
  • Vegetables in sauces

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All About Yoga

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Being healthy is something everyone should strive for, but there are less benefits if you aren’t enjoying yourself.  This is why I do yoga.

Staying active doesn’t have to mean running and lifting weights.  The first one definitely isn’t for me.  There are so many different ways to get up, move around, and work your body.

Finding the right method for you depends on a few factors: your goals, interests, and capabilities.  This is because each different activity effects your body differently.

Today, I’m going to tell you about yoga.

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Yoga is form of activity that focuses on breath, movement and poses.  The goals of this is to calm the mind, and both lengthen and strengthen the muscles.

I find it to be a good workout and relaxing at the same time. Also, I danced up until college, so in a way yoga hits close to home.

There are three popular types of yoga: hatha, ashtanga, and bikram.

Hatha yoga focuses on breathing and practicing poses in an order that maintains balance.  If you stretch a muscle one way, the next move will involve you contracting it another way.  This is my personal favorite if I’m looking for a more relaxed, but still challenging, class.

Ashtanga yoga is better known as “power yoga.” You are constantly moving through the postures which is known as a “flow.” People think yoga is all about relaxing and meditating, but power yoga gets pretty intense.

Bikram yoga is commonly known as “hot yoga.” The flow of the class and the postures themselves are a mixture between the two I just mentioned.  The catch is that the room is heated to between 90 to 100 degrees.  Be prepared to sweat more than you can imagine.

My personal favorite is Ashtanga yoga. I feel like I’m working really hard during the class, but after I feel like all of my stress is gone. It’s a happy medium for me.

If you practice yoga, which type is your favorite? If not, what do you like to do for exercise?