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									Hello everyone in diet and fitness land! In a nation of people motivated by
self-improvement, I am no different than you are: I want to feel good and
look good. I happen to believe that good eating and exercise habits are
goals that you can work on every day and they represent one of the only
things in life that are genuinely within your control.

Now in my 4th decade on the planet with a new number visiting me on
January 6, (shocking because I often feel like I’m 13), I began to incorpo-
rate a diet and fitness routine into my life in late September 2005. The
slow, but steady creep of pounds on my small frame took their toll.
Something kicked in on a subconscious level and then very quickly there-
after, on a conscious level, that I could choose to commit to good eating
and exercise habits on a consistent basis. To me, that means each day I
live with an awareness of what I’m putting into my body and then how I’m
moving that body.

There’s no secret to achieving your diet and fitness goals but you have to
embrace the desire, and apply the same self-discipline you would to any-
thing else that’s important to you. Many people can help: AOL offers tons of
great tips and exercises; we bloggers will share our experiences; and there
is an entire community of motivational experts who can support you. But
everything depends on your own self-discipline and motivation. It all starts
with you.

In my case, as a New York City-based writer and editor, I find myself run-
ning from pillar to post on most weekdays and even the weekends. It’s a
frenetic pace, a blur of activity and to-do lists, and then a desire for quiet. I
also love to cook and I love to eat. Living in the city, I find that much of my
socializing occurs in bars and restaurants, at events, and on the run. In my
experience living here nearly 10 years, I’ve found that there is less empha-
sis on sharing a home-cooked meal, throwing dinner parties, and pot-luck
suppers. Perhaps it’s the small size of apartments, or the easy access to
diverse kinds of food and dining experiences. We are just drowning in food
choices in New York and that can lead to trouble!

As an editor, I am invited to all kinds of events where the food and drink
runneth over and it’s easy to over-eat and drink. The pounds can catch up
with you and if you’re like me, you barely realize it. It’s a slow creep that
happens over the course of several years. In 2005, I decided to take con-
trol and make a commitment to pursuing a personal fitness and eating plan
with the help of Paula Rivera, my trainer from New York Sports Club who is
also a talented ballet and modern dancer. Working with Paula and on my
own, I lost more than 30 pounds over the course of 15 months.

I began by meeting Paula three times a week and worked out on my own
with her recommended routine for at least 30 minutes a day approximately
six days a week. Paula is a strong supporter and became a partner in my
process; she cheered me on, pushed me, and even scolded me when I
tried to sabotoge my progress. Later, I cut my visits down to twice a week,
and now once a week as I enter a kind of maintenance mode. I cut certain
things from my diet and controlled portions. I ate smaller meals more fre-
quently. I tried to cut my sugar intake. I also began taking long, brisk walks
around the Central Park bridal path (gorgeous and peaceful), as well as
jogs around the Central Park Reservoir which I really enjoy. I discovered
running on the treadmill was fun when I had fast, raucous music to listen to
on my iPod. I pursued weight training exercises.

Now I’m in a maintenance mode/"last five- to seven pounds" zone. As the
fall set in and the weather got cooler, I desired more savory, stick-to-your-
ribs foods. I missed carbs. I’ve fallen off the wagon a few times in the last
couple of weeks (not uncommon for most of us around the holidays). In
fact, a few nights ago I was drinking beer with some friends and having a
great time. Drinking typically leads me to overeat and overindulge. By the
end of the evening, we were sharing one of those big paper cones filled
with Belgian French fries accompanied by various dipping sauces (not
ketchup!). I stumbled to the gym the next day in an attempt to work off the

Yesterday, I threw away biscotti left over from a gift package. Today, I made
steel cut oatmeal for breakfast with a little brown sugar. I’m bringing on the
Kashi Go Lean bars for breakfast. They’re good!

So on the cusp of a new year, everything looks bright, shiny, and full of

As I turn the calendar page to 2007, I find myself reflecting on the last few
weeks of somewhat indulgent eating. But you know what, I know what to
do and how to course-correct. You’ll hear more about that in the days to

Taking care of your body is as important as anything you do and making it
a priority will help every other aspect of your life. Happy New Year to all!
Happy New Year everyone! It’s a great day to turn over a new leaf. (I can
feel the leaf turning ever so slowly...)

Last night, I stopped by two New Year’s eve gatherings before the big ball
dropped in Times Square . Now I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to eat
something before hitting a party so that you won’t be quite as ravenous
when you arrive and over-indulge in the hors d’oeuvres table. Mind you,
I’ve heard that it’s a good idea. I’ve even tried it a few times. But did I take
the advice last night? No, I did not!

Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a few forkfuls of jasmine brown rice with
olives that I’d made the night before and two handfuls of baby carrots. But
guess what? It didn’t matter. I knew the hostess of the party was going all
out and that her table would be overflowing with goodies I’d want to sam-
ple. So sometimes, the best laid plans go awry. On New Year’s Eve, I had
to give myself a break.

Her table groaned with an assortment of lovely cheeses, foie gras, flat
bread crackers and mini breads, olives, fennel salad, hearts of palm salad,
mini flatbread pizzas, homemade spanakopita turnovers, and other delica-
cies I can’t seem to recall now. I didn’t even stay for the homemade beef
Wellington in puff pastry or the savory spaghetti squash lasagna, but the
damage was done. I grazed liberally and I can feel it today. Add to that the
typical New Year’s drinking (a couple of glasses of champagne, a glass of
wine, and a beer -Stella Artois is one of my favorites), and you get the pic-

After that gathering, a friend dragged me along to another party for a brief
stop where the hostess’s table featured homemade baked ziti, various sal-
ads, assorted antipasti, chocolates, cakes, and lovely-looking biscuit-style
cookies. I was thirsty and sleepy so I went for a Diet Pepsi and three Italian
chocolates, each individually wrapped in colorful paper. My friend settled on
a seltzer water.

I had planned to head over to Central Park for the traditional fireworks dis-
play with some friends but the plan unraveled. Still, I managed to share
another glass of bubbly (clink-clink!) at midnight before nodding off from an
evening full of rich food and drink.

Our tables and glasses runneth over. Now get thee to the gym, I say.
Today it feels as if all the newspapers and TV morning shows in America
are full of diet and fitness tips. Like clockwork, each new year seems to
trigger a wave of new diet and fitness routines.

There’s the cardio striptease workout, pole-dancing, circular strength train-
ing, spinning, cardio wave, "field play," martial arts, yoga, pilates, boxing,
and the list goes on and on. So many workouts, so little time! Then there
are the TV ads for Bally Total Fitness, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and
Lucille Roberts all promising a new body in no time at all, not to mention all
those infomercials for the Ab Flex, Nordic Track, and a host of other gim-
micky workout machines.

The bottom line is you have to start somewhere. Today is the day to begin
and gather support. Make a food shopping list. And you can start exercising
on the floor of your living room with crunches or sit-ups. It doesn’t have to
be anything fancy. If you’re headed to the gym, choose something you like
to do-maybe it’s classes, the elliptical trainer, the treadmill, the rowing
machine, some free weights, a stationary bike. Pick something and just do
it. Even if you’re in the gym for 15 minutes, that’s a start.

I typically go for 30 minutes, minimum. On New Year’s Day, after an indul-
gent evening of food, drink, and socializing, I found my way to the gym
and did 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer that has the arm bars that move
back and forth. I like to move quickly to keep my heart rate up and look to
maintain the "strides per minute" in the 170-185 range. For resistance, I
set the machine on six. That’s what works for me. I work up a nice sweat.
While I like the elliptical trainer, I typically gravitate to a machine called the
cardio wave-it mimics the motion used in roller blading and, I think, cross-
country skiing. I try to keep my body upright and shoulders back while I
stay low to make deep steps. I keep my feet flat on the machine; I try not
to lift my ankles.

After the elliptical, I lifted 10 lb. free weights (bicep curls), doing three sets
of 15. I intersperse the bicep curls with a 15-lb. weight. That is, with both
arms I lift the weight above and behind my head for three sets of 15. I also
did 100 ab crunches; on New Year’s Day, I used the "rocker"-like machine
at the gym but I typically just do them on the mats or I use one of those big
plastic balls. I think they’re called Swedish balls. I also did a series of squat
jumps with arms folded a la "I Dream of Jeannie"! I’m a little sore today.
Today, aside from doing 35 minutes of cardio on the "Cardio wave"
machine at my gym (the machine that mimics the motion of roller-blading or
cross-country skiiing), I did some floor exercises at home. I tried some of
the great ab-toning exercises right here on AOL Diet & Fitness under the
"Get Fit" tab and "Ab Toners."

Now I’ve heard a lot about "The Abs Diet: The Six-Week Plan to Flatten
Your Stomach and Keep You Lean for Life," the book by David Zinczenko,
the editor-in-chief of Men’s Health, but I haven’t followed the diet.

I assume that if it works for men, it will work for women too. A lot of the eat-
ing tips make good sense. For example, Zinczenko recommends eating six
meals a day with foods drawn from 12 so-called "power foods" like
almonds, beans, and plenty of protein-packed foods like fish. Hey, if you’ve
ever seen Dave, you know it’s working for him.

Since I’ve been fairly diligent about my cardio, I think it’s time to incorporate
more floor exercises. The ab-toning exercises I tried include a series of
side pushups, reverse crunches, and standard crunches. I printed out the
instructions to make sure I followed the form correctly. I focused on fully
engaging my ab muscles. On the reverse crunch, I tried not to strain my
neck as I raised my head and shoulders off the floor. I found these exercis-
es especially good for my core.

Strengthening the core, whether through ab-toning or other floor-based
exercises and pilates is really important no matter how much it burns. And
believe me, it burns! I look forward to hearing about Jennifer’s experiences
with private pilates instruction.
Okay, so I went back to work yesterday after six business days off book-
ended by long weekends extended by Christmas and New Year’s Day. It’s
hard getting back to work and incorporating my fitness routine and the right
kind of eating. Boy, is it ever!

Post-holiday, I found several more elaborate foodie gifts at my desk and
sprinkled around the office. Butter cookies everywhere, oh my! Chocolate.
Let’s not speak of it. Of course we’re all offering the loot around and shar-
ing it in conspiratorial whispers. Along with one of my colleagues, we stow
some of the goodies away in desk drawers, just in case...Ha-ha. We cannot
deny ourselves everything.

Last night I met a business acquaintance for a quick drink--something
called a lemonata at a Spanish tapas place. We also had some greasy-
looking Manchego cheese and olives. I went home and later, around 10
p.m., I did what people say you shouldn’t do: I ate dinner! It was just a
small piece of leftover chicken and jasmine brown rice mixed with bulghur
wheat into a kind of pilaf. Hey, I was hungry. I made the rice on Monday
night: half brown/half bulghur. It’s a good mix with the right spices along
with sauteed garlic and a few olives. It was delicious.

Now, I didn’t happen to sleep well last night and still I dragged my butt to
the gym this morning for my mandatory 30 minutes of cardio per day. I did-
n’t have time to do anything else, but I did that. And you know what? It
feels good to see other people around me sweating and jiggling and groan-
ing. They’re tired and rushed as well. If you ever need inspiration, it’s on
the elliptical next to yours or on the treadmill across the way or grunting on
the mat below eye level.

If you don’t have access to a gym, get down on the floor and try some of
the exercises here on AOL Diet & Fitness. There are tons of them! Too, you
can rent a video from the video store or your local library. Turn on the TV
and do some squats holding a chair. Anything to get moving. Take a brisk
walk pushing the baby stroller; I see tons of people doing that here in New
York every day.
Breakfast. It’s good and important. I like it but I don’t always have time for
it. And I’m not always hungry for it. I usually eat it in bits and stages. Since
I typically work out in the mornings, I really need breakfast. I crave it or
something especially after the gym.

Here’s my breakfast on the weekdays:

Coffee with skim milk, no sugar. (Coffee’s not optional for me. I make

the first cup or two in a french press at home).

A cup and a half of plain/non-fat yogurt mixed with a raisin nut mix

of sunflower and pumpkin seeds, almonds, and soy nuts. Sometimes more,

sometimes less.

A banana, sometimes two (or an apple and a bananna)

A Kashi Go Lean chocolate caramel crunch bar, 150 calories, eaten in

stages through the morning. I break off bits and pieces of the bar.

A piece of cheese sometimes.


On weekends, sometimes I make a bowl of steel cut oatmeal with a tiny bit
of brown sugar sprinkled on top. I eat in two stages separated by an hour
or more.


Plain, unsweetened yogurt mixed with raisins, soy nuts, etc.



A Kashi bar
I always have coffee before I head to the gym, at least a few swigs, and a
few bites of yogurt or a couple of pieces of a Kashi bar for energy.
Yesterday while on the elliptical, I saw Denise Austin, the renowned fitness
expert on Imus and the Morning on MSNBC. She’s 50, has two teenage
daughters, and doesn’t look a day over 30. I remember Denise in the
1980s on TV promoting her fitness plans. She is as natural as they come.

When Imus asked her how much exercise she recommends, she said 30
minutes of cardio at least three times a week. She talked about women and
belly fat and how to blast it. She even explains why you need to keep eat-
ing carbs. Denise has some great videos and tips on AOL Diet & Fitness
under the "Coaches" tab. Check it out.
It was my birthday on Saturday and I hosted a small dinner for eight,
including myself. It was nearly 70 degrees in New York that day and I
debated whether to make a picnic supper. I decided against that approach,
opened all the windows in my apartment and turned on the oven.

Here’s what I made:

A lovely pork roast rubbed in fennel fronds, minced garlic, Kosher salt,
black pepper, a bit of olive oil, and freshly grated nutmeg. I blanched fennel
stems and organized them on the roast and in the shallow roasting pan 20
minutes before the roast was done.

A roast chicken rubbed with Herbs de Provence, garlic, salt, pepper, and
olive oil. I filled its cavity filled with onions, garlic, and celery.

A green salad with grape tomatoes and red onion and Herbs de Provence;
I made a champagne vingarette dressing.

I made a traditional French tarte tatin in a cast iron skillet. I always enjoy
making this dessert which consists of carmelizing Granny Smith apples in
butter and sugar and topping the mixture with a simple pastry.

My friend brought homemade creamed spinach and a pecan pie.

We had three different kinds of cheeses, whole wheat pita breads, flat
breads, olives, smoked salmon, tomatoes, baby carrots, and celery.

There was plenty of wine. Everyone had a great time.

This was not necessarily a diet meal but you could argue it was healthy:
Salad and chicken and pork, "the other white meat", are just fine in small
portions. I indulged in everything in moderation and didn’t deny myself the
wonderful desserts and wine. After all, it was my birthday, plus I knew I
would either go for a run or a walk the next day, or go to the gym.

With a sink full of dirty dishes, I went to the gym on Sunday morning to do
35 minutes of cardio, followed by abs exercises, then free weights. I had
the time, so I stayed for more than an hour.
To supplement and help maintain my fitness routine, I see Paula Rivera, a
trainer with New York Sports Clubs once a week. I mentioned her in one of
my first posts as being a major influence in my drive to stay fit and motivat-
ed. Paula is a kind, funny, smart, and talented person. I really like her and
now that I’ve been at it for a bit, I enjoy our sessions.

A classically trained ballet dancer, Paula is positive and motivating even in
the face of my objections. Believe me when I say that when I first started
with her in late September 2005, there were plenty. (If she’s reading this,
she is probably having a good laugh). There were plenty of grimaces, com-
plaints, excuses, and generally bratty behavior. I would try to get away with
less repetitions and she would always give me a certain look and a smile
and exclaim in a semi-scolding tone: "Tobi, come on...."

I think this is normal when you find something hard. The activities she gave
me were very hard at first but she encouraged me at every turn. She lis-
tened, smiled, understood, and motivatd me. She shared her own diet tips
with me about breakfast and meals. Her suggestion to switch from Luna
bars (the lowest calorie Luna I found was 180) to Kashi Go Lean Chocolate
Caramel Crunch bars (150 calories) was terrific. I am now buying them by
the box though I still love my Lunas, especially Lemon Zest, Chai, and Key

Over time, Paula has suggested various classes I might take advantage of
at the gym to supplement my training and even a belly dancing class out-
side the gym that she heard might be worth checking out. Of course, she
takes ballet and modern dance classes, as well as doing bikram yoga (hot
yoga), pursuing her own training, and workouts to keep her in shape for
auditions, workshops, and performances. A dancer’s life is spent keeping
the body in top condition and she spends up to six hours a day doing just
that for herself. I connect with that kind of energy -- all that striving, goal-
setting, and pushing oneself to the limit.

Last summer, Paula danced in a ballet boot camp in Portland, Oregon for
three weeks. In the coming weeks, she’s set to pursue an open call audi-
tion in Montreal for a dance company and also one in the midwest. She
wants to be ready for anything. Think "A Chorus Line" and the lyrics, "God I
hope I get it, I really hope I get it. How many people does he need? I really
need this job. Please god, I need this job. I’ve got to get this job," and you
get the picture. One of her most fascinating jobs was working as a dancer
on a cruise ship. She told me stories about the "booby" deck where women
sunned themselves topless.

This past Saturday morning before our appointment, I did 20 minutes on
the cardio wave machine, then segued to our hour-long session. She had a
special birthday tiara ready for me and pins to hold it on. I declined since I
thought it might deter from the workout or fall off. We did alternating step-
ups to a bench, squat rows on the cable machine, arm pulls on the rope,
pushups ("don’t sink!"), squat jumps, chest presses, and other moves. Each
workout is a bit different and to Paula’s credit, she mixes it up just enough
that I don’t get bored. Yet the routines and exercises are familiar enough to
me by now that I know how to approach them and perform them with the
correct form.
In addition to at least 30 minutes of cardio a day and various weight-bear-
ing exercises, stretches, ab routines, and machines, walking is an enjoy-
able activity for me. Living in New York, I get plenty of that kind of exercise
walking to and from the subway and other forms of public transportation,
also walking to appointments, erands, you name it. In suburbia, it might be
harder to get all those steps in, but even when you drive everywhere, you
can make a point of taking a brisk walk around a track or park for 20 or 30
minutes. I’ve heard that many people walk in shopping malls and park the
car far from the entrance to the store.

But what do you when you’re deskbound all day? You can do butt
squeezes, back stretches, and tricep swing-backs. There are also yoga-like
stretches for us office-bound geeks. One of the best things you can do is
get up frequently and walk around and of course, get out at lunchtime or in
the afternoon. On the weekends when I have more time, I often walk to my
destinations even if they are 20 or more blocks away.

Yesterday, I found some interesting facts in the results of a Cooking Light
study that came out earlier this week. The study found that 70% of
American adults drink lower fat milk instead of whole milk compared to
52% in 2003 when the magazine conducted a similar study; 59% eat chick-
en with the skin off (41% in 2003); 54% take vitamins (37%); 52% use
lower fat alternatives when cooking (44%); and 51% read nutrition labels on
food (43%). The study also notes that one-third of American adults are
obese and 64.5 percent are considered overweight.

But even more startling, the study found that only 6% of Americans get 30
minutes of exercise a day, the amount recommended by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. It found that only 19% of American adults walk
or bike instead of taking transportation (39% in 2003); 41% take the stairs
whenever possible (49%);and 33% regularly park their cars farther from
their destination to get in extra walking (32%).

And here’s another finding to ponder: Less than half of Americans (45%),
understand that in order to lose 1 pound, you have to burn 3,500 calories
more than you eat; and nearly nine in 10 (86%) think the USDA recom-
mends 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity 3 to 4 days a week,
when it recommends 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day.
I like to snack. You probably like to snack. How can we snack more sensi-
bly instead of grabbing a cookie or that leftover chocolate from the holi-

Here are some snacks I love. Maybe you’ll love them too, or at least like

Baby Carrots or some kind of carrot stick


Soy Nuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds (all unsalted)

Cheese Cubes: (I don’t like low-fat cheese, but I’ve heard some of the fat-
free cheese sticks are tasty, sort of)

Low-fat yogurt: (Dannon Light and Fit is good, but I typically mix up non-fat
plain yogurt with a few soy nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and

Air-popped or microwave popcorn: (Look for the kind without trans fats and
no butter if it’s microwave popcorn. Don’t eat the whole bag in one sitting)

Fruit (any kind, but I like Granny Smith apples, bananas, oranges, and

Edamame (delicious even without salt)

Almonds (Unsalted, maybe 10 to 12 almonds, although I don’t usually
count them out)

Whole-wheat pita toasted with tomatoes and a little balsamic vinegar

Radishes (whole)


Now get snacking -- sensibly.
Why? Because denial doesn’t work, and denying yourself all the foods you
love sucks.

Take the other night when I consumed the last two pieces of pecan pie left-
over from my birthday gathering on Saturday. I enjoyed the pie a lot and I
looked forward to eating the last pieces I’d saved. It was delicious. I don’t
regret it. Also, I knew when I ate the pie on Tuesday night that I would be in
the gym Wednesday morning doing my thing.

Now a little of this kind of rationalization goes a long way and by no
means is it a good idea to indulge in pecan pie or say, chocolate-covered
graham crackers every day. But if you deny yourself EVERYTHING all the
time, you’ll end up feeling frustrated and unhappy that you can’t enjoy stuff
you like.

I never met a dessert I didn’t love, or at least like the idea of it. Like many
people, I am easily addicted to sugar but have increasingly kicked it to the
curb. When I have dessert, I like it an hour or two after a meal and it’s nice
if it’s a social thing. I’ve learned to share my dessert and when I don’t
share, I may eat just a bite or two and save the rest for later or the next
day. I like leftovers.

I also enjoy choosing high-quality and homemade items over pre-packaged
items like Oreos or M&Ms. So when a colleague brought homemade nut-
clusters to the office just before the holidays, I indulged in the homemade
fudgy goodness. When I made tarte tatin, I ate a piece or two because I
like it. I’m no longer tempted by the bagel and cream cheese or the choco-
late nut cruller from the coffee cart on the corner. But when it comes to
artisinal bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil at a restaurant? Sure, just a
piece. Pre-packaged rye or wheat--not so interested.

Decisions, decisions. It’s okay, but active denial is really no way to live.
Some meals are memorable due to the food, some on account of the com-
pany, and some are spectacular for both reasons. I had a good meal at a
restaurant called Brasserie on Friday night on account of the food. The
menu consisted of delicious contemporary French fare.

In the spirit of my "you can’t deny yourself everything all the time" thought, I
consumed the following:

A glass of champagne
Baby Beet Salad with little cubes of Humboldt Fog cheese, a goats milk-
based cheese from California
Crab Cakes on a small bed of cole slaw
A glass of white wine
Chocolate Beignets with Caramel walnut ice cream
Chevre Cheesecake with date puree

I made some modifications: I ate slightly more than half of the salad con-
sisting of little purple, yellow, and red beet cubes dressed with a bit of olive
oil; drank half of the wine, consumed one of the two crab cakes and half of
the second; ate two of the six soft beignet pillows filled with chocolate and
custard; and had two forkfuls of the cheesecake. The chef brought the
cheesecake as an extra dessert because I’d asked about it. The beignets
came with a raspberry and warm Valrhona chocolate for dipping--yummy.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I never met a dessert I didn’t love, or at
least like a little.

There was a nice baquette on the table but I was more interested in waiting
for the meal so I only pulled off a bit of it. I pilfered some french fries from
my date’s meal (he had steak). When I left the restaurant, I felt that I had
eaten rich food but I wasn’t stuffed. I was satisfied. What made it even
more satisfying was that I’d gone to the gym for 30 minutes earlier in the

Hooray for me!
Ann’s post titled "Gym: is it right for you?" reasonates on so many levels.
She debates over cost, location, classes, and time spent. I’ve pondered
these issues too.

She has a point that having a gym downstairs from her work makes it easy
to incorporate a fitness routine into her daily life; she’s also lucky that her
employer encourages a healthy lifestyle by subsidizing the membership.
Sounds good to me. My gym, New York Sports Club, offers many different
locations, hours, and classes. The branch closest to my apartment is only
two blocks away; there are no excuses!

The hours at my location are very good; it feels like the joint is open all the
time. It was open on Christmas and on New Year’s Day with slightly modi-
fied hours. It makes the most sense for me to take classes there as they’re
free for members. I’ve taken a few, but I’d like to start a mat pilates class
on a consistent basis. However, many people tell me that taking classes
that aren’t part of the gym can be more rewarding.

I’ve noticed a surge in the number of people at the gym these days. It’s
January, so everyone’s high on motivation and spirit. It’s hard to maintain
that motivation each day but I can honestly say that once I incorporated the
routine into my daily lifestyle, there really was no going back. If I ever need
more motivation, I look around at all the other bleary-eyed people wiping
sleep from their eyes and say, "hey, I’m here moving my body. That’s a
good thing."

On a separate note, I had a run-in yesterday with some chocolate-covered
peanuts--a quarter pound to be precise about it. Chalk it up to nervous eat-
ing, competing deadlines, and free-floating stress. However, on the plus
side of the equation: I tried the stairmaster for 10 minutes in the morning. Is
it me, or is it hard to get the hang of it? Then I wandered over to the cardio
wave machine and the controls didn’t work properly. Frustrated, I headed
over to the treadmill and ran 1.25 miles, then walked to complete two miles.
I realized something too: Treadmill running in the a.m. is hard for me. I just
wasn’t into it. If I’d been outside, it might have been a different story.

Later in the day, I went back to the gym to run/walk two miles. It’s quick
bursts of activity like this that make sense to me when I’m feeling more
stress than usual and on days when I fall off the wagon in the
snacking/nervous eating department.
It’s been warmer than usual this month and a couple of weeks ago, the
temperature hit 70 degrees in New York. That’s insane, right?

It was sunny and mild that Saturday and while I’d already gone to the gym
in the morning, I wanted to go for a run around the Central Park Reservoir
path, about 1.56 miles. The only problem was that I’d invited people over
for dinner and I had to shop, bake (the tarte tatin), prepare the meal, pick
up the apartment, and set the table. I hadn’t been on the path since
November or maybe it was early December. I can’t remember. As fall set
in, it became easier to head to the gym and run on the treadmill and do
other forms of cardio rather than heading over to the Reservoir and the
bridal path.

Suddenly, that day, I struggled between the simple and pure desire to make
the most of the warm weather on a run, versus buckling down to go food
shopping and prepare dinner. It felt like both things were worthy pleasures
that I wanted to fulfill. Ultimately, I chose not to run because of the time
pressure--I knew I couldn’t spare the time it would take to get over to the
path (10 blocks away due west), run, and return home. I needed the time to
prepare for dinner so I wouldn’t be frantic.

I made the right choice, but I experienced the child-like pang that so many
of us feel that we didn’t get to do both!

Maybe it’s just one form of the struggle between the candy bar versus the
Kashi bar. Which one wins?
In my work, multiple and competing deadlines are a fact of life. This is a
fact of daily life for most people--simultaneous commitments, various dead-
lines or, at least, targets for completing projects, and pressures to say "yes"
when you clearly need to set boundaries and say "no".

Often, there is no choice in the matter and we surrender to the pressure
with what I call "nervous eating." As deadlines loom, details remain unre-
solved, and decisions need to be made that minute, I tend to gravitate to
food. For me, it’s chocolate (preferably good chocoate like Lindt), pretzels
(trying to stick to no salt and whole wheat), Diet Dr. Pepper (a guilty pleas-
ure), sometimes a bag of Cracker Jack (actually one of the lower fat junk
foods) or Smart Food cheesy popcorn. It might also be a cookie or choco-
late-covered graham cracker.

I allow myself these occasional lapses, but for no more than a day. And I’m
coming up with solutions: Stay filled up on decent foods, eating about every
two hours just a little bit. When I feel the nervous eating coming on, I bring
in a banana or a Granny Smith apple, and I often divide my lunch into two
parts so I have something to eat in the mid- to late afternoon instead of a
chocolate square.

Eat good snacks, I tell myself. I made a list of those in a post last week.
Almonds, baby carrots, soy nuts, fruit, and so forth...
I noticed a home workout on TV where the trainer used water bottles (16.9-
ounce bottles of water) to show exercises that you can do at home. The
bottles probably represented 3-lb. or 5-lb. free weights, but I’m not sure. In
any case, she showed a functional fitness routine that looked easy and fun.

In one exercise, the trainer lifted the bottles up on a diagonal with out-
stretched arms, then took them down as she went into a squat. She also
did one-arm rows holding a bottle leaning forward with a flat back. For the
core, she stretched her arms straight out to her sides (without the bottles)
while rotating or turning her mid-section, alternating from side to side.

I do some exercises at home too, particularly crunches/sit-ups while I’m
watching or listening to the TV. Last night, I placed by feet up on an
ottoman, made sure the small of my back was touching the floor, and did
four sets of 25 crunches. I took a slight break between sets. I always make
sure my back is stabilized on the floor and that my hands are touching the
back of my head. I noticed when I focus on lifting my torso up as a unit and
look at the ceiling, I get a more complete engagement. I try not to lift and
lead with my neck. I want to feel my abs actually doing the work.

I am looking for a better way to target and tone the lower abs. Anyone have
any suggestions?

With winter temperatures finally settling in, I was craving a nice, hearty
meal so last night I made whole-wheat fusili with homemade tomato sauce
that I had prepared over the weekend. Whole-wheat pasta (1 cup) has
about 197 calories and it was very tasty. I’m not certain how many more
calories were added with the sauce, but the dish was delicious and a won-
derful treat after a long day.
So, I’ve been asking everyone I know what they think of the blog--always a

"A little impersonal," said one friend.
"There’s not much of you in there."
"Why don’t you write about what it was like not to know what to wear to the
"I want to hear your tales of humiliation and struggle."
"Why don’t you talk about when you named your thighs ’Perdue Oven
Stuffer Roasters?’"
"How about the time you asked why Paula couldn’t take a melon baller to
scoop out all your fat ?"
"Or, why not talk about the mallet you thought could pound the fat out, kind
of like making chicken paillard?"
"Gee, how about when you were hungry and you didn’t know what the heck
to eat."

And the like.

What everyone wants to know about are the excruciating struggles, the
tales of falling off the wagon, how it felt to give up having two pints of Ben
& Jerry’s in the freezer at all times, the fear that I’ll gain weight back and
the jeans I bought two weeks ago won’t fit, and so forth and so on.

So, in the spirit of the struggle, there was a time not so long ago when two
pints of Ben & Jerry resided in my freezer at one time. Chocolate Heath
Bar Crunch and sometimes Peanut Butter Cup, or Karamel Sutra and
Vanilla Caramel Fudge. Full-fat ice cream. Often, I’d team an ice cream up
with Coffee Almond Fudge frozen yogurt. But it didn’t really matter. Having
all that ice cream in the freezer was an open invitation and excuse to say,
"who cares..." It was fat-making and fat-perpetuation in progress. Not good
at all. Sabotage...

I would see sales at the store, "two pints for $6 or $7" and that would trig-
ger a buying frenzy. I gradually realized that I should replace these fat-
packed snacks when after my 20 millionth complaint about having Perdue
Oven Stuffer Roaster thighs, Paula said, "Why not try Tasti-D-Lite when you
really need a sweet treat?"

In case you don’t have it in your area, Tasti is a chain of low-fat frozen
dessert stores that features dozens of exotic flavors like Creamy Coconut
and depending on the flavor, anywhere from 11 to 17 calories per fluid
ounce. It’s a low-fat, low carb, and apparently Kosher dessert. Some have
criticized it for having overly chemical properties. No matter, I changed my
habits and now, on the rare occasions when I want real ice cream, sorbet,
or gelato, I have a small portion or a taste.

It was hell seguing from full-fat ice cream, lower fat ice cream, and low-fat
frozen yogurts, but I did it. Frankly, I don’t bring it into the house anymore.
Read: I don’t bring it into the house any more. However, I can honestly say
when I’m visiting my family and I see the ice cream (my dad loves it), I
gravitate to it because it’s there.
Chris Freytag is a professional trainer who is associated with Prevention
magazine. I asked Chris the following questions:

Tobi: What kind of exercises/crunches will target the lower abs? Mid-abs?

Chris: Basically all ab muscles are working with ab exercises. Our "lower
abs" is the transverse Abdominus which wraps around you like a belt. You
can always use this muscle with ab exercises. Always pull your belly button
to your spine, imagine zipping a pair of jeans that are too tight and pull in
that muscle. The full body roll up really targets the whole core and is proba-
bly one of the best overall ab exercises!

Tobi: What can I do to prevent the sugar low that happens between 4 p.m.
and 5 p.m. each day? It’s profound, although less so though when I eat fruit
or something.

Chris: Try a complex carb like whole grain toast or whole grain cereal. Or,
maybe some carrot sticks dipped in a tablespoon of peanut butte, or a
handful of almonds and an apple. By adding a little healthy fat you’ll stay
satisfied longer.

Tobi: What’s good for tightening and toning the gluteus maximus? (The

Chris: The best overall bun tightening exercises are squats and lunges.
They work if you are consistent! Also the leg extension when on all fours on
the floor, extending the leg behind you. Add a resistance band and you’ll
really feel it!

Thanks Chris! It’s good to have a second opinion. There are also tons of
great exercises for the abs and ass, along with healthy snack ideas, right
here on AOL Diet & Fitness.
I stepped on the scale today, like I do most mornings. After using the bath-
room, I strip down and step on. I don’t have a digital scale--just an ordinary
one. I step on and off three times to make sure I am getting an accurate
reading. Then I record the number in a small diary along with the date and
special note about what I ate the day before that might account for a fluctu-
ation up or down.

After years of not weighing myself, probably because I was in denial about
just how bad things were, I’ve found that it’s very helpful to have a daily
guide to the variations and fluctuations in my weight. I find it helpful in set-
ting the right tone for the day. It puts my day of eating, drinking and social-
izing, and exercising into perspective. There is nothing like that number to
show you where you stand!

If I recall what I ate If I recall what I ate the day before, (a piece of fruit tart,
a petite filet, a glass of wine, and so forth), a 2-lb. weight gain is put into
perspective very quickly. The weekends are typically more challenging for
me, as is the pre-menstral time when I can feel myself eating more and
grazing a bit.

For me, weigh-ins have become a way of life. They keep me on track
Yesterday, as I’ve done each morning for the last nearly 15 months, I got
out of bed and headed to the gym. I do it almost by rote now and throw on
whatever workout pants and top are clean. I don’t think about it much now,
but when I first started a regular routine I was intimidated by the idea of
even walking into the gym. I felt overwhelmed by alll those sleek glama-
zons running like hell on treadmills in tight Lycra outfits. I literally didn’t
know what to wear. What kind of top would I wear, a t-shirt? Were shorts
okay? Would I look stupid?

In fact, I sat on my gym membership for at least nine months before actual-
ly going the two short blocks across one avenue. I made all kinds of excus-
es--I couldn’t find the time in my day, didn’t feel good, had too many after
work commitments, couldn’t get away in the middle of the day to hit the
branch near work, and the like.

At some point, I realized I was paying good money to be at the gym like
everyone else and had as much right to be there as anyone else no matter
what I wore. Eventually, I became disgusted with myself for having these
feeings. So once I made the commitment to go to the gym on a regular
basis in Sept. 2005, I went out and bought new sneakers and some black
Lycra/Spandex/stretchy workout/yoga pants and sports tops specially made
to wick away sweat. I celebrated my decision to commit to the gym. I
thought that if I made the effort to "look" the part, I would eventually feel
like a fit person.

I’ve subbed in a few new pieces since then and my workout tops (a big
investment with built-in bras) are too big now but they still serve a very good
purpose and they remind me of my commitment to take care of myself.
I’ve heard that keeping a food diary is a great idea when you’re starting a
diet and trying to examine your eating choices in order to live a healthier

Of course, it always seems like such a good idea until you actually have to
record all those details. When I started a food diary more than a year ago, I
wrote down everything: "10 unsalted almonds, 1 Granny Smith Apple, 1
chicken breast, 1 can of Diet Coke, 1 cup of coffee with skim milk, four
squares Lindt dark chocolate, large green salad with oil and vinegar, grape
tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions, 1 large peanut butter cookie from
the farmer’s market...ooops!"

At first, I relished recording each and every detail. I made parenthetical
notes and clarifications; the entries were messy with my scrawl and lots of
asterisks. The reporter in me likes to observe, note, and document details
no matter how small. I even had a special leather-bound book that I toted
around in my bag to jot down the details.

Naturally, over time I found it a burden to write down EVERY SINGLE ITEM
I put into my mouth. But the food diary served an important purpose:
recording everything I ate made me hyper-vigilant and aware of exactly
what I put into my body. I was able to identify the bad choices, the after-
noon sugar fixes, the over-eating, and where I could cut back by exercising
portion control. I was able to figure out where I could replace high calorie
fats with healthier, more filling substitutes.

Now, whenever I feel myself falling off the rails, I return to the food diary
concept. If I don’t actually jot the items down, I make mental notes.
I trained with Paula on Saturday. We did walking lunges while raising a bar,
ab work on the Bosu (a plastic, mounded half-ball that offers a palpable
burn), pushups, stepups to the bench with free weights backing into a lunge,
and plenty of work on the cables for my arms. It was all satisfying but the ab
work was difficult. Using a Bosu makes crunches more challenging.

Not so long ago it was hard for me to stay focused during our hour-long
sessions. I would buy time between sets when I was so exhausted I didn’t
think I could move another muscle. I grimaced and complained, cracked
sarcastic jokes, asked Paula about her auditions, took swigs out of my
water bottle, and turned to the other trainers on the floor to see if their
clients were as tired as I was. The trainers--Greg, Ken, Chris, and Marla--
offered much-needed comic relief and support while I stalled. They’d smile,
shout out encouraging words, and cheered me on in every possible way.

When I complained about my so-called "upper assage," Ken would say,
"Tobi, standing around talking about it isn’t going to get the job done..."
During moments of discouragement when I felt I couldn’t push myself any
further, Marla would quietly say, "Come on Tobi, you can do it, get back to
it!" Once, when I was working out by myself in the training area, Chris
offered advice on how to correct my form when he observed me doing
something that wasn’t quite right. Greg, the kind but tough taskmaster of
the bunch, would toss affirmative comments my way and noticed my
progress and improvement. He inspired me recently during the holidays
when I saw him at the gym on Christmas eve and Christmas day working
with clients and pursuing his own workouts.

Over time, I became a kind of mascot and received support from many of
the trainers. Fellow gym-goers also offer smiles, words of couragement,
and tips on how to use the machines. It’s good to have a support system of
people at the gym and outside of it. It’s made a difference to me.
Let’s face it: We have choices to make each day.

We can choose between a Dunkin’ Donuts Double Chocolate Cake donut
(310 calories/150 calories from fat according to DD), and a Kashi Go Lean
Chocolate Caramel Crunch bar (180 calories/25 calories from fat); Asian
chicken over noodles (220 calories/27% from fat according to Cooking
Light magazine), and Burger King’s Whopper Jr. (400 calories/24 grams of
fat), one of the "better" choices on BK’s menu considering that a Double
Whopper with cheese is 1,010 calories/67 grams of fat). We can choose
between a 12-ounce can of regular Coke (155 calories), or a 8-ounce glass
of water (0 calories). I was surprised to discover that a 20-ounce bottle of
defense-flavored Vitamin Water has 150 calories.

Weighing the alternatives each day, I know there are always better choices
I can make depending on my state of mind. I ask myself: "Do I want to
make a choice that represents empty calories and won’t really fill or sate
me? Will what I’m about to eat give me energy to get me through the day
or even the next three hours? Is this the best choice I can make for now?"

Suddenly, all those bagels in the bin at Hot & Crusty, despite their lovely
fresh-from-the-oven aroma, don’t look as good. A better, more filling carb
might be the whole-wheat fusilli I made recently, or a sweet potato. How
about a chicken breast poached with a bit of balsamic vinegar as a tasty
source of protein, I ask myself.

I continue to struggle with choices and I give in to cravings every now and
then. Yesterday, I was in the grocery store and floated past the freezer with
ice creams. I paused and stared longingly at the colorful pints of Ben &
Jerry’s, Haagen-Dazs, Ciao Bella, Turkey Hill, Edy’s and more. I love my
ice cream but I know if I bring it into the house, I’ll overdo it. So when I
need a fix, I buy the smallest serving of Tasti D lite, the frozen dessert, a
sorbet, or frozen yogurt of some kind.

But sometimes, it feels like I really have to have a giant peanut butter cook-
ie. And sometimes, I eat the whole thing. But truth be told, it’s not so often
any more.
Here we are at the end of January... There are still two more months of
winter and I’m taking it day-by-day. Each day is different and presents dif-
ferent challenges.

Try to have a sense of humor especially when you’re beet-red and sweat-
ing. I’m still laughing over the way I described parts of my body: "Upper
Assage" (the area between the buns and the hips--a fleshy plane that’s
become more toned), and "Perdue Oven Stuffer Roasters" (my thighs). I
recall the pain of training when I would ask Paula, "why can’t we just take a
melon-baller or an ice cream scoop and dig out all the fat?" Or, "how about
we get a mallet and pound my flesh to make it flat?" "Can’t we just lop this
off?" I would ask, pulling and clutching at a stomach roll.

I’m sticking with my diet and fitness routine; I sure hope you do too. Do
what works for you. My next move is to find a yoga or pilates class that I
can attend on a regular basis. I’d like to integrate something new into my

Best of luck to everyone who has started a new diet and fitness regime.
Stick to it even when it feels hard. Reward yourself, but not with empty

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