9 Ways to Give the Gift of Wellness this Holiday Season

Is it just me or have you spent the last few weeks strategizing the perfect holiday gifts? I love thinking through what each of my loved ones would enjoy and settling on the item that’s the right balance of joy, utility, and affordability.

To hopefully make your holiday shopping easier, I rounded up my favorite gifts that support a healthy lifestyle (p.s. – this is not a sponsored post. I’m just really enthusiastic about each of these items). Enjoy!

valerie bisharat wellness gift guide

1. bkr glass water bottle, $48

We all know reusable water bottles are better for the earth – but glass ones are healthier too. Plastic bottles can leach harmful chemicals into the water. The bkr glass water bottle is  designed to be durable and is dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. There are lots of colors and sizes available, but I recommend the 1ml version because it has a wider neck, making it easier to fill.

2. Maison Miru tiny crystal studs, regularly $29 with launch price of $6.99

Love these studs for everyday wear. They’re sophisticated but still simple enough that they match both gym and regular clothes. The posts are also short enough that they’re comfy to sleep in and to work out in. At the time of this writing, they’re available at the price of shipping as a promotion – check out the product description for more details. (Also, I personally got a pair this way and can confirm the company is legit).

3. Intelligent Nutrients certified organic hand sanitizer, $14.00

Enter the perfect stocking stuffer for the person in your life focused on using products free of harmful chemicals. Intelligent Nutrients is one of the cleanest companies in the game – but no need for skepticism, this sanitizer still works by using alcohol to kill germs. It’s become one of my top gym bag staples.

4. Vuori Performance Joggers, $84

Perfect for the gal who loves blending comfort with style, these joggers are great to wear while doing errands, working out, or practicing yoga. And they feel like butter. I prefer the heather gray version for its versatility with my wardrobe.

5. Stance Super Invisible 3-pack, $25

These are socks worth writing home about. They’re no show and stay firmly in place with no rolling or slipping. Such a relief for that active person who wants invisible socks that don’t distract you while you’re going about your day.

6. A day together in nature

For those less into material things, consider a (weather-appropriate) trip to the beach, hike in the woods, or day trip to a nature-y draw nearby. This can also be a creative option if you’re on a budget.

7. Cuyana leather tote, $175

I’ve worn this bag in black almost every day for the past two years and it looks as good as new. It’s casual enough to be used as a gym bag but dressy enough to take out to dinner. As you’ve probably picked up on, I love clothing that looks fab but that I can “set and forget” – this tote is exactly that.

8. Nike Free TR 8 in black on black, $100

The Nike TR 8’s look great with leggings while doing errands or with full gym gear for a workout. I find them super comfy too! (Check out my gym shoe-wearing guide for some other ideas on more specific gym and sneaker activities.)

9. CW Hemp Full Strength CBD Oil, $39.99

If you have a friend or loved one who’s working on de-stressing, getting better sleep, or overall taking better care of herself, I highly recommend picking her up some CBD oil. CW Hemp is my favorite top quality brand of CBD oil. Keep in mind that while CBD is legal most places, it’s illegal to fly with, so have it shipped. To learn more about CBD, read “The ABCs of CBD Oil.” PSA – everyone should check with their doctor before taking new supplements.

What’s on your gift guide?

Wishing you and your loved ones a great holiday season!

Overcoming Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Depression 1.JPG

Disclaimer: this is the story of my personal experience with seasonal depression. I hope the story inspires you in some way, but it’s not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any medical or mental health condition.

It was a biting-cold February day in Brooklyn. I was holed up at a coffee shop eager to check tasks off my to do list, but my plans slowly devolved into scrolling through Facebook – and feeling increasingly down. I eventually felt so unsettled that I called the work session a day and stepped outside to head home.

The two-block journey home somehow felt too much. A block in, I sat down on a neighbor’s stoop to collect myself and felt the tears welling up. I’m really sad. I think I’m depressed, I texted my boyfriend. Once the words rolled off my tongue (or rather my keyboard), I felt a bit of peace.

That day was a turning point. I recognized that my sadness had moved beyond a rough patch and crossed, for the first time, into depression-symptom territory (not clinical depression).

It was scary. While part of me secretly wondered if I’d ever feel better, the rest of me had a hunch there might be lifestyle steps I could take to improve my situation going forward.

Looking retrospectively at the prior months, I figured my symptoms had developed from a combination of seasonal depression, a disrupted body block (aka circadian rhythm), low vitamin D levels, and financial stress.

I took some radical, and some smaller, measures to hedge against each of these issues for a full year.

So it was a pretty cool feeling the next winter when I realized my seasonal sadness was a mere fraction of what it had been the prior year. I went through that second winter mostly confident, happy, and at peace.

Here’s what helped me identify the problems and what I did to *mostly* solve them.

The symptoms

There were a few red flags that something was off.

For one, when I’d wake up each morning, a wave of sadness would wash over me. This was distinct from anything I’d previously experienced and made me wonder if my sleep/wake cycle relative to the light/dark hours of the day was disrupted. Disrupted circadian rhythms can contribute to symptoms of depression.

Also, I realized I’d been spending 95% of the day inside and so I wasn’t getting much sunlight exposure to promote a healthier circadian rhythm. Since sun exposure only helps boost vitamin D when the UV index is three or higher, and I live far north of the equator, the little sun I did get during the long stretch of winter probably wasn’t helping me achieve adequate vitamin D levels.

I hadn’t gotten blood work done to check my vitamin D levels or supplemented with vitamin D in a while (I’m skeptical of supplements), so I assumed it was possible that my levels were low.

But here’s what really tipped me off to the fact that I’d been seasonally depressed: once the sunnier weather kicked in, which it did pretty suddenly, I felt like a new person within a matter of days. The contrast was striking and a good reminder that often we don’t know how good we can feel until something changes that allows us to see the difference.

Lastly, there was the personal side of the equation. I was early on in my business and money was extremely tight. I’m sure many of you can relate. This significant life stress – in my case, financial – made it harder to overcome the other issues.

Winter prep begins now

This might sound a little crazy, but I began prepping for the following winter during spring 😂. My symptoms and stressors didn’t appear overnight so they probably weren’t going to be solved overnight either. And I didn’t want to take chances.

Long story short, the following measures mostly cleared my symptoms. When the weather turned sunny the following spring, I felt like the same person I’d been all winter – happy but human, relatively joyful, and excited about the results.

Measure #1: bundle up and sit in the sunlight

To cue my body that it was daytime and to try to correct my sleep/wake cycles, I’d throw on my puffer coat, grab my laptop, and spend time outside in the sunlight. Most days, I’d do an hour. It was very cold and very worth it.

I obviously can’t say for sure, but I have a strong feeling that being surrounded by sunlight for an hour almost every day of winter played a big role in my positive mental health.

Measure #2: vitamin D supplementation

After that teary day on the stoop, I got blood work done to check my vitamin D levels and found out that they were, indeed, low. Depression symptoms are common in people with inadequate vitamin D levels. (FYI, the test that gets a better gauge on vitamin D levels is called “vitamin D 25-hydroxy,” not “vitamin D.” “Vitamin D” is a different, less helpful test.)

I started supplementing immediately with the goal of bumping myself into a healthier range before winter hit again. My levels are now back in an adequate range and to maintain them, I typically supplement about three times a week with a high quality brand of vitamin D (rather than whatever is cheapest at the drugstore – think whole, organic food vs. processed food) and I plan to retest my levels yearly. (Again, this is my routine and is not intended as a recommendation – consult with your doctor before starting any supplements.)

Measure #3: prioritize sleep

In the months after I recognized the depression symptoms, good sleep became a top priority to help correct my body clock and decrease stress. Sleep is always really important, but since all other areas of my life were being negatively affected by these issues, it temporarily got bumped to the very top.

Prioritizing sleep looked like:

  • Getting off my phone leading up to bedtime

  • Meditating regularly, even if it was just for five minutes, so I could fall asleep quickly (regular meditation, no matter what time of day I do it, helps me fall asleep more quickly at night)

  • Hydrating early in the day so I didn’t have to get up to use the bathroom

  • Going to bed as close to sundown as possible (yes, really)

  • Giving myself grace if I needed to sleep longer.

Other areas of life temporarily had to give, but it was well worth it.

Measure #4: lift weights

Exercise, especially lifting, is important for my mental health year-round, including in winter. Even when it was cold or rainy or snowy, I’d go to the gym four days a week. Some days I’d lift for 30 minutes, some for an hour. The important part was getting in the zone and moving my body to process any challenges or stressors.

Lessons along the way

If I had to say what I took away from the process, it’d be this: go be weird if it means taking care of your health. When I’d step outside in my winter gear to sit in sub-30 degree weather – or went to bed at 9:30pm – I often felt different from other people. But it was good practice advocating for myself and now, those habits have become a source of joy. They’re all still a part of my routine as maintenance, since I don’t ever want to play catch up again if I can help it.

I’d also say:

  1. Don’t forget to spend time in the sun. Your body needs those proper cues that it’s daylight!

  2. Sleep rhythms have a profound effect on your mental health. Maintaining a natural sleep rhythm is worth it.

  3. Know your vitamin D levels. Deficiencies can make you feel terrible, but it’s not “you” per se – it’s a physical need that’s not being met.

How do you cope with seasonal depression? Leave a comment and let me know!

References:

  1. Disrupted circadian rhythms are linked to depression:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2612129/

  2. Sun exposure helps increase vitamin D when the UV index is three or higher

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3356951/

  3. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to feelings of depression:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269/

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/time-for-more-vitamin-d

  4. Vitamin D levels are best determined by the measure of 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration in the blood:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2912737/

  5. A useful introduction to seasonal affective disorder:

    https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

What Kind of Shoes Should You Wear to the Gym?

  Gym day in the Nike Free TR8 cross-training shoe 👯

Gym day in the Nike Free TR8 cross-training shoe 👯

There are so many types of gym shoes out there, it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’ve ever logged miles on the treadmill and been in pain or developed shin splints, you might’ve wondered whether your shoes were cut out for the job. Or maybe you want a cute new pair of sneakers that works well in the gym too.

Certain shoes are definitely better than others for different types of exercise like lifting, plyometrics, and machine cardio. Specifically, there are three main types of shoes gym-goers should be aware of and consider wearing accordingly.

If new shoes aren’t in the budget right now, no worries. You should still be able to learn tips here that’ll help you in the gym (including applying the shoes you already have to specific activities) and better prepare you for a future purchase.

So here are the three kinds of shoes:

  1. Cross-training shoes

  2. Lifting shoes

  3. Running shoes

Let’s get into the specifics! (P.S. – this is not a sponsored post, I’m just a fan.)

#1: Cross-training shoes

Used for: lifting weights, all cardio besides distance running

Characteristics: mostly flat sole but cushioned

  Doing shoulder presses in Nike Metcons cross-training shoes.

Doing shoulder presses in Nike Metcons cross-training shoes.

Cross-training shoes are great for pretty much anything you’ll do in the gym besides treadmill running because they’re flat enough for your feet to properly grip the ground while strength training but cushioned enough that when you land on them, they’re forgiving on your joints. You can lace up cross-training shoes to lift weights, do a bootcamp, hop on the elliptical, do circuits, use the StepMill, do HIIT, go to CrossFit class, or do plyometrics.

If you’re on a budget and want a new pair of gym shoes – and don’t mind skipping treadmill running – these will cover most of your bases.

My top picks for cross-training shoes: Nike Metcon, Nike Free TR8, Reebok Nano

#2: Lifting shoes

Used for: lifting weights

Characteristics: flat with very little cushioning

Wearing Vans for an all lifting workout day.

When you’re lifting weights, especially heavy ones, you want your feet to be able to grip the ground – meaning you should be pushing your big toes into the ground and pressing your pinky toes down to stabilize. That’s only possible to do in shoes that are relatively flat and don’t have much cushioning.

For gym days when you’re lifting only, you could head to the gym in flat shoes like Converse. Cross-training shoes would work too but since many people already have Converse or Vans in their closets, it’s worth mentioning.

You definitely don’t, however, want to spend an extended span of time lifting in running shoes. They’re fine to use to get started with strength training but long term, they aren’t the best for stability and alignment.

My top picks for lifting shoes: Converse, Vans

#3: Running shoes

Used for: treadmill running

Characteristics: light, minimal heel height, some cushioning, wide toe area (enough to wiggle your toes), neutral (meaning no stability or control mechanisms that change how your foot moves)

Running for distance is a different beast because you’ve got to take into consideration what kind of shoes promote a healthy gait and allow your foot to move in a natural way. When you’re distance running, you definitely want specific running shoes rather than cross-training or lifting ones.

There’s a lot of info out there about the best types of shoes for running, but recent research shows that the best running shoes have the five qualities listed above [1].

If you’re really serious about running and logging more than a few miles at a time, head to a running shop to get specialized shoe advice.

Otherwise, here’s my top pick for running shoes: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33

Have any questions about gym shoes? Leave a comment below!

References:

  1. Recent research shows that the best running shoes are light and neutral with minimal heel height, some cushioning, and a wide toe area: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Fulltext/2015/09000/Five_Key_Characteristics_to_Consider_when.8.aspx

Grocery Shopping 101

Grocery Shopping 1

When I was in my first few years of working out and eating healthier, I often found myself perusing the aisles of the Union Square Whole Foods in New York City mesmerized by the colorful produce. I’d get so excited about stocking up on wholesome ingredients that I’d just buy and buy because the food looked great. During the week, however, more of the groceries than I’d like to admit would go to waste due to lack of proper planning. (Moment of silence for all the produce that’s died in the fridge. Painful to think about!)

Although it seems like an everyday task, grocery shopping involves lots of little details, especially if you’re just getting in the groove of healthy meal planning and cooking. Since life tends to be pretty busy, those details can feel overwhelming and even become a hurdle to staying in the habit of grocery shopping effectively – or shopping for the things you need when you need them (so you don’t keep cleaning out a refrigerator full of rotten produce).   

And make no mistake: for most people, grocery shopping fairly regularly is fundamental to eating healthfully. We’ve got to home cook at least some of the time.

If you’ve been checking out my blog for a while, you’ve heard me share how helpful it is to have a rinse and repeat process for grocery shopping. A system. This turns grocery shopping into a habit so it becomes more sustainable by reducing the amount of time and energy required to get it done. Because that’s the goal for most, right? To eat and move your body in a way that nourishes you and that you can picture sustaining forever – a Forever Plan.

So today I’m sharing my system for making grocery shopping easier. If you’re new to grocery shopping regularly, I hope this helps you jump into the swing of things. If you’re a more seasoned shopper, I hope you pick up a new tip or two!

The two phases of grocery shopping

There are two parts to a successful shop:

  1. The planning stage

  2. The actual shopping stage

Planning properly helps you go through your shop relatively hiccup-free. It also reduces purchases that end up wasting money and food. Some even say it makes it easier to make healthy choices, since they aren’t tempted to pick up processed foods they already know they don’t need.

There are also some habits you can get into while at the store that save time, energy, and money. 👩‍🌾

Remember, it’s all about creating a relatively rinse and repeat process, without being too rigid.

The planning stage: outline meals, make your list, and choose regular shopping days

There are three action steps in the planning phase.

First, you’ll want to plan your meals ahead of time so you can make a specific and complete grocery list. Going grocery shopping without a list often = frustration, forgetting important ingredients, and wasting precious money. In general, most people do best planning about 80% of their weekly meals and leaving the remaining 20% for spontaneity. Think about planning either once per week for the entire week or twice per week for a few days at a time. For more details about how to meal plan, check out the article Meal Planning 101.

Next, the list! I recommend using a digital list like a phone note or app (Wunderlist, for example) so you can easily check off ingredients. I use an iPhone note because I find it the quickest and most accessible. When you add the ingredients to your list, group them by section – meaning list all the produce, then all the meat and poultry, then all the dry goods, and onwards. That way, you don’t end up zig zagging across the store as you check off your list. You can even list the sections according to the arrangement of your store so you can do a quick loop and head out. If you use an app like Wunderlist that allows you to drag and drop, you can list ingredients by recipe then rearrange them by store section.

 iPhone note

iPhone note

 Wunderlist

Wunderlist

Now, the third action item in the grocery shopping planning phase: pick out which day(s) you’ll go shopping every week. This will make shopping a routine rather than an obligation you dread squeezing into your schedule. It usually makes sense to shop on the day(s) you meal plan or the day afterwards. For example, you could meal plan and grocery shop on Sundays and Wednesdays. As a bonus, go when it’s less likely to be busy. Depending on the store and location, Google often shares when the rush hour(s) tends to be. You could also call and ask when it’s busiest, then plan to go during other pockets of time.

The actual shopping part: my top tips

You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s so important: when you walk inside the grocery store, shop the perimeter. The perimeter mostly means the produce, fish, meat, and poultry sections while the center aisles of the store contain the processed foods. Usually, you can get the majority of what you need more quickly by going around the perimeter.

If you find yourself struggling to find the motivation to get to the store, especially if you don’t want to spend precious free time shopping, try listening to a great new playlist or podcast along the way. It can make the time feel more rewarding.

Lastly, don’t forget to keep it as green as possible! Bring old or reusable bags along and bag your produce with either mesh bags or reused plastic ones.

What about grocery delivery services like AmazonFresh?

If using delivery services works well for you, that’s great. But they’re actually not where I’d recommend most people start. (There are two notable exceptions: if you travel a high percentage of the time or live in a food desert where a delivery would make healthier options more accessible to you.)

Here’s why: there’s something special that happens when you go and pick out food for yourself instead of clicking a few buttons and having it land at your doorstep. Choosing our food and then preparing it is a basic, primal habit that fills us up differently. It’s one step closer to connecting us to nature in a world where we’re often disconnected from our food’s origins.

Also, when you shop yourself, you get to pick out the freshest items. That process can even be meditative. When you order online, you might end up with an avocado that feels like a stone or raspberries that are only slightly red. That’s fine at times, but picking out what looks good and ripe with your own two hands is often more satisfying.

That said, you might occasionally use delivery services when returning home from travel with little time before going back to work or to make life easier in a particularly busy season.

I would love to hear any grocery shopping tips you’ve discovered! Leave them in the comments below :)

xoxo

Valerie

For further reading, check out “Meal Planning 101.”

4 Staples You’ll Always Find in My Gym Bag

Valerie Bisharat gym bag essentials

Have you ever gotten to the gym and realized you forgot something important? Like… to put on deodorant? It happens to all of us sometimes, but for years now, there have been a few staple products (not sponsored) that always stay in my gym bag. They make my workouts a little easier and my gym trips more delightful. I’m sharing them in case they do the same for you!

So let’s open up the old gym bag (which is actually a purse 😂)!

1. Intelligent Nutrients hand sanitizer, free of harmful chemicals

Let’s face the dirty truth: gyms are germy and it’s important to clean your hands before you leave.

I carry this hand sanitizer that I use when I get off a cardio machine or in the car if I’ve forgotten to wash my hands on the way out. It’s effective and it excludes harmful chemicals, including ones commonly found in soaps and hand sanitizers that research has shown to harm humans and the environment.

If you’re curious, two of the most problematic ingredients in many hand sanitizers are triclosan and synthetic fragrance. Triclosan is an antimicrobial chemical that’s been shown to contribute to antibacterial resistance, endocrine disruption, and liver toxicity. It also harms aquatic life and builds up in the environment instead of breaking down. Fragrance is a group of chemicals that contribute to endocrine disruption, developmental problems, and reproductive issues.

Luckily, there are fun, clean alternatives these days! The active ingredient in this sanitizer is denatured alcohol. It also uses tea tree oil, which is antimicrobial, and ingredients like black cumin seed and red raspberry seed oils.

$14.00 for 2 fluid ounces.

2. Native clean deodorant (I also love Schmidt’s deodorant)

Valerie Bisharat gym bag essentials

If you’ve tried Tom’s clean deodorant or other options and despaired at how hard it is to find one that works, it’s worth trying Native or Schmidt’s. Native lives in my gym ‘bagpurse’  so I never forget it and Schmidt’s is my “at home” deodorant. Everyone’s body chemistry is a little bit different, but for me and many others, both work well.

Keep in mind that clean deodorants aren’t antiperspirants like many traditional products are (which is a good thing health-wise!), meaning they don’t stop you from sweating. So sometimes you’ve got to reapply once or twice throughout the day. On gym days, I usually apply deodorant about three times: in the morning, right before I walk out onto the gym floor, and after I shower.

Native: $12.00 for a 2.65 oz full size deodorant stick. Schmidt’s: $8.99 for a 3.25 oz full size deodorant stick (I see Schmidt’s at the local T.J. Maxx a lot and got a stick for $4.99).

3. Dr. Bronner’s organic lip balm

It’s always good to have lip balm on hand – and there’s something about walking out of the gym feeling fresh and moisturized. This is my favorite affordable clean balm.

It goes on smoothly, truly moisturizes (unlike some of the other cheaper non-toxic brands), and even looks cute. It also fits easily into any small compartment of your gym bag or purse.

$2.99 for 0.15 oz.

4. A notebook and pen

I find that workouts are more exciting and engaging (and effective!) when I’m taking notes on my lifts. Treating your workouts like you’re a student will help you be more in tune with your body and potentially progress faster.

Usually, I write my workout program for the day in the notebook. Then, as it progresses, I write down what felt easy or difficult. I’ll also keep notes to myself about mental breakthroughs. Other times, I leave the notebook in my locker and do a quick journaling session before I leave.

There are definitely apps for storing and tracking your workouts, but for me, there’s something about pen to paper that can’t be beat.

My favorite notebook: Moleskine Classic Notebook, $19.95 for the large hardcover version. It’s compact, easy to write in, and space efficient enough to throw in any bag. I’ve also found some lovely options for $5 and under at Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx.

Now I’m curious: what do you love to bring to the gym with you? Leave me a comment and share!

Meal Planning 101

Valerie Bisharat grocery shopping

Whether you love it or hate it, meal planning makes eating healthy easier and longer lasting. This might sound obvious, but you wouldn’t go into an important work project with no game plan – to succeed, you plan ahead, prioritize, and strategize. The same is true for sustainable healthy eating.

If you struggle to make time for meal planning, keep in mind that investing in it up front can actually save time throughout the week. It eliminates picking up takeout, making unnecessary food trips, and going back and forth about what to eat (not to mention the additional prep, cook, and clean up times).

That said, meal planning tends to work best when it’s a system – a process you can rinse and repeat. This is very important!

So let’s talk about some sustainable strategies. Welcome to meal planning 101!

How many of my meals per week should I plan?

For many people, planning about 80% of your meals in advance and improvising the rest is a good balance.
If you eat 3 meals per day (so about 21 per week), that’s 17 to plan in advance and 4 to improvise. If, like me, you eat about 4 meals per day (about 28 per week), that’s about 22 to plan in advance and 6 to improvise.

This doesn’t need to be perfect, but keeping this guideline in mind sets you up to be well-fed and energized while still maintaining the flexibility to go out with friends and feel spontaneous.

How often should I meal plan?

About once or twice per week makes sense for most people’s schedules – either on Saturday or Sunday before the week begins or both before the week begins and again in the middle of the week (like on Wednesday). The important part is to pick a day (or days) and stick to it so you can rinse and repeat.

If you meal plan once a week, you’ll have to plan out your general meal structure for all seven days (keep in mind you can always go back to the drawing board several days in and adjust as needed). Some people find that liberating, but for others it’s too much to think about at once. If you meal plan twice per week, you’ll only plan for 3-4 days at once, but you’ll also have to grocery shop for ingredients twice per week. (Check out “Grocery Shopping 101” to hopefully help make this part easier for you!)

Personally, I meal plan and grocery shop 2-3 times per week.

What exactly should I do when I sit down to meal plan?

Here’s the checklist I recommend:

  1. Start with a skeleton of your daily meal slots using this meal calendar, an iPhone note, or a solution of your own. The important part is to be able to look at the meal slots each day and plug meals into each.

  2. Do the easy meals first: fill in any meals you’ll be eating out.

  3. Fill in breakfasts, which tend to require little work and are repetitive.

  4. Fill in the remaining meals, planning to eat the same dishes for at least 2 meals.

 Example meal planning outline using an iPhone note.

Example meal planning outline using an iPhone note.

In order to plan out those 17-22 meals, you’ll likely want to make one recipe stretch 2 to 3 meals and eat leftovers. Very few people have time to cook more than that.

If you’ve tried diet plans that ask you to plan meals before and you feel wary of this meal planning structure, keep in mind that there’s a big difference between planning exact meal portions, calories, and macros and simply planning healthy dishes ahead of time. But if your gut is telling you that you need a break from structure, that’s important to listen to. You could always come back to this system later or work pieces of it into your daily routine.

What types of meals should I be making?

In general, eating a protein, healthy fat, and veggie carb at each meal will keep your blood sugar stable, curb hunger, and help you lose body fat if that’s your goal. During 1 or 2 of your meals, including post-workout, you’ll want to have a serving of starchy carbs as well.

To come up with meals that fit those guidelines, think about these 3 areas:

"Puzzle Piece" meals: or protein, healthy fat, and veggie carbs that are pieced together from separate, simple ingredients, like a grass-fed steak with roasted asparagus and a side green salad. To create this kind of meal, choose the type of protein you're in the mood for and find a tasty way to prepare it. Then, Google what kind of veggie pairs nicely with it. The healthy fat will often come in the oil an item is cooked in or in salad dressing.

"All-inclusive" meals: a single recipe that contains the protein, healthy fat, and veggie carbs mostly in one. For example: slow cooker beef stew with sliced carrots, mushrooms, and onions. To find healthy recipes to make here, go on Pinterest and choose a protein you're in the mood for. Try typing in "healthified ____ [insert protein]" or "____ [insert protein] Paleo" to filter for healthy recipes containing the protein you want prepared with wholesome ingredients.

“Mix and Match” meals: meal concepts like Buddha bowls, tacos, or stir fry that lend themselves to prepping 5-7 ingredients in advance and then eating different combinations of each throughout the week.

It’s helpful to keep all of your recipes in one place. That way, you create a growing reservoir of recipes and make future meal planning easier. I like to use a Pinterest board for this, but you could also print the recipes out and keep them in a binder with those plastic sleeve thingies (who’s with me??).

In sum:

  • Plan about 80% of your meals and leave 20% up for improvising

  • If you eat 3 meals per day, you’ll have about 17 meals per week to plan out and if you eat 4 meals per day, you’ll have about 22 meals per week to plan out

  • Meal planning once or twice per week works for most people

  • Choose the same day each week so you can rinse and repeat

  • If you’re planning once per week, try it on Saturday or Sunday and if you’re planning twice per week, try it on Saturday or Sunday and on Wednesday

  • Aim to have a protein, healthy fat, and veggie carb at each meal and a starch at 1-2 meals per day

  • Keep your recipes in one place for future use, like on a Pinterest board or in a binder

What if meal planning takes too long?

Like any other skill, there’s a learning curve to healthy meal planning. It takes practice to learn how it works and get into the swing of things. Over time, I’ve gotten my meal planning process down to about 20 minutes per week.

Commit yourself to getting better at it and don't stress if it's not perfect. Taking imperfect action will get you farther than either trying to do it perfectly or not at all!

Happy eating!

Love and light,
Valerie

For further reading, check out “Grocery Shopping 101.”

One Pan Egg Frittata

We’ve been talking a lot about healthy eating and recipe inspiration. Earlier in the summer, I posted on Instagram one of my favorite recipes for a quick and easy meal that can nourish you throughout the week. Many of you expressed interest in the post, so here it is! Memorialized all in one easy-to-find place on the blog.

This frittata is a great way to have a high protein, energizing breakfast that’s tasty and versatile. Switch around the veggies that you include in the frittata or pair it with various condiments like hot sauce, sriracha, or salsa.

It keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days, so make it on a Sunday and you're set for the work week.

Presenting: The One Pan Egg Frittata

Photo 1.jpg

Ingredients:

  • 12 eggs (ideally pasture-raised or free-range)

  • 2 bell peppers

  • 1 jalapeño

  • Handful spinach

  • Protein of choice – I usually go for 4 small to medium chorizos sliced, but you could also leave out the protein altogether (the frittata pictured here is sans protein besides the eggs)

  • Cooking fat of choice – I use grass-fed butter because it keeps the eggs creamy while they bake

  • Salt and pepper to taste (you may want to use more or less depending on your protein choice)

Photo 2.jpg

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees.

  2. Heat an oven-safe pan. Then, add the butter or oil.

  3. Thinly slice the bell peppers. Chop the jalapeño.

Photo 3.jpg

4. Add the peppers to the pan, stirring occasionally. Sauté for 3-4 minutes.

5. While the peppers are cooking, crack all the eggs into a large bowl and whisk until even. Add a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper to taste.

Photo 4a.jpg
Photo 4b.jpg

6. Add the jalapeño and chorizo or other type of protein to the pan. Stir occasionally for 2-3 minutes.

7. Add the spinach and stir until it begins to wilt.

8. Pour the eggs into the pan. Place in the oven for about 30 minutes.

9. Slice and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Bon appetit!

In summary:

  1. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees.

  2. Heat an oven-safe pan. Then, add the butter or oil.

  3. Thinly slice the bell peppers. Chop the jalapeño.

  4. Add the peppers to the pan, stirring occasionally. Sauté for 3-4 minutes.

  5. While the peppers are cooking, crack all the eggs into a large bowl and whisk until even. Add a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper to taste.

  6. Add the jalapeño and chorizo or other type of protein to the pan. Stir occasionally for 2-3 minutes.

  7. Add the spinach and stir until it begins to wilt.

  8. Pour the eggs into the pan. Place in the oven for about 30 minutes.

  9. Slice and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Planning to try this recipe? Let me know what you think of it in the comments!

Healthy Travel is a Thing – Here Are My Secrets

  On the beach in Connecticut enjoying a weekend away!

On the beach in Connecticut enjoying a weekend away!

Your vacation is coming up – perhaps a little too slowly – and you’re wondering how and whether to take your (new) healthy habits on the road with you.

As many of you know, I’m all about the ‘Forever Plan,’ or how to maintain an overall happy lifestyle where you love your body and fully live your life. A lifestyle that’s mostly stress-free and that you can picture doing forever.   

When you’re working that Forever Plan, travel might look a little different than it has in the past.

It can be just as fun.

Just as liberating.

But it’ll take a little bit of preparation.

Because for many people, here’s what healthy travel boils down to: eating and moving your body similarly to how you do at home. Same guidelines, just adapted to a different environment.

This might sound obvious, but eating healthy and moving your body gives you energy, and having more energy can make your vacation more enjoyable. What you eat either gives you energy or takes it from you, but that can be easy to brush aside, especially while traveling out of your comfort zone. But who wants to spend a trip feeling sleepy and rundown?

Here’s what I mean:

  • Eat whole, unprocessed foods, including protein, healthy fats, and veggie carbs (and sometimes, starchy carbs) at most meals

  • Move your body 4-6 days per week (4 times per week is a good rhythm for most people)

  • Do the above about 80-90% of the time

  • Leave the other 10-20% for things that might not be conventionally “healthy” but nourish you on a deeper level (for example, eating that delicious tiramisu that reminds you of your grandma) #guiltfreeindulgence

When you travel, that 10-20% allocation is plenty to enjoy local delicacies and not spend your entire vacation planning your healthy habits. If you don’t travel very often and are going somewhere known for its food, you could adjust those percentages closer to 70% healthy and 30% worth-it indulgences.

  Living my best life on a summer weekend trip – lunch on the water. 💃💃

Living my best life on a summer weekend trip – lunch on the water. 💃💃

First, let’s talk about food

Eating healthy on the road involves two things:

  1. Researching healthy restaurants and grocery stores before you leave for your trip

  2. Planning some meals ahead of time closer to the trip (just like meal planning at home)

The specifics of what you eat while traveling mostly depends on whether you’ll have a kitchen and/or fridge to cook and store perishable foods. Of course, Airbnb and similar travel is getting increasingly popular and often gives you kitchen access, so if that’s your style you may want to opt for that route as you plan ahead for your trip. Many hotels have mini-fridges in the rooms or can provide an empty mini-fridge for free or a relatively small fee upon request. The fridge doesn’t give you a solution for every meal, but it’s a nice bonus where you can store restaurant leftovers and perishable snacks, all while saving time and money in the process.

These days, there are more and more healthy food outposts in the U.S. so if you’re traveling stateside, you should generally be pretty well-covered. Regardless, you can find healthier ingredients in any grocery store.

If you’re traveling abroad, you should also be fine in most places. Other cultures tend to eat more whole, unprocessed foods than what’s readily available in the U.S.

Here are some of my favorite non-perishable snacks for travel:

  • EPIC Bars

  • Perfect Bars

  • 100% grass-fed beef jerky

  • Low-sugar trail mix

  • All kinds of nuts, ideally organic and raw

  • Munk Pack oatmeal fruit squeeze packs

  • 70+% dark chocolate

  • Mamma Chia squeeze packs

  • Mediterranean organic olive packs

  • Siete Foods tortilla chips

  • Nut butter individual squeeze packs

And some of my favorite tips for eating healthy on the road:

  • Locate a Whole Foods and head to their salad/hot food bar for healthier versions of pre-made food

  • Google the local healthy grocery store small businesses. You might find a great co-op or mom and pop health store that you’d like to support with your wallet

  • Don’t be shy about requesting menu modifications (unless the menu specifically says they don’t accept any changes)! Ask for what you need, of course kindly

  • Splurge on a more decadent meal at a healthy restaurant – in many cases, you’ll get served local food and feel more immersed in the place you’re visiting

How about moving your body while traveling?

Remember, the goal is to move similarly to how you do at home. This keeps you in the habit of working out, lifts your mood, and in some cases (like running, walking, and biking) helps you explore your surroundings! A good move-your-body date doesn’t need to take more than 25-30 focused minutes away from your trip plans – and sometimes, it’s actually party of your trip plans.

If you have the equipment and desire to stick to your exact same routine while on the road, that’s great. Go for it. Most hotels have gyms equipped with a treadmill and a set of dumbbells, and sometimes more. That’s more than enough equipment to have an effective workout.

But in many cases, you might have to modify the contents of your workouts. For example, if at home you usually do 30 minutes of cardio on a machine but are staying at an Airbnb without gym access, you might lace up your shoes and go for a jog outside. Or search YouTube for a 30-minute at-home bodyweight workout.

You could also plan to be active while exploring during your vacation. For example, if you’re in the countryside or planning a day trip out of a city, go for a hike. This is a perfect opportunity to do your meal prep at a local grocery store and pack a healthy (and cheap!) lunch to take on your adventure. If you’re staying in a city, find a free walking tour or create your own using a guidebook.

In many cities, you can also rent a bike to take sightseeing. I have to admit, I don’t know how to ride a bike (lol), but I’ve heard from people I trust and who travel a lot that some great bike sharing apps include oBike, MoBike, and LimeBike. If you’re traveling abroad, do some research on which bike sharing apps are available in different cities ahead of time and download the app. Be aware though that you will need to use some data if you plan to use these apps, so plan accordingly to avoid high cell phone charges.

In short, keep the workout, but if necessary change how you do it.

What if I’m tired from being in transit?

Eating healthy might be one of the last things you want to do if you’re tired, but it’s actually a shortcut to getting your energy back. So try not to give up those healthy eating habits even when you’re beat.

But being worn out does often mean that you could dial back the intensity of your workouts a little bit. Let’s say at home, you’d rate most of your workouts at an intensity of 7 or above (on a scale of 1-10). While you’re regaining your energy on a trip, you might dial that back to a 5 or 6. You could do a slow beginner’s yoga practice or 25-30 minutes of light cardio, during which you break a sweat but aren’t throwing tons of energy into the workout.

Also, stay hydrated while you’re traveling (it helps ward off jet lag!) and once you get to your destination. When you don’t drink enough, you can feel extra lethargic. Hydration is key!

What questions do you have about eating healthy and working out while traveling? Leave them in the comments.

Happy trails!

 

4 Tips for Feeling ‘Body Peace’ While in Your Bathing Suit

Valerie Bisharat body positive

It was the summer after freshman year of college. Some friends and I climbed out of the car at the beach, chatting and laughing excitedly. I remember that afternoon not just because the sand, wind, and hot sun at Mamaroneck Beach in New York were lovely, but because I was so focused on how my body didn’t live up to my goals.

I felt a little trapped. On the one hand, I wanted to wear a bikini because I thought that would mean I was confident – but I didn’t want to show my abs or back because I thought they weren’t defined enough to be seen. On the other hand, I wanted to wear a one-piece because it made me feel a little comfier in my skin. But the one-piece also seemed a little frumpy, like I was hiding something. On top of it all, I’d been working out a lot and didn’t feel like the results in the mirror matched my efforts.

It was a setup I couldn’t win.

In the years afterwards, I would spend tons of time learning about nutrition and fitness, in part because I really wanted to look like I worked out. I eventually achieved my ideal bikini body. But here’s what I wasn’t expecting: having that body didn’t bring me peace.

Valerie Bisharat body peace in a bathing suit

Growing body confidence was less about wearing the right kind of bathing suit and more about how I spoke to myself. Less about looking a certain way and more about accepting my body – taking care of myself because I love my body, not because I hate it. Less about dieting for the summer season and more about making a Forever Plan with food and healthy living.

Let’s chat about 4 ways to have more ‘body peace’ in your bathing suit:

  1. Picture a megaphone loudly announcing the thoughts in your head about your body – what words are being broadcast? Are they unkind or kind? You can use this technique to notice the negative thoughts and substitute them with kinder ones.

  2. Remind yourself that the only thoughts that matter about your body are your own. The average person in the U.S. sees about 5,000 ads per day – and since the health industry is huge and growing, a chunk of those messages are trying to influence how we feel about our bodies. We can easily feel confused and pulled in lots of different directions. Simply, your opinion is the only one that matters.

  3. Other people often feel a little insecure in their swimsuits too. They understand! Here’s why that matters: think about a time when you were struggling with something – say balancing your priorities, budgeting, or keeping up with your relationships – and shared the details with a dear friend who obviously really related. Doesn’t that often take a weight off your shoulders? To remember you’re not the only one and that others understand? Being self-conscious about your body can feel like being stranded on an island by yourself when in reality, many people around you get it.

  4. Talk about the insecurities. Shame, including about our bodies, loves the dark and often starts to dissolve when it comes to light – in other words, when it’s spoken. Who’s that open-minded person in your life who you could reach out to and say, “So, I have a question. I’m struggling with not feeling confident in my body especially now that it’s summer and I thought you’d understand. Can we talk it through?” If no one jumps to mind, writing in a journal is awesome for this kind of topic.

Like most things worth having, going from feeling uncomfy in your skin to feeling body peace often takes time and attention. But hard work pays off and makes us more healthy, strong, and successful because of it.

What are your thoughts about body confidence in a swimsuit? Let me know below in the comments!

Lifting for Beginners

I staggered to the water fountain at the gym. It was around 9:30 am on a Monday and I’d managed to roll out of bed for a personal training session. I was out of shape and hadn’t eaten breakfast, and the session was kicking my entire behind. Standing at the fountain, I gasped for water, feeling like I might heave. I felt frustrated with myself and super embarrassed.

This was about a month into working out and it’s safe to say I said some stuff during that time that I’m not proud of 😂 I mostly HATED training sessions, save the rest breaks when I could talk with my trainer and attempt to stall.

Funny how sometimes the things that challenge you the most become the things you’re most passionate about.

The tide shifted about eight months in and now, almost 10 years later, I’m answering one of the questions I get asked most frequently: “What’s the best kind of exercise?”

The short answer is that there’s no right or wrong answer to this question – it depends on what changes you’re aiming to make in your body and what you enjoy doing (or at least dislike the least). Keep in mind that growing a love of lifting – or any kind of exercise, really – can take time and persistence.

Want to look toned? Lifting is the fast track

Not everyone wants to change how her body looks so let’s not normalize that. But about 85% of my clients do want to look more toned – and also improve their general health. If that describes you, lifting will be a great help in reaching your goals. For most women, looking more toned means increasing their muscle mass and decreasing body fat, which decreases your body fat percentage. Lifting is the most efficient way to do the first part of that equation: increase muscle mass.

Valerie Bisharat squat

Why lifting?

Lifting – or using weights that equal a significant percentage of your body weight – is super powerful. Pun intended!

It’s a common misconception that to lose fat, you have to burn calories (usually by doing lots of cardio) in order to expend more calories than you take in. While this does cause weight loss and works to a degree, for many women, it’ll only take us part of the way there. It won’t give us definition. So rather than thinking about losing fat, think about building muscle to reveal when you lose that fat.

Lifting is also linked to:

  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis
  • Decreased risk of fractures
  • Improved balance, reducing falls and injuries
  • Lowered risk of sleep apnea
  • Better cognitive function
  • Improved memory
  • Prevention of loss of muscle mass as you age
  • Better posture
  • Decreased stress
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Of course, it also makes you stronger, which can make day-to-day life easier and more enjoyable.

But… what if I don’t want to lift?

It goes back to what results you’re looking for – for most women who want to look more toned, lifting is a part of the deal. You might not like it immediately. Heck, you might not like it for the first six months. But I think it’s possible to find passion for many things so consider giving it some time. I usually see clients turn a corner around the two month mark when they notice themselves getting noticeably stronger, more fit, and leaner.

How often should I lift?

This depends on several factors: your goal, how quickly you want to see results, your starting body composition, how often you can work out and maintain a balanced lifestyle, and how you might want to include other movement modalities into your routine.

I typically do four to five workouts per week and three to four of those are weight training.

Any well-rounded program also includes cardio for improved heart health, mood, and circulation.

Here’s how an example week in my training regimen fits together:

  • Monday – Lift 1, upper body focus
  • Tuesday – rest day
  • Wednesday – rest day
  • Thursday – Lift 2, lower body focus; 25 minutes cardio
  • Friday – rest day
  • Saturday – Lift 3, upper body focus; 25 minutes cardio
  • Sunday – Lift 4, lower body focus

I usually fit in a couple of yoga practices a couple times a week, usually about 20 minutes each.

Valerie Bisharat weightlifting

Two important keys: you want your workouts to be hard and to get progressively harder. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

Also, our bodies are designed to adapt to whatever stressors we place on them so planning what’s called “progressive overload” is important. Progressive overload means systematically making your workouts harder by increasing the intensity of a certain movement through the addition of weight, reps, sets, or training frequency, or through the reduction of rest time between sets.

Getting started

If you want me to write a more detailed guide to getting started lifting in the gym, leave a comment and let me know!

In the meantime, here are some guidelines:

  • To get more comfortable in the weight room, ask the front desk at your gym if the fitness manager is available to give you a tour. The manager will show you the layout so you know where to find all of the equipment.
  • Ask a friend who works out to show you how to use some of the equipment. Start with a couple of exercises to get your feet wet and build from there.
  • Watch videos of lifting movements and practice them at home in privacy. No, this won’t be a perfect solution, but it’s a big stride in the right direction.

If you’re like many women (myself included!), this will feel intimidating at first. But in the end, the juice should be worth the squeeze.

FAQ’s – let me know if you want me to write an article about any of these topics by leaving a comment below or DMing me on Instagram @valeriebisharat!

Q: Will lifting make me look bulky?
A: It depends on several factors including what you consider bulky, your nutritional habits, and your stress levels. In general, lifting is a tool to decrease your body fat percentage and for most women, it takes a lot of hard work in the gym to build muscle.

Q: What should I eat before and after lifting?
A: You want to have energy to throw into your training session and eat afterwards in a way that supports recovery and muscle growth. For pre-workout, you could have an energizing meal by eating a serving of protein, colorful veggies, a healthy fat, and half a baked sweet potato. For example, you could have an organic rotisserie chicken breast, roasted Brussels sprouts, half a small avocado, and the sweet potato. Afterwards, have a serving of protein and a starchy carb for recovery and muscle growth. Veggies could go here too! For example, this could be a high quality protein powder shake with a banana, unsweetened almond milk, frozen berries, and kale.

Q: How many sets and reps of each exercise should I do?
A: This goes back to the importance of progressive overload, or making your training sessions more intense over time. Start with a set of exercises and week to week, increase the intensity of each by upping the reps, weight, sets, or frequency or decreasing the rest times. This takes some planning but can be highly motivating! Little by little, a little becomes a lot.

Q: Lifting seems like a guy’s thing and I identify as a woman. How can I make lifting feel more organic?
A: Find female or female-identifying athlete(s) who inspire you and keep them in your mental orbit. That might mean finding an athlete on Instagram and following her for a daily dose of inspiration or asking a lifting loving-female friend or family member to talk workouts with you. There’s nothing like having an example to motivate you!

Q: Can I lift while I’m traveling?
A: Yes! Most hotel gyms have at least a set of dumbbells, which is enough equipment to have a good workout while traveling. Also, you can incorporate body weight exercises like push-ups, squats, planks, burpees, and pull-ups.

References:

  1. Lifting is linked to weight loss and getting leaner:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22777332
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/add-strength-training-to-your-fitness-plan
  2. Common misconceptions about burning calories and weight loss and the connection between strength training and waist size reduction:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25530447
  3. Some ways in which lifting is particularly important for women (including many of the specific benefits listed below):
    https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/growing_stronger.pdf
    http://time.com/4824531/strength-training-women-exercise/
  4. Lifting may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, bone fractures, and muscle loss while it also may improve balance:
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/strength-training-builds-more-than-muscles
    https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/five-benefits-of-strength-training.html
  5. May help decrease the risk of sleep apnea and improve cognitive function and memory:
    https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/RTandMentalHealth.html
  6. May help improve alignment:
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/strength-training-relieves-chronic-neck-pain
  7. May help increase self-esteem and decrease stress:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10146790
  8. Some people see results after only a brief period:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20048509
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2465144/

Research contributed by Mayfair Rucker.