Why everyone needs a “snow day” from life’s craziness

Written by: on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

That's me, all bundled up with snow to my mid-thighs.

Remember how we used to feel when we looked out our bedroom windows when we were kids and saw SNOW. Lots of it! The giddiness, the excitement, the rush of not having to go to school was overwhelming. Well, I haven’t felt that way about a snow day until this week when the East Coast got hit with a blizzard that dumped 26 inches of snow on New Jersey, where I live.

The reason for my excitement had nothing to do with not having to trudge to school or to work, and had everything to do with taking a forced break from the madness of the holidays. Sometimes we all need to get outside and play in the snow—without worrying about running around to do errands (there was no driving anywhere) or be anywhere except home (including the gym!). I didn’t get out of my sweats all day and even took a nap!

Already in on the action: my 6-year-old son.

But I wonder why we don’t give ourselves this option without having it forced on us by Mother Nature. We take days off from work to do things (move, have furniture delivered, travel somewhere), but never to just do absolutely and blissfully NOTHING. And half of us (myself included) lose much-needed vacation time in the process. Add to that the fact that when we are “home” on vacation days, we’re usually frantically checking our Blackberrys or iPhones every half hour—so we  never mentally disconnect. (That’s even the case when we take sick days.)

My 3-year-old daughter ready to play!

The benefit of disconnecting from the world is true relaxation: our bodies can rest, we can get rejuvenated, and we can clear our minds to move forward.

So even if you didn’t have a chance to take a snow day, book one into your schedule for 2011. You deserve it—and more importantly, your body (and soul) is craving it.

How my keys ended up in the garbage…and other stories of Christmas madness

Written by: on Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

If you feel like this about now, you've binged on too much pre-Christmas mania

The inner holiday panic started about two weeks ago and has reached a crescendo; it’s what I call I-have-so-much-to-do-and-buy-and-am-spending-way-too-much-money Christmas insanity. It’s the same feeling that I’ve had in the past during a sugar cookie binge: I almost don’t even realize what I’m eating (or spending) anymore—and that’s no good for many obvious reasons.

After a recent shopping excursion, I couldn’t find my car keys—and then opened up the garbage to toss something out in my kitchen and there they were, gleaming atop the trash. I don’t even remember throwing them in there. I’d like to blame it on my kids, but my daughter was napping and my son was at school. I doubt the babysitter had it in for my car keys! This is the time of the year where I lose things (like keys), misplace critical papers and find them months later, and just over shop and overspend. It’s what I call pre-Christmas disorder because I’m not focusing on what I’m doing.

But what I thought about today in a moment of clarity (few and far between these last couple of weeks): every store feeds into this panic. I’ve been getting e-mails almost daily from J. Crew, the Gap, Williams Sonoma, you name it, telling me: EVERYTHING IS NOW 40% OFF!, WE’VE REDUCED 250 MORE ITEMS…PRICES HAVE BEEN SLASHED YET AGAIN…”Oh my God,” I think. “I HAVE to stop by. What if there’s an amazing deal that I just pass up???” “I’ll just take a quick peek” (and then I leave with a bag full of stuff that I could have lived without during more sane moments).

Add to that the INSANE music in the stores: frenetic versions of popular Christmas songs are played over and over at decibels that provoke anxiety: my heart races, my breath quickens (I’m sure there’s a scientific answer to how the body is responding: it’s called the “flight or fight syndrome” that starts when the body is under stress!). I literally wanted to rip the cord out of the music system at Gap Kids as I was shopping as the repetitive, loud music was mind altering—in a bad way.

What the heck is all this about? Spending MORE money. Helping THIS holiday season be even better than last year…so we can read some report on the news that says: “This season’s holiday sales were strong! The economy is strong! The recession is over!” But that news, I hate to say it, is a bit empty—particularly when our spirits are lost during the craziness of it all—and we’re exhausted, spent, and broke (spending the next few months paying off bills for unnecessary stuff—most of which, I’ve noticed, is made in China! Merry Christmas China!).

I’m not sure I have an answer for this holiday insanity: sure, you can try to avoid the stores, but they’re hard to resist with e-mails bombarding your inbox daily and stores discounting stuff 40 to 50% (my Coldwater Creek in town had 50% off everything in the store…I wandered around the store TWICE [and I don’t even typically shop there!] to see if I could buy something just because it was 50% off). I didn’t end up buying anything because I was going to be late to pick up my son from school if I went around the store yet again, but the temptation to go back is strong, I must admit!

But just as you would stop a food binge in its tracks, we have to stop the holiday binging. Mine stops here (convenient that tomorrow is Christmas Eve and there’s little time left to shop, but I’ve made the decision anyway) and I won’t be going near the post-holiday sales. Just as a binger can’t go near a bakery so a Christmas binger can’t go near stores until every holiday light is packed away.

I’m not worried: I’m sure what I’ll find is that I may miss out on some monster sales, but I’ll spend less and be less stressed in the long run. And I won’t be feeding into the rampant consumerism that holidays in this country have become.

So my advice to you (if you see even a glimpse of yourself in these scenarios): take time to enjoy the holiday on Christmas, relax, get out for a walk or run, read a book, eat in moderation—and get some sleep. Then resist the urge to shop the stores (at 7 AM!) the day after Christmas. After all, shopping—believe it or not—isn’t what the holiday is all about in the first place.

What does it take to get a non-toxic glass of water around here?

Written by: on Monday, December 20th, 2010
glass of water

No, I don't want any chemicals with that water!

I’m going to be blunt because I’m really, really angry: I’m terrified about drinking water these days—bottled, tap, still, you name it. Yeah, sure we all know how important it is to the functioning of every system in the body; this information is pretty well established. But I would prefer not to drink chemicals with my water, particularly cancer-causing ones. And with the news today from the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C-based advocacy group, that most city water contains hexavalent chromium (or chromium-6), which … you guessed it … causes cancer  (stomach cancer and leukemia to name just a few), I’m throwing up my hands in absolute disgust and complete frustration.Where the heck can I get a non-toxic glass of water around here????

First, I got rid of my giant Poland Spring bottles (and dispenser) from my home because all were suspected of containing BPA, the cancer-causing chemical that leached into plastic (like the Poland Spring jugs) when heated up. Since I couldn’t guarantee where those jugs sat (and for how long), I essentially couldn’t guarantee that I wasn’t drinking (and that I wasn’t having my family drink) cancer-causing chemicals. Not to mention the possible eco-ramifications of using giant jugs of plastic (even if they were “recycled”).

So I put a filter on my home faucet—and on the pipes into my refrigerator water and ice dispensers—and cancelled my Poland Spring account. But I was always suspicious of how much junk was really being filtered out of my home tap water. And then todays’ report. Absolutely fabulous. Just lovely.

My first thought upon hearing this is: are you kidding me?! We can transmit images through satellite in seconds; we can send space shuttles up into the universe; we can develop smart bombs that can do extensive damage; we can get around a neighborhood by satellite-guided gps, but we can’t even friggin put a clean, fresh glass of drinking water on our tables?

Background here: hexavalent chromium was the chemical that Erin Brockovich fought against in real life (and in the movie)…and remember all the people who had horrific health side effects?. And guess what: there’s NO NATIONAL STANDARD for hexavalent chromium in drinking water, so that means…no one really regulates how much we’re drinking! This toxic stuff is the byproduct of steel and pulp mills, metal-plating facilities, and the erosion of natural deposits—according to various news sources.

So here’s the bottom line: most Brita filters don’t get rid of the stuff and neither do most faucet filters. Reverse osmosis filters on the tap are pretty much the only things that do—and they cost, on average, upwards of $300 (not including the filters you have to replace regularly). So what does one do if they can’t afford it? Well, that’s the billion dollar health-care question. I guess, for those who can’t afford it, they’ll just have to drink their tap water…and worry about the cancer later.

When a health “nut” gives birth to the world’s pickiest eater

Written by: on Friday, December 17th, 2010
white rice in bowl

My 3-year-old's all-time favorite food

Last night, I took my kids out to the local Italian restaurant for dinner. My 3-year-old daughter pulled the bread basket in front of her and proceeded to eat slice after slice of white bread, licking the butter straight out of the little plastic packets. I looked around embarrassed, but I said nothing. Yes, I was horrified. Yes, I thought “do something”, but I offered her cucumbers from my salad “No!”; I offered her olives from my salad “No!”; I offered her some of my soup “No!” She proceeded to eat the bread before her dinner, macaroni and cheese arrived (which she ate a few bites of) and her french fries arrived (of which she ate half ). Lovely. Very nutritious and healthy meal, I was thinking in my mind as I paid the check. (My 6-year-old son ate some of my salad, a bit of soup, and ate the broccoli and mushroom pizzza…with some fries on the side.)

Why my daughter’s eating habits bother me so much: I’m one of those people that shun a cup of joe in favor of green tea (high in antioxidants), eat plenty of salmon (freshwater instead of potentially “toxic” farm raised) and skip tuna at all costs (too much mercury!), get plenty of greens (chockful of calcium and iron), and am sure to eat beans (high in fiber!). I skip fries at all costs (too greasy; all that trans fat!), limit cheese, particularly the gooey stuff found on kids’ mac and cheese, well, you get the picture. Yes, you could call me a crunchy foodie, a health “nut, a mom who has gone off the deep end (with eye rolling behind my back): say what you want, it’s probably all somewhat true.

So you can feel my horror then when my daughter’s definitive food preferences started: white rice, not “yucky” brown; white bread, not wheat; chicken nuggets; french fries; and pizza—sans anything that resembles a vegetable. It’s a battle I have not yet won (or even started to try to win) to try to get her to eat fruit or veggies; put any on her plate and she’ll run off screaming and crying “yucky, yucky, yucky!” And heaven forbid that anything that has a mixture of things touch anything else. She’ll cry that she wants a new plate. (“Is she getting enough nutrients?” I keep asking myself, terrified that her growth will stall [it hasn’t yet]) One morning, I added flax meal to the blueberry pancakes in an effort to get some nutrients into her body. She looked at the pancakes suspiciously, declaring she doesn’t like brown pancakes (okay, there were a bit brown, I admit, but I told her that’s because they were cooked…yes, I know it was a lie, but what else could I say?!). And then she refused to eat them, even when I drenched them in “seebup” as she calls syrup (and loves).

Then there was the time when she took a sip of her juice and asked me “You put water in my juice?” (which, of course, I did…as I was concerned she was drinking too much juice and getting too much sugar). I told her “ummm…no, I don’t think so” to which she replied “Yes, you did!” (I looked away skeepishly…)

But the bottom line is, I’m terrified of forcing her to eat anything she doesn’t want as I’ve read so many books and articles about mothers and daughters and food—and worried that she’ll end up with an eating disorder and in therapy (“Yeah, my mom used to force me to eat my vegetables” she’ll be telling a therapist, who will respond horrified “Well, you can’t blame her. She didn’t know any better.”)

So I let her eat what she wants … in hopes that she’ll just outgrow it and one day, ask for a plate of the salmon with sauteed kale. But I also realized the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: just as she’s determined to eat what she wants, so too am I very “definitive” in my food preferences. (Yes, I am very aware of this!) And in terms of growth, she seems to be doing fine: from all the books and studies I’ve read, kids outgrow food jags (when they eat white rice and butter night after night, as she does) and eventually update their preferences, so I’m saying nothing.

If you have kids, send me any tricks that work for you (just keep in mind, sneaking healthy ingredients into foods like Jessica Seinfeld does will probably not work for my daughter; she can sniff out anything healthy or different looking!). But I’m willing to try some new ideas!

My dog ate my swim goggles…and other totally lame workout excuses

Written by: on Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

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Probably the best darn soup I’ve ever had!

Written by: on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
Butternut Squash Soup

Yummy soup!

I had lunch today with one of my best friends (we met while in London working at the GAP, folding sweaters together…that was ages ago!) at Atlantic Grill in NYC. We ordered this butternut squash lentil soup (I initially thought it was two different choices, but no…just one amazing soup). It was delicious! So I asked our waiter, Daniel, if he could get the recipe for us. Here it is (you can bet I’ll be trying it out this weekend!). Please keep in mind that I’m not a recipe writer. Figure out timing and how much of your ingredients you’ll need through trial and error; smart cooks never need real recipes anyway! (Umm…not sure I put myself in that category, but a girl can always dream!)

Soak your lentils overnight in water. The next day, roast butternut squash with a little olive oil and salt and pepper in the oven, probably at about 375F until done. Meanwhile, chop up onions, carrots, celery, garlic, the bottom white part of the leek and sauté in a soup pot in grapeseed oil (my preference as it’s high in antioxidants and has a high smoking point) until soft. Toss in the lentils, and sauté more. While you’re doing this (and the butternut squash is still cooking), toss the rest of the vegetable parts into a separate pot with a little vegetable bouillon cube to make a vegetable stock.

Once everything is cooked, remove the peel from the butternut squash and toss in the blender (or a food processor). Toss in the lentil mixture and blend. Then drain the vegetables from the vegetable stock and mix some of the stock into the blender to make the  mixture liquidy (thick but soup-like). Add a little butter and a little heavy cream (I’ll probably skip this part as my son can’t eat dairy). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a little bread and a salad and voila! you’ve got the perfect light meal! If you try it (or your own version of it) and let me know how it goes!

By the way, this is Daniel, below,..the helpful, amazing waiter.

Key to burning fat: intervals!

Written by: on Saturday, December 11th, 2010


running on the treadmill

Walk, run, walk, run...on the treadmill for faster fat loss

“Ugh,” you might say, “I hate intervals!” I used to think that too, until I realized that intervals vary for each person, depending on your level of fitness. I used to think that intervals meant I had to go from a slow, gentle run on the treadmill to an all-out 7.9 sprint. No, that’s not the case. If you’re running at a 5.5. pace, you can up the pace to a 6.5 (or if you feel more comfortable, a 6.0 to start). If you’re walking on the treadmill at a 3.5 pace, increase the treadmill speed (or even the incline) until you’re going a bit faster…even at a slog jog. According to NYC trainer Jordan Bellish, a trainer (photo at right) who I met at a party last night and immediately grilled him for his best stay-slim and sculpted tips (hey, I wasn’t a geek about it…just curious!), a 20-second burst at a faster pace followed by a 60-minute recovery is fine. The best thing: it really does make the time go MUCH faster on the dreadmill (or any cardio machine) as you’re preoccupied with doing your intervals. You’ll also burn fat faster. Try it every time you’re on the cardio machine (at least 3 times a week)…and then send me a note after 4 weeks. I’ll bet you lose weight and tone up much faster! (And if you’re interested in learning more about Jordan and his method of training, check out his website at ultimatefitnesstrainingny.com.)

Do we really need to think about food while we blow our noses?

Written by: on Friday, December 10th, 2010
Kleenex boxes

The new designs by Kleenex

I noticed these new designs by Kleenex (who I love and use all the time: full disclosure), but I was a bit bothered by them. Pictures of desserts in pie-slice designs: do we really need to blow our noses while we think about pies, chocolate covered strawberries, and more? You’ve got a cold and now you’ve got to think about food: um…not very appetizing in my mind. And what if you’re on a diet (who isn’t these days)? You have to be reminded about what you’re avoiding when you grab a tissue. Don’t buy them, people say. But I say: don’t make them. I’m happy to stick with the pastel blues, greys, and pinks: they’re soothing and pretty nondescript, excactly the way I like my tissues!

Send me your stories!

Written by: on Friday, December 10th, 2010
Fit, confident woman exercising

If this is you after overcoming a challenge, I want to hear from you!

I love talking to women to find out their stories of change and transformation. In fact, that was one of the things I loved about being the editor of Shape (I just left my position after 5 years to branch out into new areas, this blog being one of them): I got to talk to women across the country about how they got motivated, what tips worked for them, and how they achieved the success they did. Every single woman has a story—and if you’d like to post your story here, send it to me. If you have before and after pictures of weight-loss success, send them to me to share with other women. If you have a picture that inspires confidence in you every time you look at it, send it to me at valerie@valerielatona.com. And if you have a healthy living tip that you want to share, e-mail it to me. Look forward to hearing from you!

Nothing beats a confidence high!

Written by: on Friday, December 10th, 2010


woman & their bikes

Exercise gives you a confidence boost...no question about it!

I just love this photo: it shows women—happy, healthy, strong & confident. Why start my blog with this photo? Besides the fact that I find it inspiring, this is the feeling I want women to come away with every single time they read my posts: I want you to feel like you can accomplish anything and I’m helping to give you the tools and motivation to do so.