This winter, I had it rough. It was not the easiest of years due to family health issues. It took a toll. Because of that my focus on health, exercise and weight fell behind, and there was a root for all of it: stress.

Recent studies have been published labeling mental stress as one of the key motivators for weight gain, especially around the waistline! Lately, things have improved for me. My family’s health issues have been getting better, and my husband now has a better job. Overall, I’ve noticed that when I have low stress, not only am I in a better mental state, but a better physical state.

What lead to my falling off the wagon? Stress was a key factor, but also my love for carbonated drinks. I admit it: I love bourbon and ginger ale. It’s delicious. And for the longest time, I thought I was drinking a “healthy” drink because ginger ale isn’t as a bad as cola. Turns out that there is a high amount of sugar in most carbonated drinks, especially ginger ale. I still love the pop and fizz of soda— so what can I do? Seltzer and club soda were good alternatives but at $1.99 per bottle— also expensive! I did have a good alternative. At home, I had a seltzer genie, which basically lets you fill it with water and then inject a carbonated cartridge into it. Presto— carbonation! To enhance my drink, I can make a simple syrup derived from stevia, water and a touch of mint extract to create a low-cal, refreshing carbonated drink. Additionally, I toss in some blueberries or a cucumber for an additional antioxidant effect. I also replaced my bourbon and ginger ale (except during the Kentucky Derby) with red wine. My favorite of late is Sangiovese. The polyphenols in the red wine have tremendous health benefits— and I’ve also noticed I’m sleeping better because of it.

However, I admit I fell off the wagon and gained some weight over the winter. Since then I’ve been in a better mindset, and this March I went on a mission: get back to a health-conscious weight and get back some muscle tone that I lost. So far so good— I’m almost back to a manageable weight, but now I’m working on keeping my muscles toned and sharp. I’ve read a ton of books on shaping up, and the best advice I got was from IFBB Pro and Muscular Development columnist Rosie “Rascal” Harte, who suggested a series of arm exercises that have worked tremendously to my benefit. Recently, a new study touted that if you want to look younger, lift some weights! You will feel and look better when lifting weights. It’s not easy. It’s a discipline and sometimes, I bite off more than I can chew (and pay the price for it), but nowadays it is more essential than ever to exercise. A new study released in the journal Circulation states that exercising daily is essential to keeping heart disease at bay. Although it took a major study to tell us what we all know— a few minutes of moving around— whether it be housework before going to work, jogging, swimming or biking— can give us that extra boost for long life. This summer, I’m already doing one of my favorite morning cardio activities— a 15-minute bike ride.

In addition to changing up what I eat, I also changed up how I eat. For the longest time, my breakfast of choice was an English muffin with butter, coffee and orange juice. Breakfast of champions! On the advice of my Editor-in-Chief Steve Blechman, I omitted orange juice completely. If I do have it, I put just a little in the cup and fill it with water— so at least I’m getting orange taste. I then eat two eggs (with yolks) and cook up some tomatoes, spinach and avocado cooked in extra-virgin-olive-oil. This becomes a diet filled with satiating, high-quality protein and healthy monounsaturated fats. This helps to control my blood sugar and energy levels the rest of the day. I’ll work out for about 30 to 45 minutes every other day, rotating upper body and lower body. If I do get hungry throughout the day, I chomp on a few almonds or cashews. Nuts are a low-glycemic food, and control my blood sugar and insulin levels and appetite as well. High blood insulin makes you fat! It’s the fat-storage hormone!

For lunch, I don’t eat at all. I allow myself my usual cup of coffee around 2:00 p.m., but I will not eat again until dinner. For dinner, I’m only eating chicken, fish, quinoa or shrimp as my choice of protein, with some vegetables such as leafy baby spinach, arugula, green beans or peas. Because I do still love red meat, I’m allowing myself to have it once per month. If I really feel the need for a hamburger, I’ll try to use bison meat, or ground turkey. I prefer the bison meat for taste and because it’s high in protein, lower in fat and great for muscle growth. In fact, it has more protein than a steak or hamburger.

I’ve fought my weight for a long time now— almost seven years since I’ve quit smoking— but one thing is true. Good health is paramount above all else. I don’t deny myself the sweet tooth I may crave every so often, but the question to ask is what’s right for me? to go forward.



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