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How to Rapidly Improve Your Life Through Self-Experimentation

by | Feb 8, 2017
Photo by Alex "Skud" Bayley

Photo by Alex “Skud” Bayley

John Fawkes is a fitness expert who helps people lose weight and get into the best shape of their lives by gradually changing their habits. His sustainable approach to fitness allows people to look sexy and feel great about themselves, on fitness programs that are easy to follow.

In the movies the mad scientist works in his lab developing an experimental super-soldier serum. When he thinks he has the formula right he injects himself with it, and lo and behold he becomes superhuman.

As a kid I always wanted to do that. And as an adult, I learned that I can––minus the needles, experimental steroids, and insanity. Running experiments on yourself is totally possible, and very very effective for improving your habits and quality of life.

Unlike traditional scientific experiments, self-experiments don’t have a bunch of research subjects. They just have one: you. That means they aren’t very good at finding out what works for people in general, but they’re great for finding out what works for you specifically.

In fact, I’ve run over a dozen self-experiments lasting one or two weeks each, and many of them have produced massive improvements in my life and health. If you want to learn how to do this for yourself (or copy a few of my most successful experiments) read on.

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When To Be Mindful (And When to Stop Worrying About It)

by | Feb 1, 2017

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of mindful eating. Research has repeatedly shown that mindful eating helps people make better food choices, stop bingeing, enjoy meals more and naturally eat less.

It can help you break unhealthy eating patterns and replace them with healthier ones.

And it is often the last piece of the puzzle for healthy eaters who still struggling to lose those last few stubborn pounds.

But mindful eating is hard to do. Your brain naturally rejects mindful awareness and desperately seeks to follow your impulses to think and/or judge your current situation rather than simply observe it.

These impulses are STRONG. And fighting them to bring your attention back to the present moment can feel exhausting, especially in the early days of your practice.

This is usually when people start to question if mindfulness is even worth it. Enjoying your food more and eating less sounds great and all, but at what price?

How can you enjoy your meal when you’re in a tug of war with your own mind?

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I Ate a Large Cheese Pizza and This is What Happened

by | Jan 25, 2017
Photo by joeb

Photo by joeb

All I remember is staring at the open box in shock. Did I really just eat 3/4 of a large cheese pizza by myself?

One. Two. Yep, only two slices left.

I was a sophomore in high school and my parents were out of town for one of my brother’s sporting tournaments. I was old enough to be left home alone to work and study.

Normally this meant a free pass for me to subsist on coffee and Frosted Flakes for a few days (remember when dieters were scared of fat instead of sugar?). But this evening something got to me.

Looking back on everything I had going on at the time it was probably stress and anxiety from juggling my daily ballet lessons, teaching at the studio to pay the bills, and getting up before dawn to start my rigorous course work at school.

Or maybe I was just hungry.

I didn’t know what to do for dinner so I called the pizza delivery place that my family loved. I knew this wasn’t good behavior for a ballerina and chronic dieter who still desperately wanted to lose weight, but something compelled me.

It took several minutes after I stopped eating before the sick, bloated, oily feeling took over. The lingering smell of cheese in the house made me feel nauseous, so I took the remaining pizza and box to the trash outside and pushed it as far into the bin as I could manage.

What had I done? I was so ashamed. I told no one.

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In the Mood for Comfort Food? Read This First.

by | Jan 18, 2017
Photo by sand_and_sky

Photo by sand_and_sky

I just experienced my first East Coast blizzard and it was so exciting. While my dog Toaster frolicked in fresh powder and my husband tried to become a living snowman, I was on a singular mission to warm the house with an 8-hour braised pork shoulder seasoned with chilies and Mexican spices.

Of all the things that trigger cravings for comfort food, cold weather is pretty universal. Being cold is deeply uncomfortable, and our natural instinct is to want to warm ourselves both inside and out.

But while your instinct to maintain your core temperature may explain why you don’t yearn for salad and gazpacho in the dead of winter, it doesn’t condemn you to four months of pancakes and mac n’ cheese. If you understand what your brain is ultimately after, you can tend to your deepest needs without diving head first into the cookie jar.

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How to Know When You’ve Gotten “Enough” Exercise

by | Jan 11, 2017
Photo by SnoShuu

Photo by SnoShuu

Recently I was having a conversation about exercise with a friend who is trying to lose weight. He had just hired a super hardcore trainer who wanted him to workout 2 hours a day, four days a week, for the next several months. This was paired with a strict diet of chicken breasts, broccoli and brown rice.

“Are you sure that’s realistic?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

I’m pretty fit, but such a training schedule would be difficult for me if for no other reason than it is a huge time commitment and I would have to sacrifice other things I care about in my life to make it work. My friend has been sedentary for most of his adult life, and is constantly complaining about being too tired and too busy to take care of himself. There was no way this would last.

My friend went on to explain that he knew it would be challenging, but it was something he needed to do. His doctor recently told him that he had to lose 40 lbs to clear up his sleep apnea and control his cholesterol and blood pressure. And drastic situations call for drastic measures.

I could see my friend’s logic on the surface, and he took an impressive step by deciding to take more control of his health. But I could also see that he had fallen into what I call the Not Enough Fallacy.

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The 5-Day Mindful Meal Challenge

by | Jan 1, 2017

 

UPDATE: The Mindful Meal Challenge was such a success we’re going to run it again every week. Sign up now to start on Monday!

Mindful eating is the most underrated health habit everyone is talking about. Self-proclaimed wellness websites love to tout the benefits of slowing down and savoring your food, yet it almost never comes up in conversation with someone who is serious about losing weight or improving their health.

This is probably because mindful eating is a deceptively simple idea that is incredibly hard to implement.

Most people aren’t even sure what mindful eating actually is, and so they say things like “I try to eat mindfully” then just keep eating the way they always do and hope that one day they’ll magically stop going back for seconds. Fat chance.

But mindful eating really is an amazing thing if you can turn it into a habit. Focusing on the experience of eating has a bigger impact on how satisfying a meal is than the number of calories it contains (1). As a result you enjoy your food more, while naturally eating less.

Eating mindfully can also make you less vulnerable to eating triggers that can cause you to eat more quickly (2) and overeat (3).

For many healthy eaters, mindful eating is the last piece of the puzzle for finally losing those last few stubborn pounds.

Personally, mindful eating has helped me feel back in control of my eating experience. When I was a dieter one of the terrible eating habits I developed was gobbling my food in a frantic rush whenever I sat down to a real meal.

My frenzied eating was trigged by a combination of extreme hunger (since I rarely let myself eat when I wanted) and the guilt I felt from giving into it, making me want to get the meal over with as quickly as possible. These were not my finest moments.

Mindful eating is what enabled me to snap out of my frantic mindless eating habit and actually appreciate the beautiful food I am so lucky to have access to.

But dang is it hard to do.

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How to Get Past “I Should” and Actually Become a Healthy Person

by | Dec 14, 2016

boy airplane

When I was a dieter I had a mindbogglingly long list of things I “should” do to reach my goals.

I should go for a run every morning.

I should do 100 crunches per day.

I should be a size 2.

I should not drink calories.

I should never eat ice cream.

It makes me exhausted just thinking about it.

Amazingly I was able to do many of these things (I’ve written before how I actually have pretty strong willpower). But it was a constant battle and it still never felt like I was doing enough. No matter how hard I tried, I was never happy.

It took me years to understand that it was in fact all these shoulds that were holding me back. That I had externalized my motivation, letting it be dictated by goals outside my true feelings, and by doing so sold myself short.

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Are You Missing Out on Mindful Cooking?

by | Nov 30, 2016
Photo by Jules Clancy

Photo by Jules Clancy

Huge thanks to Jules Clancy of Stonesoup for this week’s article introducing me to the concept of mindful cooking. I’ve certainly made the mistake of viewing cooking as a nuisance, even though I know it ultimately benefits me and my family. I love this new way of looking at it.

Jules LOVES real food and hanging out in her kitchen. She has a degree in Food Science and is the author of ‘5-Ingredients 10-Minutes’. For a free eCookbook of delicious 5-ingredient recipes sign up for the Stonesoup weekly newsletter.

Recently I realized I’ve been making a huge mistake. Like many modern food writers, there’s one thing I’ve had completely wrong. Rather than celebrating the joy that cooking can bring to our lives, I’ve been guilty of apologizing for activity in the kitchen.

I’ve stressed how quick and easy my recipes are (I did write a whole book called ‘5-Ingredients 10-Minutes’) instead of sharing how great they taste or how good they make you feel.

I still believe cooking need not be complicated nor time consuming to produce delicious, satisfying results. But I now realize that apologizing for time spent in the kitchen, sends the message that cooking is a chore. Not an activity worthy of your precious minutes and hours.

The thing is, I love cooking. And I want to share that love.

I hope to inspire you to reframe how you think about cooking. Because there’s so much more to gain than just improving your healthstyle.

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How to Be Thankful After Campaign 2016: Foodist Edition

by | Nov 16, 2016

It’s been a heck of week, hasn’t it?

Like many Americans I’ve spent the days since the election trying to process the brave new world that we live in. For me this campaign season has been about more than politics (don’t worry, I won’t go there). I’ve found myself reacting emotionally in a deep, fundamental way to many of the events that occurred over the course of the campaign season and it has caused me to reevaluate my relationship with several of the core pillars of stability in my life.

Some of the things that came up for me are issues that I write about regularly here at Summer Tomato. These are topics I’ve thought deeply about for years, but suddenly I see them in a new light. And while much of what has changed for me started with a negative emotion, the longer I sit with these feelings the more I realize the shift I’ve experienced has brought me closer to the truth. And for this I am thankful.

With Thanksgiving around the corner (and my birthday on Friday) I want to share with you some of the insights I’ve had. Unlike most of what I write here, this is not intended to be prescriptive advice you should follow. Instead my goal is to simply show the messy process of refining your own values when life makes it necessary.

If you do happen to share some of these values (there are no right or wrong values so don’t freak out if you don’t), I hope you can find something to be thankful for this week as well.

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How to Eat Carbs Like a Sane Person

by | Nov 2, 2016

yogurt schnooze

When I first decided to stop dieting the single hardest thing for me to do was let myself eat carbs again.

Bread, rice and potatoes had been banned from my list of skinny-friendly foods for over 5 years. And even though I only weighed about 5 lbs less than when I ate them regularly, I couldn’t help but think of carbs as impossibly fattening. Given my body image issues at the time, I think I would have preferred to eat something laced with anthrax.

What is it about carbs that makes people act insane?

Getting over my fear of carbs required several critical steps. The first big one was digging into the science and learning that the healthiest, longest lived humans on the planet eat intact grains, tubers and legumes regularly. I grudgingly had to accept that they were not subsisting on protein bars and Diet Coke like I was.

The next big test was trying for myself. I slowly phased out processed “diet” foods and started teaching myself to cook vegetables and other Real Foods. I started eating fruit again. But the scariest part was letting myself eat things like oats, rice and breakfast cereal (still not the best choice, but it didn’t matter).

To my surprise and delight I didn’t gain weight. This was a huge win, since it was the first time in my adult life I remember not being constantly hungry. Then, slowly, I started to lose weight.

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