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Monday, May 27, 2013

The health and wellness equation: a microcosm

Friendship first!
(Featuring L, C, A, J and K!)

I just spent a weekend immersed in a healthy lifestyle microcosm.

Once a year, a couple of friends and I attend this "Fun and Fitness retreat". It's a breath of fresh air away from home and our families and an opportunity to spend some "girlfriend time", but we kill two birds with one stone by filling it with health-promoting activities.

My "ordinary life" is already pretty healthy thank you, but this concentrated amount of exercise, relaxation and clean eating spread over the course of 2 days provides a quick snapshot of what a healthy, balanced lifestyle entails.

Health: a multicolored salad with homemade vinaigrette 
is a good start.

The activities involved in this healthy retreat include aerobics, strength training, zumba and yoga/relaxation. Those who wish so can also go for a round of golf or a swim in the pool or a nice run along a beautiful lake lined with fragrant, blooming trees.

No one is expected to do it all, but by trying different kinds of exercises, I think we give ourselves a chance to

1) improve our fitness on many different levels
2) eventually discover a passion that can become a habit (one of the women who attends this retreat every year lost 100 pounds through zumba after trying it and falling in love with it!)

As for me, I skipped zumba to go for a run instead. I don't have anything against zumba, but I'm definitely "complex movements to the sound of music challenged", and the idea of running in such a lovely setting was just way more appealing.

Other, more "passive" activities included a couple of talks about health and wellness, and watching a documentary about food.

Our meals were fresh, light and healthy.

This retreat, however, does not take place in a cloister. We were in a resort that has a pub on the premises, and our evening activities were a wine and cheese and a costumed party. Dancing is good for you... drinking not so good of course. But I think everyone found a balance that suited them individually, and I think it's important to acknowledge and learn how to deal with temptation, because leading an ascetic lifestyle 24/7 simply is not an option for most of us. There's no point (and no fun) in trying to be perfect. I embrace the "make the right choices MOST of the time" philosophy instead.

Flapper girls...
don't always make the right choices!

I learned a few interesting things during this weekend, that I would like to share with you.

Lessons from yoga

During yoga, our instructor, T, told us about one of the meanings of the warrior pose (Virabhadrasana). The  warrior pose would illustrate our relationship with the past, present and future. We were instructed to 

- leave the past behind and let go of it (the hand that's behind you and that you turn away from)
- look ahead at the future (the hand that's in front of you and that you are looking at), but without trying to step into it
- stay grounded in the present (by making sure your weight is evenly split between your two feet, which are firmly planted on the ground), and being in a state of relaxed vigilance (head held high, shoulders relaxed)

This was a great reminder as some of us were probably self-loathing about the previous night's excesses, or looking forward to another night of partying! The real wisdom, of course, was to truly focus on the yoga session instead.

During guided meditation, T gave us the following mantra: "I embrace the fact that I am good, and that I am enough" (or something along those lines). It came with perfect timing as I was having a lot of negative self-talk that morning (it may or may not have been related to having a little bit too much fun the night before!!!)

Just before we said "Namaste", T reminded us that "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience". 

I will let you meditate on that. :-)

I left the yoga session relaxed, serene and accepting of my flaws and weaknesses. Doesn't it take a huge weight off our shoulders when we - temporarily - stop criticizing ourselves? I encourage you to do the same.

Lessons about food

I was actually pretty reasonable with the food during the whole weekend, but as we all know, there is always room for improvement. For example, T (who is one of the weekend's organizers) does not buy any pre-packaged food that has an ingredient list of more than 4 elements!!! That's pretty hardcore if you want my opinion!

The documentary we watched was entitled "Hungry for change". Here's the trailer (I think you can watch the whole thing online):

There is a LOT of important information in this documentary, to begin with the ravages of sugar and artificial sweeteners and appealing food that's not really food anymore. There are also tricks to get the 6-8 portions of fruit and vegetables you need each day and making sure your organism stays "clean". 

Mmm... strawberries.
As much as possible, eat fresh, local and in season!

Among the other topics and pieces of information that caught my interest were the following:

- Obesity is not a problem. Obesity is a solution. For a lot of people obesity is the solution to high amounts of stress, to lack of sleep, to being in an abusive relationship or simply one in which they don't feel loved and appreciated, to a difficult childhood, etc. Obesity thus is not the source of the problem but the result of it. We have to look at the situation in its entirety before obesity can disappear.

- Obesity also comes from an ever-increasing access to food that most often is not really food anymore. We were not meant to live in an environment that offers so many food options, so many of them being nutritionally poor.

- When you eat foods that have no nutritional value, your body does not feel satisfied, and can fail to send a signal of satiety despite the fat that you're providing it with a high (too high) amount of calories (some people can eat up to 10,000 calories a day!!! I exercise vigorously and still live very well on about 1800!) Start eating wholesome food and all of a sudden you feel full and content with small portions.

- We spend incredible amounts of money on all kinds of creams, lotions, hair products, cosmetics, in an effort to have a glowing skin, a healthy, uniform complexion, smooth and shiny hair, strong nails, sparkling eyes and what not... but most of those products contain ingredients that are potentially carcinogenic (and often don't even work that well). We could achieve those healthy-looking results simply by putting healthy stuff in our stomach. Eat healthy, look healthy. Simple!

- (I have a similar outlook on cleaning products - I've talked about it before - we are willing to use potentially carcinogenic products to protect ourselves from germs such as the common cold... and we kill good bacteria in the process. What the hell are we thinking?!? Personally I clean with vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda, and I've noticed that our family is much less sick than the vast majority of other families with children. Coincidence?)

- (I also have noticed that when I was dissatisfied with my body, I spent more money on haircuts and clothes and accessories, probably in the hope that I would eventually find something that would really be flattering. That was until I realized that when you are healthily slim, EVERYTHING looks good on you!)

When T asked what had been our "aha!" moment of the documentary, I quoted the following precept: "Never eat when you're upset". 

What will you be doing TODAY that will be good for your health? Start with one small step!

Children, puppies, apples and workout clothes:
all ingredients to a healthy lifestyle!


  1. Love the costume! So pretty!
    So true about not being satisfied with 'empty calorie' foods - explains why I could eat a whole pan of fudge! I try not to make it anymore

    1. I thought it made so much sense too! The body basically is saying "OK, got the calories, fat, sugar and salt, but where are my vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein? Give me more!"

  2. Oh I thought of one more nutrition/eating tidbit that I think of often - when you feel hungry, ask yourself - Could I eat a bowl of steamed broccoli? If not, you are likely not truly hungry, and it's just a craving or boredom/stress, etc..

    1. That's an excellent "test", A! I have done that often, to check if I was really hungry: imagine a dish I don't really like all that much (like ravioli), and pay attention to how I feel about the idea of eating it. Usually the answer is "blah..." When you're really hungry you go for almost anything!

  3. Excellent post, Julie! I think there is a "healthy lifestyle recipe" for anybody who is willing to try!

    1. Yes, you have to find what will work for you... and adopt if for the rest of your life! :-)

  4. The proliferance of "disinfectant" and "antibacterial" hand gels and such everywhere has been of growing concern to me. The kids get the pop-up wipes pushed on them in school; they are constantly admonished to wash their hands. I think it destroys our ability to build up natural immunities. I shock people all the time by admitting that I rarely wash my hands during the day -- it's not a purposeful move but just not a habit I developed in childhood. I get maybe one minor head cold each winter, if that, and I'm convinced it's because my body fights off small amounts of viruses and bacteria all the time that I rarely get sick enough to require adjusting my activities.

    Sounds like a great getaway!!

    1. I'm with you on that! The obsession with aseptisation drives me nuts! What are we afraid of? A bubonic plague comeback?!?

      I do wash my hands regularly, but I do so with water and soap (NOT antibacterial), and most of all I do it properly (most people just move the germs around).

      That's all you need, a good handwash. And some precautions when cooking: one of the worst clean freak person I know once gave us all a food intoxication; she had cut the tomatoes on the same cutting board she prepared her hamburger patties on. Huh?!?

  5. Lot's of great information here!

    Nice seeing how much fun you gals had!!

    I had Yellow Squash yesterday.

    Zumba with a good instructor is the most fun you can have with both feet on the ground :-)

    1. T is a terrific zumba instructor... problem is, I am a lousy student! LOL

  6. The girl second from the left in the top photo looks like an Olsen twin! ha ha! That's a compliment though because I think those girls are beautiful! :) AND OMG THAT ZUCCHINI... IS HUNG! AH HA HA HA! Every man in this world is envious! ;)

    1. Haha!

      Yes, that friend is gorgeous and super photogenic.

      And for some reason our zucchinis always end up huge!!! People cannot refrain from making double entendres about them! ;-)

    2. I thought size didn't matter?

      She does look like the lost Olsen triplet!!

    3. Some would say "it's how you use it" but in this case it's the taste that counts... huh... LOL

  7. Loved this and I am SO JEALOUS of your healthy retreat. Sounds fantastic!

  8. Thanks for sharing all the pictures! I agree with the empty calorie thoughts - it is just so apparent to me now, but when I was 300 pounds, I gave no thought whatsoever to how filling my calories were.

    Glad you enjoyed a healthy time with your friends - what a gift!

    1. When I choose what to eat I ask myself: what is this gonna provide my body with? It helps making the right choice. Most of the time anyways. :-)

  9. Hi Julie! Well, I kind of hate Warrior pose, probably because I'm dying after all those minutes of it when the instructor tells the big long story of whatever boring thing he can think of, and then I can't remember the 6th thing we are supposed to do, or how to turn my thigh perfectly. Some guys who have gone to yoga class have told me that they are amazed at how well women do Warrior pose in yoga class. I say, "That's because we're being warriors!" Like, hello!

    You and your gal pals look really charming in your flapper dresses. :D

    :-) Marion

    1. Yoga can be challenging when done properly! :-)

      Among my favorite poses are the tree and the crane pose (balance) and the different kinds of triangles (stretch).