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Healthy in Houston

The quest for a healthier, more balanced lifestyle in one of America's fattest cities

Photograph by Gluemoon

…where I’ve been lately, it’s been a very busy (and very unbalanced) couple of weeks. Between work picking up and a weekend away visiting David’s parents at their new house, things have been very off-kilter. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the time to blog. Or more accurately, when I’ve had the time to blog, I’ve been tired and not at all in the mood to be in front of a computer (bad blogger!). I won’t bore you with all of the details of the past 2 weeks, but here are some highlights. There’s been a lot of: report writing, eating out, and eating sweets/desserts; only one day of push-ups per week; oh and ice cream for dinner one night (David vetoed it, but then he had to work late, so…). I’d like to blame Houston Restaurant Week for the eating out, but only one of our meals went to Restaurant Week (Post Oak Grill: Thumbs up to the Lobster Thermidor and bread pudding, thumbs down to the fillet and dessert duo).  Most days, it was really more a matter of laziness, gluttony, or desire to socialize. And of course we don’t eat particularly healthy when we eat out.  Both of our waistlines are feeling it now, and the scale agrees with that feeling. On the plus side, we spent time with friends and family,  I kept up with the running, and most of my breakfasts and lunches were healthy, so it could have been much worse.

Balance is an interesting thing. So many of us are so used to living such unbalanced lives that balance takes some getting used to. For the couple of weeks that seemed balanced, I felt good, but I also felt like something was off. At the time I thought that it was because I was making small steps in several areas instead of throwing all of my energy into one area, so it seemed like I was being less productive. Maybe there are times when being unbalanced means being really productive in one or two areas, but I don’t think that’s really what was off. I can’t say that I felt particularly productive the past couple of weeks, but they were definitely unbalanced. I think I’ve figured out what was missing during the balanced weeks…it was the stress…less balance = more stress. I’m so used to feeling stressed or pressured or weighed down by something that I’m not used to the feeling of not being stressed. So maybe these past two weeks have been good for me; they’ve helped me to see that I wasn’t missing out on being productive by being balanced, I was freeing my energy up to be more productive…and that thing that seemed to be missing, it’s not something I’ll really miss when it’s gone at all.

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Photo by aturkus.

I think most people probably complain more than they realize. I know I do. We take the good things for granted. When something positive happens, we think that’s how life “should” be, so we don’t give it much attention. If something is really good, we may notice for a little longer, but the thrill wears off. But what about when something goes wrong? The littlest thing can seem to throw the whole day off. For example…how upset would you be if you burned your breakfast? Now, how happy would you be if you didn’t? You probably wouldn’t even notice, right?

As I said, I’m not immune to this problem. In fact, I might be worse than most. I am not proud to admit that I was nominated for “biggest complainer” in high school (No, I didn’t “win.” Actually, I was nominated for biggest complainer, most likely to succeed, and most gullible…an unusual assortment, but who am I to complain? 😉 ) I really didn’t understand why I was honored with this nomination. But maybe, just maybe, I might have deserved it; the other day, David asked me if I ever run out of things to complain about. Hmm…

I came across this blog post a few days ago A Challenge for You: Can You Stop Complaining for 24 Hours?, and it was just too perfect to pass up blogging about myself. Can I stop complaining for 24 hours? Can you? The blog author suggests doing it for a whole week! This may be an impossible challenge…

Stopping a bad habit is always challenging. One of the best things you can do to help is to replace it with a good habit. Doing something is always easier than doing nothing. In this instance, the author suggests replacing your complaining habit with a gratitude habit. This has a sound basis in research; consciously acknowledging the positives each day is a technique that has proven helpful in treating depression. This doesn’t mean pretending that bad things are good, but actually acknowledging the things that are good. There’s a “gratitude log” on the blog to fill out to help you with your challenge. You should check it out.

So here’s the challenge:

  • Stop complaining
  • Keep a gratitude log. Review it 4 times a day.

Let me (and the original blog author) know how it goes!

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Photograph by How Can I Recycle This. Flickr Creative Commons.

The Water Bottle

I’m one of those people who pretty much always has a drink in her hand. When I cut back on diet soda, I turned to the bad habit of drinking bottled water. I used to try to recycle the bottles, but they don’t pick up recycling at your door in Houston, and I was getting a bad reputation among my friends and family for driving around with a car full of empty water bottles. So I started throwing them away. I felt bad doing it, but something had to give. I tried to reduce my waste by refilling the bottles, but I was still creating more water bottle waste than I was comfortable with. Plus, I’ve learned that it’s supposed to be bad for your health to reuse water bottles. Disposable water bottles are difficult to clean effectively, which can lead to harmful bacteria buildup, and if you do wash these bottles, the plastic can breakdown and leach potentially dangerous chemicals into the water. All-around, not a good picture.

So I decided that part of my healthier living quest should include buying a water bottle. I’ve been hesitant to do so for several reasons: I didn’t realize how bad it could be to reuse your disposable bottles, I didn’t like the idea of paying for an empty water bottle, and I wasn’t sure which one to buy. We’ve covered the first point. As for the second, I know it doesn’t really make sense…over time you pay more for bottled water than a water bottle, and you throw the bottles away. So the third point has really been the sticking point…which bottle to buy?

I seemed to have two options: plastic or metal.  There has been a lot of publicity lately about the potential dangers of plastic water bottles that contain a chemical called bisphelol A (BPA). Many of the plastic water bottles available on the market today advertise that they are BPA free. Great! But they used to think the BPA bottles were safe, so who’s to say they won’t decide the other plastics aren’t safe, either? That left the metal option. There are two types of metal water bottles available: stainless steel, and aluminum. The aluminum bottles have a lining that is plastic in nature, so what’s the point? And many people have suggested that the stainless steel bottles leave a faint metal taste in the water. I don’t want my water to taste like metal. Plus, the metal bottles just aren’t quite as cute (yes, this is a factor!).

In my search for a safe and attractive water bottle, I came across the Lifefactory bottle on someone else’s blog. The Lifefactory water bottle is glass, with a silicone sleeve. The sleeve is supposed to help protect it from shattering, although breaking is still a possibility with glass. I’m not the least clumsy person in the world, so buying a glass water bottle is a risk, but given my other options, I decided this was the best one for me right now. So I set out to find it. It was amazingly difficult to find this bottle in stores. It seemed like it was only available online, and if I’m paying $21 for a water bottle, I don’t want to spend $10 more on shipping. Plus, I wanted to check it out before I bought it. I finally found it on the Whole Earth Provision Company’s website. I went there, and they had it in stock. Yay! They said they can hardly keep them on the shelves. I bought one of the 3 they had left.

A few things to note about this item: 1) The lady at the counter suggested I hand wash it, but it’s advertised and labeled as dishwasher safe, so into the dishwasher it will go 2) The mouth is a bit wide, and it feels kind of like you’re drinking out of a jar. This isn’t a problem when I’m sitting at my desk, but it can be tricky when walking or driving…watch out for spills. Definitely not a great choice for the gym or a run, but I have a #2 plastic sports-bottle for that. Maybe at some point they’ll come up with something like a sports-top for easier drinking, although with it being glass I probably still wouldn’t take it for a workout.  3) Make sure you screw the top on straight to prevent leaks.

The Lunch Bag

I used to have a little pink insulated lunch box for days I packed. I bought it at Target, and at the time, I thought it was cute. A couple of years later, I thought it was embarrassing, and when we moved, I threw it away. What I liked about this lunch box was that I could put an ice pack in it and not have to worry about finding room in the refrigerator at work for my lunch. My plan was to go find another, more adult lunch bag to serve a similar function. In the meantime, I was using plastic grocery bags which are a) wasteful, and b) kind of ghetto (no offense). I still haven’t made my way to the store to buy a new bag, but this morning I discovered that I had this bag from One Green Street in Houston. It’s one of their Chico Bags. It starts as a pocket-sized pouch, and opens into this bag. Their website says they give one away with your purchase every Tuesday to promote reusable bag use. I got this one free at the grand opening of Sugarcane, an organic bar in Houston. It’s not insulated, but it sure beats the grocery store bag!

Update:

I was walking through HEB the other day and saw these cute (but adult–I think…) insulated bags for like $10…too good to pass up. This one is a 12 can size, and works perfectly for lunch.

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I ate at two healthier restaurants on Friday: Ruggles Green for lunch and RA Sushi for dinner. I’ve decided to review both of them in one post for no better reason than that I’m feeling too lazy to make 2 posts out of it. So there you have it. Feel free to skip to whichever one interests you…I won’t be offended. And realistically, I’ll never know. I’ll review them in chronological order.

Ruggles Green

Photograph by SMercury98. Downloaded under a Flickr Creative Commons License.

I’ve been hearing about Ruggles Green for a while now, so when a friend and I decided to meet for lunch, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go there. I’ve always enjoyed the Ruggles in Rice Village (I’ll admit I’ve never been to the original on Westheimer), so I was eager to try their newest restaurant. According to their website, Ruggles Green is the first certified green restaurant in Houston. This means that they take significant actions to reduce waste, such as recycling and using sustainable resources. They claim to recycle about 65% of their total waste. Pretty impressive. They also use organic and locally grown products “whenever practical.”

We met at their first location, which is on Alabama. They are opening a new location at City Centre in the near future. Parking was not fun. They have a very small parking lot, which they share with a spa. At least half of the spots are reserved for spa customers, and probably half of those were empty. After driving around the parking lot several times, I finally accepted that there wasn’t a spot for me, and tried the side streets. I didn’t have any better luck there, so I parked (illegally, I’m sure) in the parking lot next door. I saw other patrons, as well as my friend, do the same.

The restaurant itself is quite small, and quite busy. You order at the counter, and they have the menu on chalk boards above (like at the Ruggles’ in Rice Village). It took me a minute to realize that they also had printed menus by the door, which were much more convenient. A booth opened up shortly after my friend arrived, so I grabbed it and she ordered for us. We used our cell phones to communicate orders. I was starving, and there were several options that I was considering (the tomato and tofu salad, the veggie burger, a chicken sandwich with plaintains, tomato sauce, and mango). I was anticipating eating a rather unhealthy dinner (we had talked about going to BW3’s with some of David’s friends), so I tried to be concientious of my lunch choice. In the end, my friend and I decided to split the locally grown vegetable dish of the day and a dessert. The dish consisted of a variety of seasoned vegetables, such as kale, bell peppers, onions (I think), and portobello mushrooms on a chickpea puree with some nuts. You could have it steamed or stir-fried. We chose stir-fried. For dessert we had Charlotte’s Web: kind of like a tiramisu with chocolate cake and Heath Bar topping.

 I didn’t think to take pictures of the food (I’ll have to work on that). Overall, I was happy with the food; It was fresh and seasoned well, and I’m looking forward to trying some of their other dishes. I did not like their herbal iced-teas, but they had plain black iced tea too, which I did like. That’s probably more a matter of personal taste.

This experience reminded me of a recent blog post I read about organic food. The post noted that people associate the word “organic” with “healthy.” For example, they are more likely to eat a larger number of Twinkies if the Twinkie is organic. The food at Ruggles Green is “green” and “organic,” and some of it, I’m sure, is even healthy. But just because you eat, say, a burger and fries at a “green” restaurant doesn’t mean it’s low fat or low calorie. That’s something I have to remind myself of. I’m pretty sure our lunch choice was healthy, but the dessert not so much.

Have you been to Ruggles Green? What did you think? What are some of your favorite healthy restaurants in Houston?

RA Sushi

Photograph by DiscoverDuPage. Downloaded under a Flickr Creative Commonse license.

As I mentioned above, I was expecting BW3’s for dinner, so I was pleasantly surprised when David told me his friends wanted to go to RA Sushi. I love sushi, and Houston has several decent choices. Granted, I’ve never eaten sushi in California or New York City, so I might not know what “good sushi” really is, but Houston sure beats Rochester, NY. I never even ate sushi until the first time I moved to Houston (I actually grew up thinking it was gross), but I’ve grown to love it. 

I went to the RA Sushi in Highland Village shortly after it first opened several years ago. My basic impression was: good drinks, good atmosphere, unimpressive overpriced sushi. I never went back. David and I have been to the City Centre location several times now, and I’ve been much happier with the sushi. I don’t know if it’s the location, or if they’ve just improved over time.

It was very busy Friday night, and we wound up sitting at a table in the bar area. This is the first time we’ve done this, and I wouldn’t recommend it: it was the first time I’d met these friends of David’s, and the music was so loud we could barely hear each other. We’ve been able to hear much better when we’ve been seated in the dining area. It’s a little pricey, so I haven’t gotten the nigiri there, but the rolls and appetizers are a good size, so it makes up for the price. One appetizer and 3 rolls is usually plenty for the 2 of us. They have several unique maki and appetizer choices. David and I really like the tuna tartar with chips appetizer. The Viva Las Vegas Roll, one of their most popular, is also very good–but with cream cheese and deep frying, not all that healthy. Sushi is another one of those foods that I have to remind myself, “just calling it sushi doesn’t make it healthy.” 

RA Sushi isn’t the best sushi in Houston, but if you’re looking for unique Asian-fusion drinks and sushi dishes in a trendy atmosphere, it’s definitely worth checking out.

 Happy eating! What are your favorite sushi places in Houston?

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After three tries (not counting the ones from months ago), I’ve finally gotten through push-up week 1 with good form! On to week two…I wonder how many tries that will take?

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Two weeks of running down, and on to week 3! The second week of the program consists of 90 second runs with 90 second walks–6 times I think–with the standard 5 minute warm up and 5 minute cool down. I really liked Carli’s soundtrack this week (especially American Boy, Hey Ya, Gonna Make You Sweat, and Just Fine–the last track), so she got 2 out of 3 plays. I’m still not sure how fast I should be going…I finished out the week walking about 3.7 mph and running about 5.2. That’s as fast as I can handle right now, so I guess it’ll have to do.

Photo by Barnaby. Dowloaded under a Flickr Creative Commons License.

Carli offers a tip each week. Her tip this week was to start a journal. She said you could write about anything, that writing your thoughts is good for the soul. She has a point; there’s a lot of research to support the benefits of journaling. I think it usually works best, though, if you’re journaling about the area in which you would like to see improvements, such as tracking progress toward goals, or writing about an experience you are trying to process emotionally. And, of course, it’s not beneficial to just write about how much everything sucks all the time–that’ll just keep you down.

I’ve never been very good about the journaling thing, which is kind of surprising considering that I’ve always liked to write. I’ve tried keeping a journal several times, but it’s never gotten very far. I have theories about why this is, but I won’t bore you with the details. At any rate, I think that blogging is kind of like keeping an online journal, only one that anybody can read. I think I actually like it better that it’s not private. Blogging certainly seems to be helping me stick to my goals of working out, balancing my time, and making healthier lifestyle choices. Even if nobody’s reading it or commenting, I’ve put it out there, so I feel an obligation to stick to it. Just talking about it doesn’t hold quite the same weight. Plus, if I want to have something to write about, I have to do something worth writing about. Thinking about things to write helps keep me thinking about ways to improve and grow.

What’s your take on blogging and journaling? Do you keep a journal? Do you find it beneficial?

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As much as I enjoy sleeping, getting to sleep has not always come easily to me. Like many busy professionals, I have struggled with bouts of insomnia on and off for years. Not only is this frustrating when it happens, but it’s makes it more difficult to get through the following day. Lack of sleep can also compromise your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness, and can increase stress hormones that lead to weight gain.

Insomnia can become a viscious cycle.

You become afraid that you won’t be able to sleep, so you stress about not sleeping, which in turn makes it harder to sleep. These circumstances lead many people to turn to pills, which can have negative side-effects such as increased drowsiness the next day, increased appetite, and impaired memory.

Overall, the side-effect profile of most sleeping pills doesn’t sound much better than the effects of insomnia. Our product line offers a non-drug sleep supplement that does not have the negative side-effect profile of most sleeping pills. In fact, I actually feel less drowsy the next day when I take it than when I don’t take anything. But it doesn’t actually make you feel sleepy, it just helps your body relax and improves the quality of the sleep you get. So some people might want a little something extra to help them get to sleep. Or some might not want to take any pills or supplements at all. This is where autogenics comes in.

Autogenics is a form of relaxation that involves self-suggestion. In other words, you tell your body that it is relaxing, and it does. I’ve taught several relaxation techniques to individuals and groups, and this technique has been the top choice for most of them. It’s also the one I personally find to be the easiest to use and the most effective for helping me get to sleep. There are several autogenics scripts available, but this is the one I use:

Photo by VonSchnauzer. Downloaded under a Flickr Creative Commons License.

Lay on your back, close your eyes, and get comfortable. Take several deep, slow breaths. Imagine the air going all the way to the bottom of your lungs. Your belly, not your chest, should rise and fall.

Tell yourself “I am completely relaxed and at peace.”

 After a few deep breaths, say to yourself “my right arm is heavy.” Repeat this to yourself 3 times, slowly, pausing between each statement. As you pause, focus on the feeling of heaviness in your arm.

Repeat this sequence with the following statements:

  • “My left arm is heavy”
  • “Both of my arms are heavy”
  • “My right leg is heavy”
  • “My left leg is heavy”
  • “Both of my legs are heavy”
  • “My head and chest are heavy”

You should actually feel your arm, legs, head, and chest getting heavier. Some people find it helpful to imagine a weight pulling each body part down.

I usually fall asleep somewhere before the last statement, but if you get through all of these statements and are still awake, go through the statements again, this time telling yourself that each body part is warm (replace “heavy” with “warm”). Again, some people find it helpful to imagine something warm like the sun or a heating pad on each body part as they focus on it.

You can also add statements such as “my breath is slow and regular” or “my heartbeat is slow and regular.”

WARNING:  DO NOT try to force yourself to feel heavy or warm. Instead, allow yourself to notice what happens when you tell yourself your body feels heavy, warm, etc. Some days you may feel more heaviness or warmth than others, and that’s ok. Just the calm repetition of these statements can help you relax. If you try to force it, you’ll just get more stressed.

Try it and let me know how it works!

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