Thursday, July 26, 2012


One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in their fitness programs (and often in their lives outside of fitness) is that they go through them mindlessly with no goals or vague, long-term goals in mind.  So they might come in and tell me that they want to "lose weight" or "be healthy."  And while that's all well and good, it's really not going to help them in the long run, because these goals are intangible.  They are far too ambiguous to quantify, and there is no game plan to get them there.  Now, I also get people who have fairly specific goals in mind, but they are unrealistic ("I want to lose 100lbs in 3 months," or "I want to lose only the fat over my abs").  Either way, you're going to come away disappointed.

Little goals lead up to big ones.

Here's what I recommend to my people:

1)  Quantify your long-term goal, and ***make it realistic.***  Say you want to lose 100lbs.  First of all, know that I hate going by weight, because it is not a very accurate way of measuring body composition, but let's just say that's how you want to measure it.  I'd say it's reasonable that you might lose an average of 0.5lbs or so per week.  Some weeks, especially at the beginning, will show more weight loss than others, and some weeks will show no weight loss at all, so let's just put 0.5lbs/week out there as a reasonable number.  100/0.5=200.  200 weeks is about 3-ish years.  If we put in a high estimate of 1lb per week (I wouldn't push much more than this if you want to do it safely and with much less of a chance of gaining it back-- yes, there are people who have done it in less time, and if you are one of those people who can safely lose that much weight in a shorter amount of time, more power to you, but let's just stick with what I know is safe right now), it would be 100 weeks, which is about 2-ish years.   So a goal of losing 100lbs within 2-3 years would be reasonable. 

2)  Figure out the steps it is going to take to make your goal a reality.  So, for the person who wants to lose that much weight, there's probably going to need to be a major sustainable dietary overhaul, and there's going to need to be a smart exercise plan.  This person might also need counseling, pain relief if there is pain, better sleep habits, stress relief, etc.  As every person is different, everyone will have different obstacles on their way to optimal health. 

3)  Set tangible, short-term (1 month or less) goals with a definite deadline that help make the "big goal" a reality.  Write them down.  Tattoo them in your brain.  Make them a daily habit.  So, for instance, we'd likely need to chip away at this person's diet, so a short term goal might be something like, "for the next month, I will avoid all fast food."  I like to have people start with their most challenging obstacle and work their way down.  Once that goal has been realized and is not so difficult to continue, we add more (for instance, "for the next month, I will cut all processed foods out of my diet," and so on). 

4)  Particularly for fitness goals, when you have met one of your short-term goals successfully, give yourself a small, non-food based reward (not meeting your goal = no reward).   So, if you've avoided the Mickey D's for the month like you promised yourself you would, give yourself a spa day or a golf game or whatever makes you happy. 

5)  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Keep on adding more short-term goals that collectively add to your ability to meet your long-term goal.  Some people might only be able to address one short-term goal at a time; others might be able to do 3 or 4 (so, for instance, a food goal, and exercise goal, and a mental health goal).  Don't bite off more than you can chew, goalwise, or you will get overwhelmed and not be able to complete them. 

Let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Brain Power

As some of you may know, I was not an athletic kid.   I was the last one picked for every sport in school, and dancing was pretty much the only thing I was good at.  Every year, we had to do this thing called the Presidential Fitness Test.  It involved several activities, including situps, a bent-arm hang (for girls)/pullup (for boys) test, and a mile run.  (Looking back, I find it lacking; I think I would add a few things to it.  But since I am not the President at the moment, I won't get into that right now.)

Every year, I would fail that test pretty miserably.  It was the run and the bent-arm hang that really got me.  My endurance and upper body strength were severely lacking, and I always ended up with something like a Certificate of Having Participated, or a Certificate Because We Feel Sorry For You, or whatever it was called. 

8th grade was the last year we had to do the exam, and I decided that I'd had enough of being humiliated, and that that was the year I was going to win a Presidential Fitness Award.  I didn't train for it (at the time, I didn't really think about those things).  But I knew what my weakest events were, and I was absolutely hell-bent on powering through them that year.  So when it came time for the run, where I had always plodded along in the back, chatting with my friends, this year, I put my mind to it and ran as fast as my legs would go, even though my lungs were burning and my thighs were killing me.  When the bent arm hang event arrived, I held on for dear life, willing myself to hang there although my arms were shaking and my biceps were begging me to quit.  And that year, much to the shock of my classmates, I got my Presidential Fitness Award.  It was pretty epic.

My point here is that there is a pretty big mental component to training.  My colleague, Logan Christopher, is an expert on this.  I am convinced that my deadlift numbers would be much closer to my triple bodyweight goal if I could just rein in my brain and focus really hard.  There is some interesting research backing up the power of the brain in relation to the strength of the muscles, such as this study and this one.  Several studies show that physical performance increases significantly with mental tricks such as "psyching up."  Initial studies show that using imagery can even help prevent loss of muscle during a period of immobility.   

If you are getting stuck in your training and need something to boost your strength, try imagery.  Whenever you are able, imagine yourself performing the feat you desire.  Feel the object you want to lift in your hands.  Mentally walk yourself through all the steps required to perform the feat, from the stance you'll take to the way you'll begin the lift, all the way to the end of the lift.  Do this daily, and often.  Contact Logan for more ideas, since he's a font of information about this sort of thing.  Let me know how it goes!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Deep Thoughts on a Saturday Night

When I was a little girl, I used to read books like Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and the Mary Poppins series over and over and over again.  I loved the idea of disappearing into some magical place.  I yearned to meet some fantastic person who could whisk me away to wonderful places with her flying umbrella.  I even tried to jump off the stairs and float away with my umbrella a few times.  (Just to save you the effort:  It didn't work).

OK, I gotta admit-- the umbrella trick is still pretty awesome.

I followed my sister around like a puppy dog-- I wished I was smart like her.  I even tried to read the huge James Michener novels she devoured to try to impress her and my parents, but they just didn't grab me the way books like The City Under The Back Steps did. 

I wished I were brilliant and beautiful like my best friend, Devjani.  I wished I were cool like my big brothers.  I wished I were popular like the kids who made fun of me at school, and I wished I were athletic like the kids who got picked first for all the sports teams while I waited, red-faced, knowing I'd be picked last.  I wished I were someone else, somewhere else. 

It wasn't until I was quite a bit older that I realized that you simply cannot escape yourself.  You are in charge of your own life, and you have the ability to choose your path.  Granted, there are always obstacles that are out of your control (some far bigger than others), but how you deal with them is entirely up to you. 

My sister is a genius, and I will never have her kind of intellect. Dev is stunning and beyond brilliant, and I will never look or think like her.  My brothers are still pretty darn cool, and I will never be their kind of cool.  I never did become one of the "popular kids" (and I can't say that's a bad thing).  I probably still suck at kickball and whiffle ball.

And you know what? 

I'm quite OK with that. 

I've been through a lot in my life, and I can't say I have a single regret.  I am really proud of who I have become and of the choices I have made (even the bad ones, since I've learned from them and, I believe, become a better person for them).  I love my life.  I don't think this is lucky.  It took a lot of work and a lot of soul-searching.  But despite this, I feel very fortunate to be able to say those words.

My point is, you are the only You there is.  You can't run away, and you can't be anyone else.  Trying to be someone you're not is an exercise in futility.  Instead, make yourself the very best You you can be.  Take care of your body.  Learn to love yourself.  Take the obstacles life throws at you in stride, and use them as stepping stones instead of excuses.  Make short-term goals and figure out exactly how you're going to make them come to fruition.  Follow up on that plan. Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Don't be afraid to remove anyone from your life who stands in your way.

I may never have gotten to jump down that rabbit hole, but I did learn to create my own magic.  I sincerely hope you do, too.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Little Guest Bloggin'

I did a little guest post over at the amazing Aleks Salkin's blog (which you should read anyway, as Aleks has an Epic rating of 5,467).  Let me/him know what you think!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What's In Melody's Medicine Cabinet?

A lot of people ask me what I use to cure various common ailments, so I thought I'd let everyone in on some of my not-so-secret secrets.  Here are the items I turn to most often for common problems.

1)  A healthy, clean diet and a solid, regular exercise plan that includes very heavy lifting.  I cannot express enough how important this is for overall health, and for preventing sickness and injury.  My body fat is low, my bloodwork is fantastic, and my body is very strong.  I rarely get sick, and when I do catch something that's been going around, it isn't nearly as severe or as long-lasting as it tends to be in others.  A few years ago, a 16kg (about 35lbs) kettlebell rolled off a weight bench and bounced off my left foot.  My foot swelled up like a baseball for a day, but, much to the shock of the X-ray technician and the doctor at urgent care, there was no sign of bone fracture at all (very surprising considering the size of the impact on the teeny-tiny bones that make up the top of the foot).  I attribute this to my diet and my strength training, and maybe a little bit of dumb luck. 


Hydrogen peroxide is a great, easy way to disinfect cuts, clean wax out of ears, resolve canker sores, disinfect gums and toothbrushes, and whiten teeth, and even works as a nontoxic house cleaner.  I find it absolutely indispensable.


San Huang San (herbal ice) is a topical Chinese herbal remedy that I find extremely useful for contusions with inflammation that feels hot to the touch.  Like regular ice, if used for too long, it can slow down the healing process, so this is really only for an acute injury that eminates heat.  But it works very well, doesn't melt, and doesn't require access to a freezer.  If you have a first aid kit, I recommend having this on hand!  


Stop Bleeding Powder/Yunnan Paiyao is another Chinese herb I find very useful to have around.  It is excellent for any cut that bleeds fairly heavily, has been proven to help reduce post-operative bleeding and has even shown to be effective in helping to repair intestinal wounds from inflammatory bowel disease.  Definitely another first aid kit star.


 Oregano oil is highly antiviral and antibacterial (even against E. coli and staph infections!).  When I feel a cold coming on, or when someone around me has been sick, this is one of the items I start taking immediately.  It cuts sick time down significantly (science reinforces this) and helps prevent me from catching whatever people cough and sneeze on me.  I also put several drops of this along with cinnamon oil (which is also antibacterial, keeps ants away, and smells great) in a soap solution in a spray bottle for housecleaning, and use it as a mouthwash for canker sores.

Olive leaf extract is a fantastic immune booster, and has been shown to have antiviral effects on HIV-1, neuroinflammatory disorders such as multiple sclerosis, and has a host of other health benefits.   I use it especially during cold and flu season and when I'm feeling particularly fatigued.  


Elderberry extract is another thing I grab immediately at the first inkling of a scratchy throat or sniffle.  It is a very powerful anti-viral and is good for your heart, too.  


A heating pad.  It has been my experience that most injuries respond far better to heat than to cold (the exception being an acute injury with inflammation that eminates heat).  Heat helps to relax tight muscles, increases blood flow to an area, and helps in the healing process of many types of injuries.  I often recommend stick-on heat pads (they sell them at most drugstores) for first aid kits.

Cherries.  Man, oh, man, do I ever love cherry season.  Not only are they delicious, but these little nuggets of yum are highly anti-inflammatory.  Since most disease in the body is caused by inflammation, trying to keep it at bay is a smart move.  Consumption of cherries and other anti-inflammatory foods (like turmeric, chili peppers, green tea, cabbage, broccoli, apples, etc) and reduction of inflammatory foods (such as sugar and processed foods) can go a long way in reducing inflammation in the body and keeping disease at bay.


Epsom salts are one of the cheapest ways to get your daily dose of magnesium.  Many people are deficient in this mineral.  Just a 20-minute (minimum) soak in a magnesium bath (or foot bath) is enough for your body to absorb the necessary magnesium without the gastrointestinal side-effects that often come along with taking it orally.  Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant and helps resolve soreness, cramping, and twitching in the muscles.  It is also helps balance hormones and is a key nutrient for people suffering from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, muscular sclerosis, and other diseases of this nature.  

Tamanu oil is both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.  It helps minor cuts and burns heal in no time, and even helps get rid of rashes and acne.  I also use it as a facial moisturizer; it keeps my skin clear and seems to keep wrinkles at bay.

So there you have it-- a small glimpse into my medicine cabinet.   Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Friday, July 6, 2012

An Easy Recipe I Love. :)

I admit it-- I'm a sucker for whipped cream.  But as a vegan and a health nut, I won't consume it.  I don't even want to use the vegan stuff that's out there-- it tends to be full of sugar and chemicals.  So what I do instead is make coconut whip.  It's easy, chock full of medium-chain fatty acids, anti-inflammatory, sugar-free, and NUMMY.  Here's what I do:

First of all, I always have a few cans of coconut milk in the fridge for just such an occasion.  It should be COLD!!

You will need:
-1 can coconut milk
-Shredded coconut-- amount depends on how much you need to make it thick, but I usually end up using half a package or so.  I like Let's Do... Organic brand Organic Reduced Fat Shredded Coconut, but any kind will do
-One or two packets of stevia, or to taste.  You may not even want to sweeten it at all.  Up to you.

Take a can of full-fat coconut milk (organic preferred, of course) out of the fridge and pour it out, cream and all, into a bowl.  Beat the bejeezus out of it with an electric beater on high.  Add the stevia.  Add the shredded coconut a little at a time until it's at the desired consistency.  Eat with berries, or a spoon.   :)

You can experiment with flavors, too.  I have added raw cacao powder and a little instant organic coffee (I love Madre Labs brand Cafeceps) with good results! 

Let me know how you like it-- I could live off this stuff.  :)  And if you come up with any interesting additions, share what you did!