Fall Food Favorites: Warm Lentil Salad and Super-moist Carrot Cake

This guest post is by Jules Clancy of Stonesoup.

As Summer draws to a close and the evening start to get a little chilly, there’s one thing that saves me from getting depressed about the long, cold Winter ahead.

It’s the food.

And the anticipation of getting a decent appetite back.

While I love salads and ice cream as much as the next girl, possibly more even, I find I just don’t get as hungry when it’s warm out and the focus is on keeping cool.

But as soon as the temperature dips and the days start to draw just that little bit shorter, I find my hunger returning. Thankfully, it also brings along the desire to spend more time in the kitchen than the few seconds it takes to toss a Summer salad.

After months of neglect, it’s time to get reunited with my oven and my love for baking. It’s time to start thinking about roasts and slow cooked dishes. Meat that just falls of the bone when you think about touching it with a spoon.

It’s time to start thinking about soups and mushrooms and roasting nuts. Among other things…

Which produce comes into season in the Fall?

After having the whole summer to grow and ripen, it’s not surprising that fall is the season of the harvest. A season of abundance.

  • Vegetables: For me fall is all about pumpkins and mushrooms. But it also sees the beginning of the root vegetables that really come into their own in winter. Beets and carrots are lovely at this time of year as are parsnips.
  • Fruit: Grapes and their divine end product, wine are big in the fall. Other fall fruit includes apples, pears, figs, pomegranate and quince.
  • Meat: For some reason I associate pork with the fall. Probably because it goes so well with apples that are in season. Although it could just be that I’m looking for an excuse to eat some crackling.

7 ideas to get you excited fall produce again

1. Visit a farmers market

With cold storage and the global food chain, shopping in your local supermarket can be so consistent from month to month. Boring when you think about it. Its no wonder we become detached from the seasonal nature of food production.

Fortunately, there’s a super-easy way to get back in touch. No, you don’t need to find a big plot of land and get your green thumb happening, although that might be fun. All it takes is a visit to your local farmers market. Chatting to people who really live and eat by the season, it’s hard not to be infected by their charm.

2. Go foraging for mushrooms, or not…

I have dreams of one day being adopted by an old Italian man who knows how to find the best wild mushrooms and avoid the spectre of death. Unfortunately this is still waiting to be realised.

So in the meantime, I make do with meaty portabello mushrooms from the market. Just roast them with some thyme, garlic and a generous few knobs of butter. Just the thing for a warm salad or a hearty veggie sandwich.

3. Roast some nuts

It always amazes me how a little bit of heat can bring alive the wonderful toasty flavours of nuts. Leave chestnuts for the winter and stock up on hazelnuts and almonds instead. Just the thing to add crunch and some warming, nutty flavours

4. Seduce someone with the worlds sexiest salad

It’s hard to beat a fresh fig when it comes to food for seduction. Except possibly a salad made to be shared with figs, buffalo mozzarella, proscuitto and a handful of parsley for some greenness.

5. Make a pot of soup

Even though one of the best soups I ever ate was in a back alley on a swealtering day in Bangkok, I still think of soup as being about cooler weather. I’m happy to skip them all tougether in favour of salads during the summer. But when fall comes knocking, I’m happy to let him in if there’s a big pot of veggies and stock simmering away on the stove.

6. Bake a cake

Now that it’s cool enough to crank up your oven, get busy with a spot of baking. A super moist carrot cake like the recipe below if just the thing. Or better yet, try theselittle chocolate cakes for a hit of intense chocolatey goodness.

7. Plan a wine holiday or weekend

All the activity with harvesting grapes from the vineyard and fermenting them into the nectar of the Gods makes fall a vibrant time to visit any wine region. The chance to sample ripe wine grapes fresh from the vine is something all wine lovers should experience at some stage. Prepare to be blown away by the depth of flavour which makes table grapes taste like simple sugar water.

[5 ingredients | 5 minutes] A warm lentil salad for fall

Beet and lentil salad

Beet and lentil salad (image is author's own)

Serves two.

If you’d prefer to keep it nut free, a little goats cheese or feta would make a great substitution for the almonds.

I prefer this salad slightly warm, but it’s also great at room temperature.It’s one of those hearty salads that can be made in advance and will sit around happily until you’re ready to eat.

Feel free to either use canned beets or roast your own. Scrubbing fresh beets and chopping into quarters or smaller chunks. Place in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar, cover with foil and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until tender.

For the balsamic onions, just soften a couple of large sliced onions in a generous glug of olive oil and then finish with a few tablespoons of good quality balsamic vinegar.

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
250g (9oz) cooked or canned lentils, drained 
10 pieces roast or canned beets 
3-4 tablespoons balsamic onions
optional small handful roasted almonds

  1. Whisk vinegar with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large bowl. Season.
  2. Toss in lentils, onions if using and divide between two plates.
  3. Top with beets and almonds.

[5 ingredients | simple baking] Super-moist carrot cake

Serves six to eight.

Almond meal can be expensive, so if you’d prefer to keep costs down substitute the almond meal with some self raising flour or all flour. The texture will be lighter and more traditionally cakey, but it will still be lovely. You probably won’t need to bake it as long either.

This is like one of those wonderfully squidgy brownie recipes where it’s not meant to be cooked all the way through. If you’re a little nervous about eggs not being 100% cooked, by all means do so, but the texture will loose some of it’s pudding-like moistness.

250g (8 1/2 oz) brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or peanut oil
3 eggs
250g (8 1/2 oz) almond meal
250g (8 1/2 oz) carrots, coarsely grated

  1. Preheat your oven with a baking sheet on the middle shelf to 180C (350F).
  2. Line a 20cm (8in) spring form cake tin with baking paper. Grease the base and side with a little oil.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar and oil.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time mixing to combine. Stir in almond meal and carrots.
  5. Pour cake mixture into the prepared tin and level off with a spoon.
  6. Bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden and feels firm to the touch. Cool in the tin.

What are you favorite Fall foods? Share your recipe ideas in the comments!

Jules Clancy loves food and wine so much she has science degrees in both. She is the author of 5 Ingredients | 10 Minutes and blogs about delicious meals that can be made in minutes over at Stonesoup.

Three Fall Fitness Essentials

Old habits die hard, and once again as September pops up on my calendar, new projects spring to mind. I love the cooling breezes, the shrug of my jacket, and the boundless energy that seems to well up this time every year.

Most of my September projects are successful. I can schedule time, and my little guy is back in school and having his own rush of productivity, so there’s lots of opportunity to get stuff done.

Career projects are crucial, of course, but you can do some personal spiffing as well: a new sport, a new exercise regime, some new fitness gear, and a whole new attitude.

Get fit with friends

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In fact, a new fitness attitude can help you with all of your endeavors. Working out regularly will keep your creativity high, your mind calm, and your focus on tasks to be accomplished. There are dozens of studies that back this up. Here are some ideas for inspiration…

Pick something fun

Don’t choose an activity that will just be a slog to you. Think about a type of exercise or sport that you’ve always wanted to try, then take a deep breath and do it! There is no law that says you can’t have fun while you get fit.

Pick something hard

Test yourself a bit; stretch … and see how far your body will go. Push yourself a little bit (just a little bit) beyond your reach and see if you can get there. You’ll have to work at it, plan how you’ll get there, and maybe get some coaching; all of these activities will stimulate your brain and your body and keep you engaged in that thing called life!

Do it with friends

Include your friends on your fitness journey. Find some like-minded individuals to play with. You can cross the finish line together or boogie and giggle in the back of the dance class. You’ll be deepening relationships and expanding the sphere of people you know who are living healthy lifestyles—both keys to longevity.

So what do you want to do this September? What fitness tweak or adventure would you like to take? Share it with us; we’d love to hear.

Why Smiling Makes You Feel Better

This post is by Jean Compton of jeancompton.com.

“Smile when your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking…” You’ve probably heard the song “Smile” made famous by singer Nat King Cole. But did you know that the music was composed by actor/director Charlie Chaplin? He used the melody in the soundtrack to his epic film, Modern Times. Through the years, The Little Tramp and his films have taught us a thing or two about smiling. But, did you know the following facts?


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It takes more muscles to frown than smile

There is some controversy about this. Some researchers actually think the opposite is true. But, however you look at it even if smiling does take more effort, doesn’t that bit more “muscle” make the effort worthwhile? 

What babies can teach us

Babies don’t start actually smiling before two to six months of age. Sometimes smiling can be so intense for babies that they have to look away. But don’t get discouraged because in a moment they’ll look back. And, when they look back make sure you’re still smiling as the engagement will teaches them—and us—that it’s a good thing to do!

Smiling makes you more attractive

When you smile at someone, it’s infectious—kind of like yawning. Have you noticed, that someone is much more likely to smile back when you smile at them? You know the saying, “Smile and the whole world smiles with you?” They say that for a reason. You want to pull people closer—not push them away.

Sometimes you just don’t feel like smiling

If you’re having one of those days, you can actually trick yourself into feeling better. If you make yourself smile, it may feel false at first, but something about turning the corners of your mouth up instead of down will actually start to make you feel better. Then you can turn what might have been a down day into a groovy, “up” one.

The eyes have it

Know how to tell if someone is fake smiling or genuinely smiling? Look at their eyes. If the eyes aren’t smiling, then you know it’s a phony look. Catch yourself when you do this. Don’t be a phoney baloney.

You’re wearing it

You know when someone is stressed right away as it always shows up on their face. Take time to put on a smile. Pretty soon you’ll be feeling less stressed and more productive.

To your health

Some believe that optimism improves the immune system. So being relaxed can help you ward off diseases such as colds and flu.

The “low”-down

Test the effectiveness of your smile. Try this if you have high blood pressure. Sit for a few moments. Take a blood pressure reading. Then smile and while still smiling, take another reading. You’ll be surprised at the results!

You’re so vain

Smiling makes you look younger! Frowning definitely ages you. You can take years off your face by not going under the knife but rather going into the frown-free zone.

As you can see, the life-affirming effects of smiling are numerous. So, learn from the music in The Little Tramp’s song. Sometimes it’s hard to smile. But, like the song says, “That’s the time you must keep on trying…” It’s so much more worthwhile … if you smile.

Want to learn proven relaxation tips from someone with over 20 years experience? Want to de-stress and change your life?  Visit Jean over at http://jeancompton.com/ for more insightful posts.

How Health and Wealth Are Tied

This post is by Andrea Travillian of Take a Smart Step.

Do you feel like you are constantly trying to work on your money and your health?  Like no matter what you do, they seem to be the exact same problems that keep appearing over and over again?  You can’t pay off your debt; you can’t lose that last ten pounds…

What if I told you this was happening because your money is the root problem?  When you are in debt and struggling with money, it affects your health.  Higher stress levels can lead to more health issues—high blood pressure, insomnia, weakened immune system—all of which affect your weight.

health and wealth

Health and wealth. Image used with permission.

Because of all this stress, you eat out more; you buy more diet products—anything that will help relieve the stress.  What it ends up doing is adding more debt, more weight, and more stress.

So how can you go about stopping the cycle and changing that?

1. Ignore the weight

To start with, just maintain your health. I know this is counterintuitive, but you need to reduce stress somewhere if you are to be able to gain traction in one area. By not working on two stressful items at one time, you free up more energy to work on the money.

Please note, I didn’t say “stop being healthy”—just stop trying to take off that last ten, 20, or 30 pounds. Continue what you were doing, but no more pushing.  Maintain.

2. List your debt

Now we can focus all of our energy on paying off debt.  The first step is to write down all of your debts in one spot.  It does not matter if it is on paper, in Excel, or in a text file—just write it down.  This lets you see what you need to work on.  Keep the list handy, and post it in a place where you will be able to keep tabs on it.

3. Build a budget

Please don’t stop reading! I know our eyes tend to glaze over when the word “budget” comes up, but it really is helpful!  Why?  Because when you budget you get to see where your overspending is coming from.  Then you can actually create a plan to tackle those expenses thus freeing up money for paying off your debt.  Without this step you have no idea how you are doing or where you have problems. You are playing darts in the dark without a budget.

4. Start paying extra on your debt

Now you get to take that money you uncovered with your budget and start paying off your debts.  Which debt first?  I personally don’t think it matters—go for the highest interest rate, lowest balance, most hated company, or whatever suits you.  The key is that you are paying it off and making progress, not that you are doing it in the perfect order.  I do recommend that you make all your extra money payments to one debt of your choosing and nock it out, versus trying to do a little bit on each debt.  This gives you more traction by making your minimum payments smaller and smaller.

5. Rinse and repeat

This step here is the important one, just like you keep getting up every day and working out you need to re-list, re-budget and keeping paying down debt over and over again.  If you stop after a month you will have made no progress.  You need to do each phase over again as your situation changes. Every month is different, and every time you make a payment your amounts go down. When you pay off a debt, you need to pick a new one to pay on.  The process is not static, so you need to keep moving on it.

Before you know it, your debt will be gone.  Gone with it will be the stress that it caused.  This is when your health can really take off! With the extra stress gone you can refocus on your fitness and finally lose that last ten pounds.

Andrea Travillian writes the blog Take a Smart Step which helps you untangle your money mess so you can create financial freedom. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook @smartstep or facebook or sign up for her RSS feed (Or do them all to be extra money savvy)!

Adventures in Chronic Illness: What to Pack for the Journey

This post is by Heather Gaskill of whereapy.

There are so many things that most of us take for granted, and one of the most basic is our health.

Particularly when we’re young, the thought never really occurs to us that one day we’ll wake up with a set of symptoms that prevent us from performing the basic activities that carry us through life, those that the people around us can do relatively effortlessly.


Copyright Jacek Chabraszewski - Fotolia.com

Just the experience of getting really sick is terrifying and traumatic; the feeling that your body is attacking itself for no apparent reason is bad enough, but being told that the condition is permanent is something else altogether. It’s like waking up in an awful new environment and being told “you live here now.”


If I could use one word to describe my experience of chronic illness, it would be “struggle.” I’d love to say that now, five years after having been diagnosed with Crohn’s, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, I had achieved “peace” with the situation, “accepted” it, as I’ve been advised to do, or found some great deeper meaning from it that made me appreciate the experience.

Don’t get me wrong—I feel like I’ve grown and learned things that would have been otherwise out of reach for me, and feel proud of how I’ve coped with and responded to my disease. However, if I was standing at a crossroads, and one path said “Crohn’s,” I’d take the other path.

The real rub of being sick for me has been figuring out how to cope after having found myself here, on the path that I would never have chosen. Initial diagnosis, given that it often follows a health crisis and many intrusive (and with bowel disease, very unpleasant and embarrassing) diagnostic tests, gets a lot of attention, but it’s really just the beginning of the story.

For me, the mental and emotional aspects of chronic illness have matched the difficulty of the physical ones. It’s hard to get your head around the idea that you may never have the energy to do the things you could before you got sick, that you may just keep getting worse until surgery is the only option, and that the treatments offered to you carry potential side effects that rival the disease itself.

Chronic illness can feel so lonely and isolating, as we’re often surrounded with people who are sympathetic, but have no real concept of what the experience might be like.

Things that I’ve found helpful on the road so far…

1. Support

I’ve found that I need just as much now as I did when I was diagnosed. Please ignore anyone who responds to you in a way that communicates that you should be “over this” by now. I’ve found working with a therapist at different points along the way to be really helpful. A lot of conditions have support groups, forums on the internet, etc.—figure out what works for you and use it.

2. Information

Most of us start with what our doctors tell us about our condition, available treatments, and prognosis. What I’ve found is that there’s a lot more out there about my disease than I’ve been told by my physicians. Sorting through all of it can feel confusing and overwhelming, but the more you know about what others have experienced, possible alternative treatments, and ways to cope, the better equipped you’ll be for my third suggestion, which is….

3. An empowered approach to treatment

When I first got sick I did pretty much everything my doctors told me to do: often the options sounded awful and counterintuitive to me, but I was really scared, and they always threatened surgery or worse if I didn’t take their advice, leaving me feeling helpless, trapped, and out of control.

After a lot of research and trying many different things, I’ve arrived at an approach to managing my illness that I’m comfortable with. I’m aware that things could change causing me to have to refigure things, but at this point I feel equipped to make informed decisions that incorporate several therapeutic approaches, including the conventional system.

You’re the only one who can decide what approach is the best for you; having support and information are really key pieces in being able to carry this suggestion out.

Heather Gaskill has a Masters degree in Social Work and has worked as a trauma therapist, educator, researcher and hospital social worker. She is the content editor for Whereapy, a website that builds relationships between people seeking therapy and independent therapists.

Holistic Fitness: It’s Not Just Sweat and Weights

I read lots of fitness information, studies, the latest workouts, journal reviews, and so on. I find it rare that people talk about fitness in terms of integrating it into a lifestyle. We are often just looking at evaluating one small piece of a much bigger pie.

I had the opportunity to go to a hiking retreat recently and they looked at the big picture. They wanted us to move, lose weight, and eat healthily, but they also wanted us to address other things such as sleep, stress, spirituality, and community.

Coming back on the plane I felt so, well, balanced. I got it! For a shimmering moment in time the whole concept of wellness was distilled for me. I was going to meditate more, work out with friends, be in bed early, ditch the laptop in the evenings … it was going to be amazing!

The reality is I walked back into a dirty house, an impending dinner party, a family who missed me and wanted me back, and a 56-item to do list for work. Balance? What’s that?

A week later I’m realizing I have to pick a couple of things at a time. I need to get my exercise in, but my downtime too. I need to eat healthfully but I can squeeze in girlfriend time over lunch or a workout. The 56-item to do list got delegated and executed down to 30 or so (still scary), and meditation is haphazard but a work in progress.

A lot of people treat fitness as a short-term fix. If they can just work hard for the next X weeks, they’ll have the body they want and go back to their lives again. It just doesn’t work that way.

If you need to put your life on hold to lose a few pounds you’re doing it wrong and you’re destined to fail.

Instead, look at the big picture, see what you’d like to add into it, and try to slide it in gracefully. You’ll be much more likely to make and keep the change. You might even inspire somebody else to change, too.

What new holistic fitness thing would you like to bring into your life? Do you have a plan to do it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Why I Love … Chocolate

This post is by Jules Clancy of Stonesoup.

Growing up I was more a vanilla or caramel fan. Chocolate didn’t really do much for me, especially when it came to ice cream flavours.

Over the years I did learn to enjoy the odd square here and there. But in general I was more the type of person who gets excited about the cheese course, rather than planning my meal around something gooey and chocolatey.

Then I landed a job designing chocolate biscuits for Australia’s largest biscuit company.

My friends were very jealous. The words “dream job” were bandied about quite a bit.

I wasn’t that excited.

I knew it was going to be kind of fun. But I didn’t realise just how much it was going to change my relationship with chocolate.

You know the old saying that if you’re not excited about something, just dig deeper and learn more about it and soon you’ll be loving it?

Chocolate cake

Image is author's own

Well that was what happened with me and chocolate.

So if you’re struggling to find something to love about chocolate, here are some tips to expand your knowledge and foster a little (more) chocolate love.

Chocolate isn’t naturally sweet

The first time I visited the place where the company I was working for made their own chocolate, was blown away by the massive blocks, about half my height, of what looked like chocolate. And then someone suggested I taste a little bit.

Extremely bitter and almost nothing like the chocolate that you and I know and love, I couldn’t believe I’d been tricked. What I was actually tasting was cocoa mass which is produced from fermented and crushed up cocoa beans. Chocolate manufacturers add sugar (and for milk chocolate some milk powder) to the cocoa mass to make chocolate.

If you ever come across a 99% cocoa chocolate, give it a try. You probably won’t like it that much but it will give you an idea of what chocolate tastes like without the sugar.

Chocolate, like wine, tastes different depending on where it was grown

I used to think that chocolate was chocolate. But after being lucky enough to try different chocolates from around the world, I’ve learned that chocolate made from beans grown in Ecuador will taste completely different to a chocolate made with beans from Ghana.

Good quality chocolate producers are beginning to label their chocolate with the origin of the beans. So you to can explore the different chocolates from around the world.

Chocolate is a delicate flower

When cocoa butter or chocolate cools and solidifies, there are a number of different crystal structures that the fat particles can form. Unfortunately for chocolate manufacturers only one of these types of crystal is stable and give the lovely shine and “snap” characteristic of good quality chocolate. If you’re making chocolates it’s important to use a process called “tempering” to make sure the chocolate forms the right type of crystals.

If you’ve ever come across chocolate that looked like it had a white-ish dust or mold growth on the outside, this is called chocolate “bloom.” It’s a sign that either it wasn’t tempered correctly in the beginning, has been exposed to high temperatures at some stage, or is getting old. Don’t be alarmed, it’s just cocoa butter in the wrong crystal structure. It won’t hurt you to eat it.

Cocoa powder is just cocoa beans with most of the fat removed

Before I actually worked with chocolate, I’d always considered anything made with cocoa powder to be inferior to products made with real chocolate. But the thing is, all the flavour is in the cocoa powder part and the cocoa butter (or fat) is pretty bland. The cocoa butter provides that lovely melt in the mouth texture and that’s about it.

So if you have a cake or a brownie where the texture is coming from the butter and flour and sugar, adding a good quality cocoa powder to get your chocolate flavour isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a matter of getting a good quality cocoa.

Chocolate contains antioxidants

Chocolate contains antioxidants such as phenolics and flavanoids which can be beneficial to our health. One study has shown that cocoa has a higher antioxidant capacity than green tea and red wine. Different chocolates and cocoas contain different levels of antioxidants, however, so best to choose higher quality chocolates and natural cocoa powders which haven’t been ‘alkalised’ (treated with alkali to change the colour).

Not all chocolate is created equal

Different chocolates are made with different amounts of cocoa solids. Generally, cocoa is the most expensive ingredient, so some manufacturers will try and bulk out the chocolate with more sugar (and for milk chocolates more milk powder).

The best way to tell the quality level of a chocolate is to look at the % cocoa solids claimed on the packaging. Generally the higher the number the better the quality.

Although, once you go above 70% cocoa solids, there is less sugar to balance the bitterness of the cocoa so you may find it too intense. It’s a matter of personal preference. I know people who swear by 99% cocoa chocolate which is pretty much sugar free. Personally I like something a bit less austere and tend to enjoy my chocolate in the 65-70% cocoa solids range.

Why not buy a few different chocolates and have your own tasting to figure out what works best for you and your guests?

Little flourless chocolate cakes

Serves 2

It’s a great cake to have in your repertoire because it will work for gluten intolerant people. If you needed to make it dairy free, you could easily replace the butter with vegetable oil. In terms of sugar, I’ve used both white and brown, and either is fine.

These are among those cakes that rise to lofty heights during baking then sink miserably as they cool. The first time I made them I was a little depressed how they looked, but I just turned them upside down and the looked rather lovely. Of course once you taste them, any negative thoughts will be banished all together. When I made them the other day for the photographs, I decided to make the most of the sink hole and fill it with double cream – so good.

If you don’t have a food processor, just melt the chocolate and butter in your preferred way and stir through the sugar and egg yolk and then proceed to step 4.

50g (1 3/4oz) dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa solids)
40g (1 1/2oz) brown sugar
40g (1 1/2oz) butter
1 egg, separated
cream or ice cream, to serve

  1. Place a baking sheet or tray on the middle shelf of your oven. Preheat to 180C (350F). Grease and line the bases of 2 x 1 cup capacity ramekins.
  2. Whizz chocolate and sugar in a food processor until you have coarse crumbs.
  3. Add butter, egg yolk and 2 tablespoons boiling water and whizz for another few seconds, until well combined.
  4. Whisk egg white with a pinch of salt in a clean, dry bowl.
  5. Gently fold chocolate mixture into the white foam until only just combined.
  6. Divide mixture gently between the prepared ramekins. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the tops feel firm when touched with your finger.
  7. Allow to cool then serve with cream or ice cream.

Jules Clancy loves food and wine so much she has science degrees in both. She is the author of the eCookbook 5 Ingredients | 10 Minutes and blogs about delicious, healthy meals that can be made in minutes over at Stonesoup.

Challenge Your Body: Homemade Bootcamp

As I write this, I’m sitting in the mountains of British Columbia overlooking a crystal-clear lake. The stars at night are so riotous that they absolutely take my breath away.

It sounds idyllic, and it is, but I’m also pretty darned sore from my fourth day of hiking, yoga, weight training, and cardio. I’m at a hiking bootcamp and thoroughly enjoying the experience of having my butt kicked, royally, by a whole team of people who have an ever-so-slightly sadistic glint in their eyes. (Or maybe I’m just imagining that…)


Copyright Galina Barskaya - Fotolia.com

Sometimes we’ve been doing the same fitness routines for so long that we need to do something, anything, to shake things up. I’m here today to suggest a bootcamp—and you can design your own at home.

This will require some prep work. You’ll need permission from family members to shift your schedule for the bootcamp. Even better, have them join you. You’ll need food prep, and perhaps some fitness or exercise gear. Maybe even a spiffy new pair of tennies to give you a little extra motivation. Plan for just a week of time.

Also, you need to decide how you’re going to bootcamp. Yes, there is the traditional calisthenics in cammo gear in the backyard, but you could also…

  • Design a program with a personal trainer for free weights and cardio.
  • Work with gym staff to use a variety of their equipment and group classes to hit the gym hard.
  • Do a Pilates or Yoga bootcamp where you go in every day for sweat, toning, and relaxation.
  • Head for the hills and hike like a maniac (I’ll have lots of empathy for you…).
  • Take a one-week membership to a boxing club. There’s nothing like skipping rope and thumping objects to torch calories.
  • Whatever else your heart can dream up that involves a lot of moving and a lot of sweat.

When you’ve mapped out a plan, make sure that it’s safe for you to do. The goal is not to end the week with a trip to the emergency room at the local hospital. If you need to check with a doctor, please check with a doctor.

Then, set a date, get excited, get your family and friends excited, and go! Like a horse out of the gate, go for it with gusto, with the fun of adventure, with the thrill to see if you can really do this after all.

Feel yourself overcoming a little fear, and perhaps some sore muscles, and dig deep for the gumption you’ll need to succeed and surprise your family, friends, and yourself.

Sounds exhilarating doesn’t it? It is … trust me, it totally is.

Have you ever tried a week long intense bootcamp of some sort? Does this post inspire you to try one now? Let me know what you’re planning and I can point you to websites and give you some advice if you need it.

The Bright Side of Coping with Depression

This guest post is by Dan Lippmann of the Mood Switch Method.

If you could take a pill that would prevent you from ever feeling sad or depressed, would you take it?

A July 2011 Prevention Magazine article entitled, “The Surprising Silver Lining of Sadness” reports that antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed drug in America for adults under the age of 60, and that about 10% of the population is taking them at any given moment.

The bright side

image used with permission

While medication can be helpful for those with severe depression, clearly many people with milder forms of depression don’t want to experience sadness and loss, either. They just want these painful feelings to go away.

Since I spend my days teaching people how to switch their negative moods to more positive ones, people sometimes assume that my goal is for people to be happy all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth!

I’m certainly not happy all the time, nor would I want to be. Sometimes sad or down feelings are normal and even necessary. If a dear friend moves away, then it’s entirely healthy to feel sad. Or if you don’t get a job you really want, then it’s natural to feel down.

As painful as these feelings are, there are good reasons not to numb them with drugs. According to the Prevention Magazine article, coping with depression without drugs can make you emotionally healthier, improve your brain functioning, and increase your resilience.

My client Mary is a good example of how dealing with depression can have a positive outcome. After she was fired from her sales job, she became very depressed, barely leaving her house and withdrawing from friends and family.

She was so depressed that she went on medication for awhile. But the medication numbed all her emotions – the sad ones and the happy ones. She eventually decided to go off the medication, saying she’d rather feel “normal than numb.”

Depression stops you in your tracks, shuts you down, and leads you to withdraw from your regular life. While withdrawal is often perceived as a negative, there is a benefit. It gives you the time and space to focus on what’s troubling you.

During this time, Mary thought endlessly about her career. She criticized her performance, wondered what she could have done differently, and worried about ever finding another job. Although such rumination is often viewed as unhealthy and unhelpful, studies show that it often stimulates analytic reasoning and contributes to problem solving and new insights.

In Mary’s case, hours of rumination produced an amazing insight: She’d spent 20 years of her life selling products she didn’t care anything about.

Mary’s new awareness motivated her to look for more meaningful work. She eventually found a job selling equipment for children with special needs. Since Mary’s daughter had special needs, she now experienced her work as important and worthwhile.

She also acknowledged that she felt stronger for having faced her depression head on. As painful and scary as her experience was, she had learned skills for dealing with negative thoughts and handling life’s challenges.

Sometimes sadness and depression are necessary for growth. Sometimes they can change your life dramatically for the better.

Please share your experiences about dealing with depression without drugs. What insights did you gain?

Dan Lippmann, LCSW, is the director of Counseling and Wellness Innovations, with two offices near Chicago, Illinois. He is also the creator of the Mood Switch Method, an easy to learn technique that breaks the painful cycle of negative emotions such as anxiety, down moods and anger. You can download his free eBook, Beyond EFT: 7 Steps to Banish Stress, Worry, Fear and Anxiety, and sign up for blog at www.danlippmann.com.

Find Your Fitness Flow

If you read the happiness literature and research that’s out there, you’ll quickly notice the word “flow.” It’s used a lot in the quest for bliss. When we are in our happy places, there is flow. The same is true for fitness.

You need to cover the bases of cardio, weight training, and stretching, but there are more ways to do that than fans at a World Cup soccer game. Cardio can be hardcore running or a free-form dance class. Strength training can be traditional weight lifting, or it can be rock-climbing (hauling your body up a cliff is definitely weight training!).

How do you find your fitness flow? Experiment!

Okay, okay, don’t roll your eyes! “Experiment” doesn’t mean signing up for a trapeze class and praying you won’t die (unless you actually think that sounds like fun). It means putting yourself out there and trying different stuff. If something seems vaguely appealing, give it a go. If you suffered through the entire experience, cross that one off your list and try something else.

Think big and little. Running is popular because it’s actually pretty easy to tap into a flow with the rhythm and the scenery breezing by you. But perhaps the focus of a LaCrosse game really jazzes you up. You’ll know you’ve tapped flow when you look up at the clock and the hour has flown by.

Go wild or mundane, it doesn’t matter. It’s your body. What appeals to you? Try it and decide if you want to keep doing it.

For me, flow is a combination of things, and it shifts over time. At the moment I’m digging running, hooping, and Pilates. Sometimes I need something a little more hardcore and I’ll go for Spinning or kettlebells. I do drift outside in the summer and inside in the winter, but the shoosh of my skis on a downhill slope is a glorious thing and I’ll let out a little girl giggle on my first run of the day.

Do you know what gets you into flow? Do you have a sport or fitness activity that you already do? What works for you? I’d love to hear your stories.