Monday, April 28, 2014

Dove vs. Victoria's Secret: What is Real Beauty?

I know that there has been a lot of controversy for awhile over Dove and Victoria's Secret love your body campaigns. These two campaigns are in stark contrast even though they are trying to convey the same idea: to love your body. The problem? What exactly are you supposed to look like in order to love your body? According to Victoria's Secret, you should look something like this:

Photo courtesy of Victoria's Secret ad. 
In short, to love your body you should basically be a super model. Long limbs that are thin and toned, flowing and curved abs, and not an ounce of extra fat anywhere to be found on your body. Now, I'm not trying to put any of these models down because they are all drop-dead gorgeous but the truth is that the average woman does not look like this. For the women who are not in the fashion industry or not genetically endowed with a 5'10" frame, it's pretty impossible for all of us to look the way the models do in real life. Just because we can't look like those models doesn't mean we're not beautiful, though, and I don't think that's what Victoria's Secret is trying to say with this ad. The point of this post is not to analyze marketing ploys of this ad but rather to talk about how these images affect women and most importantly how it makes us feel about our bodies. I can't say for sure what was going on with this idea at Victoria's Secret because I wasn't there when this was developed but what I can say is that for me, as a woman, it missed the mark entirely.

Personally, I don't want to be shown images of stick-thin women that I will never be able to look like and then be told to love my body. Seeing an ad like this will never teach me to love my body as it is. That comes from changing my perspective and the way I feel about myself, not just being told to do it by an advertisement of women who all appear self-confident in their skin and possess perfect beauty, as determined by societal ideals today. Sorry Victoria's Secret, this isn't meant to be a nasty rant tearing this ad apart, but it's the perfect example of why so many girls, young women, adult women, or women of any age, have insecurities. It's because society gives us an unattainable image and then tells us that's what real beauty is, and if you don't look like that then society will not see you as beautiful. I still have a hard time when I see a picture of a model in a magazine to stop myself from comparing my flaws to her perfections. It's so unhealthy and makes me feel so bad about myself. But that kind of behavior and thinking needs to stop and I'm glad that people are stepping up to the plate and trying to change things. With that being said, I'm a fan of the Dove campaign and I'll tell you why with one simple reason: it gives me hope.

Photo courtesy of Dove Real Beauty Campaign
I know what critics have said about Dove's campaign but like I said this post isn't about marketing strategies and I'm not going to discuss that at all. It's about how these campaigns affect me as a woman, and when I found out about Dove's campaign and watched the videos, it gave me hope. Hope that maybe things were going in a more positive direction. Think about it this way: would you want to watch your daughter, sister, cousin, mother, aunt, grandma, best friend, any female loved one in your life criticize themselves the way you do it to yourself? You can't understand why they would do that to themselves because you can see just how beautiful they truly are so why can't we do that for ourselves? Because we are our own worst critics. I mean if I ended up the topic on Fashion Police, Joan Rivers couldn't say meaner things about my appearance than I've already said to myself. I can rip myself limb from limb and have nothing left but what does that do to help me? Absolutely nothing. Would you want to hear someone you love say the same awful things to themselves that you've said to yourself before? No, you wouldn't because it would break your heart to hear them say that and to know that's what they think about themselves.

The point is that we're able to see others' beauty but we can't always find it in ourselves. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to that but I love how Dove is trying to show women that it's not healthy and it needs to change. We can't keep on living like this as a society, tearing ourselves down and worse, thinking that tearing other people apart will make us feel better about ourselves. Remember Mean Girls, ladies? Calling someone else fat or ugly or stupid won't make us any prettier, thinner or smarter. All it does is make us mean and teach us to only look on the outside of people. We are all beautiful, inside and out, and we need to start feeling empowered by our beauty. For so long, I shoved away my issues and hid them in a dark corner of my life. I was afraid to face my insecurities and unable to cope with the bad feelings about myself and my body. I kept trying to lose weight and depriving myself because on some distorted level in my mind I thought some day I would be able to look like the girl in the magazine. Sounds crazy right? That's in the past, though, and the only way I could learn to be comfortable in my own skin was to love and accept my body. In order to do that, I had to face the reality that I would never be able to look like the women in the magazine. I'm 5'1" and have short legs so do you really think I could ever be a Victoria's Secret model? On top of that, I run 5 days a week so my legs are pretty muscular and will never be dainty or fragile-looking. It doesn't mean my legs aren't perfect the way they are, just different from someone else's. And that's the idea behind the idea of real beauty that Dove is trying to tell us-- that we all come in different heights, body type, bone structure, hair color, eye color, etc. That's what makes us all beautiful in our own way!

Think about it, we can't all look like the models or actresses. It's not genetically possible but most importantly, it wasn't planned that way. We were all created individually with our own purpose in life so we need to embrace the diversity of our beauty. Everyone is different but that's what makes us beautiful. There is no one else like us and we need to celebrate that fact. I think it's wonderful and amazing that no two people are alike. Real beauty is looking around at all the different faces and appreciating the fact that each one is a unique creation! So next time you're feeling down on yourself or picking out your flaws in your reflection, just remember that you're your own worst critic. Chances are someone else will see what you see but rather consider it a flaw, they'll see it as something that makes you beautiful just the way you are. Just to prove this point, Dove did an experiment where they had women describe themselves to a forensic artist so he could sketch them but then had to describe one of the other women they were asked to get to know beforehand. The results are very touching and moving. Watch the full video here to see just what happens. I also love Dove's Selfie project and Evolution video.

I think Dove's efforts are wonderful and it makes me hopeful about the future to see a large company going against the grain in order to help women. People can say what they want about Dove's true motives with this campaign or that they didn't do any better than Victoria's Secret but I believe that's just negative people having nothing nice to say. To me, this is a campaign for a good cause by showing women of all ages that beauty is attainable because it's already within us. We don't need society trying to tell us what is actually beautiful because we are all already beautiful, inside and out, but the problem is that we just have never seen it there before. Beauty is just being exactly as you are and that's why it's real. It's not a photoshopped picture in a magazine or the result of heavy amounts of make-up, it's being just the way you naturally are. That's why I love the Dove Real Beauty because it's honest and realistic. It encourages women to be proud of who they are, what they look like, and what they can do. Dove is trying to tell us that we don't have to fit this mold that society has made for women. We need to stop tearing apart our physical appearance and see ourselves as beautiful. I love Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty because it reminds me to be good to myself and to love my body as it is because it's all mine. I'll never have another body so I need to respect this one. I'm 100% real and I'm proud of that!

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

What do you guys think?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

PB2 Banana Breakfast Sandwich

Before my discovery of overnight oats, I made a lot of other different breakfasts on my rest days. I usually don't have a lot of time in the morning before work, so time-saving recipes are my best friends! One of my favorites, which happens to be very easy to make, is a PB2 and banana sandwich. I've also made it with regular peanut butter, honey roasted peanut butter, and almond butter, all which were great! Peanut butter, especially honey roasted, is one of my weaknesses so I usually stick with PB2 or almond butter in a lot of my recipes. I've also mashed the banana up a bit before so it's more of a jam consistency, but I prefer the chunks of fresh banana! I would also recommend a light drizzle of honey or agave for a touch of extra sweetness :)

Here's what you'll need:
1 tbsp of PB2 or any nut butter
1 banana
1 whole wheat sandwich thin (I get mine at Trader Joe's)

Spread the PB2 on each side of the bread and top it with the fresh banana slices. I like to eat mine open faced with a little bit of honey!

*nutritional information*
225 calories, 11g protein, 3g fat, and 10g fiber

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rice Cake Kick!

I don't know about you guys, but I go in and out of snack phases which could probably be considered mild obsessions. I'll pretty much eat the same snack every day for months and I wish I was exaggerating but I'm not. Recently (as for the past couple months) my favorite snack after dinner is a rice cake topped with a nut butter and some sort of jelly or fruit butter! And sometimes if I'm feeling really fancy, I'll even put homemade granola or crushed cereal on top. I like to live on the edge guys. Before I got into rice cakes, I was all about dipping cauliflower into different flavors of hummus and that lasted for a couple months as well. I can't even remember what I was eating before the cauliflower because that's how long ago it was. I have zero shame though and don't mind if people think it's weird that I go in and out of snack obsessions.

My absolute favorite way to eat my rice cake dessert is with almond butter and fig butter, it's the perfect combination! The fig butter is lower in sugar than most jellies so for me it balances out the almond butter and rice cake perfectly without the sweetness overpowering it all. I'm not always the biggest sweet fan and can easily get my sweet fix from natural sugars in fruits or natural sweeteners. Dark chocolate is my exception though and if I'm craving that then there's nothing that can be done except have a square or two! That's a lie, most likely a few more squares than that..

So, the next time you're looking for a little snack fix before bed, I would highly recommend trying out a rice cake with your favorite toppings! Plain rice cakes can be a little boring so it's a good idea to jazz them up a bit. I've also done honey roasted peanut butter with strawberry jelly and that was a great combination, too! The almond and fig butter still is number one but I'm always open to trying out other options as well. Other toppings that I love besides the granola and cereal are crushed graham crackers, whipped cream, chocolate chips, or you could even go the savory route. I think that hummus and veggies could work as toppings too, I just haven't tried them out yet! Get creative and use whatever toppings you think could be good!

Here are some of my creations:

I can't get enough of the frosted oat flakes from Trader Joe's!

I'm just as happy with a plain one :)

What are some of your favorite snacks?!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Overnight Oats

On my rest days, overnight oats are pretty much my go-to breakfast since I'm not having a post-run smoothie. It took me awhile to find a balance between the oats and liquid to get it to a consistency that I liked especially since I put in frozen berries and that can add extra moisture to the oats as well. I've seen so many different variations of this recipe that it was hard to find a combination that suited me. I don't like my oats too mushy or runny so this version keeps them nice and firm but still creamy at the same time. It's such an easy breakfast to throw together the night before so that in the morning you're not rushing to get something healthy before you're out the door! I just make it while I'm packing my lunch and then I can relax for the rest of the evening. Food prep is key for staying on track. If you have everything already made and waiting for you, you're less likely to swing by somewhere on your way to work. It saves you money and calories so win-win situation!

These overnight oats are low in fat and loaded with calcium, protein, and anti-oxidants from the blueberries! I pair mine with fresh fruit and a cup of coffee to start my day with a well-rounded meal :)

All you need are two simple ingredients: oats and almond milk. The rest you can add in with whatever you like! Personally, I can't have oatmeal without blueberries. It's one of my favorite combinations so whenever I make these oats, blueberries are a must! I also like to add in a little bit of greek yogurt for creaminess and some stevia for sweetness. You can also add protein powder, basically any fruits you like, honey, coconut sugar, dried fruits, chocolate chips, shaved coconut, any type of yogurt, nuts, whatever you like! This is such a flexible recipe that you have the freedom to get creative with your taste buds!

What you'll need: 
1/2 oats
about 1/2 cup almond milk 
~ I fill mine a little less than 1/2 cup but it depends on how runny you like your oats. If you're not adding in any yogurt then you might want to add a little more almond milk for moisture.

My add-ins: 
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tsp stevia
1-2 tblsp plain Greek yogurt
My standard ingredients
I use frozen blueberries because they're cheaper and defrost overnight in the refrigerator. I've used fresh blueberries as well but I can't really tell the difference between the two, it's always delicious! The main thing is just that the frozen blueberries will turn your oats purple but taste-wise it's all the same!
Let it sit overnight so the oats can soak up all the deliciousness
The finished product! I like to have mine with a banana and cup of coffee :)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Count Your Blessings

This post has nothing to do with confidence or health or fitness but I think it's important to share. I hope that you get something out of it and that it can give a little perspective. I feel like I've learned a lot in this past year, more than most 22 year-olds that I know and I don't mean this to be bragging or condescending. It's just that I've gone through harder times than my friends but I'm not writing this for sympathy. That's not my goal at all and it never has been. I don't mean to say either that what other people are going through doesn't matter or isn't as difficult as what I went through. We all lead different lives, encounter different circumstances, and endure different hardships. It doesn't mean some paths are better or worse than others, just different. I'm also well aware that what I went through last year could've been so much more difficult in comparison to what some people go through every single day of their lives. All in all, I've been so blessed and that's what this post is about-- finding the silver lining in whatever you might be going through. For me, the silver lining was learning to appreciate the people in my life and their love for me.

I'm just gonna take a minute and be warm and gushy about all the amazing people in my life. They're the ones who have supported me through my entire life, my journey, and loved me unconditionally. I am so blessed and truly thankful to have such wonderful people surrounding me. It's true when they say that the tough times really show you who your real loved ones are and believe me, I've sailed some rough waters. If you haven't already read my about me page, then you should know that my mom barely survived a brain aneurysm of May 2013. We're coming up on the one-year anniversary and I can't believe how far she's come. I'm not gonna talk too much about it now because I plan on doing a post about it in a couple weeks. For now, I just want to focus on the big picture and all the blessings in my life.

I think it's really important to take the time to count your blessings and see all that you have been provided. I'm not financially rich by any means but I have enough people and love that enrich my life. It's all about perspective and finding the little things that you may take for granted. There were so many times that I broke down in utter fear and worry last summer. Things like losing my mom, finding a job, paying medical bills, paying back student loans, finding a car that I could afford, being able to pay all the bills since my mom usually took care of that stuff. Every single little thing piled up so that I was a tightly wound ball of stress. But through it all, my family and friends never left my side. God provided for my sister and I in more ways than one. Miraculously, my mom survived and her health coverage was phenomenal that we hardly had to pay over $500 for her deductable yet her three brain surgeries amounted to tens of thousands of dollars and that's not even adding in her 2 month stay in the ICU, 2 month stay in a step-down neuro unit, plus her recovery in a brain rehabilitation center and nursing home. In total, she spent 6 months in the hospital and rehab. If we had to pay all of those costs out of pocket, we would be completely bankrupt. Yet, we were blessed with more money than we needed. My mom's coworkers donated their paid leave so that she was getting full paychecks for months on end. They even went beyond that and set up a fund so that people were giving us donations for things like groceries and bills. I was speechless and can never repay them.

My sister and I were both able to find full-time jobs. We each got the first job we interviewed for and were able to put away some of our own money. My grandma, bless her soul, gave us money for when we would have to start paying back our student loans in the fall and my aunt spent countless hours and weekends helping me find an affordable car. She also fed my sister and I dinner on most nights, just as she always had over the years, so we were able to save on groceries too. If it weren't for them, my sister and I would have been completely lost. They put their lives on hold for us just so they could be there to support us. All four of us went to the hospital every day to see my mom and they stayed by our side through it all. The best part? My parents are divorced and my aunt and grandma are on my dad's side. I think that says everything about their love and commitment. They're two of the best people I know.

So, bottom line is that my experience with my mom taught me a lot. It taught me to slow down and not take things for granted, especially the people in your life. I have a voicemail from my mom saved on my phone that I listened to every night when she was in the hospital just so I could hear the sound of her voice. It wasn't even anything special but I just needed to hear her say my name and that she loved me. I cried myself to sleep so many times because I was just waiting for another midnight call saying the doctor had to do another emergency procedure and they needed my permission or that she had gone for yet another scan. And still through it all she remained unconscious and unresponsive. I just wanted my mom back and I couldn't have her. That tore me apart but it taught me something important. I'm still not perfect at it but I try not to take those closest to me for granted. I'm human and it still happens a lot but I'm learning to appreciate those around me. I may not always say it because I'm not gushy with my loved ones like that but I'm trying to be better with putting it into words.

Please, take the time to tell those you love how important they are to you. Don't make the same mistake that I did and wait until it's too late. I was blessed to have a second chance with my mom so that I'm able to tell her more now. And if you're in a place where you can't then my prayers go out to you. Really and truly I mean that because 10 months ago I thought I was at that place and it broke my heart. I remember the feeling of cold dread that I may not ever get to talk to her again or be able to tell her I love her or thank her for just how much she sacrificed for me over the years. My sister and I were her whole world and she would've laid down her life for her girls.

From all this I've also discovered that my perspective on life is completely altered now. I look at the big picture instead of all the little things. If someone cuts me off in traffic and my road rage flares up, I tell myself that it could be a lot worse. I have a home, a job, and a family that loves me. The little things roll off my back a lot easier now. I've never been one to stew over things or hold a grudge but still I've noticed a change in my attitude about life. Sometimes things can still get to me but I have a better way of dealing with it. It's still a major work in progress as with everything in my life but it's a lesson I'm glad I'm learning. I'm more aware of my blessings and life seems so much more peaceful now that I focus on the good things.

If you're still going through hard times, please keep holding on. There wasn't a light at the end of the tunnel for months and it was exhausting. If you've been going through something for years, then your perseverance is inspiring. From the bottom of my heart I mean it and I admire your strength. It took a lot for me to just get through a few months that I have all the respect in the world for people who go through much worse and much longer. My daily reminder and encouragement was my coffee cup. I realize that sounds silly but let me explain. It has mine and my mom's favorite poem engraved on it: "Foot prints in the Sand". If you've never heard of it, don't worry I'm including it at the end of the post. I actually thought of getting the last line "it was then that I carried you" as a tattoo on my foot for my mom and I'll probably do that some day. For now, though, I hope it can serve as a source of encouragement for whatever you're going through. Just keep going because you're a survivor and you're not going through this alone :)

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand;
one belonging to him, the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand, he noticed that
many times along the path of his life there was only one set
of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk
with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of
footprints. I don't understand why, when I needed you most,
you would leave me."

The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."
--Margaret Powers

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Apple Protein Smoothie

After my run yesterday, I whipped up a smoothie in my sister's new Ninja blender. Let me start by saying that I was the oh-so-loving and perfect little sister that got her this birthday present (yes, you're right in assuming that I also had personal interest invested in this gift). I had no issues with our last blender and it worked fine but I could not get over how perfectly smooth and blended my smoothie turned out with the new one! Seriously, I was amazed and the best part is that the blender came with 2 smoothie cups so that I didn't have to use the whole blender to make it. Super easy clean-up! This is a blender after my heart...

So back to my smoothie. It's really easy and simple as I just used my normal base of vanilla protein powder and almond milk. Usually I put in a banana but I wanted to switch it up with something different. We didn't have enough fresh berries so I went with an apple. It was four simple ingredients: a medium apple, 1 full scoop of protein powder, 6 oz almond milk, and cinnamon! Throw it all in the blender and blend until it's smooth. Usually what I would do is add everything to the blender except the powder and then as the blender is running, slowly pour the protein powder in. For me, that made the smoothie so much lighter and frothier than just adding the powder at the beginning. With the new blender, though, there were zero issues with light and frothy, it came out perfectly!

Combine all the ingredients in the blender. This is where I would usually leave out the protein powder and slowly pour it in while the blender is running. If you haven't already tried that, I would highly recommend doing it! It really made a difference for me texture-wise. 

I want to shake the hand of the brilliant person who invented this way to make smoothies. 
All I had to do was switch out the lids and my smoothie was ready to go :)

***nutritional information***
195 calories, 18.5g protein, and 3g fat

Ways to Increase Your Self-Esteem

I've said it before but I'm no expert. Everything I post on here is from my own experience so you can take it or leave it. There's no degree or science to back this up but I can tell you that it's helped me and I hope it can help you too! 

1. Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop. It. Now. Just because someone else is beautiful doesn't mean you aren't.

2. Look in the mirror and instead of picking out what you may not like about yourself, find things that you do and focus only on those! I guarantee the more you do it, the more things you'll find :)

3. Take a little time each day to do something for yourself. Whether it's a small treat like painting your nails, a relaxing bath, nice long walk, trying out a recipe, or reading a good book. Whatever makes you happy, do it. And do it often. 

4. Write a list of your accomplishments, talents, and abilities. Even the little things that may not seem like much but actually add up to something really special, you!

5. Surround yourself with motivational people. This may seem harsh, but if there are toxic or hurtful people in your life you need to stay away from them. They'll only bring you down and hurt you in the end. It's important to have healthy relationships with the people in your life. 

6. Do something nice for someone else. I'm not talking about a favor that they'll have to repay but a small simple gesture that can mean a lot. It doesn't have to be someone you know, but even a random act of kindness. I think those are the coolest and sweetest ideas! Get creative and make someone's day!

7. Find something you're passionate about, whatever it might be. Just dive whole-heartedly into it and give it your all. 

8. Understand that the images the media bombards us with aren't real. The models in those pictures don't even look like that. The sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can stop striving for impossible "perfection".

9. Tell yourself you're beautiful. And mean it. Stand in front of your reflection, look yourself in the eyes, and say it. Don't look at your face or body or anything else. Say it and mean it. Because you are, you really and truly are beautiful. 

10. Live in the moment. This one is tricky because as people we take life for granted on a daily basis. But just sit back and take a break from your whirlwind life and take a minute to appreciate what a gift you truly have. Take in the world around you, the breeze on your face, the sun on your skin, the feel of your heart beating, just let it sink in. Once you can wrap your mind around what a glorious feeling it is to be alive, suddenly whether or not women have thigh gaps seems like the least important matter.

This morning as I was leaving for work the sunrise was so beautiful that I had to stop and take a few moments to appreciate it :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Real Reason Why I Chose to be Healthy

I came across this quote and it really spoke to me. My decision to become healthier has nothing to do with the fact that I didn't feel beautiful or felt the pressure to conform to beauty ideals by trying to be thinner. People might say that the only reason I feel more beautiful is because my body is in better shape and that's why I feel more confident. But the truth is, they're wrong. They couldn't be even more wrong. I'm more confident in my own skin because I've learned to teach myself that my physical appearance isn't everything. Am I proud that I'm in better shape? Absolutely. Do I like the fact that my body is physically capable of so much more? You bet. That didn't make me see my beauty though.

I'm not trying to tell you guys that you have to become healthier or lose weight to feel more beautiful. I've said it before and I'll say it again, we're all perfectly crafted. We are each unique in our own way, and we have to remember that. I was beautiful before I started my health and fitness journey just as I am today. Now I happen to be healthier and stronger. That's the only difference-- the ability to run half-marathons or actually be able to do more than two push-ups in a row (I know, embarrassing, but that's pretty much where I was when I started). I've gone through physical as well as mental challenges that have changed me. I learned to accept myself and my body, exactly as I am. That's how I learned to see myself as beautiful. I know for a fact that my weight has nothing to do with it because even when I had lost over 15 lbs, I still didn't feel or see myself as beautiful.

So people might look at me and think that I decided to become healthier in order to change my body or lose weight and that's fine if they want to think that, but it's not the real reason. I did it for myself and the satisfaction of pushing myself to see what I was capable of accomplishing. For the knowledge that I take better care of my body by making healthier choices. I'm in a much better place because I feel healthier both physically and mentally.

Sure, I'm human and have my days where I don't feel like working out or I give in to my dark chocolate cravings or I feel bloated in my jeans. Life happens and we all have our bad days, but the difference is now I'm able to bounce back from those bad days. If I have a day where I don't feel confident in anything I wear, I'll throw on something comfy and won't beat myself up about it. I've begun to notice that those days become less frequent as I've learned to see myself as beautiful. Like I said, I still have a long way to go but I'm happy with my progress. Each day I grow more confident in my own skin and it's such a blessing.

So, remember, it doesn't matter what other people think or if they question you. It's all about yourself and what you do to see yourself as beautiful. The fact that I enjoy being healthy and started my fitness journey did not directly change whether or not I feel beautiful. That came from the inside and changing the way I think and feel about myself. The reality is that picking an apple over fries or going for a run didn't make me feel beautiful. Last year, I tried for so long to keep my weight low because I thought that would solve everything. But it didn't. It only made things worse and caused me to develop unhealthy patterns. Once I finally let go and started treating myself right, that's when things changed. The day I started to stand in front of the mirror and realize that my body is my body and made that way for a reason. So please, please, remember that you have always been beautiful. Don't feel as though you have to change your body through diet and exercise to be beautiful. That number on the scale doesn't define you. It is only a reflection of your relationship with gravity and doesn't encompass your abilities, characteristics, or soul. When you add up your capabilities, love, humor, accomplishments, thoughts, passions, talents, everything that makes you you, doesn't that measure up to more than your weight?

I know that I had trouble putting all my thoughts into words but the main thing I'm trying to say is this: learning to see your beauty doesn't come from physical changes, it comes from mental changes. I'm not more confident now solely because I'm fitter than I was a few years ago. The changes I've seen are from learning to appreciate myself and what I'm capable of doing. I was beautiful before I ran my first half-marathon but I just didn't see that because I simply couldn't. I was too hard on myself and too invested in my physical appearance. Now, I'm able to bring more to the table by being confident in not only how I look but who I am. So yes, I have a passion for being healthy and it's more than just a change for me it's a lifestyle. I love sharing my recipes and fitness tips so I've included those on my blog. But that's not what this is all about. Health choices are not what makes a person beautiful. We are all beautiful. Please remember that.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My New Avocado Obsession

It's no secret that I absolutely love avocados. In sushi, guacamole, on salads, or just a side snack! What I did yesterday was mash it up and put it on some whole grain toast! And I was pretty obsessed with the results. I put some fresh cracked black pepper over the mash and I was in heaven. It's so simple yet so delicious! Plus full of healthy fats from the avocado and grains from the wheat bread. My family went on vacation and my aunt left us a bag of avocados so I decided to experiment with different ways to eat up the avocados. Since I did an 11 mile run I was looking to up my carbs and fat intake so I figured this would be a good way to get the extra fuel my body needed, and make sure the avocados wouldn't go to waste! Like I said it's super simple to whip this up as a quick snack. First, you just slice the avocado in half, then cut it up while it's still in the skin, mash it up, and slather it on the toast!

 You want to make sure that your avocado is pretty ripe or else it could be harder to mash up the avocado. You can always use a food processor or blender to mash it, but I preferred to keep the clean-up to a minimum on this one.
I left mine in some chunks because I didn't want the mash to be too fine. It's up to your personal preference, so if you don't want as big avocado chunks as mine then keep mashing!

The finished product! I ground fresh black pepper over mine to finish it off. You could also season it up with salt, garlic, season salt, or even some cayenne for a kick! I saved the other half of my avocado to make this again with my dinner. It was the perfect side to my grilled chicken and beet salad!

My Favorite Post-Run Smoothie

My go-to post workout fuel are smoothies! They're my favorite because they give me the boost of energy I need after my runs without being too filling. For my usual runs, I just have a simple smoothie with banana, almond milk, and protein powder but with my training for the half-marathon, I've needed extra fuel after my long runs on Saturday. I've been doing anywhere from 9-12 miles for the past few weekends so I've needed extra calories to recover from my runs. I found this recipe on Pinterest and let me tell you it's amazing! It tastes just like oatmeal cookie dough in a smoothie form and it's an awesome treat for all the hard work I did during my run. The original recipe can be found on:

I topped mine with my favorite whipped cream from Trader Joe's!
I love that it's packed full of protein and healthy fats from the almond butter! I have zero guilt treating myself to a smoothie like this one :)

***nutritional information***
382 calories, 26g protein, and 14g of fat

Friday, April 11, 2014

Be-YOU-tiful Quotes

I thought that it would be helpful to write a post with quotes that have to do with appreciating your beauty and the joy of just being yourself. For me, when I'm having an off day where I just don't feel confident, it helps to have words of wisdom in the back of my mind to give me strength. Beauty is not always just about what's on the outside, and I think it's important to be confident in who we are and our abilities. We're all different and have different talents and interests so I think it's important to celebrate that! Life would be way too boring if we were all the same. I made a list of my top favorites and I hope that they can bring you confidence and strength as well!

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well"-- Psalm 139:14

"To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don't need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself."-- Thich Nhat Hanh

"Confidence is silent, insecurities are loud"-- Unknown

"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection"-- Buddha

"Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it"-- Confucius

"Just be yourself because life's too short to be anybody else"-- Unknown

"Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart"-- Kahlil Gilbran

"She is more precious than jewels and nothing you desire can compare with her"-- Proverbs 3:15

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment"-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The things I find most beautiful about a person are almost never physical"-- Unknown

"Be your own kind of beautiful"-- Unknown

"You are all fair, my love; there is no flaw in you"-- Songs of Solomon 4:7

Gluten-free and Sugar-free Black Bean Brownies

So this year for Lent, I've given up sugar and I've managed to stay on track! Let me clarify real quick that when I mean sugar, I'm talking about processed, bad-for-you kinda sugar. Natural sugars you find in fruits or good sweeteners like stevia are totally fine in my book. It was my sister's birthday this week which meant a lot of saying no to sugary sweets, and trust me it was difficult. I admit, though, I slipped up once when I had to try this new salted caramel cake from one of my favorite bakeries. But, other than that I've been sugar free since the beginning of Lent! To make things easier on me, I decided to bring one of my own creations that I knew I would be able to enjoy as everyone else around me was chowing down my cake and ice cream. I decided to give black-bean brownies another try. Awhile back when my sister was still living in Tennessee, we tried to make a batch when I was visiting her. Let me tell you, it was a disaster. They turned out horrible! Cake-y, dry, and tasting horribly of beans. Chocolately beans is not a taste that I care for so we abandoned that recipe pretty quickly. However, this past weekend I was feeling brave and decided to come up with my own recipe based off some recipes that I had looked at online. A lot of them unfortunately had white sugar or vegetable oil so I figured I would make a few swaps and see what happened. For a first time experiment, I think the brownies came out well and my family approved! So for starters, here's what you'll need:

**yields 12 brownies**

1 can (15 oz.) of organic black beans

3 eggs

3 tablespoons coconut oil

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup baking stevia

2 tablespoons agave (or more depending on your sweet tooth!)

pinch of salt (omit if the beans are not low-sodium)

1/4 cup walnuts chopped (optional)

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)

1. preheat the oven to 350
My baking assistant!

2. Drain the black beans and rinse them well. Pat them dry with a paper towel so you don't add too much extra moisture to the batter. I wasn't able to find reduced sodium black beans at Trader Joe's so mine were made with sea salt so I left out the salt because I didn't want to make them too salty. 

Someone else came running to help once he heard me in the kitchen!

3. In a blender, combine the beans, eggs, vanilla, applesauce, cocoa powder, stevia, and agave. 

4. Melt the coconut oil. Allow it to cool for a few seconds and add it to the blender, too. 

5. Blend all the ingredients together. Make sure that everything is incorporated and there are no chunks of beans. This is also where you should check the sweetness of the batter. For me, I only used 2 tablespoons of agave but I would recommend possibly adding one more tablespoon since some of the sweetness of the batter didn't carry over once the brownies were baked. If you're adding the chocolate chips, though, be careful that you don't add too much extra sweetener! It's all about your sweet tooth :)

6. Grease an 8x8 baking dish and pour the batter in the pan. 

7. Sprinkle in the chopped walnuts. If you don't like walnuts or have allergies, then I would suggest adding dark chocolate chips! I would've done this but since it was Lent, I couldn't have the chips. You better believe that when I make this again I won't leave out the dark chocolate! Some other fillers that I think would be good are pecans, macadamia nuts, white chocolate chips or even a peanut butter swirl!

8. Bake for about 30 minutes. Use the toothpick method to make sure they're done. 

9. Allow them to cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting them into squares. Slice 'em up and enjoy :)

Nutritional information-- this is with the walnuts included! It should be around 75 cal. without the walnuts
        95 calories, 5g fat, 3g sugar, 2g fiber, and 3g protein

***note: I'm a big fan of brownies with icing but I was pressed for time before the party so I wasn't able to experiment with a healthy icing without any sugar. I'll keep you posted with a good icing recipe for these brownies!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Meet Cosmo and Layla!

I warned you that I was going to talk about them a lot and I might seem like a crazy pet momma but that's okay because I know I am. I don't care if people think I'm a little too obsessed with my pets because they make me happy! In my opinion, a house never feels completely like a home without some kind of pet. 

My sister and I recently adopted a Golden Retriever puppy so she's the latest addition to our zoo. Her name is Layla and as you'll see she's literally the cutest puppy ever! She's completely stolen my heart. She turns 4 months tomorrow and I'm so proud of how well she is doing, she's one smart cookie!

My baby girl!

She's also my buddy on lazy reading/nap days!

The next little cutie I'm gonna introduce is my baby Cosmo! He's another sweetheart and not at all like a typical cat! This love bug adores belly rubs, cuddling, and literally cries when I leave the house. I'm not kidding. As soon as I grab my keys, he comes running and rubs all over the door meowing pitifully and trying to come with me. It makes leaving for work in the mornings difficult. I love coming home to his cute face though as he's usually around to greet me! Two years ago, my roommate and I in college rescued him from a shelter and actually hid him in our apartment for an entire semester. I'm still not sure how no one found him but we managed to pull it off for over three months. Now he's happy to roam the house with our other three cats. Yeah that wasn't a typo. We have four cats. I know, I know that's a lot of cats. But let me explain. We originally had two when my sister and I first went to school. Then, when we were both at school we each got a cat because we weren't really planning on having to move back home. With everything with my mom we're both living at home now so that's how we ended up with four! I love them all though but Cosmo is definitely my little baby!

The bed hog steals my covers far too often. 
And yes just like any cat he loves boxes. 

Just look at that face!

I love being able to come home to all our animals. They love me no matter what kind of day I'm having and as silly as that may sound to some people, it's been such a blessing for me. I'm the type of person that needs to have pets in their life. I've always loved animals of all shapes and sizes and my life would be pretty empty without them. One of my favorite parts of the day is coming home from a long day at work and seeing Layla's face at the door or Cosmo coming down the stairs to see me. Unconditional love like theirs is truly a gift and proves to me that we're all worth loving! To them, love is simple and blind to flaws. No matter what, I can always count on their affection. So if you have a furry loved one at home, give them an extra hug and kiss to appreciate them! 

Healthy Chicken Enchiladas!

One of my favorite things to do is to find healthy swaps in some of my favorite recipes. Sometimes they work out and other times they don't. But when they do, I get pretty excited! Lately, we've been in a bit of a food rut and not branching out much so I turned to trusty Pinterest for some inspiration. I decided to adapt a chicken enchiladas recipe to make it healthier! This recipe sorta happened by accident because my sister couldn't find enchilada sauce at the grocery store so she picked up some chile verde sauce instead and it worked perfectly. I would recommend using the chile verde sauce but if you want to use your favorite enchilada sauce then that will work great too! So let me tell you how to make this tasty dish...

Healthy Chicken Enchiladas:
**serves 3**

6 whole grain tortillas (I used Tumaro's Low in Carbs Tortilla)

3 medium chicken breasts

1/2 onion

1 green bell pepper, diced

Jar of organic chile verde sauce

4 oz shredded Mexican cheese

Lettuce and tomato for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 375

2. In a sauce pan, cook the chicken, pepper, and onion over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Spray the baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Fill each tortilla with the chicken, pepper, and onion mixture as well as a little bit of cheese. Make sure to save most of the cheese for the topping.

4. Place each tortilla in the dish and pour the jar of chile verde sauce over the enchiladas. You can use as much sauce as you like, we didn't use the whole jar. It depends on your heat preference!

5. Top with the remaining cheese and bake for about 20-25 minutes.

Note: we bumped up the oven temperature because we like the edges of our enchiladas to get crispy! If you want yours to be softer then I would suggest using a lower temperature around 350 and cooking them for a few minutes longer.

Fresh outta the oven

6. Add the lettuce and tomatoes for topping! You can also add whatever else you like (sour cream, extra sauce or cheese, other veggies). I just kept it simple with the veggies to keep the recipe healthier. 

Enjoy! :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mini Home Circuit Workout

Lately I've been focused more on weight training in addition to my running. I'm still focused on my half-marathon in May but I like to add in extra workouts to switch it up for my muscles! So after my run today, I put together this mini workout that you can do at home! If you have a couple of dumbbells and a resistance band then you're good to go but if not, you can do these still with just your bodyweight!

Repeat the whole circuit 4-5 times

1. basic squat with bicep curl, 15 reps
2. stair jumps, 30 reps
3. plank, hold 30 sec
4. standing leg lifts, 15 reps each side
5. wall sit, 30 sec

If you have dumbbells then use them for the squats and use the resistance band for the standing leg lifts. The key for all these moves is to have control! You'll get a much better workout and results if you slow down the moves and make sure you're using correct form. I found out that I had been doing squats way too fast and now that I've taken the time to slow down and check my form, I get a much better workout! Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and use heavier weights or go for more reps. It's all about switching it up!

"Whatever You've Been Told, You're Worth More than Gold"

If anyone is need of inspiration today, check out one of my favorite female artists Britt Nicole's song: "Gold"

Seriously motivating song! Whenever I'm feeling in need of a confidence booster my go-to is this little number. The message is awesome so listen carefully guys! I pasted the link to the music video below