How I Get Myself To The Gym When I’d Rather Binge Netflix

I post a lot about exercise because I love it. When I was younger and hitting the bars with friends, I would drink water and leave by 11:00, so that I could wake up early for a 3-hour bike ride. I get that’s not how everyone feels about exercise. And believe me—I have my days where I’m sitting in my workout clothes, binging on Netflix, and debating whether I really want to squeeze in a workout.

In those moments, I implement my internal review process. It’s not revolutionary, but it helps me to get moving or at least achieve my weekly goal. If you’re not feeling so motivated, I hope that these questions can help you get moving.

On random low energy days, I usually ask myself:

  • Do I have to wash my hair today? Maybe that’s TMI. But it works. If the answer is “Yes,” I usually trudge towards my shoes.
  • If I don’t workout today, then what? I exercise three times a week and those are my only hours to myself (#momlife). If I can’t swap that day of exercise for another day, I won’t let myself lose that hour. When you’re feeling unmotivated, it’s important to remember why you’re working out and what you get out of it.
  • What sounds fun today? If nothing sounds fun, what’s manageable? This is where it’s important to have a variety of activities that you enjoy doing. Depending on how you feel, you may want to try the following:
    • Group class: First, you don’t have to think about anything—just follow the instructions. Second, everyone else’s energy can help push your limits.
    • Get outside: Nature improves your workout experience and mood.
    • Get a friend: Exercising with friends switches the focus from exercise to catching up.
    • Find an app: I use the Jillian Michaels app and really appreciate how I can tweak it to my energy levels and interests at the moment.
    • Do your usual workout at a manageable level: Part of making exercise a habit is just staying consistent. I have plenty of days when I take it down a notch. Not every day is a personal record day—sometimes you’re more proud about sticking with the workout than setting a record.
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Staying consistent is important for creating habits. If you’re feeling particularly unmotivated, force yourself to put on sneakers and go outside to get a boost from nature. Start by walking around your yard and see how far you can get. Aim for at least 20 minutes. (Photo by Arek Adeoye)

If I’m finding that my motivation remains low over a period of weeks or months, I ask myself:

  • Why aren’t I having fun?
  • Am I still seeing results?

Basically, what do I need to change? Depending on the answers, I either adjust the balance of my cardio and weights, switch to entirely different activities, or buy a packet of sessions with a trainer to reset my workout. Fun and results should factor heavily into your workout plan. Without both of those elements, you won’t be able to sustain your activities. If you can afford a few sessions with a trainer, I have found them to be the quickest and easiest way to adjust my workout and attitude.


Editor’s Note: Starting next week, we will only be posting on Tuesdays. 

Prevent Childhood Obesity – Let Your Kids Control The Spoon

When I was a child, meals were not just about nutrition; they were moments where my mother could shower me with love… by stuffing me with food. Much of this love came from my mom’s own childhood, when her belly constantly ached for more food. As an adult, I can appreciate her desire to block that hunger from my life, but my mother’s actions played a big part in my lifelong struggle towards achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Today, public health experts consider childhood obesity in America a crisis. Almost 1 in 3 American children and adolescents are either overweight or have obesity, which can lead to asthma, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and bone and joint problems. Obese children are also more likely to experience bullying, social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.

Overweight adolescents also have a 70% chance of growing into overweight or obese adults. A child with obesity between the ages of 6- to 8-years old is about 10 times more likely to grow into an obese adult. But if you can help your child avoid obesity by the age of five, she has a much better chance of avoiding obesity as an adult. While genetics certainly plays a role in weight, there are plenty of things you can do to help your child maintain a healthy weight.

The easiest way to ensure that your child eats right is to serve nutritious options and let her decide how much to eat. Don’t worry if she doesn’t eat as much as yesterday, because children’s appetites vary daily. By letting your child lead the meal, you’re teaching her how to listen to her body’s natural signals of fullness and hunger, and allowing her to learn how much is enough.

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Even babies can indicate their hunger and fullness. When introducing solid food to infants, make sure your baby is paying attention to the spoon and showing signs of hunger and interest.

Giving control to your child also means that you should prepare yourself for leftover food on the plate. Clean plates are not the goal. And for picky eaters, it also means that you shouldn’t force your child to eat—as long as she is growing and has energy to play, she is likely getting enough food.

A healthy diet includes the right portions of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. Portion size for toddlers and preschoolers are much smaller—every meal may not include every food group. By varying the options during meals and snacks, your child will get a balanced diet over the course of the day. Avoid offering juices, sodas, and chocolate milk, which contain a lot of sugar.

Children also need appropriate sleep and physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. To see if your child is getting enough sleep, check the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for sleep at every stage of childhood. If your child is in school, help them to get at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every day.

Childhood obesity starts at an early age. By teaching your child healthy eating and lifestyle habits, you can help her avoid a lifelong battle with weight and possible chronic diseases.

Use Process Goals To See Greater Progress

When my first child turned one, I felt terrible about my body and my goal was to get back into my pre-pregnancy jeans. Seven years and another child later, I’m still wearing the same postpartum pants, but that doesn’t mean I’m the same person. Would I like to be in my pre-pregnancy jeans? Of course! But I’ve also realized, that’s not really the goal for me anymore.

My goal to get back into my jeans is considered an outcome goal—it’s results-oriented. Focusing on a specific outcome might be a great motivator, but it’s also harder to control. So, despite working with a trainer and nutritionist, I couldn’t get back into my jeans. Outcome goals can also drive you to make unsustainable choices. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires building on healthy habits—a crash diet to lose 20 pounds won’t be healthy or sustainable, but slowly adjusting the meat:vegetable ratio on your plate, adding more exercise, or weaning yourself off sodas will be. These actions are processes that can be achieved through process goals. Process goals give you more control over your efforts and results, so that you can build your confidence and avoid getting frustrated to the point of quitting.

For me, my process goals were to learn:

  • Why I had such a strong sweet tooth at 9:00pm.
  • How to make the few hours I have to exercise effective and fun.

With the guidance of my nutritionist and trainer, a lot of hard work, and my fair share of frustration, this 7-year process has taught me:

  • How to manage my sweet tooth and prevent hangry mommy moments.
  • That the new mom doing exercises that I consider warm-ups will probably drop her baby weight by the next time I see her. I can feel really badly about that (which I did, for a while), but that’s not my body and no amount of frustration will change that.
  • That I’m naturally strong and by leaning into what my body can do, I can outperform someone half my age in push-ups and squats.
I used to hate lifting weights, but my trainer taught me how to get in, push myself, and get out. Now, I can tolerate it. It hasn’t always been fun, but I needed to experience this process to achieve the results that keep me coming back. I may not fit in my old jeans, but my legs are more muscular than when I was riding a bike 8-10 hours/week. I’m also faster and more agile than ever.

Today, my cholesterol levels dictate whether I need to lose the baby weight—not my vanity. Is that success? It is for me. I don’t feel bad about my body any more. I’ve also learned a lot, and I know I’m doing everything I can to get healthy at this point in my life. All I can do is commit to the process, see what happens, and adjust when life inevitably changes again. So my goals now are to manage my sweet tooth, get to bed earlier, hit the gym three times a week to work off stress and pump up my endorphins, and constantly look for more opportunity to get healthy.

If you’re not where you’d like to be with your goals, assess whether you’re focused on the outcome or the process. If you’re just worried about results, try aiming for processes that will support the outcome. And when you set those process goals, remember to make them S.M.A.R.T.

Food Safety For People With Diabetes

We’ve talked about food safety and diabetes before, but we haven’t yet talked about how people with diabetes have a greater risk of experiencing foodborne illness. If you have diabetes, some of your organs and bodily systems may not be strong enough to fight off the pathogens that causes foodborne illness. Having high glucose levels in your blood prevents white blood cells from defending against the infectious pathogens. Diabetes also affects how your kidneys, immune system, and gastrointestinal tract function, which also affect your immune response.

These factors not only leave you more vulnerable to getting sick, but you may also be sick for longer and experience a greater likelihood of having to be hospitalized. But foodborne illness is easy to avoid by practicing these four simple steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill.

CLEAN your hands and cooking surfaces often.
Properly washing your hands requires scrubbing with soap and water for 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song two times. When it comes to your counters, you don’t need heavy duty chemicals. Just wipe down the counter with hot, soapy water. And if you use fabric towels, make sure to wash them often on hot water.

SEPARATE – Don’t cross-contaminate.
You can prevent the spread of germs by separating your raw meat, poultry, and seafood from your fruits and vegetables. Invest in separate cutting boards for produce and meat, and then replace the boards when they have developed deep grooves that make it hard to clean. When storing raw meat, poultry, and seafood, place them in sealed plastic bags or on a plate to prevent their juices from leaking onto other food in the refrigerator.

COOK foods to a safe temperature.
The only way to make sure that your food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. Reheat or refrigerate your food once it sits out for two hours—or one hour if the air temperature is above 90˚F. When reheating, use the oven, stove, or microwave to kill off any pathogens that may have grown while the food was cooling. Do not use slow cookers to reheat food, as they do not get hot enough to kill off pathogens. For ovens, set the temperature to 350˚F or higher. With microwaves, make sure to stir and rotate the food to ensure even heating.

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When reheating your leftovers, use your food thermometer to check that the food has reached an internal temperature of 165˚F. (Image by the USDA)

CHILL your food to slow germ growth.
Once you’ve refrigerated your leftovers, do not keep them for more than 3 or 4 days. Use an appliance thermometer to check that your refrigerator is at 41°F or below, the optimal temperature to maximize your refrigerator’s efficiency and reduce pathogen growth.

You can learn more about how diabetes puts you at a greater risk of foodborne illness and ways to prevent it by downloading our “Food Safety for Persons with Diabetes” handout. You can also visit our website or contact your county Extension office to learn more food safety practices.

Reward Your Achievements Without Food

We’ve been talking a lot about goals these past few weeks, but that’s because setting and achieving goals is hard! This is especially true if you’re trying to make a lifestyle change. “Getting healthy” means breaking old habits and creating new ones that stick, which is no easy feat.

Dhruti mentioned rewarding yourself, but that can also be tricky. The reward must fit the effort and it shouldn’t undo any of the progress that you’ve achieved. For instance, don’t reward yourself for losing five pounds by celebrating with a cheeseburger, french fries, a soda, and a brownie sundae. Rewarding yourself is no different than planning out how you’ll achieve your goals—you still need to be strategic.

When you’re starting out, it may help to schedule regular, small rewards to keep you motivated. Aim for inexpensive rewards that celebrate your achievement for just sticking with a plan. Say you start with 40-50 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise for your first week, and then slowly increase that by 20 minutes every 1-2 weeks until you’ve reached a goal of 150 minutes per week. Rather than waiting several weeks to reward yourself for achieving that goal, you can motivate yourself to follow your plan by scheduling small rewards every 2-3 weeks. These small rewards can be relatively inexpensive items or activities that you may otherwise think twice about getting or doing, like:

  • A metal water bottle,
  • A new workout shirt,
  • Your own yoga mat (freedom from other people’s sweat and stink!),
  • A cookbook,
  • Taking a nap or going to bed early.
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The moment in every class when I wish I had my own yoga mat. Every time I think about buying one, the thrifty side of me says, “How bad can those gym mats be?!”… which really makes it the perfect reward.

Remember, you have to actually follow your program to get the rewards. While these motivational rewards may help ease you into the rhythm of working towards your goal, once you feel like you’re in that rhythm, shift towards rewarding yourself for achieving bigger goals. These bigger goals, like achieving the 150 minutes of exercise per week, deserve something a little more exciting, like:

  • New shoes or hiking boots,
  • Base layers to keep you comfortable outside,
  • A subscription to a music streaming service,
  • A cooking class,
  • A pass for specialized exercise classes (yoga, boutique spin class, rock climbing).

Just because you may have reached your goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise in a week, doesn’t mean you’re done. You want to strive for that amount of exercise until it becomes a habit. So you can also use those rewards to celebrate, say, six months of regularly exercising 150 minutes/week.

Once you’ve adopted your goal as a lifestyle (you’ll know when you start thinking about new goals), then you get to have some real fun with bigger rewards, like:

  • Tickets to a comedy show, concert, sporting event, or play,
  • Upgrading your blender or slow cooker—or even, hand tools,
  • A massage,
  • Sessions with a personal trainer,
  • Part of a day to be on your own and do what you enjoy.

These ideas are just some of my favorite things. To make sure you’re effectively motivating and rewarding yourself, choose something that excites you and fits your goals.

When It’s The Most Difficult Time Of The Year

The holiday season is in full swing and all the movies, songs, cards, and social media posts are telling you that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But maybe it doesn’t actually feel that way… maybe you’re sitting there just trying to figure out how to put on a happy face for everyone. So, while I wish all of you wonderful readers a Happy New Year, today’s post is for those of you who may not be feeling the joy.

I know how isolating the holidays can feel when struggling through a difficult period. When I was in my 20s, I suddenly lost my only sibling to health complications. And with his birthday on January 2, I spent many holiday seasons feeling like my Thanksgiving pie came with a month-and-half long dose of steroids that amped up my usual levels of sadness, regret, and guilt. All of which I topped with fake-it-’til-I-make-it holiday cheer. It was lonely and exhausting.

The holidays just create so. Much. PRESSURE. As if you aren’t already living with enough stress. The University of Maryland Extension has recently started working with farmers to address their stress and mental health. Led by Dr. Bonnie Braun, the Farm Stress Management team conducted a survey of professionals that work with farmers and found that farmers are often relaying concerns about:

  • Finances
  • Anxiety
  • Farm Transfer Concerns
  • Burnout
  • Depression
  • Marital Difficulties
  • Alcohol Addiction
  • Drug Addiction
  • Gambling Addiction

While you may not be worrying about transferring your farm business to another operator, other stressors on the list may resonate with you. If your grief, family anxiety, marital difficulties, addiction, or the cumulative stress from all the parts of your life is starting to overwhelm you this holiday season, get help.

  • If you are in crisis, get immediate assistance by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or call 9-1-1.
  • Otherwise, check with your insurance company for a list of in-network mental health providers.
  • You can also visit our website to learn more about other counseling resources, including free counseling.
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The holidays are difficult time for many reasons, including more demands and stress, high expectations, and more family time. If you were already struggling, the holidays may feel overwhelming. Don’t ignore or suck up these feelingsget help to deal with and manage them. (Photo by Nathan Cowley)

It’s important to find the right counselor for your needs. So when researching counselors or therapists, make sure they specialize in your specific issues (bereavement, marriage, trauma, etc.), or get references from family, friends, or your doctor.

If you are struggling with your finances and spent too much money on the holidays, try one of the many Money Smart resources provided on our website, including online tools, video tutorials, and background information on lots of financial management topics. You can also call your county Extension office and ask to speak with the nearest Financial Wellness Educator. It’s never too late to get your finances in order. Our resources can help you create a manageable plan for paying off debt and saving money.

And in the meantime, keep up with any healthy habits you’ve been working on. During this time of stress and anxiety, it’s important to continue eating well, exercising, getting outside, and taking care of yourself.

Train Like A Mother

Before I became a mother, I spent seven to nine hours a week cycling as a bike commuter and weekend warrior, and occasionally lifting weights. Then I had my kid and… insert record scratch… I could barely find enough time to sleep. When I finally started exercising again, instead of two- to three-hour bike rides, I was lucky to get two to three hours in the gym all week. Years later, I’m still only able to exercise two to three hours a week, but as with all things motherhood, I learned to exercise more efficiently. In fact, I never would have thought that I could be stronger, fitter, and faster as a mid-life mother of two than when I was a freewheeling 20-year old.

I can attribute this boost in fitness to a few things, but the biggest factor was functional training. Pregnancy wrecked my core—my back and legs felt tired and achy all the time. Functional training helped me to quickly strengthen my core and continue building from there. If you haven’t heard of functional training, Tami Lee, the Assistant Director for Fitness at the University of Maryland’s Department of Recreation & Wellness, describes it as a way to ease the physical demands of daily life by strength training in a functional manner. She says that when you functionally train, you are doing exercises that enhance your efficiency in performing basic, every day movements, like bending and lifting, pushing, pulling, twisting, and standing on a single leg.

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All moms know this feeling. But anyone who has had an injury, illness, health condition, or surgery also knows the difficulty of regaining mobility and strength. Life after a big health/medical event can be very different and much more challenging. Functional training can prepare your body for these new challenges. (Photo by Kat Jayne)

Some of the exercises that helped me the most were the classics: squats (for bending and lifting… my toddler off the ground), rows (for pulling… more like heaving, my child up and into her car seat), lunges (for single leg movements… that occur all day long when rushing back and forth to meet the demands of motherhood). Other exercises were brand new to me. And my body loved them all. My back ached less and less until it stopped all together. The rest of my body also got stronger and felt less achy.

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Whether you’re carrying a grocery basket, multiple grocery bags, or (the dreaded) infant car seat, you need a strong core. A great exercise that I learned from my trainer to strengthen my core for these kinds of tasks is the “Farmer’s Carrya favorite move for Strong Men everywhere.

Functional training isn’t just for new moms. The people in my gym classes are men and women of all ages, including several people in their 60s and 70s. While the physical demands of my life look a lot different than my more senior class mates, functionality matters even more for them. Tami says, “As we age, we lose muscle mass at a much faster rate, so preserving that muscle as long as possible is essential for efficient performance of daily activities.”

We both highly recommend starting with a trainer, which is what I did. As Tami notes, form is critical and a trainer will conduct the necessary assessments to determine the best and safest fitness routine for you. A trainer will also make sure to correct any improper movements that can lead to injury. If you can’t afford one, check your gym for group classes, like boot camp, high-intensity interval training, TRX, or kettlebells. Happy training!

Are You Sure That’s Safe To Eat While Pregnant?

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest contributor, Katya, is a nurse-midwife who asked a simple question and found herself on a mission to improve food safety in pregnancy. 

Nurse-midwives engage in disease prevention and health education as a hallmark of our profession. Avoiding listeriosis is a key component of food safety during pregnancy. Listeria monocytogenes is a rare foodborne pathogen that can get passed to fetuses and newborns, and lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. The risk of getting listeriosis is 10 times higher for pregnant women than for other people, and it currently has no cure.

To prevent listeriosis, pregnant women should avoid foods designated “high-risk” for harboring the pathogen. If you think health care providers know which foods are “high-risk”, then think again.

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Most health providers will know to warn pregnant women against soft cheese, but what about ready-made salads? (Photo by Taylor Kiser)

As a student nurse-midwife, I noticed that the foods making headlines for Listeria outbreaks were different than the foods listed in medical guidelines. Accurate guidelines save lives, but I learned that these guidelines were last examined more than twenty years ago. My daughter and her best friend needed a science fair project, so I encouraged them to comb through federal databases with decades worth of data. Valentina and Rachel analyzed more than 850 entries to find an answer to a simple question: Where has Listeria been found lately?

We found that 95% of recent listeriosis cases were caused by foods outside the medical guidelines. Since Listeria clings to food processing equipment, it contaminates ready-made salads and deli dinners. Frozen foods also emerged as a culprit, since killing the pathogen requires thorough heating. Listeria even lurks in pasteurized dairy products, such as cream cheese and ice cream, indicating a need for increased in-store inspections.

As the pathogen moved into unexpected foods, the number of people sick with listeriosis doubled between 2007 and 2014, escalating to 96 pregnant women. Our study determined that the current guidelines need updating. Several “high-risk” foods were not available 20 years ago, demonstrating that a dynamic food supply requires dynamic food safety guidelines.

Now, I tell my patients: “If you didn’t make it, and you can’t heat it, don’t eat it!”

Dr. Robert Buchanan, a food safety expert at the University of Maryland, who provided us with guidance, also strongly recommends that you:

If you’re pregnant, make sure to protect yourself and your baby by learning more about:


About Katya and the research team:

With guidance from Dr. Buchanan, and midwifery professors, Rebeca Barroso of the University of Minnesota and Mickey Gillmor of the University of Georgia, the team published their conclusions in the “Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health”. You can watch Katya, Valentina, and Rachel talk about their research in a recent WebMD video


Simon, K., Simon, V., Rosenzweig, R., Barroso, R., & Gillmor-Kahn, M. (2018). Listeria, Then and Now: A Call to Reevaluate Patient Teaching Based on Analysis of US Federal Databases, 1998-2016. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 63(3), 301-308. doi:10.1111/jmwh.12757