September 22, 2011

Workout Recharge: Get FITT with bene-fit!

Do you feel like you’ve been exercising regularly for a long time but not getting the results you want?
Do you finish your workouts feeling like you could’ve done something more?
Are you bored with exercise and ready to make a significant change in your workout program?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are ready for a workout recharge.

Think of a recharge as a stylistic change, not necessarily a total overhaul, to your current exercise regimen. While you may already be exercising regularly, you may be missing some vital components that can push your workouts to the next level.

bene-fit trainers are experts in progression, which is the idea that exercise should develop increasingly advanced skill sets while increasing overall fitness. This is the exact opposite of the “plateau” or “rut” that many veteran exercisers claim to fall into after an initial period of regular exercise.

Without professionally supervised progression, it is easy to fall into an ineffective or underdeveloped routine that can actually limit your fitness potential.  Worry not, however – there are four easy methods for recharging your exercise lifestyle that can help you get the results you are looking for, whether that is weight loss, strength gain, muscle tone, or cardiovascular endurance.

These principles can be summarized in the acronym FITT, which stands for frequency, intensity, type, and time. These four areas are crucial for any exercise progression and will ensure greater fitness gains in both the short and long term.

Increasing exercise frequency is a great goal, particularly for beginner exercisers. Many people tend to get gung-ho on a fitness plan at the beginning and fade out as the initial excitement wanes – and the realization that exercise is a lifelong commitment sinks in. Try adding one additional workout to your regular weekly program, and if you are feeling extra adventurous, make the new workout something totally different from your current routine, such as taking a yoga class, going on a hike, or running the stairs at a stadium. As we say in fitness, aim to “break a sweat every day” by exercising more often.

In a time crunch? The best way to get maximum results in minimum time is to add intensity to your workouts. An example of an intensity upgrade is to change your steady-state 60-minute walk to a more vigorous, 30-minute run/walk. Think of intensity as the “next step up” – pushups with one leg in the air, for example, or adding plyometrics (jumping) to your regular sets of squats or lunges. A simple way to tell if you’ve added a proper level of intensity is to check your breathing and heart rate – if you are breathing harder, sweating more, and have a higher heart rate, you are most likely working out intensely.  Intense workouts burn more calories in the same period of time than do low-impact workouts, making them an efficient way to exercise.

A third strategy for recharging your workout is perhaps the most straightforward: add time. Exercising for longer periods of time, even at a lower intensity, can result in significant cardiovascular fitness and endurance gains. Take stock of your current exercise routine and add up all the time you spend working out in a given week, then strive to increase that duration by 10% (i.e., if you already work out 5 hours per week, strive for 5.5 hours). You might just be amazed at what you can accomplish with relatively small increases in time!

Finally, consider switching up the type of exercise you do. If you’re a die-hard yogi, it might be time to try something more heart-pumping like Spin or Zumba. If you prefer lifting lighter weights with high repetitions, check out what happens to your muscle tone when you switch to heavy weights with lower repetitions. If you are a runner but feel like your core strength is weak, cross-train with Pilates to add diversity to your regimen. bene-fit trainers are skilled in creating the perfect mix of cardiovascular, muscular endurance, and stretching exercises with enough variety to never get bored or plateau – and you might even learn a new skill or develop a new passion with the various workouts you perform.

Especially for those who are not new to exercise, it is easy to get in a rut when it comes to a workout routine. By getting FITT - upping frequency, increasing intensity, adding time, or trying a new type of exercise – you can “recharge” your well-worn workout habits and achieve greater success toward your health and fitness goals.

August 29, 2011

Clean It Up: The Real Key to Weight Loss

I was training a client last week who informed me she was headed on vacation.  When I told her to make sure she "ate really clean" to make up for any missed workouts, she nodded but looked confused.  When we later discussed "cleaning up the diet" to speed up her desired weight loss, she finally broke down and asked me:

"What exactly do you mean by 'cleaning it up'?"

Trainers tend to throw around terms (think "engage the core" or "breathe into the contraction") that aren't necessarily clear at first glance - and it is well within the rights of the client to ask for further clarification.  Any trainer worth her salt will be able to explain anything related to their programming - what muscle is being used, why you're doing a certain exercise in a certain order, how many calories are being burned during a given activity - so feel free to ask, always.

But I digress.  The real purpose of this post is to explain what "clean eating" means and why it is a central component of weight loss.  The best-regarded Clean Eating Queen is none other than Tosca Reno, a supermom, fitness model, and lifestyle guru responsible for a full line of best-selling Eat Clean books.  While simple in concept, eating clean does demand a few notable changes in your regular eating habits - which,  once achieved, are remarkably easy to maintain.

First, avoid almost all processed foods.  This means that if the food does not arrive to you in its natural form (i.e., a potato in its skin pulled from the ground; a head of fresh broccoli without cheese or salt; a whole grain shucked from its chaff and unrefined), it is likely a "processed" food, which means a person or machine has changed the nutritional profile of the food.  Avoiding these foods is the easiest way to avoid added sugars, sodium, and saturated and trans fats.  There is, however, one notable exception...

Eat lowfat dairy in moderation. 2-3 small servings of nonfat dairy (think skim milk, lowfat cottage cheese, or part-skim "light" string cheese) can actually burn fat and help speed up weight loss.  If you aren't a big fan of dairy, try blending your cottage cheese into a fruit smoothie to add creaminess or enjoying milk with your steel-cut oats in the morning - both are ways to integrate dairy without consuming too much.

Third, make sure the bulk of your meal is comprised of low-starch vegetables, lower-sugar fruits, and lean protein.  These are the cornerstones of clean eating and can be eaten, within reason, without limitations (especially leafy greens!).  When you look at your dinner plate, use your hand to estimate portions - it should have a palm-sized protein (skinless chicken is nutritionally the best), a fist-sized fruit (I like mine as dessert!), a two-hands-open serving of veggies, and about three fingers' worth of unrefined whole grains (like bulgur, barley, oats, quinoa, or spelt).  If you are thinking to yourself that clean eating really keeps you full, you're right - there are a large variety of foods to choose from and you'll rarely, if ever, get bored.

Finally, abstain from caloric drinks, including soda (also a processed food), alcohol (carb-central), and sugar-bloated coffee drinks (black coffee and tea are always OK!).  Clean eating centers on just that - eating!- so drinking your calories away is a surefire way to keep yourself starving, lethargic, and grouchy.

If you have trouble figuring out which foods are "clean" and which are to be avoided while on your weight loss journey, why not try a nutrition consultation with bene-fit?  We offer comprehensive evaluations of your current dietary habits, a nutritional assessment of your pantry, and realistic food recommendations for you and your family.

Remember, in the weight loss battle, only 20% of the fight is won in the gym.  The other 80% depends on what you put in your mouth - and with clean eating, the choices are clear.  Stick to real foods, avoid the junk, and hydrate with fresh, cold water.  You'll start feeling the differences in no time!

August 15, 2011

Fit Club: Not TV, But Reality

This morning I was reading an article in Everyday FOOD about starting a supper club. 

They suggested rallying together a group of 6-10 people, setting up a reasonable timeline (such as every 2-3 months) and having the host select the main dish and theme, while the guests bring side dishes to complement the theme.

From the sounds of it, it was a fabulous idea - a group of friends coming together on a regular schedule with a singular purpose and firm structure.  A fabulous idea, that is - for fitness!

I often hear that one of the greatest challenges to sticking with a healthy diet and exercise program is the monotony of it all - the fact that eating well, being active, managing stress, and getting enough sleep isn't exactly a recipe for excitement.  We here at bene-fit get it - really, we do.  That's one of the reasons our weekly Boot Camp and personal training sessions are so dynamic and unique - so you never get bored.

That said, sometimes you wish that "being social" and "being healthy" weren't polar opposites - particularly, for example, if you're trying to stay on track with an after-work Spin class while your friends are more interested in after-work cocktails.  Do you skip class or skip out on your friends?  bene-fit believes you shouldn't have to choose.

That's why we recommend starting your own Fit Club - just like supper club, except that your fit host is responsible for setting a "theme" (for example, "Latin Fiesta!") and setting up a workout (here, perhaps a Zumba class at the YMCA or a Latin-dance DVD in the living room).  Guests could bring healthy, themed snacks (think guacamole and veggies to dip, or homemade salsa with baked corn tortilla chips) and swap healthy-living tips or health-interest magazines.

You could even organize a "contest" of sorts - the host provides an inexpensive fitness-friendly prize (think no-slip headbands, wrist weights, or weight-lifting gloves) and designs a challenge for guests, such as a push-up, jump rope, or hula hoop contest.  Guests can compete for the prize - and for their pride! - while having a lot of fun.

This week, forget having to choose between seeing your friends and squeezing in your workout - start a monthly Fit Club, get off the couch, and get into fitness - together.

August 9, 2011

Why Yoga? 10 Reasons to Get Down (Dog)

In every fitness plan I write for a client, I include either an entire yoga workout or some element of yoga in the program. For those who have never encountered yoga, this often elicits groans of dread or at best, some element of fear/uncertainty.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was once a yoga skeptic. I spent my undergraduate college years as a Pilates devotee, preaching the glory of the "long and lean" as I puffed through endless Hundreds and Teasers.

However, once I became a runner (yes, not until after college and well into adulthood!), I realized that I needed something more than "long and lean" - in fact, I needed something more like "stretched and strengthened" - and when I was invited to join friends at the world-renowned Bryan Kest Power Yoga, I jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately, my "jump" into a 90-minute advanced Vinyasa-style flow class resulted in an almost equally zealous renouncement of all things yogic.  I was overwhelmed, undertrained, and had no idea what was going on as all of these fit, flexible bodies bent and breathed around me. 

It was intimidating - and I didn't go back for two years.

Eventually, being derailed by the common runners' injuries of plantar fasciitis and ITBS drove me back to the yoga mat -and into Hatha yoga, a much gentler and slower form of yoga.  Soon, my injuries were gone, my posture had improved, and I gained strategies for coping with stress, tension, and tightness - all valuable life skills, whether you're an athlete or not.

Despite my story, I still struggle to convince both the hardcore athlete and the everyday gym-goer that yoga is worth their time.  We here at bene-fit truly believe in the power of yoga - which is why we offer private and semi-private instruction and pre/post-natal sessions -  and here are 10 reasons why we think you might want to consider it, too:

10) Yoga is for everybody - and we mean every body There is no yoga format that can't be adapted for age, injury, ability, flexibility, or any other physical concern you might have.
9) At the end of every yoga class is a "final relaxation," where you simply get to lie down for 5-15 minutes.  Bliss.
8) Yoga requires no equipment (in India, very few ashrams use the traditional mats we see in the U.S.), no special attire, and no prior training.
7) There are enough different styles of yoga to please every preference, from those who like their Zen with a side of Madonna to those who really just like to have a rest on a comfy pillow.
6) Yoga therapy can actually be used to treat some medical conditions such as depression or chronic pain.
5) If you're thinking about trying a marathon, triathlon, or other endurance event, put yoga on your training schedule - studies suggest it can improve cardiovascular performance and prevent injury.
4) Yoga can alleviate hunger and increase the mind-body connection that protects against chronic overeating.
3) Traditional yoga poses are named in Sanskrit, which means you can learn a cool new language full of words like supta baddha konasana (Goddess pose) and urdhva mukha svanasana (Upward Facing Dog pose).
2) Practicing yoga can increase blood flow to sexual organs and increase partner pleasure even in couples where only one member practices it.
1) Yoga is much more than purely physical - it speaks to the spirit, re-teaches you how to breathe, offers suggestions for de-stressing, and provides a quiet and peaceful environment for all who choose to practice.

Need more convincing?  Contact a bene-fit trainer or your local yoga studio for more information today - right now, you can get free one-week passes as a part of National Yoga Month, redeemable at hundreds of studios in September and October.  There's no better time to stretch, strengthen, and find your ZEN-ifit!

August 2, 2011

No Excuses: Healthy Breakfasts on the Go

As a trainer, I rarely get to interact with my clients in what we call a "meal environment" - that is, the place, time, and mood associated with the foods a person chooses to eat.  For this reason, I often find myself frustrated when a client comes to me for an early morning session claiming that they "weren't hungry" or "couldn't find time to eat."

When a client tells me they aren't hungry in the morning, that is a telltale sign that they either a) ate dinner too close to bedtime, or b) overate carbohydrates with their evening meal.  The human body is meant to process foods (particularly carbs) for energy, but when too much energy is stored without adequate activity to use it (as in, eating a big meal and then heading off to sleep), that energy turns to fat and is essentially wasted - resulting in a sluggish, full feeling upon waking.

The first line of defense, of course, is to eat a dinner that is rich in lean protein and produce and has limited - if any - grain-based carbohydrates.  Try and "frontload" your carbs earlier in the day, particularly before your workouts, to make sure you are maximizing the energy that they provide to the body.

The second key point, then, is to eat breakfast!  Eating within an hour of waking ensures that you fire up your metabolism for the rest of the day, burning more calories, producing more energy, and leaving you less ravenous at your later meals (again, good for your overall energy balance).

But what to eat?

If you can't be wooed by the old standbys (low-sugar cereal and nonfat milk; old fashioned oatmeal with fresh fruit; 0% Greek yogurt with low-sugar granola and berries), then we've got a list of drive-thru (or in some cases, a quick walk-in) options that will ensure you get a balanced morning meal in a hurry.  We rank them by calories, but make sure to check into the protein/carb information to make sure you're making the right choice - morning exercisers want more carbs at breakfast; evening exercisers should focus on protein in the A.M.

Dunkin' Donuts - Egg White Turkey Sausage Wake-Up Wrap - 150 calories, 11g protein, 14g carbs
Subway - Western Egg White & Cheese Muffin Melt - 160 calories, 15g protein, 19g carbs
Denny's - Scrambled Egg Whites, Chicken Sausage & Fruit - 230 calories, 19g protein, 19g carbs
McDonald's - Fruit & Maple Oatmeal - 260 calories, 7g protein, 48g carbs

Au Bon Pain - Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal - 280 calories, 8g protein, 56g carbs
Jamba Juice - Small Berry Topper Ideal Meal - 300 calories, 9g protein, 59g carbs
IHOP - Simple & Fit  Veggie Omelette - 320 calories; 21g protein, 40g carbs
Panera - Breakfast Power Sandwich - 330 calories, 22g protein, 31g carbs

Cosi - Spinach Florentine Breakfast Wrap - 334 calories, 24g protein, 21g carbs
Starbucks - Protein Artisan Snack - 370 calories, 13g protein, 36g carbs

Remember, eating at home or bringing a meal to work or school is always our top recommendation for breakfast - this way, you can control the sodium content, portion size, and sugar additives of your meal.  However, studies are conclusive about the fact that getting in a morning meal is good for your waistline, brainpower, and overall health - and we'll eat to that! :)

July 25, 2011

In the Aftermath of Carmageddon

A big thanks for enduring our month of "summer vacation," bene-fitters!  We are back in business and ready to keep you informed and excited about the latest health and fitness news.

That said, one of the biggest news stories of the past month was the arrival - and consequent non-event - of "Carmageddon." 

For those not local to L.A., this was a weekend-long (July 16-17) closure of one of the major north-south thoroughfares of the county, the 405 Freeway.  For weeks, the media and general public alike had this buzzword on their lips - what would we do?  How would we survive a weekend off the road?  What options did we have?

In the end, Carmaggedon was exactly the opposite of what it was predicted to be.  Instead of congested side streets and immovable traffic jams, Angelenos actually heeded the CalTrans advice to stay off the road.  And then something even more wonderful happened:

The Westside went outside.

As an avid outdoor exerciser and commuter in Los Angeles, I am often met with confused stares.  So many folks will endure traffic, paid parking, and hassle to avoid a one-mile walk to the nearby grocery store.  I am personally baffled by those that would drive to a gym and run on a treadmill rather than leave the car at home and work out in the sunshine. 

The amount of money that could be saved if short-distance commuters swapped the car for a bicycle, rollerblades, or scooter is astounding - and yet L.A. residents continually fall back on the car, whether out of habit, laziness, fear, or a combination of the three.

This is precisely why L.A. gets a bad rap among cities for its perceived lack of "walkability."  Most of us would rather fire up a car engine than lace up our walking shoes - even for simple errands.  For those who grew up in other comparably big cities - New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. come to mind - cars are often a non-option.  The walking/public transit/Zipcar cultures of these other metropolitan areas is not only good for the waistline, but is more friendly - and environmentally friendly - to boot.

This week, I challenge you to "play pretend" as if it was another Carmageddon (which, Angelenos, it will be in 11 months, so they can get the other half of the bridge down) and go outdoors for at least one errand, workout, or other car-dependent event.  For the truly ambitious, try to get through an entire 48-hour period without turning your key in the ignition - make plans closer to home, stay in and cook for dinner, or invite friends to walk on over for a movie or game night.

With just a few small changes, it can be done - we saw it happen a couple of weekends ago, and with minimal effort we can make that wonderful experience last all summer long.

June 22, 2011

Sweet & Salty Satisfying Snacks

If there's one thing I'm sick of, it's the "healthy swaps" books and articles that suggest completely tiny, non-satisfying foods in place of the ones we love (and crave). For example, if I am desiring something sweet, a 100-calorie pack of flat, dry Oreo-flavored crisps falls pretty low on my list - and even if I did eat it, I'd end up searching out the "real thing" sooner or later, blowing my diet in the process.

The proof is in the pudding: the only thing that satisfies like food is, well, actual food.  Chemicals and additives simply will not do.

So what does bene-fit suggest when the sweet/salty/carb cravings hit?  We, like you, are not fit-starved robots - we need a treat that tastes good, feels filling, and doesn't ruin a healthy eating lifestyle.

For those who crave sweet, why not top a whole wheat Eggo waffle with a tablespoon of Greek yogurt and sliced fresh strawberries?  Another option is a s'more sundae - a single-serving Jello chocolate pudding cup topped with a crumbled graham cracker and five mini marshmallows.  Bananas can be nature's ice cream - simply freeze one and place it between two graham crackers along with a spread of your favorite yogurt.

There are, of course, those of us who want salty snacks.  A great and easy option here is a 100-calorie bag of microwave popcorn sprinkled with a teaspoon of parmesan cheese (put it right into the bag and shake it up to coat!).  A super-filling option is a small baked potato with two tablespoons of salsa and an ounce of grated low-fat cheese.  For a portable treat, roll a leaf of lettuce into a small whole-wheat tortilla and top with 1/4 cup black beans and your salsa/hot sauce of choice.

Remember, fruits and vegetables are always a healthy snack (that's why Weight Watchers recently changed their system to make these "zero-point" foods!) and can often fulfill the kinetic act of eating (a simple switch can be to turn off the "autopilot eating" around a bag of chips and switch out to baby carrots and hummus) without overloading the calories.  Foods that take slightly longer to eat and prepare can challenge you to consider whether you're really hungry or just "filling the void" - of boredom, fatigue, or stress.

Long story short, there is always a healthy snack option - simply stock your fridge with healthy snacks, prepare them to your liking (i.e. slice strawberries, wash and chop broccoli, or freeze bananas), and make a conscious choice to stay on track - even when you snack.

June 6, 2011

Special Health Update: PCOS & Weight Loss Strategy


To many, this is an unknown acronym.  But for those who suffer from it, the condition - known as polycystic ovarian syndrome - is almost a certifiable guarantee of an impending weight problem - particularly if weight is already an issue before the diagnosis.

PCOS is a condition in which the ovaries don't make enough hormones for the eggs to fully mature.  Aside from the technical definition, PCOS makes the bloodstream insulin-resistant - and can cause not only weight gain, but extremely difficult weight loss among the women who are diagnosed (this is significant since statistics show that 6 out of 10 of PCOS sufferers are overweight).

Even more alarming, PCOS can cause increased abdominal (androgen) fat stores, resulting in the "apple" shape that studies suggest is more dangerous for women than the typical female "pear" shape.

If you are a woman who struggles with both a PCOS diagnosis and excess weight, the outlook can be grim.  Doctors may prescribe metformin, thiazolidinediones, or Rimonabant to lose weight, but these medications are not without complications and side effects - some more uncomfortable than the weight itself.

So what are the natural (read: drug free) options?

First, and most critically, women with PCOS must clean up their diet.  Using a healthy detox program like Clean and following up with an eat-clean lifestyle handbook is a great start to eliminate processed foods, chemicals, and sugars from the diet and begin to reduce the glucose stockpiles in the blood that lead to stored fat.  The PCOS diet should rely on vegetables, lower-fructose fruits, lean meats, and whole grains.  If you are unsure what to eat while adhering to a "clean" diet, consult a registered dietitian for a customized program.

Second (and here's the great news!) - even moderate levels of exercise (such as 20-30 minutes daily) can improve PCOS symptoms and speed along weight loss.  The most important factor in the exercise you choose is that it gets your heart rate up and is enjoyable for you to perform.  Whether running, walking, swimming, lifting weights, doing power yoga, or cycling, there are plenty of great exercise options to explore - and hiring a personal trainer can ensure that you are engaged, using proper form, and motivated to continue.

Finally, consider online support for women with PCOS.  Personal blogs like Maddy's PCOS Diary, compilation sites like SoulCysters, or even video diaries on YouTube can be both inspiring and community-building.  The most important thing to know about the disease is that you are not alone - in fact, 6.6% of U.S. women (over 1 in 20 women of childbearing age).

As with any health problem, one of the worst things you can do is ignore the symptoms and pretend like it isn't happening.  Take charge of your health and make PCOS a condition you live with, not a condition that impairs your life.  Assemble a professional health team (your doctor, personal trainer, and registered dietitian) as well as a personal support network (friends, family, and online communities) and you can conquer PCOS-related weight gain.

The Path to Whole Living

We believe that what sets bene-fit apart as a fitness company is not that we offer great personal training, boot camps, or training programs (although we do offer top-notch services in all of those areas), but rather that we focus on total wellness - addressing the needs of our clients holistically, rather than in separate parts or pieces.

That's why we subscribe to one of the best wellness magazines out there - Whole Living.  Rather than most women's health magazines that try to woo you with pictures of impossibly skinny (and, confoundingly, muscle-free) models or pitch over-the-top diet trends (lemon juice and cayenne pepper detoxes? no thanks.), Whole Living offers sensible ideas for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being - and bene-fit is definitely on board with that.

A recent issue addressed the concept of whole living (otherwise known as the catch-all term wellness) and tried to nail down the top ten ideas./thoughts/mantras on what makes a whole living philosophy unique and practical.  We chose to reprint those here for your introspection:

10) Rather than trying to fix your body from the outside, focus on how you want it to feel from the inside.
9) The mark of true confidence is the ability to look someone in the eye.
8) Let the seasons guide your diet.  The earth grows what you need when you need it.
7) Respect your feet.  They've mastered the art of staying grounded while moving forward.
6) Take charge of your own reflection.  Stop letting the mirror win.
5) Enlightenment doesn't always make a grand entrance.  It slowly transforms ordinary to extraordinary.
4) Change happens somewhere between the acceptance of what is and the anticipation of what could be.
3) Wellness is about making your life bigger, not your hips smaller.
2) Surprise yourself when you push past your physical limits.
1) Nothing connects you to who you are like the people who have known who you were.

Today, take some time to reflect on your own wellness - whether you are just starting your personal path to whole living or whether you've mastered the art in your daily life.  Do you have some tips or thoughts on whole living for bene-fit readers?  Share them in the comments section - we love hearing from you!

June 2, 2011

The Journey of 184 Miles

...starts with a single step - as long as those steps are cushioned in running shoes and supported with cross-training, yoga, and a healthy diet!  Whew.

This past month (May) was National Runners Month, punctuated by June 1st - National Running Day!  In honor of these great events, I set out to run every single day in May - plus the 1st of June - for at least 2 miles.

So I'm sure you're wondering: did I do it?  For the most part...yes!  Read on for my top five experiences and reflections over this 32-day running challenge:

I missed one day.  Truth is, it wasn't even a good excuse (I was at the spa with girlfriends and then surprised by dinner by my boyfriend), and it was right next to the finish line (May 30).  At first, I was completely angry with myself - but then, I realized that the only person who would judge me for missing one day of running (again, with 31 other quality days!) was me - and sometimes we are our hardest critics.  This was a great lesson in doing the best we can - without wasting negativity on the things we cannot do.

I got really sore (but not as sore as I thought!).  There were some days that the two miles were all I could muster; others I was flying through 7-8 miles like it was nothing.  I definitely needed to do more stretching and yoga along the route - this is the lesson learned here, that just running every day is not enough without a balanced cross-training program - but I was pleasantly surprised at how much the body adapts to a great deal of running in a fairly efficient way.

I did more than I'd planned.  I set the two-mile minimum as a way to make sure I felt like I'd really "run" that day, without feeling overwhelmed and overcommitted - but in the end, I averaged over 5 miles per day!  The lesson here is that you shouldn't be afraid to set specific, achievable goals - but you should also be prepared to exceed your expectations and go above and beyond when you're working hard and making progress toward a fitness goal.

I became a tourist in my own city.  Determined to break out of my regular neighborhood 4-miler (which, by the way, I did return to at several points during the month for familiarity's sake), I planned new routes, ran new streets, explored new territory.  I had gorgeous runs through the hoity-toity neighborhoods of Beverly Hills and enjoyed the lush, tree-lined streets of Raleigh-Durham.  I set my iPod to "shuffle all" and even explored new musical landscapes to boot (who knew that Sousa could actually be powerful running fuel?).  The lesson I learned here is that it is relatively simple to feel refreshed and renewed even when you're pounding the pavement day-in and day-out - it just takes a bit of planning and an adventurous spirit.

And finally, I am relieved it's over.  I am a die-hard runner - I've done marathons, triathlons, 200-mile relay races, and everything in between - but even run-lovers like me need a break.  A good lesson here is that in fitness, as in life, there can be too much of a good thing - and we all need to break out of our "regular" exercise ruts and try something new!  I won't be running today (June 2nd) but after receiving a pair of Vibram FiveFingers for my birthday, I'm already itching to try them out in my next run - after I get myself to yoga, of course.

The total stats ended up like this: 27.67 total hours of running (whoa, that's over a DAY!) for a total of 184.4 miles and an average distance of 5.76 miles/day (including the day off - double whoa!).  I feel like I really did something significant and oddly enough, can't wait for next May to do it all again!

Next stop: marathon training for December's Rock and Roll Las Vegas.  Catch up with you soon, bene-fitters!

May 16, 2011

A Look Behind the "Iron" Curtain

Most of you know that fitness training involves, well, a good deal of exercise.  When you arrive to a training session, you are ready to run, "pump iron," cycle, crunch, jump, or simply do whatever your trainer asks of you in the effort of reaching your health and fitness goals.

That said, there is another crucial service that fitness trainers provide that you might not be so aware of: motivation.  bene-fit trainers specialize in personalizing each workout not only to tone your body, but also to retrain your mind.  Many of our clients come to us because they've never been able to establish - or stick to - a regular exercise program.  We perceive one of our most important jobs to be helping you stay on track - and we don't just mean counting reps within your set.

So what's the secret?  What makes a professional trainer different from a workout buddy or friend?

This week, I want to give you a bit of insight into what - and why - bene-fit trains the way we do.  We start every relationship with an Initial Wellness Consultation to make sure we're both on the same page about what you  want and how to get there.  We then design your sessions in 6-week increments, making sure to review each program with you after the workouts to make sure they're working for you and your lifestyle.  Finally, we reassess your progress at regular intervals to demonstrate to you that fitness works.

Throughout the process, we try to enhance "self-regulatory strategies" - that is, ways of making exercise seem appealing and the individual feel capable of mastery.  We do so through a combination of positive reinforcement, support, and positive feedback.  These are all strategies you can use when you're working out on your own, too - when's the last time you paid your hardworking muscles a compliment as you worked them out at the gym, or asked a friend or colleague to accompany you on your lunchtime walk?

Next, we try to enforce the belief that exercise will improve your self-image.  So many clients come to us focused on a number on the scale, and continue with us because we aren't so hung up on that number (even as it starts to fall!).  Moving more, getting stronger, and having more energy are all side effects of exercise - and all bound to help you feel better about yourself each day.

Third, we emphasize SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals so that each training session feels like a piece of your larger wellness puzzle - not some random series of exercises with no structure or purpose.  All bene-fit clients are asked to articulate at least one fitness, food, and frame-of-mind goal to focus on during their sessions so that each time we meet, we can stay accountable and on-track for greater success.

Finally, we suggest creating specific actions plans for exercise.  Whether it means scheduling sessions with a bene-fit trainer or putting your daily run into your Google Calendar, the only way to establish a habit is to actually participate in that behavior regularly - and with accountability.  Make a schedule for yourself at the lowest-stress part of your week - Sunday, for lots of folks - and stick to it, no matter what crises "pop up" during the day.  Treat your workouts as you would any other meeting or class at school - non-optional.

If you are doing all of these things on your own, you might ask yourself: why do I need a trainer?  Well, in bene-fit's humble opinion, everyone needs a trainer - even the trainers!  Certified personal trainers ensure that you are working out safely, progressing at the correct level, changing up your routine and keeping your muscles active and engaged, and - remember this from above? - keeping you accountable and motivated.

Moreover, a good trainer will promote your enhanced quality of life with exercise, help you overcome your fears and barriers to exercise, acknowledge and celebrate your triumphs, provide alternatives in the case of regression or injury, demonstrate sincere care and concern for your well-being, motivate you to attain your goals, create an enjoyable and stress-free training environment, and give positive and specific feedback.  If your trainer isn't giving you the service you deserve, it might be time to try bene-fit personal training for a positive change.

Now that you've had a look behind the "iron" curtain of personal training strategies and tips, we hope that you are inspired to seek professional support for your fitness journey and make a real investment in your most important asset - your health.

May 6, 2011

Take a Cold, Hard Look - and Find YOUR Fit!

Most of the time, bene-fit is all about the warm and fuzzy.  Deep down, of course, our mission is to help you reach your goals, achieve your dreams, and find a place in your life where health and wellness come naturally.

However, in order to reach those goals and achieve those aims, we all have to do some soul-searching.  And it is in this process that I demand a very straight-forward thing of you: fess up.

The number one thing I hear from new clients that aren't finding immediate weight loss success is this:  "I'm doing everything I can and the weight is not coming off."  The statement itself irks me, since "everything you can" is actually quite extreme - as in, check everything on the list that follows:
  • Are you exercising moderately for 60-90 minutes or vigorously for 45-60 minutes, 5-6 times per week?
  • Are you eating a diet that contains mostly (if not only) vegetables, lean proteins, and fruits, with little to no refined carbohydrates, sugar, sodium, or polyunsaturated fats (and little to no alcohol)?
  • Are you sleeping 7-8 hours per night, soundly?
  • Are you drinking 60-100 ounces of water daily, and is water your only beverage other than black coffee or tea?
  • Do you do meditation, attend church services, practice yoga, or otherwise fulfill your spiritual life?
  • Do you spend your "personal" time in healthy relationships that support your weight loss and life goals?
If you could not answer a resounding "YES!" to everything on the list, well....then you're not doing everything.  That said, if you really are doing everything on the list (first of all, I want to know your secrets!) - you probably need to see a doctor, as there is likely a biological reason for your weight issue (like hypothyroidism or PCOS).

Now, let's get back to reality.  It is most likely that when we say we've "tried everything," what we really mean is that we've "somewhat attempted certain things."  And that's OK.  The point here is that there is a cut-and-dry road to achieving weight loss and maintaining health, and it is aligned squarely with a healthy plant-based diet, ample levels of exercise, good sleep, adequate hydration, mental health, and social support.

It's far from easy.  It usually takes a lot of help.  In fact, that's why bene-fit was founded: to make the challenges of losing weight, getting fit, and staying well easier for everyone.  

And that's exactly why, this summer, bene-fit will launch our first-ever weight loss workshop, a six-week program of education, motivation, and inspiration called "Lose Weight: Find YOUR Fit."  We'll be working with those who need to lose anywhere from 10-100 pounds in an intensive, group-oriented setting.  If you or someone you know and love could bene-fit from a program like this, email us to make sure you get all the latest registration and program information as soon as it's released.

This year, it's time to really "try everything" to improve your health and take the initiative to lose weight, get healthy, and as always - find your bene-fit.

April 26, 2011

Three-Peat Your Way to Health

Last week, I was reading through all the "usual" health and fitness blogs and I came across a simple, yet profound entry from one of my personal heroes, trainer Jillian Michaels.

She presented all of her readers with a three-part weekly challenge, and I'd like to offer the same challenge to our loyal bene-fit readers.

First, try not to say a negative word about yourself this week.  Seriously.  If all you see when you look in the mirror are negatives...well, get rid of your mirror!  We are harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else - how many times have you said something cruel to yourself that you would never think of saying to a friend or family member?  If you slip into negative self-talk, reverse it: refocus on something positive, forgive yourself, and move on.

Second, do your best to eat every meal at home this week.  Pack your lunch, bring home a rotisserie chicken if you don't have to time cook from scratch, bring fruit with you for snacks, and take the time to eat a bowl of oatmeal in the morning before you leave the house.  Take a few moments to plan and reap the many bene-fits of home cooking, including smaller portions, lower levels of sodium and sugar, and yes - actually spending time with your partner, family, or even just your pets!

Finally, try a new exercise this week.  Whether it's a new form of bicep curl or an entirely new exercise trend, diverge from your regular routine (and if there is no routine at all - work out!) and give something new and different a shot.  Whether or not you become a Bikram yoga devotee, it's a great way to get out of a rut (especially if that rut has come with a weight-loss plateau) and reenergize yourself for the daily grind.

Take some advice from the world-class fitness professionals and make this week a three-peat of health and wellness - it's easier than you think!

April 19, 2011

Just Bust a Move: 5-Minute Workouts for Busy Days

Lately, even as a trainer - where I work primarily in a gym - I've been having a hard time fitting in my regular workouts.  Laugh if you will, but between training other people, traveling on weekends, and trying to squeeze in some semblance of sleep, it's getting increasingly hard to lay down a good old-fashioned 60 minutes of exercise each day.

That said, there's no excuse.  I probably spend 5-10 minutes here and there wasting time - checking Facebook, playing with the dog, doing something on my smart phone, or replying to tweets (again, hopefully I'm not the only one here!).  What if - and let's just get crazy here - we spent that time working out instead?

It doesn't take much.  With just some simple planning and equipment "stashing," you can make those little moments of down time worth their weight in...well, weight loss!

Some examples:
  • The Line Dance - while standing and waiting in a line, lean from side to side, lifting each foot slightly, and pull the abs in with each "shuffle" for a small crunch contraction
  • Desk-er-cize - first off, switch out your desk chair for a Swiss ball or modified Swiss ball chair.  Then, roll forward and back (using only your butt/hips to move you) while you take a phone call
  • Jump for Joy - stash a small jump rope in your desk or purse and on lunch hour, spend the first 5 minutes and last 5 minutes jumping rope.  You won't even notice the 10 minutes gone and you'll burn 100 calories or more!
  • Burpee Blaster - recently heralded as the single best exercise you can do, try and do 10 burpees in a row without rest - and repeat until you reach 50 or reach fatigue, whichever comes first
  • Push It - alternate sets of 10 pushups and 10 crunches for 1 minute at a time, resting 30 seconds in between sets.  To intensify it, add a 30-second bout of high knees at the beginning and end of each set
  • Shadow Boxer - if you're in a situation where you can't access weights, "shadowbox" (mimic punching and kicking movements) to music for 5-10 minutes - here's a how-to if you're unsure what to do
One of the best parts of accumulating these short routines is that when you do have time, you can combine them into a 25-30 minute, very high-intensity circuit workout.

Do you have a a favorite 5-10 minute exercise routine that you like to do when life gets super busy?  Leave a comment for us and share your expertise!

March 28, 2011

The Power of Positivity: A Little Goes A Long Way

We all know that exercise and a healthy diet are the cornerstones of feeling great and looking good.  However, for many of our bene-fit clients, there is a third component of total wellness that is often the most elusive: positive thinking.

Too many women (and yes, some men) are down on their bodies, stressed out about their personal commitments, and intimidated by the weight (no pun intended) of their own goals.  Too many men (and yes, some women) are overworked, plagued by multiple demands from work, family and friends, and tend to shut down and internalize rather than seek help from others.  Sound familiar?

It is often to easy to focus on the day-to-day downfalls ("I ate a donut this morning at work, ugh") rather than see the moment in the context of long-term goals ("I ate a donut this morning, but I hit the gym after work and will prepare a healthy snack for tomorrow.").  Practicing forgiveness and finding proactive solutions are often the simplest ways to combat a glitch in your fitness journey; however, they're also the most overlooked.

For some folks, reading an inspiring self-help book can kick-start your positive mood - try The Power of Now or The Amazing Results of Powerful Thinking to start.  Not ready to commit to an entire book?  Check out accountability websites like HabitChanger, HabitForge, and Life Balance to help you get - and stay - on track with your wellness goals.

As we all know, though, not everything can be fixed with a few written words or a tech-savvy iPhone app.  Rather, the most important component of positive thinking is surrounding yourself with positive people - again, simple but profound.  bene-fit was built on the philosophy that social support matters, and whether your form of self-help is attending a butt-kicking Boot Camp or checking out a group exercise class at your local gym, just being around same-minded folks can really boost your mood and keep you focused.

Winston Churchill once said, "a pessimist finds difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty."  This week, bene-fit asks you to see the glass as half full, be proactive, and seek support as you take another step toward your fitness goals.

March 22, 2011

bene-fit Your Diet: Nutrition Tips That WORK

As a bene-fit personal trainer (and, full disclosure: not a registered dietitian - and the difference here is very important), it is astounding how many questions I get from clients and friends alike about nutrition and healthy eating.

Again, as a bene-fit personal trainer and co-owner of a fitness consulting business, here's some more disclosure: I love exercise.  I do not, however, love deprivation, dieting, or food restrictions.  And so I often struggle with clients who decide to engage in crash diet fads, very low calorie diets (VLCD), overzealous supplementation, skipping meals, and (shudder) the many "cleanses" made popular by celebrities and the fitness industry.

If you're seriously looking to "cleanse" your body, eliminate animal products for one week.  Subsist on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans, and cut out sugar, dairy, refined carbohydrates, meats, and eggs, all the while drinking 80+ ounces of water per day.  Without pills, powders, or potions, I have a hunch you'll feel fantastic - if you can stick to it for all seven days.

That said, you don't need to cleanse the body if you're actually eating clean in your daily life.  bene-fit recommends the 90/10 rule for our clients and in our lives.  The theory is easy: if you eat well and exercise 90% of the time, you can afford a splurge (or a day off!) 10% of the time without major detriment to your health and fitness goals.

Now, think about this in considering 90/10: in a hypothetical sample of 10 days, that's ONE missed workout.  ONE ice cream sundae.  ONE late night out with a few too many alcoholic drinks and a few missed hours of sleep.  If your indulgences are exceeding a realistic 10% of your lifestyle, it might be time to reevaluate what is "normal" and what's a "splurge."

There are easy ways to ensure that your diet stays clean most of the time, and the #1 strategy is to plan ahead.  As the saying goes, "failing to plan is planning to fail" - and nowhere more than in balanced nutrition does this saying apply!  That's where bene-fit professionals are here to help you - free of charge.

Conceptualize your meals weekly (versus daily, or worse, meal-to-meal).  Make a list of what you need to buy, and buy only that - no extras, no sweets, no "bonus" calories.  Use everything that you buy, particularly the fresh produce, and be creative with leftovers.  A steak grilled on Sunday becomes a steak wrap when refrigerated and thinly sliced on Monday.  A rotisserie chicken on Tuesday gets shaved into a chicken Caesar salad on Wednesday when mixed with some greens and low-cal dressing, while a big batch of brown rice cooked up on Thursday can supplement a halibut filet that night, get mixed into a fish gumbo on Friday, and even form the base for a filling frittata on Saturday brunch.

Want more proof that whole, unprocessed food - besides being naturally delicious - is also the best fuel?  Rachet up your workouts during your cleanse and/or clean eating week by adding distance, intensity, time, or weight to your regular routine.  Known as the FITT principle (frequency, intensity, time, and type), these simple changes can make a years-old exercise routine feel like something new - and challenging.

Eat well, move more, and take the extra step toward finding your bene-fit this week!

March 7, 2011

Take Time to Make Time

Ask and you shall receive, bene-fitters: the feedback from our "Top 10 Wellness Tips" blog post was so great that we decided to do a second installment this week!

However, we wanted to put a distinctly different spin on this week's entry.  One of the crucial factors to any type of long-term success is time management - the organization and planning of one's time in the most efficient fashion to ensure completion of necessary tasks and allow freedom for pleasure and relaxation.

Almost nowhere in our lives is this more important than in regard to our health - yet often, this is the first consideration to go when our days get busy.  Do you ignore sniffles until they turn into a full-blown flu?  Do you put aside your workout to chug through a couple extra hours at the office?  Do you spend money on dinners out and designer clothing only to find your gym membership dues going into default?  All of these are signs that your healthy time management might be suffering more than you think.

Thus, today we bring you the top 11 (yes, 11 - we couldn't resist that extra tip!) tips for managing and organizing your daily life to maximize your healthy potential and find time to breathe and prioritize your overall well-being:

Do you waste time moving between the bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom because the items you need are spread throughout the house?  Start off by placing the items you use ONLY in the room in which they are used (i.e., no random blowdryers strewn about the living room!).  Second, place a small bowl, tray, or other container in each room to capture items that need to be removed and put back in the room in which they belong.  At least once a day, check to make sure that container is empty. :)

Visual clutter often translates to mental stress - when we see a mess, we internalize that messiness.  Take the time to rearrange stacks of books, DVDs, or other clutter, and create a system (alphabetic, by color, or by size) to make organization easier in the future.

(3) CAN IT
Sick of lingering garbage odors because you stuff the bag in order to avoid emptying it?  Place 5-10 empty garbage bags folded in the bottom of the can.  This way, when you lift a bag out, the other one is waiting - no time lost fumbling through your box or other storage area when you really just need to take out the trash.

Sick of half-empty shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles littering up the peaceful retreat of your shower?  Invest in some uniform glass bottles so that you can a) see how much you have left of your products and know when to restock, and b) find what you're looking for without fumbling through a mess of plastic.  Then once you're got your bottles, take 'em off the ledge in a stylish and simple shower caddy.

Clothes threatening a takeover on your bedroom floor?  Make your hamper accessible and skip the step of sorting by keeping a multiple-sectioned hamper wherever you need it most - i.e., not just stashing it to the back of the closet if you need it right next to the bedroom door when you walk in after work.  Toss and sort in one step - keeping those stinky gym clothes away from your delicate intimates.

The same rules that apply for a serene bathroom are the ones that will help calm a chaotic kitchen - place foods in clear, airtight storage containers to make sure they're accessible, keep track of when you need to restock, and even make healthy foods seem more appealing (studies show that attractively presented foods are more likely to be eaten that those kept in opaque boxes or hidden away in drawers).  A bonus is that these eco-friendly containers can be washed and reused as your tastes and foods change!

Let's admit it: finances can be sticky even for those of us with the most well-kept schedules.  Keeping a budget through a free managed website like or makes bill paying, expense tracking, and even future financial planning a breeze - and one less source of confusion in your busy day.

Ever had to tell someone you missed their email because it was lost in a sea of junk?  No more excuses - you can take a few seconds to stop the flood of promos, coupons, and "daily deals"  (in both your email and snail mail) by signing up at and - and of course, there's always the one-click "unsubscribe" options that are required by law on any promotional email you receive to your Inbox.  Online peace of mind can be just a click away!

Are you one of those women who skips putting on your makeup some mornings just to avoid rummaging through your bottomless, powder-caked makeup bag?  Refuse to cave in and start organizing your brushes, most-used products, and pencil instruments in a flatware caddy - great in the kitchen, but even more stylish on the vanity.  This one's for guys too - the caddy is a great solution for razors, Q-tips, combs, and more!

Just because an item has outgrown its usefulness in your life doesn't mean it wouldn't fill a need in someone else's  - which is why donating clothes, appliances, dinnerware, outerwear, and toiletries to charity is such a great idea.  Not only are Goodwill donation centers easy and plentiful, you can even turn your donation into a viable deduction (taxes are due in just over one month, you know) by recording the value on

(11) IN A BIND
Whether the dog gets sick, your child breaks a bone, or your teenager gets in a minor accident, you want to be prepared to move quickly when there is a family emergency.  Keeping important information photocopied and in a three-ring binder or other bound folder can make response times shorter and stress levels in check.  Make sure to keep medical records, drivers licenses and passports, social security cards, and birth certificates on file and easily accessible for times when a few seconds can make all the difference.

Remember, while exercise and a nutritious diet are great benchmarks for a healthy lifestyle, we here at bene-fit emphasize total body wellness - which includes the mind, body, heart, and spirit.  Take the time to make a few small changes in your time management this week and enjoy the many bene-fits of a calmer, less stressed schedule in the weeks to come.

February 23, 2011

Get Well, Stay Well: Top 10 Tips

Our bene-fit philosophy has a lot to do with total wellness - we believe that individual attention, group motivation, and social support are the keys to starting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  However, there are different ways to achieve each of those aims depending on who you are and what goals you need to accomplish. In other words, there is no "one size fits all" health and fitness plan that works for everyone - or every body.

That said, Gene Stone's recent best-selling book, The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, suggests that there is more to staying well than we might think.  While the big ones are obvious (eat well, sleep well, exercise), some of his tips are less so - but just as important!  We think they're a great guide to staying well and feeling your best - so enjoy this summary of the "top ten" from Gene Stone:

Easier said than done, right?  Remember, de-stressing doesn't have to mean a day at a spa - just taking 10 minutes to read a blog (hint hint), pet a dog, or close your eyes can help calm you down.

Lots of folks count calories, fats, and carbs - but who keeps track of Vitamins B6 and B12?  You should, if you want a healthy source of natural energy that keeps your immune system thriving.  Ask your doctor about B-vitamin supplementation to help get you out of a funk.

No, we're not asking you to subsist on lettuce and grapefruit juice - but a mild caloric restriction each day can have short and long-term benefits.  Make less seem like more by packing up with veggies and fruits!

Washing your hands is a great way to beat germs - but embracing "good" bacteria can help improve your metabolism, enhance your immunity, and reduce inflammation.  For example, rinse (versus scrub) the skins of organic fruits and vegetables to maintain a bit of healthy soil.

The legal ones, that is - plant-based health remedies have been around since ancient times and are often safer and more effective than OTC or prescription medications.  From the very basic (green tea!) to the more intense (rhinoceros horn!), finding a good herbalist can give you a natural cure for what ails you.

Always putting off social gatherings for work, exercise, or other non-social commitments?  People with strong friendships are less likely to succumb to infectious diseases - and have a lower risk of CVD.  Make spending time with the ones you love a top "to-do" on your list.

The pH scale runs from alkaline to acidic - and the ideal body is balanced neatly between the two ends.  Consider "cooling down" your diet (most American diets tend toward the acidic) with leafy green vegetables, coconut milk, and beans.

Yep, this one's a fun one - eat garlic!  Sprinkle it raw on salads, cook it into sauces and soups, or mash it as a spread for bread or pita - and you'll reduce your blood pressure and triglyceride levels along the way.

Again, bene-fit would never recommend an extreme detox diet - we suggest a chemical detox, meaning waning the body off unnatural preservatives, additives, and ingredients.  Take a cleansing mineral bath, drink 100 ounces of water daily, or take a Bikram ("hot") yoga class to drive impurities away from the body.

Sleep deprivation is one of the leading correlates of obesity, stress, and overeating.  Take the time to balance out your sleep schedule with a 30-minute midday nap.  If you don't have the luxury of an empty midday, try moving your bedtime 1/2 hour earlier.  Your body, waistline, and mind will thank you.

So that's it for this week, bene-fit readers - your top 10 tips to resisting that cold that's going around, keeping your energy levels high throughout the dark days, and of course - finding your bene-fit this winter!

February 16, 2011

Fuel Up First: bene-fit Breakfast Ideas

When we first consult with a bene-fit client, we talk about lots of things - exercise history, health status, weight goals - but perhaps the most surprising every time is diet.

"I eat pretty well," a client might say, holding a chemical-filled Diet Coke and stomach growling from a skipped breakfast.  "Most of the time I try to be healthy," says another, remembering the wine-fueled cupcake overdose from the night prior.  Regardless of the exact euphemism, it is often food that brings one to bene-fit as much as fitness.

And let's be honest - for many, the diet element of total wellness is the harder part.  Though exercise can be difficult, it also feels great - heart pumping, sweat dripping, endorphins jumping.  Dieting, on the other hand, can feel repressive and empty.  No sugar?  No carbs?  NO WAY!

That said, we at bene-fit like to believe that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step - and for lots of diet-deprived folks, that can mean just adding breakfast!  Eating breakfast is one of the easiest, fastest, and most satisfying ways to restructure your food intake in a healthier way.

But what to eat?  And how much?

Surprisingly, most people underestimate the calorie demands of breakfast - remember, this meal is fueling the better part of your active, working day - so you want to aim for 250-500 calories (depending on your height, weight, gender, and activity level, of course).  You also want to go for a balance of complex carbohydrates and healthy lean protein to make sure your meal "lasts" until lunch, and adding a vegetable or fruit serving makes a good meal even better.

Of course, we also want to make it as easy as possible to get your breakfast prepared and ready - so we've compiled a list of bene-fit-approved, four-ingredient-or-less breakfasts to get you out the door full and healthy:

--OATMEAL with 1/2 chopped apple, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp brown sugar
--LOW-SUGAR GRANOLA with 1/2 chopped pear, 1 TB flaxseeds, and 1 tsp honey
--WHOLE WHEAT ENGLISH MUFFIN with 1 slice low-sodium ham, 1 scrambled egg, and 1/2 cup cantaloupe
--LOW-SUGAR BLUEBERRY MINI-MUFFIN with 1 hard-boiled egg
--WHOLE WHEAT BAGEL with 1 TB natural peanut butter and 1/2 mashed banana on top
--OPEN-FACED TURKEY SANDWICH on 1 slice wheat bread with 2 slices turkey, 1 slice low-fat cheese, and 1 leaf lettuce
--PROTEIN SMOOTHIE with 1 scoop zero-carb protein powder, 1/2 cup frozen fruit, and 1/2 cup 0% Greek yogurt

Never forget that even a small change makes progress toward a larger goal - so try some of our bene-fit breakfast ideas tomorrow morning and watch your energy, spirits, and overall health start to soar!

February 8, 2011

bene-fit Answers: What IS Good Health, Anyway?

As you already know if you found your way to this blog, bene-fit is a health and wellness company specializing in personal training and fitness education for individuals and groups.  In short - we work to keep you healthy!

But what does "healthy" really mean?

To some, it means walking two miles a day - but to others, it might mean running a marathon per year, getting out of bed without pain each morning, or working a vegetable serving into each meal.  However, the folks over at Kaiser Permanente recently put together an easy guide to understanding the dimensions of this thing called "health" and offering some ways to optimize it in your own life.

First of all, they offer that good health is a process.  It is a pursuit, if you will, of "indulging in moderation in everything except laughter and love."  Easy enough, right?  But there's more:

Good health is being smart about sugar.  Diabetes is one of the number one risk factors for health problems and mobility limitations later in life, but if you are in control of cravings (an ounce of dark chocolate instead of a whole Snickers bar, for example), you can keep your blood sugars in the healthy range.

Good health is bending without breaking.  Even a midday stretch in your office is better than nothing - and a weekly yoga class is really something!  Hold stretches for 15-30 seconds per side and move through all your major muscle and joint groups, head to toe.

Good health is stopping to smell the roses.  Yep, they mean this literally - getting outdoors and limiting "indoor activity time" (think computers, video games, and TV) can reduce your risk of obesity and other diseases of a sedentary lifestyle.  Gardening, walking, and doing outdoor housework are all good options.

Good health is spring-cleaning your mind.  Do you keep a journal?  Write poetry?  Go to church?  Do puzzles?  Meditate?  All of these - and many more - are great opportunities to keep the mind fresh and the heart peaceful.  Try and identify one positive think in your life, and offer thanks for it, each day.

Good health is getting enough sleep.  Creating a cocoon of a bedroom - heavy shades, no TV, and no outside distractions - is both fun and a great move toward a solid night's sleep.  Move your books, work, kids, and pets outside the bedroom to ensure your nighttime routine goes to plan - and ends early!

Good health is skipping the sizzle.  You've heard it enough times to sing its tune-  sunscreen, sunscreen, SUNSCREEN!  Sure, we all need a daily dose of Vitamin D, but get regular skin exams and monitor any funny stuff on the outside - it could be a sign of serious stuff on the inside.

Good health is finding the right support.  Your closest inner circle says the most about who you are and what you value - so make sure to surround yourself with people who join you in making healthful choices and stay positive about your healthy lifestyle.  Life is too short to be dragged down by others!

Finally, good health comes one step at a time - and bene-fit means that literally!  As the old saying goes, "the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step" - and bene-fit is here to help you make that step as easy and meaningful as possible.

Check out our services today for more information on how to make a powerful change in your health and fitness lifestyle, whether through personal training, endurance event training, yoga instruction or one of our group exercise opportunities, and start defining your version of "healthy" today!

February 3, 2011

All the Healthy Ladies: Put Your Hands Up

Fellas, don't feel bad - but you're not really included in this entry.  This one is talking to the ladies.

At bene-fit, we strive to stay current and educate ourselves on the latest trends, research, and programs in health and fitness - all so we can share them with you!  This week, we break down the newest buzzword popping up all over the women's health literature: me-covery.


Yep, you read that correctly.  "Me-covery" refers to feelings of empowerment and self-renewal borne of the economic recession - and the resultant underemployment of women - that leads them to pursue self-reflective and more fulfilling lifestyle opportunities.  

So what does this "me-covery"  mean for the average woman?

For one, we are reevaluating our priorities and placing family, happiness, and health in places that money, career, and voluntary obligations used to be.  A second trend is our renewed commitment to health and wellness, such as hiring personal trainers, enrolling in yoga and relaxation classes, and making health-valued purchases (like buying those hot yoga pants instead of another pair of boring work slacks!).

Another compelling find is that "women are seeking sources of inspiration, support, and motivation, as well as meaningful rewards that mesh with their new lifestyles" - meaning motivating group workouts like bene-fit Boot Camp are all the rage!

Finally, women are getting more involved in their health care - 86% of women are getting health information online (our bene-fit blog is one great source!) and 79% are now seeing their doctors regularly.  We at bene-fit encourage health maintenance, too - not only in the medical community, but through exercise, healthy eating, and mental health support.

This week, consider your me-covery - whether making a career change, embarking on a healthy lifestyle change, or even starting a family - there's never been a better time to sit down, think about your current state of being, state your goals, and plan to rediscover your bene-fit, even after a period of economic downturn.

January 24, 2011

Run Your Way to Better Health

For some folks, the new year is enough to get them out on their feet, ready to break old habits and take on the challenge of a new workout regimen, register for a race, or begin a healthy eating plan.  For others, the dark and dismal months of January and February are about the antithesis of motivation - start running?  NOW?!?!?!

Yes.  That's exactly what bene-fit is trying to tell you this week.

Despite our instincts, winter can actually be a great time to develop a running routine.  There are loads of races to prepare for in the spring and summer (check for a 5K, 10K, or even marathon near you!) and running (unlike long-distance cycling or ocean swimming) is an activity that can be practiced indoors almost as efficiently as outdoors.

Don't believe us?  This week, bene-fit wants to get you off and running with workouts that can be done on a treadmill or outside for variety, fitness, and of course - fun!  Check out our top three picks below:

Only have 15 minutes to squeeze in your cardio?  Abide the rules of high-intensity interval training  (HIIT) and get your heart pumping as quickly - and as effectively - as possible.  Jog easy for 3 minutes, then increase your speed to a run and hold it for 2 minutes.  Walk for 30 seconds to recover, then repeat the first 3/2 sequence.  Complete your final run at 3 minutes, then cool down with 1 minute of walking.

Trying to increase your running pace?  Warm up with 30 seconds jogging and 30 seconds walking for the first 6 minutes of your workout.  Then, increase your jog speed slightly for 30 seconds, returning to the walk for 30 seconds after each burst of speed.  Continue increasing the 30-seconds "jogs" until they become "runs" and finally "sprints" (about 10-20 minutes, depending on your speed an ability), making sure to walk for 30 seconds after each jog/run/sprint.  Cool down for 3 minutes slow jogging, and the final two minutes walking.

From a 1-minute walk, increase your speed to a slow jog and hold it for 3 minutes.  Raise the incline (or reach your first outdoor hill) and jog for 1 minute, then raise it again (or find a steeper hill) for 2 minutes.  Take it down to flat for 1 minute, then repeat the 1/2/1 hill sequence four more times.  Jog on the flat for 5 final minutes, then walk for 2 minutes to cool down.

Think these workouts can get you off and running?  bene-fit believes it!  And we offer more customized, run-specific workouts through our endurance event training plans (from 5K to marathon; also available in triathlon distances), available NOW at our website.

Forget the winter cold - warm up with a good run and find your bene-fit this year.

January 18, 2011

Food: It's Feel-Good Fuel!

This past weekend I had a terrible bout of food poisoning.  I've had it three times; each was increasingly bad (perhaps because the first time I didn't realize exactly what was happening...but I digress).  In the midst of all the sickness, I had a thought:

I will never again berate myself for eating food.

Have you ever considered the sheer pleasure of eating?  The idea that what we put into our mouths can fuel the magical machine that is our body?  If you've had food poisoning, you know what it feels like to succumb to total weakness due to lack of fuel, lack of hydration, and the persistent worry that you may never be able to hold down food again.

However, up until the very moment I fell ill, I guilted myself over the fuel I chose to put in my mouth.  Sure, some choices are better than others - an apple a day is a better choice than a Snickers a day, no doubt - but because bene-fit promotes healthy eating for total body wellness, it is hypocritical to tell myself (as a personal trainer!) that I don't "deserve" a treat or indulgence or I'll have to "work off" something I ate earlier in the day.

When I was finally recovered enough to maintain and feed an appetite, I was overjoyed.  I felt gratitude for my digestive system, my food, my ability to feel good during and after eating.  I had no desire to weigh myself, resist any sort of food (it helped that I was at my parents' house recovering with home cooking!), or turn down a cookie or two.  It was like eating without "rules" - and it was glorious.

I recently came across a fabulous blog post about being a "scale slave" - and finally freeing oneself of the daily weigh-in by getting to a place where you can confidently say, I feel good.  When's the last time you were able to tell yourself, I feel good, regardless of a number on a scale or a number in bank account?  When you finish eating a healthy and nutritious meal, do you remind yourself, I feel good?  When you get up early in the morning to attend a bene-fit boot camp or work out with a bene-fit personal trainer, do you make sure that the reason you do so is because you want to shout from the rooftops - I feel good?

At bene-fit, everything we do is to help you reach your health and fitness potential and feel good every day.  Make sure you are making good choices with your fitness and nutrition - and tell yourself today, I feel good!  

January 10, 2011

The Resolution Solution to a Healthy 2011

Happy New Year from all of us at bene-fit! We hope that you were able to spend a joyous and relaxing holiday season with your friends and loved ones.

That said - let's also be honest. Many of us use the holidays as a time to indulge, whether reasonable (a Christmas cookie!) or excessive (a few dozen Christmas cookies!).  That leaves most of us with a little extra padding and a lot of extra guilt going into the new year.

Worry not - bene-fit is here with your "resolution solution" - that is, a bunch of great ways to get out of a fitness rut and into a healthy lifestyle without breaking the bank, living on lettuce, or losing your mind.

Lots of folks have one of two views on new year's resolutions - either they make them and enter into the new year full of overzealous commitments ("I will avoid all added sugar for 365 days!") or they shun them and start off the year with the same old habits ("Might as well polish off these holiday leftovers...").  bene-fit offers a third view - setting new year's resolutions as we encourage our clients to set health and fitness goals - in a SMART way (Simple, Measurale, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely, that is).

SMART goals mean putting down on paper the things that matter most for your next year of success, and making sure that those things aren't outside the realm of your own ability.  For example, a SMART goal might read, "I want to lose 1-2 pounds a week using regular strength and cardiovascular exercise and a calorie-aware diet."  Another SMART goal might say, "I want to make more time for my family by fitting in my 30-minute workouts before work 3 times per week."  What these "resolutions" offer is a numeric, measurable output combined with a clearly stated strategy and a firm yet positive tone.  Take an hour this week to write down at least three SMART resolutions for your new year.

So now you've got your resolutions.  What can you do from here?  A popular mantra that I absolutely love is as follows: "failing to plan is planning to fail."  Resolutions without schedules are like houses without foundations - they might look good starting out, but they'll collapse at the first sign of trouble.  For example, if your resolution is to "exercise 4 days a week," what will those workouts look like?  Will you be hitting the treadmill twice a week and lifting weights on the other days?  Will you be attending bene-fit Boot Camp once a week and signing up for Spin class more often?  Next week, take a second hour to map your resolutions into realistic, concrete achievement plans.

Finally, even the best-laid plans can go astray without proper motivation and support.  Don't knock the "corny" ways of motivating yourself until you've really tried them - for example, posting motivational quotes on your refrigerator or cubicle, asking a friend or partner to email you every few days as a friendly check-in on your goals, or even hiring a bene-fit personal or virtual trainer to customize your workouts and monitor your progress with you.  There are so many people out there willing to help you on your health and fitness journey that all you have to do is ASK!

Welcome back to bene-fit and thank you for letting us be a part of your healthy, happy 2011.