Archive | June, 2015

Emergency Bikini Body Part III

25 Jun

As we touchdown on the runway of 4th of July week, it’s time to wrap up this party and talk about the very last last last minute tips for a beach body so you can get to the important part: relaxing. (You can read the first parts of the series here and here).

chillax

Day of

Eats

Let’s consider what to eat the night before and morning of your vacation or event.

Google “foods that cause bloat” and you’ll get 866,000 results. That’s what I call info overload. Spend a little time sifting through the advice, you can find basically any and all foods listed at least once somewhere. Even foods that are quite healthy and nutritious can cause bloat if you don’t already eat them frequently. That’s the catch-22: if your diet already has nutritional holes, introducing new things to fill those holes quickly and all at once can cause bloat. That’s why advice to avoid certain foods is kind of a muddy prospect. Ehh…kind of yes and kind of nah.

There’s the usual suspects like cruciferous vegetables (ex: brussels sprouts and cabbage) and beans. Then some say apples and peaches as well (while other sources say they actually stop bloat). Those folks over there say dairy causes bloating.  Then these guys say that high fat foods puff you up due to longer digestion time (while others say the fat-packed avocado is a top flat belly food). Others sources go as far as to say avoid artificial sweeteners, chewing gum, eating fast, and drinking through a straw. In the end, nothing is safe but an IV of black coffee and dandelion greens chewed at a cow’s pace.

That’s pretty silly.

You know your body best. After years of observation I’ve discovered that bread and salt are two of my biggest bloat triggers, so a practical breakfast for me on a beach morning is something like yogurt with berries and a boiled egg, or a banana with natural peanut butter. For someone who has issues with dairy, or with fat, it might be totally different.

Women’s Health has a huge archive of daily eating plans. (Most of them make me depressed and slightly hangry just looking at them, but you’re bound to find examples of meals that avoid whatever your trigger is).

But the number one bloater to avoid?

A large meal.

That’s the only one-size-fits-all solution: just keep meals small and frequent, particularly 1-2 days before you want to look trim, and you’ll be golden.

Elemental Side note: Water or Gas?

If you suffer from bloating and aren’t sure why, do a body check at the end of the day. If your bloat is due to water retention, you would see swelling in the feet and ankles. Reducing sodium intake and drinking more water will help that. If it’s all in the tummy, the culprit is probably gas, which comes from food. Only time and attention can pinpoint what your individual trigger might be.

Plank

Right before you head out to the beach (or step into ya fancy clothes), do 10 push-ups and hold a minute long elbow plank. I confess almost never get to do this step because by the time we’re at this point of readiness there’s generally a swimsuit-clad child jumping on me and whining at the door to go out (is this a preschooler or a puppy?), but when I do there’s a real difference.

Get Up, Stand Up

To look immediately thinner in two steps:

1. Roll shoulders back

2. Pull tailbone forward (tuck hips) without squeezing the tush (check out the first installment in this series for details).

Out of all posture checks, this is the best because it’s how classical dancers are trained to stand (have you seen a ballerina?). It takes practice to stay that way when you’re used to slouching, particularly if you’re a female who is #blessedinthechest, but it’s the fastest, easiest trick in the book. Try it in the mirror. Then try it on the beach and see what happens.

Get in the water!

You’re not doing yourself any favors by sitting or standing by the pool edge, trying to remember to keep it sucked in. Everybody looks cute swimming around like a mermaid (or man – no hate or discriminate). Plus, you’ll automatically be getting more activity into your day.

And One Parting DON’T

As an experiment, I tried a DIY body wrap (anything for my readers). And it was a huge fail. The plastic just bunched up into a thin band and made me itch, plus I lost all the clasps on the ace bandages. Leave it to the professionals, or better yet, ignore that snake oil entirely.

 

So that’s it! The Cushion Cut Beach Body countdown. But just remember the thing the makes you the most attractive on the beach, male, female, young old–is having a good time. Take it from this guy.

Happy Chillaxin.

 

Emergency Beach Body Part II

12 Jun

Five to Seven Days Before

Strategic Suits

If you’ve been following the first part of the plan, you may already be noticing a difference. Time to go suit shopping! (Feel free to skip this section if the event you’re counting down to is a wedding or something like that).

Rashguards, patterns, color blocking, high waists, deep plunges, funky cut-outs: coming from a girl who grew up in the string bikini era, there’s a lot to love about the resurgence of sexy one-pieces. Used to be wanting a little more coverage meant you were confined to speedos or unflattering tankinis. Now there’s tons of fun choices with nary a skirt suit among them (although if skirts are your thing, go for it!). Here’s a few of my favorites. There’s something for everyone here, from funky to preppy, petite to plus!

Swim 2015 CollageLeft to right, top to bottom:

Athleta Rash Guard — Splendid Spory Blues SwimsuitMichael Kors One Shoulder SuitBeverly Swimwear Daring DollyAsos Petite High Waist Deep PlungeMara Hoffman Harvest Cut Out Print SwimsuitGabifresh City Slicker Plus Size Wrap BikiniZimmerman Floating Halter Swimsuit

Here’s the top I got for myself this year. Something new and interesting to draw the eye up! (Top: Bocas Criss Cross Halter by 6 Shore Road, Bottom: old Victoria Secret)

Meaghans Bachelorette

I blacked out the other ladies not because they’re not beautiful each and all, but because I don’t have their permission to post their pic on the interwebs.

Speaking of tops…

Make sure yours fits right. You can see I have some spillage in the above pic…see, what had happened was, my size was sold out, so I went with the next size down because it was the kind of top that stretches to fit (the next size up seemed like it’d be too much fabric). I really don’t recommend buying a suit that is not available in your best size, but what can I say, I’d been eyeballing that top since last summer and when I saw it on sale I couldn’t stop myself.

But anyway. In general you really don’t want a top that’s too small, or you’ll get bra bulge. Much of the time, what we see as back fat is actually breast tissue overflowing from a too-small top. When shopping, don’t even look at the size on the tag. Just bring a few different sizes into the fitting room that look like they might fit to the eyeball. And don’t forget to try on your older suits to make sure they still fit and are holding up OK.

Tan

OK Yes, I did just make fun of this in the last post. But to some extent, a tan (faux of course) really does perform some kind of trompe l’oeil on the body. I usually double up on my tummy tan, not because I’m trying to sculpt muscles or anything, but because it regularly stays 45% paler than the rest of my skin. There are so many excellent self-tanners at all price points, you don’t have to worry about choosing between skin damage and being orange, smelly, and streaky anymore. I read recently that up to 90% of aging we see on the skin is due to sun damage. (!) Excuse me, I’ll be over here building a time machine to go back and kick my pasty ginger ass circa 2002 laying out in SPF 2.

If you’re in Atlanta, I cannot say enough good things about the custom airbrush tans at RAW Bronzing Studio. Sadly it’s a special-occasion only treat for me, but they do an amazing (and very fast) job. It was raining the last time I went and the receptionist actually walked me to my car under an umbrella while she got wet herself so I wouldn’t ruin “my investment.” How’s that for service?

Here are my two favorite at-home tanners.

Neutrogena Micro Mist Airbrush Sunless Tan

This is pretty close to fool proof. I wasn’t even capable of spraying, as the direction indicated, “in a single smooth motion” and it still turned out beautifully. I just smoothed it over with my hand after spraying to be sure it was even. It dries very fast, so fast I was able to take a shower, shave, and airbrush tan, all during my hour long lunch break from work. Yes, it really does spray upside down. No, it does not get all over your carpet and everything in a 5 foot radius. I do recommend finding a well-ventilated area; honestly outside would be best. They aren’t kidding about the airbrush particles–EWG would not approve. HA.

L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Towelettes

If the spray still glooks you out (understandable), give tan towels a try. These are also very easy to use, are a nice natural color, and take like two seconds to wipe down. I even use it on my face to great effect. To do your back, grab one end of the towel in each hand and sort of floss it in an up and down motion. You’ll get your back evenly, and also a wonderful shoulder-opening yoga move. Can’t do that with a lotion or foam!

One caveat: these both do have a touch of that self-tanner smell, not bad, but it’s there. But I am freakishly strange because I actually kind of like it. It reminds me of summer.

Eat in Skinny Jeans

Don’t even play, I know you all have your “eating pants.” You know, those stretchy things you put on at Thanksgiving so you can comfortably overstuff? The opposite also works. Put on something–anything really–that is fitted and has little or no give in the fabric. I have a pair of melon skinny pants I ordered online that, as it turns out, have absolutely no stretch. Whenever I wear those things, I noticed I don’t (maybe can’t would be a better word) overeat. When you’re close to busting out of your clothes you generally don’t feel tempted to gorge.

Lest you think this is some kind of freaky pro-ana trick, let me assure you I am not the first to suggest something like this (it was actually Dr. Oz, and was swiped up quickly by popsugar).

OR, why not go big or go home: have meals in your snazzy new swimsuit (no coverup)! I confess I’ve never actually tried this at home, but I have worn my suit during lunches on vacation, just incidentally, and I do tend to eat lighter. This is a good choice if you have GERD, which is exacerbated by tight waist bands.

Drink Water

It would be remiss of me not to mention the water thing, even though we’ve all heard it a million times before. But if you’re not already doing it, a week out from your big event is the time to start pounding nature’s nectar like a champ (watery fruits and veggies also count). If you’re retaining water at all, this is the best/easiest/cheapest way to get rid of the bloat.

Get on the Reg

While we’re on the subject, make sure your digestive system is a well-oiled machine. Water helps with that majorly, but if bloat is a real problem for you (it is for me), pop a probiotic. There’s a whole lotta choices in that aisle now, but you want to look for one with Bifidobacterium infantis–that’s the only strain that’s effective on GI problems like bloating (according to a review at Northwestern University).

Miralax is effective for a bit of stoppage (just ask T), and pick up some Gas-X if tummy bubbles are a contributing factor, but please please please do not take laxatives to lose bloat. Huge mistake.  You will regret. Do not want.

OK that’s it for today! Keep up the micro-workouts and good(ish) eating, and stay tuned for what to do at the very last last minute before you hit the sand!

Summer Reading: Ghost Stories

9 Jun

Never fear, I’m cooking up part II of the ER beach body series as we speak. But in the meantime let’s talk summer reading!

Completely by accident, I found myself reading four books at the same time that all had something to do with ghosts or other such ghastly creatures. And by an even greater stroke of coincidence, they were all good. Here for your reading pleasure are my reviews, in the order I finished them.

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

I received an ARC of this title from LibraryThing* and it was in – ahem – PDF format, which is worrisome. How good could it be if they couldn’t even be bothered with epub at least? But I thought I’d give it a try since I found myself with the time, and it was a short novel. I was pleasantly surprised. This is a YA book set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, but it was quite unusual in all other ways. The narrator Wasp, has the lonely, undesirable, and psuedo-religious calling to catch ghosts and record their habits, a role she just so happens to keep by yearly fights to the death. When an unusually powerful and guilt-wracked ghost enlists her help to find the soul of his dead partner, Wasp wonders if the terrifying and beautiful underworld might just be a better deal than the raw one she gets on earth.  First, I’ll admit there was a bevvy of technical tripwires (ambiguous transitions, a few loose ends, and a tendency to overuse interrupted and ellipsed dialogue) that detracted a bit from the novel’s overall clarity. There were even a few outright errors (like misplaced pronouns) that made me wonder if I was reading some kind of beta version. But the dream-like underworld the author paints, each layer an entire universe utterly different from the one before and resting inside each other like nesting dolls, is amazingly creative. It’s almost worth reading for that alone, but I think many will also enjoy, as I did, the slightly different take on the strong-and-prickly female lead. The lack of romance between any of the characters is a bit like stepping off a staircase in the dark only to find you’re on level ground–disorienting, yet oddly relieving. The core themes that replace it–trust, teamwork, reliance and self-sufficiency–will speak to many.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

*The ARC copy was provided with no strings attached, except if I rate the book on the LibraryThing site I’m more likely to win books in the future. It’s purely my choice to review it here. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of those authors for me (like Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Moore, and sad to admit Jodi Piccoult) whose books I’m almost 100% guaranteed to enjoy. This one in particular though, by some kind of bookworm’s alchemy I can only haphazardly summarize as “the right book at the right time,” struck a cord with me. Not exactly a ghost story as much as a fantastical play on particle physics, Ocean tells the story of a boy (Gaiman gets inside a child’s mind like no other) and his brief but formative run-in with the supernatural underbelly of his rural English home and the Hempstocks, a mysterious trio of women who have lived in the farm at the end of the lane for untold ages. If you think of piles of rags, bath tubs, and the color pink unthreatening, you won’t after this little tale. Despite the overall pall of terror cast on the events of the plot, you’ll find yourself feeling the loss of it keenly at the end (hope that’s not too much of a spoiler). It’s a gentle reminder that even our darkest moments are lined with unbelievable bright silver, and to lose one means the loss of the other.

I listed to the audio version read aloud by the author, and it was as perfectly digestible as the farm suppers the Hempstocks serve up. It’s just a good, strange, wonderful story.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Also a rural setting, albeit more backwater than idyllic, The Winter People is a little bit mystery and a little bit horror, which I think is the author’s specialty (this is the first of her I’ve read). This book was chock-full of storylines and characters that pushed the book to the edge of chaos, but McMahon managed to herd them into a streamline narrative against all odds. The title refers to ghosts that linger on the land like the long New England winter. But the real danger is the temporarily resurrected dead–don’t call them the Z word–that come from a cave in the woods. Despite the variety of chills that this book sends down your spine–including some pedestrian ones involving greed and guns–the real horror is the uncontrollable longing of the grief-stricken. More specifically, to what ends such longing drives the grieving.

There were a few things that didn’t really work for me–the pocketed braid for one–but I chalk that up to reading it on a Kindle. I sometimes miss things in that format.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

If it didn’t say so right on the cover, I would never have believed this was written by the same author who wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain, so very different were the two. One thing I appreciated about this book, especially after Winter People, was the first person limited narration. Far from being constraining, it was revelatory to hear the story from one person instead of several, which if I’m being honest, is a device that sometimes feels like a cheat when it should have just been written in third omniscient. But I digress.

This was the most traditional haunting of the four books–straight up disembodied souls floating in secret passages. But in other ways the novel attempted to be unconventional, although its success in this is limited and perhaps in the eye of the reader. Again there are some parts that don’t quite work for me, the biggest being the aunt–not her motivations so much, those I understood perfectly–more her personality and mannerisms. In comparison to the other characters it felt overly heightened, which is saying a lot when the other characters include a homosexual tree-hugging ghost. Despite all of that, I really enjoyed seeing the story unfold. The old house was a character in itself too.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Read any good books lately?

How not to: Emergency Beach Body

3 Jun

Behold, a last-minute plan for that important event on the horizon, like a beach vacation or a Dirty Dancing Reenactment.

So you’ve got a thing coming up that you want to look good for. And here it is, summer already! Now what?

This is the first post in a short series with tips to help you get ready for (as one of my magazines once crassly put it), half-nakey season. All of course, geared toward the last-minute and lazy energy-efficient.

DON’T: expect miracles

Let’s start with the disclaimer: This plan isn’t going to significantly and permanently change your body. I get so irritated when I read about Victoria Secret models making vague recommendations about getting spray tans and watching what they eat before a bikini shoot, like it’s no biggie. There is absolutely no way around it. If you want to actually look like a model, you need to be slightly miserable. You need to work out hard (at least 90 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week) and think about every bite that goes into your body.

But my thoughts on the matter are: who wants to be slightly miserable? Most of us have jobs, kids (whether four- or two-legged), stuff going on, you know? This list is for actual humans. You know, those who want to live ya life, and simply look as good as possible doing it.

DO: something

At this point you might be tempted to throw your hands up and order a cheeseburger pizza. But even little somethings add up, promise.

Ten Days to Two Weeks Before

DON’T: do long, hard workouts

Long, strenuous workouts, like seven mile runs, aren’t the best plan (unless you’re already in a regular habit). Why? Because the average person is way more likely to overeat afterward and/or be more sedentary during the rest of the day, and maybe even skip the next day.

DO: Micro Workouts

Exercise every day, in bite-sized chunks. My favorite workouts are the 7-minute scientific workout, which is an app you can download to your phone and needs no equipment besides a chair (or couch). I also like this 4-minute workout (fair warning: it’s Tabata style, aka fall-on-the-floor intensity). I do them at night while watching TV. Who the heck can’t spare four minutes? You don’t even need to put on workout clothes or shoes.

If you have the time and energy to go a little harder than 4-7 minutes, try a 15-20 minute interval workout (I do P’s Ruthless videos which are great for both chicks and dudes) or here’s a free one. But seriously, don’t push it. The goal is to workout out every single day.

DON’T: fast or juice

I do not believe that drastic calorie drops under any circumstances are healthy. At best you’ll get hangry, and eat all the things–if not before your vacation, then definitely during. At worst, you’ll leach important nutrients from your system, weakening your immune system and making you susceptible to injury, illness, and fights with your significant other.

DO: pick your poison

Instead of trying to eliminate everything bad (that is to say, good) from your diet, cut just one dietary evil for a couple weeks.

Here are the four main things that will make the biggest difference:

White carbs – includes white potatoes but does not include high fiber grains like oatmeal or brown rice

Sugar – particularly when combined with carbs or in drinks

Alcohol – especially beer or cocktails with sugary mixers like soda or margarita mixer (sob!)

Sodium – such as is found in sneaky places like bread, condiments, and salad dressing

For most people, one category makes a bigger difference than others. Beer makes me bloat up like a blimp, for instance. It’s a shame because I really like beer, especially on a hot summer day. But I know that if I don’t want to go to the pool disguised as a puffer fish I’d better skip it.

If you’re having trouble choosing go for white carbs. Why? Because if you cut down on the carbs you’ll probably also cut down on salt and sugar automatically, without even having to make a special effort. (Note: I do not recommend low carb diets as a general lifestyle choice. This is just a temporary thing).

Let’s not get crazy here. I’m not saying you should forego cake at your husband’s birthday or suddenly become a teetotaler (like I said, this plan is for actual people with real lives). I’m just saying if you know you’re going to eat cake, don’t also have champagne. If you’re going to have cheese and/or mayo on your burger, leave off the bun. Go ahead and put butter and salt on your steamed veggies, but don’t get anything that comes in its own sauce. Remember, it’s only for ten days, not the rest of your life. You can handle anything for ten seconds days.

DON’T: attempt a thigh gap by sticking your butt out

There’s some kind of subconscious call, that I can only assume is evolutionary, that makes women stick their booties out when they want to look thin, instead of tuck under as you really should for proper posture. Leave the butt hike to the bikini model contestants. Honestly those girls scare me.

I always stand like this on the beach.

Because in reality, this is what happens.

DO: stretch away a pooch (dudes, this is you too)

A major culprit of potbellies in both men and women, even for those who are otherwise thin, is anterior pelvic tilt. APT is caused by tight psoas mucles (aka hip flexors) and a weak pelvic floor, and to some extent tight hammies and glutes. Why do we get this? Desk jobs, for one.

The psoas is the muscle that allowed our ape-y ancestors to begin walking upright so many eons ago. So it deserves some lovin’! There are many good resources to help combat this very common issue but I’ll show you the easiest stretch in the world. Do it once or twice daily to both sides.

Take a gentle high lunge.

Like so

Like so.

Keeping the back leg straight[ish], pull your tailbone forward (like in hip isolations, for my fellow dancers) until you feel a stretch at the front of the hip. Alternatively, you can think of someone scooping out your stomach with an ice cream scoop.

If the difference in the hip is too hard to see, look at the heel.

If the difference in the hips is too hard to see, look at the heel.

Hold for 20-30 seconds. Don’t push it, the effects are not immediate. That’s why this is in the 10-14 days ahead post.

Optional: lift arm and side bend in the same direction as the front knee.

APT stretch 3

You can put your hand on a chair or couch back for balance if needed.

Switch legs and repeat.

While we’re on the subject, working the pelvic floor is not just for ladies. Gents, you’re not doing yourself any favors if you overlook this crucial organ hammock.

So, confession: kegels skeeze me out big time. Not a fan. Luckily there are other ways to work the pelvic floor, and one you can do during the stretch above. Simply avoid squeezing your glutes when you tuck forward in the lunge–the PF takes over the action automatically.

Another easy PF activation is deep squats. This time, you do want to stick your bum out! Hold for a minute or two.

Squat yay nay

If I can share this embarrassing picture with you, the least you can do is like my post.

I have to hold on to a door knob because there’s a bone in the front of my ankle that’s so long, I can’t plant my heels and stay upright at the same time #weirdanatomy. But you normal people can also do this while watching TV. Or, as my mom always did, while brushing your teeth.

DON’T: forget dat back

Your back is part of your core. Give it a little attenshun and your whole tummy gets tighter. This move is fun and hits all the corset muscles. It’s perfect to do in place of bicycle crunches, which are both strenuous on the back and contribute to tightness in the psoas.

DO: the banana superman

Start in a superman. Think of someone pulling your arms and legs away from your body, as opposed to arching your back. Without letting your arms and legs touch the floor, roll over to your back in a banana shape. Keep rollin’ all the way through to superman on the other side. Then roll back the way you came. Go slow, otherwise you’re cheating by using momentum instead of muscles.

My photographer got a migraine at this point, so you’ll have to make due with a demo by this much less attractive chick.

Up next….what to do 5-7 days before your beach deadline!