December 30, 2011


So, it’s almost January 1… are you getting all psyched to change your entire life in a few days with a whole slew of earnest and optimistic New Year’s resolutions?

Or perhaps you regard the whole resolution routine as a futile and somewhat amusing cultural exercise in self-delusion? No worries! Either way, what with a fresh new year almost upon us, it does seem a handy time for a bit of reflection and self-assessment.

However, before we all start running around figuring out how we can be fit, slim, well-rested, courageous, non smoking debt-free vegan triathletes with clean closets and abs of steel, might it first make sense to do a little celebrating of all the things we DID manage to tackle and triumph over in 2011?

Wait, what do you mean there isn’t much to celebrate?

Of course there is!

Even if you’re one of MizFit’s Honest 82% who didn’t technically ‘succced” on last year’s resolutions, and may be recycling them again this year... I bet there are all kinds of awesome things you did this year that you deserve a pat on the back for.

So, wanna find out How to Find and Celebrate This Years Accomplishments, Cranky Fitness Style?

1. Make it easy: Celebrate the Obvious

Did you accomplish something big and meaningful this year? Or even last year, what the hell, we’re not too picky here. Did you graduate from something, give birth to someone, win an award, launch something new, break a personal record, lose a bunch of weight, celebrate a Big Anniversary, finish a novel, or otherwise Succeed in Doing Something Hard You Weren’t Sure You Could Manage? Well go ahead, revisit your triumph and celebrate all over again! The end of the year is a great tme to recall your ass-kicking triumph and bask in the warm glow of smug self-congratulation.

All too often, people who are conscientious and hard-working will finally achieve a long sought after goal… then immediately jump to the next thing on the list and start pressuring themselves without ever stopping to wallow sufficiently in their own awesomeness. Sure, if you do it frequently and out loud, others may think you’re an egotistical asshole. But there’s no law against jumping up and down in your own head and shouting “No wonder I won Widget Salesperson of the year, I did an incredible job selling the crap out of those stupid freakin’ Widgets!”

2. Aim Low: Celebrate the “trivial”

Here at Cranky Fitness, we’re big believers in Baby Steps. Did you dig out the exercise bike out from under the pile of crap in your garage and start pedaling 20 minutes a week? Hooray for you if that’s 20 minutes more than you were doing before! Did you lose a little weight, or discover a new vegetable you don’t hate this year? Did you compete in a race, start biking to work, finally repaint that ugly guest bedroom? Break out the champagne and noisemakers, no doubt you did some damn thing or another this year that you can feel proud of. Spend a few minutes recalling even the little triumphs, it's far healthier than ruminating over the Stuff that Sucked.

3. Make it subjective: Celebrate Effort, Courage and Endurance

As you may have already have discovered: Life is Not Fair. So there’s no use letting arbitrary, superficial external measures of success govern your own sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Did you do an amazing job starting a new exercise program and yet the scale didn’t move? Did you make a huge contribution to your workplace and still end up with a pink slip when budgets got cut?

If you worked hard this year, tried new things, endured scary or ugly or unfortunate situations with grace and good humor, and just generally made lemonade (or margaritas) when life handed you lemons… then give yourself huge amounts of credit.

External success will come later... when life is finally good and done f#@cking with you.

4. Ditch jealousy: Celebrate the Successes of Others

If an acquaintance, friend, coworker or family member achieved something impressive this year, we all know what we’re supposed to do: smile and cheer and hug them and wish them our sincerest congratulations. And yet… sometimes the success of others can trigger a subconscious feeling of jealousy or inadequacy. (Or heck, sometimes the feeling isn’t subtle and subconscious at all, sometimes it’s a big seething stinky pile of nastiness that’s hard to ignore, especially if the party is all gloaty and obnoxious and the “success” was via good luck rather than merit).

So, how to be sincere in your happiness for this other person and thus garner more happiness and celebration for yourself? Well, unless the person is truly an undeserving dickhead, the answer probably lies in decoupling your own sense of self-worth from comparsions to others and to superficial measures of success. There is actually enough joy and happiness to go around for everyone, and YOU are the one responsible for your own feelings of self-worth. If the triumphs of others are getting you down, spend extra time looking for your own strengths and achievements and congratulate yourself. And then take that little smidgen of unpleasant resentment and repurpose it as motivation to set some realistic achievable goals you’ll feel proud of yourself for completing this year.

5. Have fun! Celebrate Continued Existence

Made it to the end of 2011 alive? Hooray for you, celebrate just for the hell of it, and have an awesome New Year’s Eve Weekend!!

So, anyone have anything to celebrate in any of the above categories? Here are a few off my list:

1. The Obvious: Dusted off underutilized but perfectly serviceable psychotherapy experience, reactivated MFT license, and retrained as a Life & Wellness Coach.  Started a practice, found awesome clients to work with, and semi-resurrected the formerly deceased Health and Fitness blog you are now reading.

2. The “Trivial”: Lost a bit of belly fat, and regained the ability to do unassisted pull ups and chin ups. (Am now up to 4 chinups, yay me!)

3. Effort and Experimentation: Recovered from a broken arm and a hysterectomy, which meant having to bust my ass in order to get back to where I left off before I got sidelined. I’ve been playing around with spinning class, bicycling, stair steppers, body weight exercises, tabita intervals and a bunch of other random (and quite possibly stupid and dangerous) cross training moves. Also, I revamped my eating plan to ditch a few more refined carbs and include way more weird, ugly, and extraordinarily healthy foods.

4. Other’s successes: I’ve genuinely enjoyed seeing fellow fitness bloggers and tweeters gain increased recognition with their inspiring books, panel presentations, magazine articles, awards, tv interviews etc. Charlotte, Carla, Joyce and the FBG's leap immediately to mind, but there are many more!  And family and friends have given me lots to celebrate as well… marriages (especially the gay ones…and yeah so sue me, I’m a bit biased), births, new ventures, anniversaries, exciting relocations and happy travels... all good stuff and made me very happy and vicariously proud!

5. And Existence: Hey, I'm alive and not even incarcerated or anything! Hooray! I’ll drink to that!

How about you guys? Anything you’re celebrating this New Year’s, whether it’s a little thing or a huge amazing accomplishment?

December 26, 2011

The Gratitude Thing

Photo credit: Limevelyn

It’s not exactly breaking news that gratitude is a good thing. Psychologists, medical scientists, spiritual leaders, friendly fitness magazines, talk show hosts, your grandmother...everyone seems to be in agreement that you need a whole hell of a lot more of it.

In fact, happiness research studies reveal a bunch of cool benefits you get from feeling grateful. People who consciously cultivate gratitude have better health, achieve more of their goals, exercise more, sleep better, improve their relationships, become more generous, experience more positive feelings, and are way less of a pain in the ass for other people to deal with.

And unlike other reliable sources of mood elevation (i.e. chocolate, music, massages, champagne, sex, naps, double cappuccinos etc) gratitude can be enjoyed any time of day, in almost any situation.  Plus, gratitude is free!

So now that we've got our year-end griping out of the way, some of us are getting ready to embark on New Years Resolutions That Will Magically Turn Us Into Extraordinary Super-Humans.  If getting in touch with gratitude can super-charge our optimism, goal achievement, sleep, relationships, health, motivation, and happiness, that's gotta be handy, right?

Cultivating Gratitude

Some people are naturally more grateful.  It doesn't matter what crappy circumstances they find themselves in, these folks always find plenty of things to be thankful about. (What? Susie got sent home from second grade with head lice? Well that's excellent! Let's both stay home from work, borrow a microscope and make a biology lesson out it while we boil our bedding!) Others of us, sadly, have to wrestle a little harder with our Inner Crabs in order to turn our natural-born grumbling into gratitude.

Some Obvious Reminders about How to Be More Grateful:

1. Make an Effort to Stop and Appreciate Stuff That Makes You Happy

Sure, we all know this is smart, but do you actually make a conscious effort to do it?  If not, don't feel bad: apparently,  due to a neurological negativity bias, we humans naturally suck at this.  Our brains are wired so that all the shitty stuff that happens during the day stands out much more in our minds than the good stuff.  (The evolutionary theory being that if our prehistoric ancestors failed to remember how lovely a sunrise looked or how pretty a flower smelled, it wasn't a big deal.  However, if they forgot which berries poisoned Uncle Throg or what happens if you step on a nest of cobras, those spacey genes had a much smaller chance of getting passed down.)

So tell your hyper-vigilant cavewoman or caveman brain to chill out.  Remind yourself that you haven't noticed any cobras on the subway lately, and it's perfectly ok to be happy and appreciative.  Take half a minute to to savor that excellent cup of coffee, that unexpected compliment, that quiet evening at home, or that $178 million lotto jackpot you just won. (Ok, you probably don't need instructions on that last one, but if it happens and you have any questions, just invite me over and I'll be happy to help).

2. Set Up Some Structure

Hopelessly hokey, right? And I have to confess: just looking at the photo of the "Gratitude Rocks" journal at the top of the post makes me feel a bit barfy.  The only reason I deleted a sarcastic caption was my fear that the woman who took it might google her image and come here and see the caption and get her feelings hurt.  Wait, but what if she came here and actually stuck around to read this far down the post? Yikes!! (I'm so sorry, nice gratitude journal lady!  It's just a little cranky here sometimes, which is all the more reason Crabby needs your fine photo even if its perky sincerity does make her head throb).

Anyway, if you are like me, you may have discovered that a vague intention to embark on a self-improvement scheme rarely results in anything actually happening unless accompanied by a plan and some method of accountability.

So if you want to start feeling more grateful, study after study shows that keeping a list or a journal helps. Other ideas: a bedtime routine of thinking of 5 things to feel grateful for before you close your eyes or a commitment to trade weekly gratitude emails with a friend. (An idea stolen from Jenn and Tish of the Fabulous FBG's). Or how about periodic reminders in your calendar program to take a deep breath and appreciate something? A visit to Leah's or Jody's blogs that have weekly gratitude posts you can connect with and comment? Any system you can come up with that helps you step back and recognize some of the awesome things in life you have to be grateful for is worth a try.

3. Play "It Could Be Worse"

This one rarely works for me, but I'll pass it on because so many people use it successfully. "Oh you got talked into rollerblading against your better judgment, and broke your leg in three places? Well, be grateful they didn't have to amputate!"

It's true that things could always be worse, and keeping this in mind makes many people feel grateful for their relative health and happiness. It's just that for me, reminders that Even More Horrible Things Could Happen tend to make me anxious that they're on the way instead of grateful that they haven't arrived yet.

4. Find the Silver Lining.

OK, so back to the example of breaking your leg in three places.  What if this most unwelcome event results in you fearing weight gain from not doing your normal routine?  And so you finally feel motivated enough to institute a new healthy eating program that you've been meaning to do for years. And then let's say during the recovery period you're introduced to all kinds of physical therapy tricks, cross training methods, stress reduction techniques, and positive-thinking habits that you would have blown off if you weren't feeling all frustrated and desperate.  It could be that by the time you're healed from your broken leg, you find yourself in a healthier, happier, more balanced place than had you not had the Stupid Crappy Event happen to you in the first place.

The older I get, the more I've become convinced that Silver Linings are not just for the naturally optimistic. Because these happy accidents are reality, not just positive thinking! Depending on how they're handled, even "obviously" awful things can result in more positive consequences than negative ones.

Have you ever witnessed a heartbreaking divorce that led to much happier marriages for both parties? Or a totally unfair layoff that instigated a depressing job search... that landed a much more exciting job elsewhere?  Or a health scare that led to major positive lifestyle changes?  Smaller, boring, everyday examples abound: you miss your usual bus and end up sitting next to someone who tells you about a one-day sale at your favorite clothing store, and you stop there after work and get a winter coat you absolutely love for 85% off!  Noticing and appreciating the good things that come from bad things gives you more to feel grateful about. And as a bonus, this mindset makes "bad" things seem far less depressing--because you realize there could actually be sneaky positive outcomes down the road even if they're not immediately apparent.

5. Create More Things to be Grateful For

What if you're going around trying your hardest to find things to be grateful for, but they're mighty few and far between in your current situation?  You hate your job, your apartment is noisy and depressing, you're constantly bickering with your significant other, you're a City Girl living in a sleepy suburban bedroom community or you're a tree-huggin' mountain-climbing outdoorsy type penned up in a tiny studio in a ugly concrete neighborhood...

Well, in addition to the "attitude adjustment" piece, it's possible that you might want to look at some long-range planning to get more good stuff in your life so that you naturally feel more grateful and don't have to work so hard to appreciate those little golden nuggets of unsuckiness.

Start with looking at where you want to be a few years from now.  How might you make that happen?  What are your options?  What steps will you take to get there?  What will you do TODAY to propel yourself in the right direction? The more specific you get, the less chance you'll still be complaining about the same crappy situation decades from now.

(And, um, that brings us to a tacky reminder that if you need some help in this process, we know of a Life and Wellness Coach who has special Half Off life coaching rates! But sadly, the Big-Ass discount is due to expire in a few days.  Folks who email to set up an intake before January 1st 2011 can get in on the old rates, though if you're not quite ready--fear not! There will still be some sort of Cranky Fitness reader discount going forward, just perhaps not as large).

6. Start Appreciating Things... Right Now!

Heck, it'll only take you a few seconds to think of something.

I'll go first!

Because while I'm a notoriously cranky, whiny human, I would have to be a total moron not to realize how lucky I am. For me not to be grateful on a daily basis would be a ridiculous squandering of good fortune. (I also harbor a suspicion that if I fail to be properly grateful for things, the universe might up and take 'em away to teach me a lesson).

So my list could easily be a hundred items long and we ain't got all day. I'll just grab a few off the top:

1. The Lobster (wife of 21 years and IMHO the finest human on the planet);
2. A weird and wonderful bicoastal lifestyle (San Diego and Provincetown, two amazing places to live);
3. A happy career transition to Life Coaching, complete with Totally Inappropriate Marketing Platform and awesome, inspiring, amazing clients;
4. A supportive and kind family;
5. Clever, fun and generous friends, both near and far;
6. An amazing online community of bloggers and readers who inspire me and crack me up, as well as big funny successful sites like College Candy that kindly include me sometimes in their link roundups;
7. Mostly Excellent health;
8. Access to nutritious and delicious food as well as Inexcusable but Delightful Junk On Occasion;
9. Time and resources to exercise a lot and feel all energetic and strong; and finally,
10. Coffee, without which nothing else would be possible because I'd remain curled up in the fetal position all day.

Anything you feel especially grateful for today? Do you have a regular gratitude practice or any plans to start one? Ideas for feeling more appreciation? Or heck, be a week late and be completely disgruntled instead, it's all good!

December 19, 2011

What Sucked This Year: Health & Fitness Edition

So we're heading into the holidays, and soon it will be a new year. It's supposed to be the time even grumps and Grinches manage to turn those frowns upside down, right?

'Tis the season for reflection and heart-felt appreciation. Doesn't it just make you wanna dive into a big gooey vat of love, gratitude, and joy and splash around in it for a while?

Wait, some of you aren't feeling it yet? What's wrong with you?!

Well I say nothing's wrong that a little pre-holiday griping won't cure.

Because at least for some of us, it's important to get our accumulated year-end complaints properly whined about before there can be any talk about looking on the bright side, or transforming ourselves with a sparkling new collection of Uplifting and Virtuous New Year's resolutions.

So yeah, this will be the first in a brief series of too lazy to do any actual research "Get Ready for the New Year" posts, and I promise we'll get to the joy and gratitude and redemption stuff soon enough.  But meanwhile, let's turn those frowns Right Side Up and rest our smiley muscles, shall we?  (How else will we have the strength to muster up enough forced smiles to negotiate awkward holiday office parties and extended family gatherings?)  Instead, let's take a few moments to piss all over that "Happy Holiday Spirit."

And hey, I'll go first! Here's a quick list of my health and fitness annoyances, both personal and societal.  But I'm hoping some of you have some fresh new grievances so I can join you and add some cross-training to my grumbling routine.

1. Contradictory research studies: This is a perennial complaint here at Cranky Fitness. As it happens, I am one of those neurotic freaks who will actually alter their behavior based on what "current research" says is healthiest.

But what if "current research" is sometimes a psychotic duplicitous asshole with a bad memory?

Should I take calcium supplements or multivitamins or will they shorten my life? Should I eat more dairy, or avoid it altogether? Is it better to have an "optimistic" or a "realistic" cognitive style? Is hormone therapy for women in their 50's dangerous or beneficial? Should I eat more resistant starches, or avoid eating any starches? Should I do more cardio to burn fat, or skip it entirely and just do High Intensity Intervals? Should I stand up to work at my computer, or is that bad for me too? Should I be trying to get more saturated fats from grass-fed animals, or should I avoid animal fat completely and become a vegan? Which is more important, getting enough sleep or working out?  Should I eat more or less fruit? Beans? Whole grains?

The good news: experts armed with "current research" have answered all these important questions! The bad news? They all have different answers.

2. Hormonal Havoc: Having a hysterectomy last fall meant the onset of menopause, and boy howdy, is that loads o' fun! While the hot flashes get all the publicity, changing hormone levels can mess with you in all kinds of fascinating ways, from sudden post-menopausal weight gain to ass-kicking insomnia. (And those are just the "G" rated highlights.)

3. Health Clubs and Exercise Equipment Designed by Aliens: Do you ever get the feeling that some products and workout spaces are designed by people who either (a) have never exercised in their lives or (b) are trying to squeeze every last nickel out of their costs and don't give a crap about quality control?

Examples are numerous even in expensive gyms and high-end products. When you go cheaper it gets even worse. Some personal low-lights: a Bowflex scale that we bought and returned twice (so much for optimism!) from Costco. It promised an impressive range of measurements, from bone density and muscle mass to BMI and daily calorie allotment. Too bad no one at Bowflex ever stepped on one and noticed that the ornery gizmo will randomly add 5 pounds just for fun, or refuse to let more than one user set their data.

Other gripes: gyms that keep cardio areas hot and stretching areas cool; exercise equipment designed and sized for men even if used mainly by women; broken squeaky cardio machines; and not enough equipment or classes given membership numbers. Sadly, there seems to be a nationwide shortage of fitness instructors willing to work for free!  And God forbid gyms might actually consider paying enough of them to keep class sizes reasonable.

4. Wear and Tear and other Bodily Breakdowns: Injuries and illnesses suck, whether they are acute and excruciating or chronic and disabling. There is nothing more frustrating that having to scale back or give up activities that are otherwise good for you and that you may have spent years trying to learn to like.  I have whined about my specifics enough and will spare you, but I'd love to hear about yours.

5. The "Skinny" Imperative: Yes, obesity is a health risk, but the relentless message that Women Should Be Thin and Look Hot Because Nothing Else About Them Matters makes me crazy. It's bad enough that every entertainment form, from video games to Hollywood movies sends this message. But the hypocrisy of "health" magazines that do nothing but make false promises and promote eating disorders gets me the most riled up.

6. That Inflexible "24 Hours" in a Day Thing:  Seriously, we need way more than 24.  Even if you're not a parent, not working multiple jobs, not commuting for huge distances, and not otherwise dealing with Huge Responsibilities, it seems like there's no possible way to get to everything you're supposed to do.  I don't know how some of you who juggle so much in life manage to get to anything healthy done at all.

And doesn't it seem like every year there are even more things we're supposed to stay on top of? Cooking from scratch, cardio, maintaining friendships, cleaning with green (yet not very effective) products, finding healthy substitutes for everything we used to love to eat but now know will kill us, strength training, being grateful, HIIT, meditation, balance work, getting enough sleep, functional fitness, nurturing our marriages and family relationships, stretching, working on our crappy posture, "mental" gymnastics to keep us sharp, volunteering, kegels, drinking a ton of water everyday, and, oh yeah, stopping to smell the f@#cking roses.

7. Having My Own Health Compromised By Other People's Stupid Choices. Despite being obsessive-compulsive and insanely opinionated having some ideas about what might be healthy, I try  to take a "whatever" attitude to other people's decisions whenever possible. But sometimes other people's choices seem not only kinda selfish, lazy, self-indulgent, stupid, manipulative or reckless, but
worse, they affect me too!

So "whatever" kinda goes out the window when it comes to: second hand smoke; dangerous drivers; the vast majority of "normal" consumers who eat exclusively junk and thereby ensure that there is little room in stores or restaurants for healthy offerings; city planners who disdain bike paths, parks, sidewalks, and pedestrian crossings; the politically expedient squelching of local and organic farms in favor of huge corn-fed agribusiness; the proliferation of pesticides and other contaminants; our national obsession with firearms... I could go on for another 10 paragraphs or so but I'll spare you.

Are these my only gripes?  Of course not!  But see #6, the arbitrary "Only 24 Hours in a Day" problem.   How 'bout you guys, got any complaints? Or are already neck-deep in gratitude, celebration, and self-improvement?

Winner of Deepak Chopra "Leela" Game

And the winner is... Therese!!

Congrats Therese, please email your name, shipping address, and which version you'd like to crabby mcslacker @ gmail dot com by end of day Wednesday the 21st to claim your prize.

December 12, 2011

Holiday Healthy Gift Guide (And Giveaway)

Image: Plan 59

Got gifts let to buy? Or perhaps you'd like to pass on ideas to well-meaning loved ones who will otherwise bestow you with an assortment of nightgowns, scarves, scented soap, and Festively Wrapped Gift Baskets Full of Tasteful But Toxic Junk Food.

Well, no worries, we've got a bunch of ideas! Most of them are unsolicited, though a few came from a desire to try out Stuff For Free. We'll make sure to disclose any freebies so that you can adjust your skept-o-meter accordingly.

Wait, hold on... what's this "we" business?

Yep, it's true, I got some help on this one. The Lobster offered to take on some Product Testing and Review Duty for a few gift items that caught her eye. She's even responsible for bringing us this week's giveaway: Leela, a meditation video game from Deepak Chopra. And, thank goodness, this one is open to those in the US, Canada and Australia.

So for those of you with gifts left to buy, or who want to win a cool meditation game, or those of you who just want to check in and gloat give helpful advice because you're done shopping already, it's time for the Cranky Fitness 2011 Holiday Fitness Gift Guide!

Cartoon: Natalie Dee

Healthy Food Gift Ideas

The holidays make a great opportunity to foster healthy habits by splurging a bit, either for a loved one or yourself.  So consider...

Treats! Keep an eye out for tempting but reasonably healthy items like fancy dried fruits and nuts, whole grain cookies and crackers, healthy jams and spreads, organic wine, juices, or dark chocolate bars. (My personal favorite: the Endangered Species brand. Given my consumption rate, I've probably saved at few herds of rhinos by now). You could even make your own hand-selected gift basket.  And, depending on your recipient's dietary restrictions, you can find vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, raw, primal etc options if you shop online or in specialty stores.

 Perhaps not the specialty item you were looking for?

Other possibilities: You could also think about a fruit/wine/whatever of the month membership, or gift certificate at a reasonably healthy restaurant or health food store. (Our go-to treat gift certificate request tends to be for Pinkberry, a fancy-pants frozen yogurt place that's a the perfect holiday combo of Tasty, Healthy-ish, and Too Expensive to Treat Yourself Very Often). Or perhaps you could even go whole (humanely raised) hog and give a share of a CSA farm.

Oh, and one recent discovery in the snack food category: Brad's Raw Chips. I got these for free to try, but am now a big fan and have actually asked family members for the Holiday Bundle for Christmas. If said family members don't dutifully fork over, I'll be buying more myself.

The deal with the raw chips: they're ridiculously freakin' healthy. I tried the Vampire Killer, Leafy Kale, and Sweet Potato chips. They're dried at a low temperature to preserve raw food nutritional awesomeness, and are not baked or fried. Ingredients are natural and pretty darn virtuous.

Are they the perfect gift for anyone? Eh, perhaps not. Best for someone with pre-existing health-food-eating propensities. They taste like crunchy seasoned vegetables, but in some flavors like Vampire Killer, the yeasty flavor is pretty noticeable. But I thought they were tasty, especially for a guilt-free snack, and quite filling too due to the high protein and fiber content.  Downside? They ain't cheap.  But if a serving of these prevents an unplanned stop at Burger King, it may be a price well worth paying.

Fancy and/or Healthy Ingredients: If your recipient likes to cook, look for exotic spices, oils, vinegars, unfamiliar but highly touted healthy grains, grass-fed meat, etc. And here's where I'll put in another plug for the Vitamin D Mushroom powder I got to try courtesy of the Dole folks.  It's a great Vitamin D source for vegans and those who prefer natural supplements, but here's the weirdest thing I found: over time I've gotten strangely fond of the earthy, chocolate-like taste.  The flavor blends well not just in savory dishes but with nutty flavors, vanilla, chocolate, nutmeg, coffee, etc.  I put in my green smoothie with other healthy spices and am actually planning to buy more myself when my free bottle runs out.

Healthy Cooking

Gadgets!  Might a new kitchen accessory make healthy meal preparation more appealing?  Think about blenders, food processors, countertop grills, juicers, choppers, freezable glass tupperwarish storage containers (no icky BPA's), rice cookers, non-toxic bakeware (we use nonstick USA pans in the Crab/Lobster household), bread makers, good knives, windowsill herb gardens, etc.  Inspired by the raw chips above, I'm asking for a food dehydrator for Christmas and will keep you posted if it turns out to be useful.

And if you're looking for a more high-tech kitchen gift idea?  HuffPo has a handy high tech cooking gift guide. 

Or wait... how about a combo kitchen and exercise gift?  (And yes, the Fender Blender does appear to be a real product.) 

Healthy Cookbooks, DVD's.  Tons of choices out there.  Some of them awesome!  Some of them... well, less so.

Recipe Girl has a round-up of much better choices, as does Simple Bites.  And Diets in Review has a couple of recommendations too.

Or, if you want to save a few bucks, make a cookbook yourself!  Scour the web for recipes you think your loved one might like to try, print 'em out, add some of your own favorites, perhaps throw in some personal stuff, put a cover on it all and voila!  It's a "hand made" gift.  You can save money, feel crafty, and be a sneaky advocate for healthy cooking.

Fitness Equipment

The great thing about giving a gift to a physically active person? Virtually all exercise fiends need stuff. Whether it's an "invisible shoe" for an almost-barefoot runner, or a swinging trapeze for your favorite circus acrobat, there's a good chance there's something out there that would make their chosen activity easier, safer, or at least hipper looking.

However, serious sports or fitness buffs tend to be rather particular about what they like in terms of clothing and equipment. Consider asking them what they need to avoid the pained smile followed by the half-hearted "Um, thanks!" Getting a gift certificate from a favorite sports-specific store might be another way to go.

For more general-purpose fitness needs, a few possibilities are: exercise DVD's, yoga mats, stability balls, doorway pull-up bars (I have the cheapo "as seen on TV!" Iron Gym, which works perfectly well, but I ain't gonna link to it because the site yammers at you when you arrive), kettlebells, foam rollers, bosu balls, suspension trainers like the TRX or Jungle Gym, jump ropes, elastic bands, sports watches, interval timers, wobbble boards, barbell or dumbell sets, stretching aids, and water bottles (stainless-steel with no BPA is a great idea).

Fitness and Activity Monitoring Devices

Beware of surprising someone with one of these gadgets unless you know they're happily OCD about numerical measurements of health and fitness. Because sure, a high-tech scale or pedometer or calorie burning monitor may seem like a nifty gift if you've been wanting one yourself. (And yes, as a matter of fact I am still addicted to my BodyMedia Fit armband and Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor, both of which sponsors gave me for free). But unfortunately, recipients of these sort of gifts may interpret your benevolence as a not-so-subtle suggestion get off their lazy asses and drop a few pounds. Not necessarily a happy holiday sentiment.

However, these are great gifts to ask for yourself, especially if you're female and asking a boyfriend or husband for a fitness gift. Or is it just an ill-informed stereotype that dudes are more gadget-oriented than gals? I'm thinking heart rate monitors, gps devices, Fitbits, etc may make an easier and more exciting gift for the average guy to shop for than a "flattering" workout ensemble or a "cute" pair of shoes. Well, unless you're a straight woman dating a gay guy. (In which case, go for the outfits, not the electronic gizmos, but then you may also want to check out "counselors" and "coaches" below).


Subscriptions to health magazines are great motivators, even if most of the popular women's titles have morphed into fashion, hairstyle, beauty, and "lose weight instantly" magazines.  One shining exception is my current favorite, Experience Life.  It's a health and fitness magazine that, shockingly, is pretty much about health and fitness. The articles explore recent research, theories, and expert advice from both mainstream and more controversial sources.  (And yeah, my subscription is comped, but I'd spring for it even if it weren't.)

Hired Help:  Personal Trainers, Life Coaches, Classes, Boot Camps, Dieticians, Counselors, Gurus etc

As it happens, the holidays lead right in to the New Years Resolution season. And who couldn't use a little help with healthy living, fitness, nutrition, and long-term life goals?  Again, best to avoid surprising someone with a gift that could be perceived as a "you need to get your act together" statement.  Plus, your recipient is likely going to want some choice in terms of the provider he or she selects, so don't get too bossy about it.  But perhaps a DIY "invest in yourself" gift certificate with some helpful ideas for possible resources?  Or, if for yourself, might it be worth dropping a few Big Fat Hints to loved ones?

An idea along those lines for the runner (or wannabe runner) in your life:  There's a online training program/class/coaching site called Up and Running that looks affordable and fun, and is designed to help you run your first 5K or kick ass on longer races.  Anything Shauna Reid is involved with has got to be awesome, right?

And gosh, it just so happens at least one Life and Wellness Coach we know of has been offering 50% off!  But, the clock is ticking and the discount is going to expire January 1.  So if you've been pondering the possibility of affordable Life Coaching and assuming that the cheaper rates will be good forever?  Er... nope, sorry.  Schedule an intake before the new year, though, and you're good for 50% off for at least 8 sessions in 2012.  And don't panic if you're not quite ready-- some sort of discount will still be available to Cranky Fitness readers even after the beginning of the year.

Self Help and Other Miscellaneous Gifts

Self-help books, CD's and DVD's that feature meditations, visualization, hypnosis etc can make great gifts for stressed-out loved ones.  Two Cranky Fitness favorites are the awesome science geek/enlightened dude/all-around-nice-guy Rick Hanson, and Sounds True, a company that has some of Rick's stuff as well as a huge catalog of other self-help resources.  (And yep, they supplied Crabby with a free course). But there are tons of other great options out there too if you Google.

And for those with loved ones who struggle with insomnia?  Consider gift items like white noise machines, sleep masks, lavendar oils, black market ambien prescriptions, natural herbal remedies,  high tech gadgets like the Zeo that measure your brainwaves, or, a favorite gizmo I reviewed a few years ago and still use myself:  SleepPhones.

And now, the Lobster has a few holiday gift reviews, and also a giveaway opportunity!

Make Gifts From Your Photos:

Consider the very aptly named Easy Canvas Prints. This is how simple it is: choose a size, upload an image, decide on a border, pay and ship. They let us try it out, and the whole process took at most 5 minutes. Within a few days, this picture was delivered to our door. (Though we decided not to leave it by the front door and now have it hanging in the bedroom).

If you want to create a custom holiday gift, Easy Canvas Prints is offering half off prints plus free shipping for anyone who goes to their facebook page and clicks on "like."

Next, MyMemories has a ton of ideas for organizing your pictures.  They gave us a chance to review one of their products, MyMemories Suite 3, which is a nice way to create digital scrapbooks. The program offers a variety of templates to use, and more to buy if you want to get more creative. When completed, you can share your handiwork by a variety of methods, even by creating a movie. The interface uses recognizable drop-down menus, but it does take a little wandering around to get the full extent of the capabilities. Here's a look at a quick page I created:

While I really liked the product and have already created a year end review book, my one issue is that the templates are aimed more at traditional scrap-bookers and don't have the hip look younger users may prefer. But if you want to start getting organized and creative, this is worth a try. MyMemories is offering Cranky Fitness readers $10 off the price of the software and a $10 coupon to use at the Memories Store. Go to My Memories and enter the code STMMMS27481.

Leela: Meditation via Xbox or Wii

Deepok Chopra's Leela is a great antidote to the stress of the holidays. It's a set of meditation exercises for the Xbox Kinect or Wii that can help mellow you out before you hit the mall.  Leela captures body movements and breathing to help you relax, focus and "enter into your personal flow state." While Leela says it's a "game concept" and not a "game," being the competitive person I am, I was charging through the Chakras as fast as I could. While the instructions could have been a little clearer (wait, perhaps I was focusing on the destination, not the journey?) I found the guided meditation and breathing exercises were particularly helpful. Visually, it's beautiful, and as a Wii user, it was a nice break from those ridiculous looking weeble-like people.

The not-game is available in either the Xbox or Wii format, or for those of you without either of those, they also offer a soundtrack which provides you with the soothing and restorative sounds you need when that jerk in front of you takes your parking space.

Want to win your own Leela? 

To be eligible, you need a shipping address in the US, Canada or Australia.  Just leave a comment below, and the random number generator will pick a winner in a week.  (You can comment more than once but only the first one counts). Then make sure you check back by the end of day Wednesday Dec 21 to claim your prize or there'll be a new drawing.

So, still got shopping left to do or are you one of those smug super-achievers?  Got any holiday gift advice or horror stories?

Kuru Shoe Winner

The winner of the Kuru Aalto Chukka giveaway is: dhansen11!

(And, yes, it appears there was a double entry. To clarify: it's ok to comment more than once, but only the first comment counts towards the giveaway. That's what the RNG picked in this instance).

dhansen11, please email crabby mcslacker @ gmail dot com to claim your prize by end of the day Wednesday December 14th or we'll draw again! (And it would be great if you'd include name, mailing address, color choice, and size).

Thanks everyone!

December 09, 2011

Elliptical Madness, Losing Your Nipples, and Barbell Babies

Not that pasties don't make a cute nipple alternative...

Yep, it's that time again, when the weekend's almost here and attention spans are short. Who wants to read a long blog post all about one subject, anyway? Actually, the more relevant question is: who wants to write one?  And the answer: Not me!

So, for those with short attention spans, you can find out what odd experiment has Crabby been undertaking at the gym, discover stuff to avoid if you want to keep your nipples from falling off, and learn where you can get instructions for turning your baby into a barbell, as well as catch up on other miscellaneous health and fitness news you might have missed.

Oh yeah, and if you haven't yet checked out the Kuru Shoe Review and Giveaway and want a chance to win a nifty pair of Chukkas, hustle on over there and add a comment!

Around the Web:

Want to know what the latest trends in weight loss are, from the sensible to the super-stupid? Charlotte has a nifty slideshow round-up over at Shape.

Find out a simple (and free) trick to boost the growth of your house plants at Living Healthy in the Real World.

An alternative to coffee? That's heresy! But if you're the DIY type and want to roast your own, Leah has the how-to's of roasting your own coffee alternative over at The Goat's Lunch Pail.

Curious about a FitBit for a possible holiday gift (or to snag one for yourself)? Check out the comprehensive (and amusing) FitBit review by Sinner Ella De'Ville, who won one here and was kind enough to share her thoughts, pictures and ratings.

Crabby's Wild Experiment! Want to Try One Too?

So if you, like me, have already started sliding a bit down the slippery slope of holiday-related overindulgence and slackitude, it might be tempting to give in to negative thinking.

"Darn it," you may say, (or, if you're like me and have no manners, then "F@#ck it,")... "I already screwed up big time, so what the heck, I'll just enjoy the holidays and get back to that healthy lifestyle thing come January 1st."

Whatever! No judgments here. If you insist, go right ahead and undo as much of the hard work you've done all year as you can in the next few frenzied weeks.

But while you're at it, how about trying one or two healthy new experiments? It's a proven fact, or else something I just made up, that a little bit of positive progress can help you recapture your forsaken identity as a Motivated and Resourceful Health Fiend.

I've been trying a bunch of new things lately, which may end up being posts in themselves at some point. But I'll go ahead and share the most insane one of them now:

Four Minute Elliptical Triple-Tasking!

So, I have really sucky balance, but never seem to spend time working on balance training.  Another thing I frequently skip? Exercise cool-downs! I know I'm supposed to do 'em, but it's so much more tempting to go full blast and then jump off my machine and pretend sauntering to the locker room constitutes a proper post aerobic transistion.  And the most shunned self-improvement task of all?  That has to be my frequent promises to myself to spend at least a few minutes every day doing some sort of mindfulness and/or meditation and/or focusing.

A quick answer to all of this slacking? I now perform the last song on my elliptical playlist with my Eyes Closed. (And no holding on to anything either).

I started off doing just four beats at a time, then built gradually up to fairly continuous eye closure.  In order to keep from flying off the machine and wounding innocent passers-by, I have to concentrate on a focal point.  (I chose my pelvic floor muscles, because I need to work on locating 'em anyway for post-hysterectomy PT exercises. TMI? Er, sorry! Feel free to find your own G-rated focal point.)  But anyway, as soon as my thoughts stray, I get wobblier and wobblier. The real-time bonus of not catapulting off the machine is a great incentive to return to my focus before I accidentally kill myself. And all the while I'm getting a nice cool down before I hit the locker room. 

Note: Should you try this too?  No, 'cause I don't want you to sue me! It's an incredibly stupid idea and may cause injuries. Do not try to suddenly add extended periods of eye closure to your regular exercise routine, particularly if you are a cyclist or downhill ski racer. However, you may want to think about trying something new, is all I'm sayin!

And now, for the laziest portion of our round-up:

Stuff Copied from Crabby's Twitter Stream:

Study says simpler diets easier to stick to.  Hmm, mine has a million exceptions (aka excuses) but works ok for me.

Several studies warned against multivitamins so I stopped. Now new study says they may fight memory decline.  #researchsucks

Fight brain tumors, MS, etc: Research says curry and other spices have kick-ass neuro-protective effects.

Creepy: "Smokers Risk Losing Nipples With Breast Lift." Seriously: they could FALL OFF. Smoking + Considering Breast Lift?  = Think Hard.

Study: upping fiber more crucial than nixing saturated fat to avoid metabolic syndrome. Thus the rise of bacon kettlecorn?

Felons! Barbell-babies! Awesome. Weirdest fitness books that actually have good advice.

Why? No one to share the candy with? Women who live alone are 2.5 times more likely to get diabetes:

Do your kids drink a ton of apple and grape juice? Bad idea anyway (high sugar!) but now you can worry about arsenic too!

Not quite the way I wanna get my RDA of minerals: Craisins recalled over metal fragments.

150 minutes a week of exercise helps sleep.  Now could someone tell that to my freakin hot flashes? #menopause #sucks

Great! Now can you get 'em to cook it for me? 5 Sites for Shopping Local Food Online.

Coffee linked to lower risk of endometrial cancer.  Coffee also linked to Crabby being able to function.

Study: "Walking through doorway promotes forgetting." So does being 50+! Put 'em together and lose all hope.

Calcium plus probiotics may help lower bad cholesterol:  Hmm... an excuse to go visit Pinkberry for dessert?

So how's everyone doing with the holidays coming up? Superhero? Slacker? Trying anything new on the life of fitness front?

December 05, 2011

Kuru Shoe Review & Giveaway: Aalto Chukka

Remember how last week I was rattling on about how you should be wary of Evil Materialism as it can be one of the triggers of Holiday Stress?

Well... er ... seeing as Crabby's Cavalcade of Commericialism is continuing yet again with more reviews and giveaways, I'd like to be a total hypocrite explain that what I really meant was: don't overdo it and add stress to what's supposed to be a joyous season by buying a bunch of over-priced and useless crap.

But, um, winning or accepting free healthy and wholesome fitness products, or purchasing them after you read a review on a credible health blog? Totally different story!

So wanna find out what the deal is with the Kuru Aalto Chukka's, and maybe win a pair?

Pre-existing Bias & Other Disclaimers: This is not my first Review of Kuru Shoes; I tried out a pair a couple of years ago. Since I'm choosing to review another pair, it's fair to assume it's not because I think this brand of shoe sucks.

In fact, of the pairs dragged out of the closet below, only the beige ones were comped. This means I spent my own money for Kuru's Three Whole Times.

Also, I get to keep the Chukkas.  But don't worry, none of this means I'll abandon all objectiveness--or crankiness.  As usual when I review something, I am incapable of sucking up to sponsors and always have a few nitpicks, even with products I happen to like.

First off, in case you're contemplating a pair other than the Chukkas, here's my take on Kuru Shoes generally.

Kuru Shoes: Pro's and Con's

Pro: Unusually Supportive and Comfortable Shoes.  If you're trying to find a pair of shoes and have foot issues like pronation, plantar fasciitis, etc, you may have encountered the frustrating trade-off between support and cushiness.  Supportive shoes feel rigid and unyielding and mean; cushy comfy easy-going shoes feel floppy, insubstantial, and un-serious.   The thing Kuru is great at is combining both structure and comfort in one shoe. (As an aside, I've had good luck with several of Kuru's women's shoes, but am finding the "Draft" model particularly helpful for my plantar-fasciitis. The Draft is a mule-style shoe with an open back, which helps me land more towards my forefoot, avoiding the hard heel-strike I naturally tend towards. Various cloggy alternatives I've looked at have too high a heel, and not enough fore-foot cushioning to work as well as the Drafts).

Pro: A Range of Styles and Wearable Outside the Gym.  Even though you can walk for miles and miles in a pair of Kuru's as though they were athletic shoes or hiking boots, they're a bit dressier and come in lots of different colors and styles.

Pro: Friendly Grassroots Company.  The people who work there are really nice and there's a whole active community of Kuru fans who are just as nutty about the shoes as I am. They have frequent contests and giveaways which you can check out the Kuru Facebook Page.

Con: Mail Order Only. This is the biggest drawback of Kuru's--you can't try 'em on or see what they look like in a store.  I've ordered some, not liked the way they looked IRL, and had to return them and get my money back... a bit of a hassle. On the other hand, I've bought several pair quite successfully this way.

Con: Pretty Please Kuru, Crabby Needs More Black Shoes!  Kuru's come in a lot of cool colors, but dang it, I have mostly black jackets and sweaters and need more black or dark gray shoes choices!  The "Insight" line has black, but the leather looked better on the web picture and kinda low-grade in appearance when they showed up at my door and sadly, I had to send 'em packing.  So hey, awesome Kuru folks, could you please make the "Draft" in black for women? And perhaps bring the black Halcyons that I loved which you stopped stocking?  'K thanks!

So now on to the new Kuru style:  the Aalto Chukka.

Aalto Chukka Specs

Price:  They retail for $104.97. (In my opinion, this ain't bad price for a good-for-you shoe, and is much less than most of the competition in this niche. But if you're used to buying for style and not for function, you may not be used to paying this much).

Technology:  Here's the part where I cut and paste directly from the website, 'cause what do I about PU foam and integrated arch support?

  • Super Soft suede leather upper
  • Custom Fit - anti-microbial sockliner custom molds to your feet
  • Heel Support - innovative sockliner includes a varus wedge with integrated arch support for a healthy stride
  • More Comfortable - premium sockliner features high-performance, low compression set PU foam for unprecedented custom molding comfort
  • Moisture wicking liner for breathability
  • Eco-conscious, naturally derived crepe sole rubber outsole provides a cushioned ride
  • Nature's Cushioning - KuruSole™ contoured footbed cups your heel as nature intended

How Do The Chukkas Look?

Website pictures can be misleading, so here's an pair of Aalto Chukkas caught on camera in the wild:

Because of the wide midfoot, they're perhaps somewhat chunkier in appearance than a traditional desert-boot type shoe, wouldn't you say? But they're more streamlined than most super-supportive shoes.

How do the Aalto Chukka's Fit and Feel?

The smidgin of extra width is the price you pay for the awesome supportive/cushy technology they build in to the footbed. And if you've got orthotics, you can slip 'em under the liner and get even more support. If you don't have orthotics, the shoes have support built in, and they custom mold to your feet. These Kuru folks are very clever in putting these babies together.

One difference I notice from other Kuru pairs is that the base feels a bit narrower, and the rubber soles aren't perhaps as sturdy for hiking as some of the other models. However, these are a great choice for urban/work environments where you're going to be on your feet all day.

Now On to the Giveaway!

Sorry, this is another US only one, darn it. But if you have a U.S. mailing address (or a handy friend or relative's address) you can enter by leaving a comment below. I believe either the Blue or the Sandstorm color are available but I need to double check.

Winner will be chosen by the Random Number Generator by end of day Sunday December 11th, and winner needs to check back by the end of the day Wednesday December 14th or they'll be another drawing.

Note: And hey, you can double your chances! The Fitbottomed Mama's are also having a Kuru giveaway and I believe there's a day or so left to enter.

Good luck!

December 01, 2011

Can You Work Out Sitting On Your Ass?

Photo: yischon

Sitting and Exercising. Why are these two activities so hard for some of us to put together?

Depressing studies about the negative health consequences of sitting have scared some of us into using treadmill desks or stand-up workstations, but truth is, most of us still manage to spend a substantial amount of time each day on our posteriors. Is there any way we sneak some activity into this overabundance of ass-time?

As it happens, while I have a few resources to offer on this question, I could really use some advice myself an a semi-related Seated Exercise Dilemma, and am hoping a kind reader or two might share their advice or experience.

So want some ideas for sit-down exercise?

Chair Dancing!

I practice a form of this myself in the passenger seat during long car trips. But for the definitive, So Perky You'll Puke Guide to chair dancing, you gotta watch this video (via HuffPo).

Pedal at Your Desk

Studies show health benefits for workers who use those little desk-bike type pedal exercisers. Shockingly, however, the researchers found that people used them less often after the novelty wore off, so be careful before you fork over for one if you're the sort who has a variety of different exercise machines serving as clothes drying racks in your basement already. They seem to come as cheap as $20, but I have no idea if they're crap at this price point. Anyone tried one?

Chair Exercises

So if you have the sort of work environment where you have (a) privacy or (b) open-minded colleagues who won't shun you or call security if they see you deviating from the normal sit-and-slouch-and-slog posture, you may want to experiment with Chair Exercises.

But where to find some?

 Photo: College Candy

Well here's one handy round-up of 3 chair exercise videos. Note: the last one includes a lot of punching, which could be quite useful if you're wanting to cultivate a don't-even-think-about-dumping-any-more-extra-work-on-me-muthaf@#cka-or-you'll-regret-it ambiance around your cubicle.

And if videos don't work for you, here are some written chair exercise suggestions you could check out.

If you're really serious about doing more exercises from your chair, for example if you're elderly or disabled or have issues with standing up on principle, there is the whole Sit and Be Fit empire, complete with a TV program and DVD's for sale etc.

Chairs That Entice You to Move

Some people perch on Swiss balls, and if you're lacking in balance and you don't put it on some sort of stand, then you get the extra exercise bonus of picking yourself up off the floor if you move too suddenly. You can also intentionally lift your feet up off the floor every now and then play with some core/balance work and hope you don't go sprawling across the room just as the boss walks by. Or, if you've got a chair that rocks or swivels, take advantage of it!

And along those lines, there's always the iGallop and Giddyup type riding exercisers. I'm still secretly intrigued by these but have never met anyone who's actually owned one. The chances of mounting one at work and remaining employed are probably low, but wouldn't that make the thought of heading for the office sound much more fun?

And now it's time to...

Help Crabby Figure Out How to Exercise Hard Enough While Seated On A Bike Seat!

So here's my challenge: Being a (sigh) former runner, I've been spending more aerobic and interval time on pedals than I used to. I love the elliptical machine, because as long as I'm sufficiently caffeinated and the music's good, I can "run" along in a fairly low impact way, get my heart rate super high, and even mostly enjoy the process. My glutes and quads and all the other muscles work together in the background and I don't even notice them unless I'm doing intense anaerobic intervals. And then I'm so busy trying to breathe I've got better things to do than notice my muscles complaining.

However, when I go out bicycling, or now that I'm trying spinning classes: I can't get my heart rate up very high unless I'm standing up on the pedals. When I'm sitting on the seat, my leg muscles aren't strong enough (especially on flat roads) to get more than flirting with my aerobic range.

And even this sub-optimal exertion feels awfully unpleasant! I push it for a while but soon find myself both uncomfortably preoccupied with the state of my thighs, and at the same time falling quickly out of my aerobic range. I either need a lot of hills or a spinning class to get aerobic, and even then it ends up being an short interval workout interspersed with a "walking," not a "running," level of exertion.

So, experienced cyclists and spinners, if you have any advice on any of these I'd appreciate it!

Is this a temporary transition issue that will go away if I just suck it up and try harder?

Can you get aerobic without leg burn or is it an inevitable part of your cardio bike work, even when you've been doing it for a long time?

What's the best way to get stronger leg muscles for cycling: separate strength training? (If so, which are the best exercises?) Go for a lot of hills on the bike? Endurance? Seated intervals? What worked for you?

I think I'd like to try THIS bike workout!
Photo by kharied

So, any thoughts on exercise while seated, or any helpful advice for Crabby on her bike? Or hey, just stop by and say hi!

November 30, 2011

Smarter Science of Slim Giveaway Winner

And the winner of Jonathan Bailor's book "The Smarter Science of Slim" is...


Congrats Jannifer, and please check in by end of day Saturday Dec 3rd or the Random Number Generator will have another go at it.

And thanks everyone for stopping by!

November 28, 2011

Holiday Stress? Five Self-Defeating Habits And How to Break 'em

Gosh, Isn't This FUN???
Image: Plan 59

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Something Else, or Nothing At All, it's hard not to be at least somewhat affected by the holiday season.  Reminders are everywhere: flashing at us from giant billboards, piled up in displays in every retail outlet, stalking us around the web, cramming our social calendars, tempting us with treats, turning tender tots into greedy tyrants, and swiping all the good parking places.  What are we supposed to be remembering, honoring, accomplishing, celebrating, desiring, and giving this time of year? No worries, we have centuries of tradition and ubiquitous mass media to shove unrealistic and oppressive ideas down our throats help us decide!

Some folks breeze right through all this with nothing but a sense of delight and gratitude. If you're one of those Happy Holiday Campers, then hooray for you! No doubt you can better use the time you'd spend reading this post to do your usual holiday thing, like knitting rifle cozies for an entire division of troops serving overseas, or custom-baking anatomically correct gingerbread cookies for home-bound elderly amputees, or recreating life-sized Nativity Scenes using recycled toothpicks, aluminum cans and hair-clippings donated by local salons. Whatever it is you've got up your busy sleeves, you clearly have the energy and positive attitude to tackle it, so go forth and be happily productive!

But for the rest of us, I've got some "Do As I Say And Not as I Do!" holiday anti-stress tips.  Plus, as a bonus, there's another related post on the same theme by Aimee Gallo over at Vibrance.  And who is Aimee? She's a woman I recently met... at the gym.  Imagine! What are the chances that two people interested in fitness would both end up there?  As it turns out, she's got a great blog full of health, nutrition, and exercise tips. And after you come back from Aimee's place (and please do, ok, it gets ugly here when I start to sulk and pout), you may want to ask yourself: do any of the following five stress-inducing holiday habits sound a tad familiar?

1. Procrastination

Nah, I'm not talking about strategic procrastination, which is a perfectly sensible strategy for dealing with holidays. If you know that you're more efficient if you wait until the last minute, and if you're not tearing your hair out worrying about how you'll get everything done, then by all means, procrastinate up a storm.

But try to avoid the more common, yet clueless sort of procrastination: allowing the idea of all that shopping and mailing and planning and decorating and cooking to get so big in your mind that it overwhelms you into paralysis.

Do you find yourself struggling to get started on your holiday to-do list while others around you are gleefully shouting "all done!" and plopping their smug asses down on the couch to drink spiked eggnog and watch the Grinch steal Christmas for the 87th time?  Wouldn't it be cool to feel as guilt-free and chipper as a Who down in Who-ville for the holiday season, just this once for a nice change of pace?

Well, no brilliant new insights here, because two tried and true bits of anti-procrastination advice are way better than anything I could come up with.

1. Start early and break tasks down into baby steps. Don't worry so much about the big picture, just spend a few minutes here or there you might use checking Facebook updates to start a brainstorming list about gift ideas or menu ideas. Or go browse one nearby store on your lunch hour (if such a thing still exists), or spend a few minutes online with a particular recipient in mind. Make a trip to the basement or attic this evening to find the dusty boxes where the decorations hide. You get the idea. Make the steps small enough not to be scary, and congratulate yourself for everything you cross off the list earlier than you would have last year.

2. Confront perfectionism. The root of procrastination is often not laziness, but fear of making mistakes or coming up short.  Oddly enough though, anxiously waiting until the last minute to tackle holiday preparations--when lines are long, stores are sold out of popular items, flights are booked, friends have made other plans, etc--does not make Holiday Perfection easier to obtain.  Jump in, do your best, and keep in mind that believing you can create the Perfect Holiday is about as helpful as believing Santa Claus is gonna fork over for all your presents squoosh himself down your chimney.  Good luck with either approach to the holidays.

2. High Expectations

These are no problem if every year you have a heartwarming and joyous holiday. If your life is a Normal Rockwell painting, then heck, eat a big slice of apple pie, enjoy your hilarious and kind-hearted relatives, and be sure to laugh together over the zany antics of Fluffy the cat and Rex the dog, neither of whom have ever have fleas, furballs or flatulence!

But is your life a nonstop joyride?  If not, sometimes those lovely shiny expectations of what we should be doing for others, what others should be doing for us, how cheerful we should feel, how our families should behave, how clean and beautiful our homes should be, how bosses should schedule shifts over the holidays... all these “shoulds” we carry with us can lead to hair-pulling anxiety or bitter disappointment. And yet it’s so hard to let go! Even if Uncle Larry has gotten drunk off his ass six out of the last seven family gatherings and proceeded to knock over knickknacks, insult your daughter’s Asian boyfriend, and crack dirty jokes in front of the kids, we still feel we should invite him because damn it, he’s family, and double-damn it, he should know how to behave by now.

The answer to overly high expectations is both easy to figure out, and really freakin' hard to do:

Explore, challenge, and let go of some of the “shoulds” that aren’t working for you. Should you always be the one to host a holiday dinner every year because you are uniquely qualified by being born with XX instead of XY chromosomes? Do you spend weeks coming up with thoughtful and surprising gifts for unimaginative relatives who always buy you socks, hurting your feelings every year? Do you cruise into malls during the busiest shopping days of the year and feel personally outraged when lines are long and overworked sales clerks are gruff because shopping should be a pleasant experience?

Maybe this year, challenge just one of your stress-inducing expectations. Aim low, expect random sucky stuff to happen, and enjoy those precious moments when nothing's going wrong!

3.Lack of Boundaries

There are lot of extra demands during the holidays, some reasonable, some ludicrous, and some fine in theory but horrific in practice. One of the first obstacles you may run into after successfully Lowering Your Expectations of Yourself (#2) will be dealing with the rest of the world, which may not be in full agreement with your shiny new anti-stress agenda. So, do you get to choose your own priorities?  Or are you going to feel obliged to appease the people who are the most obnoxious, entitled, overly sensitive or persistent and then pay for it with your sanity?

To keep yourself from going nuts and honor your own priorities, it helps to get familiar with the word “No.” Or, more politely, “No thank you, I really can’t this year, but thanks so much for thinking of me!” To be repeated over and over over, without further explanation, as often times as necessary.

However, lots of folks think this sounds like a great idea and yet can’t for the life of them make themselves say something like that out loud to another human.

So what are the next best options for declining demands if unapologetically honest refusal isn't your style?

1. Hedge.  Don't let yourself get caught by a surprise request.  Make it a rule to never to commit to something unless you're absolutely sure you have the time and desire to do it.  Try to leave yourself an out. “Sounds great, but I'm not sure if I'm free.  I need to double-check with my husband/babysitter/boss/voodoo priestess, and then I'll get back to you!"  Then give yourself a chance to really think through if you want to or not.

2. Lie! Yeah, sure, honesty is a better bet from a karma perspective, but hell, I say if it’s white lie that saves you from chasing random strangers down the street with a cleaver in your hand from a bad case of Post Traumatic Holiday Stress syndrome, it’s a white lie worth telling. Invent conflicting social events, illness, injuries, work crises, alien abduction, obscure religious injunctions, strange voices whispering to you in the night… whatever it takes to you the space and time you need to survive the holidays in relatively good spirits.

4. Rationalization

One thing that’s awesome about holidays is that they give us permission to relax our usual sensible rules about working, eating, drinking, spending, flirting, sleeping late, exercising etc. Have some champagne! Have second helpings for dinner! Stay up until 3am! Buy that big screen tv for your family you’ve been wanting for so long!

However, there’s a big difference between a “special occasion” and an “alternate reality.”

If your holiday season extends nonstop from pre-halloween Snickers stockpiling to post New Years Day football festival leftovers, you're probably going to want to inject some common sense into the process. Either that or alter the laws of physiology, psychology, economics and physics. Even if you tell yourself you’re “celebrating,” isn’t it hard to feel truly joyous knowing you’re piling up guilt, regret, debt, organ damage, low-self esteem and excess poundage?

So whats the answer? Again, easier said than done: 

Moderation and Damage Control!  Insisting on perfection is party-poopy and pointless, but so is throwing a holiday “on/off” switch and pretending normal rules don’t apply. Remember all the stuff you normally do to exert self control? Don’t toss it all out the window.  Have a "night off," then get back to your normal routine the next day.  You'll feel better, and will enjoy the next "night off" more than if you make the holidays one continuous excuse to indulge.

Also, think about adding as many positive healthy things you can to the mix: get more exercise, vegetables, meditation, water, tea, nature, music, hot baths, laughter… and then you’ll feel slightly less like snarfing up every single evil temptation that the holiday season offers up.

5. Commercialization

We’re besieged daily during this time of year with messages equating love, happiness, excitement, loyalty, gratitude, confidence, intelligence, excitement… with the crap we buy. Seriously, we can’t think of other ways to show affection besides extravagant presents? Do we really measure self esteem by the number of karats in a diamond earring or the vintage of the wine we pour at a holiday dinner?

Many folks get so caught up in the material aspects of the holiday that they feel financially stressed, inadequate, grouchy, or martyred.

This year, is it going to be different? Let’s Occupy Santa’s Toyshop! Tell that tedious old fart to send the poor elves home early, go easy on all the Christmas list promises, and let the rest of us spend more time enjoying friends and family and less time shopping for them.

Make sure to build in a little time for yourself, too--do something restorative to take down your stress levels so that you can be present and appreciative with Loved Ones.  Sadly, you don't get nearly as much "credit" for getting together with relatives at holidays if you spend the whole time snapping at them or feeling put-upon and resentful.

Another holiday tradition to consider is the notion of  giving to those less fortunate. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen, or help round up presents for underprivileged kids, or even stop in and drop off some cookies to that annoying but lonely old lady next door who lets her poodle poop on your lawn. She may not even thank you for it, but you’ll feel better. (At least until the next time you find dog shit on your shoe).

A Few Random Stress Resources

Mayo Clinic has another round up of ways to prevent holiday stress.

Kaiser Permanente has some free guided visualization downloads and doesn’t seem to lock out nonmembers. There are also free guided mediation downloads at Fragrant Heart.

And of course I have to mention my favorite anti-stress geek/guru/role-model Rick Hanson, who has a free newsletter, as well as anti-stress books, CD's and other resources. Oh, and I can't leave out Sounds True, the company that let me take Rick's course for free--they also have a bunch of free meditation downloads.

So does anyone else get stressed during the holidays? Got any tips or horror stories?