Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sweet Potato Hash with Kale

Do you remember those kids' cereal commercials where they sell you on this super sugary cereal, and then end with a picture of their cereal accompanied by eggs, fruit, juice, milk, buttered toast, and the phrase "Part of this complete breakfast!"? It never made sense to me, even as a child, how anyone could eat that gigantic breakfast first of all, and second of all how a sugary cereal could somehow be considered as "completing" it. Even I could sniff out the faulty advertising logic there!

Well, I'm here to tell you today that this recipe really is part of a "complete breakfast." And when I say "complete," I'm talking low-sugar, low-carb, plenty of protein, and plenty of energy to get you started right for the day. I've had a new year's resolution this year to decrease my sugar (more on that in my Healthy Habits Challenge posts for February!), but I've found that one of the hardest areas to do this is at breakfast. We have such a culture of eating sweet foods for breakfast, I honestly have a hard time coming up with a variety of breakfast choices that aren't sweet (or even harder, that aren't loaded with carbs) but that are still satisfying as a breakfast food.  This breakfast, though, is a fantastic choice. I've made this sweet potato and kale hash for dinner a number of times, but I've also discovered that sweet potatoes are a great substitute for your traditional hash brown breakfast side. They work wonderfully with eggs, and are full of great energy and nutrients to get your day started. If you've never made a sweet potato hash, you should definitely try it out. This one, with the addition of kale and some "kicky" spices, is packed with lots of flavor and satisfying nutrition.

Sweet Potato Hash with Kale
PREP: 15 minutes           COOK: 15-20 minutes            READY IN: 30-35 minutes

  SIMPLE         HEALTHY      YUM
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  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2-3 cups chopped kale
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  1. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Cook onion in the oil for 1-2 minutes, followed by the sweet potato cubes. Stir everything around to coat with oil, then add in the cumin and paprika. 
  2. Continue stirring occasionally while the sweet potatoes cook. (If you want to speed up the cooking process, you can add in 1/2 cup of water to the pan, then cover for 5 minutes, allowing the water to steam the potatoes a bit.)
  3. When the sweet potatoes are somewhat soft, add in the kale, and continue to cook for 3-5 more minutes. The kale will wilt and soften, and the sweet potatoes should be soft enough to pierce with a fork. Add more salt and pepper, to taste. 
  4. Serve topped with some tabasco or sriracha sauce, if you want even more kick.


    1 cup serving    233 calories   4.3 g fat   46.6 g carbs    4.0 g protein    2.2 g sugar   

Recipe adapted from Shared Appetite.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Healthy Habits Challenge: January Weight Loss, Part 4

I mentioned last week about how important nutrition is to losing weight. It's such an important factor that when I started my weight loss journey I was working out at the gym a lot and kicking it into high gear, but I was seeing little results. From the moment I started watching what I was eating, I saw results within the first week or two. It was so motivating and amazing! It takes a lot of hard work (and a little craziness watching everything you put into your system), but it pays off! 


Portion Control

It's important to use the correct portions so you can hit the percentages of carbs, proteins and fats that you set. (If you still need to set those, more on that here from our post last week). Here is a great graphic that I found from One Medical Group that illustrates what our plates should look like for meals.

I realize this graphic is missing dairy and fruits, but I think a visual representation of what our plate should look like for meals helps. And frankly, I eat my dairy and fruits for snacks it seems so I hope it helps you as much as me. Here is also another guideline (because our plates are all different sizes): Grains/Carbs: 1-3 ounces, Protein: 4-6 ounces and Veggies: unlimited.

To help you picture serving sizes, here's a couple helpful graphics. That way, you don't have to break out the measuring cup every time you want to eat something. (Images via TopsyTasty)

Meal Plans

I cannot tell you how much planning it takes to eat healthy! It's kind of insane! But I do know when I plan, I'm much better at curbing my cravings and eating what I should. I thought I would provide you a couple of my meal plans that I like. Of course, I try to switch it up, but these are some of my tried and true meal plans or daily plans..?? Whatever you want to call them, I hope they're helpful. Also, these are all examples of what I eat on a day of working out. My budget for calories is 1590 per day, and you'll realize the calories listed below are higher than that. That's because of the additional calories I'm "buying" from my workout. So in meal plan #1, it's a lighter workout day where I may only be doing a 20 minute HIIT with some random strength exercises. Or if it's a heavier day, I'll likely add another snack or two. If you're curious about some of the meals, I've put links to them below the graphics.

Breakfast: Healthy Breakfast Burrito; Lunch: Low-Calorie Orzo Chicken Soup; Dinner: Baked Salmon; Calbacitas Con Elote; Snacks: Chocolate Strawberry Protein Smoothie; Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Homemade Larabar

I met with a personal trainer a couple times about a month ago just to make sure I was on track and he gave me this great reference for picking "first class foods." I often glance at this when I'm planning out my meals and snacks. I hope it helps you too.

Allow Indulgence

I give myself something to look forward to by allowing myself to have 2 meals that are worry free a week. In my mind, the only way I can make these changes become habits are to make them somewhat flexible. I really don't want to be the girl hanging out with friends on "girls night" that can't have the chocolate whatever. I plan ahead so if there are meals or times I need to splurge, I can. I will say that for the first 3 months, I was very strict about my meals and didn't allow hardly any indulgence. I wanted to see results and I knew having pizza one night out of the week would kill that whole weeks results. Keep that in mind as you're planning your week. Maybe you allow one indulgence that allows you to have one cup of ice cream a week. It's your weight loss and ultimately your decision. Just don't kick yourself if you have a bad meal, a bad day, or even week. Hop back on the wagon and start kicking it into gear again. Consistency is where you will see results. You can do this!!

As usual, leave comments if you'd like to talk about your results, questions, or even frustrations. I'd love to help anyway I can!

Here's this weeks challenge:

We'll be kicking off another challenge next Wednesday for the month of February. Stay tuned!

To see other posts apart of the Weight Loss Healthy Challenge, click on the links below:
Part One- Develop a Plan, Pick a Gym
Part Two- Workout Routines 
Part Three- Tracking Calories, Reading Nutrition Labels, Quitting Soda, Curb Cravings

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Parmesan Orzo

Remember my obsession with orzo? Well, I'm still on that train and look for any way possible to incorporate it into our meals. This works great as a main dish or as a side dish. It's easy to mix with some meat or vegetable and looks like cute little noodles... what more could you ask for??

This recipe in particular is one of our absolute favorite side dishes. My mother-in-law makes it for us and before I can go back for seconds - it's gone. Everyone loves it and looks forward to when it is on the table.

Parmesan Orzo
PREP: 5 minutes           COOK: 20 minutes            READY IN: 25 minutes

  SIMPLE         HEALTHY      YUM
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  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/3 cup orzo
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese (shredded is preferred but grated works as well)


  1. Pour olive oil into large skillet on medium heat. Add onion, salt, and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add orzo. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until orzo turns golden brown. 
  3. While stirring, pour chicken broth over orzo mixture. Reduce heat to low and cover skillet. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  4. When liquid is absorbed, mix in peas and parmesan to orzo. 


    1 cup serving    386 calories   16.8 g fat   34.7 g carbs    23 g protein    4.1g sugar   


Monday, January 27, 2014

Berry Chia Shake

You may be hearing about chia seeds a lot lately, and maybe you've even tried them. I recently gave them a try when I spotted them in the bulk foods section of my grocery store. Instead of committing to an entire bag, I wanted to give them a test run first. Chia seeds are full of omega-3s, antioxidants, and fiber. It's been called a superfood and it's great for our bodies!

For my first spin with the chia seeds, I made this shake. It was delicious and I've found myself drinking it at lunch, adding a little protein for an after workout shake, or a mid-afternoon snack. It's easy to make and my kids even love it! Now if I can just figure out a way to freeze it and send it in my son's lunch. The chia seeds tend to get a little soggy. I recommend making this fresh, and drinking it fresh. :)

Berry Chia Shake
PREP: 1 minute           BLEND: 1 minute            READY IN: 2 minutes

  SIMPLE         HEALTHY      YUM
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  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup frozen berries (I used a mixture of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, but you can use whatever you have on hand.)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon honey


  1. In a blender add all the ingredients and blend until smooth. 
  2. Serve in a glass and enjoy!


    1 cup serving    75 calories   2.8g fat   13.4g carbs    1.7g protein    7.9g sugar   

Friday, January 24, 2014

Skinny Strawberry Trifle

I'll let you in on a little secret... My husband hates Valentine's Day. He is convinced it was a holiday created by Hallmark. And I've never been one to disagree with him. I think I'd rather have random acts of kindness (or love) shown to one another over a forced holiday that says we have to do something for each other. We are both pretty great at being rebels so when everyone is doing something, we tend to walk away for the sake of creating our own mold. :)

So rather than going out to eat with half the town on February 14, we'd rather snuggle up on the couch together after the kids go to bed and indulge in a yummy dessert. This dessert is perfect just for that, and good news... it's a skinny dessert! Feel free to indulge without the dessert!

Skinny Strawberry Trifle
PREP: 10 minutes           COOK: 0 minutes            READY IN: 10 minutes

  SIMPLE         HEALTHY      YUM
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  • 1 angel food cake (I used store bought, but you can make your own if you want)
  • 1 pint of strawberries, sliced
  • 3.3 ounce white chocolate pudding box
  • 16 ounce Lite Cool Whip


  1. Slice the angel food cake into 15 even pieces. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the white chocolate pudding mix with the cool whip. (OPTIONAL: you can add a little milk to make the mixture a little more creamy. I opted to go without).
  3. In a bowl or cup, tear 1/4 of the angel food slice into one inch pieces, add a dollop of the pudding mixture, then a few strawberries. Repeat until you have multiple layers in the dish. 


    1 serving    179 calories   3.6g fat   31.6g carbs    1.5g protein    9.9g sugar   


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Paleo Pistachio Pesto Pasta

Now thats a mouthful! Paleo Pistachio Pesto Pasta. Try saying that 10 times real fast. It's hard, but I don't think you'll want to stop eating long enough to try, it's that good! On my quest to find healthy meals, I stumbled upon my new favorite website, She has so many great recipes on there. I have yet to find one that I don't like, or that doesn't turn out. Now I know what you're thinking, how is this healthy with how much fat and calories are in this? Well, its the healthy fat from the coconut oil and pistachios that makes this dish oh so paleo friendly! Give this a shot for your next homemade pesto, it wont disappoint! Friendly the pre-shelled pistachio. It will save you SOOO much time :) 

Paleo Pistachio Pesto Chicken Pasta
PREP: 10 minutes           COOK: 40 minutes            READY IN: 50 minutes

  SIMPLE         HEALTHY      YUM
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  • 1 medium spaghetti squash, halved
  • 4 chicken breasts, sliced or cubed
  • 1 cup pistachios, unshelled
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons garlic
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup coconut oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional toppings: red pepper flakes and chopped basil


  1. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Cut spaghetti squash in half length wise. Scoop out seeds from squash. Place open side down on a foil lined baking sheet. Cook for 30-40 minutes, or until you can pierce it easily with a fork. 
  2. While you're waiting for your squash, place your pistachios in a food processor and grind until finely chopped. 
  3. Add garlic basil, lemon juice, pinch of salt and pepper and grind until smooth. 
  4. Slowly add your oil until you get your desired consistency. Place aside.
  5. Salt and Pepper your chicken on both sides. Cook on a large skillet under medium heat until cooked through. 
  6. Once squash is done cooking and has cooled, use a fork to shred it and place in a large serving bowl. 
  7. Once all the squash is shredded, add your pesto and combine. You can also add your chicken and combine as well, or serve it on top. 


    1 serving  655 calories 46g fat  16g carbs   42g protein   7g sugar   

Recipe adapted from

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Healthy Habits Challenge: January Weight Loss, Part 3

If you want to lose weight, nutrition is a huge part of it (most experts say it's 70-80% of losing weight, while the other 20% is exercise and 10% is rest). I am not a nutritionist, but I would like to talk about some things I have learned over the process of trying to figure out what has worked for me when I want or need to lose weight.

Tracking Calories

For the first week of my weight loss kickoff, I knew I wanted to keep a food journal. I created an account on MyFitnessPal, where it asked my current weight and height, and what my weight loss goals were. Based on the numbers you input, it will calculate how many calories you need on a daily basis. I would also recommend including your measurements (waist, hips, etc.) because your results will be more than just on the scale. (This is something I didn't do in the beginning and I'm kicking myself now.)

I also changed my carb/protein/fat ratio on the MyFitnessPal to incorporate a higher protein diet. The percentages you set may be different from mine as all of our bodies will respond differently to food.  My body responds to more than the 15% protein MyFitnessPal suggests so I put my percentages at: 50% Carbs, 25% Protein and 25% Fat.

If you're curious what you should be shooting for, the guidelines from the USDA are:
45-55% Carbs
10-35% Protein
20-30% Fat 

Feel free to play around with these ratios to see what works for you. I would recommend keeping the same ratio for two weeks to see what kind of results you're getting. To change these ratios, you must login to MyFitnessPal on a computer (these expanded options are not available on the mobile app). Once you've logged in, click "My Home", then "Goals", then "Change Goals", and choose the "Custom" option. On that page, changes the percentages you want and then when you're finished click "Change Goals" at the bottom of the page to update your account.

Once you have this all set up (it only takes a few minutes), you're ready to track. MyFitnessPal is super easy to use as you can search for foods- like a medium apple, or chocolate larabar. You can also scan foods so it will pull their nutritional informational. You can also input your own recipes or search keywords to find recipes similar to yours. And if you're out to eat, they have a great search funtction for that too. I was out at Chipotle the other day and search for "Chipotle Burrito Bowl" and found one with beans, rice and sour cream. It was super easy! You can also track how many cups of water you're drinking a day.

Curb Cravings

Cravings are going to happen anytime we are trying to "reprogram" our bodies to create new habits. Here are a few tips I have to curbing those cravings and succeeding.
  1. Be prepared. I've noticed if I'm prepared to fight cravings, I succeed. I've told you that I always have a chocolate or sugar craving in the afternoon around 2pm. I have found that if I have veggies or fruit readily accessible, I can easily pick that over the sugar. So I put carrot sticks in ziplocs all portioned out and ready to go. I also have all my fruit and veggies washed after we get home from the store so they are easy to grab. If for some reason that doesn't seem to have worked, I have a Pumpkin Chocolate Granola Bars as I've found these to do the trick.
  2. Drink a lot of water. It will make you feel more full and satisfied. If I'm having late night cravings, I drink a large glass of water and go to bed. 
  3. Paint your nails. If you're having a really bad craving, paint your nails. It's really hard to eat when your nails are wet. :)
Here's also a food craving chart that I found on Live Love Fruit that explains what our body really needs when we're craving something specific.

Quitting Soda

When I kicked off this weight loss, it was about a month after I quit soda. I had a crazy habit of drinking about three 12 oz. cans of soda a day and I knew it was a habit I needed to get rid of. The first week of quitting was tough. I had a constant headache and super tired, not to mention cranky. The second week was still filled with plenty of headaches, but by the third week, I was back to normal and never wanted to drink a soda ever again! Fast forward a few months, and the taste of root beer or sprite sounds really, really good on the weekends. So I allow myself to have 2 sodas a week. This gives me a fun drink to look forward to, but will not allow me to get hooked again.

If I have more cravings throughout the week, I make myself a glass of ice water mixed with fresh or frozen raspberries and lime juice. It tastes amazing and gives me the boost of flavor I was looking for over plain old water. :)

Reading Nutrition Labels

This weight loss challenge has motivated me to buy more local meat and fresh produce as it's proving hard to really know what is in pre-packaged food. Manufacturers are very clever in listing out ingredients on a package. Did you know that there are over 100 names for sugar? Amazing, right?  I am still learning, so I will be honest and say I'm no expert at reading labels. But there are a few things I look for when I'm buying packaged goods.
  1. Recognize the ingredients. I try to buy products where I recognize the ingredients. The less ingredients, the better! I follow 100 Days of Real Food's advice and try to only buy items with 5 whole ingredients or less, but sometimes it's really difficult. With more ingredients, there is usually more processing that comes with it. Watch this helpful video that Lisa Leake from 100 Days of Real Food created to help us understand the ingredients list.
  2. First ingredient. The ingredient list is written in order of what each product has the most of. So if the first ingredient is sugar, that's the main ingredient in the product and it''s probably not the best choice.
  3. The label. Keep an eye on bad fats (trans fat), sugar, sodium, and fiber.
    • Trans fat- These fats increase LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) as well as slow metabolism.
    • Sugar-  To visualize how much sugar is in a food, divide the sugar grams by 4 to convert it to teaspoons. So if a food has 20g of sugar per serving, it has 5 teaspoons per serving. 
    • Sodium- The recommended daily sodium intake is 2300mg for the average person. 
    • Fiber- It's recommended that women have 25g of fiber everyday, and men have 38g. Fiber makes you feel full so you will eat less.
To get a good visual breakdown of the nutritional label, check out this graphic from Flavour Fiesta

Next week I'd like to share some sample daily meal plans and answer any questions you still have that I may have overlooked. Do you have any more questions about weight loss that I haven't covered? Feel free to ask them in the comments.

To see other posts apart of the Weight Loss Healthy Challenge, click on the links below:
Part One- Develop a Plan, Pick a Gym
Part Two- Workout Routines 
Part Four- Portion Control, Meal Plans & Indulgence

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Balsamic Vinaigrette Carrots

I'm always on the search for yummy and healthy side dishes. It is so easy to whip up some rice or microwave some corn - but sometimes you just need to add some excitement to your meal, right?? Well on my search for said excitement, I stumbled upon a pin I had from awhile back (when I pretty much was obsessed with Pinterest... Don't worry, I've learned to get this obsession under control and actually make the things I pin.)

These balsamic vinaigrette carrots are a great "mixer-upper" for your vegetable side dish. They have great flavor and are definitely a crowd pleaser. I put on some pretty basic seasonings, but don't be afraid to experiment a little. After all, everyone needs to add some extra excitement every once in awhile!

Balsamic Vinaigrette Carrots
PREP: 5 minutes           COOK: 25-30 minutes            READY IN: 35 minutes

  SIMPLE         HEALTHY      YUM
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  • 1 pound carrots
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette


  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. In large ziplock bag, mix carrots, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Seal bag and shake until evenly coated.
  3. Pour carrots onto greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
  4. Take cookie sheet out of oven and drizzle carrots with vinaigrette. 
  5. Return to oven and cook for another 5 minutes (or until desired texture).


    3/4 cup serving    152 calories   11 g fat   13.4 g carbs    1.1g protein    7.7 g sugar   

Recipe adapted from So Wonderful So Marvelous

Monday, January 20, 2014

Super Simple Crock Pot Thai Chicken and Coconut Rice

Ever since the holidays, we have been battling one sickness after another. Add to that the fact that my husband has been away for several days at a time on trips, and it means that I have been seriously struggling to get a decent dinner on the table at all. I. just. don't. feel. like. cooking.

This recipe, however, is helping me get out of my cooking funk. It was so easy. So delicious. And so full of nutritious yumminess … I'm feeling new inspiration. The prep for the chicken here seriously consists of throwing three (count them, 3!) ingredients into a crockpot, letting it sit for hours until you're ready to cook up the rice, mix in just a couple more things to liven up the flavor, and then serve. I kid you not, it's pure brilliance on a plate!

The original inspiration for this recipe called for the meat to be served in whole pieces over white rice. My kids do better when the meat is shredded down, plus that opened up the chance to add in some veggies by mixing in onion and red peppers. To further simplify, I opted for a super simple method with the coconut rice, and just cooked the rice as usual in the rice cooker, then mixed in coconut milk and beans with the cooked rice. It gave great flavor to the rice, without adding any complexity to cooking it.

Crock Pot Thai Chicken and Coconut Rice
PREP: 15 minutes           COOK: 3-6 hours in the crockpot            READY IN: 3 hours, 15 minutes

  SIMPLE         HEALTHY      YUM
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  • 1 can lite coconut milk, divided
  • 1/2 cup store-bought peanut sauce (Trader Joe's has a good spicy peanut vinaigrette or peanut satay sauce that both work well, but you should be able to find something similar in the Asian section of any market)
  • 2-3 chicken breast pieces (about 3/4-1 pound total)
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can red (kidney) beans
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, optional
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • diced green onions, cilantro, and peanuts for garnish


  1. In a medium-sized crock pot, place the chicken topped with 1 cup coconut milk and 3/4 cup peanut sauce. Cook on low for 6 hours, or high for 3 hours. 
  2. When the chicken is cooked and tender, remove from the crock pot and shred with a fork. Add back into the crock pot, along with the diced onion and red pepper. Let simmer until the rice is ready.
  3. About 45-60 minutes before eating, cook the brown rice with 2 cups water in a rice cooker or over the stove top. When the rice is cooked, add in the remaining coconut milk and beans, as well as the ginger, if desired. (Season with additional salt, if needed.)
  4. Serve the chicken over rice, topped with diced green onion, cilantro, and peanuts. 


    Serving size: approx. 1 cup rice with 3/4 cup chicken    550 calories   12.5 g fat   61.8 g carbs    47.9 g protein    6.2 g sugar   

Recipe adapted from Iowa Girl Eats.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy Bites

Have there ever been two things that go together better than peanut butter and chocolate? Maybe, but I know that for me the combination of these two is irresistible. But even though reaching for that Reese's Peanut Butter cup again and again is tempting, deep down we know it's not the best choice. These, on the other hand, are equally irresistible, but a much better choice. With only four ingredients, and no refined sugar, these little bites quench that craving without the lingering guilt!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy Bites
PREP: 10 minutes           Refrigerate: 60 minutes            READY IN: 1 hour, 10 minutes

  SIMPLE         HEALTHY      YUM
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  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 10-12 dates, cut into small pieces and soaked
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup melted dark chocolate (I try to stick to 60% or higher) 


  1. In a medium-size food processor, blend the peanuts until they are finely ground (but not yet to a paste). Add in the dates, peanut butter, and continue pulsing until everything comes together into a semi-smooth mash. If you need to, you can add in a few drops of water to keep things moving.
  2. Spoon out teaspoon-sized scoops, and form them into 16-18 balls. Place them on a parchment-lined tray and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
  3. Once the peanut butter balls are hardened, coat them with dark chocolate by dipping them in melted chocolate and then replacing them in the fridge or freezer for another 20-30 minutes.


    1 teaspoon-sized bite    74 calories   5.1 g fat   6.6 g carbs    2.2 g protein    4.7 g sugar   

Recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Healthy Habits Challenge: January Weight Loss, Part 2

Last week I promised to share some of my workout routines with you and I'm here to deliver that promise! These are some of my favorite workouts that I come back to time and time again. And the good news is, you can do some of these at home very easily as there's minimal equipment needed (for some of these)... just your dumbbells.

I know I talked a lot about focusing on cardio last week. I really believe that if you are just starting your journey to weight loss (even if you've already been working out a little) that you need to spark your weight loss by intensifying your cardio. I'm here to tell you about my favorite cardio workouts called HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training. The reason why I love them is because they aren't very long (most are 20-30 minutes), but they offer a great sweat and calorie burn. It's an efficient, but challenging workout, which is great if you're short on time. A 20 minute HIIT workout can burn more calories than 60 minutes on the treadmill, and if that isn't convincing enough, it also burns calories for 24 hours after your workout. It's a tough 20 minutes, but even if you do this three times per week, you will start seeing results in just three weeks. I've illustrated a few of my favorite HIIT cardio routines with graphics below and have offered an explanation on those I feel might be a little confusing. If you need further explanation, or have questions about those I didn't explain, feel free to ask questions in the comments.

With this above 20 minute Elliptical HIIT, first warmup for 5 minutes at a moderate pace. Then, start the workout. You will sprint for one minute and then go at a moderate pace for two minutes. So, for 0-1 minute, at a resistance of 8 you will sprint; from 1-3 minutes still at a resistance of 8, you will go at a moderate pace. For minute 3-4 at a resistance of 8, you will sprint. For minute 4-5 at resistance of 8, you will go at a moderate pace, and for minute 5-6 you will bump up the resistance to 14, but still go at a moderate speed and so forth.


In case you're wondering what a stepmill is... this is a stepmill. It also goes by names like stairmaster (though it's different than the stairmasters of the 90s) and stairmill. It's just a revolving staircase on a belt so it's like you're working out on your own stairs at home. And it's a great workout! For the above 20 minute Stepmill workout, first warmup for 5 minutes. I usually warmup on an elliptical or something different as my legs get a good enough burn on this workout in the 20 minutes. Once you've warmed up, start this workout on the stepmill at a speed of 8 (if that's too fast, feel free to work up to that speed. If you think it's too slow, just give it a bit. I promise this workout will kick your booty by the middle). When you're on a speed of 8, you will do a single step, or climb the stairs one step at a time like you normally would. From minutes 2-4, bump the speed up to 10 and do a double step, or skip a step every time. And if you feel like you need to take a break, pause the machine for 30 seconds and get right back to it. I will usually take a break at minutes 8 and 16 to bring my heart rate down a little bit. Those double steps at 10 are awesome!

As some of the graphics show, I usually add a good 5-10 minute warm-up to these routines just by hopping on the machine of my choice (treadmill or elliptical usually) at a moderate pace. In addition to these great HIIT cardio sessions, I like to add some strength training, or weight lifting. And don't worry ladies, lifting weights will not make you huge. Lifting weights will give you more muscle, which will increase your metabolism, which will cause you to lose weight. And that's what we want, right?!

Above is a great all-in-one workout that incorporates your weight lifting and cardio together. It will take about an hour, and it will be challenging, but you can do it! Here's the way it works: start with the red box, box #1. There are three circuits, and you will start with circuit A. Do it three times (with a 30 second break in between rounds- one round will be 10 jump lunges, 10 reverse lunges and 10 burpees), then move onto circuit B. Do circuit B three times (with a 30 second rest in between rounds), and move onto circuit C. Do it three times (again, 30 seconds rest between rounds), and then move onto the grey box, box #2 and so forth.

If you're doing one of the HIIT routines above that's around 20-30 minutes, add your weight lifting before you do the HIIT cardio. The reason why I do my strength training first is if I do my cardio first, I am exhausted and so are my muscles so it's hard for me to lift a decent amount of weight, but if I lift weights first, the entire exercise routine feels easier than it would if I reversed the order. Make sure when you're lifting weights that you're challenging yourself. You should be using at least 5 pound dumbbells, if not 8-10 pounds. By that last round, the exercise should be challenging. If it's not, you're not lifting enough weight. Change happens when you're uncomfortable and keep pushing yourself!

If you're looking for more workout ideas, follow our exercise board on pinterest. If you're on instagram, there are some great people to follow that post amazing workouts. My favorite accounts are @iamfitmiss, @jillkfitness and @fitnatic_style. If you're into crossfit, you can check out the WODs (workout of the days) online. If you're not sure what some of the workouts are, just look up the exercise on YouTube to make sure you have proper form. And if you're doing this at home, check out Blonde Ponytail with great workouts that need minimal equipment.

If you're curious what my typical week of working out looks like, here's a couple varieties. (I like to keep my body guessing so I mix it up quite a bit so it doesn't get used to the same old routine).


Weight routine (legs & arms)* followed by a 20 min HIIT  1 hour HIIT routine (like the last workout pictured above)Weight routine (back & abs)* followed by a 20 min HIIT  1 hour HIIT routineRest1 hour spinning classRest

Weight routine (legs & arms)* followed by Crossfit Tabata1 hour HIIT routine1 hour spinning classRestCrossfit workout1 hour Yoga with 20 min HIIT afterRest

*I usually pick one of @iamfitmiss routines, but I might cut down the reps as most of her workouts are planned to be about an hour.

Next week I'll be talking about nutrition which is crucial to losing weight. In fact, losing weight is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. In preparation for next week, I'd like you to keep a food journal. I use MyFitnessPal to track my calories and I highly recommend it. It would be a great way to keep a journal this first week to see what you're eating, and to try and find patterns with areas of struggle. (For instance, I know I struggle at about 2 p.m. every day. I ALWAYS have a sugar craving that time of day! Now that I know that, I can prepare to have a healthier snack ready so I don't reach for a huge handful chocolate instead.) There are other great apps to track what you're eating too, but MyFitnessPal is the only one I've used consistently.

If you're up for this week's challenge, let us know in the comments so we can rally together and help support one another.

 To see other posts in this month's series, click the links below:
Part One- Develop a Plan, Pick a Gym
Part Three-Tracking Calories, Reading Nutrition Labels, Quitting Soda, Curb Cravings 
Part Four- Portion Control, Meal Plans & Indulgence 


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