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Jennifer Czepiel

Jenn is a writer and bellydance instructor in Phoenix, Arizona. Her passion and creativity have given her the unique opportunity to help women of all ages discover how fitness can be fun and words can be powerful.

Baby Steps to Healthy Eating: Minimize Snacks

This Thursday marks the start of a new year! Where did 2014 disappear to? As we dive right in to 2015 there are so many who make fitness and health related goals. While new year’s resolutions that involve working out more, eating less, slimming down, or buffing up, are some of the most popular every single year, they are equally the ones that are set aside before the thaw of Spring. In 2015, I would like to help you keep your fitness goals, by making them fun!

Let’s start out by creating a plan to stick to just one diet goal and one fitness goal for January of 2015. There are still a couple for days to create a plan, and it can be a simple as doing a few more minutes of stretching before getting on with your day. Today though, focus on your eating habits. Allowing yourself one more splurge day on New Year’s Eve can be okay, but then start fresh.

Step One:

Before setting yourself up for failure right out the gate, assess your current fitness and diet regimen. There are levels for all of us and we should not expect ourselves to leap over tall buildings if we are having trouble climbing a flight of stairs. There is nothing wrong with starting small. Look at your current diet first.

I used to be able to chow down on an entire package of cookies in one sitting. I did not go from that to healthy snacking overnight. It takes time to change any habit, eating is no different. The way I started out was as simple as paying attention to packaging. Reading the serving size on your favorite snack food can be very enlightening, not always in a positive way. If you are a big time snacker, pick your three favorites each day and stick to the serving size. Seems like cheating, but this can work better than cold turkey.

Step Two:

So, you have your three favorite snack foods. You have checked and adhered to the recommended dosage. You have one month to decide how meaningful these snacks are to your nutritional and emotional eating desires. Are there some snacks you could break it off with altogether and not miss them? Are there alternatives to the all time must haves?

When I was forced to evaluate why I really ate the unhealthy foods I chose, it helped me to define what I was really looking for in a snack. If chocolate is what your body is craving work your way up the percentage of cocoa. A truly good chocolate will be satisfying in smaller doses. You will get your fix, and nix the unhealthy aspect.

Step Three:

As we continue to take these baby steps toward healthier eating habits, the desire for the not so healthy will begin to wane. Rather than going cold turkey and wanting just because you are not allowed to have it, which creates an unhealthy emotional as well as physical relationship to food in general, we create proper responses.

For this first month, as far as your dietary goal, focus on weening off at least three types of unhealthy snack foods. These are the sweets, the salty, and the baked goodies. Look for ways to spoil your dinner with a better treat rather than denying yourself a reward. You are working hard to eat well and you deserve to feel good about it.

Time for Fitness Planning 2015

Tips on Keeping Monthly Goals

Here we are, the final week of 2014. As we say good bye to another year, we tend to look back and see all that we have done, or sometimes, all that we could have done to make our fitness dreams come true. Whether this year was the year you made all of your goals and stuck to them, or maybe this was one more year of making plans and falling short, it is time to learn from the past and prepare for the future.

January is the month that most people make the biggest goals in terms of fitness, and many other things in life. We go into the new year feeling like we really have another chance to make things happen for us. Idealism is high and solid ideas are often low. Here are a few tips to help you get through more than just the first week of the new year.

Number One: Small Plans and Big Goals

Make your plans bite sized. When we plan to “run a mile everyday for the entire year” we are setting ourselves up for trouble. Consider four week plans, and have room for growth and change. One of the primary reasons for burn out in new year’s resolutions is boredom. It is not so much that we are working too hard, as it is that we are planning too far ahead and offer little change.

Number Two: Reward Often

Create a reward system that can build from month to month. If you have a goal every four weeks why not earn something for it. By having something to look forward to at the end of a mere thirty days rather than a full year, there is more chance of success each month. Let your rewards fit the goal. If your monthly goal for January is simply to change your diet plan and stick to it, do not ruin all the hard work with a week long binge in February.

Number Three: Stack ‘Em Up

If January is about just getting to the gym everyday, or if it is about skipping that extra serving of dessert, what does February look like? Add a little something more each month while staying true to your larger arching plan. It may still seem small as you step up the path to the ultimate prize, but at least falling back each month will not destroy all of your progress. If you are still making it out every day but you have not stuck to February’s higher goal post, it is not a total loss.

Stay tuned for even more fitness planning and great new ideas for each month. Make your plans before January first and you will be more likely to keep your eye on the prize.

Cookie Crumbles

Calorie wars between some favorite holiday treats

Happy Holiday! I am about to ruin your day! No one really wants to know, so feel free to ignore the numbers in this article, but for those who are still counting calories as we countdown the last days of the year, here is some good news and bad news for you. Here is a list of some of the holiday favorites that may be gracing your cookie exchanges, holiday party buffets, and gift boxes this year. Again, feel free to ignore these numbers, especially if they are your favorites. You have been warned.

Mix Baked versus Store Bought Brownies

We love the smell of them in the oven. We love the ooey-gooiness of a fresh cut square from the pan. I particularly love the crumbly crust that so nicely complements a super moist brownie. With brownies you can always cut a smaller square and save yourself the guilt at least a little bit, but how much guilt is in that rich dark morsel? Well, one square at about two square inches, and figuring it is not more than an inch in thickness, is, drum roll, about 230 calories. The good news, that number is for the store bought variety. If you choose to make your own, from scratch, you lop off nearly half and are left with a brownie the same size and only 111 calories! And, you are always burning some of those calories bustling around the kitchen doing the prep work. Add in hand mixing rather than using modern convenience and you get a great arm workout too.

Classic versus Commercial Chocolate Chip

Whether they are the chewy or the crunchy, warm from the oven or dipped in a glass of milk, the chocolate chip cookie is a classic. But what about those pesky calories that come along for the ride down memory lane? This one may be good news for the more lazy cookie craver. The commercially made, store bought chocolate chip cookie rings in at 130 calories for a standard cookie. While, those tempting treats from grandmother’s kitchen come in at around 160 calories. It is a hard one to choose from for some of us. BUt if it is only once a year, why not allow for a little indulgence and make grandmother feel loved.

Roll the Oats: Oatmeal Cookies

When we try to mix healthy with sweet cookie goodness, I think the oatmeal raisin variety does a pretty fair job of living up to the task. Sweet, but not too sweet, chewy, and crumbly at the same time. We can claim, there is fruit in there! But are they really less calories than the other classics? Both commercial and home made pass the test at under most other cookies, and do it yourself is still the best. Commercial cookies come in at about 115 calories, while the home made, sing some halleluyah, a mere 65 calories per snack.

Calorie counts are estimated from the CalorieLab.com
http://calorielab.com/foods/cookies/3

You should also read: 3 Reasons Why You Should Go Ahead And Learn How To Cook

The Cookie Crumbles

Calorie wars between some favorite holiday treats

Happy Holiday! I am about to ruin your day! No one really wants to know, so feel free to ignore the numbers in this article, but for those who are still counting calories as we countdown the last days of the year, here is some good news and bad news for you. Here is a list of some of the holiday favorites that may be gracing your cookie exchanges, holiday party buffets, and gift boxes this year. Again, feel free to ignore these numbers, especially if they are your favorites. You have been warned.

Mix Baked versus Store Bought Brownies

We love the smell of them in the oven. We love the ooey-gooiness of a fresh cut square from the pan. I particularly love the crumbly crust that so nicely complements a super moist brownie. With brownies you can always cut a smaller square and save yourself the guilt at least a little bit, but how much guilt is in that rich dark morsel? Well, one square at about two square inches, and figuring it is not more than an inch in thickness, is, drum roll, about 230 calories. The good news, that number is for the store bought variety. If you choose to make your own, from scratch, you lop off nearly half and are left with a brownie the same size and only 111 calories! And, you are always burning some of those calories bustling around the kitchen doing the prep work. Add in hand mixing rather than using modern convenience and you get a great arm workout too.

Classic versus Commercial Chocolate Chip

Whether they are the chewy or the crunchy, warm from the oven or dipped in a glass of milk, the chocolate chip cookie is a classic. But what about those pesky calories that come along for the ride down memory lane? This one may be good news for the more lazy cookie craver. The commercially made, store bought chocolate chip cookie rings in at 130 calories for a standard cookie. While, those tempting treats from grandmother’s kitchen come in at around 160 calories. It is a hard one to choose from for some of us. BUt if it is only once a year, why not allow for a little indulgence and make grandmother feel loved.

Roll the Oats: Oatmeal Cookies

When we try to mix healthy with sweet cookie goodness, I think the oatmeal raisin variety does a pretty fair job of living up to the task. Sweet, but not too sweet, chewy, and crumbly at the same time. We can claim, there is fruit in there! But are they really less calories than the other classics? Both commercial and home made pass the test at under most other cookies, and do it yourself is still the best. Commercial cookies come in at about 115 calories, while the home made, sing some halleluyah, a mere 65 calories per snack.

Calorie counts are estimated from the CalorieLab.com
http://calorielab.com/foods/cookies/3

Happy Horror-days

Chilling Christmas Tales to Share

For many of us this is the first real weekend of winter break, it is also the start of the complete holiday madness. While you may be already waking up from too much eggnog, or feeling the crush of family togetherness, here are a few more books to escape into that take the idea of the holidays and allow us the ability to laugh maniacally a little at the darker side of the season of light.

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by: Christopher Moore

This story has it all when it comes to the holiday miracles and blessing department. A sweet seven year old boy who has a single wish for Christmas. An angel trying very hard to earn his wings. A Santa that returns from the dead. Yeah. That is about where Christopher Moore’s tale of the Christmas spirit takes a turn for the dark. A hilarious as it is a strange tale of holiday wishes gone wrong, The Stupidest Angel will have you forgetting how terrifying it may be to explain your latest dramas at the holiday dinner table.

The Hogfather by: Terry Pratchett

If you have never been to Discworld, well, what are you doing with your literary life? Terry Pratchett’s insanely witty characters, and endlessly imaginative world have abducted readers from reality for many a Yuletide turn. The tale of the Hogfather is quite possibly one of Pratchett’s best works, especially around the holidays. The wit and humor will warm your funny bones while the poignant undertone of the meaning of faith and traditions will shake the winter chill from your heart. So amazing is this read that you can watch it with the family as well, if you feel like spending time with them, that is. The Hogfather was turned into a television movie in 2006. If this is your first trip into Discworld, welcome, if not, well, you know you want to read it again.

A Christmas Carol by: Charles Dickens

We all know the story, though maybe not through a reading of the classic tale. While it may not be terrifying by today’s standards, this classic by Charles Dickens was considered quite the chiller when it was originally released. Consider the number of ghosts, terrifying images, and cautionary dialogue of this Victorian era Christmas story. There is very little joy through much of this story, and if we really look at the main character, he might just have gotten the same treatment, if not worse, in a modern day horror movie.  Charles Dickens was not fooling around when he wrote this tale to help Victorians turn their lives around.

Ho Ho Horror: Christmas Horror Fiction

Once again, not to leave the rest of the family and friends out of the holiday fear, here is one that can be shared. Stocking stuffer sized tales of dread to keep you up all night waiting for Santa. (Yeah, that’s it). These eight tales of Christmas horror are short enough to share over some cocoa by the fire, just be sure to lock the doors first.

Seasonal Stress and Blues

Through out the year, there are always reasons not to stick to your workout. There are just as many reasons to push through. In the winter months, especially in colder climates, just getting through the things you need to do to survive can be difficult enough. Grey skies, and chill air has an effect on more than just your joints and muscles. Our moods can be deeply affected by the poor weather.

Seasonal Affected Disorder, or SAD, is something that many people suffer through during the bleak days of winter months. Depression like symptoms that turn up only in the cold weather may be signs of this disorder, and it is not something to just brush off. If you find yourself not feeling as up and energetic as you typically tend to be, you may be suffering from this more common than it seems, emotional disorder.

One of the primary reasons for Seasonal Affected Disorder and depression, is a lack of vitamin D. Even if we are trying to be outside just as often as we are in warmer weather the sky itself is often just not as blue. Heavier cloud cover is typical in the winter months, no matter the climate you live in. Days are also much shorter in the winter. For those of us who work indoors, in an office, are at school, or work in a retail space during the day, it is much more likely that by the time we clock out at the end of the day, we are leaving in the dark. It is equally likely that we leave the house in the morning and have to turn the headlights on in the car. The lack of sun, equates to deficiencies in vitamin D and leads to the depressed moods of the winter season.

Stress is another factor in the feeling low even during the holidays. To be blunt, the stress may be caused by the holidays themselves. So many of us are in places of economic uncertainty throughout the year, the holidays can add the extra pressure of gift buying, parties, special clothing, and travel costs. All of this on top of the stress of final exams for students, increased work hours and customers for retail workers, and less work hours for office staff can be a perfect storm of hair pulling stress over the cobwebs growing in your wallet.

Often the very people we are supposed to be excited to gether with during the holidays are the ones who will cause us the most emotional trouble. For those who host the family and friend gatherings, there are living spaces to clean and decorate, there is food to purchase and prepare, and there are schedules to work around. Having loved ones in our personal space can be troubling even if we do love them dearly. It is not only the workout schedule that suffers, but our dietary outlines and sleep patterns.

Give yourself credit during the next couple of weeks. Anything you do get done is great, anything that does not happen, well, let it go, and consider it a break.

Working out Your Playlist

Unique Artists to Get You Moving

What gets your blood pumping? When you build your workout playlist, what types of music do you choose? When creating a new choreography, or when planning a drill session for a group of students, I am always considering the mood of the tunes and how they will connect with the movements and retention of the moves.

While I do teach belly dance, which typically means choosing music from the Middle East, India, Turkey, or Greece, there are plenty of western musicians that have quite a lot to offer and even inspire a deep connection to the eastern roots they are based on.

Beats Antique
The allure of this modern gypsy band is clear if you are into the deep tones at solid beats of classic rock or modern drum and bass techno. It really is a unique blend of those rhythms, but there is more to it than those heavy hitting undertones. The rather circus like harmonies elicit emotions that range from child like recollection, to the somewhat twisted wonder of dark fantasy.

Escala
If you are into classical music and beautiful strings, as well as lovely ladies that play them, your ears will happily ring to the sounds of Escala. Amazing electric renditions of classical pieces that revive our aural fixation of the historic greats, are not the only pieces this all girl group takes a pluck at. As if drawing modern day into the past, they have taken great rock songs and tuned them into instrumental masterpieces.

Daler Mendhi
But there is no reason to forget about the modern pop that does spring from the source of classical belly dance. Daler is a far cry from the Bollywood classics of India. With songs that have a western pop feel that have infiltrated even the video gaming culture, these songs are not just for belly dancers. Anyone looking for a workout playlist that gets the blood pumping, should absolutely check out his albums.

These are just three music artists that inspire belly dancers to shake their hips and can offer anyone a great new workout soundtrack. Check out something different and see how just a change of tune can renew your workout.

Choosing Music For Reading

Leisure reading may not be the top type of book time on your list this week. As we move into finals week and spent last minutes, or maybe hours, on those text books, what are some tips and tricks for retaining that precious information that could save your grade this semester?

Just like when reading for fun, make book time, quiet time. This does not mean you cannot have some music playing, or have some mild background noise. Some research has even shown that having complete silence makes it more difficult to focus. If you are the type that needs some aural activity during reading time, it is not always wise to go for your typical sounds.

Music with lyrics should be avoided as much as possible. It is difficult enough to remember what is on the page without a lyrical conversation tugging at your attention. And, yes, it is very likely that the hook to that latest hit is far more interesting than the science lesson on the page.

Try choosing music that is entirely instrumental. This does not necessarily mean you must be filling your ears with classical tunes that go back further than the history you are trying to memorize. There are plenty of upbeat, and up to date instrumental pieces as well. Check out pieces by 2Cellos, Escala, or Beats Antique, for interesting and modern background sounds.

Consider your mood as well as your text. Reading and relating back through sounds can help a lot as well. If you are working on something high energy, or highly explosive, like those chemistry notes, or the accounts of historic battles, get your mind in the mood with something heavier. In the case of something more relaxed or requiring your mind to work through things more slowly, slower beats may be beneficial.

No matter what you are listening to be considerate of those studying around you. Headphones are great no matter where you study. If you are working with a group, take a moment to create a study buddy playlist. You may learn more than the answers to that next test. Music can tell us quite a lot about the people we think we know.

Music has been known to not only assist with focus and retention, it can also help with recollection. If music is allowed during testing, request something similar to what you studied to, or listen to the same playlist just prior to the testing.

Fitness Shift: Slow Down This Month

How Yoga, Tai Chi, and Stretching is Hard Work too

While by this point in the year, most people are not looking to add a new practice to their workout routine, it is to the contrary a great time to add something slow, relaxing, and stress releasing.

If you have not implemented yogic practice into your workout, or even slow basic stretching, consider this hectic time of year as a great time to give it a try. During this time of the year most people are in a go, go, go mode. Doing more running, or heavy exercise while we are already running around may not seem like the best idea. It is also a time of year when our bodies are typically fighting off winter illnesses, so over exertion can be as draining as it is beneficial.

Adding more slow movements, isometrics, and yoga to your workout can allow the body to recover from the end of year and holiday abuse that we are dealing out to it. These types of exercise are also made for indoor use. There is no excuse if you are snowed in. No running in the house, no problem.

Many studios that teach stretching and yoga offer end of year specials. Check them out to see if you are doing the movements correctly, at least the first few times. If you do not have a studio that offers these near you, check out the videos in your local library, or on Youtube.com or on Netflix. There are all levels of video practices out there.

While you may not feel like you are working your body, because movements are slower, and do not typically work up a sweat, it is still vitally important to listen to your body, and to the instruction of the teacher or video. Many practices such as Yoga, isometrics, and Tai Chi are working muscles just as hard, if not harder than more high energy workouts.

If you leave a class or complete a video and do not at first feel sore or drained, this does not mean you should kick right over to a more strenuous workout. Allow your body at least a day to feel the changes. Very often slower movements take time for the body to realise as work.

Look for more detailed information on the exercises mentioned in this article in future posts. Always keep in mind that the body takes time to recover from any new form of movement or exertion. When done correctly even the low impact workouts can have serious results.

Hanukkah Stories for Every Night of Lights

From Children’s Books to Romance: Books About Hanukkah

While here in the United States Christmas tends to get the most publicity there are several other holidays that fill the winter season with warmth and great foods, and gathering with family and friends. Hanukkah is another big one that gets quite a lot of attention. In honor of this eight day long celebration, how about some great books to give as gifts, or keep for yourself, this year.

1. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by: Eric A. Kimmel, Illustrated by: Tina Schart Hyman.This classic Jewish folk tale offers a fun look at the holiday of Hanukkah as well as a great tale of outwitting the bad guys. Troublesome goblins beware, Hershel has a few tricks up his sleeve as well in this fun retelling of a Hanukkah classic.

2. The Latke That Wouldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by: Lemony Snicket, Illustrated by: Lisa Brown. The illustrious and somewhat twisted author of the Series of Unfortunate Events young adult fiction stories is back with a gift for the holidays. Offering a blended story of Christmas and Hanukkah, Lemony Snicket shares the amusing tale of a young Latke.

3. Light the Lights: A Story About Hanukkah and Christmas by: Margaret Mooreman. Another story for the young or the young at heart. A bit less on the strange side as we are invited into the home of a young girl who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas with her blended faith family. There is little in the way of religious information on the holidays and focuses more on the family and the things we do to celebrate the season.

4. Miracle of the Bellskis by: Astrid Amara. Stepping far from the books for the young ones that may be gathering to learn about holiday traditions and into a steamier as well as very poignant story about how couples deal with families and holidays. Not only is the couple in Amara’s romantic story coming from two different faith backgrounds, they are also still working on telling their families about their same sex relationship.

5. The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by: Janice Cohn and Illustrated by: Bill Farnsworth. Keeping with the deeper themes of public acceptance, and learning to love one another as humans rather than hating the differences. This story focuses on the troubles created when a rock is thrown through the window because of the menorah in a young boy’s bedroom. Helping kids to understand how love can overcome hate, and coming together can defeat fear.

For more great reads relating to the holiday of Hanukkah, check out Goodreads Shelves on this holiday. There are over a hundred and fifty titles listed and there is sure to be at least one that lights your candle.