Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Repost: dailySPARK

I get a lot of random emails in my inbox every morning. Apparently, I've signed up to be on every single e-newsletter list out there, so I usually just scan the subject lines and instantly delete everything. One article caught my attention this morning, though, and I want to share it with you.

The article is called "America's Top Trainer Says It's Time to Reject 'Skinny' and Get Strong." It was written as a part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week and was written by Coach Nicole of SparkPeople. If you aren't familiar with SparkPeople, I highly recommend it - it is a free health community that is well known for its exercise and calorie trackers. The website is so much more than that though, it is a wealth of information, articles, videos and message boards. It is chock full of information about any and everything you could think of, and I could literally (and have) spend hours exploring it. I don't know if everyone could, but health is sort of my "thing."

Ironically, my "thing" has tripped me up over the past few years and being healthy got out of control. I am so thrilled that I can confidently say now that I am back in a happy place - like Coach Nicole, I have come to love my new, strong, healthy body and am no longer concerned with body image or micromanaging every calorie, and have rediscovered my love of cupcakes.

Please, please take a minute to look at Coach Nicole's article below and to expand your awareness of eating disorders this week.

By: dailySpark Guest Blogger : 2/28/2012 6:00 AM 6 comments : 1,406 Views

– by Bruce Corwin, SparkPeople Staff

As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, SparkPeople’s award-winning fitness expert, Nicole Nichols, is opening up about her own struggles with disordered eating.

SparkPeople’s fitness expert "Coach Nicole" is passionate about changing the image of “fit and healthy.” Named America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch by the American Council on Exercise and Life Fitness in 2011, Nicole soon after celebrated the launch of her newest DVD, 28-Day Boot Camp. In addition to teaching Spinning and Pilates, she runs half-marathons, practices yoga weekly, and strength trains regularly. At 29, she’s proud to be a role model for those aspiring to take control of their health—without letting the scale and fitness take control of them.

What sets Nicole apart from many other fitness experts is her "real life, real people" attitude. She believes that the images we see every day of models, actors and personal trainers set an unattainable standard, one that she hopes she and her DVDs are changing.

Nicole is the happiest and healthiest she’s ever been, but she’s quick to say she’s not at her thinnest—and that’s just fine by her. Thin is not a synonym for healthy, she says, and skinny is not the same as strong. In college, she wasn’t yet convinced. Nicole spent hours in the gym and maintained a strict diet, as a way to emulate the models and trainers she saw in the media. Nicole was chiseled, but she was also suffering from an eating disorder.

Nicole recovered, and since then, she has focused on making fitness more about how she feels inside and performs as an athlete rather than what size pants she wears. Recently, I asked Nicole to share her views on how to set healthy goals for your body and whether personal training is changing for the better, as a way to draw attention to National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Do you think most people set unrealistic standards for themselves when they start to work out and try to lose weight?

I think we compare ourselves too much to other people. We want our bodies to look like someone else's, whether that's realistic or not. It sets us up for failure. Rather than aspiring to attain someone else's physique, focus on your own strengths and what's healthy and realistic for you.

I spent a long time trying to look like the thin, toned, "tiny" bodies that I saw in magazines. I got there—I dropped body fat, gained muscle, and got compliments left and right on how great I looked. But as it turned out, I actually had an eating disorder. Trying to mold my body into something that it wasn't was unhealthy, unrealistic and unsustainable. It took hours of exercise every day and a restrictive diet that gave me no pleasure from food and left me constantly hungry. Since then I've recovered, returned to a normal, healthy, natural size for my body and regained a healthy relationship with fitness, food, and the scale.

What type of standard for physique do you advocate to the people you teach?

I don't advocate any type of physique. In fact, I try not to talk much about burning calories, trimming inches or how any particular exercise may change one's body. I believe people can be fit and healthy at any size. I also think it's healthier for our self-esteem, for our minds and bodies to view exercise not as a way to "change" ourselves, but as a tool to improve our overall health. It can be motivating to aim for a healthy weight at a safe pace. But regardless of what the scale says or how your body is shaped, if you are exercising, you are doing a lot of good for your body.

How do people react to that message?

People who follow my videos and blogs really seem to love and embrace this view of exercise. They are everyday people (just like I am) who are trying to have a life but still be healthy—without spending hours exercising or living in the gym. They realize that small amounts of fitness add up and that fitness is about feeling good—not just looking good.

You teach on the topics of body image and self-acceptance. Beyond telling people to set realistic goals, what are the other themes you touch on?

I try to spread a message of loving your body enough to take care of it and treat it with respect. Respect isn't torturing your body or starving yourself or punishing yourself in the gym. Respect comes from moderation in food, enjoying your food, being realistic in what you expect your body to achieve or look like, and exercising a healthy amount without going overboard.

Does it matter what your personal trainer looks like?

You can't judge a trainer's experience, expertise, effectiveness or motivational power by their body alone. Not every person can achieve an ultra-ripped or very toned or thin physique we imagine an ideal trainer should have—and how a person's body looks isn't necessarily a reflection of how strong, fit or healthy they really are. In addition, many people who have that "ideal" physique are doing a lot of unhealthy things to reach and achieve it. Many trainers I know subscribe to way-too-intense fitness regimens and super-restrictive diets that border on eating and exercise disorders in order to look the way they do, so it's not necessarily something to emulate.

In fact, having a trainer who looks more like you—and less like an ideal—is often more motivating. Studies have shown that seeing ripped trainers and models in magazines and on workout videos often discouraged and de-motivated people trying to get in shape.

Is the standard for what a personal trainer needs to look like changing?

I take the fact that I was honored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and Life Fitness as sign that our industry is evolving by making room for trainers (like me) who don't have a "perfect" or ripped physique, but can still serve as healthy role models and help others achieve fitness at any size. And it's making room for a less intimidating and more nurturing and encouraging style than what has been the norm, which is essential when most of America is overweight and out of shape, In my new DVD SparkPeople: 28 Day Boot Camp, I specifically casted trainers who had healthy, realistic bodies that would make everyone exercising with us at home feel right in place. I think there are signs of gradual shift in that direction across the industry, and I think it's a step in the right direction for healthy living.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Going Green

Happy Valentine's Day!

Please excuse my blog-disappearance. I know the suspense of what happened last year (isn't that ironic?) is a killer. While you've been biting your fingers waiting to know exactly how I spent every moment of February, 2011, I've been enjoying myself working hard at a team planning session at The Greenbrier.

I have been to my fair share of fancy schmancy resorts - The Breakers, Grand WaileaReynolds Plantation, Hotel del Coronado, Moana Surfrider, Sandals Grande Antigua....and of course, everything Disney, but The Greenbrier is another level. First of all, visiting the hotel required my first trip to the great state of West Virginia. Growing up in Alabama, I know that states are sometimes given undeserved stereotypes, but what I saw of good 'ol White Sulphar Springs pretty much lived up to the West Virginia hype. It's a small, homey town, whose inhabitants are almost soley employed by the resort.

Built in 1858, the actual resort laced with history and has spent most of its long life owned by railroad companies, but was bought by entrepreneur Jim Justice in 2009. Originally, it was famed for its Sulphar springs, thought by Native Americans to heal various ailments, but was almost entirely burned down during the Civil War. One of the coolest things about the resort is that it also served as an underground "secret emergency relocation center" (bunker) for the U.S. Government in the late 1950's. The bunker was kept stocked and a secret for 30 years, but never actually used for its intended purposes, and was leaked in 1922 by the Washington Post. Tours are available, but we didn't have time on this trip.

The real splendor of this place is the decor, done by Dorothy Draper in her famous "modern baroque" style. It has been said that, "Draper was to decorating what Chanel was to fashion. She brought color into a world which was sad and dreary. These splashy vibrant colors were used to make the public spaces represent a place for people to come again and feel elevated and where the dramatic design could absorb them in the interior." Truer words could have been been spoken - the colors at the Greenbrier are definitely splashy and vibrant and it is impossible not to be absorbed into the interior, which is kind of a problem when you just want to find your room. In my own words, I'd say that her style is more "Willy Wonka meets Vera Bradley." If you ever visited us while we lived at the condo in Jupiter, you'll understand that this seems to be Mema's style, too.

By the way, Meredith, I was standing in this giant pink room when I read your superlong, amazing email :)

I know I'm behind on Africa posts, but wanted to share my entry from last Valentine's Day. I still can't believe that was only/already a year ago! In true Aldridge fashion, we spent the day stuffing our faces. It just won't be the same without tremendous amounts of curry this year.

February 14, 2011

Being here in Kokstad and at Imbali continues to be such a blessing. It has been great to have a chance to relax and adjust to civilization again and we have really enjoyed getting to know Cobus, Riann, Warren and their families. They have absolutely spoiled us and I hope that staying here a few extra days is helpful for them – I can’t wait to get home and write rave reviews for them on every travel website I can find.

We went to church yesterday with Cobus’ family (where he introduced us as his “American friends”) and it was surprisingly similar to every other African church we’ve been to so far, except in English. Everything about their lives here seems to still be pretty segregated but church was a mix of cultures and very much on “African time” with no real order whatsoever and very basic décor and technology.

The main speaker was not the pastor, but a man from Nigeria and a lot of the service was focused on healing, which seems popular here. The man was hard to understand but talked about building all the different parts of your life on the rock of the Word instead of what the world or other people tell you. I think it was mostly referring to doctors and diagnoses but it was a message I really needed to hear as we finish up our outreach and begin to prepare for the Peace Corps or whatever is in store for us next. We’ve had such mixed reactions from friends and family about the Peace Corps and sometimes I’m not sure what I even want next, but the great news is that it doesn’t matter what anyone’s opinion is, because God has already told us how to live and all the instructions are in His Word.

Ironically, I’m at least a week behind in Bible reading, but I’m working on it. Being here with most modern luxuries/free time/distractions is good practice for being at home, though. I’ve been in a little Christian-community bubble for the past 6 months where it has been easy to make God a priority, and I want to continue at home.

So, after church we spend some more quality time at the pool enjoying the sun and then walked to Spar (after a HUGE thunderstorm complete with marble-sized hail) and went to every grocery store in town with Cobus. Ivonne’s son-in-law also finally dropped off all our bags but I guess he got stuck in a storm between Tabankulu and Kokstad because all of our stuff was absolutely soaked. This is especially frustrating since it could have all been avoided if he had put the smaller stuff (like my ruined Tempurpedic pillow and/or our box of food) inside the cab with him, since he came alone. I’m glad to have everything back though and a pillow is a small sacrifice to make if it means never going back to Tabankulu.

We have a TON of food here now, though, and ate some of it last night but now that the weekend is over, the kitchen is open again, which brings me to what we did all day today: eat.

When Cobus told us about today’s breakfast last night, I figured that I’d eat the fruit in our room because nothing sounded very great. We watched him get bread ready for the breadmaker but it was some sort of cornbread. I was wrong last night though because everything this morning was incredible. David and I suffered from Sandals Syndrom and stuffed our faces because we didn’t have to pay (extra) for it and anything that isn’t from a can is still amazing to us. We had hake filets, scrambled eggs, bacon, baked beans, chicken sausage, tomato & onion, watermelon, other fruit, homemade bread, banana bread, cereal, museli and lots of French-press coffee. And it was all amazing.

Needless to say, we skipped lunch and headed to town for some quality time at the internet café, and then back to Imbali to hang out at the pool. Then, Cobus surprised us by sending us over to the Mt.Currie Inn for Valentine’s Day dinner. Where we threw down again. The help here all speaks Xhosa but I’m pretty sure they were busy discussing how much the skinny white kids were eating. For dinner, we had salad, rice, curry chicken, lamb shanks, mac & cheese, roasted potatoes, butternut/acorn squash, creamed spinach, apple strudel, wine, chocolate cake…and lots more coffee. I’m pretty sure (okay, positive) that I ate more than David both at breakfast and dinner but I’m ready for my swimsuit to fit again, and trying to enjoy everything while it’s “free.” We are spending 500R to stay here tonight but I’m sure the food I ate at dinner alone was worth it.

It’s 12:45Am…and just a few more hours ‘till breakfast! TIA, starvin’ marvin!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rise and Shine

I remember David's phone alarm going off at what I thought was way. too. early. this morning...but I'd take that alarm over pots and pans and livestock any day....

February 2, 2011
When I think back to my first night in Tabankulu, and how I couldn’t sleep because it was so quiet, I just have to laugh. This morning, I was woken up at 6 by various animals making noises – including the loudest one of all…Sharon.

Apparently, she finds 6AM to be an opportune time to begin banging on pots and pans, sloshing water around in plastic jugs, scrubbing aluminum pots and banging on anything she can find. There must have been something very exciting happening just outside the door, too, because I swear she opened/slammed it shut 100 times. And it is connected to all the hanging pots and pans.

Now, at 7:45, she is at it again. Wrapping and unwrapping everything, banging on the metal kettle, and pouring water into/out of every pot/pan/cup/bowl/vessel in the house. Plus, every dog is barking, rooster crowing, cow mooing and donkey braying in the whole village.

I’m also sticking my foot in my mouth for ever complaining about the bed in Tabankulu. It’s no tempur-pedic and was a little firmer than my ideal mattress but I had clearly forgotten just how painful my taco bed/blow-up travel pillow combination is. I know that it is probably a million times better than sleeping on the floor, which is what most people here do (or so Sharon says..) and I am still considering it pure joy but it will be a miracle if I don’t have a lifetime of spinal problems after leaving this place. I’m also going to need some serious psychiatric treatment to get over the fact that Sharon is going to make me lose my mind.

There’s no school today because Thobeka is in Tabankulu. It’s gonna be a LONG one. TIA.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Bump in the Road

Can you believe that it is already February? 2011 flew by, and if January is any indication of what the rest of 2012 will be like, I am predicting a hurricane of a year. However...it's 66 degrees out today (I'm trapped inside but I hear it's beautiful), so if this is what "global warming" causes, bring it on!

This morning, as I drove to work, there was a beautiful rainbow over the mountains. I posted it on Instagram, and ironically, just saw that last year's journal was all about driving through the mountains too. I often complain about our little commute into Roanoke, but am quickly humbled when I remember the painful rides we were taking last year. Yikes.

Happy February!

February 1, 2011
…and we are back in Godeka. Not surprisingly, little has changed here. We got lucky with the bakkie situation and were able to sit in the front seat all the way back, which made the trip much more bearable and it is nice to finally be out of Tabankulu again. Driving through the mountains was beautiful – and so much more enjoyable from the front seat than the bumpy, crowded back. It’s good to be “home” and I’m looking forward to seeing what is in store for us over the next 2 weeks here.