“Don’t eat from the freezer.”
“Only eat homemade meals.”
“Don’t eat anything processed.”
Excuse me, um, what?
Sometimes it feels like the people dishing out this advice think we are made of time.
“I’m not a Pinterest mom!” you feel like yelling back at them, “you don’t know my life!”
It’s hard enough to choose healthy options when the unhealthy ones are so tempting, but why are they also so time consuming to make?
The truth is, they don’t have to be.
There are tons of ways to cut down the time you spend preparing stuff, and an often-ignored one is the tools you use.
The following five kitchen tools will help level the playing field for anyone who wants to eat healthy, but isn’t exactly overflowing in the time department (I’m looking at you, sleep-deprived mama):
The unsung hero of the kitchen. Here’s why the microwave is almost NEVER the first thing people think of when they think “healthy eating”:
People who don’t care about nutrition use it to heat up sodium-laden microwave meals and popcorn.
People who DO care about nutrition classify it as a sub-par method of cooking, sometimes claiming it “puts radiation in the food.”
Newsflash, it doesn’t.
Microwaving is actually ranked in the top two healthiest cooking methods (along with dry oven-roasting), beating out even steaming(!)
This is amazing news for those of us who value our health AND our sanity.
It goes way past re-heating. Here are some creative ways to use a microwave:
Cook quinoa, rice, or other grains;
Cook lentils, mung beans, and other quick-cooking legumes;
Make slow-cooking oats;
“Parboil” veggies before roasting to cut down roasting time (this saves both time AND electricity -- win!);
Make a “one pot meal” in the microwave (for example couscous, veggies, beans, and spices);
Prepare a whole sweet potato, a whole eggplant, or other whole veggies -- then cut them lengthwise and dress however your heart desires (all these recipes and hacks are available in detail in Irresistible Strength, my 10-week fitness program).
I love fresh veggies and I love the way eating lots of them makes me feel, both physically and mentally.
My husband’s the same, except he could care less about the form they’re in, so he just takes them whole. (When he packs a snack for himself, it looks like he’s off to feed the rabbits at a petting zoo).
When I pack the same vegetables, I enjoy them so much more if they’re a salad.
The problem is that it takes way too much time and effort to actually MAKE a salad every time I want one.
Enter the spinning salad chopper -- just put in all the veggies you want to consume, give it a spin, et voila! Your salad is ready! Just add your favorite healthy dressing.
Many models even allow you to serve your creation directly in the bowl of the chopper (just remember to remove the blade).
Since we’ve gotten this thing it has been so much easier to up the amount of fresh veggies I consume.
As a bonus, it’s extremely easy to clean, and useful for making salsas and other chunky dips, too.
Instantly make hummus, prepare sauces, blend soups to silky smooth, and even make delicious smoothies. The best part is how easy it is to clean: just pop out the blade part, give it a good rinse, and put out to dry.
It’s best if you use a high powered one that can handle things like crushing ice.
The only drawback is that it doesn’t do well with very fibrous ingredients (they tend to wrap around the blade rather than get blended down). When I make green smoothies with my immersion blender, I use blocks of pre-blended frozen spinach to get around that. Otherwise I use my regular blender and eat the extra cleanup time.
One of my most badass friends from college used to be a sniper instructor in the military. She’s a tiny lady who makes up for her delicate size with a seriously fierce personality and a foul mouth that would intimidate even sailors.
When she graduated from the army, her lieutenant, a quiet-but-deadly Russian guy known to me only as “Vova” gave her a parting gift -- a professional, heavy chef’s knife. It was a thing of legends among our circle of friends. Seeing how much I loved cooking, she gave me my very own “Vova knife” for my birthday. It was the first time I had owned a serious kitchen knife, and it changed the way I approached making food.
When you have your own knife, you can use it frequently and master techniques of chopping faster and more efficiently. It’s not as quick as the salad chopper, but it gives you more control without sacrificing speed like you would with a smaller knife. Be sure to get it sharpened (or do it yourself) every once in a while to get the full benefits of the Vova knife.
SodaStream (or similar)
Everyone knows it's important to drink enough water. Unfortunately, many of us not only miss the daily recommended amount, but actually end up guzzling down sweet drinks instead.
Sodastream at one point had a campaign called "water made exciting", and I love it because it is so true: sometimes we drink juice or fizzy drinks simply because they are more interesting and fun than plain old water.
The ability to make seltzer at home allows you to give that plain old water an exciting makeover that is actually good for you -- just make sure you hold the sugary syrups that are frequently offered with these systems.
It’s technically easier to just pop open a bottle of sparkling water than to carbonate one yourself.
But if you factor in having to add it to your groceries list and ALSO gong to the store and remembering to buy it, you see how having a home carbonation unit makes things easier and saves time.
In many areas the company you buy from will actually deliver new CO2 canisters to your home and collect the old ones.
What kitchen gadgets could you not live without? Tell me in the comments or just email me directly if you're shy.
The (near) magical way to achieve anything you want
How I got magic elves to make my bed
I love the way a clean, made bed makes me feel when I come home from work. Something about such a big area being completely neat makes my room feel put together (even if the rest of my home is littered with my kids’ toys).
But for the longest time, I had struggled to actually MAKE my bed in the morning. On those days when I’d come home I’d have a double disappointment: first, my room felt cluttered -- not at all the sanctuary I needed it to be. And second, I was disappointed in myself for not managing such a simple action that morning.
“Is my life really that out of control”, I wondered, “that I can’t take the 40 seconds it takes to make my bed?”
The motivation was clear -- I got such joy from that near, aesthetic look every time I did manage to do it. And yet, most mornings it completely slipped away from me as I ran frantically to brush little teeth, get everyone reasonably dressed, fed, and ready, and make it out the door on time.
And then one day it happened. I came home from work, fully expecting to see a messy bed again, but there is was fully made, neat, clean. I could almost see the halo around it.
What the what? How did that happen?
The next day it happened again. I had zero recollection of doing anything, and yet my bed was just made.
It wasn’t my husband, either (I asked him, terrified that either my memory was going or that we had some regular, OCD burglars).
Of course, what had actually happened is what I’d been trying to achieve for so long -- making my bed had finally become a habit. I did it enough days in a row at exactly the same time that at some point my consciousness just checked of the action itself, and it seemed to happen all by itself.
Why motivation is unreliable
This story is a silly example, but it has big implications.
Imagine if you suddenly found yourself at the gym, without the burden of convincing yourself to put on your gym clothes and actually go there.
Or if you opened your fridge to discover perfectly portioned out, balanced meals all neatly tucked away in Tupperware, ready to take to work and school that week -- only you don’t remember the heavy feeling of having to scrape yourself off the sofa in the evening to actually make those meals.
Okay, if you actually have zero recollection of getting to the gym or making food I would be concerned about some kind of amnesia. But I’m talking more about the fact that once these things are automated for us as habits, we remove the friction of having to rely on mustering the motivation to do them.
Think about it: if you’re already at the gym, you will work out. If your fridge is already filled with healthy, delicious food, you will probably eat it.
The tough part isn’t making THOSE decisions; it’s making the decision to bring yourself to that point in the first place.
If you’re not used to getting up, getting dressed, and working out, you will have a VERY tough time doing it. If you’re not used to preparing healthy meals for yourself, you will end up making poor food choices just because it’s easier.
Most of us are fundamentally lazy, and yet almost everyone is looking for “motivation” as if it’s some sustainable solution to their laziness.
You can’t summon motivation, which is why you absolutely can’t rely on it for self improvement.
But you CAN work on getting yourself used to doing certain things on a regular basis, and this will ensure that those things get done, regardless of your motivation levels that day.
How habits work
To hack habits, we have to understand why they exist and how they work.
There is so much literature out there on habits and habit forming that it would be audacious of me to try and capture it all in a blog post. Instead what I’m going to do here is focus on the parts relevant to the topics of health and fitness.
It all starts with our lazy brain.
Of course, our brain isn’t actually lazy. I’s just performing a ton of different actions based on millions of inputs at a dizzying speed, so it tries to find shortcuts where it can.
Habits are those shortcuts. Our brain takes behaviors that it deems useful, automates them, and bam! A habit is born.
Each habit is made up of a trigger (the thing that causes the behavior), an action (the behavior itself), and a reward (why our brain registers the behavior as useful).
Looking at it from this perspective, it's easy to see why we develop so many bad habits.
We're stressed (the trigger), we reach for chocolate (behavior), we feel instantly better as sugar rushes through our system (reward).
We're bored at work (trigger), we open Facebook (behavior), we're relieved of our boredom by checking out what's going on with our friends (reward).
One you expose the system, it's like seeing the matrix: you're suddenly aware of the underlying reasons you (and others) do things, and it gives you the power to change what you do.
The way to win is like a good martial arts master -- use the power of habits for your gain, instead of giving in to them.
How to rewire your habits
It's far easier to replace an old habit than to create a new one. Like a good martial arts master, we are going to use the power of habits for our gain, instead of giving into them.
So observe yourself:
Once you know what you're dealing with, it's much easier to rewire the trigger to cause a new action. Tackle one habit at a time:
Start by announcing to yourself your intentions. Literally say or write “Every time I [trigger], instead of [old behavior] I will [new behavior].”
Then carry follow through by carrying the plan out very deliberately over the next few weeks, making sure you also give yourself a reward (even a mental pat on the back to yourself will do), at least most times.
This will work even faster if you can time the actions to around the same time every day, or tie them to an external recurring trigger (such as “every time I finish eating, I will...”).
Eventually it will stick and you will have replaced your old habit with a brand new one that serves your goals.
For your inspiration, here are some examples from my clients’ and my own life:
A word of caution
Building new habits isn’t easy, which ironically means you DO need some initial motivation to actually put those new habits in motion.
The point is to use your motivation wisely: for building sustainable, long-term habits, rather than spending it all on one “gym binge” and subconsciously giving yourself a moral license to lazy around afterwards.
Another important caveat that impacts all types of performance, but is especially critical to keep in mind for health and fitness, is that although successful habits get you very far, they can’t take you all the way.
There is a part of your routine where, to truly be at peak performance, you just can’t go on autopilot.
Habits are the framework designed to get you out of bed early, to make you put on your workout clothes and go for that run even if the weather is terrible; to help you go to sleep on time; to make sure you take care of high priority items before binging Netflix.
But they don’t replace the actual work.
To be truly effective and keep seeing improvement in your results, you can’t go on autopilot in everything. An easy to grasp example of this is at the gym.
The autopilot part is great for you getting there in the first place, knowing which exercises you’ll be doing, and keeping good form.
But the effort of the workout you actually do should be anything but automatic. There is no real progress without a healthy level of strain.
This can be applied to many other fields, such as on-stage performance, management, business strategy, art, and more.
The trick is knowing what things are better delegated to habits, and with what things we cannot give up mindfulness. We go over all these in the complete system I teach in my 8-week fitness program, Irresistible Strength.
My brother and my sister-in-law are two of the most physically fit people I know.
They’ve both invested many years in accumulating formal and informal knowledge about fitness and nutrition. They both know (and regularly do) crazy complicated workouts, both time their food intake according to their physical activity, and both of them actually find gym memes funny.
But for all that, I would not say either of them are terribly healthy (sorry guys, I love you).
Why not? If I had to point a finger at one culprit, it would be macros.
What macros are
Macros is short for macronutrients. Everything you eat falls under one of three macronutrients: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
Different levels of activity and different fitness goals require slightly different compositions of these three things in your diet.
Essentially every big name diet out there asks you to drastically minimize one of these, or focus on another. To use an example almost everyone knows, under the Atkins diet you must avoid carbohydrates. More modern ketogenic diets are essentially a reincarnation of Atkins. Low-carb diets are increasingly popular, with the emphasis put on either eating more fat or eating more protein.
Why macros are popular
In theory this makes sense. Optimizing the composition (meaning the proportions) of the macros we consume can ensure we are optimizing our health. And since our body uses each macronutrient in a different way, it seems logical (and utterly compelling) that by tweaking our macros we can hack our biology.
It’s also easy to grasp: classifying things into three distinct groups is simple. It makes it easy for us to make decisions about what we eat: Carb? Bad. Protein? Good.
The problem is, this classification is also kind of obtuse.
First of all, our bodies don’t work in such a simplistic way. Isolating a macronutrient to either glorify or ban it is not only foolish, it can have some gruesome unintended results, because in reality our body needs it all in order to thrive. Playing optimization games with something we don't fully grasp can leave us worse off than we began.
It’s important to remember that food science is a relatively new field, and the interactions that take place during digestion are more complex than what science has mapped out beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Second, it completely ignores the other side of the equation: the micronutrients. Those are vitamins and minerals our food contains. This means that not all carbohydrates are created equal, (nor are all fats or proteins). The actual foods matter, not just the food’s macronutrient classification.
I mean, I had a friend on Atkins back when it was popular. She couldn’t eat a tomato because it would take her over her carb limit for that day.
This kind of thinking can lead to unhealthy eating habits in people otherwise extremely educated in nutrition, fitness, and body chemistry.
It’s not my brother’s or my sister-in-law’s fault, really. They want to carb up before a workout, so they eat cake or drink chocolate milk, both decidedly unhealthy -- but through the “macros lens” it looks like a completely legit (and healthy) option.
Possibly an even more insidious reason to watch out for “macro vision” is that it makes you an easy target for advertisers.
Food ads have always capitalized on health trends. Sometimes they have to go out of their way to make their product sound healthier. But with macros, they really don’t have to work that hard. They simply slap on a label like “low carb” or “high protein” and watch the product sell out, even if it’s basically a candy bar.
Macros are this simplistic shared language around food that makes it easier to classify, but muddles the line between what is healthy and what’s not. This is situation is great for advertisers, but not for us the consumers who are just trying to make better decisions.
What to do instead
The bad news is that you need to retrain yourself to understand what is healthy and balanced, and what is a farce designed to either keep you overweight, addicted, and spending money (like food products), or to give you superficial short term results with high cost long term side effects (like fad diets).
The good news is this is not so difficult.
There are some easy-to-follow guidelines that will take you 80% of the way to a far more balanced nutritional intake.
In Irresistible Strength (a detailed 8-week fitness program) we go more in depth into each of them and give bulletproof ways to incorporate them for good.
But if you’re just looking for easy rules of thumb to get you started on healthier eating, here they are:
Here comes the challenge:
I'm willing to bet this is not the first article on healthy eating you've read. Am I right?
If you truly want to take your health into your own hands, it's not enough to just surf the web for healthy tips, tricks, and recipes. You don't get in shape by reading about running, and you don't improve your nutrition by reading about healthy eating.
That's why I want to challenge you to pick one or two things out of that list, and implement it over the next 3 weeks.
I bet you can do that.
Just 21 days of changing one or two things -- it pales in comparison to the results you'll begin to see. And best of all, you'll be paving the way for long-term healthy habits -- so at the end of those 3 weeks, it will actually be so much easier to keep going or even start implementing another item from that list.
I want you to actually put those start and end dates in your calendar, so you see what you have on the last day of those 3 weeks. Do you have an important meeting at work? Are you meeting with a friend you haven't seen in a while? Going to a conference? I want you to visualize yourself finishing strong.
Then tell me in the comments what the change is you are going to make, and what you will have going on in your life at the end of the challenge.
“Help! I’m 17 weeks pregnant and about to get a job offer. When do I tell them?”
Oh boy. Doesn't this kind of question just come up all the time?
And it’s an important question. Because as unfair as it is, a pregnancy (or any other special circumstance, really) can be seen as a demerit, a point held against you at a time when you’re trying to win as much credit as you can with your future employer.
So how much is smart to disclose before the offer is signed, sealed, delivered?
First of all, I want you to keep in mind that in some places, the law may require you to tell. So know your local law, and you know. Try to follow it.
But legal stuff aside, my advice would nearly always be to tell them before you sign. Exactly when? Right after you’ve made yourself irresistible.
Let’s work through this thought exercise:
Imagine you've had a chance to show your value (or potential value) to this employer, and they are practically drooling over hiring you. Then you calmly and confidently share with them that you are expecting. Okay, not a problem. A small bump in the road (so to speak). You've got plenty of time to make an impact and plan for your absence. You’re in this for the long game. You're worth it.
Now imagine doing an okay job at the interviews, getting an offer just because you’re a smidge less mediocre than the other applicants, entering a legally binding agreement and then dropping the pregnancy bomb.
Guess what? Your employer now hates you (and other pregnant ladies)! And you would too, if you were in their position.
You should always, always, always make sure you’re irresistible, but this becomes especially important if you might need special accommodations. It's unfair, but employers are sometimes scared of hiring pregnant women when they think they might need to fire them soon after in case they’re not a good fit (because there are actually laws against that). If you’re promising enough to not only not raise their doubts, but actually make it past their mental “trial period,” then you're de-risking the hiring decision for them.
But what if they say no? To me, it's more interesting to ask “why did they say no?”
Two options: it’s either you or them.
If it’s you, then you haven’t made yourself irresistible enough. Check yourself. Why? Are you not as good as you thought? Are you not communicating how good you are properly? What’s going on? Troubleshoot. Get good enough and good enough at conveying it, then get back into the fray.
If it’s them, then you’ve basically dodged a bullet. Because imagine that it’s the kind of employer who would NOT have hired you if he knew you were pregnant, even though you were the most irresistible you could be. Well, if he didn't know about your pregnancy and hired you, you’re still pregnant. Eventually, he will find out. And when he finds out, he will not be happy (because he’s an idiot). And then you will be unhappy (because you work for an idiot).
Is there a time when you should delay telling as long as possible?
Yes, in a couple of cases:
How should you tell? The most important thing is to own the narrative.
By the way, this is true for basically any accommodations you think you'll need from your employer. Flexible schedule, mobility, remote work arrangements, even salary and benefits. First understand where your employer is coming from. Next, make yourself irresistible. Last, negotiate what you need.
Have you ever been in this situation? I'd love to hear your experience in the comments (and if you're shy, just shoot me an email).
(A version of this article was originally featured in Breadwinner, a site for all things a career mom could possibly want to read about. I highly recommend heading over and checking it out!)
Today, a financial advisor from one of the largest pension insurance firms in my area came to my workplace to talk to us about personal finance and the importance of saving intelligently for retirement.
This guy was good. He used everything he could as a prop to tell his story and make his point.
“Take these pretzels,” he said, pointing to the bowl of pretzels on the conference room table. “They remind me of this interactive personal finance lesson I do for highschool kids.”
It goes like this: he puts four different piles of pretzels in front of the kids: 4 pretzels, 7 pretzels, 12 pretzels, and 30 pretzels.
Then he asks the kids which pile they’d most like to take home every month. And of course everyone says the biggest pile, 30 pretzels.
But then he says, “Okay, now I’m the government, and I take some pretzels as tax, depending on how big your pile is.”
From the 4-pretzel pile, he takes one as tax.
From the 7-pretzel pile, he takes two.
Out of the 12-pretzel pile, three become tax.
And finally, out of 30 pretzels he takes a whopping 15.
“Now,” he asks the kids, “which pile would you rather be taking home every month?”
Some kids are extremely offended by the obscene 50% tax on the biggest pile -- so offended that they choose the 12 pile because “I’ll lose less of it to the government” (you laugh, but I know plenty of grownups who share the sentiment. I'm sure you know someone like this too).
Of course the point of the lesson is that it doesn’t matter how much the government takes, as long as at the end of the day you have more in absolute value. So by that logic, which is the logic most financial advisors preach, you should still go for the biggest pile. Even after a 50% tax, you’re still left with 15 pretzels, which is far more than the other piles leave you with even though their tax is smaller.
While I think it’s always good to be reminded that we all act like children sometimes and make super irrational choices, there’s something that’s missing from that story -- the kind of hidden information that helps you make the choice that's truly best for you.
I’m talking about the fact that if you’re at the 50% income tax bracket, you’re earning nicely, you’ve probably got a rewarding and engaging job, but you’re also working very, very hard.
It’s rare at those levels as an employee to spend a mere 9-5 on the job.
If you’re also responsible for taking care of kids or an aging parent, then this time you spend on work is time you cannot spend on them (because we still haven’t figured out how to be in two places at once).
Okay, so you’ve got a partner, and let’s say he/she takes on most of these responsibilities so that you can do what you gotta do at work.
But now the implied message is that dollar for dollar, your partner’s time is worth less than yours (this is why you’re spending more time earning dollars, while he’s spending more time doing dropoff and pickup).
And that means it doesn’t make sense for him to spend the same amount of hours on work as you do. For some couples, it means he has to stay home and have his career take a backseat so he can support the home front while you bring home the bacon.
If you’re aiming for 50-50 parenting, then essentially the guideline “earn the biggest amount of money you possibly can” is shooting that vision in the foot from the get-go, because it doesn’t consider the cost of your time that’s going into earning that money.
But let's say you and your partner were committed to the 50-50 lifestyle. What can you do?
For some people it means taking the leap as an entrepreneur, charting your own path as CEO of your own business and life. Or starting to freelance so you can make your own rules. But what if you can’t afford to take that plunge right now, or you just don’t want to?
Well, here’s my suggestion for couples: don’t take the biggest pile of pretzels. Instead, go for a balance where you both choose the 12-pretzel pile, which after taxes comes down to 9 take-home pretzels for each of you -- 18 total. Together, you’re getting MORE pretzels than you would have if one of you had to stay home to support the other getting 15 pretzels (after taxes).
But even if you do the math and you are just breaking even, or even bringing home slightly less, you’re getting back something that’s hard to quantify but still extremely valuable: your freedom.
The freedom to do with the rest of your time as you wish. Spend it on more afternoons with your kids, or on more dates with your (equal) partner, or on watching the sunset on the beach, or on exercising more regularly, or on trying out a new hobby. You could even use it to earn more on the side.
Here’s the irony, though: if you consider yourself even a tiny bit ambitious, everything I wrote here probably won’t make sense -- until you’re standing to be making a lot of money.
I mean, it all might sound nice in theory, sure. But if you’re not on the path to earning top dollar, it’s going to be very hard NOT to go for the biggest pile -- because not going for it will feel like defeat, and telling yourself it’s the best choice for your priorities will sound like excuses you’re making to yourself.
I know, because that’s exactly where I was not too long ago. The only reason I can confidently say that I don’t want this high-pretzel lifestyle is because I’m literally living it right now. My husband is a student, so he takes on more of the housework and kids-related stuff while I bring in our only income. This puts a lot of pressure on both of us, but luckily for us it’s a temporary situation. We are still committed to the 50-50 lifestyle -- and this current imbalance is just reinforcing that commitment and motivating us to power through and make the most of it wherever we can.
At the end of the day, what we choose to do comes down to our priorities. For example, I value my freedom above most other things, so for me it’s a no brainer that my situation is not ideal and needs fixing -- and I’m working on that from various angles as we speak.
How much do you value your freedom and flexibility? What would you do with an extra two or three or four hours in your day?
You only live once, and it’s a miserable choice to go with the flow of something just because the naive math (and our culture) says you should take the biggest pile. Look deeper to see the complex math underneath, and make the choices that will actually get you the results you really want.