I Planked for 30 Days: Here’s What I Learned

I have a love-hate relationship with planks. Mostly hate. My problem is I’m really bad at doing planks so I rarely do them.  And because I rarely do them, I never improve.  It’s a vicious plank cycle.  But I wanted to change this and actually start incorporating planks into my routine.  

The Plank Challenge

I saw one of my favorite YouTubers (Koboko Fitness) post a plank challenge video and I decided to commit to doing it every single day for 30 days. Would I become the master of planks?  Most likely not but I was curious to see if planking every day would help me at least get a little better at them.  

Here’s the video:

In the video you are supposed to hold a high plank for 30 seconds, a regular forearm plank for 30 seconds, side planks for 30 seconds each, and two plank variations for 30 seconds each.

My Experience

The first time I did it I struggled so much. The high plank and forearm plank were the hardest for me to do and hold. By the 20 second mark I was shaking (don’t judge me) but I somehow made it to 30 seconds on all the exercises.  

It took about a week of doing the plank challenge before I started feeling like they were actually getting easier. I wasn’t shaking as much and, more importantly, I wasn’t dreading planks as much.

So fast forward to now!  I’ve finished the 30 days and I’d be lying if I said planks are now super fun to do. They are still challenging and my arms still shake but because of this challenge I went from being able to hold a plank for maybe 30 seconds to being able to hold a plank for 2 minutes!!! 

I really recommend doing this challenge if you also struggle with planks or if you are looking to incorporate more planks into your workout routine.  Give it a shot and see if after 30 days (heck, even a week!) how much you have improved.  I’m going to keep doing this challenge about twice a week so that I can continue to improve.    

 

 

 

Chocolate Matcha Protein Chia Pudding

I have a complicated relationship with chia seeds.  I’m not a big fan of them on their own on toast or in smoothies BUT chia seed pudding, on the other hand, is straight up magical.  I love the texture and it is very versatile.  Plus, it is super easy to make and meal prep for the week.

So in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let’s make some GREEN chocolate matcha protein chia pudding.  (I know, it’s a stretch.)

Brown Cream Cookies General Recipe Card (2)

Instructions

In a mason jar or bowl combine 3 tablespoons chia seeds, 1 cup non dairy milk, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of your favorite sweetener (I used agave), 1 teaspoon matcha powder, and 1 teaspoon chocolate protein powder (I used the OWYN brand).  Mix it all together and set aside for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes has passed, stir again.  This is an optional step but it really helps the chia seeds from clumping on the bottom.

Put it in the fridge overnight or for at least 5 hours.  It will thicken up and be oh so delicious.

I hope you like this recipe.  Let me know if you make it!

Apple Pie Mug Cake

What’s better than a mug cake? Honestly, it is the perfect dessert. Super quick and easy and doesn’t force you to clean a bunch of dirty dishes or wait forever for it to bake and cool. Mug cake recipes are my go to when I am feeling lazy and craving an easy dessert.

In honor of Pi Day on March 14 (shout out to my fellow math nerds!) I decided to see if I could make an apple pie mug cake. And *spoiler alert* it’s delicious and surprisingly super easy to do.

Copy of Brown Cream Cookies General Recipe Card (2)

Instructions

Cut up half an apple into bite sized pieces and put them in a mug. Add enough water to cover the apples. Microwave for 1 minute or until the apples are softened. Then drain the water out.

Into your mug add your cooked apples, 2 tablespoons applesauce, 1/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon non dairy milk, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 tablespoon water. Mix until combined and then microwave for 1 minute.

Optional Crumble

If you want to make a crumble to top your mug cake, just combine 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and 1.5 teaspoons applesauce. Top your cooked mug cake with the crumble and enjoy!

I hope you try out this recipe. I know I will be making it whenever I have a sugar craving!

Video

 

Mocha Coffee Chocolate Chip Pancakes | How to Cook Pancakes in the Microwave

Yes, you really can cook pancakes in the microwave!  I can’t believe I’ve spent my whole life not knowing this.  It is so much faster than cooking it in a pan, plus not as many dirty dishes to wash.

Today I wanted to share my Mocha Coffee Chocolate Chip Pancake recipe and how to cook them perfectly in a microwave.

Brown Cream Cookies General Recipe Card (1)

Instructions

Make your vegan egg replacement and set aside.  I used Neat Egg replacement but you can also use a flax egg.  Combine flour, sweetener if desired (I used stevia), baking powder, baking soda, coffee, vegan egg replacement, vanilla extract, and ground cinnamon in a bowl and mix well.  Add a handful of chocolate chips and mix.

Grease a small microwave safe plate with vegan butter and pour 1/3 cup of batter onto plate.  Microwave for 60 seconds.  Batter makes about three vegan pancakes.  Top with maple syrup, agave, peanut butter, chocolate sauce, berries, or whatever you want.

Enjoy!

Video

 

 

 

 

The 5 Best Books I Read Last Year

In honor of World Book Day which recently passed on March 5, I thought I would share my favorite books from last year. They all happen to be on Audible but this post isn’t affiliated with them in any way. I just really like listening to audiobooks.

My 5 Favorite Books of 2019
  1. The Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Peterson: Raise your hand if you have ever felt burnt out. It’s something most of us have experienced at some point. Whether it is from work, finances, social obligations, or the never ending emails in our inbox, or a combination of all of the above, sometimes it can feel like we are suffocating. This book feels similar to a podcast. It is a combination of interviews the author has with a musician, a recent college graduate, two writers, and a pastor all about how they deal with burnout. I found it particularly interesting to hear the pastor’s interview as I didn’t even know pastors could have burnout.
  2. Find Another Dream by Maysoon Zayid: This book details the author’s journey to fame and the struggles she faces along the way as a Muslim woman with cerebral palsy. It sounds like a serious topic but she somehow has you smiling and laughing with her the whole way. Makes sense, since she is a comedian. I loved her honesty and bluntness and how much of an advocate she is for people with disabilities. I hear her TED Talk is also very good.
  3. Becoming by Michelle Obama: This book took 19 hours to listen to on Audible. I’m not saying that to scare you away, just to show that I loved it enough to commit 19 hours of my life to listening to it. I especially enjoyed learning about Michelle Obama’s childhood experiences, life working in a law firm, and initial difficulties coping with life in politics.
  4. The Beautiful Brain by Hana Walker-Brown: This book is about the rise of CTE in soccer and contains interviews with people who have been personally affected by the disease. I actually cried while listening to some of these interviews. Something you may not know about me is that I don’t cry often. But I found these interviews, specifically the interviews with Jeff Astle’s family, so incredibly moving and heartwrenching. Jeff Astle was a UK soccer player who was only 59 years old when he died. This is a difficult book to read but it is worth it.
  5. The 3 Day Effect by Florence Williams: This was a really interesting book all about how the healing effects of being in nature. The author is a scientist and researcher who throughout the course of the book takes war veterans and sex trafficking survivors camping outdoors. Each retreat lasts 3 days (hence the name of the book) and she details what short term and long term positive effects it has on them.

What are the best books you read last year? What books should I add to my reading list?

BBG and Sweat App Review + Results!

Today I thought I would review the Sweat App! I’ve used Kayla Itsines’s Sweat App for about 6 months now and completed two of her workout programs on the app: BBG and Fierce. At this point I’ve used it long enough that I feel like I know the app pretty well by now and I have some thoughts.

First off: What is BBG and the Sweat App?

BBG, short for Bikini Body Guide, is a high intensity workout program that was started in 2014 by Kayla Itsines. When it first came out it was only available as a pdf but over time it was developed into an app, the Sweat App. The app now has several other workout programs to choose from if BBG isn’t your thing. You pay $19.99 a month and have access to all of the programs.

What workout programs can you do on the app?

There are currently 9 different programs on the app: BBG, BBG Stronger, Kayla’s Post Pregnancy, PWR, PWR At Home, PWR Post Pregnancy, Fierce, Build, and Body and Mind. Each program is at least 12 weeks long.

Here’s a short breakdown of each program:
  • BBG is the most popular program in the app and is cardio focused, with a lot of high impact exercises like burpees and jump squats. The workouts are 28-40 minutes, including cooldown.
  • BBG Stronger is similar to BBG but incorporates more weights. The workouts are 28-40 minutes.
  • Kayla’s Post Pregnancy Program is designed to strengthen your body with low impact workouts. Each workout is 15-25 minutes.
  • PWR is designed to build strength and muscle and is meant to be done at the gym. The workouts are 45-60 minutes.
  • PWR At Home is similar to PWR but is modified to be done at home with easily accessible equipment. The workouts are 35-45 minutes.
  • PWR Post Pregnancy focuses on regaining strength in a safe, low impact way. The workouts are 28-40 minutes.
  • Fierce combines high intensity training with weightlifting. The program is meant to be done at the gym but can be modified to be done at home. The workouts are 30-45 minutes.
  • Build is a powerlifting program for people who want to increase their muscle mass. The workouts are 50-60 minutes.
  • Body and Mind is a yoga and flexibility program. The workouts are 28-35 minutes.
What else is included on the app?

Challenges: There are a variety of optional workout challenges as well as quick workouts (15-20 minutes) you can do if you are in a hurry.

Recovery: There are stretches and foam rolling exercises you can do on your rest or recovery day. I really enjoyed doing the foam rolling routines whenever I was particularly sore.

Recipes: When you join the app you can choose what your dietary preferences are. You are offered the following choices: standard diet, pescetarian, vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, or vegan. The app then gives you healthy recipes each week that you can make if you want.

Community: There is a section on the app where you can post questions or struggles you are having and other Sweat users can respond and offer advice. It was really beneficial for me when I wanted to get some ideas for how to modify more of the high impact jumping exercises as that was a common question that people had.

Steps: In theory, the app tracks your steps. However, it was never accurate for me. 

My Experience: BBG

I want to start by saying that I know there are some serious die hard fans of BBG so this is just my experience. Yours might be similar to mine or it might be completely different.

BBG is a good program if you like HIIT workouts. It is very high intensity and high impact. What I really liked about BBG is that at the end of each workout I felt like I HAD WORKED OUT. I don’t know about you, but when I work out I want to feel like I actually worked out. I want to sweat. I want it to challenge me. BBG certainly does that. However, for me personally there was too much jumping in each workout. I did the jumping exercises for a while but over time my ankles started to hurt more and more. I eventually had to modify those exercises. I also found that BBG got very repetitive. The exercises did not vary that much week to week. Each week’s workout would feel nearly identical to the previous week’s. I get that doing the same exercises is a good way to measure your progress but I like variety and I just started getting bored.

My Experience: Fierce

While I enjoyed elements of BBG, I just clicked with Fierce much more. It isn’t as high impact as BBG and you use way more weights: dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells. The only downside to Fierce is that for the first few weeks the workouts are all full body workouts and the cooldowns for these weeks are all EXACTLY THE SAME. It drove me a bit crazy but once you progress the workouts get split between lower body, upper body, tabata, and full body days and there is much more variety. The main reason I liked Fierce is that I saw more of a change in how I looked doing Fierce than I did doing BBG. And because it wasn’t as high impact as BBG I just looked forward to doing the workouts more.

Even More Pros About Sweat
  1. The good thing about the app is that since there are several programs to choose from, if you get bored with one program you can quit it and start a different program. There is nothing forcing you to finish a program if you don’t like it. There are enough options to satisfy people who work out at the gym and people who work out at home, as well as beginners all the way to the more advanced lifters.
  2. The app itself is easy to navigate and shows you each week what workouts you will be doing so you know what to expect.
And Some Cons About Sweat
  1. You can’t do multiple programs at once. You can do individual workouts from other programs but you cannot do two full programs at the same time. Plus, the app limits your choices for what individual workouts you can do from the other programs during each week. I wanted to be able to do Fierce and Body and Mind at the same time but it only let me do certain yoga workouts each week.
  2. It tracks your steps…kind of. In theory it tracks your steps but mine were always off. Even though I would walk 5,000+ steps a day, it always said I had less than 1,500 steps.
  3. It does not let you pause the program. For instance, I went on vacation and simultaneously got sick for 2 weeks and could not work out. There was no way for me to pause where I was, though. It just keeps progressing until you manually change it back to whatever week you want to start from again. Because of this, you could enroll in a program and do nothing for 12 weeks and at the end it would still congratulate you on finishing the program.
Final Thoughts and My Results

I do think it is worth the money if you are interested in doing any of the programs. You can get a very good workout in and will likely see some results if you stick to it. I lost a total of 12 pounds using Sweat. Now, the scale isn’t the only way of measuring progress.  It might not change at all even if you are burning fat and building muscle.  In fact, you might GAIN weight because of this.  So, I don’t like to rely too heavily on the number on the scale to determine if I am making any progress.  For instance, I didn’t lose any weight when I was doing BBG. The scale actually went up a few pounds.  I didn’t start losing weight until about halfway through Fierce.  I did a happy dance but I already knew that I MUST have been making progress because I was measuring myself and was losing a few cm off my waist.  So don’t get discouraged if the number on the scale doesn’t immediately go down.  Stick with it (whether it is using the Sweat app or any other fitness program) and keep an eye on your diet and you will see results.  Overall, I’m glad I used this app but I’m looking forward to switching things up and doing something with more variety.  

 

Now it’s your turn: Have you tried any of the programs on the Sweat App? What has been your experience?

 

Taste Test: Van Leeuwen Vegan Ice Cream

This post could have also been called “how to ruin your diet” because when I see ice cream I can’t resist. Sugar is my downfall. But it’s good to have cheat meals every so often, right? That’s what I’m telling myself.

So when my mom said she wanted to try out some Van Leeuwen vegan ice cream flavors I obviously volunteered to help eat them. I mean, it would have been rude to force her to eat them all herself, right? Yes.

So here’s a breakdown of the flavors we tried. There are more than these available but we had to stop ourselves. 😂

Brownie Sundae Raspberry Swirl – If you like raspberries you will love this. It’s like eating a chocolate covered raspberry (is that a thing?)  While you can taste both the raspberry and chocolate flavors, the raspberry is definitely the stronger of the two. 

Oat Milk Caramel Cookie – All of the ice cream we tried were made with oat milk and coconut cream but this was the only one with a coconut taste. I didn’t mind it since I like coconut but if you don’t you probably will want to choose a different one. The caramel flavor in this ice cream is DELICIOUS by the way.

Strawberry – Strawberry ice cream is pretty basic BUT it was always my favorite growing up. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a classic flavor like strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla and this one certainly hits the spot. It doesn’t taste artificial. It tastes like real strawberries and is super creamy.

Oat Milk Mocha Latte with Fudge Swirl – You will love this if you love coffee. The mocha coffee really comes through and I felt a jolt of caffeine just after a few spoonfuls. The only thing I didn’t like is that the coffee flavor for me was a little bitter tasting.

Oat Milk Brown Sugar Chunk with Cookie Dough, Brownies & Candied Oat Clusters – This one has quite a name! I had to stop myself after a couple of bites because I legit could have eaten the entire pint. The combination of cookie dough, chocolate, and the crunch of the candied oat clusters…YUM! I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl – This one was my favorite out of all the flavors. OMG if you are a peanut butter fan like me you will absolutely love this. The combination of chocolate and peanut butter is a classic and this flavor does not disappoint. It is actually dangerous how good it is. Dangerous for my weight loss but worth it every once in a while. 😁

Chocolate Oat Milk Cookie Dough Chunk with Honeycomb – This flavor isn’t as complex or intricate as the other ones but is a good choice if you like a classic chocolate ice cream.  The cookie dough chunks are a delicious surprise.

I would 100% eat all these flavors again.  You would never know that they are dairy free. They are super creamy and delicious. If you are a fellow vegan, or looking to cut out dairy, or just looking to try a dang good ice cream, definitely try these out. We found ours at Sprouts.

The Aftermath

 

 

 

 

I Tried Giving Up Caffeine For 7 Days: Here’s What Happened

Let me start by saying that I love caffeine. I honestly can’t function as a human without my cup of coffee in the morning and my subsequent cups of tea throughout the day. You know how people get hangry without food? Well, that’s how I feel without caffeine. It is a necessity in my life.

So why on earth would I try giving it up? I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do it. I was curious if I would experience any withdrawal symptoms, like headaches, or if it would affect my mood and performance at work. At first, I thought about giving it up for a month but decided to reign myself back a bit and set a more realistic goal of giving up caffeine for a week. After all, just the thought of being caffeine free made me feel tired and I hadn’t even started.

To make it more interesting, I searched the internet to find popular alternatives for waking yourself up in the morning without caffeine. I decided that each day of my week-long experiment I would test out one of these theories and see if any of them ended up working.

DAY 1: EXERCISE

It seems like the most popular way to wake yourself up without caffeine is by exercising. I chose a Blogilates Youtube video that I had been wanting to do for a while.  I’ll link it here. Afterward, I felt energized and thought “maybe this will work”.  Famous last words. Unfortunately, by 10 am I was already crashing from the lack of caffeine and I found it really hard to concentrate.  Still, considering I did the workout when I woke up at 6 am, a whole 4 hours of feeling awake is pretty good.

DAY 2: COLD SHOWER

Oh wow was I NOT looking forward to this.  I was absolutely dreading it.  I looked up online to see how long a cold shower should last.  I wanted to know how long the torture would be.  The internet said 2-5 minutes so I settled on the 2 minute mark.  😄  Tuesday morning came and I jumped into the cold shower and immediately regretted it.  It felt like the longest 2 minutes of my life.  At the one minute mark I thought about quitting. Now, I’m not a quitter but for someone who usually takes hot showers (sometimes scaldingly hot) this was a painful way to wake myself up. I thought “one minute is good enough, right?” but I kept going.  Although it was very unpleasant (some might say awful) it worked better than Day 1.  I felt energized until about 3 pm! WOW!  I’m not sure it is worth it but I was amazed that it actually kept me awake.

DAY 3: DRINK WATER

I started out the morning drinking 24 oz of cold water and kept drinking throughout the day.  Now I generally drink a lot of water anyway so I was a bit skeptical that this would do anything.  Unfortunately, this one was a bit of a fail.  I was tired by 10.  But at least I was well hydrated.

DAY 4: LISTEN TO MUSIC

I normally start each morning meditating, doing some gentle yoga, and then listening to a podcast as I get ready for work.  It’s a nice relaxing way to start the day.  Today I switched it up and played some Tyga and Cardi B as I got ready.  Don’t get me wrong, I love hip hop but it can be a bit jarring first thing in the morning when my brain still wants to go back to sleep.  Nevertheless, I put on some headphones and blasted my music. Surprisingly enough, this worked pretty well.  I felt awake and alert for the entire morning and didn’t start feeling tired until about 2 pm.  Almost as good as Day 2 but without the physical pain and dread of taking a cold shower!

DAY 5: STIMULATE THE BRAIN

I felt so proud of myself. I had made it nearly an entire work week without caffeine! Today’s experiment was to test whether stimulating the brain can wake you up as much as a cup of coffee.  I decided to do some brain games.  I used the app Elevate which I’ve used on and off for a while. I have the free version which gives you 3 different brain training activities to do every day (unless you are like me and forget about it for months).  Today’s was reading comprehension and spelling based.  I had to choose the correctly spelled word, I had to choose the correct word for the sentence, and I was given definitions and had to put together the right word.  I’ll include some screenshots of what I had to do below.  It worked pretty well considering it only takes about 5 minutes to do the activities.  I didn’t start getting tired until around noon.

DAY 6: EAT FRUIT IN THE MORNING

Eating fruit first thing in the morning is supposed to help wake you up so I decided to start the day with a banana and two pears.  I normally start the day eating oatmeal topped with fruit so I didn’t have a lot of faith that just eating fruit would do anything. I was right. It didn’t work for me. I ate the fruit at 7 and was tired by about 9.

DAY 7: STRETCH

I started out the day doing this yoga routine as well as some flexibility stretching. I practiced doing the side splits and middle splits and did stretches to help work towards doing a leg hold. I usually start out the day doing gentle yoga anyway so I was a bit skeptical that stretching would do anything. I did these stretches at about 9, was tired by 11, and ready for a nap by 1.

The Results

So how did they all compare? Taking a cold shower was most effective followed closely by blasting hip hop music. I did have some side effects to not drinking coffee. I started developing mild headaches a few days in and noticed that the days seemed much longer. I’m sure these side effects would disappear over time, though. My mood, however, didn’t change that much and no one at work seemed to notice that there was anything different about me.

Will I continue going caffeine free? No, not for a while anyway. I love my coffee and tea and the energy it gives me but at some point I may revisit this experiment. I want to test out listening to hip hop every morning for a month to see if it works long term. I will not be taking any more cold showers, though. I just can’t do it.

I would love to know if you have tried giving up caffeine and, if so, what strategies have worked (or not worked) for you.

Video

 

 

Healthy Quick Peanut Butter Chocolate Protein Balls

Raise your hand if you like peanut butter! I could eat it by the spoonfuls. In honor of National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day on March 1 I decided to make some of my go-to protein filled peanut butter chocolate balls. Perfect for after a workout, if you are in need of a healthy dessert, or if you want to curb sugar cravings. This protein ball recipe is easy to make, super quick, healthy, and most importantly DELICIOUS!

These energy balls are great to meal prep because you can make them and put them in a sealed container and they will last in the fridge for a week or so. Let me know in the comments if you try them out.

Instructions

Combine all ingredients into a bowl and give them a mix. Depending of what protein powder you use you may have to add a little bit of water if the mixture is too dry. Once they are evenly combined, roll them into balls and enjoy! The hardest part will be not eating all of them at once!

Notes

*I use Bob’s Red Mill Organic Extra Thick Rolled Oats but you can use whatever oats you have

*I love Jif’s Natural Low Sodium Peanut Butter but use whatever is your favorite

*OWYN is my protein powder brand of choice but, again, use what you have on hand

Nutritional Facts

Makes 8 servings

Amount Per Serving:

  • Calories 174.4
  • Total Fat 12.4 g
  • Saturated Fat 2.3 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat 0.6 g
  • Monounsaturated Fat 0.3 g
  • Cholesterol 0.0 mg
  • Sodium 78.2 mg
  • Potassium 29.5 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 10.6 g
  • Dietary Fiber 2.6 g
  • Sugars 2.4 g
  • Protein 7.5 g

*Nutritional facts are an estimate. Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Recipe Video

3 Easy Ways To Do LISS At Home

First of all: What is LISS? It stands for Low Intensity Steady State and is a type of cardio. It is generally not as high impact as HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training. Both have their benefits. When doing LISS the goal is to be in the “fat burning zone”, or about 60% of your max heart rate, for 30 minutes or more. I like LISS because it isn’t as taxing on my body and my ankles and it doesn’t make me feel as demolished as HIIT does. Some examples of LISS could be walking at an even pace on a treadmill, jogging, using the stairmaster, or swimming.

But what do you do if you can’t go outside or make it to the gym? Or maybe you simply enjoy working out at home?

Here are some ways you can incorporate LISS into your life without leaving the comfort of your home:

Walk At Home

I love using these YouTube videos to not only get a good LISS workout in but also to increase my daily steps.

Home Exercise Equipment

This requires a bit of an investment but you can buy a manual treadmill or stationary bike for your home (or whatever cardio method you like best). Amazon has tons of affordable options but you can also find them online at many other retailers.

LISS YouTube Videos

There are many different LISS workouts you can do on YouTube. Fitness Blender workouts are some of my favorite.

I would love to know how you incorporate LISS into your week.