Exercising for vanity vs. exercising for health

March 31, 2017
A Fit Mess

What motivates you to exercise? Have you considered the reasons why you choose to workout? Today I’m tackling a topic that I find myself thinking about more and more these days: exercising for vanity vs. exercising for overall health. To be honest, as I started this post my thoughts were a bit all over the place, but I’ve tried to focus on the main points I want to get across. I definitely have an opinion or two on the matter, and although you may not agree with me, I am speaking from my own experience and perspective.


I’m willing to bet that many people workout in order to look a certain way. In fact, I think appearance is probably one of the top reasons we take that first step into the gym. Of course, this is only one piece of the equation. It takes a combination of diet, exercise, and many other lifestyle factors to positively influence your overall health.


It’s worth acknowledging that while physical appearance may be a top reason for people to start exercising – it’s the other health benefits that keep us coming back.


For me, exercise is part of my lifestyle. While I might have been motivated by appearance when I was younger (and had NO clue that fitness was anything more than running on the treadmill), I now understand the positive effect exercise has, not only on the outside, but on my mental health, productivity, overall well-being, and relationships.


Exercise can often be viewed as an activity that is done solely for the sake of vanity. Frequent gym-goers may be seen as overly concerned about their appearance and narcissistic. Or some may view exercise as a punishment or as a way to offset other unhealthy behaviors. Please don’t mistake – I am not talking about those who struggle with eating disorders. If you are suffering from a health or exercise disorder, I encourage you to seek help right away. In this post, I’m discussing the connection between exercising for your appearance and exercising for your overall health. It’s fair to say these don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can choose to workout in order to achieve a certain physical appearance as well as to gain the health benefits that result from exercise.


What’s my point? Exercise is so much more than a means to a good butt or killer abs. And while I certainly acknowledge that some may be purely motivated by appearance (totally fine, as long as you don’t struggle with an eating disorder or get self-critical about yourself), understanding and acknowledging the deeper benefits to exercise will help you continue on your healthy habits.

Some of my favorite benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Mental sharpness and clarity – I am so much more productive personally and professionally on the days when I’ve worked out. Running helps me break through mental blocks and lifting will inevitably increase my confidence and focus.
  • Manage anxiety and stress – I definitely turned a corner in my mental health when I began to consistently exercise. Fitness helps me manage stressful occasions, sort through personal problems, and keep anxiety at bay. One thing I really appreciate about my therapist is that whenever we meet she checks to make sure I’m exercising regularly.
  • Helps with aging and extends your lifetime – I’m sure you’ve seen these super-agers. They’re older individuals who appear and act much younger than their age. Not only are they active and healthy, but they’re smart, perceptive people. In other words, they are aging well and extending their quality of life.
  • Keeps health conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis in check – Since I had gestational diabetes during my last pregnancy, I am more likely to develop type 2 diabetes down the road. Exercise helps regulate blood sugar levels and supports thyroid function. My family also has a history of heart disease (my mother and my grandmother both died of a heart attack at age 40) so I make it a priority to keep my body strong and healthy.
  • Offers a way to show yourself some love – Exercise is enjoyable for me. Sure, it’s hard as hell at times, but I never regret it. And I always feel better afterwards. Taking time out for activity gives me a break from my day, but it’s more than that. It can reset a bad attitude, challenge you physically and mentally, and it’s a way to show your body that you are invested it in long term.


I would love to know what your thoughts are on this subject.

Thank you for reading!



Approaching the holidays with a healthy mindset

December 19, 2016

Many would agree that the holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends over good food and happy conversation. It can also be a time when we want to throw in the towel on our healthy habits. But you can still enjoy the holiday season without completely derailing your diet or the progress you have made. And the best way to do that is to plan, plan, plan. If you face the holiday season with a healthy mindset and a smart strategy then you are less likely to give in to the What the Hell Effect.


If you are like me then it’s not enough to simply tell yourself, I’m just going to have a little bit or I’ll skip dessert. You need to get specific about what you plan to do and you need to come prepared with alternatives. Taking a few steps ahead of time can completely change the way you approach holiday gatherings and special events.

A Fit Mess

Here are four of my favorite strategies for maintaining a healthy mindset during the holidays:

1.  Plan your meals and have emergency snacks. 

If you are traveling over the holidays be sure to pack lots of snacks for when hunger strikes. You never know if your flight will be delayed or if you are unable to have a real meal. Toss some Larabars, Rx Bars, or nuts into your bag for those moments when you need to eat. If you are staying with friends or relatives, schedule a trip to the grocery store as soon as you arrive. This way you can be sure to have some healthy choices on hand during your stay.


2.  Bring your own food or dessert.

If you are not hosting the meal/gathering, check with the person who is to see what the menu includes. Offer to make or buy something that you know you will enjoy. I feel that it’s up to the host what he/she wants to offer. If it’s not something you can (or want) to eat, don’t feel obligated to eat it, but be sure to come prepared with an alternative. I think most people are understanding of dietary restrictions and wouldn’t feel insulted if you choose not to eat their meal.

Some of my favorite recipes and desserts are from PaleOMG and Elana’s Pantry.


3. Get movement in every day. 

A good way to stay ahead of holiday indulgences is by getting some type of movement or activity in each day. Plan a hike or a family walk. Find a good running trail. Check out a local yoga studio. Many gyms allow guest passes or drop ins (for a fee) for out-of-towners. Seriously, there is no better way to keep yourself in check than with exercise.

If you want some ideas for travel-friendly exercise, check out my workouts page.

A Fit Mess


4.  Avoid stressful situations and have a plan when they arise.

Sure, the holidays are meant to be enjoyable, but the reality is they can also cause an awful lot of stress. Shopping for gifts, preparing your home for guests, cooking and hosting meals can all bring about anxiety. Not to mention the family drama that can creep in on occasion. Let’s face it – seasonal stress is inevitable and often unavoidable. When possible, try to steer clear of situations that you know cause you anxiety. If it’s impossible to avoid, have a killer plan for handling it when it crops up. Just outlining your approach can be super helpful when those circumstances arise. Note: extra alcohol may not be the answer.


This year we are hosting Christmas at our house and there are some things giving me anxiety. I’m no where close to being finished decorating our house (our dining room is still a playroom for the girls), having a presentable home on Christmas morning is impossible, figuring out what to cook and having enough options for all. These things stress me out, but I’m determined to just relax and go with it. Casual and comfy is the theme and I really want to just enjoy the company.


What are some of the ways you approach the holidays? Are you traveling this year or staying home?

Round up of reader questions 2: staying motivated, healthy living, Orangetheory, and kids

October 28, 2016
A Fit Mess

Heyyyy. How did your week turn out? Everyone ready for the weekend festivities?! We have a parade and Halloween party on the horizon and I’ll be sweating it out at a class once or twice.


Today I wanted to answer a few reader questions. This is a mishmash of topics. Some of these I may have already answered via email or Facebook, but I thought it would be helpful to share my responses with you. If you have additional questions, please feel free to comment below or contact me directly.


Round up of reader questions 2


How do you stay motivated to exercise after having children?

Time and energy are two things you have very little of when you become a parent. My routine has changed significantly since having my kids. Now that I have others who depend on me, I can no longer spend as much time as I want at the gym or on a run…or anywhere, really. My workouts have to be planned and they have to be smart. Once I stopped thinking about exercise in the “traditional” sense (i.e., 60+ minutes running on the treadmill), I began to understand that there are better, faster, and more effective ways to train. Strength training, high intensity intervals, and body weight workouts got me in better shape than I was before having children. And it was easier to motivate myself to workout when I knew it would only take 20-30 minutes. Check out my workouts page for more of these exercises.


Other things that have helped me stay motivated include: putting my workouts on my calendar as if they were a real meeting, planning my workouts in advance, signing up for group classes, packing my gym bag the night before and leaving it by the door. I addressed some of these tips in this post.


How can I get my whole family on board with a healthier lifestyle?

I have to admit – I’ve never had to deal with this concern. Matt and I have always been on the same page when it comes to healthy eating habits (of course, we didn’t always eat the same things when I was a vegetarian). That being said, I often hear from others that their spouse won’t go along with a healthier meal plan or their kids will revolt if they try and feed them vegetables. This is where I think you need to take a tough love approach. If you are shopping/buying the groceries then YOU control what is going to be kept in the house.

Similarly, if you are preparing the meals then what you serve is what’s for dinner. This is really more for those of us with young kids. My kids throw a fit when I serve them certain veggies or even eggs (their preferences change by the hour). I try to be firm and tell them that that’s what we are having and they can take it or leave it. Sometimes they will eat it, other times they won’t, but at least they know our house isn’t restaurant. 🙂


Is diet or exercise more important?

I used to think it was exercise, but I also had a very different view of what activity actually constituted as exercise. Today, I believe that getting movement in every day is essential. That includes common activities like taking a walk, working in your garden, or playing in the yard with your kids. That being said, when it comes to living well and maintaining good health, your diet is more important. As the saying goes, “You can’t out train a bad diet.” If you aren’t nourishing your body well then all that effort you put into exercise is lost. You might want to read this interview with Matt. He addresses many of these things, too. You can’t always make it to the gym, but you do have control over what you eat each day.


Why don’t your children eat dairy?

Both my husband and I have issues digesting dairy. I’m lactose-intolerant and Matthew just avoids it in general. So we suspected the girls may have issues with it, too. We discovered very early on that Madison would have an eczema outbreak if she consumed dairy. Numerous times this would need to be treated with a prescription from her doctor. Both girls get mild digestive symptoms when they consume dairy so we avoid everything except yogurt and goat or sheep’s cheese. They seem to do fine with these items.


You manage to take Orangetheory classes regularly. How do you find the time to go?

I regularly make it to at least two classes per week. I take one evening class during the work week and one early morning class on the weekend. I wish I could go to more classes, but I don’t have the time in my schedule. I’ve already worked out my weekly evening class with Matt so he knows he is on kid-duty that night. And Saturday morning I go to their earliest class (7 AM) so I can get in and out before Matt leaves for work at 8:30 AM.


Are your twins fraternal or identical?



Where do you shop for your kids?

I get a lot of hand-me-downs from my sister (love you, sis!) who was thoughtful enough to save her kids’ clothing for me. Our nanny, my mother-in-law, and friends also give the girls many darling outfits. My favorite places to shop include Old Navy, Target, and ThredUP. I find Old Navy clothing to be good quality and stylish. They are constantly having sales, too, which can really save you big. I also love Target’s clothing section and the seasonal outfits it offers. We started using ThredUP a few month

s ago and I love getting the girls’ apparel there. I’ve purchased tops, bottoms, and shoes so far. Everything is in excellent or new condition. If you are interested in trying ThredUP, please use my affiliate link.

No treadmill? No problem! 7 easy ways to add cardio to any workout

October 5, 2016

In a perfect world we all would have an unlimited amount of time to workout. We could easily divide our time to achieve the perfect balance of cardio and strength. But given work schedules, family demands, and other commitments (heck – just having a life!) we need to get our workout in quickly and be on with our day. If I can spend 45 minutes – 1 hour on a workout I am a happy camper. But even if I only have 20 minutes, I can certainly make it work. It’s better than nothing, right?


When I’m short on time, conditioning is usually the first thing I skip. Luckily, there are many creative ways to sneak in cardio to your workout. Bonus? None of these require the use of a treadmill or cardio machine…meaning, you can do these just about ANYWHERE! #noexcuses


If I am doing a traditional strength routine, then during the typical rest period (say 30 – 90 seconds) between sets I would instead add in a burst of cardio. The short interval would bring my heart rate up and add conditioning work to my routine without compromising my strength workout. You could easily add 20 minutes of cardio into your workout by simply replacing your down time with one of these movements.


A Fit Mess

1. Mountain climbers

Mountain climbers are quite deceiving. They start out feeling easy and then they get progressively harder. Mountain climbers engage your shoulders, chest, abs, quads, and glutes – making them the perfect total body workout. It’s also low impact so if jumping or running is hard on your knees or ankles, this movement would be a great alternative. You can scale the exercise by slowing down the movement or make it more challenging by extending the interval or adding equipment (like a TRX or bosu ball).


How to perform the movement: Starting in a plank position with your arms directly beneath your shoulders bring your right knee into your chest (keep your foot off the ground) and then immediately switch legs, bringing your left knee into your chest and your right leg back to the starting position. Keep your ab muscles engaged and try not to round your back.

Suggested reps/time: Aim for a number goal (20 – 30 mountain climbers) or set a timer for 30 seconds. Increase the intensity by placing your hands on the flat side of a bosu ball or putting your feet in the straps of a TRX.


2.  Jump rope

Jumping rope is a great way to bring your heart rate up in pretty much no time. Jump rope improves balance, coordination, and agility. Not to mention it’s a killer lower body workout! You can either use an actual jump rope or just simulate jumping rope.


How to perform the movement: Hold each end of the rope in your hands and begin with the rope behind you. Keep your elbows to your sides and shoulders back. Bring the rope over your head and jump over it. You can speed it up or slow it down depending on your comfort level. Try to avoid swinging your arms too much – keep the movement to your wrists.

Suggested time/reps: Begin with 30 second intervals. If you want to make it more challenging, try extending your time to 1 minute.


3.  Side skaters

Side skaters are an ideal lower body movement. They work the core, hamstrings, glutes, and inner thighs. I love them because they are a great way to work on ankle stabilization. They also help build your strength and agility.


How to perform the movement: Start in a slight squat position and jump to one side, landing on the leading foot. Bring the opposite leg behind you and then reverse the direction doing the same movement on the opposite side. This is considered one rep. If you want to make it even more challenging, do not let your leg touch the floor behind you.

Suggested time/reps: If you are new to the movement, aim for 20 total reps. Once you get familiar with the exercise, go ahead and add more reps or time. There are countless variations for this movement. Check out this video from StreamFit on 13 different ways to do side skaters. Love the TRX idea!


4.  High knees

I love to hate this movement. High knees are extremely effective at engaging and working your legs and core. It’s also a great way to improve your running form. The movement can be done while moving or by simply running in place.


How to perform the movement: Begin with your feet hip-width apart and drive your right or left knee towards your chest. Quickly bring it back down to the ground and drive the opposite leg toward your chest. Continue to alternate your legs in this movement. Focus your attention on keeping your core tight. I like swinging my arms for added movement, but you can also keep your arms relaxed.

Suggested time: 30 – 60 seconds intervals


5.  Jump squats

Jump squats instantly raise the intensity level of any workout. Plus you can truly do these ANYWHERE – your living room, hotel room, or the gym. The exercise incorporates your back, legs, and core and it’s an ideal way to increase power and strength. Jump squats should be done on a surface that can absorb shock since it’s such an explosive movement.


How to perform the movement: Begin in a squat position with your feet hip-width apart. Jump straight up into the air bringing your arms over your head (reach towards the ceiling). Land softly back down with your arms by your side, weight in your heels, and toes pointing forward. This is one rep.

Precautions: Injuries can occur if proper form is not used, so please check with a personal trainer or fitness professional if you are unsure of how to do the movement. You might also find this video helpful. This exercise should not be performed by anyone with knee or back issues.

Suggested time/reps: I would suggest starting with 10-20 jump squats. I personally find it easier to tackle a numbered set over a timed interval.


6.  Burpees

Love or hate burpees, they really are an effective cardio and strength movement. The exercise works mainly the quadriceps, but it also engages your triceps, shoulders, calves, back, and abs. They are extremely challenging and considered an advanced movement.


How to perform the movement:

Steps taken from the Bodybuilding website (you can also find a video demo there) –

  1. Begin standing with your legs shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place your hands on the floor and kick your legs back so you end up with your stomach and thighs on the floor. Your elbows should be bent.
  3. From this position, press up like you’re doing a push-up and push your hips up.
  4. Jump your feet under your hips and stand.
  5. Finish the movement by jumping in the air and bringing your hands over your head.
  6. Repeat.

Suggested reps: Begin with a small number of sets and increase with your comfort level.


7.  Jumping jacks / squat jacks

Jumping jacks are a traditional exercise typically seen in bootcamp-style classes. It’s a beginner’s movement, but can easily be made more challenging. Jumping jacks are a total body movement used to bring the heart rate up and improve strength. There are many variations of jumping jacks. My favorite is a squat jack, which engages the thighs and core more than the traditional exercise.



How to perform the movement: Start with your feet together and hands down by your side. Jump your feet out to the side as you raise your arms above your head. Reverse the motion to get back to the starting position. Squat jacks are performed in the same way, but when you bring your legs out to the sides add a squat before jumping back to starting position.

Suggested time: Perform 30 – 90 seconds of the exercise



There you go! I’d love to know what you think and if you have additional ways to add cardio to your workout.


Please consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

All images courtesy of POPSUGAR.