Being Bruce -: December 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mind Over Matter: How to Use Meditation to Combat Stress

Like many a poor sap trying to make the most of this hectic world, my mind tends to churn like a washing machine filled with ferrets. Even in the most tranquil of moments, dozens of thoughts scrape and bite to get to the top of my consciousness—and most of the time, it's the big ugly ones that win the race.

Rodents and household appliances aside, you may know this phenomenon simply as "stress." You have a million things to do and a billion things to worry about. We all do. It's the curse of the modern age.

Woman Meditating

Unfortunately, most of us look to pursuits to take the edge off; they may seem to help, but actually compound the problem. There's nothing wrong with the occasional cocktail, or a little mindless television from time to time, but activities like this don't solve anything. They just cover up your issues and make your thought process all the more unruly.

If you're looking for a serious solution, meditation is a far more effective way to cut through the cerebral clutter—and unlike a booze bender or a reality TV marathon, it only takes 5 to 10 minutes a day

The Benefits of Meditation

Woman Listening to Music

People tend to associate meditation with Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, but Judeo-Christian fans may be surprised to learn that there are references to meditation in the Old Testament. And, in Islam, meditation is an important part of Sufism. Although there are certainly connections to religion, meditation, in the modern sense, can be completely secular. No blue deities, no transcending this earthly form, no incense (unless you dig that, then it's, like, totally cool)—just an opportunity to organize your thoughts and take back your brain from the laundry list of external forces pulling you in a million directions.

The science on the benefits of meditation is super strong, especially when it comes to stress reduction. Research appearing in the Journal of Biomedical Research shows that meditation does this by increasing parasympathetic activity. Your nervous system is divided into two parts—sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system controls your "fight or flight" reactions. It's the predominant nervous system when you're under the gun. The parasympathetic nervous system controls your "rest and digest" functions. In other words, when things are mellow, the parasympathetic takes charge—and meditation makes that happen more often.1

But that's just part of the story. A consistent meditation practice has been scientifically linked to improved cardiovascular health, focus, and information processing.2 In fact, if you pick a malady at random, odds are that there's a reasonably credible study showing that meditation either improves symptoms or acts as an effective way to manage symptoms. There's really no reason not to do it.

How to Meditate

Woman Meditating

Many people mistakenly think the goal of all meditation is to "turn off your brain." This is one technique (sort of), but in truth the definition of meditation shifts depending on whom you ask. In some circles, it's a matter of reading a philosophical/religious text and contemplating the key passages (suggestions: the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, or Winnie the Pooh). Tony Horton often refers to yoga as "moving meditation." When I'm cycling alone, I often focus so intently on my breathing and the cadence of my peddling that it becomes a form of meditation. Some people consider sitting on a favorite park bench and breathing deeply for five minutes to be meditative.

However you do it, the key to any good meditation practice is to quiet the noise in your brain—not drown it out or dope it up, but actively calm it down.

All those options aside, if you're looking for something more specific, there are a few meditation techniques that have been shown to be especially effective.

First, it's important to find a quiet place with minimal distractions. Here in Los Angeles, lots of people prefer the beach. Frankly, I find the waves, the birds, and the beauty of it all just too distracting. My favorite place to meditate is the middle of my living room, at about 6 AM before my daughter and my dog wake up demanding waffles and kibble (in that order).

Next, sit comfortably, but up straight. You want to be comfy because, once you master it, you'll be there for a while. You want to be upright for a couple reasons. Many experts claim it's necessary because a straight spine allows energy to flow better. Personally, I think sitting up straight is a good way to avoid accidentally falling asleep. If you have back issues, do what you need to do. I elevate my rump by sitting cross-legged on a yoga bolster. I also support my spine by sitting with my back against a wall.

Finally, start with five minutes a day and increase gradually as it becomes easier. Odds are, your thoughts are going to be all over the map the first few times you do it. That's cool. Even if your practice felt like a complete mess, it benefited you given it took you one step closer to learning how to calm your brain. You'll get there. Just try again tomorrow.

From here, there are a number of practices to experiment with. You might want to try a variation of Transcendental Meditation (TM), developed by Maharashi Mahesh Yogi, who you might remember as that yogi guy who hung out with the Beatles. In this practice, you pick a mantra to focus on—a word that has meaning to you and feels right, such as "love" or "heal" or "beer." (It could happen.) Armed with your mantra, sit quietly and repeat it silently to yourself. When your mind wanders—which it will—simply steer it back to your mantra.

Another technique is mindfulness meditation. Like the TM variation above, start with a focal point—typically your breath. That'll hold your attention for a little while, but soon thoughts or sensations will try to take over. Don't try steering away from these things. Instead, accept them without judgment and let them pass by, like waves on a beach or clouds in the sky. If it helps, you can also assign "tags" to help you observe thoughts passively. For example, let's say you're in the middle of meditating and suddenly you remember how one of your coworkers stole your lunch out of the fridge yesterday. Instead of following that path and letting your anger consume you, assign it a tag that describes how you feel, like "anger." Now, just repeat "anger" in your head, distancing yourself from both the thought and the emotion. It should soon pass.

I've found this technique to be an incredibly powerful tool for managing my emotions. It can also be used for pain management, by isolating and passively accepting pain instead of letting it consume you—which can be a massive benefit when Shaun T's got your legs searing in the middle of an INSANITY® workout.

If you're looking for a more in-depth look into mindfulness meditation, I strongly recommend Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield.

The modern world is a stressful place. Sometimes, there's nothing you can do about the barrage of stressors that make up daily life. You can, however, change how you—and your body—react to them, so take a deep breath and take back your life.

By Denis Faye, Team Beachbody

Have you ever tried meditation? Has it helped you? Where have you struggled? Tell me at

  1. Wu, S.-D., & Lo, P.-C. (2008). Inward-attention meditation increases parasympathetic activity: a study based on heart rate variability. Biomedical research Tokyo Japan, 29(5), 245-250. J-STAGE. Retrieved from
  2. 4 Scientific Studies on How Meditation Can Affect Your Brain and Creativity

Thursday, December 12, 2013

5 Tips for Not Getting Sick this Winter

As the weather gets colder, it forces us to do things like wear clothing that covers our midriffs and spend more time trapped indoors with people who have runny noses and hacking coughs. To stay out of the infirmary, we need to keep our immune systems running at optimal levels. That means never going outside with wet hair and starving a fever, right? Not exactly.

Woman with Cold while keeping hydrated

Colds are caused by viruses, not inclement weather conditions. So to stave off the sniffles so you can continue to train hard through the long winter months, you'll need to do a few key things.

1. Eat More Fiber

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, fiber intake should be between 20 and 35 grams per day. "Your immune system needs key ingredients to function properly," says Dr. Steven Masley, author of The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up. "Fiber is the most potent-packed nutrient in the human diet. Eating more fruits, veggies, beans, and nuts, as well as giving yourself a healthy oil change, using olive oil, nuts, and seafood instead of inflammatory grain oils, can help."

Lack of fiber in your diet can cause irregularity, constipation, and lethargy—not exactly the best kind of ménage a trois. Boost fiber by eating whole foods instead of processed and deep-fried foods that contain trans and oxidized fats. "Trans fat is like embalming fluid; the stuff is toxic," Dr. Masley explains. Sadly, that means passing on the chicken wings and beer-battered pigskin hooves over Super Bowl weekend.

2. Manage Your Stress

Woman in Winter outfit holding some bags in one hand and a piggy bank in the otherEmotional strains are unavoidable, and can serve a purpose if you're able to control them. "Stress gives us purpose and challenge," Dr. Masley says. "But if you don't manage stress, your cortisol goes up; and with prolonged stress you will get sick more often."

Stress fires up your sympathetic —or "fight or flight"—nervous system while suppressing your parasympathetic—or "rest and digest"—nervous system, which plays a big role in healing and immunity. In other words, when you're stressed, your body doesn't make fighting illness a priority.

Other negatives of uncontrolled stress include stomach pains, headaches, and trouble sleeping. So instead of Hulking up at your dilemmas, misfortunes, and outstanding TPS reports, explore healthier ways to calm down. Take deep breaths in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth, read for pleasure, or take a walk. Basically, if it's healthy and provides a reprieve from what's stressing you out, find a way to build it into your daily routine.

3. Consume Lean, Not Mean Protein

Foods high in protein help keep skin, hair, and nails healthy; they're also essential for packing on lean muscle. But all proteins aren't created equal when it comes to boosting immune function. "Eating 'mean' protein doesn't just mean consuming saturated fat like cheeses or fatty meats, but also proteins that are laced with chemicals, hormones, and pesticides," Dr. Masley reveals. Stick to proteins like organic and/or grass-fed meats, tofu, and legumes. These tend to be filled with more antioxidants such as vitamins E and C, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, all of which boost immunity. Then, as Dr. Masley suggests, "Add healthy fats to the mix and you're not just helping protect your heart, you're helping your immune system work better." Those include extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.

4. Sleep Better

Woman SleepingWhether you're pulling an all-nighter at work or you're pulling an all-nighter with an attractive coworker, depriving yourself of sleep means you're cutting back on your body's ability to repair itself. This includes undermining the way your immune system fights viruses.

"Our bodies do a lot of healing at night—we produce testosterone and growth hormone—so when we deprive ourselves of sleep, we're shortening that repair cycle," Dr. Masley says.

5. Monitor Your Exercise Intensity

Undertraining can lead to you owning an unsightly spare tire around your waist. But overtraining can lead to you owning decreased immune system efficiency. Essentially, you need to find that healthy medium. Some studies suggest that participating in more than 90 minutes of endurance exercise leaves an athlete more susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after completing his or her last rep.

"Think of a U-shaped curve with immunity and exercise: No exercise and you're sick all of the time. As you get more moderate, you drop to minimal and almost never get sick. Overdo it and push yourself every day and you're fried and get sick all of the time," he says.

By Zack Zeigler, Team Beachbody

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Just Eat This: 5 Rules for a Healthy Diet

Banquet"Can't you just tell me exactly what I'm supposed to eat?" is a question I'm often asked. Today, we'll look at the answer that, incidentally, is "no." It's a good thing that there isn't one perfect diet because we don't all like the same foods. The world would be a pretty boring place if we did. It also means that you have many choices when it comes to eating healthy, so why is it so hard?

Eating well, for most of us, requires eliminating junk from our diets. Therefore, it's easier to tell you what not to eat. But based on the questions I receive, that's leaving you too much leeway. Since I can't tell each of you exactly what you individually should eat, let's have a look at what I eat, why I eat this way, and how you can alter my diet to suit your personality and lifestyle.

There are a few rules to achieving a healthy diet. These will give you a far greater understanding of why I do what I do. So let's look at them first.
BooksHumans are all different, even if it's only slightly. So when it comes to diet we cannot expect that foods will all work exactly the same for us. This is in contrast to what the myriad of diet books you can choose from will tell you. Most of those want us to think that there's only one way—theirs, incidentally—to transform and keep your body healthy. Of course, if this were true there'd only be one book to buy. So, just the fact that there have been hundreds of best-selling diet books is the best argument that there are many different healthy ways to eat.

There are many other scientific reasons for this as well. Some are proven, like allergies. Some are more speculative, like eating for your blood type, but all have some anecdotal evidence that they work, which is all the validation we need.

Dairy products are the best example to illuminate this point. There is plenty of science showing both pros and cons to consuming them. But regardless of what science tells us, some people do well eating dairy and others do not. When a food allergy is suspected, eliminating dairy is the first step most nutritionists recommend trying. It often yields great results, but not always. This makes dairy a food group that some of us can eat and others cannot.

Similar examples can be found within any food group. What it comes down to is that, no matter how you want to eat, you're going to need to evaluate your diet and see how it's working for you. This requires some trial and error. While that probably sounds daunting, read on and you'll see that it's not. By cleaning up your diet and eating for what you are doing, it becomes fairly easy to identify foods that agree with you and those that don't.

Watching TVYou've probably heard this before, especially if you're a longtime Beachbody member. Similar to not putting gas in your car when it isn't going anywhere, your body doesn't have the same nutrient requirements when you're sitting as when you're moving. Since it's simple to understand that you burn more calories attempting an Ironman than watching Oprah, it shouldn't be a stretch to understand that you have different nutrient requirements on different days.

Furthermore, most of us have different periods in our life where we not only do things differently on a daily basis, but have different goals. Some common goals, where diet and lifestyle are concerned, are:
  • to lose weight
  • to gain fitness (regardless of weight)
  • to maintain weight
  • to train for an upcoming event
For each of those objectives you will want to eat differently. We will discuss all of them.


Or, at a minimum, that should never be in your kitchen. These are items that, somehow, have made it onto our daily menus that we could easily live without and, at least, should be treated as desserts, anomalies, rewards, or emergency rations. For a more complete list, visit your local 7-Eleven. Let's look at the major offenders.

  • Soda CansSoda. How soda has made it into our daily lives is a testament to marketing. It's a dessert, at best, and when consumed daily makes it nearly impossible to have a balanced diet.
  • High fructose corn syrup. It's not just for dessert anymore. HFCS is now found in bread, salad dressing, and probably 80% of the stuff at most convenience stores. It's not just that it's bad for you; it's also an indication that a food item is made using the lowest-quality ingredients possible. A 15-second label check can protect you.
  • Trans fats. These man-made fats help foods sit on shelves longer but serve no nutritional purpose for you. They do, however, have a terrible downside. Fortunately, they're on the dangerous food radar and now much easier to detect.

  • DrinksAlcohol. Again, it's not so bad in moderation but as a daily accoutrement to your diet you're adding a lot of calories and very little food value. While I'll be the first to extol its merits as a reward, it has no true place in your daily diet. This will also help to understand which alcoholic beverages are better than others.
  • Splenda, aspartame, and Sweet n' Low. Calories aren't the only thing to worry about. These sweeteners have been proven safe enough to not kill you but have no place as a regular part of your diet. They also can lead to an enhanced sweet tooth, something that won't make your fitness goals easier to achieve.
CookiesOr even close to it. In fact, there are times when you should relax and let yourself eat whatever you want. I can even come up with a scenario where junk food is what you want to be eating. But we'll get to that later.

Your body is very resilient. Your mind, however, can be the opposite. A constant client excuse is to quit a program due to some type of misstep that they've stigmatized as "I've blown it." That's not how it works. As long as the big picture is better than what it was before, you'll be making progress. One bad meal, day, week, even month doesn't matter. All that matters is that you're moving in the right direction. As long as you're doing better than you were before, you'll feel and look better than you did before. And the fitter you become, the more your body programs itself to toss out those bad days.

Translation: the more fit you are the more you can cheat. It's one of the best examples of being rewarded for your work in the natural world.

RULE 5: IF IT'S PROCESSED, DON'T EAT IT (well, sort of).

Junk FoodYour diet should consist of as much whole food as you can fit into it. This means vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and meats that have been processed as little as possible. If your diet consists mainly of these foods then you're on the right track. Whole foods are also more regulating than processed foods. Eating them causes your body to respond in a natural way. It's pretty much exactly the opposite of what happens with soda and candy.

But you don't have to avoid all processed foods. As we learn to read ingredients and understand what types of nutrients our body needs we'll see that not all processed foods are evil. Look for processed foods with whole food ingredients. An easy guide to processing is the fiber content on the label. The more processed something is, the less fiber it usually contains. And fiber is your friend.

by Steve Edwards, Beachbody

Friday, December 6, 2013

Holiday Appetizers to Avoid

'Tis the season for holiday parties, and if there's one thing you're dreading more than awkward conversations with drunken acquaintances, it's the array of deep-fried diet-busters awaiting you at the refreshment table. How are you supposed to keep eating healthy and feeling under-the-mistletoe sexy when cocktail franks are calling your name? We asked Ani Aratounians, MS, RD, the manager of nutrition and culinary development for Team Beachbody®, to help us navigate the good, the bad, and the ugly among your favorite holiday appetizers.
Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings

Hummus and Veggies

What's Good: "Hummus is an exceptionally healthy food, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, protein, fiber, zinc, and magnesium," says Aratounians. "Paired with fresh veggies, it becomes a powerhouse of nutrients."
Bad: Hummus contains around 25 calories per tablespoon—so if you don't keep an eye on how much you're scooping, you can rack up calories quickly. In other words, less hummus and more veggies is the ideal strategy.

Shrimp Cocktail

What's Good: "Not only is shrimp a good source of the antioxidant/anti-inflammatory astaxanthin, as well as omega-3s, but 80% of its calories come from protein," says Aratounians.
What's Bad: Shrimp are high in cholesterol, which may be an issue for those who are watching their numbers—but for most people, the high omega-3 content still makes it a worthy option. Just be careful not to douse the shrimp in high-sodium/high-sugar cocktail sauce.

Chicken Skewers

Chicken Skewers What's Good: "Chicken skewers made with low-fat, high-protein chicken breast can be a healthy and filling appetizer," Aratounians says. "If the chicken pieces are layered with superfood veggies such as peppers and zucchini, it makes it even better."
What's Bad: If the chicken is breaded or slathered in a sugary sauce, you may wind up consuming a lot of hidden calories and carbs.

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops

What's Good: The scallops—they're an awesome source of selenium, phosphorus, B12, zinc, iron, omega-3s, copper, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
What's Bad: The bacon, of course. "Wrapping scallops in bacon can potentially triple their calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol content," says Aratounians. Indulge in one or two if they're your absolute favorite, but don't polish off the whole tray.

Stuffed Mushrooms

What's Good: They have potential. "Stuffed mushrooms can make a delicious and healthy bite-sized appetizer, as long as the stuffing is veggie-based and isn't loaded with bread crumbs, cheese, and cream," Aratounians says.
What's Bad: What's inside is anyone's guess. While there are plenty of healthy homemade recipes out there, most people will opt for the carb-heavy, prepackaged variety. "Stuffed mushrooms are labor-intensive, so they're usually store-bought," cautions Aratounians. "This makes it harder to find healthier versions." Of course, you can always find out who brought the mushrooms and ask for their recipe—and then plan your noshing strategy accordingly.


Nuts What's Good: "Raw nuts can be a nutritious appetizer that provides heart-healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals," Aratounians says.
What's Bad: Portion control is a toughie—who can stop after an ounce of nuts? "You can quickly add hundreds of calories to your daily intake without even realizing it," warns Aratounians.

Spinach Dip

What's Good: The spinach—and that's about it.
What's Bad: The leafy greens are usually drowning in mayo and cheese—and you're probably scooping them up with chips, crackers, or pumpernickel. "Although this is a party favorite, a few tablespoons of this dip can be loaded with hundreds of calories that come mostly from saturated fats," Aratounians says.

Frozen Goodies

What's Good: They're easy. There's a reason heat-and-eat apps like pizza rolls, cocktail franks, and mini quiches are a party staple. After all, you don't have to be Martha Stewart to microwave some Southwestern egg rolls.
Frozen Pizza Rolls What's Bad: "Packaged appetizers are often highly processed and loaded with calories, sodium, unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, additives, and preservatives," says Aratounians. "This makes them one of the unhealthiest choices with hardly any nutritional benefits."

Nachos and Cheese

What's Good: Salsa can be low in calories and a good source of antioxidants, lycopene, and potassium.
What's Bad: Everything else. "Most cheese sauces don't even meet the requirements for being called cheese—they're loaded with neon-orange food dyes and MSG," says Aratounians. "This appetizer is high in calories, fat, sodium, additives, and preservatives—need I say more?" Nope, that pretty much covers it.
Of course, even when you know the nutritional damage of your favorite finger foods, it's hard to resist temptation when it's staring you in the face. The easiest way to avoid overeating? "Don't go to a party hungry!" Aratounians says. "Have a Shakeology® with water and ice, or a handful of raw nuts, before you head out." Two more smart tips from her: Hold a glass of wine in one hand and your phone in the other, so you can't nibble without doing some juggling. And if you're worried there won't be any healthy options, bring one with you—you'll salvage your diet and help the host out. Win-win!

By Kara Wahlgren - Team Beachbody