The Best Nutrition Changes I Made for Body Comp, Performance, and Happiness

I think that everyone — but especially women — go through a unique relationship with food over the course of their lives. Today I’m sharing the changes I’ve made over the past several years that have had the biggest impact on my body composition, performance, and happiness.

Could I be leaner than I am right now? Yes. Do I want to be? Yes, because I’m always working to improve myself — but not by much. Whereas in the past, I thought skinniness = happiness on an infinite ascending curve (where happiness increases as skinniness increases, and there is no endpoint), I now have a clear sense of where my “healthy median” is: where I feel energized day-to-day, I’m not hungry all the time, I can recover well from training, and my hormones are functioning at healthy, happy levels. I try not to stray too far above or below this set point.

Also — Note that I listed three things in the title, and the most important of those is without a doubt happiness. If the way you’re eating is consistently detracting from your happiness, and if the way you’re fueling isn’t consistently making you feel good… you probably need to make some changes of your own.

My best changes from the past several years

1. I stopped being afraid to eat more. I stopped calorie counting many years ago, but for me, I still had some picture in my head of what was and wasn’t a reasonable amount for me to be eating (???!). I had to completely throw out the drawing board and write a new one. I once had a nutritionist tell me that at 5’8”, my body is a “stretch limousine, not a taxi cab.” Things that you have to take into consideration when deciding how much food is right for you:

  • Your activity levels – Including and outside of exercising. If you have a more active day job, or more active weekends, for example, you need to take this into account. If you’re a fidgety person who hates sitting (like me), you need to take this into account. (Google “NEAT.”) If you’re running 40-60 miles a week, or if your mileage has just jumped up, you need to take this into account.
  • Your height and weight – Larger people need more fuel. It’s science. Even if you are larger for your frame but trying to lose weight, your starting energy expenditure is going to be higher than someone who is smaller and of the same frame size. So take this into account and don’t make drastic cuts. The same thing applies if you are tall and thin. Your body needs more fuel than someone who is 4” shorter than you, just at baseline.
  • Your metabolism – There’s a lot of mixed research on metabolism speed, but from my personal experience amongst teammates and friends, I do think metabolisms vary. In college I had a friend of almost the exact same height and of a similar build. We were running similar mileage and doing the exact same workouts. But she ate like a bird and I was always starving. I think that as adults, most people can identify whether they’re someone with a “fast”, “slow”, or “normal” metabolism. I’ve had a fast metabolism since I was young, and my mom and brothers are the same way. I would encourage you to resist comparing the amount of food you need to what others are eating, as bodies are so individual.

2. I started frontloading my calories. This has made a HUGE difference in the way that I fuel. Step 1a was eating more overall, and step 1b was redistributing my calories. Before the cycle would look like this – Start the day eating the way I “thought” I should be eating. End up hungry an hour or hour and a half after eating. Have a massive blood sugar drop around 2 PM. End up at the mercy of my low blood sugar, sometimes making poorer food choices, and all of the time consuming the majority of my calories in the second half of my day. Now, I eat proactively instead of reactively. I always have a very big breakfast plus a mid-morning snack when needed, and I’ve made my lunches more hearty. As a result, I feel much more well-fueled. I’m eating the majority of my calories during the time of day I’m most active (and need them the most). Come dinnertime, I’m not eating a massive meal, and afterwards, I’m satisfied and not having crazy cravings.

3. I stopped depriving myself. No foods, except what I’m allergic to, are off limits to me. I don’t believe that “fit people” only eat protein, brown rice, and vegetables. Fit people eat all foods, they just prioritize foods that are good for their body and make them feel good.

The other side of this: when you prioritize fueling your body with healthy, from-the-earth and –farm ingredients, your taste buds start to change. In turn, you start craving low-nutrient foods less. It takes trusting your body to realize that allowing yourself to eat “bad” foods does not mean your body is going to want “bad” foods all the time. Now, I honor whatever cravings my body has, I enjoy it, and I move on. I don’t say “I shouldn’t eat that” and I stand up for myself when people say “You’re really going to eat that?!” Eating junk food no longer turns into a weeklong downward spiral of despair, self-hatred, and overeating/trying to compensate. It has taken me a lot of years to get to this place, but it’s been so incredibly worth it. Fight against diet culture, stand up for yourself, and start honoring your body’s cravings instead of fighting against them. A great book on this topic is Melissa Hartwig’s Food Freedom Forever.

4. I started eating more fat. This was a huge dietary change I made after my freshman year of college, which was disastrous for me running-wise. Eventually I’ll dedicate a whole separate post to this (because I feel so strongly about it!), but simply put: FEMALE RUNNERS NEED FAT!! When most people try to “diet” or even “eat healthier”, fats and carbs are two of the foods that are usually first to go. But fat is so important not only for appetite regulation (eating too low fat of a diet will make you hungry all the time, and can give you crazy sugar cravings especially), but it’s also incredibly important for female hormonal health. A good training diet is plentiful in healthy oils, avocados, natural nut butters, fatty fish, egg yolks, etc.

5. Non-nutrition-related… I started consistently strength training. The famous longtime University of Colorado coach once said that strength training is even more important for females than it is for males – because of hormones, bone health, and body composition, and I can’t agree more. Research shows resistance training:

  • Improves bone density
  • Improves hormonal health (in both males and females… but in different ways)
  • Changes body composition in favorable ways, even in otherwise active people
  • Creates resistance to injury
  • And so much more

Since committing to lifting more consistently than ever before, I’ve watched my body undergo changes I’m really proud of, and without having to make any crazy changes to my diet. I can eat more at rest (muscle is active tissue and actually burns calories, whereas fat does not), my abs are tighter and more toned despite not doing a ton of targeted “ab work”, my legs are more shapely and defined, my back and arms are more developed, and my waist has actually shrunk. My body is not perfect by any means, and I still have a lot of things I want to improve, but noticing all these changes has been fun. The benefits of lifting will also become a separate post at some point!

I want to know: As you look back on the past several years, what are the best changes you’ve made for your body and happiness?!

The Best Places to Eat & Run in Boston

I’m so excited to team up with Christie Wang of @fitwithchristie on Instagram and the blog at https://www.christiewang.co/blog for this post! Christie is a Boston-based Pilates instructor (she’s incredible), and has been living in the city for the past seven years. I’m just an hour south of Boston in Providence, RI and despite having a city of my own, drive up to be in Boston just about as often as I can.

As lovers of all things food AND running, we combined our knowledge to create a list of the very best places to eat and run in the city. For all those coming into the city this weekend for the Boston Marathon, good luck, and we hope you get to soak in all the city has to offer!

Best Places to Eat – Daytime:

Tatte – This could just as easily fall into the “Best Cup of Coffee” category as in the “Best Places to Eat” category. Tatte is a Boston staple with the most beautiful of interiors, European-quality baked goods, and menu items that are just as good (try their shakshuka — they’re famous for it!). Check their website for locations, as they have a couple cafe locations throughout the city.

Flour Cafe – Another Boston cafe staple, Flour is famous for their sticky buns. Beyond just sweets, we’d recommend the hearty sweet potato sandwich and soups. They also have several locations throughout the city.

Jugos Supremo – Jugos’ flagship location, attached to the train station, has long been a staple for commuters and people new to the city. The convenience can’t be beat, and you can get ridiculously fresh juices, smoothies, bowls, toasts, and other healthy take-away goods. Now, they have a second location, Jugos Supremo, with an expanded menu that includes sit-down items such as more elaborate toasts, egg dishes, even Belgian waffles. You can expect the freshest fruits and vegetables, all local ingredients, and the fact that all their nut milks are housemade.

502 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02118

– Mother Juice – Just a couple blocks from the Boston Marathon finish line, you’ll want everything on Mother Juice’s menu. It is totally plant-based but could convert even the biggest meat-eating skeptics. Try their big salad bowls (pictured below: BBQ Chickpea), smoothies, overnight oat bowls, and energy balls.

291 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02115

Eataly – A great post-race option right next to the finish line, Eataly has several mini-restaurants within it (for incredible salad, pasta, bread, and wine). Plus, shop their selection of meats, cheeses, and baked goods to bring home.

Prudential Center, 800 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

FoMu – For the BEST vegan ice cream, in flavors such as Bourbon Maple Walnut, Magic Bar, Salted Caramel, and Sweet Lavender. FoMu has locations in Allston, Jamaica Plain, Fenway, and the South End.

Best Places to Eat – Pre- or Post-Race Dinner:

Myers and Chang – Located in the South End neighborhood, just a few blocks away from the finish line, this Asian fusion restaurant offers a popular Dim Sum brunch on weekends and Cheap Date Prix Fixe on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Expect flavorful Asian style dishes presented in a “small plates” format.

1145 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02118

Citrus and Salt – A “coastal Mexican” foodie paradise that has Instagram-worthy cocktails. Their Sunday brunch is a fan favorite. If you have a big appetite, try the waffle tacos! If you’re just stopping by for drinks, get margaritas and a whole vat of their guacamole – it’s that good.

142 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116

Lolita – Another incredible Mexican restaurant in Boston, you can expect free chips and salsa at the start of your meal and cotton candy to finish things off with a sweet touch. The spicy cucumber margaritas are my favorite.

In Back Bay and the Seaport

Pammy’s – This Italian inspired restaurant is in the heart of Cambridge. People love it for their hearty pastas and incredible cocktail selection.

928 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

Oleana – Oleana is on the fancy side but, it’s worth the reservation (usually booked a few weeks out on a weekend night). It’s a very vegan friendly Mediterranean style restaurant. You can either order everything in a small plates, shared fashion or go with their incredible tasting menus (opt wine pairings). I’d highly suggest the veggie tasting menu. If you have any dietary restrictions, just let them know and they’ll happily adjust. As a bonus, if you love sweets, go for their well known Baked Alaska.

134 Hampshire St, Cambridge MA, 02139

Best cup of coffee:

Dunkin Donuts may well be the official coffee chain of Boston (locals are fervently loyal), but don’t let that stop you from experiencing a city that has an incredible coffee scene. Here are our picks for the best cups in Boston…

Pavement Coffeehouse – A local Boston brand. Try one their specialty lattes for something fun (they carry oat milk, which we love), or a pour-over for something classic. They also have great bagels and light bites.

With locations in Allston, Berklee, Boston University, Fenway, Symphony, Newbury, Brighton, and Harvard Square

Caffe Nero – The best of European coffee in Boston. Come for the gorgeous, moody vibes and great espresso.

They have locations all over the city. Check their cafe map here to find the closest one near you.

Gracenote – Super cute decor and delicious, artisanal coffee tucked in the Leather District of Boston. A must-stop if you’re in the area.

108 Lincoln St, Boston, MA 02111

Ogawa – Created by Japanese coffee artisans, Ogawa is distinctly unlike any of the other coffee spots on this list. Stop in for something different, and to try all the matcha-flavored things. They also have a full food menu if you want something more than just a light bite.

10 Milk Street, Boston, MA 02108

Blue Bottle – There are only a few locations of Blue Bottle in the world — this is a must-stop! Try their signature New Orleans iced coffee.

Located right in the Prudential Center (by the Boston Marathon finish line), but also has locations in Harvard Square and the Exchange

Best places to run:

– The Charles River – You can find a great full map of the river here. To run the Charles, just pick two bridges and make a loop. The Charles loop “unofficially” ends at the Museum of Natural Sciences, and you can take the river all the way out past Harvard, MIT, Boston University, and into Watertown and Newton.

– The Common – Try the long hill for hill sprints or hill reps. It’s about 1 mile to cover the whole diameter of the common and the “big hill” closest to Beacon St is .25 miles, for reference! This is one of the only “big hills” in the Downtown Boston area so, you’ll catch many of the run groups doing hill repeats here on any weekday night.

– The Emerald Necklace – This pathway starts in Fenway and spits you right at Jamaica Pond.

– The Chestnut Hill Reservoir – Affectionately called “the Res”, it’s a beautiful 1.5 mile path right off of Boston College’s campus.

– The Newton Carriage Trails – Run the toughest parts of the Boston Marathon course along the beautiful carriage roads of Newton. You’ll pass some of Boston’s most beautiful homes and get some hills in to boot.

Have you ever been to Boston before? Do you have any favorite spots you think we missed?! Would love to hear in the comments!

Dreamy Creamsicle Immunity Tonic Smoothie (veg, df)

Cold + flu season has hit our area really hard, and after coming down with three separate bugs since this fall, I’m trying to be more proactive about building up my immunity.

Enter my new go-to smoothie: packed with Vitamin C in the form of whole fruits (no processed, sugary fruit juice), probiotics from coconut yogurt, and extra hydration from coconut water, this drink is a super-potent immunity tonic that will build up your body + help ward off sickness. It’s also great for nipping things in the bud when you feel something coming on.

And the best part — it tastes just like the creamsicles you ate growing up!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup ice
  • 2 whole navel oranges, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut yogurt
  • 1/4 cup coconut water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions: Combine ingredients in a high-speed blender in the order listed (ice first, vanilla extract last). When peeling your oranges, try to remove as much of the white pith as possible, as this will make your smoothie bitter. Blend until frothy, and serve immediately for maximum freshness.

Tahini Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Banana Bread (gf, df)

A thick slice of warm banana bread + a cup of coffee is the ultimate comfort food (in my mind), and in the winter even more so. And the best part — a hearty banana bread base pairs well with so many different flavors, so the possibilities are truly endless! For now — I’m drooling over this loaf, which marries nutty tahini with the sweetness of dark chocolate chunks and the saltiness of coarse sea salt flakes (which, by the way, is my latest baking obsession. #seasaltoneverything).

This loaf will probably definitely not last a week in our house… it’s that good. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 large super-ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour, which uses a chickpea flour base (You can use spelt or white whole wheat flour if not gluten-free, but I’ve only tested it with this flour.)
  • 3/4 cup almond meal
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chunks, plus a few more for topping
  • 1 less ripe whole banana for topping
  • Small handful flaky sea salt for topping

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease a loaf tin, and set aside.
  2. Whisk together olive oil, tahini, honey, coconut sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
  3. Stir in mashed banana.
  4. Fold in the dry ingredients until just fully combined — do not overstir.
  5. Fold in the dark chocolate chunks — again, being careful not to overstir.
  6. Pour mixture into loaf tin. Top with a whole banana, sliced lengthwise.
  7. Bake 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. As soon as you remove banana bread from the oven, sprinkle generously with flaky sea salt, then leave to cool.
  8. Cut into thick slices, and enjoy warm with a cup of coffee!

How I Became a Morning Runner + How to Build Effective Habits

Good things about being an adult: Your own house, your own rules. You make your own money. You can drink wine whenever you want.

Bad things about being an adult: More responsibilities. Less time. Less tolerance for drinking as much wine as you want…

Being an adult runner means you’re choosing to make running a priority when you have a million other things you could be doing instead. The laundry won’t do itself,  the dishes aren’t going to get washed on their own, kids (if you have them) need constant attention. But still, you carve an hour or two out of each day for something that others might consider “frivolous” and “unimportant” — because it’s important to YOU.

The biggest way I’ve been able to carve out time to running, which is important to me, is to switch to morning workouts.

Why I switched to running in the morning:

  • The morning is my time. Getting it done first thing, before the day has started, gives me the least chance of interruptions, distractions, or things “coming up” at the last minute.
  • Running in the morning gives me more energy and makes me less stressed for the day ahead. I notice a HUGE difference in my energy levels, concentration, and mood on mornings I run, vs. mornings I don’t. I am a much happier, nicer, and more productive person with a boost of endorphins — and also just having invested time in ME before I’ve had a chance to give to anyone else.
  • Running in the morning helps me make better decisions later in the day. When your first choice of the day is a good one, it creates positive momentum for the rest of the day. When I run first thing in the morning, I am more motivated to make a healthy breakfast, keep my house clean, be more ambitious and proactive at work. And even if nothing else goes well that day, I can take comfort in knowing I did at least one good thing.

My best tips for becoming a morning runner:

  1. Success happens the night before. When you run early in the morning, you set yourself up for success or failure by what you do and don’t do the night before. The night before I always lay out everything I need to get out the door — from my Garmin, to my phone pouch, to my house keys, full outfit, socks, and sneakers. I put everything in my bathroom so I don’t wake my fiancé as I’m stumbling around getting dressed. When I wake up, I don’t have to think about anything — I’m just on autopilot.
  2. Set your alarm on the other side of the room. This helps eliminate the delirious snooze hit. Once you get up to turn off your alarm, you’re already out of bed (the hardest part!).
  3. Get enough sleep the night before. Obvious — yes. But it can be a struggle getting to bed at the time you need to in order to wake up early. Especially initially. Here is my best tip for making that happen: Almost everyone has a smart phone today — and your smartphone has alarm apps! Use them to their full potential! Think about what an alarm does — it disrupts you from your current state. I like to set a couple of alarms the night before (on auto-repeat for each weeknight, so that there’s no excuses) as check-ins for where I should be in my nightly routine. It’s a great way to pull yourself off the couch if you’re struggling to get up and get moving. And it’s a great way to pull yourself away from any task you’re in the middle of. I usually set one alarm to start my “wind down” routine at night (AKA, disconnect from social media, or finish doing the dishes, and start getting ready for the next day). Then, I’ll set an alarm at the time I actually want to be in bed by. That’s my hard stop. Lights out.
  4. Halfway dressed, and you’re halfway there. A tip I had heard when I first started experimenting with morning running was to wear your workout clothes to bed. To me, sleeping in a tight sports bra is very uncomfortable. And I do love wearing real pajamas. So I compromise. I’ll wear my running bottoms to bed, and a comfy pajama top. It’s only one less step I have to do in the morning, but oddly, having that one layer already on seems to make such a difference.
  5. Build a practice. Create a routine, and cues. Take inspiration from yogis who don’t call their yoga a “workout routine”, but rather a “practice.” Develop a morning routine that can become your own form of practice. Once you go through a routine enough, it almost becomes meditative. You should have a super specific item-by-item list of what each step in your routine looks like. This takes a little work upfront, but the payoff is always having a plan and never having to wonder what you need to do next to get yourself out the door. Throughout your routine, set external “cues” for yourself — which are key for building habits. The act of brewing your coffee. Lacing up your shoes after putting on your clothes. Maybe you read the newspaper, or a book, while you drink your coffee. Maybe you spend a few minutes jotting down your goals for the day. All of these are tangible experiences that, once repeated day in and day out, will signal to your brain that it’s time to go running.
  6. Consistency is everything. Nothing works unless you’re consistent with it. The same thing goes with building habits. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on it the next day. No guilt. No overthinking. No deep-seated feelings of anger or shame. Don’t allow yourself to get into the mindset that you need to wait until next Monday, or next month, or the start of the next year, to “start over”. There is no starting over, really. Keep putting in the work, forcing consistency when necessary, and know that over time it will become so ingrained that not running in the morning will feel like forgetting to brush your teeth!

Two Hands Copycat Recipe: Banana Bread with Vegan Espresso Marscapone (gf)

One of my all-time favorite brunch spots in New York City, Two Hands, is home to a legendary house banana bread that they top with espresso marscapone, honey, and puffed buckwheat. I’ve never been able to try it because of my dairy allergy, but after years of pining, I decided to recreate it on my own at home.

My version is gluten- and dairy-free, the marscapone is entirely vegan, and the banana bread can easily be made vegan as well if you substitute a flax egg for a real one. Two slices makes a weekend breakfast that will keep you full for hours, thanks to all the fiber and healthy fats in my version, and you’ll love knowing it’s free of refined sugars.

Instead of straight puffed buckwheat, I topped my toast with Trader Joes’ Super Seed & Ancient Grain Blend, which has chia, flax, hemp, red quinoa, amaranth, and sprouted buckwheat and millet.

Olive Oil-Honey Banana Bread

  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour (My favorite is this one, because it uses chickpea flour as a base and is higher in fiber)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp. real vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
  2. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour through cinnamon).
  4. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (bananas through vanilla extract).
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Be careful not to over-mix.
  6. Fold in walnuts, if using.
  7. Transfer mixture to the loaf pan, and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
  8. Allow to cool before slicing.

Vegan Espresso Marscapone

  • 1 3/4 cup raw cashews
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup melted and cooled extra-virgin coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup oat or coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp. espresso (or strong coffee), chilled
  • 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a high-speed blender until a thick, fluffy marscapone-like consistency has been reached.

A “Healthy-ish” Christmas Cookie Round-Up

I know people are divided on this — should cookies be healthy?! Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of eating a cookie? If you’re going to eat a cookie, shouldn’t you just eat a big, full-fat, white-flour, and refined-sugar-full cookie?

Well, I think that’s up to you.

Some people believe the body is a temple. Some people believe the body is a temple we bring sacrifices of chocolate and wine to.

Personally, I believe in honoring your cravings and not making any foods off limits (allergies and medical conditions aside) — but if I want something super indulgent, I like to either go out and eat it, or buy one and bring it home. If I want to make a big batch of cookies to keep around the house and eat throughout the week, I want it to be a healthy-ish cookie.

What meets the “healthy-ish” criteria?

  • Mostly whole grain flours. Even when I used a gluten-free all-purpose flour, I chose an AP flour with a chickpea flour base (Bob’s Red Mill brand… my favorite). I tried to limit starchier and/or flours that are more highly processed (read: stripped of most nutrients).
  • Refined sugar free. All the cookies I chose are made with either coconut sugar, honey, real maple syrup, or molasses.
  • All healthy fats. Instead of butter, lard, shortening (even more processed vegetable oils), I used nut butters, olive oil, and coconut oil.

Without further ado, here is a round-up of my top healthy-ish Christmas cookies (and other treats) to make this season.

The Toasted Pine Nut’s Peanut Butter Blossoms

Ambitious Kitchen’s Paleo Ginger Molasses Cookies

Kale Junkie’s Life Changing Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

Clean Eats by Tay’s Vegan Soft-Baked Snickerdoodle Cookies

Dani Nemeh’s Gingerbread Truffles

The Healthy Maven’s Healthy Peppermint Chocolate Cookies

Sammy Eason’s Vegan Gingersnap Pillow Cookies

Oh She Glows’ Jumbo Chocolate Chunk Cookies (I added flaky sea salt, and it was out of this world.)

Pollen and Grace’s Vegan Maca + Cacao Truffles