The research of willpower


When I introduced running into my exercise regime, I quickly realized that running was more a battle of the mind (will) than a battle of the body.  There’s a LOT of self-talk that goes on  … tuning in to the voice on the right shoulder saying “You can do it, just keep putting one foot in front of the other” and rejecting the voice on the left shoulder that’s saying, “Go ahead and stop short of your intended mileage.  What does quitting halfway through your goal matter?”

The same can be said for making lifestyle changes, such as eating or exercise habits.   There is a definite need to tap into willpower at points along the journey of change.  

Stanford Medicine published a Q&A session in 2011 with Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, who studied the research on the science of willpower.  According to the article, willpower is “a complex mind-body response that can be compromised by stress, sleep deprivation and nutrition and that can be strengthened through certain practices (italics mine).”


According to McGonigal, research shows the following:

  1.  When you exert self-control, it results in a “pause-and-plan response”.  These are changes in the brain and body that help guard against temptation and urges.  When the body and brain experience these changes, it actually sends additional energy to the area of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that is responsible for goal tracking and overriding impulses/cravings.  “The result is you have the mindset and motivation to do what matters most.” 
  2.  “Learning how to better manage your stress – or even just remembering to take a few deep breaths when you’re feeling overwhelmed or tempted — is one of the most important things you can do to improve your willpower.”  
  3. Improve how much quality rest and sleep you get and you’ll increase your ability at self-control.
  4. “Something as simple as eating a more plant-based, less-processed diet makes energy more available to brain and can improve every aspect of willpower from overcoming procrastination to sticking to a New Year’s resolution.”
  5. Any muscle in your body can be made stronger through exercise. If willpower is a muscle, even a metaphorical muscle, it should be possible to train it. That’s what the research shows.”  McGonigal states that practicing self-control increases the strength and stamina of your self-control, thereby making it easier as time goes on.   “New behaviors become habits, temptations become less overwhelming and willpower challenges can even become fun.”
  6. Meditation and physical exercise strengthen the brain’s willpower.  “Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex. And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice — brain changes have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training.”  And physical exercise is similar.  Regular exercise “also makes the body and brain more resilient to stress, which is a great boost to willpower.”
  7. McGonigal’s advice for meeting goals or resolutions?  Think big:  “Research shows that when you scale up to the big want, the biggest why, you automatically have more willpower. You’ll look for opportunities to make progress on your goal and be more likely to see how small choices can help you realize your goal. ”   Think small:Allow yourself small steps toward your goals.   “Sometimes we get frustrated when we don’t know exactly how we’ll reach our goals. We can’t imagine how what we’re doing now will ever get us where we want. Or we try to take huge steps all at once and end up exhausted and overwhelmed. Choose small steps you can take that are consistent with that goal. When those steps are easy, or have become a habit, look for next steps and keep going.”

I only summarized how you can improve your willpower, but I encourage you to read the entire article because it also detailed how willpower can be sabotaged.  If willpower is as much about the mind as it is the body, then you need this information!




5 steps to intentional health

woman-writingIntentional health.  I came up with this phrase because the word “intentional” drives me.

When I was raising my kids, I latched on to the idea of intentional parenting.  What was my goal for my kids?  What was the end goal of my parenting?  I had decided that my end goal in parenting was to raise children that were respectful, compassionate, productive citizens of our country, thoughtful, leave the world a better place because they lived in it, and finally, children who would have a strong grasp of faith and carry it into their culture and the next generation.

If you look at my list, it’s obvious these traits weren’t something that would just spontaneously occur!  Wishful thinking wasn’t going to make it so.  Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.   And so I began to parent in a way that targeted these traits.  I took measured steps to train them with these results in mind.

Health is no different!  What are your health goals?  What are your challenges?  What measured steps can you take to reach your goals?

Here are five steps for intentional living…intentional health.

  1. Write down your health goals!  Be as specific as possible!  How many inches around your arms, waist, hips, or thighs would you like to lose?  By what date?  What will be your reward?  Is there a clothing size you’ve wanted to wear?  What would you like your BMI to be?   Do you desire to run your first 5K?  When?  In how much time?  What would you like to see your blood sugar levels at?  Lower cholesterol?  Lower blood pressure?  Develop a stronger immune system?
  2. List measured steps to reach your goals.  Examples:  I will reduce my sugar intake to ___.   I will walk 30 minutes four days per week.  I will follow a 5K training program.  I will take conscious steps to eliminate processed foods from my diet.  I will drink a protein shake daily.  I will take high-quality supplements to support my overall health.  I will keep a food journal.  I will do weight training to boost metabolism three days a week.  I will participate in two classes at my gym on a weekly basis.
  3. Be vocal about your goals.  When you verbalize your intentions, you create accountability to what you’ve stated.  Skin in the game.  Some may try to sabotage you, but those who love you will cheer you on.
  4. Plan out each day.   Those who are most successful in their careers have strong calendar/time management skills.  Health is no different.  Some people like to map out a week, others like to map out each day.  Find what works for you…but planning needs to occur.  When will you fit in a workout?  Do you need to have your clothes by your bed to eliminate excuses to avoid a 6:00 a.m. workout?  Or pack them for work for an after-work exercise?  What will you eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks?  How will you get enough water throughout the day?  How far do you have to run today in your 5K, 10K, or marathon training plan?
  5. Make this your life…commit. Your goals come from YOU.  They are what burn within you and drive you.  That makes them pretty important!  So make those measured steps you outlined for success in #2 as important as your other commitments... make them as important as showing up to work, meeting with your friends, taking Johnny to the doctor, or paying your bills.  Wishful thinking doesn’t accomplish goals and no one can reach goals for you.  Commit daily to your goals.

Be intentional today and every day.  It’s the only way to a guaranteed outcome and a life of no regrets!






Sunscreen without the toxins!

So if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m into “clean living”.   It’s a journey for sure!  As we head into the warmth and sunshine of summer ahead, I’ve been thinking about sunscreen.

Our skin is the LARGEST organ of our body!  Why do you think there are nicotine patches or estrogen patches?  Because the product leaches directly into the skin and then through the body.  Sunscreen, lotion, perfume, make-up, shampoo, etc. is no different.  Don’t fool yourself.  Just read the labels on the back of your products and you’ll find a list of chemicals.  They penetrate not only your body, but your children’s bodies as well!

There’s a non-profit organization called Environmental Working Group (EWG) which is focused on protecting human health and the environment.  Their work has become so respected that they are becoming the gold standard of “clean” quality in the personal care and cosmetic industry through their EWG VERIFIED ™ program.  According to their website, “the EWG VERIFIED™ program now features 118 products allowing shoppers to quickly and easily identify cosmetics and personal care items that meet our strictest health and transparency standards.”  If you see this on one of your products, you can be assured it has passed the rigorous research of the organization.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 6.39.57 PMSo I headed on over to their site (which I LOVE and I think you will find is awesome) and searched for SPF sunscreen.  Yup, they have MANY recommendations of “clean” sunscreen products … 235 products meet EWGs criteria to be exact!  The Babo Botanical Sport Stick is one that I found with a rating of “1” (the best EWG rating on a scale of 1 to 10).  Guess I’ll be heading over to Amazon and ordering my summer supply.

Not only does EWG provide a way to identify clean products, they also warn against the toxic ones.  Here’s just one snippet under their “EWG Sunscreen Hall of Shame” section (the page also actually lists the worst sunscreen brands by name):

“There are a lot of sunscreens on the market:  some good, some bad and then the shameful.

Those in the last category are not only a waste of money and time but also potentially harmful. Here are our picks for products to banish from your beach bag.

Spray sunscreens can be inhaled, and they don’t cover skin completely.

SPF values above 50+ try to trick you into believing they’ll prevent sun damage. Don’t trust them. SPF protection tops out at 30 to 50.

Oxybenzone can disrupt the hormone system.

Retinyl palmitate may trigger damage, possibly cancer.”


What will you be putting on your children’s skin this summer?



Best calorie counter app

iphone computer paperSo I’m not as much a fan of calorie counting as I am of simply eliminating sugar, white flour products, and processed foods from my body!  And yes, this is tough.  I’m not perfect at it either, but I strive for it.  I figure if I hit the mark 85% of the time, I’m moving in the right direction!

But there are those out there who are learning to read food labels … and they are on a journey of seeing food in a whole new way and getting a grip on their health!  They might be checking out a food’s protein, sugar, vitamin, or sodium content as well as calories. Kudos to you!  And one way to become cognizant of what you’re putting into your body is to simply…track it!

In 2015, the Journal of Medical Internet Research published a study titled:  Adherence to a Smartphone Application for Weight Loss Compared to Website and Paper Diary.”

The study stated that “In recent years, research into mobile devices to facilitate dietary and physical activity self-monitoring and weight-related behavior change has grown. Mobile phones, in particular, are an intuitively appealing intervention platform given that they are ubiquitous, engaging, and portable.”  This study sought to compare the ability of participants to stay engaged with a phone app versus “two other self-monitoring interventions to allow comparison of self-monitoring on a mobile phone against other approaches.”

I bet you’re not surprised … the smartphone app won!   Over 93 percent of the app participants continued to track their weight-related behavior and calories for the duration of the entire study (six months) whereas only 55% continued in the website group and only 53 percent in the diary group.

Of all the Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 4.00.12 PMcalorie counter apps out there, My Fitness Pal comes in first, according to ratings by  The site states that the app has as many or more features in its free version as other fitness-tracking apps.  It compiles a pie chart with a breakdown of calories based on percentages from carbs, fats, and proteins…and can be seen on a daily or weekly basis.  And considering what we discussed above about tracking, a nice add-on is the notes section, where users can either journal about their food, or their thoughts, or their exercise that day.

The app keeps a running total of calories so users can see where they stand in relation to their goal intake throughout the day, and it also has a huge searchable nutrition database.  That means you’ll find the calorie count of almost any food you want to look up!

Finally, notes that the best feature of all is “the app’s  ability to download recipes directly into the app and get estimated calorie counts. The app will take the recipe ingredient list, cross-check it with its nutrition database, and give an estimate of calories per serving. (Users can check the app’s work and alter any calories or serving sizes that need tweaking.) For people who scour the Internet for recipes, this feature is invaluable.”

Nuff said, right?!  Sounds like a powerhouse of an app … put the power in YOUR palm!

Meetups -support for body, mind, and spirit!

As you seek health in your body, mind, AND spirit, have you thought of using Meetups as a way to support your entire well-being?

For those of you who aren’t aware of what “Meetups” are, the site says they are: “neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something.”

These Meetup groups cover a huge range of interests and are started by individuals who have a need (new in town, or have a hobby/interest they want to share with others) and form a group on the website to satisfy that need.  Individuals get onto the website, put in the geographic range that they would travel for activities, and voila, a list of formed Meetup groups shows in a list.  The range of groups I’ve seen vary from volleyball, photography, hiking, women of Christian faith, dog lovers, book writing and aspiring authors, business owners, running, young business professionals, entrepreneurs, coed baseball, knitting, prayer, yoga, book lovers, flag football … on and on and on.  SO many choices! Continue reading “Meetups -support for body, mind, and spirit!”

Bodyweight Bootcamp Video

Okay, I think you’re getting to know me… I LOVE to provide people with ideas for getting moving!  So many times, we allow perceived obstacles to block us from our health goals.

  • I don’t have money for a gym membership
  • I live in a neighborhood where I don’t feel comfortable going out and walking or running
  • It’s not fun to workout alone
  • I don’t have any gym equipment

You get the idea.  That is why I like to expose people to OPTIONS.  And really, it comes down to how bad do you really want to reach your fitness or health goals?

If I offered you $1,000,000 to work really hard at your job over the next six months, would you do it?  Most would say, “YES”!  Well, I would argue that your health and well being is worth 100 times the $1,000,000!!!   And yet when faced with “hard work” to make it happen, we quit.

Here’s another video that just might pique your interest.  Warning:  It’s tough … hence the word “bootcamp” in the video!  But don’t let that scare you!  Whether you’re already fit (challenge yourself with this), or just getting started (just do what you can and make a goal of completing more and more each time), these can be fun … not to mention convenient.  More ideas?  Go to my Body (exercise) page for links to other posts with exercise ideas and and encouragement!


Perfect female body around the world?

I have three points I want to make sure to get across here… I promise the end point is encouraging!

  1.  Researchers identified the “perfect body shape” for women based on cultural preferences in various countries (click here to view – ugh).  What did it tell me?  Well, one, that “beauty” is determined by cultural influences.  Researchers found the “ideal” 5’4″ woman’s weight in China was considered to be 102 pounds, however in Columbia, it was 147 pounds.  There truly is NO perfect body shape!  NONE.  So if you’re a woman who looks in the mirror and says you don’t measure up…well, WHO’S STANDARD are you trying to measure by? Take that pressure off yourself NOW because every body standard is simply subjective to a bunch of people’s preferences in society, people who have no individual interest in YOU!
  2. Now, the really important second point is this … beauty is not defined by a body shape!  There is inner beauty of kindness and compassion.  There is intelligence that just humbles me in its scope.  There is external beauty,  like hair that is thick and wavy, or straight and smooth, or curly and out-of-control.  There is skin that is chocolate, or porcelain, or anywhere in between.  There are blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes, black eyes.  Young and old.  There are smile-line wrinkles, wisdom-old wrinkles, and skin as smooth as a baby’s butt!  There are large bodies and small bodies.  Who is to say what is beautiful?  It’s YOUR place to say what makes YOU feel beautiful.  Have grey hair and color it and that makes you feel beautiful?  Ok!  Love your grey hair and flaunt it?  Ok, too!  Have a curvy shape and it makes you feel feminine?  Embrace it.  No one has the corner on determining whether you are beautiful or not.
  3. Here’s the third catch.  Getting HEALTHY is different than getting beautiful!  When one begins a journey of HEALTH, they end up feeling beautiful from the inside out!  If what you are putting into your body, or on your skin is poison, toxic, known-to-be-bad-for-you food or products, it affects your mood, self-esteem, energy levels, and all around well-being.  If you were worried about your beauty, transfer that energy into getting healthy.  

So don’t be deceived that your beauty is a body shape or a number on the scale!  Don’t allow a cultural preference to dictate your esteem!  Fight against that!   For me?  Well, I’m determined to work on “me” from the inside out.  I care about pursuing  compassion and kindness as a human being, deepening my faith in God, pursuing healthy eating habits and physical strength, pursuing education and learning new things, and lastly, about touching others’ lives so that I make a difference by being in the world.  Now THAT is beautiful to me…

Valerie’s Nugget:  If you were worried about your beauty, transfer that energy into getting healthy.  


5 FREE Workouts – on YouTube, of course!


Here are five great examples of online YouTube workouts.  Obviously, you can search for others as well … and it’s actually enjoyable to find what works for YOU.  Don’t have time to go to the gym?  No DVD’s at home?  Inclement weather?  NO EXCUSES now!

  1.  Yoga with Adriene.  Love this one because she emphasizes health that encompasses body, mind, and spirit!  And because stress increases health risks, this is great for everyone!   Thanks, Adriene!  You will feel so calm afterward.


2.  Lucious Legs by Autumn Calabrese.  She’s got it going on.  She knows what it takes to sculpt and tone …and her body shows it.   She’s usually pretty intense as she takes you through her workouts, but she gets results.   Don’t expect upbeat and fluffy as her workouts are a mission…should you choose to accept!


3. Reggae Dancehall Workout by Keaira LaShae.  Oh my gosh, talk about F. U. N.!!!   Let’s amp it up a bit here!  I’d die if my kids posted me doing this on Facebook, but that hasn’t stopped me from doing this workout!  Keaira is spunky, energetic, and funny.  She is so engaging and draws you in.  Why not have fun WHILE you exercise?  And IF you conquer this, she has many other ones you can try!


4.  Latin Dance Aerobic Workout 30 Minutes.  Oh, another FUN one!  There’s nothing like music and dance to lift your mood!  Now turn it into a workout, and voila!  You’ll have your workout and be smiling at the end, too!  Have fun with this one…  Your mood and body will thank you.


5.  BeFit Channel:  Cardio MMA Workout Level 1.  You can subscribe (free) to the BeFit channel on YouTube and have access to workouts by Jillian Michaels, Rainbeau Mars, Denise Austin and so many more.  Click here to subscribe.

Awesome Body Mass Index in 3D

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.55.15 PM

BMI.  What is this, you ask?   It stands for Body Mass Index.  According to,  BMI is “a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height and applies to most adult men and women aged 20 and over.”  What this is saying is that BMI isn’t a direct measure of body fat, but instead is based off a correlation between weight and height.  That being said, the site goes on to state that research indicates BMI results do correlate to more sophisticated measurements of body fat but keep in mind that “factors such as age, sex, ethnicity and muscle mass are not accounted for in BMI”.

Okay, so what does knowing our BMI do for us?   Simply put, it’s a screening tool used to give reasonable indication of someone’s state of being in regards to weight:  healthy weight, underweight, overweight, or obese.

Why would this be important to know?  NOT because size determines beauty, but instead it’s about HEALTH!  Carrying extra weight increases health risks!  According to the site “Excess weight increases how hard the heart has to work, it also raises blood pressure, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Excess weight can make a person more likely to develop diabetes.”  From observation, I would add it increases wear/tear on joints and compromises the immune system, among other things.

While there are many BMI calculators out there, I came across a really awesome BMI calculator that shows body fat percentages in 3D models.   Use the easy-to-use sliding scale to input your height and weight data (just make sure to click “American/Imperial” under Measure System so the inputs are in feet/inches and pounds instead of metric).  A picture is worth a thousand words!

But don’t stop there.  Take your results and reference it to the table below.  Where did you land?

  1. Normal weight   19–24
  2. Overweight         25–29
  3. Obesity level I    30–34
  4. Obesity level II   35–39
  5. Obesity level III      ≥ 40

Take that answer and let it move you to take steps to reduce your health risks … from the inside out, of course!





Stressed? Pound it out…

dog in blanket

I have a saying… if you’re upset or stressed, take it out in a way that will benefit you, not hurt you.   Yes, punching a hole in the wall would be a negative way to handle anger!  Yes, eating a bag of Doritos and a gallon of ice cream would not be good for your body.  And yes, storming into  your boss’s office and screaming at her, as tempting as it sounds, would be a harmful choice as well!

So what’s a healthy alternative to unleashing your stress?  EXERCISE.  When I went back to school to get my MBA during my divorce, in the midst of working 50 hours per week, and learning to be a single mom, I began to run.  Seriously!  It became my catharsis … “me” time in a world that was swirling and demanding everything from me.

I began by telling myself I was allowed one hour of “me” time per day.  That became my exercise time.  At first, I could only run one minute, so I then walked 59 minutes.  Then I worked up to four minutes of running and 56 minutes walking.  Within a few months, I was running the entire hour!  With headphones on, listening to music or podcasts of sermons, it was a healing time of sorts.   And don’t think it was easy…there were times I couldn’t fit that hour in until 10:00 PM!  But I did it because the alternative wasn’t pretty. Continue reading “Stressed? Pound it out…”