Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Is college for everyone?

How important is it for everyone to go to college?

For many students, myself included, getting into a good college the penultimate measure for academic success. For some the ultimate measure of academic success is graduating from that good college and landing a decent job that you mostly enjoy. For a growing segment of young people, forgoing college in favor of traveling or running a successful start up is the preferred method of demonstrating smarts.

Given the state of the current job market and the increasing costs of college tuition, it's easy to understand why some students would choose to work, travel or for the more entrepreneurial set start a business instead of attending college.

New groups like UnCollege,  are dedicated to “hacking” higher education by focusing on experiences, networking and massive open online courses or *MOOCs instead of paying for a traditional four year degree.

*MOOCs are college level courses offered free, to anyone with an internet connection. Companies like Udacity, edX, and Coursera all offer free online, college level classes from elite universities like MIT, Harvard and Stanford.

I can see where these kids are coming from. After spending a pretty penny on a Master's degree which hasn't really lead to anything yet I often find myself second guessing myself when it comes time to write yet another check to Sallie Mae.

On the other hand, I value my college experience and acknowledge that it isn't for everyone. Like I learned in my grad courses, there are multiple intelligences. Some people write, speak, organize, research, muli-task better than others. Some build, tinker, play, create better. Telling every student that they need to go to college to be successful is kind of like judging a fish by it's ability to climb a tree.  

While one could make an argument for all those successful business people out there who never went to college (see: Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Rachel Ray, Walt Disney) there are also plenty of people who are limited in their professions because they don't have that four year degree.

As continuing student of life, I think it's important that teachers encourage students to do what they can do best and follow the path that will work best for them. Most students will do great in college, but some might do greater in a trade school. And that's just fine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Does this make me look fit?

Okay, I know. I've been doing a really bad job here. I've been caught up in life, taking liberties and the pursuit of fitness.

Based on my current job experience I don't know if I still qualify as a new teacher, so now what?

Over the past few months I've been doing alot of thinking, and cooking, and working out. I'll update here from time to time on where this crazy road to the front of the classroom takes me. But for now I'd really love to share my new endeavor in getting healthy with you guys over at my new blog Does this make me look Fit?

I'll be sharing vegan recipes, health and fitness tidbits. Since I've decided to run a triathalon in May, I'll also be sharing my attempts at training for your viewing enjoyment.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Day 13 - Eat to Live, Live to Eat

You are what you eat, is how the saying goes. And it seems that doctors and a lot of other very smart people are beginning to take that message to the streets.

An interesting article in the New York Times this morning showcased Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives an annual leadership conference aiming to create a bridge between science, health care and the culinary arts.

"Dr. David M. Eisenberg is the founder and chief officiant of “Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives,” an “interfaith marriage,” as he calls it, among physicians, public health researchers and distinguished chefs that seeks to tear down the firewall between “healthy” and “ crave-able” cuisine. Although physicians are on the front lines of the nation’s diabetes and obesity crises, many graduate from medical school with little knowledge of nutrition, let alone cooking. It is a deficiency that is becoming increasingly apparent as the grim statistics climb. (By 2050, for example, as many as 1 in 3 adults will develop diabetes if current trends continue.) "

Since I've been following a 'clean' diet - mainly fruits, veggies, lean meats, no dairy, no processed sugar - I can certainly attest that what you put into your body is incredibly important. While following a healthy diet has done wonders for my waistline, I've also noticed a generous upswing in my moods and mental clarity. I no longer experience what I like to call my midafternoon cranky-pants - and I directly attribute this to not being stark raving mad from the constant highs and lows of blood sugar fluctuations.

Now that my husband and I are forming our own little family unit, I strongly feel that learning how to cook is an important building block in the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.

Recently, and perhaps a slightly unfortunately for my husband, I began reading a book called Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger. Like many Americans, Steve eats processed foods. I also used to love processed foods, until I read his book. In this little expository tale, Steve describes the origins of some of America's most common processed food ingrediets. Hearty places like; phosphate mines in Idaho, gypsum mines in Oklahoma and oil fields in China. Ettlinger reveals how each Twinkie ingredient goes through the process of being crushed, baked, fermented, refined, and/or reacted into a totally unrecognizable goo or powder with a strange name—all for the sake of creating a simple snack cake.

Sounds appetizing doesn't it?

After the first chapter I started to really think about what I was putting into my body and I made the decision to completely eliminate processed foods from my diet. Somehow a paragraph of unpronouncable, unidentifiable ingrediets on a package is no longer appealing to me.

Which brings me back to Dr. Eisenberg and his Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference. I've been putting a lot more effort into figuring out how to cook simple, healthy meals for my family partially because I am an information overloaded, neurotic Millenial child, but mostly because I want to be able to identify what I'm eating from (sorry, unavoidable pun ahead) soup to nuts.
What I've been finding is that it's surprisingly easy to do once I started to get the hang of things. And I feel so much better knowing that my family is eating simple, natural ingredients instead of stuff like benzoate preservatives, brominated vegetable oils. Mm!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Day 11 - Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

I never thought I would hear myself say this but, I am looking forward to going to the gym.

Don't get me wrong, I love being in shape. I've always been a fairly active person. Growing up in suburbia I was lucky enough to have the freedom to ride my bike everywhere, climb trees, build forts, and spend my summer evenings playing a rousing game of manhunt with the other neighborhood kids. The best was when we were able to get multple blocks of kids involved and have an epic manhunt battle with 15+ kids spanning 5 blocks. Those were awesome.

By junior high I was obsessed with the little pull out exercise sections in my Seventeen magazin that promised Flat Abs in 20 minutes, and 5 Ways to Make Your Butt Look Better in Jeans. I taught myself how to do crunches, tricep curls, squats and hamstring pulls in my bedroom. A little part of me was convinced that if I did these exercises I would magically grow boobs and look like the women in the pictures. A larger part of me was driven by the way these exercises made me feel - namely :: cue the Daft Punk:: harder, better faster stronger.

By high school I was badgering the boys at the local college gym to show me how to use the weight equipment. Cardio was never my strong suit, but boy did I love those tricep curls. Cardio at the gym wasn't necessary anyway since my friends and I were practicaly walking all over the state - did I mention that none of us had cars?

By college I was still in pretty good shape. I was working as a lifeguard so I had ready access to a pool, in my opinion swimming is still hands down the best cardiovascular exercise around. And there is something about swimming that I find incredibly soothing - maybe it's the groove that you get into when you find your stroke, or maybe it's the fact that no one can talk to you when you're face is underwater - either way, it's awesome. Again, since I attended college in New York City I was also regularly criscrossing the borough of Manhattan (and frequently Brooklyn and Staten Island) on foot.

And then I became a grown up. After I graduated I got a big girl job to go with my big girl bills and big girl student loan payments, exercise, which had once been ingrained in my daily life now became something I had to find time for. And this ladies and gentlemen is where the problems started.

After a long day of work the first thing on my mind is usually sweatpants. Followed by an intense craving for wine and possibly some really bad t.v., preferably while lounging on the couch with my husband the dog. Mentally, I want to zone out and give my brain a rest. Physically, I should probably move around a bit because my body was pretty much done nothing more strenuous that walk to the cafeteria for lunch. Humph.

I've been going to the gym for about year, but haven't had much luck because honestly? The gym is really boring. Same machines, same people, same exercises, same stupid shows to watch on the elliptical machine...bo-ring.

But then I discovered the cross training classes at my gym. In one word: Whoa. I realized that what I neded more than anything to get this fitness train going was a healthy dose of competition and someone to tell me what to do.

Now, a typical week for me looks something like this:

Monday: TRX Suspension Straps
Yes, it does sound like some crazy S&M horror story. But these things are awesome once you get used to it. Essentially these are straps that are suspended from the ceiling that you use for weight bearing exercises. They challenge your stability and help to create some serious upper body strength.

Tuesday: Kickboxing
This might just be my favorite class. We do tons of push-ups and butterfly crunches and then we kick/punch the shit out of a punching bag for an hour. I wasn't prepared for how incredibly cathartic this is - or how strong my legs are getting.

Wednesday: Kettlebells
The first time I tried this class I thought it was quite arguably the most dangerous thing I've ever done in a gym. There I was holding a 15lb kettlebell in my hand and then the instructor asked me to swing it around. If you ask my husband he will probably tell you that me, heavy objects, and swinging should never, ever mix, ever. Kettlebells have become a lot more popular since Jillian Michaels came up with her 30 Day Shred, but they've been an elite training staples for hundreds of years - think Roman gladiators and Russian strongmen. It's a 45 minute full body cardio and strength training workout. My abs are seriously screaming after these classes.

Thursday: Kickboxing - Maybe

Friday: Zumba
It's like a Saturday evening salsa party minus the booze sand guacamole. I royally suck at it, but by the end I'm gasping for air, my calves are killing me and my abs hurt from laughing. I usually try to get a girlfriend to go and then it's a grand old time!

Saturday: Boot Camp
This was the class that intially compelled me to sign up for cross training. I would watch people beat truck tires with mallets, climb ropes, jump up and down on plytometric boards and do push-ups on Bosu balls - all while covered in sweat and groaning in pain. And somehow, for some incomprehensible reason, I wanted to join them.

I've been doing this routine for a month now and I've defintely noticed some positive changes. My legs are leaner, my arms are firming up and I can now run a 10 minute mile (it was 15 not too long ago), and I'm starting to get that coveted V on my ab space. According to the scale I haven't lost a ton of weight yet but my clothes fit better, and I have a lot more energy.

I'm actually toying with the idea of before and after pictures...or maybe I'll give myself another month. :)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Day 5 - Sugar High

As I write this I am in the midst of a serious caffeine high. This feeling is strange to me because I am an admittedly devoted coffee drinker. If Maslow were to assess my hierarchy of needs it would probably be something along the lines of - air, water, coffee, love, food. Yes, in that specific order. I'm used to drinking at least two cups a day just to keep me going, which is precisely why this feeling of a caffeine high is so odd for me.

For the past 2 1/2 weeks I've been pretty closely adhering to something called the Paleo Diet. The Paleo Diet is an eating program developed by Dr. Loren Cordain, a professor of the Department of Health and Exercise at Colorado State University. Also known as the Caveman Diet, Dr. Cordain proposed that humans should ideally consume foods that mimic the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors - a diet that mainly consists of meats, fish, fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. The general principle behind the diet seems to be 'if you can hunt it or gather it you can eat it.' Which sounds pretty healthy since it pretty much eliminates any and all packaged foods. Sadly, it also eliminates really tasty things like dairy (good-bye cheese), cereal grains which include wheat, rice, oats (so long breakfast bagel) etc. and legumes (no hummus here). Slightly sad face.

Because it eliminates cereal grains the diet ends up being naturally low-carb, something I've been slightly wary of because of fad diets like Atkins. The high fat, high protein, low grain mantra is something that certainly goes against the USDA My Plate recommendation of 6 oz. a day for my age group (woman, 19 - 30 years old).

I was curious. So I did what anyone in my age bracket in search of answers would do - I Googled and came across Mark's Daily Apple by Mark Sisson. Mark, from what I can tell from his blog (haven't gotten around to reading his book yet) is a competetive runner, author, and all around health nut who promotes the Primal Blueprint which sounds alot like the Paleo Diet. He's a fan of grass fed beef, free range chickens, lots of organic veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds. Unlike the Paleo Diet he is a proponent of daily exercise - specificially sprinting and weight training.

After reading Mark's blog I decided to put myself on a 30 day Primal Challenge. I've eliminated dairy, grains and legumes (with the exception of soybeans - I love edamame and prefer to substitute tofu for most of my meals). The first few days were difficult - it was hard to give up my daily muffin/bagel breakfast habit as well as the creamer in my coffee.

About 4 days in I felt really sluggish, but I attributed that to my body detoxing from sugar/carb withdrawl. According to the experts in the blogosphere it might also be because my body was transitioning from glycolosis (burning sugars for energy) to ketosis (burning fat for energy). Normally this is when I would have thrown in the towel, but I was motivated and I pushed through.

By day 6 of the Primal Diet I felt phenomenal. The first thing that I noticed is that my energy is pretty steady throughout the day. I eat breakfast around 8am (usually an egg white omlette with mushrooms and spinach) and I find that I'm not hungry until 1pm when I'll eat my salad (2 cups of Earthbound Organic Spring Mix, with BBQ tofu, baked salmon and avocado). A handful of pistachios or maybe a banana would take me through my workout and on to dinner around 8pm with no problem.

This is in a direct contrast to my old diet. A typical day would be a muffin/bagel/oatmeal for breakfast around 8am. I'd be starving by 11am and would be in a serious crave mode for more carbohydrates - a sandwhich, pizza or pasta with veggies if that's what the cafeteria was serving. After my lunch I'd be in a food coma. By 2pm I would be sleepy and in need of a pick me up. This is where I would either snag a cookie, or a piece of chocolate or any other treat that seems to be in abundance on my floor. Then I would go to the gym and scarf some brown rice, veggies and another protein for dinner. I'd usually go back for seconds of the grain.

Which brings me back to my current caffeine high. Since eating the Primal Diet I've eaten alot of protein, an abundance of vegetables and lots of good fat. What I haven' t been eating are simple carbs and sugar. Sugar was also a mainstay of my previous diet. What I've noticed is that since I've been eating cleaner my body has become much more sensitive to sugar and caffeine - I just can't tolerate large amounts of either anymore.

For instance, yesterday I gave in to my sweet tooth and had a delicous Lindt Truffle - 60% of dark chocolate amazingness. In a previous life I would have been able to take down 3 - 4 of those bad boys no problem. Yesterday, I ate one and I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. Within 5 minutes my heart was racing, my hands were shaking and my head was spinning in a serious sugar rush. It's crazy what your body tells you when you really start listening to it...