Complicating easy things is kinda my life’s work. I don’t want to brag or anything but I’m pretty much a genius at making things look hard. Whether it’s this whole motherhood thing – I’ve left a child at the gym so many times that it’s now standard operating procedure to do a headcount every time we go through a doorway – or exploding my bread maker this morning (an appliance that’s supposed to take the risk out of making bread? Pshaw!), I live for danger. But there comes a time when even I have to throw up my hands and say “Why are we making this so difficult?!”, especially when it comes to health and fitness.
1. Salad. Every healthy eater eats it. It’s basically the only dish that everyone from vegans to low-carbers to raw foodies to the most neolithic Paleo can eat without anyone calling the nutritional police. I can understand why – it’s delicious, nutritious and the perfect canvas for any ingredient you can think to throw on top of greens. (Ha ha – you thought I was going to end that phrase with “and tastes like chicken!” didn’t you?) The problem for me is when it’s lunchtime, I’m starving and while salad sounds good I just don’t feel like chopping a ton of veggies and adding olives, beets, grapefruit wedges, cheese crumbles, toasted (by me, of course) pine nuts, onions and the weed that I pick out of the cracks in my neighbor’s driveway (purslane, seriously try some) and then topping it with a freshly emulsified dressing of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, a dash of tabasco, unicorn blood and 11 herbs and spices. Why does such a simple food have to be so much work?
Simplify: When I was in Germany one of the best meals I ever had was started with a salad of chopped butter lettuce topped with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. That’s it. I ate so much of it our host mother was forced to go back out to their garden plot and pick another bunch just for me. (It also helped that I hadn’t seen a fruit or vegetable in like three weeks and was super constipated. Seriously Germany what is up with the produce hating? You have eleventy different kinds of sausage but an apple not in the form of strudel is verboten? It’s bad enough you have different flushing mechanisms on every single toilet – the chain over the door was by far the most befuddling – but now you have to back me up too?)
These days I often make that “German salad” and I’m never sorry. I love a good 70-ingredient salad as much as the next health nut but there’s nothing wrong with just plopping some lettuce on your plate. Especially when you eat as much salad as I do. (“Salad” bowl? More like mixing bowl!) Bonus tip: Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly lazy I just buy one of those plastic clamshells of organic “herb blend” lettuce, top it with oil and vinegar, close the lid and shake, shake, shake Senora. Then I eat it straight out of the container. Fast food doesn’t get any faster than that!
2. Food labels. My frozen peas are “gluten free”. My dark chocolate is “bursting with antioxidants”. My eggs are “all natural”. (I used to buy the unnatural eggs but after I found a baby woodchuck in one I switched.) My totally-not-healthy-in-any-way licorice is “fat free”. My yogurt is “now with probiotics”. (Um, what were they using before? Camel urine?) And, my personal fave, my bananas are a “superfood”. Seriously marketers? Stop it. When my banana sprouts a cape and saves my toddler from a speeding train then you can slap a superfood sticker on it.
Simplify: Foods that come without labels – usually produce, bananas notwithstanding, and fresh meats and seafood – are generally the healthiest foods out there. As for foods with labels, I find it works much better if I ignore all the hype in big letters on the front and just look at the nutritional facts on the back. Twenty three grams of sugar in a yogurt cup? You can keep your probiotics, thanks. While I wish that food marketers would be more honest in their labeling – all my peas better be gluten free – that’s probably as likely to happen as the invention of lickable wallpaper so in the meantime I just take it all with an iodized grain of salt (“iodide is a necessary nutrient!”).
3. Weight lifting. I’m going to take some flack for this one but I’m going to say it anyways: weight lifting is just lifting heavy stuff. You do it every single day whether you intend to or not. Groceries? Kids? Drunk roommates in wobbly stilettos? All need carrying. I wince every time I hear a person (usually a woman but not always) say, “I can’t lift weights! I wouldn’t even know how to start, it’s all so complicated!” It’s not her/his fault. Between all the machines tattooed with diagrams that make Egyptian runes look like a preschool rebus and the beefed-up lifters talking “super sets” and “rear deltoids” and the signs warning you to not get injured (OH THE SIGNS OF IMPENDING DOOM), I can understand why people think they “can’t lift.”
Simplify: First, avoid the machines. Most gyms will steer newbies to those first (I’m guessing since they’re the most expensive equipment?) but not only are they hard to figure out and may possibly fold you like a burrito if you get in one wrong but they are also not the best for you as they hold your joints in unnatural positions and don’t allow your supporting muscles to kick in. Second, go for free weights (dumbbells and barbells) and/or anything “functional” in movement. What to do with them? Just lift them! Lift them in any way that feels natural to you. Try to use your upper and lower body. Copy someone else (it’s only creepy if you stand right behind them and sing along with their iPod). But don’t worry about it too much. Sets, reps, negatives, splits, the proper Latin terms for all the muscles – all these are great and if you decide you want a more precise workout then you’ll learn about them and implement them.
The important thing is to just get in there and try it. Another worry I hear a lot is “I don’t want to get hurt!” While you can injure yourself weight-lifting most new lifters don’t lift anything heavy enough to do serious damage. Third, listen to your body. Does your knee hurt every time you lunge? Find a way to lunge that doesn’t hurt or don’t lunge. There are plenty of other exercises for your legs. Fourth, try body weight exercises. These don’t use any “weights” except your own and they can be powerful resistance exercises. You can build amazing shoulders with different kinds of push-ups and you’ll never once have to worry about dropping a dumbbell on your head.
Do you have a health or fitness trend that you wish people would stop making so complicated? How do you like your salad? Do you like your weight routines simple or complicated?