Achieving Your Fitness Goals

The most important goal is the one that makes a difference at the end of the year.

A new year is here: it’s time to renew the quest for a better self. Whether you start the year with a detox program or a new diet or exercise routine, the trick is to get past February to accomplishing lasting change. So it must be a goal that’s challenging yet still achievable. It must make a difference at the end of the year.

What, honestly, is really important? Define your terms – what would make you healthier?

A popular option is detoxification. Basically, it means cleaning out any poisons or accumulated junk that are overwhelming our normal filtration systems. It usually means some sort of fasting. The Master Cleanse, also known as the Lemonade Diet, features lemon juice, maple syrup, salt water and cayenne for 10 days. Many supplement companies offer packages of nutrients, fiber, and colon cleansers to be taken along with a limited list of other foods for 21 – 30 days, thereby bypassing the starvation factor. Since motivation is high at the beginning of the year, many people like to start strong with a detox so that the larger goal of eating clean is easier as life crowds back in. It’s not a long-term diet, but a yearly cleanse to release old junk and jumpstart a new, healthier lifestyle. It’s just very difficult to get through the first few days: the body hits panic buttons when the usual crutches of caffeine or sugar don’t arrive on cue.

Dieting, as a longer term strategy, has unlimited options. When choosing what’s right, it’s important to know what the real problem is. Is overindulgence the issue, or is there a food sensitivity that’s causing inflammation? Or is the body depleted of a particular nutrient that’s driving overeating? It’s easy to see this in teenagers, who eat almost embarrassingly at a party and yet still continue browsing the snack table because their bodies need something that hot dogs, chips and soda aren’t providing. Limiting amounts of food isn’t the right solution. I’ll go into different types of diets in future posts, but for now, if this is where you’re heading, choose what seems right and achievable.

Be aware, too, that an overarching change in diet, while it may be a good idea, can be pretty formidable. The body doesn’t respond well to edicts, and a sudden overhaul with no comfort foods and no end in sight is not a recommended path to lasting change. Better to start with smaller changes and more gradually adapt to mostly whole foods. Leave the complete vegetarian or ketogenic status for later, when your body is closer and can make a step to that level.

Exercise is always a good idea, as long as it’s approached realistically. Beware of the “couch to tri-athlete in 5 weeks” plans. Start with a shorter-term exercise routine and take it up a notch as you progress. has a ton of free exercise programs, challenges and fitness information at all fitness levels to get you started and keep you going. No gym required!

Whatever the goal, put it on the planner or set an alarm, and don’t rely on good intentions to get it done. The routines and muscle memory aren’t in place yet. Habits are ruts that we fall into that make moving through the day easy. They should help us by doing tedious work while we plot bigger things. So the hardest part of achieving a resolution is getting out of the bad habit rut. In order to change the tracks, we have to fall off the edges back into the bad rut many times before the new, good track is formed. Making it permanent comes with learning how to overcome failure and strengthening muscles to hold the intended course. Once a good rut is formed, the routine takes over and there is no discussion about whether you will stay on the diet or do the exercises today. Healthy habits have become part of the routine.

Treat yourself like you’d like to be treated. Don’t lay down the law for your body and expect it to obey. Set real-life objectives that allow for interruptions and don’t require around-the-clock toilet access. Some great plans that allow for actual life are:

– Study or exercise plans that take weekends off, allowing for catch-up if you’ve missed or taking a break if you haven’t

– Six day diets that are fairly strict but then the seventh is a free day to eat whatever you like

– Exercise programs that mix things up daily to maintain interest

Intermittent or partial fasting: either not eating for a period of time each day, or excluding a particular food. Both can be a great way to take control of health.

The takeaway is not to expect perfection. You are regrooving a rut – the aim is progress in the proper direction. If you take a break on the wrong day, it’s no big deal. Just keep going as though you kept to the plan. It’s more important to finish strong than make every step perfect. Look for improvement and celebrate it. It may not be what you shot for, but it’s a step in the right direction. Positive motion – or lack of negative motion – is more certain than unsustainable perfection. I went 12 weeks once on a diet and exercise program before the scale let go of that number. Frustration was mine, but I wouldn’t let it be the last word. I put a picture of myself with a cow on the fridge and vowed to be able to discern the two when summer came. By the end of the year, I’d dropped 30 lbs. Celebrate the score days and don’t sweat the dropped ones. Each day is new; just start back over on the plan.

You’ll get there. Hopefully I can give you some useful information that will help move your health in the right direction this year. What would help you the most? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll put it on the list of topics!


The Essentials of Essential Oils

Essential oils can make small work of illnesses and promote long-term health. They just must be used wisely.


Essential oils are the topic of nearly every alternative health discussion, especially with the onset of cold and flu season. Distilled from herbs, they are an extension of herbalism and have been a part of medicine and pharmacopoeia since the earliest times. They are extremely effective medicine in a time of rampant drug-resistant germs. However, anytime something becomes popular, it easily gets misused. Essential oils are no different.

Unlike traditional medicine, which isolates and then standardizes a particular “active” ingredient in an herb which evokes the desired response, essential oils are a concentration of the whole herb. Herbs have multiple active ingredients, which complement one another in a synergistic way. In their whole form, they can never be standardized or controlled because soils, growing conditions, and processing all differ.

Intact herbs address the body naturally and as a whole. Concentrating those herbs maintains their innate complexity for use at therapeutic levels. Essential oils work on emotional, physical and energetic levels simultaneously, making them truly holistic medicine. And they are powerful: since the body’s sense of smell is by far the strongest sense, simply breathing in the aroma of the oil diffuses healing to all parts of the body.

Upon the first whiff of an essential oil, the body identifies the scent and an emotion is triggered, influencing the brain directly with excitement or relaxation. The fragrance then enters the sinuses, killing germs on contact, and begins absorbing into the bloodstream to distribute the particular strengthening or calming effects throughout the body. Like every living thing, each herb, and therefore its associated oil, has a unique frequency which causes the body’s cells to adapt their vibratory frequency. The human body becomes vulnerable to disease if the overall frequency dips below the healthy range. Eating too much processed (and thereby dead) foods and not enough fresh (and alive) ones influences the body to a lower frequency. Essential oils have extremely high frequencies, which shift each cell and the entire body toward vitality. What’s the first noticeable sign of healing after an illness? Revival of energy. You can feel the frequency of health. And all of that from just a sniff.

Diluted oils can also be applied topically for absorption through the skin on arthritic hands, sore muscles or a congested chest. The Alliance of International Aromatherapists recommends most oils be diluted at 1%, which is 3 drops to a tablespoon of a carrier oil. A carrier oil is a natural vegetable oil or lotion which “carries” the essential oil into the skin. It can then be easily smoothed into the skin, and all the above distribution happens similarly. The bathtub is another viable option, but remember that oils are not water soluble, so they can rest in a thin film which could sting or burn sensitive skin. Better to add 5 drops of your desired oil to a tablespoon of bubble bath or shampoo and then add it to your water so it disperses properly. Many oil companies make it easy for consumers by selling oils already diluted, or blending several oils to address a broader symptom profile.

Another simple approach is to diffuse essential oils into the air. Diffusion bypasses the dilution requirement in exchange for a small loss of effectiveness, since more goes into the room than the patient. Don’t dismiss this as mere room freshener, though. Filling the air with a therapeutic aroma is a very approachable, effective means of treating the entire family while they sleep or relax in the living room.

Many recommend taking oils internally, but this is not advised by experts. Each person is unique, with genetic weaknesses and strengths, nutritional gaps, and developed strengths or compensations that make each individual’s use of a particular remedy singular. It’s much safer, and often more effective, to use inhalation or topical applications. Hundreds of documented injuries occur annually from ingesting essential oils. The goal is to encourage the body to work properly, not force it into submission.

It is therefore very important to know the quality of the oils being used. Fragrance oils commonly included with diffusers are highly adulterated so as to withstand warehousing, and generally poor quality. “Therapeutic grade” is a commonly used but not officially recognized term, since there is no governing body certifying grades of oils. Look for high quality oils in dark glass bottles from reputable sources that have been stored in cool, dark places. If it smells “off” or rancid, it probably is. Don’t use that one. Grocery stores don’t have clerks knowledgeable in the care of oils; the local health food store is a better source.

Essential oils are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal; they are good medicine. It is no wonder they are being considered for hospital use in Europe as a truly integrative approach to healthcare. The notable hangup is safety, both of formulation and of administration. Moderation and safety were even the theme of this year’s Phyt’Arom, the international aromatherapy and phytotherapy conference. Experts from all over the world recognized the need to stress the importance of proper dilution and emphasized inhalation or topical administration in favor of the oral route. Robert Tisserand, the de facto expert on essential oils, has been preaching this message for years. It would be prudent to heed their counsel.

Moderation and safety are important. More is not better with essential oils, and anything therapeutic has contraindications. Many essential oils have blood thinning properties, so can accentuate prescription drugs or counter them – a good doctor can modulate essential oils alternately with prescription drugs to get the best response from your body. Another aspect to consider is emergency situations. Paramedics are not trained in how essential oils work, which can render life giving care ineffective or overactive in a time-sensitive situation. While essential oils can be very effective in emergencies and mishaps rarely end badly, a healthy dose of respect is always a good thing.

My introduction to essential oils was by a convention floor salesperson. The woman knew a lot of interesting facts about which I knew precious little. I had a problem and, of course, she had a solution that was “totally safe and effective.” I bought. Within the week, my child was another line in the doctor’s notes why alternative medicine should be outlawed. The salesperson prescribed powerful medicine for a child she had not met. She portrayed herself as an expert and I ignorantly acted on her advice. A shameful mom moment, to be sure. If you want to take control of your health, do your own research and be responsible. Essential oils are not the only answer to whatever ails you, and sometimes they are not appropriate. They are powerful therapeutic agents, and should be handled with care. I do believe there are distributors who truly know their stuff, but there are plenty more who are just looking to making a sale.

Essential oils can definitely make small work of illness and address underlying issues for long-term healing and health. They just must be used wisely.

For further reading: