What is a 30-Day Challenge?

Forming a new habit can be difficult, as it requires you to make both physical and mental changes, and sometimes these changes aren't easy. This seems to be especially true when you're trying to do something that's "good for you."

image credit - dreamstime.com

Trying your new habit out for 30 days (a 30-day challenge) can be a great way to test drive your new habit, without having to commit to it forever.

What is a 30-day Challenge?

This isn't rocket science - it's pretty easy. Challenge yourself to do something, or to quit doing something, for 30 days. Every single day, no matter what, for 30 days. The challenge gives you an opportunity to:
  • Give something new a try. A new task / habit / change can seem daunting. By giving yourself a 30-day time frame you're able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's that whole "I can do anything for 30 days" mentality, where you're more willing to endure some difficulty because you know it's not permanent. This makes it much easier to start a new task - both mentally and emotionally.
  • 30 days isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it is long enough to effect changes to your body and mind.
    • Work out really hard for 30 days, and you'll see and feel the difference in your body.
    • Cut your calories drastically for 30 days, and you'll lose a lot of weight.
    • Changes to your diet will have enough time to impact your digestion, sleep patterns, and energy level. Do you feel better after cutting sugar (or alcohol, or gluten) from your diet?
    • Changes to your daily routine will have enough time for you to see the fruits of your labor. Have you made progress on a hobby because you're watching less TV, or because you're waking up 20 minutes earlier in the mornings?
  • Try something you might have been afraid to try on a more permanent basis. There may be things you would be afraid of failing on, but you'd love to give them a try if it's temporary.
  • Determine what parts of the new habit you liked best, and what parts weren't meant for your long-term life. You can then continue to make that new habit part of your life in whichever way works best for you.

How to make a 30-day Challenge work for you.

Try doing something you've wanted to do, and see how you like it. Commit to it - give it everything you've got - for 30 days. Keep a journal, or at the very least be cognizant about how you feel during the process. Did you lose weight, or get stronger, or get more flexible? Are you sleeping better? Do you have more energy? Enjoy the accomplishment, and take stock about what you gained from the process.

After the 30 days are over, you can decide whether to make that new habit a permanent part of your lifestyle, and on what terms. Maybe you're only going to do it 3 days per week instead of every day..?

Smaller is better

You can't run a marathon every day, but you can run (or walk) a mile. Doing something every single day - rain or shine, weekday or weekend, even when you're sick or tired - is hard enough. Make that new something a Herculean task and you're doomed before you even begin. Keep it simple - you can always modify and expand on it as time goes on.

Examples of good 30-day Challenges

Good 30-day challenges shouldn't take a lot of time, and they should be easy to track. When you're going to bed at night, there shouldn't be any doubt about whether or not you were successful. (and the answer better be that you were successful!)
  • Run 1 mile every day.
  • Remove something from your diet - soda, sugary drinks, desserts, wheat (gluten), alcohol.
    • Changes to diet can have a big impact on other parts of your well-being, so pay close attention to how you feel, how you sleep, and your overall energy levels.
  • Counting calories - give yourself a daily calorie budget and stick to it.
  • Limiting your time spent on Facebook and/or social media. (or eliminating it altogether.)
  • Stretching / Yoga
  • Stand up from your desk and do jumping jacks for 30-60 seconds, 3-4 times per day.
  • Exercise during TV commercials. push-ups, shadow boxing, 100-ups, mountain climbers, and squats work great for this.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water per day.
  • 30-day challenges don't have to be fitness related either; they can work on all areas of your life.
    • Limiting your time spent watching TV.
    • Reading for 15 minutes every day.
    • Say hello to a stranger / smile at somebody.
    • Learning a foreign language for 15 minutes a day.
    • Learning to play a musical instrument for 15 minutes each day.
    • Writing a couple hundred words in your novel, or your blog.
    • Meditate

Tracking your 30-day Challenge

I like to print out a 30-day worksheet and cross off a Big Red X for each successful task/day. (see my post "Don't Break the Chain"). I keep the worksheet at my desk at work, and it motivates me to continue my forward progress. Here are some worksheets you can print and use. (if the jpg files don't print great for you, shoot me an email and I can send you a pdf version.) I always start on a Monday, which is the beginning of a new week for me, so my tracking schedules start on Mondays...

once per day

twice per day

three times per day

four times per day

eight times per day

a Few of My Personal Challenges

I've taken on a number of 30-day challenges over the years, and sometimes the results have surprised me.
  • 1 Mile per day - some days this was planned as part of a workout, while other days I took a long walk during lunch. And there were a few times where I was getting ready for bed and said "Oh S***! Honey, I'll be back in 10 minutes.." before running out the door! When the challenge was over, I had decided that running wasn't so bad, and I've run a large number of miles since then.
  • Giving up soda - soda has been my vice as far back as I can remember. I've flip-flopped between diet and regular, and I've tried limiting my intake, but it's always difficult. So I made a concerted effort for a 30-day challenge. (I ended up turning this into a 60-day challenge, but that's beside the point.) I was sort of expecting a great cleansing feeling from doing this, but surprisingly it didn't have any impact on my energy, sleep, digestion, or otherwise. So, when the trial was over, I decided to re-introduce soda back into my diet (sugar only - not diet because I don't trust the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners), and I'm using my weight and calories to help determine if and how much I can consume. (because at 150 calories per can it can add up to trouble quickly.) If my weight and eating have been good, I get to indulge.
  • Facebook holiday - I removed Facebook from my phone for 30 days, and realized I really didn't miss it all that much. When the challenge was over I added it back to my phone, but even today - 2 years later - I still don't use it nearly as much as I used to.
  • Being "there" with my kids - this was my favorite challenge I've done, and I liked the results so much I've continued with it ever since then. Instead of being near my kids while doing my own thing (working, or being on my phone, or watching a game on TV, or whatever), I try to be actively engaged with my kids - all that other stuff can wait. My relationship with both boys has become stronger because of this.

In the end, a 30-day challenge is nothing more than an easy way to tempt you into trying something you either wouldn't have tried at all, or that you'd try and then give up on too soon. That being said, a 30-day challenge is also extremely effective and can have long-term, life-changing benefits.

I recommend keeping the 30-day challenge as a tool in your health and fitness arsenal, and using it anytime you're not sure whether a new habit might be right for you.

- Chris Butterworth

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dinner made easy - turkey burgers and sweet potato fries

Sometimes you need a quick and easy dinner that doesn't require much in the way of prep work or cleanup, but you still want to eat healthy, and you'd prefer it if the food tasted good too.

We had one of those nights last week. Late meetings at work and homework that needed help left little time for a big dinner, so we turned to the freezer: Trader Joe's Frozen Turkey Burgers and Alexia Chipotle Seasoned Spicy Sweet Potato Fries (purchased at Fry's; rated 4.8 stars on 1,733 reviews on the Alexia website) answered the call.


The turkey burgers went straight from the freezer to the grill. I let them cook a few minutes to thaw before adding seasoning, but otherwise I grilled them the same way I normally grill burgers and turkey burgers. Then I melted cheese for those who wanted it, and everyone is welcome to grab a bun and add condiments to taste.

The fries are even easier - turn on the oven, spread the fries out on a cookie sheet/pan, and in they go.

Add in a salad with some freshly cut tomatoes and cucumbers, and the whole meal took less than 10 minutes of prep time. (plus cooking time.)

Food Quality

We all know that fresh food is better than frozen, and packaged food is never as good as the food you prepare yourself (both in terms of nutrition and taste.) So how bad are these burgers and fries?

frozen turkey burgers
photo of the box - Trader Joe's Turkey Burgers

Well, the ingredient list looks safe: Turkey, Salt, Rosemary extract. We could get nit-picky about how much salt, and why didn't they just list rosemary / why extract? But compared with most pre-packaged foods that is an awfully short list, and there's nothing in that list I can't pronounce or tell you what it is.

From a calorie standpoint - 180 per burger will fit into just about any diet (unless you're trying to gain lots of weight!)

Now let's take a look at those frozen french fries..

alexia chipotle sweet potato fries
photo of the front of the bag

photo of the Nutritional Information

close-up photo of the Ingredient List

First I considered the calories, listed at the top of the Nutrition Facts.

  • 130 Calories per serving with 7 servings in the bag. However, we get about 5 servings out of the bag - we each eat a portion with dinner, and then one of my boys brings the extra fries in his lunch to school the next day.
  • 130 calories per serving * 7 servings = 910 calories in the bag.
  • 910 calories / 5 servings in our family = 182 calories per serving for our family (give or take for each person's portion.)

Next I read the Ingredient List, and while it's a longer list than I would have preferred, it's mostly powdered spices, and it's mostly things I've heard of and can pronounce. Even the things I wasn't sure about were short words and easy to pronounce, but I did have to look a couple up online:

  • Dextrin - this sounds like it could be man made, but then I found an article titled "8 benefits of dextrin" on a website called Global Healing Center, which made me feel better. Turns out dextrin is a natural fiber which can act as a binding agent. Hmmm, ok.
  • Gluconic Acid - the good news is that this is the last ingredient listed; the bad news is it shows up on a website called GMO Compass. However, even this website points out it's a naturally occurring fruit acid which accrues during the decomposition of carbohydrates. I don't know whether the gluconic acid in my sweet potato fries came from GMO carbs or not, but I'm not going to worry too much about it either. It's the only potentially bad ingredient and it's last on the list - I'll take the trade-off for my easy to prepare meal. (It's ok to just be healthy - you don't have to be perfect.)

Calorie Count

How many calories did my whole meal contain?

  • Turkey Burger - 180
  • Turkey Burger bun - 150
  • Cheese on Burger - 110
  • Condiments (ketchup, mayo, pickles) - 100
  • Chipotle Fries - 182 (per my revised calculation)
  • Salad - negligible
  • Ranch Salad Dressing - 75
  • Total Calories - somewhere in the neighborhood of 800, depending on portion sizes
    • If I was trying to lose weight and limit my calorie intake, I would skip the cheese, mayo, and ranch dressing, and I would have eaten a smaller portion of fries. That would keep the meal closer to 500 calories.
    • As it was, 800 calories for dinner works great for me as part of a 2,000 calorie diet in maintenance mode.
    • Either way, if you know what you're eating, what your daily goal is, and how much you've already eaten that day, you can plan and budget accordingly.

Meal Review

This was a good meal - maybe not something I'd crave in the mid-afternoon or travel across state lines for, but a good, fresh-tasting, full-flavored meal. It left me satisfied without feeling stuffed-full, and happy that I had eaten a reasonable amount of healthy calories. Prep work and cleanup are a breeze, too, which is a big bonus.

We'll definitely replenish our freezer and keep this in the rotation of "once every couple months when life is more frenzied than normal and we need to get dinner going in a hurry" meals.

Cheers to another easy-healthy meal.

- Chris Butterworth

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Tortoise and Hare - the tale of two diets

Here I sit on the other side of losing 10 lbs in very short order, and I've had a chance to reflect on the process. This time was a lot different from the method I used last time, and while I was successful both times, I had to ask some deep-thinking questions.

Mercedes Benz tortoise and hare

My first question to myself was "why did I have to lose 10 lbs again?" (ie: why wasn't I able to keep the weight off?) It turns out I have a weakness - I'm not very good at re-adjusting my diet after a big race or event.

The last time it happened I had spent the fall training for a 10-mile run. I was running a lot, and I was eating a lot of food just to maintain my weight. I was able to shove pretty much anything and everything down my neck without consequence. Unfortunately, once my race was over and my workouts tapered down, I continued to snack at my desk all day, and the net result was inevitable.

This time it was because I had been training to hike the Grand Canyon - down and back up on the same day, and the same thing happened. In the spring I was doing a lot of trail running and eating at will. Then, due to injuries and time commitment changes, my workouts slowed down to nothing, but my eating did not. And once again I found myself carrying a dumbbell's worth of extra weight around.

Note to self - stop doing that!

Most of you probably saw the much-hyped Mercedes Benz ad in yesterday's Super Bowl - The Tortoise and the Hare. (if you didn't, click here to watch it on youtube.) That's a great way to describe my two diets. Let's compare the slow and steady tortoise diet with the rapid weight loss hare diet..

Tortoise Diet - Slow and Steady

This was a marginal change diet. I removed the worst offenders and the easiest to find problem spots, such as snacking on sun flower seeds and red vines, and then I ate pretty much whatever I wanted, but I modified my portion size to about 2/3 of what I would normally have eaten. Read the full details here.

The plan was to not have to put a lot of energy into food - counting calories, preparing all my meals, eating specialty foods, changing my behaviors. I kept eating the same foods, only I ate less of them. I guestimated that I was eating about 1,700-ish calories per day, and I expected to lose a couple pounds per month.

  • No major food or lifestyle changes required - eat most of what you ate before, but less of it.
  • Not a lot of hunger pains.
  • Easy to modify over time - a little less or a little more is ok.
  • Sustainable - can eat this way the rest of your life.

  • Thinking about food a lot - you're constantly thinking about what you would normally be eating right now, and then you have to limit yourself to less than that amount.
  • Slow weight loss - spending all month long thinking about food, and then only losing a couple pounds, doesn't feel very rewarding.
  • Not an exact science - you might not know at the end of the day whether or not you've run a calorie deficit for the day.

Hare Diet - Rapid Weight Loss

This was a diet predicated on a severe calorie restriction, eating less than 1,000 calories per day. It required counting calories (I rounded and estimated a bit, so my count wasn't perfect) and an insane amount of willpower. The plan was to lose weight quickly - more of a rip the band aide off type of plan.

  • Rapid weight loss - I loved seeing the scale move lower almost every day, and my clothes fit better each week.
  • Rewarding - A quarter-pound here and a half pound there; it was easy to know my hard work was paying off, especially when I graphed each day's weight in Excel. For me, this was enough to push through the tremendous amount of will power required.
  • Food tastes awesome - every meal tasted like the best meal ever. A slice of pizza was sent from heaven. A ham and cheese sandwich on toasted sourdough was a culinary masterpiece. I ate very slowly and relished in the gift of every bite.
  • Quality food - you learn very quickly which foods give you more satisfaction for fewer calories, and you end up spending your calories on nutrition rich foods, simply because they make you feel more full than the empty-calorie foods.

  • Hunger - you're body is hungry for food, all the time.
  • Will Power - it takes an extreme amount of will power to not power-binge on whatever happens to be closest at any given time.
  • Socially awkward - going out to eat with friends and ordering a small salad and a glass of water (or sharing a meal with your wife) is a little socially awkward. (and requires more of that will power stuff.)
  • Food headaches - the brutal food headaches lessened somewhat after awhile, but they were miserable at the beginning.
  • Physical and Mental changes - your body reacts to the natural environment of not having enough food/energy, so it starts diverting resources from activity it deems to be less important. (sort of like your phone shutting down radio contact when the battery gets down to 5%..)
    • Short attention span - over time I started noticing I wasn't able to focus on a task for more than about 20 minutes at a time. This had a negative impact at work, at home, and as a soccer coach.
    • Exhaustion - I found myself running out of gas at night. I would sit down on the couch at about 8:00, and it was game over for the night. Truth be told, I'm always tired at night, because I run hard all day long and I don't get enough sleep, but I can still motivate myself to be productive for another hour after the kids go to sleep. That simply wasn't the case on this diet.
    • Reduced sex drive - enough said here, but this ties into the exhaustion phase.
  • Water aware - while I'm always aware of hydration, I was almost hyper-concerned about getting enough water to stay safe. (plus it filled my belly and staved off hunger for a few minutes.) Water became almost an obsession.

In the End

If I was designing a diet from scratch, I would take the best of both diets. I would base my long-term diet on the Tortoise, but I would mix in the Hare for a week or so once in awhile. The Hare Diet has too many disadvantages to make it practical for the long term, but it offers two things the Tortoise doesn't:
  1. Quick Rewards - getting almost instant feedback that you're doing it right might be enough motivation to keep you going.
  2. Calorie Conscious - if you really pay attention to your calories, and live on 1,000 per day, then 1,700 Tortoise calories will feel like gluttony.

I think the Mercedes Benz commercial got it right - the Tortoise's slow and steady approach, supplemented by a turbo speed boost now and then, is the winner.

Mercedes Benz tortoise and hare

-Chris Butterworth

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you have to do better

you have to do better

comic ordering a cheeseburger

How hard are you really trying?

Do you go to a fast food burger joint and rationalize that you'll try to order something healthy?

Do you let yourself over-eat by rationalizing that you'll workout twice as hard later?

Do you give in to temptation but tell yourself you'll do better tomorrow?

Stop doing that! Take control of your self. Have willpower.

Draw a line in the sand and refuse to cross it, under any circumstance.

Big success will come when you have enough small successes to keep it company.

Win this morning. Win today. Then win again tomorrow.

Try harder. Do better.

-Chris Butterworth


should I wear a heart rate monitor?

should I wear a heart rate monitor?

I have a confession to make: I've never worn a heart rate monitor.

heart beat graphic

I've trained for speed. I've trained for endurance. I've trained for team sports and individual sports. I've trained for weight loss. I've trained for triathlons. I've even trained because my wife wanted a workout partner.

All this training over the years has helped me become pretty good at listening to my body. I know when I need to pace myself a little better, when I can push myself harder, and when my muscles are fatiguing. I do a pretty good job of giving my body an extra day of rest when it needs one, and hitting another workout when it can handle it. (although I've over-done it on more than one occasion..)

Why I don't wear a heart rate monitor

1.) I'm an Unpaid Amateur. I'm not a sponsored athlete, I don't race for money, and no amount of improvement is going to change that. I train for me, and I'm happy with my results as they are.

2.) Max Heart Rate. I understand my max heart rate. I don't know the exact number, but I know that when I push myself really hard, my heart beats faster, my lungs ache for air, and I get tired. Sometimes I can even make myself dizzy. I can only handle a certain amount of max intensity before I need to slow down again.

3.) Different Exercises for Different Purposes. I run. I Kettlebell. I do Fit-20. Sometimes I swim. I play sports with my kids. And in each of these exercises, my workouts change depending on my mood and my goals. Sometimes I do speed work, sometimes I go for endurance. Once in awhile I try to break a Personal Record. But above it all, I workout because I enjoy how I feel, and how I look, when I'm in shape.

4.) I Don't Count Workout Calories. I've referenced knowing how many calories you burn in a day many times on this site. (Calculator.net is an easy way to find out.) And I always recommend using the sedentary option on that calculator, because the "active" options leave too much room for error. Using this number is a great way to build an eating plan - eat fewer calories than this number if you want to lose weight, and any exercise will only help you lose weight faster. (If you're counting on exercise for weight loss, you need to rethink your plan, as your eating habits will determine about 90% of your success in weight loss.)

4a.) I Can Estimate my Workout Calories. I know that moving my body 1 mile burns somewhere between 100 - 120 calories, regardless of how fast I go. I also know how I feel running at various paces - a 7-minute pace wipes me out, an 8-minute pace is challenging but doable, and a 9-minute pace gets a little easier. I can workout for 20 minutes, compare how my body feels to determine a similar running-pace, and then ballpark how many calories I burned. I've never needed to be more specific than that.

5.) It just doesn't look comfortable. Enough said on that one.

heart rate monitor

It all boils down to listening to my body. If I want to push myself a little harder, I push harder. When my body tells me to slow down, I slow down. Sometimes there's a power struggle between my brain (saying to push harder) and my body (saying to slow down) - these are the times when it's important to understand the body's different voices. (It's kind of like the different cries a baby can make - "I'm hungry" is different from "I'm in pain.") The body's "I'm out of breath" is different from "I'm getting injured", which is different from "I'm in serious trouble"..

Should I wear a heart rate monitor?

Sometimes I think it would be nice to know:

  • Exactly how many calories I burned during a workout.
  • How hard my heart is working during intense exercise.
  • An exact comparison (calories and heart rate) of which exercises are harder. (and whether my gut feeling is correct.)
  • If I could improve my results by pushing myself harder than I am currently.
  • If I could improve my max heart rate over time.

But, as of yet, none of these reasons has been important enough to get me to wear a heart rate monitor.

What about you? Do you wear a heart rate monitor? Why or why not?

-Chris Butterworth

Image credits:
heart beat graphic - blog.timesunion.com
man with heart monitor - indoorcyclingassociation.com


is too much junk food for kids the new normal?

is too much junk food for kids the new normal?

This is something I've struggled with as a parent. It always seems so innocuous - a cookie here, a piece of candy there, birthday cake, root beer, after dinner dessert, sports drinks.. Nothing extreme, and nothing out of the ordinary.

mini sized candy bars

The problem is it becomes a steady stream of sugar - might as well hook the kids up to a sugar-drip IV once they get to be about 3 years old. And the older they get, the less control we parents have - we're no longer with the kids 24/7.

My wife and I have tried to teach our kids right from wrong, good from bad, and healthy from junk, but the fight against sugar's pervasiveness can seem like a losing battle. I'll quote Dan Patrick: "You can't stop it; you can only hope to contain it!"

I read an article yesterday from Yoni Freedhoff on the Eat + Run blog (Why Is Everyone Always Giving My Kids Junk Food), where he discusses the subject:

" Last week my 3-year-old's pre-school had a "color war." An email sent to parents explained that there would be a fruit snack and "a treat of course." It's not so much the treat that's the problem, it's the "of course." 
To be fair, I can at least see where junk food and holidays and birthdays come together, but I truly scratched my head when my 8-year-old joined a reading club, went to the opening meeting excited to talk about books, and came home to tell us about the candy they were given to commemorate the event. 
For us anyhow, it never seems to end. Saturday skating lessons often include lollipops, kids' grab bags from community races regularly contain chocolates, loot bags from friends parties might as well be renamed candy bags, libraries host events with names like "Donuts and Dads," bending a blade of grass with soccer shoes leads to sugar-sweetened sport drinks on the field and often ice cream or popsicles when the final whistle blows, and so on and so forth. And don't even get me started on juice. No doubt too, each and every time I speak up, there's someone out there telling me I shouldn't be so frustrated, as it's just "one" lollipop, it's just "one" ice cream sandwich, it's just "one" chocolate bar. If only it were just "one." 
My conservative estimate is that my children, no doubt with the best of intentions, are being offered an average of at least 600 sugar-spiked calories of junk each and every week–junk that we had never intended on giving them in the first place, and in many cases, couldn't decline if we wanted to, since we wouldn't have been present at its offering. Assuming a conservative 70 percent of that junk's calories are coming from sugar, that's 26.25 teaspoons of added sugar a week or more than 14 pounds of the white stuff a year. 
It's never just "one."

This all brings up some good parenting questions:

  • Is teaching kids about the dangers of excess enough to help them make better choices as they get older?
  • How do we, as parents, wage a war against sugar for kids, without becoming an anti-sugar militant social pariahs?
  • How can we, as a society, get back to sugary treats being "treats", rather than being routine?
  • Or, am I just talking crazy about all this?

Seems to me that if we can teach our kids better habits, we wouldn't have so much trouble teaching our adults better habits... But who knows - maybe I'm just thinking too much. Maybe it's from being hopped up on sugar!

What do you think?

-Chris Butterworth


Fit-20 Workout 02-19-13

Fit-20 Workout 02-19-13

image credit: fitsational.com

It was a Kettlebell day, and it was an awesome workout.

For those of you new to the Fitness Gazette site, Fit-20 Workouts are workouts designed to give you a full-body workout, muscles and cardio, in about 20 minutes, using little or no gym equipment. Ideally you can squeeze a workout in before work, or at lunch, without squeezing your family out of the picture. Click here to see a list of past Fit-20 Workouts.

Today's Workout

Set a repeating timer for 25 seconds, then do:

  • Kettlebell Swings (2-handed, or alternating one-handed)
  • Cleans - right hand
  • Cleans - left hand
  • Figure 8
  • Squat to Press - right hand (from the clean position, do 2 squats, then do 2 presses. repeat.)
  • Squat to Press - left hand
  • Curls - holding it "upside-down", with the KB facing outward away from your body (2-handed is ok if you can't do it with a single hand)
  • Lunges - hold KB in the "up" position from finishing a curl, and do lunges, alternating legs.
  • Burpees (if you can't do 25 seconds' worth of Burpees, substitute Mountain Jumpers or Mountain Climbers)
  • 100-Ups
  • Rest

Repeat for 4 cycles

Whew! 8 Exercises, 25 seconds each, for 18 minutes. Doesn't sound too hard when I read it, but that's a tough workout!

Stay strong,

-Chris Butterworth


the power of willpower

the power of willpower

The last couple weeks have been challenging for my wife and I. We've had evening meetings a few times - which means eating on the run while getting the kids taken care of. We've had meet-ups with friends for drinks, a friend's wedding shower (my wife), which required baking a few trays of brownies, a "boys afternoon" (me), which required a lot of snacks, and helping the kids cook Valentine's Day cookies.. Whew - what month so far..

snack food

On the other hand, is this really that unusual? It seems like there's always another practice, meeting, social event. Another reason to let ourselves down. To overeat, indulge, celebrate...

In the end, our success is up to us. We get to make a choice, everyday - multiple times per day actually. Do we want to be fit, or do we want to be fat?

That's not how the choice presents itself, though..

  • Do I want to sleep in, or get up and work out?
  • Do I want to go out to lunch with everybody, or eat the leftovers I brought?
  • Do I want to eat the brownies I just made, or wrap them up and put them away?
  • Do I want to eat one taco, or lick the combo plate clean?
  • Do I want to eat a Snickers in the afternoon, or drink a glass of water and pop a Tic Tac instead?

There are thousands of versions of that choice, and they all look like this:

  • Do something FUN, or do something hard?
  • Eat something YUMMY, or miss out on all that deliciousness?

But, if we take a step back and invoke a little willpower, the choice would look like this:

fat or fit

It doesn't matter what diet plan you follow - counting calories, high protein, vegetarian, whatever. And it doesn't matter what exercise regimen you've set up - cardio, cross-fit, long workouts, short workouts..

You are the only one who can make you successful.

Those choices will continue to present themselves, and it's up to you to make the right choice.

Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Think about the path you're on, the direction you're heading, and why.

Win that battle. That little, tiny, seemingly insignificant battle with your desire to pop a brownie in your mouth. Then celebrate that victory in your mind. Savor it. Know that you just took another step towards success. And then get ready to do it again later.

Long-term success is a matter of grinding out these short term victories. Success is a grind. Embrace the grind.

-Chris Butterworth

** image credits: sonic.com, mcdonalds.com, circlek.com, microsoft clipart, obesityaction.org.


southwestern black bean corn chowder

southwestern black bean corn chowder

I made a new soup recipe this weekend that was good, really good. Filled with fresh foods and flavor, and short on calories. (You don't have to take my word for it - I know it's good when my wife likes it!)

southwestern black bean corn chowder

The Backstory. I ate lunch a couple weeks ago at The Keg Steakhouse, and was amazed by their Southwest Roasted Corn Soup - so much so that I felt compelled to recreate it. Unfortunately I couldn't find a recipe online that looked right, so I cobbled together my own recipe from bits and pieces of several others. Here's my take on it:


  • Black Beans - 2 cans (or 3 cups raw). If canned, rinse thoroughly
  • Frozen Corn - 1 bag (16 oz, approx. 2.5 cups)
  • Rice (white or brown) - 1/3 cup
  • Chicken Broth - 1 can (14 oz) low sodium
  • Water - 2 cups
  • Tomato - 1, diced
  • Onion - 1/2, quartered. (large pieces were easy to pick out for those who don't like onions. If you enjoy onions, you can dice rather than quarter it. You could also use more than 1/2..)
  • Garlic - 2 cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp each of: Salt, Pepper, Oregano, Paprika, Cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper


  • Bring Water and Chicken Broth to a boil in a medium - large pot.
  • Add Black Beans and Corn and return to boil.
  • After 5 minutes, remove pot from heat. Move approximately half of the beans and corn to a bowl. Mash (or hand blend) the beans-corn, and return to pot.
  • Bring pot back to a boil.
  • Add remaining ingredients.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Serve immediately. If desired: top with cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream.


  • Makes 8 servings (approx. 1 cup each)
  • 150 Calories per serving (without toppings)

Truth be Told

  • Image credit - I got caught up in the moment and forgot to take a picture. I found the image above, which looks fairly similar, on flickr.
  • Leftovers - the soup tasted great the next day, too, but it was different. The flavors had blended together, and the cayenne pepper had a chance to permeate throughout the dish, making it much spicier the second day.
  • Chicken added - I also added some leftover grilled chicken (cut into chunks) to it the next day, which tasted even awesomer.

That's it - I hope you enjoy it. Give me your take in the comments and let me know what you think..

-Chris Butterworth


what's the healthiest diet?

what's the healthiest diet?

There are hundreds of different types of diets out there, but what's the best one?

the 4 food groups
image credit - Microsoft ClipArt

Should we eat more protein, or more whole grains? Is saturated fat the enemy? What about being a vegetarian? Maybe we should follow that cave man diet, or that one from the beach. Wait, which beach - Florida or Europe? Or we could just do one of those pre-made diet systems. And we should definitely eat that new superfood - I heard it will solve all our problems..

See where this is going? There is no right answer.

Choosing the perfect plan is like choosing the right religion - if your plan is the right one, offering you salvation in the form of long life, health and happiness, then by definition everyone else is wrong. Lucky for you to have chosen the correct path, while they're all suffering from plagues and chronic disease before dying off in middle age...

Each diet plan has scientific studies to back it up and lots of testimonials from satisfied practitioners who can't wait to tell you how healthy they got, or how much weight they've lost, by following one diet or another.

5 Tips to a Good Diet Plan

The fact that you're considering making changes to your diet is a good sign. Here are my 5 tips for a high quality, common sense diet - one that can help you lose weight, maintain weight, enjoy life, and be "healthy".

1.) Portion Sizes

I wrote about portion sizes a few weeks ago (see size matters - portion size, that is). The only indisputable fact about weight loss and weight gain is that the number of calories you eat will affect your weight.

Start by knowing how many calories your body needs to get through the day without gaining or losing weight. (calorie calculator here - use the sedentary option.) Then keep track of what you eat. If you eat fewer calories than your body burns, you will lose weight. Period. The end.

And, once you start paying attention to how many calories you're eating, you'll find that an average meal has A LOT of calories. Keep your portion sizes small, and you'll keep your body small, too.

2.) Variety

Our bodies evolved over history to use whatever food is available. Meats, vegetables, and everything in between. Proteins, Carbs, and Fats.

Eat a little bit of everything, and your body will absorb the nutrients from all of it.

The more you narrow your menu, the more likely it is you'll be missing out on a particular vitamin or sub-molecule that you didn't even know you needed, but that nature provides in abundance.

3.) Real Food

As a corollary to Variety and eating a little bit of everything - when I say everything, I mean all types of foods. I don't mean all types of chemicals and manufactured products.

Fewer ingredients is better. Ingredients you can pronounce is better. Food that came from food is better.

"Food" that came from a bag in the snacks aisle, manufactured by a big company in gigantic quantities, with a long list of ingredients that are hard to pronounce and you have no idea what they are, that comes in all different types of wild flavors and colors.. is worse.

Sure, an occasional bag of Cheetos and a Mountain Dew (probably) won't kill you, but that's not something I'd recommend as a daily snack.

4.) Food Journal

Each of us is different, and each of us reacts a little differently to various foods. Some foods might give you energy, while others might make you sleep better. And still others might affect your digestive system.

Maybe you have an easy time limiting your calories with some foods, yet with other foods you can't help but to pig out! (that's Mexican food for me..)

Keeping a food journal is a great way to gain an understanding which foods help you operate at your best.

5.) the Top 1%

The vast majority of us do and act within what would be considered normal throughout our evolution. We walk, maybe even jog or run. We might need to lift something heavy, or use a burst of energy. We gather together socially. Nothing more taxing than our ancestors did for thousands of years - without protein shakes and energy drinks!

  suggested reading - 90 percent of weight loss is simple

Professional athletes, endurance training, and power lifting may require you to pay more attention to the food you're using as fuel.

For the rest of us, keeping our calories in check and letting our bodies work as nature intended is the best, and easiest, solution - one we can continue to use throughout our long and healthy lives.

-Chris Butterworth


my butt is big.. and healthy

my butt is big.. and healthy

Fitness. Healthy. Athletic. In shape. Strong. Toned.

Did you notice a word missing from that list?


my butt is big - nike

HT to FineFitnessBlog for posting this ad.

The goal isn't about skinny; it's about Healthy.

I've already used Nike in this post, but I feel like I have to say it.. right here...

Just do it.

-Chris Butterworth


the process creates the results

The process creates the results - in weight loss, and in just about everything else.  Set up a system to make lots of sales calls, and you'll get lots of clients. Hit hundreds of forehands each day, or shoot hundreds of free throws, and your game will improve.  Exercise everyday, and your weight will drop.  (so will your heart rate, blood pressure, and cholestoral.)  But it takes a consistent effort and may take longer than you thought.  Here's my story:

I ran a 10-mile race last Thanksgiving.  It was the longest I had ever run at one time, and the three months leading up to the race saw my highest training mileage ever.  I'm a fairly thin guy with a fairly fast metabolism (yes, I'm lucky in this regard), and I had to eat a ton just to maintain my weight when I was running this much.  Then, after the race, I took the month of December off, partly to rest & recover, and then due to the Holidays.

Unfortunately I didn't change my diet, and I ended up gaining 7 pounds in December.  When I went back to the gym in early January, I weighed more than I ever had in my entire life!  But I wasn't worried - once I started working out again the weight would fall right off, right?

Well, six weeks later I had only lost 1.5 pounds, and I was getting frustrated.  It wasn't a body image thing - heck, most people would still call me thin.  But my pants were a little tight, and I didn't like running while carrying an extra dumbbell's worth of weight!  So I decided to get a little more aggressive with my diet.  Here's my plan:

  1. Eliminate all the grazing & sugar-snacks from my diet.
  2. Reduce my lunch to be a more modest portion.  Doesn't matter what I eat, or where it's from - just eat a little bit less than I normally do.
  3. Continue to work out at a similar frequency and intensity.

By doing those three things, I should eliminate lots of calories from my daily intake, and the excess weight around my belly should quickly melt away.  Here's what I eliminated:

  • Sunflower seeds (200 cal) - I normally graze on seeds in the mid-to-late morning while I work.  But I've stopped.
  • Extra juice (200 cal) - I drink at my desk a mix of 8oz fruit juice with 24oz water, just because when it's plain water I find I don't drink enough of it.  I've reduced the amount of fruit juice to 3-4oz per cup.  This has eliminated 12-15oz of fruit juice from my daily intake.
  • Extra lunch (250 cal) - My smaller portions at lunch have eliminated some calories each day.
  • Afternoon soda (140 cal) - This is the thing I miss the most, but I haven't had a Coke or Dr Pepper in the last 9 days.
  • Afternoon candy (150 cal) - My office always has Red Vines, cookies, pretzels, or some other snack in the kitchen which made for some afternoon grazing.  I've stopped eating these snacks.
  • Evening sode (140 cal), with 1 shot of bourbon (100 cal) - My "dessert" at home most nights is a bourbon & Coke - mmmmm.  But I've laid off that as well.

Add it all up & I've eliminated 1,180 calories PER DAY from my diet.  That's 8,260 over the course of a week!  I figure I should drop those pesky 6-7 pounds in a week or two.

On top of all that, I also stepped up the intensity of my workouts.  (I'm a very goal-driven person, and once I set up a goal I sometimes push harder than I should to achieve it.)

So what happened when I weighed myself at the gym yesterday morning?  I was UP 3.5 pounds.  2 pounds heavier than I was at the end of December, and setting a new record for the heaviest my body has ever been.  I even had to move the bottom weight on the scale to a new marker..

The only reason I can think of is that I added muscle mass.  I added cross-fit workouts to my training regimine this year, in addition to running, biking and swimming.  And last week was a cross-fit week.  I did more squats, pull-ups, thrusters, and burpees than I can count, and I was insanely sore.  Hopefully I burned off some fat & added some muscle; time will tell.

In the meantime, I know I have the right process in place, and it's just a matter of executing the process each day to see the results I'm looking for.  Let's see what happens over the next few weeks (biking, swimming, and running)…

-Chris Butterworth

fun way to track your progress

We all know you're supposed to track your progress towards your goals, and there are dozens of methods for doing so.  Today I stumbled across one that was a little different than the others - an easy way to plot your distance on a map to see how far you've run, biked or swum!

Here's mine so far this year.  (measurements as of today; click either picture to enlarge.)

Running - the radius of the green circle, centered at my house.
Biking - the radius of the red circle, centered at my house.
Swimming - the radius of the white circle, centered at the end of the Huntington Beach Pier in Southern California.


For me personally, this is a big motivator.   Whenever I can see my progress, I want to go a little further each time, knowing the circles will grow!  I wonder if I'll be able to swim all the way to Catalina Island by the end of the year, or if I'll run far enough to leave the State?

These circles are super easy to create over at a website called FreeMapTools.com.  The only downside is I can't find a way to make them dynamic, where the circles get bigger automatically as I enter my new workout results.  Maybe somebody out there will build a tool that does that.. Are you listening, RunKeeper?  In the meantime, I'll just update this once in awhile to see how far I've gone.

ps - My RunKeeper results are public, so you're always welcome to see what I've been doing lately.  Or better yet, join my street team.  (not sure what to do with a street team yet, but I'm sure there's something for it...)

-Chris Butterworth

hard work beats talent...

…when talent fails to work hard.

Rumor has it this was a slogan posted in the University of Arizona football team's locker room. (I cannot confirm the rumor is true, but I love the slogan whether it's true or not.)

Obviously, if both teams prepare & play their hardest, the team with the most talent should win.  But that's not what happens; that's why they play the games.  It's why a team of 'smaller' players from the middle of nowhere in Idaho (Boise State) is consistently ranked in the top 10, and why a small school in Indiana with an enrollment of less than 5,000 students (Butler University) has played in the National Championship game two years in a row. And we've all seen the clip of coach Jim Valvano running around the court like a crazy man after his little team from North Carolina State beat the Phi Slamma Jamma giants to become National Champions in 1983.

The story about the tortoise and the hare is a corollary to this slogan.  If the hare doesn't get distracted, he wins, and by a large margin!  But focus and hard work mean a lot, and it's why the tortoise has a chance.

It doesn't matter how much talent you have; if you're not working hard with laser-like focus, you're giving your opponent the advantage.

-Chris Butterworth

don't cheat yourself

One of the things at the gym that drives me crazy is seeing people (not to be sexist but it's almost always women) on a fully inclined treadmill, jogging or speed-walking at a fast pace, and holding onto the bar for dear life!  They look like they're water skiing behind a boat, wearing out their arms & back more than their legs.

That's cheating, and it really bugs me.  Last spring I spent a lot of time on those fully-inclined treadmills, so I can tell you first hand how hard that is.  I was training for a triathlon which was going to have lots of steep hills, and I wanted to be prepared.  I could usually keep the pace between 3.0 and 3.5 - any faster and it would burn me up.  And I was in GREAT shape at the time.  I would be drenched in sweat, with my calves ready to explode, and trying to think of anything else except the pain my legs & lungs were in.

To see these women skiing themselves uphill at a significantly faster pace than I could do, while they're talking to each other & enjoying themselves, just doesn't add up.

If you're trying to burn extra calories by walking uphill, walk uphill!  Using a tow-rope isn't burning calories.  Heck, why not just wear Heely's & roll yourself evern faster?

The same holds true for any other activity.  It's one thing to use every advantage possible when you're being rewarded for your results.  But when you're goal is self improvement, you're only cheating yourself when you cheat.

-Chris Butterworth

happiness is...

… "Your reality divided by your expectations."
          - Warren Buffet

Maybe the most accurate quote ever.

And since it's a simple equation, you can increase your happiness by either increasing your reality or by reducing your expectations.

Reducing your expectations..?  hmmmm.  Easier said than done, but powerful stuff.

- Chris Butterworth

Evernote power-user tip - 8 useful keyboard shortcuts

The faster you can make Evernote work, and the more it works just the way you want it to, the more valuable it becomes.  Enter keyboard shortcuts - key combinations you can use so you don't have to slow down and reach for a mouse.  Here are the 8 shortcuts I've been using most often:

1. tag list (ctrl + alt + t) - when inside a note, or when selecting a note (or multiple notes) from the notelist, this brings up a full list of tags.  You can quickly add & remove tags from these notes.

2. bullet points (ctrl + shift + b) - probably half of my notes have bullet points.  They help me organize my thoughts, and the tab / shift-tab work very well for indentation and un-indentation (I've found some of evernote's formatting to be a bit quirky.)  It's a quick & easy way to group various thoughts and sub-thoughts together.

3. list view (ctrl + F5) - brings up your notes in list view, with the note preview pane at the bottom of the screen.  Perfect for perusing a longer list of notes and/or sorting by a specific column.

4. snippet view (ctrl + F6) - brings up your notes in snippet view, with the note preview pane on the right of the screen.  Perfect for perusing a shorter list of notes.  I also like the preview pane in this view better for drafting & editing notes.

5. hide / unhide preview pane (ctrl + F11) - especially useful with the list view, this removes the preview pane altogether and gives you a full screen of your listed notes.  Pressing it again toggles the preview pane back into view.

6. view notes from a specific tag (ctrl + shift + t) - from the notes list, this will bring up a drop-down list of all tags.  Typing the first couple letters of the tag you want will quickly bring up that tag.  Hit enter, and your screen displays only the notes within that tag.

7. print screen / screen clip (windows + prtscrn) - allows you to use the mouse to grab any part of the screen, and create a new note conatining that exact image as an image file.  You can click to open, right click to save as, copy, etc.

8. copy screen clip (windows + prtscrn, then ctrl with mouse) - same as screen clipping above, except if you hold down the ctrl key while you clip, the screen clip will be copied to the clipboard, where it can be pasted anywhere - email (and then a blog post!), a different note, word / excel, paint, etc.

I find that with keyboard shortcuts, like a lot of other things in life, it's difficult to digest them all at once and completely change how you're using evernote.  It's probably better to work on using one or two of them until you become fluent with them, then add another.  lather, rinse, repeat, until eventually your hands don't leave the keyboard anymore!

-Chris Butterworth

mailing it in - blogging by email

Faster & easier.  I'm always on the lookout for ways to do things faster &/or easier.  It looks like blogger offers an option to email a blog post to my blog.  If that's true, I'll have one more option for publishing a blog post, especially from the field.

As it stands now I compose most of my posts in Evernote, whether on my mobile phone or my computer.  Then, when I get to my computer, I log into blogger, copy & paste my post, and publish.  But, sometimes the formatting needs a little massaging.  And other times it's several hours before I'm at a computer.  Heck, I might even wait until the next day rather than exerting myself with those 4-5 mouseclicks if it's late at night!

So, blogging via email could be useful, since I have access to email from almost anywhere / anytime.

The real question is, how will blogger handle this email?  Only one way to find out.

Below is a bullet list with some of my questions:

  • My default email font is trebuchet, navy blue.  Does blogger strip that & use my blog's default, or will this font render?
  • What will this bullet point list look like?
  • How about other changes to the font, such as bold, underline, italics, or a different color (red)?
  • And spacing - I'm double-spacing between paragraphs in this email; will blogger recognize that?
My next concern is regarding pictures - will blogger understand & include photos?  I'm going to insert one photo into this email, directly below this sentence.  It's a picture of me with my 2 kids, just before running the Turkey Trot a couple months ago.

photo above ^

ps - the photo is 1024 px wide - will blogger resize it to fit w/in the blog's column?

And finally, I'm going to attach a photo to the email.  It's a picture of the choppy water at Lake Pleasant before a particularly cold triathlon last spring.  Where will blogger insert that image, if it inserts it at all?

The bottom line is that faster & easier is a good thing, but it has to be functional as well.  If this email-post looks ok, then I'll have one more arrow in my productivity quiver...

-Chris Butterworth

Scalable workouts make working out with a partner more fun

Last weekend my wife & I worked out together. We're both frequent exercisers individually, but we have different bodies (obviously!) and tend to exercise differently. She's very flexible and has a stronger core and more definition than me - I don't think I could do 5 minutes of her 20 minute routine doing core work on the fitness ball. On the other hand, I'm stronger, more explosive, and have more endurance than her - she couldn't keep up with me in a run, bike, or swim.

So how did we workout together for 40 minutes? Crossfit.

We gathered up some of the exercise equipment from around the house - dumbbells, kettlebell, fitness ball, jump rope, pull-up bar, - and brought them into the room with the Versaclimber (best piece of equipment I ever bought!)

Next we set a timer for repeating 5-minute intervals. While one of us climbed, the other would hit the smaller equipment doing squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, ab work, etc. Then we switched.

A few beeps of the timer later, and we had done 40 minutes of hard work without resting! It was a great workout, and it was great working out with Cheryl. I'm looking forward to making this a regular part of our weekends.

-Chris Butterworth