You Make It, We Post It!

Written on June 16, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

Nothing signals summer more than gorgeous ripe tomatoes! Instagram user @shoo_shoobaby did an impressive job re-creating the cover recipe from our July issue—Cherry Tomato Bruschetta. Try your hand at the other dishes that have graced our covers here.

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.

Pick up a copy of our July issue, on newsstands now, featuring delicious Cherry Tomato Bruschetta!

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Father’s Day Savings

Written on June 13, 2014 at 12:25 pm , by

Celebrate the main men in your life with an array of discounts on last-minute gifts.

 

• Don’t settle for a store-bought greeting with 30% OFF at Cardstore.
*Code: CCG4530
*Expires 6/24

• Create a personalized photo book for 40% OFF at Snapfish.
*Code: BKS40
*Expires 6/15

• Get 10% OFF orders over $75 at Kmart.
*Code: KMART10PSAVINGS

• Score up to 70% OFF select products at Amazon.

• Find shorts and shirts 40% OFF at Target.

• Rent one movie and get 50 cents OFF the second at Redbox.
*Expires: 6/15

• Receive a $5 eBonus Card when you purchase a $25 Chili’s gift card.
*Expires: 6/18

• Collect a $10 bonus card when you purchase a $50 P.F. Chang’s gift card.
*Expires: 6/15


#RealDadMoments: This Father’s Day Ad Is a Real Tearjerker

Written on June 11, 2014 at 4:12 pm , by

Warning: Have a tissue handy when you watch this video.

Much to the chagrin of mothers around the world, “Da-da” (or some variation of it) is the first word many of us utter. And yet the role of dads can be somewhat overlooked in the larger world of parenting. But that doesn’t stop us from calling out to dad when we need help as seen in this Dove ad (the male equivalent of the company’s viral “Real Beauty” campaign).  The heartwarming video captures #Realdadmoments that fathers play in their kids’ everyday lives.

Wishing the father (and father figures) in your life a happy Father’s Day!


Too Sexy, Too Soon: You’re Wearing That?

Written on June 10, 2014 at 11:07 am , by

By Bruce Feiler

My girls are barely in their tweens, but the wardrobe wars have already begun. I can’t win every battle over clothes that are too skimpy, clingy or cheeky, but that’s okay. I’m learning to make peace—well, sort of—with their fashion sense.

It first happened to me last year. My twin daughters, who had just turned 8, came bounding into the room to show off the new outfits they would be wearing to an extended-family gathering. My eyes bulged. The dresses drooped provocatively off the shoulder and offered other peekaboos of their bodies. Sure, I figured I would one day face clothing battles with my children. Politicians aren’t the only ones who draw red lines. But so soon?

As a father, I find these conversations particularly challenging. On the one hand, I’ve internalized all the messages that I should not criticize my daughters’ bodies, compliment them merely for their looks, or in any way stifle their emerging sexuality. On the other hand, I don’t want them to leave the house dressed as pole dancers.

For years, I had what I thought was a sly way of handling this issue. Whenever my daughters modeled a new piece of clothing, I would say: “I don’t care what you wear. I care who you are.” Recently they’ve begun throwing my line back at me: “But I thought you didn’t care what we wear!”

Time to get some new lines.

The issue of appropriate clothing for girls has been the subject of increasing academic and popular scrutiny, fed by the likes of skimpy panties printed with “Dive In.” Abercrombie & Fitch (whose CEO got in hot water recently for saying he wanted to sell clothing only to cool, attractive kids) was forced to back down after marketing “padded” and “push-up” bras to little girls. Walmart bowed to parental pressure and yanked girls’ underwear that was printed with the words “Who needs credit cards…” on the front and “When you’ve got Santa” on the back.

While it’s easy to put the blame on stores, the real issue lies at home. I feel as if I’m constantly struggling with where and when to draw the boundary line. Is this worth picking a fight over? How about that? According to Sarah Murnen, PhD, a professor of psychology at Kenyon College, parents today face greater challenges than in the past because girls’ clothing has become more revealing. Her survey of popular shopping sites shows that a third of items were “sexualized,” including more than half of dresses and two-thirds of swimsuits. This trend is particularly alarming because her research indicates that when adults see girls dressed in sexualized clothing, they take them less seriously. “Teachers might be looking at these girls and assuming they aren’t intelligent,” she says. Still, it’s impossible for kids to withstand sophisticated efforts by corporations that prey on their desire to be popular, says Joyce McFadden, a psychoanalyst and the author of Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women. Parents can sometimes compound the problem. “We’re so afraid to talk honestly with our daughters about their sexuality that we end up leaving them out in the cold,” she says.

My wife, who selects the bulk of our daughters’ clothes in consultation with them, admits that she’s less concerned with what a particular dress or T-shirt says about the girls than with what the girls say for themselves. “My goal is to make them feel good when they go to school, so they can focus on what they have to say in class,” she explains. To do that, she prefers to let them pick out clothes they like, even if they’re a bit tight-fitting or short. About those outfits that set off alarm bells (not only with me, by the way, but with my mother- and sister-in-law too), she says, “My line might be drawn slightly differently from yours. I found those dresses to be a little mall rat, perhaps, but not risqué.”

But we agreed that we need to be more prepared for these battles in the future. So I came up with a few typical tween-teen retorts and then asked for expert advice on how to reply.

“Everybody does it.”

“Ooh, that’s a rough one,” McFadden says, “because it’s the precursor to ‘Well, Johnny is freebasing’ or ‘So-and-so gets to stay out until 4 in the morning.’ ” A little pushback—as in, “Well, in our family we do things differently”—is called for here. The critical step is for parents to make sure they are on the same page before approaching their children. Even so, “you’re going to have to compromise on some pieces of clothing,” says McFadden. “I had to give in on push-up bras with my tween. But don’t let these items take over her wardrobe.”

“It’s the only thing they sell.”

According to Sharon Lamb, EdD, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and co-author of Packaging Girlhood, children who make that observation actually have a point. “Still, it’s important to state your values,” she advises. “Say something like, ‘I don’t want to see you and your friends buying into these marketers’ schemes to sell teenage stuff to younger and younger kids. It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The marketers are the body snatchers, and I’m going to fight them!’ ”

“You’re such a square.”

Maybe, but parents need to embrace their old-fashioned standards, Murnen insists. “I told my daughter that I hope she develops a wonderful body image and a healthy sexuality but I don’t think that’s what sexy clothes are doing,” she says. Murnen went a step further and adjusted her own fashion choices. “I’m not a conservative person and I like attractive clothing,” she says. “But I’m careful not to wear styles with sexualizing characteristics because I do feel like I need to be a role model.”

“Mom wears these things, why not me?”

The smart answer is to point out to girls that as they get older, they will have more freedom to make their own decisions. But you’ve got to put your foot down for now. “This generation of parents are such sissies when it comes to setting boundaries,” says McFadden. “They concede to their children’s whims to make them happy, but those children have no internal compass. Limits are what make healthy, happy adults possible.”

“Fine, but I’m just going to change as soon as I get to school.”

When your daughters threaten to peel off layers once they leave the house, it’s time to redirect the conversation. “I would say, ‘I’m not interested in controlling what you wear, but I am interested in getting you thinking about what it means to be an attractive person,’ ” Lamb suggests. In fact, she often tells her college students that the species would die out if boys only wanted to have sex with girls who looked like Victoria’s Secret models. “We’re built to be attracted to people with different looks, personalities, talents, senses of humor and lots of wonderful things, she says.

So back to that family gathering and those barely-there dresses. Our girls were clearly flashing their approaching tweendom, and my wife quickly heeded the message. Shawls were procured, and their outfits instantly became more age- appropriate. A few weeks later, the three of them did a little hunting and located some websites that sold attractive clothing with more modest yet trendy-enough slogans: “I Love Music” and “Bee-You-Tiful” with a bumblebee.

Still, as we’ve been warned, the big battles are yet to come. McFadden encouraged me to stay strong. “Remember, you’re raising two young girls who are going to live a whole life,” she says. “Just because one episode doesn’t go well doesn’t mean an accumulation of similar messages won’t somehow trickle down. Be brave. Let them have the freedom they deserve, but still set guidelines that represent your values.”

When I first became a dad, I figured I would decide on a few core principles, state them firmly, and my children would know how to apply them. Now I realize I was wrong. I have to constantly find new, subtler ways to remind them what’s really important. Sexuality may be the most vivid example of this change. When I was growing up, parents thought the topic could be dispensed with by a single awkward sit-down about the birds and the bees. But these days, sexuality is everywhere. As a result, it’s no longer “The Talk” for parents; it’s a series of talks. It’s a conversation. And it can’t begin when the kids turn 12. By then, it’s too late. Our kids are already tuning us out.

In that way, I’m happy I had this first showdown with my daughters while they were still young enough to listen to me. If nothing else, we got
to practice what’s already becoming our little opera of daily life. They say, “I’m becoming a woman, Dad, hear me roar!” I say, “I’m a square, girls, but I can roar too!” And every now and then, I can even get them to smile, as long as I don’t rub it in that I can still make them laugh.

 

Bruce Feiler is a columnist for The New York Times and the author of the best-selling book The Secrets of Happy Families (William Morrow). 

 


Parenting Confessions: “Mom, Did You Ever Smoke Marijuana?”

Written on June 10, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

By Sue Sanders, author of Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore: Navigating 25 Inevitable Conversations That Arrive Before You Know It

“MOM, DID YOU EVER smoke marijuana?” my 11-year-old daughter, Lizzie, asked as we pulled up in our driveway, gravel crunching under the car’s wheels. Her question wasn’t totally out of the blue—we’d just passed a group of teenagers hanging out on our town’s main street, a smoky cloud hovering over them like a mass Schleprock—but I was still caught off guard. My husband muttered something unintelligible and darted from the car to let the dog out of the house. I sat, frozen with anxiety. Do I answer honestly? Or lie? Spinning possible answers like a roulette wheel in my mind, I opted for truth.

“Yes, I did. A long time ago, in high school.” I unclasped my seat belt and turned around to face her. Lizzie actually gasped. “Why?” she asked. She’s the type of kid who likes rules, the more of them the better.

And why indeed? I’d been curious, of course, but I also wanted, desperately, to escape my social awkwardness, the discomfort of living in a small southern city. That town fit me as well as the jeans I wore back then, so tight and claustrophobic that I had to lie down on my bed, exhale, close
my eyes and will myself smaller to zip them up. I guess I also wanted to see what I could get away with. (Quite a lot, it turned out.) Pot was forbidden and illegal—and sure to horrify my straitlaced parents. But mostly it was a social lubricant that greased my rusty social skills: The ritual of rolling a joint and passing it around a room of kids my own age was something I could spend hours doing.

Of course, I wasn’t going to tell Lizzie all this. I wanted to bare my soul but not get naked. I wanted to be candid with her, but I wanted my candor to be rated PG. So I simply told her I’d been curious. I admit, I gave it a little spin. I told her that way back then, marijuana wasn’t as strong as it is now and drug laws were different. I explained that kids can ruin their chances of getting into college or attaining a scholarship if they’re caught with drugs. And Lizzie already takes college, the concept, very seriously. She plans to study writing and cooking. This week, at least. (Not long ago, she wanted to be an elf.)

Shocked, Lizzie rushed into the house and raced over to her dad, shouting, “Did you know Mom smoked marijuana in high school!” He did.

Like so many other parenting challenges, this one thwacked me in the face. I’d been meaning to talk with Lizzie about drugs, I really had, but just never got around to it. Sure, I’d read articles about what you’re supposed to do. Then I’d forget, or get busy folding laundry, or my email would ding. Then again, maybe waiting for the perfect opportunity, the right teachable moment, to present itself is just another way of saying I was wrapped in my cocoon of denial and avoidance. Teachable moments have a way of playing hooky.

Later that night, after Lizzie and I had snuggled together and talked a little more about drugs—I’d asked her if she had any more questions, and she did—

I trawled the Internet, searching for parenting advice on various websites. And I discovered I’d apparently done everything wrong. I was supposed to bring up the subject of drugs way back when my sixth-grader was still in preschool, finger painting and sorting colorful plastic toy bears into muffin tins. I should have discussed “good drugs” versus “bad drugs” with her as I gave her a Children’s Tylenol or Motrin for her fever. I briefly berated myself for not reading more parenting books when Lizzie was younger. See, I’m not a big fan of “experts” telling me what to do— a residual and healthy distrust of authority from my adolescence—but I do believe these guides have their place: as kindling. While newly pregnant, I was given a popular book that forewarned me of all the things that could possibly go wrong with the baby I was carrying, arranged in a helpful trimester format of pure terror. I think it was called What You Expect to Go Wrong Will. But in bypassing this publishing industry of fear, had I missed out on the basic steps of parenting? Was I simply Doing It Wrong?

I closed the parenting website and opened Facebook. It was time to lean on my most trusted source of parenting advice—my friends. And so I posted a status update, a query, asking how other parents talked to their kids about drugs. The postings poured in. Most said they favored being honest about their history and discussing the legal and health ramifications. They warned me off any Reefer Madness fervor or hard-line demand of “Don’t ever do it.” Back in high school, I’d been on the receiving end of “Don’t ever do it.” I can personally attest that approach didn’t work. I didn’t “don’t ever do it,” quite a lot.

All of which confirmed what I already knew. It was better to trust my friends—and myself—than “experts” for commonsense parenting advice. Besides, there seems to be a new expert or parenting philosophy every time I flip open the newspaper or log on to my computer. I won’t always discount what they have to say. But as parents, we have to trust our guts too. Because you can’t plan for every question, and the questions come fast.

The other day, while I was having lunch, Lizzie came into the dining room, face furrowed, and asked, “What’s a virgin?” Choking on my seltzer, I asked what she meant. She went into the kitchen, came back with a container and pointed. “It says right here: virgin lemonade.”

 

This article first appeared in Salon.com.  An online version remains in the Salon archives. Reprinted with permission. 

 

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Use Twitter to Get Quality Customer Service

Written on June 10, 2014 at 7:00 am , by

There I was at the airport, in a long line of jet-lagged travelers that was devolving into an angry mob before my eyes. All outbound flights had been grounded by weather, so none of us were going anywhere in the near future—and the customer service reps were starting to come unglued. I called my husband, Dan, to warn him I was stuck before dialing United Airlines to try to bypass the chaos and rebook my flight home. Dan hit Twitter. While I waited on hold, he engaged in a productive back-and-forth with @united, learning that my best option was to book a hotel and accept a voucher for a future flight. Dan texted me this update and I snagged a room lightning-fast, before they were all gone.

Using Twitter to get quick, courteous customer service is one of the best reasons to maintain an account on the social media site. Because these interactions unfold in a public forum, companies know their reputation is always on the line. Therefore, they tend to staff their Twitter accounts with reps trained to listen attentively and resolve issues on the double. Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more users Tweet complaints and get results—even possibly incite change.

For instance, I watched a Safeway (@Safeway) customer post that an advertised sale price was no longer ringing up at her local store and get a reply the next morning honoring the lower price. A Chico’s (@Chicos) shopper who complained that shipping to Canada cost too much was promised that the policy would be reviewed. A Whole Foods (@WholeFoods) customer who expressed distaste for her store’s plastic take-out containers was informed that packaging decisions are made by local management. Of course, people also visit the Twittersphere to praise products and businesses (which is a nice thing to do). But more often, it’s the best way to circumvent lengthy hold times. Case in point: When General Motors (@GM) recalled cars because of a faulty ignition switch earlier this year, one woman bypassed phone support by Tweeting instead, and her problem was soon addressed. Bottom line: These days, if you have something to say to a company, Twitter is the smartest place to do so.

 

Speak Up!

Twitter communications director Rachael Horwitz sums it up perfectly: “Twitter is public, so brands are listening.” Keep her advice in mind when you try Tweeting for service satisfaction.

Address the right audience. You post a Tweet to a company by using their Twitter handle, which always starts with @. To find the correct handle, type the name in the search field on the home page.

Be concise. Remember that you only have 140 characters to get your message across. Composing a Tweet is the modern equivalent of sending a telegram. Skip any unnecessary preamble. Include only key details.

Follow along. While Tweets are public, there is an option to continue a conversation privately within the Twitter platform, through the Direct Message (DM) function. In order to do so, both parties must be following each other. If a company’s customer service rep asks you to follow them, this is likely why. (It’s often a good sign.)

Don’t wear egg on your face. If you set up a new Twitter account, be aware that the default icon is an egg, which displays in your profile and Tweets. To avoid screaming newbie, change that icon right away. “It doesn’t really matter whether you have a lot of followers,” says Horwitz. “But companies are more inclined to take tweets seriously from someone who seems engaged with Twitter. So you should create a profile to convey that.”

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on June 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm , by

It’s never too hot out for a warm bowl of soup. Instagram user @homecooked_food followed that motto when she made our Lentil Soup with Beef, a dish she said was out of her comfort zone as a cook. The easy slow cooker meal is perfect for a weeknight meal—and if you’re lucky, leftovers! Find more of our delicious soups here.

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.

 


4 Memorable Prom Moments That Went Viral This Year

Written on June 6, 2014 at 2:59 pm , by

Prom isn’t only about the glitz and glam of whose wearing what anymore. It’s also about making a viral statement in a memorable way. 2014 prom season showed that your teen isn’t necessarily as superficial and out of touch as you may think.  From teens uniting to support a friend with cancer to one bold high schooler getting the attention of Vice President Joe Biden, the Internet was constantly buzzing about teens and prom.

 

Teen takes great-grandmother to prom

19-year-old Austin Dennison had the Internet singing his praises when this video went viral. The Ohio teen deiced to take his 89-year-old great-grandmother, Delores, as his date to prom. Delores, who recently had a heart attack and stroke, was never asked to prom. Austin even had the DJ play Frank Sinatra’s “I Love the Kisses of Delores,”—a song his great-grandfather used to sing to her—as their first dance.  How sweet!

 

Virginia teens unite to support a friend with cancer 

Seventeen teens of Osbourn Park High School in Virginia made a powerful and heartwarming statement when everyone decided to wear protective masks in support of Jared Hill. Jared was diagnosed with testicular cancer last September, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. His doctor told him that if he wanted to take his girlfriend to prom, he would have to wear a protective mask. So, everyone in their prom group did the same. This photo captures the memorial night that unified everyone.

 

Classmates of slain teen pay tribute 

After the lost of 16-year-old Maren Sanchez, who was stabbed to death in the hallway of a Connecticut high school, classmates decided to pay tribute to the beloved teen by dressing up and bringing out the gown she would have worn to their junior prom. The group photo taken was a bit controversial, with some saying it was inappropriate. But the sentimental gesture was felt around the world. The school even postponed the dance, but Sanchez was named prom queen.

 

Teen asks Joe Biden to Prom

When you want something go get it, right? That’s exactly what 18-year-old Talia Maselli did. The Newington High School senior mailed a handwritten note seven months ago, requesting that Vice President Joe Biden escort her to the dance. Her note was very straightforward: “I could only tolerate a high school dance if I was to be escorted by the most delightful man in America.” Of course, she didn’t expect to hear back. But to her surprise, Biden did eventually respond the day before the prom, with a note and a corsage delivered to Maselli’s home. What a way to get the attention of someone!

 

 

 

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Explore These Savings

Written on June 6, 2014 at 10:28 am , by

Warm weather and the end of school are the perfect motivation for quality family time outside. Score deals in honor of National Great Outdoors Month.

• Get outfitted in sturdy athletic shoes, 60% OFF at Amazon, before heading out on a hike.

• Stock up with 15% OFF recreation gear, clothing, tents and more at outdoors megastore REI using code RTVGP.

• Avoid sunburn with $1 OFF Coppertone Sunscreen.

• Allergy season is in high gear—stay healthy with a FREE Sample of Zarbee’s All Natural Seasonal Relief.

• Sleep under the stars in Target Sleeping Bags at a 10% discount.

• Things can get messy in nature—save $1 OFF Two Purell products.

• “Like” Nexcare’s Facebook page and you’ll receive a FREE Sample of Bandages, handy for outdoor cuts and scrapes.

• Keep fleas, ticks and mosquitoes at bay with a range of products available for 15% OFF at PetSmart.


Why Age Is Really Just a Number…at 21

Written on June 5, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

In a few weeks, the youngest of my four daughters will reach a milestone. She will officially be an adult, as there will be 21 candles on a very delicious cake. Yes, her ticket will be officially punched into adulthood.

Adulthood. It’s hard to believe that a birthday can mark critical issues like responsibility, employment security (if you have a job), housing status (What? You still live at home?) and the pressure to finally be in a serious relationship. In other words, there is a general emphasis on just pulling one’s life together.

Heavy stuff…but as a practicing adult I know that there is plenty of time to grow up. Growing up is a process that is not just marked by a numerical value. Growing up is a mindset.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the parameters of growing up were carded for, much like liquor sales? How cool would it be if delis and minimarts had a calendar marking the current date and the statement: “If you are still immature and born before this date ____, practice self-reflection or ask a real adult to share their experiences and most significant life lessons with you.”

What if the ritual of turning 21 was not focused on being able to drink legally but tapped into a person’s ability to help others, practice respect and goodwill, and simply focus on making the world a better place to live and coexist?

What if instead of honing in on a chronological age to symbolize the pinnacle of physical maturity and emotional growth, we understood that things like wisdom, self-understanding and self-acceptance are not easily quantifiable but can be gained throughout our life span with a willingness to do so?

In many ways, the over-celebration of adulthood or being “legal” minimizes the true benefit of simply growing older and growing up. The real benefit of growing up is being able to appreciate your own successes and failures, to find the silver lining in disappointment and to have gratitude for joyful experiences. Completeness does not arise from turning a certain age on a certain day. Happiness and self-satisfaction can be present throughout our life span.

If we provide our young adults with an accurate representation of growing old and the recognition that aging is not a disease state but a normal process that holds both real beauty and potential at every age, as well as a blueprint for finding them, then perhaps every 21-year-old will have much more to truly celebrate.

What emotional accomplishments do you hope your child will have achieved by the age of 21? Post a comment and share.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 


4th of July Gear For Your Pets

Written on June 5, 2014 at 12:00 am , by

By Cristina Corvino

Red, white and blue fur-ever. Let your pets in on the patriotic fun with a simple accessory or an all-out Uncle Sam costume. They’ll be dressed in their Fourth-of-July best!

Pose your pets in their finest red, white and blue gear and share the snapshots with us on social media, using the hashtag #FCPETS.

 

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How I Finally Learned to Stop the Roller Coaster Dieting

Written on June 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm , by

Family Circle editor Jonna Gallo Weppler shares how a memorable experience at the Biggest Loser Resort in Chicago helped her get off the weight-loss roller coaster for good. 

 

Let’s just say that if I had a dollar for every pound I’ve lost and regained over my adult life, I’d have plenty of cash for the proverbial rainy day. But after two decades on the roller coaster, I was weary of the ride. My always-messy closet, stuffed with clothes to fit my body anywhere along a 30-pound spectrum, was bumming me out. And more important, as a mom wading into my 40s, not facing the potential health implications of being overweight felt increasingly irresponsible. Anxiety about high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart disease gnawed at my brain. My son and daughter—9 and 6— are my world, and I want to be around for them for as long as possible. Bottom line: It was time to break the cycle. So this is the story of how I finally learned to stop dieting.

In February 2013 I loaded up a suitcase with T-shirts, sweats, socks, sneakers and every sports bra I owned, bound for the Biggest Loser Resort Niagara. My hope was that a week at a hard- core fitness camp would jump-start some weight loss and put the brakes on two decades of yo-yo dieting. (Click here for that story.) It was the first time I’d been away from my kids (then 8 and 5) for more than 24 hours, and initially I was distracted, worried, like a fish out of water.

Soon though, that anxiety gave way to what can only be described as euphoria, courtesy of mega endorphins from the workouts and the fact that I was relieved of all household to-do’s—no cooking, cleaning, homework-checking. It was awesome. But in hindsight, I was living a little too much in the moment and not focusing on how I would lose weight and live healthfully at home. The trainers talked about it—a lot—but instead of truly listening, I was reveling in my freedom from everyday responsibilities. Yes, even exercising 5 hours a day, it felt like a luxury vacation. Despite arriving home optimistic, after a month or two, I was back to my old eating habits. As for exercise, it was sporadic. At best.

In the end, I was disappointed that I didn’t make more of that stay. So when I was unexpectedly offered a chance to check out the newest Biggest Loser Resort, in Chicago, I went for it—vowing that instead of letting history repeat itself, I’d come away with doable long- term strategies.

Going in with that mind-set made all the difference. Thanks to the guidance from BLR Chicago’s first-rate trainers and staff, I’ve made more than a few changes in my day-to-day. Some are surprisingly easy and cheap. Others require more commitment and cash. Combined, they’ve helped me take off 10 pounds and counting at press time, and keep to a reasonably consistent exercise schedule. If you too have had it up to here with dieting, by all means benefit from my hard-won experience.

Little Changes, Big Result

Wake up, drink up. I’d heard downing lots of H20 is a must for weight loss a million times. Unfortunately, I don’t like water, so this advice went in one ear and out the other. A trainer suggested I drink a big glassful before doing anything else in the morning. This single new habit has upped my overall consumption considerably and makes me feel like I’m starting the day on a positive note. And since I’m not fully awake, I find the water less objectionable. I still enjoy an a.m. java, but not first thing. New ritual: Stumble out of bed, plug in coffee, drink a glass of water, then carry on as usual.

Get serious about exercise. My fitness plan hinged on working out at night, “right after everything at home is squared away.” Despite good intentions, it rarely happened. The earliest I ever achieved “squared away” status was around 9 p.m. Exercise, after a nonstop 14-hour day? Yeah, right. At Biggest Loser Chicago, there’s a mandatory cardio class at 6 every morning. Sounds tough, and it was initially. But then it dawned on me—the beauty of that hour is that nothing is likely to get in the way. Result: Twice-weekly 6 a.m. workouts. In my wildest dreams I would not have imagined forcing myself out of bed at that hour for a sweat session. Which is not to say it’s easy—truth be told, some days I have to drag myself out from under the covers. And by 9 that night, I’m totally beat. Even so, the major mental lift I get from crossing exercise off my list first thing is worth the effort.

Crunch the numbers. Math is not my strong suit, but sustainable weight loss requires reading food labels and doing basic calculations. The Biggest Loser healthy eating prescription calls for a 30/30/40 split of daily calories among protein, fat and carbs. It also suggests 25 grams of fiber per day for women, less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium and water, water, water throughout the day—though not so much during meals, because it can interfere with digestive enzymes doing their thing. Realistically, aim for a 90/10 split—meaning 90% of the time you’re eating nutritionally sound, balanced meals. The remaining 10% is flexible, for special occasions and indulging cravings to prevent feelings of deprivation.

Hit the hay sooner, not later. As a working mom, it’s hard to resist the lure of staying up till the wee hours in order to get stuff done. The house is quiet, and there’s always a floor to sweep, laundry to fold, papers to sort. In a session at BLRC, I experienced this aha moment: The later I putter, the likelier I am to end up in the pantry, foraging for sweets. Not out of hunger, but from a mix of boredom and a sense of entitlement. After all, if I’m up this late, surely I deserve a treat. My nights now consist of a few reasonably quick tasks, then retreating to bed (far from the kitchen) with a book or magazine until lights-out.

Train for less. Nobody will kick your butt better than a personal trainer, but the cost can be tough to stomach. Make it more affordable by recruiting a couple of like-minded friends, then finding a fitness pro willing to train you together. This suggestion has been a boon for me and two buddies—we do new moves each week under trainer John Barry’s watchful eye, but at a third of the price of a session. And by agreeing to pay our share regardless, we hold one another accountable to show up.

Short-Circuit a sugar rush. Cake, cookies, candy, ice cream. Yes, please! My brain and sweet tooth duke it out often, and usually my sweet tooth wins. Unfortunately, a few bites of something sugary can often snowball into blowing off an entire day of otherwise healthy eating. BLRC nutritionist Jennifer Vimbor’s suggested fix is a protein-and-carb combo. Three easy options: 1 to 2 ounces of turkey breast on a slice of whole-grain bread, plain Greek yogurt with a serving of fruit or 1/3 to 1/2 cup of high-fiber cereal, or tuna with a few whole-grain crackers. These easy-do pairings quickly stabilize blood sugar and provide that little pause you need to take a breath, refocus and get back on track (see more Biggest Loser recipes).

Look past the scale. When the number isn’t moving downward quickly enough, it’s all too tempting to throw in the towel—or munch miserably through half a box of doughnuts. At BLRC, it was ingrained in my brain to make a conscious effort to seek other tangible signs of progress. Clothes getting noticeably looser, for instance, or being able to do more reps of a challenging exercise can speak just as loudly as the number on the scale. I just have to listen.

Wear a tracker. Even as activity monitors became increasingly popular, I resisted. (In retrospect, I’m sure I just didn’t want inarguable proof of how little I was moving some days.) BLRC trainers are big advocates of the information and accountability these devices provide, and I finally caved. On nights that my number of steps taken is pathetic (like, sub-4,000), I grab my iPod and go for a walk after my husband gets home. There are tons of options on the market. Personally, I like the sleek look and functionality of the waterproof Misfit Wearables Shine (misfitwearables.com, $120). The leather band is an awesome upgrade, and they make socks, a necklace and a T-shirt that house the device as an alternative to wearing it on your wrist. (See how we rated a variety of fitness trackers at familycircle.com/fittrack.)

Resist “Magic Monday” syndrome. How tempting it is to say, “I’ll start over on Monday.” It’s the first day of the work week—seems ideal,  right? Wrong. Any day is good to start (or recommit to) eating well and exercising. Don’t let one junk-food-laden party or skipped workout derail you for days. Think of it this way: If your car suddenly started skidding, you wouldn’t wait until Monday to do something—you’d take corrective action right away. Apply that principle here. As soon as you perceive a skid, grasp your mental steering wheel firmly with both hands and turn decisively in the direction you want to go.

 

Chicago is the latest addition to the roster of Biggest Loser Resorts around the US. The boot-camp-style program runs within the Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes Resort, which boasts indoor and outdoor pools, a gorgeous golf course, a luxury spa and more. For details and rates, go to biggestloserresort.com/chicago

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