A Barre Without Drinks

With the Victoria’s Secret Angels fashion show coming up, we are all reminded of how desperately we want the long, lean bodies that models strut down the isle. In the United States, the workout trend that is spreading throughout the country is barre class, and they claim that practicing barre three times per week for one month will drastically slim and tone your body.

Barre is ballet-inspired type of workout. It involves lower-impact interval training, the advantages of which I praise in my past blog, HIIT: Making the Impossible Possible. In barre, the instructor leads you through alternating combinations of intense, focused muscle work and intense stretching. The beauty of this type of exercise is that it is effective and can be altered for all ages, body types, and fitness levels.

The intense muscle work specifically targets every muscle in your body, moving from arms to legs to butt to abs. You will build long, lean muscles, as opposed to big, bulky muscles, though lots of repetition of the exercises with light resistance. For instance, instead of doing 20 squats with 20-lbs weights, you would sink to the bottom of your squat with no weights and pulse at your very lowest holding point. The resulting burn and shake are evidence of the exercises’ shaping effects.

Equally important are the stretching portions of the classes. Stretching is important not only to prevent injury, but also to elongate the muscles you just worked.

At home, in Washington, D.C., I am obsessed with The Bar Method, specifically. But, being in Italy, Rome does not offer barre classes, so I have resorted to DVDs and YouTube videos to help me out. You can perform these exercises at your gym or most of them can even be done at home!

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Should you cut out alcohol to drop those couple extra pounds?

Alcohol is not only caloric, but it also impedes your body’s fat-burning process. The liver is responsible for metabolizing both fat and alcohol, and, when forced to choose, will metabolize alcohol before it does fat.

When in Rome, however, every waiter will look at you in shock if you pass up wine – and for good reason. Italy has some of the best wine you will ever taste, and at a good price, too. You would be doing your whole trip to Rome wrong if you were to avoid it completely.

The goods news is that cutting out your beers and vodka sodas but continuing to drink wine may actually produce a net positive gain (and not in weight).

Why? Wine has a multitude of benefits that, in moderation, will not cause your waist to expand, so long as you also avoid hard liquor and beer.

Let me repeat myself for all my American readers: you may only reap the benefits of wine if you drink it in MODERATION. Yes, I understand that this is a new concept for many of you. According to the American Heart Association, “moderation” means one or two four-ounce glasses of wine per day. This blog post is not meant to justify the endless flow of wine you drink to get hammered when going out on the weekends…

Wine is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, and, generally, the darker the wine, the more of this good stuff. Wines from milder regions, such as Napa Valley or Bordeaux, also tend to have higher concentrations of antioxidants than do wines from hot regions. So, when given the choice, a deep red wine from a dry region is your healthiest option.

Increasing your consumption of wine will in turn promote longevity by slowing your brain decline and lowering your risk of heart disease and cancer.

According to a study in 2006 conducted by Columbia University, moderate drinkers’ brain function declined at a slower rate than did the brain function of nondrinkers. This benefit is due to the fact that polyphenols combat the early onset of dementia-like symptoms.

In the publication Nature, experts found that red wine contains high levels of procyanidins, which protect against heart disease. Wine also contains polyphenols that reduce bad cholesterol and further boost heart health.

Arguably the greatest health benefit from drinking wine is that the surplus of antioxidants means greater protection against cancer. Humans are exposed to free radicals on a daily basis, whether as a byproduct of normal bodily processes or through contact with pollutants. Free radicals are destructive to our bodies because they cause molecules within our cells to become unstable; consequently, this instability triggers a never-ending process in which the now-unstable cells attack stable cells to try to gain stability, and the number of unstable cells gradually begins to grow. Antioxidants are crucial to stopping this cellular chain reaction by neutralizing the free radicals.

Thus, my friends, the net gain of drinking wine in MODERATION. In fact, giving up alcohol as a whole might even lead to binge drinking because you are preventing yourself from enjoying something you love. The same goes for food.

Pair a glass of wine (and just a glass of wine) with a healthy diet and a regular workout schedule and you are good to go!

Also: If you’re really into wine, I highly recommend attending a wine-tasting class at Riscioli.

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^Riscioli

Italy Welcomes Gluten-Free Foodies with Open Arms

A couple weeks ago, I ended up in the hospital with severe anemia and in desperate need of a blood transfusion to lift my iron and hemoglobin levels out of the danger zone.

In classic “mom” form, my mother, who happened to be visiting me the weekend I ended up in the hospital, tried to lighten the mood by asking the doctor, “Since she will have Italian blood in her after the transfusion, does that mean she’ll come out speaking Italian?!” Cue the forced, nervous laughs all around….

Anyway, my doctor was convinced that I had Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition where the consumption of gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye – causes an abnormal immune response that damages the small intestine and blocks the absorption of nutrients.

So my doctor told me to begin a gluten-free diet until the results of my blood test either confirmed or disconfirmed their theory. My face immediately drooped at this news. I was thinking, “There is literally no worse place to be diagnosed with Celiac disease than Rome. What will I eat now?”

Contrary to my initial thought, Rome – and really Italy as a whole – is actually a pretty ideal place to begin a gluten-free diet. Like the rest of the world, approximately 1% of Italians have Celiac disease, but Italians have an increased awareness about the condition. For the most part, this greater awareness is due to the fact that gluten is EVERYWHERE you look in a country where dining is a crucial aspect of Italian social life and good taste is a crucial to the experience.

“Well, that’s great,” I thought. “But I know I will be made fun of when I ask for gluten-free options,” as this usually happens to people eating a gluten-free diet in the United States.

Yet again, I was proven wrong! When I ask whether places have plates that are “senza glutine,” the servers respond with genuine concern rather than scoffing or sounding annoyed.

Why?

Italy was the first Western nation to recognize Celiac disease as a legitimate, serious condition. The Associazione Italiana Celiachia is Italy’s Celiac association, and it was founded as early as 1979. It works to educate producers and restaurant owners about the severity condition and encourages them to offer gluten-free options.

Additionally, eating gluten-free is not a fad diet in Italy like it is in the United States. That means, that if someone is asking for gluten-free options, they really need.

Ultimately, my blood tests came back negative, showing that I did not have Celiac disease, but I did learn that I am gluten intolerant.

Thus far, some of my favorite restaurants with gluten-free options include Il Viaggio, Restaurante Nini, and Sans de Ble. Where there are not gluten-free pastas or pizzas, I have learned to branch out and experience other, equally scrumptious Italian dishes, such as Roman chicken and saltimboca.

Enjoy!

I Like To Moovenda Moovenda

Here I go again, playing with song lyrics. The title of this blog is a play on the lyrics in the song “I Like To Move It,” except this blog is for those people who prefer to do anything but “move it.”

In my last blog, The Truth About Cheat Days, I catered to American stereotypes: obesity and laziness. Of course not all Americans fit these characterizations, but we all do have our fat and lazy days.

Now that I have justified the occasional cheat day, I have another sweet recommendation to throw your way! There is a website called Moovenda that offers its delivery services in Rome and Milan (in case you are traveling).

With Moovenda, you can choose between a wide variety of restaurants to order anything you want, from wine to salmon to pizza to tiramisu and more! The company’s efficient and friendly workers deliver your food right to your doorstep at the exact time that you selected.

I have found that Moovenda is incredibly speedy and reliable. How speedy you might ask? Well, the other day I ordered an acai bowl, and it arrived before the bowl had even melted! This acai bowl was not from Acai and Friends like I had previously recommended, but it was just as delicious and still offers all the same health benefits!

This food delivery website is perfect for Sunday nights when many restaurants are closed and when you are tired (possibly still fighting through a hangover) from an active weekend.

It is also perfect for days when we are not so lazy. Moovenda can deliver to your office on a busy work day or to the library when you are cranking out the last couple pages of that essay that is due in two hours. Whatever your situation, Moovenda is there!

So when you are really not in the mood or do not have the time to cook or to go through the whole ordeal of eating out, give Moovenda a shot! You will not be disappointed.

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The Truth About Cheat Days

Sometimes, I just NEED my good ole American food. Can you sympathize? Rome does not offer a lot of variety in food, and a taste of home can do wonders in terms of making you feel comfortable in a foreign place.

The other day, I stumbled upon T-Bone in Trastevere, and it has everything that us “fat” Americans love to consume in large amounts. It even caters to our laziness by delivering right to your front door!

I’m talking about steaks, burgers, onion rings, mashed potatoes, nachos, cheesy fries, etc. Sounds like heaven, I know. And, it even tastes like heaven!

I realize that I have been preaching that everyone should commit to a healthy diet, but it is also okay to splurge. In fact, Kevin Hall of the National Institute of Health conducted a study that shows that a person can vary his or her food intake by plus or minus 600 calories without affecting his or her weight.

Why?

First, the important thing is to maintain a healthy long-term average caloric intake. As long as you are committed to a lower-calorie, healthy diet most of the time, a cheat day will not kill all your progress.

Second, people are likely to compensate for their splurge days by under-eating the following day or two, resulting in an insignificant net gain.

As long as T-Bone’s waiters never learn to recognize you and their deliverymen never learn your address, I think you’ll be in good shape.

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It’s Time to Let Your Ice Cub Dreams Melt Away

Upon arriving in Rome, one of the first things I noticed was that I felt perpetually thirsty. And, to my disappointment, every single restaurant I walk into serves water without ice, and I could drink lukewarm water for the rest of my life and never feel that my thirst has been quenched.

But, I wouldn’t DARE ask for ice in my water – there is really no better way to irritate your waiter (except maybe asking for the wifi password…).

Well, I recently stumbled upon an article that immediately converted me not to team lukewarm water, but to team hot water. I even threw away my ice tray!

Contrary to my initial feelings, hot water actually does hydrate you. Hydration is key to a healthy body, as it helps your kidneys flush away waste products and provides a medium for your body’s metabolic processes.

Hot water offers many more benefits, too!

First, drinking hot water helps you to maintain your current weight because it increases your body temperature, which in turn slightly raises your metabolic rate. Dr. Michael Wald, Director of Nutritional Services at Integrated Medicine and Nutrition, says that hot water may also increase your metabolic rate to the point where it even causes you to shed some pounds, but this potential effect is still part of ongoing studies.

Second, consuming hot water is crucial to your general wellness. It may reduce the number of infections that you suffer because boiled water kills off bacterial organisms. Hot water also dissolves phlegm, which clears your sinuses and diminishes soar throats. Drinking hot water also causes you to sweat, which releases bad toxins from your body.

Finally, many people even find drinking hot water to be pleasurable. When consumed, it travels down your throat to the receptors in your mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestines, stimulating the pleasure centers in your brain.

Here’s one additional bonus for all the ladies reading my blog – hot water can help lessen your menstrual cramps! The heat calms your abdominal muscles, causing them to relax and not spasm.

So, after you trek through the narrow streets of Rome and arrive at a restaurant desperate for water, try to ignore your American ice-craving instincts and enjoy the benefits of lukewarm and hot water.

Trust me – unlike the situation with ice, the Italians won’t mind if you ask for coffee or tea.

Munch a Little Here, Munch a Little There

In the United States, we are accustomed to portion sizes that are twice that of our faces at every meal. In Italy, taking this approach can be very dangerous, as it will more often than not lead to a serious food coma that will impede your ability to explore the city (among other things).

So let me propose to you an alternative way to enjoying Italian food: instead of eating three meals per day, eat FIVE!

Yup, I just told you to eat more meals per day in order to avoid gaining weight. However, I do not mean to advice you to eat five meals that are twice the size of your face. Try five meals that are more snack size.

Eating five meals per day will not only allow you to efficiently taste all the food variety that Rome has to offer, but it will also keep your body in prime shape. Eating throughout the day keeps your metabolism going in addition to helping you resist unhealthy food cravings. It also keeps your energy levels up so you can bop around the city to appreciate the beautiful sites.

It is important to remember, however, that this diet plan only works if you avoid “junk” foods, such as processed foods and sugary drinks. Lucky for you, Italians prioritize quality over quantity – unlike the United States – and their all-carb diet is the perfect way to fill you up without dragging you down.

Sticking to this plan also shouldn’t be too difficult and will actually help you adapt to the Roman way. Most Italians eat dinner at around 9:30pm, and snacking throughout the day will allow you to reach this point without going crazy and wanting to eat your hand.

Give it a shot! I promise I won’t let you down.