Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Year's Resolutions: Get Healthy and Stay Healthy
It's 2014 and the start of a promising new year. Another year saying, "I'm going to be healthier," and another year eating Funyuns by February. Nearly half of's list of popular New Year's Resolutions have to do with being healthier: lose weight, quit smoking, get fit, eat better, decrease stress, and drink less booze. Pretty much all of these are on my list of resolutions, but they're not mutually exclusive; working on one works on the others. If you're eating better, you'll lose weight. With more green things in your diet and fewer pounds on your bones, you'll have more energy to exercise and get fit. Exercise decreases stress, and if you have less stress in your life then you'll probably smoke less, drink less, and crave fewer carbs. I lost ten pounds just by moving away from the London pub culture, so you'll be surprised at how a random change can cause a body-benefiting chain reaction.

If you share the goal of getting some fat off your body this year, I've accumulated a handful of tips that can help you get it done. I've organized them into different tactics for shaping how you eat, what you do, what you can stop doing, and how you think.

How You Eat
The news tell me that the three most successful diets are (1) DASH Diet, (2) Mediterranean, and (3) Weight Watchers. These can pretty much be summed up as heart-healthy, a lot of fruits, veggies, nuts, and portion control. I'm not really that into paying for anything, so Weight Watchers is out, but I'll take their lead on being able to eat anything I want as long as it's portion-controlled. In addition to more produce and protein, here are a few things to try while eating:
  • Drink a glass of water before every meal. You might actually be thirsty when you feel hungry. And if it turns out in fact you were hungry, the large volume of water will make you feel fuller and keep you from overeating
    • Eat more liquid foods like nutritious smoothies and soups to get the same effect
    • Or eat a handful of nuts or edamame to stave off hunger
  • Swallow each bite before starting on the next. Eat slower and enjoy your food
  • Eat breakfast. Start with protein (like eggs) and keep up your metabolism throughout the day by not skipping meals
  • Try eating with your left hand
  • Eat normal-sized portions
    • Use smaller plates and you'll subconsciously serve less food
    • Store extra food right after cooking to keep from being tempted by seconds
    • Try halving a restaurant portion into a to-go box before even starting to eat
  • Get your family and/or roommates involved. My dad always has a steady stream of kale chips emerging from our dehydrator and (barely) eats meat or dairy. Having a self-proclaimed "cheating vegan" around the house can be a good influence
  • Set a daily calorie limit and stay under it (mine is 1200, but you should calculate your own here)
  • Meticulously record everything you eat. Go digital by downloading an app like MyFitnessPal
  • Don't cheat on your rules! Even at parties and on holidays. Try not to gorge yourself into a coma on Christmas cookies

What You Do
Repeating activities everyday is the best way to make them stick long-term. Using an app is a great way to do this because your phone is always close by and the automatic features save a lot of time. Also if you want to connect with your friends over the app, they can help keep you on track and/or guilt you into attaining your health goals.
  • Get on a scale everyday to stay mindful and track your progress
  • Don't do work in the kitchen where a refrigerator is staring at you
  • Control what you buy, and don't shop when you're hungry
    • Leave the grocery store with more (if not mostly) fresh food instead of processed food
    • Making a strict grocery list can lessen the urge to buy junk
  • Exercise everyday, even if it's just 15 minutes
    • If you're not exercising at all right now, join a sports team so you look forward to working out or set an attainable weekly goal that you gradually increase over time
  • Set measurable, specific, and realistic goals like, "I will lose one pound a week," "I will not eat any desserts this month," or "I will run four miles today."

What You Can Stop Doing
We all have our bad habits, I'm sure you know yours. Whether it's overdoing the alcohol, smoking too much, binge eating donuts in the closet, just think about what those habits are adding to your life -- pretty sure it's just fat. Now I'm going to speak to what I've seen as the most rampant indiscretion among people I know:
  • Stop drinking so much! Ever wonder why everyone starts miraculously gaining weight in their twenties? Legal entry to bars my friends. Also:
    • Alcohol is a depressant, negatively affects your brain (memory formation, energy levels, rational thought), and kills your liver, let alone the increasingly brutal hangovers.
    • Vomiting on the sidewalk is not and will never be sexy
    • Start by setting the reasonable goal of drinking only once or twice a week
  • Stop consuming nutritionless calories, like soda. Instead drink water, squeeze in some lemon if it's too boring
    • If bubbles are what you need, drink mineral water like Pellegrino. I like the fruity kind from Trader Joe's
  • Stop making excuses and stop putting it off. Just start one new thing today

How You Think
Probably the most difficult but the most important way to maintain your health is to maintain a goal-oriented and motivated mindset. This is definitely the hardest for me because when I'm looking at a delicious meal, my cholesterol level is not the first thing I'm thinking about.  
  • Think about the life-extending effects of good health when you start early
    • What you do today can keep you from getting heart disease, diabetes, cancer, among many, many others
  • You have to want to be better -- to look better, perform better, feel better. Just keep whatever you find to be your biggest motivator at the center of your focus

If you're overwhelmed by the amount of things to try here, just start with one: write down everything you eat. This will force you to be conscious about what's going into your body. Not all of these tips will work for you, but hopefully you can take away what you like and what you think you can do. If something isn't working, then change it up and try something new. Try an interesting new food craze or try a new sport and challenge yourself to see how long you can do it. 

Remember, getting healthy isn't supposed to suck! Focus on small goals and reward yourself with something nice when you reach them. You can turn your health into a game, except at the end you don't just win, you get to be happier, look sexier, and live a longer life.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Music of the Moment

In an attempt to hit every genre and hopefully satisfy one of your tastes, here is some music that I am currently listening to in no order whatsoever.

Waiting Around to Die - The Be Good Tanyas
Maybe it's the kick drum. Maybe it's my obsession with folk music. Maybe it's because this Townes Van Zandt cover graced my ears while rewatching Breaking Bad this week, and I realized it encapsulated everything amazing about the show into one song. 

The Song of the Golden Dragon - Estas Tonné
Long hair and wicked fingernails make one amazing European artist.

Un-thinkable (I'm Ready) - Alicia Keys
Although I am usually inclined to dislike anything Alicia Keys, after awhile this song has really grown on me. And, speaking as a biracial person, this music video is crucial on so many levels. Even if you you've already made your judgments on the song, at least appreciate the video.

Strangers - Seven Lions with Myon & Shane 54 feat. Tove Lo
I can't leave my fellow EDM people out. Take out the earbuds and put on some legitimate headphones.

Adore You - Miley Cyrus
I freely admit I love Miley. Besides the fact that she is the most entertaining person, she can also sing. This has been my favorite song ever since her album was released, so I'm ecstatic she's finally paired this up with an unsurprisingly outrageous, scandalous, ridiculous music video. Say what you want about the girl, she is an expert in viral marketing. 

I conclude with my musical question of the week:

Am I the only person who isn't obsessed with Beyoncé? Clearly some Sasha Fierce-flavored Kool-Aid is being dispensed and people are slurping it up.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

App Spotlight: When You Can't Drive, Get a Lyft
There are a certain few applications that are mandatory to have on your smartphone if you live in San Francisco, and an app to get around is one of them. This week's application spotlight is about Lyft and my first experience ride-sharing. I'll preface this discussion by noting that new wave "taxi companies" using regular people driving their own cars have been coming under a lot of heat for not having the proper licenses, permits, and/or insurance (read more here). On the other hand, Lyft and SideCar are not commercial taxi services, but rather communities of ride-sharing volunteers that operate on a donation system. But I'm not here to debate the legality of operations. Regardless of what policymakers are squabbling about, ride-sharing applications are expanding all over the nation and the world and I'm here to tell you what it's like to use them. 

Firstly, when you're getting ready to leave for SantaCon and there's no way you can get there yourself, how do you choose between pickup services? There are three ride-sharing apps currently on my phone: Uber, SideCar, and Lyft. I was really excited to use my new Uber app that had been untouched since download because in the South Bay I am forced to drive myself everywhere. Unfortunately, my friend (the San Francisco native) ixnayed using Uber because of its reputation for being more expensive even though they offer the same peer-to-peer service as well as luxury cars. Although there are some issues with the clarity of Uber's interface, I do think their promotions for bringing Christmas treesice cream, and even kittens to your doorstep are unorthodox, borderline ingenious and at the very least entertaining.
However, we ended up using Lyft because one, it has the reputation for being cheaper, and two, everyone in our group already had it on their phones. SideCar was conspicuously absent from the conversation. We knew not to call our Lyft until we were completely ready to go because our driver arrived almost instantaneously, one of the benefits of being in the city. I was pleased to find that our Lyft car, like a frat boy in November, really does have a mustache attached to its grill. We were picked up by an older gentleman, I think his name was Bill, who had started his day driving groups of drunken Santa Clauses around at 9AM. He offered us some candy canes, but my mother always told me to never get in a car with or take candy from a stranger, and I was planning on following at least one of those rules that day. Besides, I already had a stack of candy canes hanging from my Santa belt.

Fast forward a few hours to mid-SantaCon, when inevitably someone has to be sent home early. Lyft to the rescue! Again, super quick pickup and a very convivial driver, even with the risk of projectiles from one of the occupants. Sauod, our driver, gave us some much-needed water and snacks for the ride while he dished his insider knowledge on the best bars and secret eats in town. It felt a little like stealing when we rushed out of the car without paying, but if I had had to use an extra minute rummaging through my wallet, we would have swiftly been run over by the angry bus behind us. So essentially, Lyft saved our lives. But seriously, I was able to take as much time as I needed to repay our driver, rate and comment on our ride, and I did it all while lying on the couch after getting home safely. Ride-sharing really is like having a friend pick you up, except they'll actually be on time and won't get lost on the way. 

Here are the reasons why the taxi industry should be worried:
  • Lyft is easier than calling a taxi. Location is automatic rather than trying to explain where you are, automatic payment is faster than hunting for change, and everything can be done safely through the device we often never have out of reach.
  • Lyft is faster than calling a taxi, given you're in a city. On both occasions our Lyft arrived within five minutes. [Update: tried Lyft in a "suburb" like Palo Alto and there were an excess of drivers all within two minutes. But a friend in Toronto claims Lyft's are never available, rendering the app useless.]
  • Lyft is cheaper than a taxi. I think you could technically choose to donate nothing, but just for general human decency I highly recommend not doing that. Overall the rates are rounded and don't murder anyway. 
  • I'm sure this is a good idea.
  • Lyft is more fun than a taxi. I know regular taxi drivers are real people too, but Lyft drivers are much more chatty and give you free candy! [Update: the drivers are actually given incentives to be more creative and entertaining.]
Here are the ways ride-sharing could be improved:
  • Puppy petting stations in every backseat.
  • Every rider gets a human-sized pink mustache. (Free marketing, yes?)
  • More candy.
All in all, my first ride-share wasn't just a ride from point A to point B, but rather an experience that made what happened in-between points a little more memorable.

Remember kids... if you're a little bit trashed, don't get in a crash. Call a mustache!

Friday, December 13, 2013

14 Things You Must Do in Europe

Maybe you've done them already, maybe you can add them to your bucket list. Here is a list of fourteen things taken from my time living in Europe* that I hope can inspire many memorable moments of your own.

1. Pick a mountain in Iceland and climb it.

We chose Kirkjufell.

2. People watch from a Parisian café with a freshly baked baguette.

Champagne works too.

3. Dance with someone wearing lederhosen in the Hofbräuhaus tent at Oktoberfest.

Tabletop optional.

4. Wake up to church bells, a caffè latte, and a view of the duomo in Florence.

Goodbye snooze button.

5. Go swimming in a freezing Swedish fjord.

Admittedly I didn't go in, it says strong swell!

6. Enjoy late-night tapas on the beach in Barcelona.

Dinner starts at 10pm.

7. Drink a 40 koruna pint of Staropramen in a smoke-filled cellar in Prague.

Then try to wash the smoke out of your clothes for 3 days.

8. Get sunburnt in the Canary Islands.
We sure did.

9. Eat a homemade Belgian waffle in Belgium.
They're just called "waffles" there.

10. Go to the Bourgogne region and drink wine in the vineyard in which it was grown.

It tastes better that way.

11. Explore the seaside villages and clear blue waters of Cinque Terre.
It still doesn't look real.

12. See something disturbing in Amsterdam.
It'll happen to you whether you like it or not.

13. Look up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (then go tell Robin Williams what it smells like**).

Or pop next door and say hi to the Pope.

14. Spend a holiday with friends in a home away from home.

A good ol' American Thanksgiving in London.

* There were too many in London to choose from, more on this city to come later.
** It's a Good Will Hunting thing.