Sunday, April 26, 2009

Your Metabolism vs. Artificial Ingredients

As if you needed another reason to eat only natural foods and stay away from artificial ingredients, here’s a good one!

You know how when you put a program into your computer, it reads the codes of the program and then knows what to do with it? Well, whenever you eat or drink (or inhale) anything, the substance you’re eating, drinking, or inhaling also has a code. The cells of your body read the code and then, like your computer, set about following their programmed instructions to put it to (hopefully) good use. When you consume something that has artificial ingredients (like artificial sweeteners, artificial food dyes and flavorings, or even high fructose corn syrup), your body’s cells are confronted with a code that they most likely can’t read properly. What happens next is, in essence, similar to what happens when your computer can’t read a program properly—it can freeze up or slow down, or just refuse to deal with it. The end result is that your metabolism (which is your body breaking down foods into nutrients, then sending the nutrients to the proper places to be used for energy and health) slows down, you feel tired, nervous, or out of sorts, and the artificial substances then get sent to the liver to be tossed out . This makes your liver cranky because it has to spend time and resources figuring out what to do with this weird chemical instead of working on its favorite obsession, your health and well-being.

When you eat healthy, clean, natural foods, your metabolism just zips along, reading those codes, sending the nutrients right out to be used, and your liver has less work to do so it can run much more efficiently and keep your system cleaner. Even if you have a genetic predisposition to a slow metabolism, no, especially if you have a genetic predisposition to a slow metabolism, this is important to you. Eating clean is like if Mary Poppins herself was in charge of running your metabolism--efficient, making the best out of what’s at hand--you know, spit spot, practically perfect!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Joe Jusko

As well as being one of the top fantasy illustrators around, Joe Jusko is also a devoted fitness enthusiast (and a great guy!). I thought it would be fun to ask him a few questions to post here.

Me: Boris and I have always been interested in the human physique, first through our own experience with bodybuilding, then in fantasy art physiques, but we know of artists for whom it was the other way around. What came first for you--bodybuilding or paintings of highly cultured physiques?

Joe: I read comics and drew from a very early age, so I was always intrigued by larger than life physiques. I started lifting in junior year of high school after I bought an issue of Iron Man or Muscular Development with Mr America Kalman Szkalak on the cover. I was amazed by him and wanted to look like that. Unfortunately I discovered that not everyone could attain that type of condition without the proper genetics (or lots of, ummmmm........"help"). LOL

Me: After spending a long time at the easel, do you feel more like you want to get up and exercise or do you feel more lethargic?

Joe: I prefer using training as a relief from work. I normally stop about 3PM and work out. I put in a Parabody smith machine, treadmill and a set of Powerblock dumbbells to make the transition easier. I loathe going to an actual gym. Too much prep and travel time, wasted time waiting for equipment, etc. I much prefer working out in my own space and at my own pace. I find I'm stronger and more focused later in the day, also.

Me: When we have tight deadlines looming, it's easy to feel like skipping the gym, but we usually push each other to stick with our exercise plans. Do deadlines interfere with your exercise program?

Joe: I'm a bit of a compulsive personality in that if I'm cramming on a job I don't like to stop. If I do, I get distracted 180% in the opposite direction. I do tend to forego the gym if I'm pressing at work. That, in turn affects my diet as I mentally tie them both together. I find it very difficult to keep a healthy diet when not exercising for a period of time as I think one feeds the other. That mentality has made my overall condition fluctuate back and forth over the years. I'm back in training mode now and hope to stay there. You two are lucky in that you have each other to spur yourselves on. It's not always easy if your partner doesn't share the interest.

4. What's your favorite snack?

Favorite snack or junk food? I like mixing up two scoops of chocolate whey protein powder into 8oz of plain, non fat yogurt. It tastes almost like chocolate pudding and you can really have it whenever your sweet tooth acts up with no guilt. My cheat/junk food fix is PIZZA. If I could eat it all day, every day I would. LOL Unfortunately I can't as I'm cursed with a really slow, slavic metabolism and put weight on by just looking at pizza. As you know we have incredibly sedentary jobs, also and if I didn't work out I'd be 500 pounds! Even so, I'll be 50 in September and find it increasingly difficult to drop weight when I put it on. What used to take a few weeks takes considerably longer today.
Joe at 23 dressed as Captain America

Thanks, Joe! And I'm seriously jealous of your Powerblock dumbbells. Have to check into that!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fish Tacolafels

This is my sister, Suzanne, and the monster-sized fish she caught in 1991.

Get it? Taco…falafel…tacolafel! I just made that up! Whatever, these tacolafels are sooo good and the protein from the fish is great for days when you've taxed your muscles with a good weight workout. Served with steamed vegetables on the side, this healthy recipe is just about the right amount for 2 people.

8 oz firm fish filet such as salmon, mahi mahi, or sea bass, cut into pieces approximately ½ x2 inches
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 soft corn tortillas or 2 whole wheat pita breads
4 tablespoons of hummus
2 leaves of romaine lettuce, chopped
4 grape or cherry tomatoes, chopped
½ avocado, sliced

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. When it’s beginning to get hot, put the fish pieces in so that they are not touching each other. Sprinkle with the chili powder, garlic powder, and salt. Cook until they start to brown on the bottom. With a spatula, scrape from the bottom and turn the fish pieces. They may start to come apart, but that’s okay, just keep scraping them from the bottom of the pan and turning the pieces until they’re all lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Remove the fish from the pan and set them aside on paper towels. In a clean pan (preferably an iron skillet), heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. If you're using the corn tortillas instead of the pita breads, place one tortilla in the pan to heat it on both sides. You’re not really going to brown it, but it should be hotter and much more flexible than when you put it in, maybe just a bit more cooked. If you're using the pita bread, warm it in a toaster oven. On the tortilla put 1 tablespoon of the hummus, ¼ of the fish pieces, ¼ of the avocado, some romaine, and one of the little tomatoes. If using pita, on the pita put 1/2 of the hummus, 1/2 of the fish, 1/2 of the avocado, romaine, and tomatoes.
Fold your tortilla or pita in half. Repeat with the other tortillas until you have 4 beautiful tacolafels. Give two to your dinner companion, keep two for yourself, and have a great meal!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Intervals for Cardio Fitness

My favorite way to approach cardio exercises these days is through Interval Training. I love it and I can’t say enough good things about it. I use this same principle with running, stationary bike, elliptical machine, and (by far the most challenging) the StairMaster.

So here’s the basic idea of what I do for a 35 minute session of cardio:

Start with a few minutes (3-5) at a reasonably slow warm-up speed.
Do 30 seconds at a fairly fast pace, followed by 1 minute at a comfortable slower speed.
Repeat the 30 seconds fast, 1 minute slow pattern for 25 minutes. You can lengthen the fast part of the interval to 1 minute, but if you do, increase the slow part also to about a minute and a half or even two minutes if you need to. The length of your fast and slow intervals will depend on how intense your fast periods are as well as whether your slow periods are slow enough to let you recover properly.
Follow by a 5 minute cool down, gradually decreasing your speed.

I find that the first few intervals aren’t too difficult and I start to wonder if I’m even going to sweat. But after about 3 or 4, it catches up to me and it’s amazing!
One thing I really like about it is that it’s high intensity and, at the same time, the slower resting periods allow my muscles and joints to recover so that I don’t seem to get overuse injuries like tendonitis anymore. Also, it seems like it’s by far more effective at increasing cardio fitness and burning calories.
Plus, I NEVER get bored with this approach. It seemingly activates enough good brain chemistry to give me a really nice soaring-through-the-clouds-on-the-back-of-a-flying-tiger feeling that lasts for hours after I’ve finished.
I don’t do this for each and every cardio session. In fact, I never do it two days in a row (to allow time for muscle recovery). On the days I don’t use intervals, I just do the usual steady speed cardio with 5 minute warm up and 5 minute cool down.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring is Burger Time!

So, yeah, I've always been a big fan of Jughead. Something about the way he looked at his hamburgers always made burgers seem extra tasty.
But since Boris and I don't eat meat (except for fish), I had to create a new kind of burger. The burger of the future! Here's the recipe:

Basic Tempeh Burgers

Tempeh is a soybean product that has been shaped into a cake. It is a remarkable source of protein as well as iron and folic acid. Because it has been fermented, it’s much easier for most people to digest than other soy foods or beans. Its superior nutritional value as well as its versatility makes it one of my favorite protein sources.

1 8oz. block of tempeh, crumbled
1 onion, white, yellow, or red, chopped
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup chopped parsley (optional)
2 eggs
¼ cup whole grain flour (I like to use barley flour, but wheat or oat flour are fine, too)
2 Tablespoons vegan mayonnaise (I like Nasoya)
2 oz. grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. Lightly oil a cookie sheet. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix
thoroughly. On the oiled cookie sheet, form 6 large or 8 medium-sized patties with the mixture.
It’s not going to be too firm at this point, but don’t worry, when you bake them, they’ll hold
together just fine. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until your burgers are golden brown and cooked through.

Additions to Basic Tempeh Burgers

You can do all kinds of creative things with this basic mix. Add some canned tuna or salmon.
Add some curry spices or Italian herbs. Add some leftover rice, chopped cooked vegetables, or, for that matter, just about any kind of leftovers can make interesting burgers!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Goal Setting vs. Identity Changing

A few months ago a friend wanted to get in shape after the long winter (which is still not over around here, by the way!). She asked me for some general fitness and nutrition advice and it soon became clear that one of her major problems was to keep the motivation to stick with her program once she had started it. This is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome and it’s not to be taken lightly.
I see a lot of good advice in blogs and magazines about how to stick to your fitness goals, but as artists, we have a slight advantage in that our powers of imagination and visualization can be used to help us in a big way. And since the human brain is designed for the capability to have imagination, anyone can use this principle to their advantage, whether they call themselves artists or not.
Often when people feel they’d like to get in better shape, it’s basically conceived of as a goal. The problem with a goal is that it’s really a temporary thing. Like getting to a certain point and then you’re finished! Then it’s back to the usual. I was discussing this with Boris and he said, “When you finish a painting, you’re not finished with art. It’s just On To The Next Painting! That’s because you think of yourself as an artist—it’s your identity, not just a painting.”
If you want to make a commitment to yourself to live a healthier lifestyle and get the most out of your amazing brain (to produce more amazing art!), you have to think of yourself as an active, healthy person. I’m not talking about just repeating words like “I’m strong! Yeah, I’m a badass!” or something equally poetic, but really creating a feeling in your mind that it’s who you are. Think of how it is when you’re working on a piece of art, you allow yourself to be so absorbed into the world of your subject that it becomes reality in your mind. Do the same thing with the image of yourself as a healthy, athletic person and you’ll send clear messages to all of the cells in your body to act accordingly. If you remember to think this way consistently for a long enough time, your body will basically “re-wire” itself and these thoughts will be there as your brain’s default setting. It’s the first step and, though it may seem too simple, it can make all the difference down the road.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hi everybody!

Welcome to Hard Curves. If you're familiar with my work as a fantasy artist, you may have seen the blog that I share with my husband and artistic partner, Boris Vallejo, Paint and Brush, where we open up our studio to you to give you a bit of what's going on behind our easels and in our lives.
This blog is dedicated to another side of who I am.
As a 50-year-old former nationally-ranked competitive bodybuilder who has also studied yoga, gymnastics, ballet and modern dance, I've spent countless hours of my life thinking and learning about exercise, fitness, and nutrition.
As an artist, my way of mentally processing all of this information takes a turn into a different dimension. My mind works in a very visual, non-linear way and this has really helped me with fitness--not only with creative approaches to technique, but also just to keep it interesting.
Fitness, bodybuilding, and the human physique play a very important part in my paintings as well, so it all comes full circle. I'll be exploring these ideas and a bunch more in this blog.
I want to share with you how much fun it is to keep health and fitness in your life!

The Breakfast of Artists (at least, the ones at my house)

It seemed fitting that my first real post here would be about breakfast (as a good start to the day!), so I thought I'd tell you about the breakfast that Boris and I have.

Back in 1998, Boris was diagnosed with some crazy liver problem that had him one step away from putting his name on a list for a liver transplant. This had been progressing for approximately 15 years and had reached a point where the doctors were panicking. I decided to do my best to help him keep his own liver by reading everything I could find on the subject of liver health and finally came up with a nutrition and fitness plan that actually set him straight after only 6 weeks. I'll elaborate more on the process in later posts, but for now, here is the breakfast that I came up with that was one very important part of the plan. Although it was originally conceived of as a healing food that was intended to clean out an unhappy liver, it's got everything that makes up a delicious, healthy breakfast and we're still enjoying it every morning up until this very day. It gives a rock-steady energy that keeps us going for hours.

We have a cold cereal that's made with the following mix: (one serving)

1/3 cup organic rolled oats (uncooked) (has good fats and fiber, lowers cholesterol)
1/4 cup Ezekiel cereal (this complete protein cereal is a miracle of convenience foods)
1 rounded tablespoon rice bran (one of the best foods available for lowering cholesterol)
1 rounded tablespoon lecithin (a fat emulsifier that's great for your liver)
9 or 10 chopped almonds
1 tablespoon or so of raisins
topped with:
1/2 pear or apple
1/2 cup blueberries or other berries

Mix it all up in your cereal bowl and top with some fruit of your choice--we usually have a pear that we split between us and some blueberries. You can have this with nonfat milk, soy, rice, or almond milk or you can have it the way we eat it, with water. I know the water part sounds weird, but try it, you'll be surprised. Cold or hot water (we prefer hot), it doesn't matter. It's clean and refreshing (and it's free!) and you won't miss the milk you usually have on cereal. It's nice in the summer if you use frozen berries and cold water, but in the winter, you'll probably enjoy it more with hot water.
We always have green tea with this. The caffeine jolt from coffee is just too harsh and green tea is so soothing. I think a soothing start to the day is nice. In addition, the green tea was included because of its cholesterol-lowering properties. But if you need some extra voltage in the morning, go ahead and have your coffee. You'll still be getting lots of good antioxidants!
I'll be talking more about other breakfast options later and about important things to consider in designing your own healthy breakfast, tailored to your specific needs.