Category: Health

3 Food Bloggers Share Their Favorite Family Recipes

This article was created in partnership with Barilla® as part of Together at the Table.

It’s Tuesday, and you’ve got a major task at hand: Cook a meal that’s healthy, ready in minutes, and delicious enough to please everyone. On nights like these, it’s easy to default to ordering takeout or heating up a microwaveable meal. But it doesn’t have to come to that.

Because there’s nothing like gathering around a home-cooked meal, we teamed up with Barilla® to ask three of our favorite food bloggers for their tried-and-true family recipes. These are the healthy yet satisfying dishes they keep coming back to—the ones they know will bring everyone together, even after the table is cleared.

Need more inspo? The folks at Barilla make getting dinner on the table easy with their recipe builders, which use everyday ingredients and global flavors to inspire you to create a dish you can feel good about serving.

Baked Spaghetti Feel Good Foodie Source: Yumna Jawad / feelgoodfoodie.net

1. Easy Baked Spaghetti

Feel Good Foodie blogger Yumna Jawad has fond memories of watching her mom get creative in the kitchen. One of Jawad’s favorite inventions? Baked spaghetti. Jawad even created her own one-pan version that cuts down on prep time. The trick is not boiling the pasta.

*Record scratch*

OK, we know it sounds implausible, but Jawad found that if you toss spaghetti in olive oil and add enough water and sauce (about 1 ounce liquid per 4 ounces pasta), your spaghetti will cook in the oven, no stovetop prep required.

To up the flavor and texture, she adds a helping of chopped onions and peppers, but encourages anyone trying this recipe at home to get creative with their own combo of veggies. Other go-tos: mushrooms, spinach, zucchini, eggplant, and olives. Layer ingredients together in a baking dish, give them a quick mix, top with a light sprinkle of cheese, then bake. It’s that easy.

2. Healthy Rainbow Fettuccine

To create a filling, nourishing treat her family loves, Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast mixes fettuccine noodles with freshly shaved carrot and zucchini ribbons. Boil Barilla® Fettuccine one minute less than directed on the package (for that tender-but-firm al dente texture), then sauté in a pan with veggie ribbons, diced garlic, thyme, and butter (or, for a Mediterranean-friendly option, try olive oil). Serve warm and watch your fellow eaters go nuts.

Want to get extra fancy without extra work? Try this version topped with—wait for it—edible flowers.

3. Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole

Blogger Brittany Mullins grew up loving the sweet potato casserole her mom made every Thanksgiving Day, but as an adult, she didn’t want all the sugar and butter that came along with it. So Mullins developed her own vegan, gluten-free version, subbing in a crispy, pecan-based topping for the typical marshmallow mixture.

“Making healthy versions of the not-so-healthy family recipes my mom made for us growing up brings me so much joy,” she says.

Another Mullins pro tip? Sprinkle nutmeg on sautéed greens. “If you add just a pinch, it’s barely detectable but adds a hint of nuttiness,” she says.

These bloggers prove it doesn’t take a ton of effort to put together a meal your family and friends will enjoy. Keep it simple and focus on what really matters: time together.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prep

If finding the time to pack lunch every morning or cook dinner every night is impossible, or you’re relying on takeout more than you want to, you’re probably ready to jump on the meal-prep train. As you should! Except, um, how do you get started? If you’ve never done it before, meal-prepping can feel overwhelming. But it’s not, really. Here’s everything you need to know to succeed.

What is meal prep, and why should I try it?

Meal prep is exactly what it sounds like: prepping your meals (or meal components) ahead of time so your food is ready to eat whenever you are. The easiest way to do it? Pick a day when you’re free—usually a Saturday or Sunday—to prep enough food to get you through the upcoming week.

People love meal-prepping because it makes life easy. Trying to figure out what to make for dinner every night can be stressful, and finding the time to make it can be even more so. Meal-prepping means you get all the work out of the way ahead of time. Instead of taking time to think about food and cooking during the week, everything’s already there.

Planning your meals ahead of time can make it easier to eat healthier too. “We tend to make better choices for our future selves than we do for our current selves,” says Georgie Fear, RD, CSSD, author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. It’s easy to succumb to takeout or frozen pizza when you’re exhausted after a long day. But you’ll probably be motivated to make better choices—say, salmon and quinoa or chicken and pepper fajitas—when you map out your menu in advance.

How to Meal-Prep

Prepping several days’ worth of food all at once might seem like an overwhelming task. But it’s actually pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting started.

1. Gear up.

Despite what some meal-prep guides might say, you don’t need to shell out for tons of new products before beginning. That said, having the right tools can be pretty helpful. Consider stocking up on these items, if you don’t already have them on hand.

  • One or two large sheet pans. Use them to roast veggies, proteins, or full sheet-pan meals.
  • A big stockpot. It’s key for one-pot meals like soups, stews, curry, or chili.
  • A medium sauce pot. Use it for cooking whole grains or making hard-boiled eggs.
  • Glass storage containers with sturdy lids. They’re your best options for storing prepped food. (And, unlike plastic, they won’t leach chemicals into your food.) Aim to have a variety of sizes for storing big and small batches of prepped items.
  • Zip-top bags. Small ones are great for portioning out snacks like nuts or sliced veggies. Bigger ones are good for storing whole meals or individual components if you run out of storage containers (or run out of room for more containers in your fridge).

2. Plan your menu.

Before you begin cooking, you need to figure out what you’re going to make. Aim to have a protein, a vegetable, and a starch for each meal—the combo will help you stay satisfied, says nutrition expert Kelly Jones, MS, RD. As for what to cook, exactly? The sky’s the limit, but in general, the most successful meal-prep meals fall into one of these categories:

  • One-pot or one-pan meals: Think soups, curry, chili, oatmeal, or anything else that you can cook in a single pot or Crock-Pot. “They’re always a great option because you don’t need to add anything to the meal other than condiments,” Jones says. Sheet-pan meals and frittatas (bake them in a big pan and cut into slices, or make individual servings in muffin tins) work here too. If you want simplicity to the max, this is the route to go, Fear says.
  • Component-based meals: Want a little more variety? Try prepping proteins, vegetables, and starches individually for mixing and matching. For instance, pre-chopped veggies can top a pizza on Monday, be mixed into pasta sauce on Tuesday, and folded into tacos on Wednesday, Fear says. And since a plain bowl of quinoa, veggies, and chicken or tempeh can get kind of boring, plan to make a few sauces, dressings, or toppings to keep things interesting from a flavor perspective, Jones says.

Do you have to map out every single thing you’re going to eat for the entire week? Nope. “Having a plan for most meals may be helpful for some people, but it’s important, especially when starting to meal-prep, that you start small,” Jones says.

So if tackling five or even seven days seems like way too much, start by prepping just two dinners. Double the ingredients so you can eat each dinner twice, and bam! You’ve got four nights covered.

3. Shop and cook.

With your menu planned, it’s time to make a grocery list and go shopping. Think through all the items you’ll be cooking and write down all the ingredients you’ll need. This is key! Having an actual list (versus trying to keep track of everything in your head) ups the odds that you’ll actually come home with everything you need—and won’t waste time running back to the store later on.

When it’s time to cook, think about ways to maximize your efficiency as much as possible. “Meal-prepping shouldn’t take more than one to two hours if you multitask the right way,” Jones says. (These recipes only take 15 minutes from start to finish!) If you’re firing up the oven, roast vegetables and bake chicken or tofu at the same time. Then start a pot of quinoa or soup on the stovetop. While that simmers, pre-chop fruits or veggies or whip up a batch of hummus for snacking, she suggests.

4. Pack it up.

Got your food all prepped? Congrats! Now it’s time to store everything so you’ll have easy access to your meals and ingredients throughout the week. Three important tips to keep in mind:

  1. Utilize the right containers. Portion out single servings into small individual containers, which are easy to grab and go, Jones says. Dinners you’ll serve in one big batch can go in bigger containers.
  2. Keep salads and dressings separate. Storing already-dressed salad is a recipe for a soggy, wilted mess, Fear says. Keep everything fresh by packing chopped salad veggies in one container and dressing in another.
  3. Cool before refrigerating. It’s fine to transfer hot food straight to your glass storage vessels. But let the food come to room temperature before moving it to the fridge—especially when it comes to big batches. Popping a family-size serving of, say, piping hot chili into the fridge will warm up everything that’s already in there, Fear says. That could potentially set the stage for spoilage and food poisoning.

5. Eat strategically.

You’ve got all this delicious food at the ready—so what should you eat first? “Most things can be prepared in advance and stay safe to eat for five days,” Fear says. Still, animal-based proteins often tend to lose their luster the quickest. So consider eating your meatier meals earlier in the week and saving plant-based proteins for later on, Jones recommends.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to use your judgment. If something looks or smells suspect, don’t eat it—even if it’s only been sitting in the fridge for a day or two. Use this guide to determine how long food really lasts.

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The Gear Our Fitness Editor Is Currently Obsessed With

Not to go all Marie Kondo here, but I have zero time for “stuff.” Between teaching cycling classes, a 9-5 hustle, and squeezing in a workout for myself, I live my life on the go, and my gear has to hold up—not to mention help me look remotely put together. So when I’m staring down a product, I make myself stop to think about whether it would elevate my life in some way: Does it make me faster? Less sore? Just plain happy? That last one is super valid, trust me.

There are plenty of reasons to make purchases, and finding a “why” typically helps me be a smarter consumer and lands me with products I truly love. After all, life’s too short to waste time on “stuff.” Here’s the gear that keeps me going on the daily, no matter how tough the going gets.

APL Ascend in White/Midnight

My Favorite Kicks for Kicking Around

Go ahead and call me crazy for wearing white kicks in the middle of a New York City winter—I’m not going to stop living in these APL Ascends. They’re supportive enough to cross-train in but cool enough to wear while grabbing drinks with friends. Plus, with their Propelium® technology, I feel like I’m walking on floofy clouds.

($ 200; athleticpropulsionlabs.com)

AirPods Case from Elago

The Perfect Air Pods Silicone Case

If you’re like me, you drop your beloved AirPods on a regular basis. That’s why I rely on this gold-flecked silicone case from Elago to soften the blow. The carabiner hook helps to keep the case from falling into the depths of your bag (and this particular style is glow in the dark for when they inevitably do).

($ 13; elago.com)

Theragun G3Pro

The Game-Changer of PT Tools

If you haven’t experienced the glorious percussive therapy of a Theragun yet, don’t walk, run to find one. The new Theragun G3Pro is a game-changer in the world of personal physical therapy and pain-relief devices. It’s insanely quiet for a tool that shoots 16mm amplitude at either 1750 or 2400 RPMs (depending on the setting). You’ll definitely giggle, smile, and say “ohhhhhyeah” as it jiggles your muscles like Jell-O—you can use it briefly across all of your major muscle groups as a stimulating warm-up or tension-releasing cooldown. Yes, it’s pricey. But I think it’s totally worth it.

($ 599; theragun.com)

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

A Tracker that Fits My Goals (and My Wrists)

I’m currently using the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music to train for a few races, and I’m officially an Apple Watch convert. This baby does it all—activity and sleep tracking, Vo2Max and recovery coaching, a shockingly long battery life (seven days in smartwatch mode), and space to hold 500 songs so you can run phone-free. Its big brother, the Forerunner 935, is slightly more rich in data but has a considerably larger face. So with my puny wrists, the 645 is just right.

($ 450; garmin.com)

New Balance Fresh Foam LAZR v2 Hypoknit

These Floaty-Light Running Shoes

New Balance shoes haven’t ever been my go-to for running, but these lightweight sneaks have changed all that. The Fresh Foam LAZR V2 have a fairly supportive sole, an elevated pocket for your achilles to rest in, and great bounce. The knit material on the upper portion of the shoe almost makes it seem like I’m running in some cushy socks, which is awesome for someone like me who broke a toe that will apparently never ever heal. Not to be a total tease, but these actually haven’t been released yet—you can get your hands (feet?) on them March 1.

M2 Smart Trainer

A Trainer for Indoor Cruisin'

I’m a cyclist, but there’s no chance you’ll catch me on the road when it’s 13 degrees outside. The M2 Smart Trainer from CycleOps helps me bring my workouts indoors—if you’re a bike nerd like me, you’ll appreciate that it seamlessly connects to your favorite training software (like Zwift or Rouvy), and all of your performance data is recorded within the trainer itself (meaning no external sensors required).

Also, if you’re someone who actually enjoys climbing hills (shout-out to our video producer, Jenna!), the Wahoo Kickr and Kickr Climb are a powerful duo that simulate grade changes during your indoor training. #noflatearth

($ 600; cycleops.com)

Athleta Salutation Stash Pocket 7/8 Tight in Powervita

The Leggings You'll Have to Rip Off My Dead Body

Sorry for the alarming description, but I need you to understand my feelings for the Salutation Stash Pocket ⅞ Tight from Athleta. They’re super soft yet high-rise and compressive, and they’ll make you feel incredible in any yoga or barre class (they’re also my go-to for maximum comfort during travel). I wasn’t a huge Athleta fan until recently, but I truly feel like they’ve stepped up their game in terms of design and aesthetic. Also, they’re a B Corp now, which is pure awesomeness.

($ 89; athleta.com)

Trigger Point GRD STK Form Roller

A Portable Masseuse

Hold the face masks—this is my type of self-care. Whether I’m needing relief from muscle soreness midday or traveling for a race, the Trigger Point GRD STK foam roller has come to my rescue on several occasions. Not many foam rollers are travel-friendly, but you can slide this one into a backpack or suitcase fairly easily.

($ 35; tptherapy.com)

Rothy's Sneaker in Sand

Shoes for Walking All Day That Aren't Heinous to Look At

These slip-on Rothy’s sneakers are my go-to hack for looking somewhat put together when I’m rocking day-old gym hair and leggings. They’re ridiculously comfortable—priority No. 1 when I’m standing at a desk or zipping around NYC all day—and are made from recycled water bottles using a 3D knitting process to reduce waste. Bonus: They’re machine washable. Boom.

($ 125; rothys.com)

Jane West CBD Coffee

The Pre-Workout Dream Team

I know, I know—CBD is everywhere right now. And sure, coffee and CBD might sound like a contradictory combo, but hear me out for a sec: Lately, this CBD infused coffee from Jane West has been my version of a pre-workout, and I’m really into it. Obviously, caffeine helps when my alarm so delightfully sounds at 5:30am, but I’m also convinced that CBD has helped me feel more focused during my workouts. With 240mg of full-spectrum CBD per 12-ounce bag, a cup of coffee (I err on the strong side) contains about 13 mg of CBD—that’s enough to help me shake the stress of the day to come and stay present when the workout gets tough.

($ 48; jwcbd.shop)

Lululemon On the Fly Pant 28"

The GOAT of Athleisure

We’ve sung these pants’ praises before, but let me say again for the people in the back: These are the best pants ever. Whether you’re a commuter, a lunchtime exerciser, or just thrive in comfy clothes, the On The Fly pant from Lululemon is going to change your life. They look like trousers but have the elasticity of leggings, so you can chameleon your way from the conference room to yoga with no problem.

($ 98; lululemon.com)

Every editorial product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through one of our links, we may earn a commission. But don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, and we wouldn’t recommend a product if we didn’t love it as much as we love puppies.

Jamey Powell is Greatist’s associate fitness editor as well as a NASM certified personal trainer, cycling instructor, yoga teacher, and triathlete. When she isn’t sweating, she’s usually eating or trying to pet someone’s dog. You can follow her antics on Instagram.

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Editor’s Picks: 10 Products Making My Winter Bearable

It’s dry and cold and dark and I keep stepping in slush puddles… so here are all my favorite products at the moment. These are my top recommendations for keeping your skin, hair, and spirit intact now that we don’t have the holidays to look forward to (and with spring still feeling so, so far away).

1. Amika Silken Up Dry Conditioner

I have been a major fan of Amika for years—and I credit their amazing heat defense serum with keeping my hair intact when I curl it—but it’s the dry conditioner that has become my No. 1 daily hair care staple.

On days I don’t wash my hair (which is most of them), I spray dry shampoo at my roots, then spray the rest of my hair down with a liberal coating of this antioxidant-packed spray. Suddenly, it’s softer, glossier, less frizzy, and easier to brush. Amazing.

($ 25; sephora.com)

2. Volition Beauty Apple Cider Vinegar Peel Pads

Winter is so freaking hard on your skin. You’d think you would just want to hydrate hydrate hydrate, but it’s actually a great idea to gently exfoliate those dead skin cells in the winter too, as this can promote cell turnover. These ACV peel pads are such a nice, light exfoliant for winter—not too harsh at all.

($ 64; sephora.com)

3. Crane and Lion Original Tights

I’ve tried a lot of workout pants and am generally disappointed. Shape-wise, I’m an hourglass with hips that tend to feel squished by Lululemons. But these pants are effing perfect.

The sizing is spot-on, they don’t ride down when you bend over, they’re warm enough that you can walk to the gym in them, and they’ve got a little key pocket at the waistband for your gym locker. If you’re into them, grab a pair soon—they’re 40 percent off right now.

($ 95; craneandlion.com)

4. Algenist Splash Absolute Hydration Replenishing Sleep Pack

After you’ve done your ACV exfoliation, soothe your face with this extremely hydrating overnight mask. This stuff smells kind of astringently clean, isn’t sticky, absorbs quickly, and makes my skin basically glow in the morning. You can also use it with a serum or oil underneath if you feel like locking in even more moisture.

($ 48; sephora.com)

5. Casper Glow

My favorite mattress company—the one that made the bed that finally let me get some effing sleep—has now come out with a lamp that makes sleeping (and waking up) better too.

They’re elegant in their design, extremely intuitive to set up and use, and can kind of function as a lamp you can pick up and sleepily walk to the kitchen for a glass of water with, like an old-timey taper candle holder! which just makes me want to order a Scrooge sleeping cap to go with.

($ 89; casper.com)

6. Olaplex Hair Perfector No. 3

If you hair needs a protein boost, this is the only stuff I can honestly recommend. My extremely processed, dry hair needs a lot of TLC, and Olaplex is amazing because it actually helps rebuild the hair from the inside out. I leave it on as an overnight pack sometimes or just do a quick-hit 30-minute treatment.

($ 28; sephora.com)

7. 100% Pure Fermented Rice Water Cleanser

This is one of my favorite makeup brands (I use one of the fruit-pigmented eyeshadow palettes almost daily), but they also make a cleanser that I am fully into. This stuff is made with sake (yes, like the drink) as well as a whole bunch of mushroom extracts and other good stuff that really cleans your face without stripping the natural oils. Perfect for winter.

($ 32; 100percentpure.com)

8. Lunata Wireless Rechargeable Touch-Up Styler

How smart is this concept. You don’t have to deal with a cord (which is great because I always seem to twirl myself up in one while I’m doing my hair, since I’m a paragon of grace and elegance), and this flat iron is small and lightweight enough to throw into your gym bag or carry-on.

It also seems like an excellent, purse-size solution to looking presentable for work the morning after an especially great date, for what that’s worth.

($ 150; lunatabeauty.com)

9. Bedgear M1X Series Pillow

I don’t know how I upgraded my mattress and sheets but somehow continued to think that old, lumpy, beat-up pillows from IKEA were doing me right. They aren’t, but this pillow is. Given the price, it’s an investment, but one that will help you stop tossing and turning, and start waking up drooling eight hours later (which, fine, gross, but also awesome). Designed with “air flow technology” (IDK), it basically just doesn’t get warm—so you have a double-sided cool-side-of-the-pillow action.

($ 119; bedgear.com)

10. Eminence Organic Rosehip Triple C+E Firming Oil

I used to be devoted to the brand’s facial recovery oil—which I still love—but right now, I’m slowly working my way through a bottle of this stuff.

I use it after my serum and before my moisturizer, and I think it both helps lock in the serum and provides a really nice layer of hydration (and it reduces puffiness and redness, so yay). Yes, the price is a doozy, but you only use two drops, so the bottle really does last a very long time.

($ 110; dermstore.com)

Jess Novak is the senior editor of health science and lifestyle at Greatist (and she tackles all the beauty content too). Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.

Every editorial product is independently selected by our editors or writers. If you buy something through one of our links, we may earn a commission. But don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, and we wouldn’t recommend a product if we didn’t love it as much as we love puppies.

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What to Eat for Breakfast, Based on What Kind of Morning Person You Are

This article was created in partnership with Daily Harvest.

Love ’em or hate ’em, mornings are a part of life. Maybe you’re the kind of person who wakes up naturally at 6 a.m. (nothing personal, but we hate you). Or maybe you barely have time to brush your hair on the way to work. No matter which type you are, there’s a breakfast out for you.

The trick is figuring out where to begin. That’s why we teamed up with Daily Harvest to break down the best breakfasts for every kind of morning person. Daily Harvest makes good food that fits into your life (read: ready to eat in as little as 30 seconds), so you never have to stress about the most important meal of the day. Want to have the best morning ever? Lehgo.

Daily Harvest Breakfast Bowls

1. The Early-Riser Exerciser

You like to jump out of bed and sweat first thing, which means you need a breakfast that will help you recover and fuel you for the rest of the day. Oatmeal is a hearty, nourishing option, but when you’re starving after a workout, you don’t want to wait around for it to slow cook.

That’s where Daily Harvest’s new Apple + Cinnamon Oat Bowl comes in. Like all of Daily Harvest’s perfectly portioned, chef-crafted meals, the immune-boosting dish is ready to eat in minutes and is packed with fruits and vegetables. Cinnamon and cloves add tons of flavor without mounds of sugar, almond butter ups the protein, and cauliflower (you won’t even know it’s in there!) keeps it light and nutritious.

2. The Mantra Maven

You love the early hours, but you like to take them at a slow pace, beginning with meditation and maybe a light yoga flow. So why not take your time with breakfast too?

Our favorite leisurely a.m. meal is a frittata. These four-ingredient recipes are easy to make but will feel like you’re indulging in a relaxing brunch. Simply pop the dish in the oven while you work through your morning mantras, then serve yourself a slice with a side of fruit.

3. The Fashionably Late Commuter

It’s hard enough to make it to work at a decent hour, let alone fuel your body when you’re running 30 minutes behind. But if you don’t eat, you’ll definitely end up hangry and cranky by 10 a.m.

Smoothies are a dream come true because they’re portable and easy to drink on your commute. For a little extra zing, try Daily Harvest’s Ginger + Greens Smoothie. It’s packed with ginger, apple cider vinegar, spinach, and avocado to boost energy, fight inflammation, and keep you full. We suggest getting a stash of smoothies delivered to your door, so they’re ready to go whenever you’re done hitting the snooze button.

4. The Night Owl

You meant to get to bed before midnight last night. Seriously, you tried! But no matter how diligent you are, you just can’t get your brain to quiet down at a decent hour. Inevitably, you wake up every morning feeling like you just fell asleep 10 minutes ago.

Try adding a caffeine kick to your breakfast. Prep this coffee toffee banana bread on Sunday (or, you know, at 1 a.m. when you can’t fall asleep), and it’ll be ready to slice in the morning when you need it. The bread is sweetened with just a touch of brown sugar, so it’s a pretty healthy option, and you can top it with whatever nuts and spices your sleepy little heart desires.

5. The Party Animal

Last night’s group hang was a blast. Now you’re somehow supposed to rally for the day? SOS. It’s tempting to reach for greasy food, but grabbing a fast-food breakfast will only make you feel more sluggish.

If you’re craving a sandwich, opt for one of these homemade varieties instead. Or skip the prep work (who has time for endless chopping?) and get your brunch on with a Daily Harvest Sweet Potato + Wild Rice Hash Harvest Bowl. It’s a veggie-loaded take on the classic burrito bowl designed to wake you up, keep you full, and get you out the door. Also, it’s topped with our favorite breakfast ingredient: avocado.

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The Ups and Downs of Finally Getting Fit

Slim Chance Weight: 220 pounds

Weight Lost in 2 Weeks: +2 pounds

Total Weight Lost: 33 pounds

The last two weeks have been full of ups and downs. Luckily, the ups are more exciting than the downs, though the number of irrational tears I cried might have made it seem otherwise.

The Ups

Dr. Peeke (the angelic doctor mentioned in previous chapters) has done it again: First of all, I still email her every day and she touches base with me about twice a month to make sure everything’s going well and to answer any questions I might have. That alone has been incredibly helpful.

EDITOR'S PICK
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Around the end of December, she got an idea. Now that I’ve lost some weight, added significant activity to my life, and don’t get winded by the very idea of taking a stroll, Dr. Peeke thought it was time to up the ante. So, she asked the people at Anytime Fitness if they could hook me up with a gym membership and a trainer… for free.

Since Dr. Peeke is made of magic, the Anytime Fitness people agreed, and suddenly I have a gym membership for a year and a personal trainer who I’ll work with three time a week! For free!

First of all, I told the people at Anytime Fitness that I’d probably mention them in this column (because the whole point of this is to document my weight-loss adventure and suddenly spending days in the gym is definitely going to affect that journey). But I never need to talk about them and there’s no promotional deal going on. “Slim Chance” won’t turn into a gym commercial, I promise. Unless a gym out there wants to pay me like a million dollars. If that’s the case, I’ll happily sell out. (Sorry, Greatist.)

Anyway, I get to have a personal trainer for free! This is insanely lucky, and I still can’t believe it.

But there’s still a part of me that’s a little leery of personal training because I’ve had exceptionally bad experiences with it in the past.

I joined a big box gym when I was 19 and got a free personal training session. I’d never done anything like that and thought it would be fun—but the next hour was all my gym nightmares rolled in one.

Despite my total lack of experience and obvious not-in-shape-ness, the trainer was relentless. He didn’t listen if I asked to stop, I couldn’t sit down even for a second, and I had to beg to take a water break. After my brief sip of water, I sat down on a nearby bench, desperate to catch my breath. The trainer looked at me with such disdain—how could I commit such a sin as sitting down in the middle of a session?

By the end of the hour, I felt like I would die. Usually, after working out, even if it was really hard, I felt good. Not this time. I was filled with rage. “I’m never doing that again,” I said.

About six years later, my memory of that rage had subsided, and I decided to try training again. This time, I’d been working out consistently and wanted to jump-start my stalled weight loss. I was also experiencing a lot of knee pain and needed to up my fitness. In our first meeting, I told my trainer all the important details, especially the stuff about the knees. She nodded politely and then put me on the Stairmaster—the most knee-hurty thing on the planet!

So, when Anytime Fitness assigned Kaori Takee as my new trainer, I was determined to make this a better experience. I told her straight away that I was very out of shape, had to start slow, and that there were a lot of things I just couldn’t do yet. Of course, I’m happy to be pushed, but I’m not training to fight in the MMA, so I shouldn’t feel death’s cold grip at the end of our sessions.

Kaori listened, took notes, and started a fitness assessment. After watching me do 10 squats, she clocked all my major problems and gave me adjustments that I never would have thought of. I found out I’d been doing planks all wrong, but Kaori fixed my form without being judgmental or pushy.

During the session, she allowed me to go at my own pace. And that pace was slow. But Kaori immediately understood when I needed to stop and when I needed an extra push. In short, she’s the exact opposite of any other trainer I’ve encountered.

The Downs

Though my personal training sessions have been really good (I’ve done four so far), that doesn’t mean they aren’t hard. And they’re really hard for me. My body is basically loose Jell-O with grapes floating in it, and those grapes are my muscles. They’re in there, but there’s not much they can do when they’re surrounded by a thick layer of gelatin.

With each exercise, I’m amazed by how little my body can accomplish. During the workout, I have to fight myself from constantly thinking, “This is so sad. Why are you trying? Kaori thinks you’re an idiot. Why even bother?”

While we were doing a “dog peeing on a fire hydrant” type move, I almost burst into tears. Because I couldn’t believe that the act of simply lifting my leg was that hard. Later, I started getting dizzy (after some other innocuous-seeming move). Then, I got frustrated with getting dizzy, which led to feeling frustrated with getting frustrated, so I started to cry, which made my chest tight, which made it hard to breathe, which increased my dizziness tenfold. All of this mess over a workout!

Anyway, my mental health hasn’t been great, but everyone at the gym has been lovely. I need to get ahold of my negativity and turn it around.

Also, I gained two pounds this week. Guh. Now, my eating has been slipping a little. Nothing huge, but it’s obviously not great. And this new gym routine (about six days a week: three days of personal training for an hour, then 40 minutes of cardio the other three days in the gym) has made me incredibly tired. Like serious, my eyes and brain hurt and I have to take a nap kind of tired. That’s made me less than motivated to cook, so I’ve been relying too much on dinners of a piece of string cheese and a spoonful of peanut butter.

I know that I’ll lose these two pounds and many more. It’s a reminder that I need to stay vigilant about my eating habits. But more importantly, I need to get back to a more positive mindset. And I’m trying.

For now, when I get frustrated or worn out from doing the most basic workout, I’ll remember that it can only go up from here. I’m excited about how physically and mentally strong I’m getting. It’s all happening slowly. Very slowly. But I know I’ll get there.

Amber Petty is an L.A.-based writer and a regular contributor to Greatist. Follow along as she shares her weight-loss journey in her new bi-monthly column, Slim Chance. Take singing lessons from her via Sing a Different Tune and follow her on Instagram @ambernpetty.

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I Sleep on an Avocado Every Night, and It’s Magical

This article was created in partnership with Avocado Green Mattress.

Somewhere between midnight and 1 a.m., I feel myself hovering in that all-too-familiar, awake-but-still-asleep state. The stakes are high: If I focus hard enough on how tired I am, I can fall back asleep and continue peacefully ticking off those precious hours of rest. But if I give in to the urge to stretch my aching back or check my phone or (delicately) shove my partner because of his lumberjack sawing, it’s over. I’ll be awake with nothing to do but stare at the ceiling.

I’m typically not someone who struggles to fall asleep—my Polish blood was built for hibernating through long dark winter nights. The problem is simple: My mattress sucks. At least it did, before I saw the light and upgraded to an Avocado Green Mattress.

I could go on and on about how my old bed’s cheap foam and stabby springs resulted in aching muscles and sleeping limbs. I often lie on my side and woke up countless nights to tingling arms that were limp as a dead fish. And after just a few short years of use, my mattress had two hollowed-out, body-shaped dents from where my partner and I slept.

Then there were the problems you can’t see: sketchy materials and chemical flame retardants sourced from pollution-spouting factories. According to the EPA, the fumes from glues and flame retardants hiding in furniture, combined with household cleaners, perfumes, and other smelly stuff, can make indoor air quality anywhere from two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. For people with allergies and chemical sensitivities, that can trigger a lot of discomfort. And, you know, no one wants to huff their mattress every night while they sleep. Now when I look at the sad heap of a mattress stored in the corner of my basement, I wonder how I let our relationship go on for so long.

Avocado Green Mattress Organic

I wasn’t looking for Avocado, but it found me.

Fate is funny sometimes, and our meet-cute was long overdue. The words natural, organic, and sustainable feel so important when it comes to our food, but shouldn’t they also apply to the place we spend one-third of our lives?

The husband-and-wife duo behind Avocado Green Mattress think so. Long story short: While shopping for a bed for their son, the pair discovered all the gross stuff hiding in traditional foam mattresses and decided to take matters into their own hands. Their goal? Create beds that were good for people and the planet by using only organic, natural, and sustainably sourced materials.

Did they succeed?

Y’all, they sure did. They set up shop in sunny California where all Avocado mattresses and pillows are handmade in Greenguard Gold-certified factories using materials like 100 percent natural, sustainably sourced latex and Global Organic Textile Standard-certified organic cotton and wool. Avocado also supports 1% for the Planet, a group of businesses that contribute 1 percent of all profits to environmental groups. And because buying a bed is one of those big-deal purchases, like leasing a car or an apartment, the mattresses come with a 25-year warranty and free shipping. Plus, Avocado lets you try any bed for 100 days. If you don’t love it, send it back for a full refund.

But listen, you will love it.

Sleeping on an Avocado every night isn’t like sleeping on a pallet of unsupportive fluff or a rigid brick of memory foam—it’s the kind of comfortable that feels right, and that’s without any of the artificial nonsense other brands use. It’s just Mother Earth in mattress form, cradling you in her cottony soft arms (I should know, I’m writing this in bed right now).

But because sleeping is believing, Avocado is giving Greatist readers $ 175 off any mattress (that includes green and vegan options!). Just use code GREATIST175 at checkout. It’s the kind of purchase that’ll have you sleeping like a baby—because it’s comfortable (obv) and because your money isn’t vanishing into the black hole of an environment-destroying corporation’s wallet. Saving the planet has never been so easy.

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Some Big News From Greatist

I’ve got some big news to share.

Greatist has been acquired by Healthline, one of the best and biggest health sites out there.

It’s no doubt a wild ride for digital publishers these days, and we’re excited to partner with a brand that’s so complementary to ours. Healthline is great at scale, quality, resources, and profitability—all things that make them a smart business for us to align with! Oh, and we’re hopeful some of Greatist’s strengths, like our strong brand and voice, will have some influence here too. I’m sure our brand will evolve in the coming months—that’s always the way it works—but we’re excited for Greatist to grow while maintaining its soul and important message.

When I started Greatist eight years ago, I set out to build a brand in health and wellness that would make you feel better about yourself instead of worse. A brand that spoke to you like a friend who’s just a little further along. A brand that encouraged you to improve and celebrated when you got even a little better. Since then, the health space has changed an awful lot. Wowza. Health is cool now! (Even salads, I think!) And while a lot of what’s new in health is presented through an uncertain Instagram filter, it’s heartwarming to know a lot has improved for the better. And I’d like to think we played a role in pushing the right narrative forward.

I couldn’t be more proud of what Greatist and its extraordinary team have accomplished, from day 1 to whatever-the-heck day it is now. And I’m excited about how the space will continue to change. As our Healthline chapter begins, I’ll be taking a break before starting work on my next great brand that does good (if you’d like to keep up with what I do next, sign up here).

Thank you all for an amazing, unforgettable ride—and thank you all for being such a greatist.

– Derek Flanzraich
Founder & CEO, Greatist

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3 Easy Pasta Dishes That’ll Have Guests Asking for Seconds

This article was created in partnership with Barilla® as part of Together at the Table.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re planning a dinner party. Do you play up your skills and cook something trés fancy? Do you make multiple entrées to satisfy every diet preference? Yes—but you do it the smart way and make pasta!

Pasta is one of those simple, universal foods that everyone loves. It pairs perfectly with all kinds of ingredients and flavors, and is the ideal staple of any plant-based diet (vegans, pescatarians, and Mediterranean diet lovers, rejoice!). Not to mention it’s super easy to get on the table, even on a weeknight.

Since our friends at Barilla® know a thing or two about pasta, we teamed up with Barilla’s executive chef, Lorenzo Boni, to create three delicious, crowd-pleasing recipes that don’t require hours in the kitchen. In fact, these can all be made in 30 minutes or less (Monday night dinner party, anyone?). Pick your favorite, make them all, or get more recipe inspo here. Then sit back and enjoy all the happy faces around the table asking for seconds.

1. Rigatoni With Meatless Bolognese

Barilla Rigatoni Vegan Bolognese

Ingredients

1 box Barilla® Collezione Rigatoni
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
12 ounces brown lentils, cooked
2 cups cremini mushrooms, ground
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Almond flour, toasted (optional)
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta for one minute less than indicated in package directions, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

2. Meanwhile, heat extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onions and cook until softened.

3. Increase heat to medium. Add brown lentils and stir frequently, until heated through.

4. Add ground cremini mushrooms and tomato paste, and cook until softened. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

5. Stir cooked Barilla® Collezione Rigatoni and reserved pasta cooking water into the lentil-mushroom mixture, and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes, until heated through.

6. Remove skillet from heat. Sprinkle with toasted almond flour (if desired) and garnish with Italian parsley before serving.

2. Thick-Cut Spaghetti With Lobster, Cherry Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Bottarga

Barilla Thick Cut Spaghetti With Lobster

Ingredients

1 box Barilla® Thick Spaghetti
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup garlic, sliced
12 ounces lobster, cut into small pieces
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups zucchini, diced
2 tablespoons bottarga (optional)
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta for one minute less than indicated in package directions, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

2. Meanwhile, heat extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until softened.

3. Increase heat to medium-high. Add lobster and cook, stirring frequently, until opaque.

4. Add cherry tomatoes and zucchini, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

5. Stir cooked Barilla® Thick Spaghetti and reserved pasta cooking water into the vegetables, and continue cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes, until softened.

6. Remove skillet from heat. Sprinkle with grated bottarga (if desired) and garnish with fresh basil before serving.

3. Quick Seafood Paella With Orzo

Seafood Paella With Orzo

Ingredients

1 box Barilla® Orzo
4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 white onion, diced
1 quart vegetable broth
6 ounces shrimp
6 ounces mussels
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup red pepper, diced
1 pinch saffron
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta for one minute less than indicated in package directions. Drain Barilla® Orzo when it has finished cooking.

3. Meanwhile, heat extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened.

4. Pour vegetable broth into skillet and add cooked orzo.

5. Reduce heat to low. Add shrimp and mussels, and cook until heated through.

6. Stir in cherry tomatoes, red pepper, and saffron. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.

7. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven until thoroughly cooked, approximately 10 minutes.

8. Allow to cool and garnish with fresh basil before serving.

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The Only Margarita Recipe You Need to Keep the Tequila Flowing

Some might call these “skinny margaritas,” but we call them happy ones. We’ve drank enough to know that they don’t make us “skinny,” but man, do they make us smile. With fresh squeezed orange juice, a few dashes of lime juice and tequila, and agave to sweeten things up, this healthy(ish) margarita recipe is so refreshing that sometimes we forget we’re not just drinking water.

Don’t be afraid to mix it up by muddling sliced jalapeños or strawberries (really, any kind of fruit will do) into your glass. Those small additions change it up enough so you can drink margaritas all year summer long.

The Best Healthyish Margarita Recipe

2 ounces tequila
1 ounce lime juice
2 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons agave
Ice cubes
Orange slice or lime wedge, for garnish
Sea salt, for the rim

1. In a small bowl, squeeze half an orange (ideally, you’d use the other half for the actual margarita). 
2. Dip the rim of your glass into the juice until it’s fully coated.
3. On a small plate, sprinkle a generous amount of sea salt, then coat the rim of the glass with as much salt as you prefer. 
4. Add tequila, lime juice, orange juice, agave, and ice into a shaker and mix until combined. 
5. Pour into the glass then add in ice until it’s full. 
6. Garnish with an orange slice (or lime wedge).

When you don’t feel like measuring it out, it goes something like this…

  • 1 1/2 shots of tequila (a.k.a. a generous splash)
  • Squeeze half of a lime
  • Squeeze half of a large orange
  • Add a squirt of agave
  • Mix it all together in a cup
  • Add ice
  • Drink

Note: If you’d like, add a splash or two of club soda for a bubblier cocktail.

Make It Spicy

Rim: Sea Salt + Chili Powder
Garnish: Jalapeño
In the marg: Muddle 5 slices of jalapeño before adding the liquid to the glass.

Make It Sweet

Rim: Coconut Sugar
Garnish: Strawberry
In the marg: Muddle 3 sliced strawberries before adding the liquid to the glass.

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