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4 Good Reasons to Buy Local Food

If you’re buying California-grown organic strawberries because you know organic food is better for the environment, then you might want to reconsider your purchase—or at least your motivations. While choosing organic over "conventional" does reduce the pesticide burden on the ecosystem, shipping organic food thousands of miles across the country creates an even greater environmental woe—fossil fuel consumption. Says Barbara Kingsolver, author of the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, transporting fruit from California to New York, for example, is about "as efficient as driving from Philadelphia to Annapolis and back in order to walk three miles on a treadmill in a Maryland gym." In a 2005 issue of the journal Food Policy, researchers stated that although organic farming is valuable, the fact that organic food often travels thousands of miles to get to our supermarkets creates environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic. Before the advent of the highway, most food was grown or raised on family farms, packaged or processed nearby, and sold in local retail outlets. Today, this has become the exception to the rule, as the average North American meal logs more than 1,500 miles from farm to table. Although this shift results in an exceptional selection at the grocery store, it causes a host of other problems. Taste, quality, freshness, and nutritional value all decrease, and the environmental burden balloons. So what’s the alternative? Buy local. Buying food that a nearby farmer has grown or raised uses far less fossil fuels, and the benefits don’t stop there. Locally grown food is also better for:

  • Your taste buds: Traditionally, farmers selected breeds of crops for their flavor and growing abilities, and let them ripen until ready to eat. Now, more often than not, breeds are selected for their ability to withstand the rigors of cold storage and cross-country transport and are plucked from the vine far before their time. This results in tomatoes whose flavor only slightly resembles tomatoes and strawberries that are strawberries in name only. Buying local will yield food so fresh and ripe that your taste buds won’t know what hit them.
  • Your health: The moment an item of produce parts from its mother plant, its nutritional value begins to decline. Produce at the supermarket has likely been in transit or sitting in the display case for days or weeks. Local produce was probably picked in the last 24 hours and is still in its nutrient prime.
  • Farmers: According to Stewart Smith from the University of Maine, in the year 1900, 40 cents of every dollar a consumer spent on food went to the farmer. Today, only 7 cents goes into the pockets of food growers. The remainder is spent on storage, packaging, marketing, and shipping. Farmers are struggling more than ever as a result. Buying directly from local farmers can help reverse this trend.
  • Your local economy: In his book Eat Here, Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, Brian Halweil states that, in comparison to imported produce, "a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy." All that extra money circulating in your neck of the woods translates into better schools, safer streets, and nicer parks perfect for picnics with all the healthful foods you purchased locally.
Buying local also means buying what’s in season in your area and not buying what isn’t. Thanks to modern supermarkets, we’re so accustomed to having what we want when we want it (watermelon in April, asparagus in September and tomatoes in the dead of winter) that eating any other way sounds like deprivation. Yes, getting used to tomato-less winters can be a challenge. You'll soon realize that tomatoes taste better when you’ve waited for them, not only because they’re at their season’s best, but also because you’ve waited. Kingsolver says, "It’s tempting to reach for melons, red peppers, tomatoes, and other late-summer delights before the summer even arrives. But it’s actually possible to wait, celebrating each season when it comes, not fretting about it being absent at all other times because something else good is at hand." The variety of a local, seasonal menu is a boon to your health, too. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) recommends choosing a variety of foods, to cover all of your nutritional bases. Eating local fits the bill. There is no strict definition for mileage of local food, but generally anything grown within a 50- to 100-mile radius is considered local, and obviously, the closer the better. The best source for it is your local farmers market. You’ll find veggies, fruits, meats, and cheeses, and you’ll get to buy them from the hands that picked, dug, fed, or cultured them. Depending on what you’re buying, the price may be higher or lower than you’ll pay in a supermarket, but it will always be fresher and tastier. To find a farmer’s market near you, check out Another option is to join a buying club. Farmers deliver many orders to one person’s home (or another centralized location), and the rest of the club members pick up from there. To find a buying club in your area, visit, select your state, and look for the "Beyond the Farm" link at the top of the page. It will take you to a directory of buying clubs that exist in your state. Local food isn't just another passing trend. While it might be difficult or impossible to buy all of your food locally, any amount of local food you can find and purchase will still benefit the health of your community, the planet, and your own body, too.Article Source:

5 Ways to Prevent Food from Going to Waste

Food spoils--and quickly! When thinking about your own kitchen, you may not view the food you toss or the leftovers you never eat as money down the drain, but food waste has a major impact on your bank account and the environment. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that "American families throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. The cost estimate for the average family of four is $1,365 to $2,275 annually." Fortunately, you can start at home and do your part to help curb food waste. You’ll be thinking green and stretching your dollars further at the same time. Some simple changes can have big effects! Here are a few ideas to get you started. Create a plan—and stick to it! Meal planning is a critical step to help you spend less and waste less. When you know what you're going to eat today, tomorrow and this coming weekend, you will only purchase the foods you need at the store, preventing you from buying foods on a whim only to have them spoil before you eat them. Creating the plan isn't enough—you must stick to it if it's going to work. Setting your sights for making chili next weekend is great, but when you lose track of time during the week and let the veggies wilt, you are throwing away more than spoiled food; you're wasting your money, too. Stay on top of your planned meal schedule by keeping a calendar on the fridge to remember what’s on the menu each day. When planning, account for all the foods you have to buy and creatively use them throughout the week. Use that eight-pack of whole-wheat hamburger buns for a cookout one night and tuna sandwiches for lunch the next day, for example. Scrape your scraps. Look for new ways to use food scraps. Instead of throwing away half an onion or extra bits of carrot, store extras in a container in the freezer. Once you’ve saved enough, boil them in water to make your own homemade vegetable broth that you can use when cooking rice and soup. (You can also compost your food scraps.) Don't like the heels of a loaf of bread? Chop them up and bake your own croutons, or dry them to use as breadcrumbs. (Your heart will thank you, too! Most store-bought breadcrumbs still contain trans fat.) Leftover bits of chicken, fish, shrimp, or tofu can be used in a soups or salads the next day. If you have a dog, you may be able to treat her to certain scraps from fruits, vegetables, and meats as a treat, but check with your vet first. Plan to preserve. Consider preserving your own food if you don't have time to eat it before it goes bad. Pickling, canning, drying (dehydrating) and freezing are all ways to extend the shelf life of many fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. We often only think of cucumbers when it comes to pickling, but in reality, almost any vegetable can be pickled. Canning your own fruits, vegetables, sauces and soups can be a fun family event, and it can make farm-fresh foods available all winter. Raisins are dried grapes, but have you ever considered drying mango, pineapple or apple slices? This can be done in a food dehydrator or on a low setting in your oven. However you do it, drying fruit is a great way to make your own grab-and-go snacks and to prevent fruit from going bad. The freezer is often underutilized. Bread, scrambled egg mix, leftover coffee, tea, and broths can all be frozen for later use. Your homemade soup, cooked rice and other dinner entrees can also be frozen if you don't have a chance to eat the leftovers in time. Try using an ice cube try to store single serving pieces of purees, sauces and beverages. Freeze leftover coffee for an iced coffee drink, or a cube of frozen veggie broth to whip up some gravy later in the week. Make smoothies down the road by freezing mashed or chopped fruit. Almost anything can be frozen except for canned foods in the can (although they can usually be removed and frozen) and eggs in the shell. The USDA’s Freezing and Food Safety information sheet offers tips on freezing food and thawing it successfully. Keep your eyes on the size. Serving up the correct portion size can help stretch you food dollars and eliminate waste created from uneaten portions—not to mention cut calories for weight management! You should be getting two servings from each boneless, skinless chicken breast. If you’re cooking for one or two, cut your meat into the correct portion sizes and freeze the rest that you won’t eat right away. Stick to these proper portions to feed more people per dollar and cut down on what you may be scraping off the plate! Compost. Throwing away (or composting) food should be your last resort if you can't eat it or preserve it first. When food lands in a landfill, it's out of sight, out of mind. So what's the big deal? Well, food and lawn waste makes up 25% of all waste in landfills, which are so densely packed that oxygen isn't readily available. When oxygen is lacking during the decomposition process, the food emits methane gas, which is 20 times more toxic than carbon dioxide. All this methane is bad for the environment, and the inhospitable conditions of landfills make it difficult if not impossible for natural materials like food to break down properly. Each ton of organic matter we can divert from a landfill can save 1/3 of a ton of greenhouse gases from being emitted into the environment. Plus, composting can provide you with your very own "black gold" for free, allowing you to condition and enrich your soil, saving money and turning your food into nutritious fertilizer that will nourish future plants. If you can’t think of a way to utilize extra foods and food scraps, composting is a better alternative than the trash. Think of it as a way to save the nutrients you’ve paid for by transferring them into new foods as you garden! Many foods can be composted, and it's a lot easier and sanitary than you might think. Check out SparkPeople's Composting Guide for Beginners to get started. Overall, reducing food waste requires you to become more aware of what you’re tossing and come up with creative ways to utilize the scraps—or prevent them entirely. Becoming a leftover king or queen, being a savvy shopper, and serving up proper sizes will all help you become a more efficient user of food, saving you money and helping preserve our natural resources. Selected Sources: Garden Compost from Freezing and Food Safety from Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill from the NRDC Article Source:

The 8 Best Fast Food Breakfasts

You know that breakfast is important, but when you're in a pinch in the morning, sometimes fast food is the quickest option. It's no secret that fast food isn't the healthiest or most nutritious option, but when it's the only option, whether you're traveling or running late for work, it helps to know how to make the best choices. Some menu items are definitely better than others. There are countless grab-n-go restaurants, each offering a different menu from the next, and with a little searching, you can find one option at each location that's lower in fat, sodium and calories than the others. Many fast food breakfasts can provide enough fat to last you all day, enough saturated fat for three days and sodium in levels that will make your blood pressure spike just looking at them. So how do you make the right choice? Do your research before you're in a pickle so that you know what to order for your quickie meal. Nearly every fast food restaurant lists nutrition information on its website, and SparkPeople's nutrition experts have done the research for you, listing the best options (or lesser evils) for each restaurant in our Dining Out Guide. And here, we’ve put together a "best of breakfast" list to guide you through your morning. And with the heftiest breakfasts out there racking up around 1,000 calories, placing a smart order can help keep you continue achieving your goals even when you’re pressed for time. When you’re ordering, look for keywords that will tip you off to selections that are higher in fat and calories. High-fat meats like sausage, bacon and steak are sure to add grams of fat (and saturated fat) to your breakfast. A bit of cheese on an egg can fit into a great calorie level for a meal, but extra cheddar topped on a breakfast sandwich or burrito can send it over the edge. Some restaurants add sauces to their meals that can amp up the calorie level, so stipulate no sauce or sauce on the side, if possible. Any menu choice with a biscuit will usually be higher in the calorie and fat department than English muffins or toast. One thing you won’t find when you’re looking at the drive-thru menu is the presence (or amount) of trans fats in each food. Many restaurants have eliminated trans fats from certain menu items, a smart move because trans fat is now known to be the most unhealthful fat you can consume. It's so bad, that experts are saying we shouldn't eat any, yet some restaurant foods contain up to seven grams of trans fat. This is information you’ll need to seek out before you place your order. Trans fat should be avoided whenever possible. If the nutrition facts on a restaurant website don't list trans fat, be wary. Below, we’ve done a bit of research for you by picking one breakfast item from each of eight popular fast food restaurants. None of these breakfast choices are ideal in terms of nutrition or health promotion, but if you’re going to choose fast food, these items have the fewest grams of fat, trans fat and calories at their respective locations. Note that the sodium levels are still quite high, as they are in most fast food options, so select lower sodium foods throughout the rest of the day to balance out your total sodium intake. Restaurant & Menu Item Calories Total fat Saturated Fat Trans fat Sodium Arby's Egg & Cheese Sourdough 392 12 g 3 g 0 g 1,058 mg Burger King Ham Omelet Sandwich 330 14 g 5 g 0 g 1,130 mg Carl's Jr. Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich 460 21 g 9 g Unknown 1,050 mg Chick-Fil-A Chicken Burrito 410 16 g 7 g 0 g 940 mg Hardee's Frisco Breakfast Sandwich 420 20 g 7 g Unknown 1,340 mg Jack In The Box Breakfast Jack 290 12 g 4.5 g 0 g 760 mg McDonald's Egg McMuffin 300 12 g 5 g 0 g 820 mg Subway Cheese Sandwich 400 17 g 7 g 0 g 940 mg None of these items should be part of your diet on a regular basis, but as the occasional treat or breakfast on-the-run, you can make them fit into an otherwise balanced and healthy diet. For more healthy and quick breakfast ideas that you can grab from your own kitchen, check out these speedy morning meal ideas. And remember that with a little planning, breakfast can be quick, easy, and healthy. This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.Article Source:

Photographer captures loving relationship between grandfather with Alzheimer's and cat

A photographer in Japan has captured the special relationship that has formed between her grandfather, who has Alzheimer's, and a kitten that she rescued.

Akiko DuPont says that her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2009, and his demeanor changed over the subsequent years, according to KTVU. Her grandfather lost interest in life and became grumpy.

>> Read more trending news

Enter Kinako, a four-month-old kitten. DuPont was hesitant to introduce the kitten to her grandfather, who had always been more of a dog person. But she says the minute her grandfather laid eyes on the orange cat, his eyes lit up. 

Kinako is a loyal companion to DuPont's grandfather, following him while he engages in his daily routine and even sleeping in a similar position. DuPont has captured the images on her website.

Heart-warming video of military dad meeting baby girl for first time

A military dad finally got to meet his 4-month-old baby girl for the first time after returning from a 6-month deployment overseas.

>> Read more trending news

Sgt. Scott Cartwright met 4-month-old Jacqueline Eloise at John Glenn International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, Monday as his troop returned home from Kuwait.

“It was overwhelming. I still haven’t wrapped my head around it yet,” Cartwright told WSYX.

He and his wife, Elizabeth Cartwright, have a 2-year-old daughter, Nora, whom they adopted when she was 7 months old.

They were surprised when Elizabeth learned she was pregnant just after Nora’s first birthday.

“We didn’t think we were able to have kids of our own,” Elizabeth Cartwright told ABC News.

Scott Cartwright watched Jacqueline’s arrival via Skype and anxiously awaited the day he’d get to meet her.

“Honestly, when I was over there, in my head I was like, ‘How could I possibly love somebody else as much as I love Nora?’ I was worried about this. I was talking to my team about this,” Scott told ABC News

>> Related: Adorable photo of daddy-daughter tea party with Florida deputy goes viral

“But when I got to hold [Jacqueline] for the first time, and her and her mother have the exact same eyes, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I see now.’”

The family plans on catching up on some much-needed time together in the upcoming weeks.


California Lawmakers Consider Mandatory Labels On Salon Products To Protect Workers

Beauty salon workers who paint the nails and treat the hair of millions of Californians are regularly exposed to toxic chemicals — and they may not know it, advocates say.

The advocates are asking California lawmakers to approve legislation requiring cosmetic companies to list the ingredients of beauty products used in professional salons. The bill, which passed the Assembly health committee Tuesday, will next be heard by the environmental safety committee.

Ingredient labels are now required on retail beauty products like makeup or shampoo, but federal law on labeling doesn’t apply to cosmetic products such as hair-straightening treatments or nail polishes used in salons.

In addition to requiring a list of ingredients on the salon product, the Assembly bill would require the label to flag any hazardous chemicals. The manufacturer would also be required to print its website address on the product and list its ingredients on the site.

“Nobody’s minding the store” when it comes to protecting the health of the workers who handle these products every day, said Nourbese Flint, policy director for Los Angeles-based Black Women for Wellness, an advocacy organization that is co-sponsoring the bill.

“Hair stylists in black beauty salons are some of the backbones of the black community in terms of economic entrepreneurship,” said Flint. More transparency about salon product ingredients would help the cosmetologists “make better, healthier choices for their bodies and their clients.”

A cosmetics industry trade group, the Personal Care Products Council, opposes the bill. During the hearing in the Assembly health committee, Tom Myers, general counsel for the group, said the bill is unnecessary because the industry already sends out safety information to salons.

The council also opposes the measure because it would impose “unworkable, state-specific labeling requirements on global brands,” according to a legislative analysis.

Nail care products such as artificial nails and polishes contain chemicals like formaldehyde, which is a probable carcinogen, and toluene, which has been shown to cause birth defects when inhaled by pregnant women.

A 2015 study looking at birth outcomes among California cosmetologists and manicurists found that, overall, these workers had a higher rate of gestational diabetes, and babies born to Vietnamese manicurists were smaller than those born in the general population.

Hair-straightening treatments such as the Brazilian Blowout have been known to contain formaldehyde. The U.S. Department of Labor found that workers using such products in one beauty salon were exposed to as much as five times the accepted limits of exposure to formaldehyde.

Dr. Thu Quach, a researcher at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, says informing workers of potential risks is especially important given their level of exposure to salon products. Beauty salon workers may absorb chemicals both through their skin and the air they breathe, Quach said. A cosmetologist could apply a chemical-laden treatment to customers 10 times a day, or work in a space where chemicals are recirculating in the air all day, she added.

“Workers are exposed at much higher levels, so why would they not have the same right as consumers to know what they’re being exposed to?” said Quach, who is also a Steering Committee member of the California Health Nail Salon Collaborative, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Supporters hope new labeling requirements on salon products would pressure manufacturers to change the chemical formulations in their products.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Life with Gracie: Let Prince’s mistake be our wake-up call

(This column published Thursday, June 16, 2016, shortly after news broke that Prince died without a will.) 

Starting with his cause of death a week or so ago, every day seems to bring more bad news about Prince, not the least of which is the fact that an ever-increasing number of his family members and wannabes still don’t know for sure if the pop icon left behind a will.

And so rather than providing a clear plan for dividing his assets among loved ones, the late pop icon may have committed what legal experts call the worst estate planning sin of all time: no will.

Sin might sound harsh and even inappropriate, but creating a will is so simple and accessible nowadays, attorney Hillel L. Presser said, that failing to do so is essentially ceding all decision making to the state, which may or may not act in accordance with your wishes or desires when you die.

“Consciously or otherwise, some people simply do not deal well with addressing after-death legacy,” said Presser, whose Florida law firm specializes in comprehensive asset protection like wills. “I have no idea whether Prince had some other principle at work, but the lack of a will clearly lays the burden on the living.”

Confronting death in this way can be as scary as writing one’s own obituary.

My husband and I were both approaching our 50s when we finally saw an attorney to draw up our documents. Our daughters were both in college.

The only excuse I have is we just didn’t want to deal with it. There was something so uncomfortable and final about the entire process. Having a will, though, affords us a bit more peace. I sleep a little easier, but I also know Jimmy and I need to go one step further and have the talk with our daughters.

Hearing the Prince dilemma, I felt a little smug, but I also felt sad for his survivors.

So much seems up in the air. The only thing that is certain at this point is he was married and divorced twice and was known to have only one son, Gregory Nelson, who died of a rare genetic disorder one week after birth.

Nearly two months have passed since Prince’s death at his Paisley Park estate from an opioid overdose, and since that time, people have been coming out of the woodwork claiming to have some relational tie to him.ork claiming to have some relational tie to him.

A court hearing in early May to determine the fate of the musician’s estate — including the contents of a secret vault the musician left behind at Paisley Park — concluded with a special administrator appointed and determined that all possible heirs have been reached and given the opportunity to be included in the petition filed by Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson.

Earlier this month, a South Carolina man who claims he was Prince’s adopted son said there is in fact a will and he’s owed $7 million.

Under Minnesota law, because Prince died without a will, and because his parents are deceased and he has no spouse, his estate would first pass to any surviving children who can prove they are his offspring. If their claims fail, the estate would be divided among the singer’s full and half-siblings, provided they can prove a direct relationship.

So you can see how Prince’s neglect or ours for that matter can create legal fights for decades in a family.

Celebrities have a lot of money and other properties, so most of us can understand perhaps why they might need a will, but we ordinary folk need one, too.

“Many people mistakenly believe that their belongings pass regardless of whether you have a will, but a person who dies intestate (without having a will) is at risk of having their estate incur significant taxes and may even pass to beneficiaries that were never intended to receive them,” Presser said.

Death is stressful enough for the people we leave behind. But with just basic planning and a will, Presser said you’re not only communicating your final wishes, you’re making the process less stressful for your beneficiaries when that time comes.

The best first step is to see an estate specialist, such as an attorney, because errors, mistakes or inconsistencies in your will can create large legal and financial headaches for your beneficiaries.RELATED: Sometimes It Snows In April: Last concert bittersweet for reporter

In general, Presser said a will should include a detailed distribution of assets and property, a list of specific gifts you would like to make from your estate, as well as designation of the person you would like to represent your estate upon your death.

“Any estate planning attorney should be well equipped to prepare a will,” Presser said.

Additional basic information about wills and trusts can be found on his firm’s website:

Take a look and then do something. Let Prince’s mistake be your wake-up call.

Homeless Girl Scouts get their own troop

A group of homeless girls in New York have found the family they’ve been searching for thanks to Girl Scout Troop 6000.

Troop 6000 was started exclusively for homeless girls by a single mother who felt she disappointed her children when she lost her housing.

>> Watch the news report here

“I felt ashamed,” mom Giselle Burgess told the “Today” show. “I felt like I let them down.”

The New York Times reports Burgess became homeless last year when her rental home was sold to make room for new condominiums in her area. She makes a decent salary, but not enough to afford an apartment.

>> Read more trending news

Burgess wanted to give her daughters something to look forward to, so she decided to start a Girl Scout troop exclusively for homeless girls.

“Our mission is to instill girls with courage, confidence and character,” Burgess said.

So far, they have about 20 members.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news

“We’re all Girl Scout sisters,” a scout named Karina told “Today.” “We’re all a pack. And if you see a girl with 6000 on, it just makes you like, we’ve gone through the same thing or you’re still going through it.”

The girls are excited to be starting something great for other kids like them.

“We’re starting a chain reaction. Hopefully in the next couple years, there will be more Girl Scout troops in shelters,” said Karina, according to a blog post by the Girl Scouts of America.

If you would like to support Troop 6000, you can donate to the Girl Scouts of Greater New York.

12 Confusing Things You Hear in Fitness Classes and What They Actually Mean

If you've ever been to a barre class where the instructor asks you to do something with your hips that feels anatomically impossible, you're not alone. We've all been there, trembling in a plié squat, thinking, "What the tuck are they talking about?" Cueing—a technique used by personal trainers and fitness instructors to help clients achieve a specific movement—can be crazy confusing, and this bewilderment doesn't just happen at the barre. You hear confusing cues in yoga class, during personal-training sessions, group classes, and even in your favorite workout videos. We're going to explain what the 12 most common ones really mean, so the next time someone tells you to knit your ribs in, you don't go running for the nearest set of needles and yarn. 

1. Engage Your Core (also: activate your core, draw navel to spine, pull belly button to spine) Let's start with the most basic and common cue: Engage your core. The reason you hear this a million times and across a variety of workouts is because it's the single most important thing you can do to prevent injury and ensure you're actually firing the muscles you want to be working. Engaging your core is not to be confused with flexing or sucking in your stomach. It's bracing the abdominal and lower back muscles to stabilize the spine and allow proper breathing. Try coughing. Feel that stabilizing sensation in your midsection? That's engaging your core.  2. Balance on Sits Bones (also: sit, sitz, or sitting bones) Your sit bones refer to—you guessed it—the bones you sit on, otherwise known as the ischium bones of your pelvis. They curve to create two bony protrusions underneath your seat called ischial tuberosities. These bones can be hard to locate due to the muscles and fat that pad our bums, but you'll feel them when you sit up straight with a neutral spine, shoulders stacked over hips. To locate yours, try rolling into a ball (as shown). You should feel two pressure points connect to the mat. Once there, engage core to balance on those two bones. This is a cue often heard during yoga or Pilates classes. 3. Lengthen Your Spine (also: extend or elongate the spine, find length in your spine)  If you're thinking to yourself: It's not possible to make my spine longer—then you're right; anatomically, you can't. But what you can do is stretch the muscles and soft tissue that surround the spine and contribute to its mobility. Improper posture and daily activities that pull your shoulders forward (such as sitting at a desk all day, hunching over your phone, etc.) can cause tightness and decreased flexibility and range of motion. In Pilates, this cue refers to a spinal extension (shown here) and will stretch and thus elongate the spine.  4. Knit Ribs In (also: close your rib cage, don't let ribs flare, ribs down, zip up your ribs) Knitting your ribs in is another way of reminding you to engage your core muscles to properly support your spine. "Opening" the ribs is a common compensation that happens when someone lacks the strength or range of motion to perform an exercise (like reaching overhead) with proper form and alignment. To close your ribs, activate your abdominal muscles to keep spine neutral and enable normal breathing.  5. Resist the Weight (also: fight against the force) Thought you just had to lift the weights? Turns out, you also need to resist them. This cue is a reminder to prevent gravity from controlling the movement. As you lower a weight (for example, in the downward phase of a biceps curl), don't let the force of the weight and the pull of gravity yank your forearm down uncontrollably. Instead, contract your muscle (in this case, the biceps) to resist those forces and maintain control of the movement. This goes for external resistance like dumbbells and barbells, but also for your own body weight, like lowering your legs during a double leg drop exercise for your lower abs.  6. Spread the Floor (also: spread the mat apart, push the floor away, drive the ground away) This cue prevents you from collapsing into your shoulders and reminds you to activate your legs and butt during a plank (shown here), but it's also a great reminder to prevent your knees from collapsing in during a squat, sumo deadlift, or wide-stance lift. This is an example of external cueing, a technique used to help you focus on an external object in your environment (the floor) or the outcome of the action rather than your own body to help you achieve proper form and movement. 7. Pulse (also: pulse it out, pulse reps) Pulsing during a workout is not humping or twerking—what you do in your free time is your business. A "pulse" is a partial movement (think of it like a mini version of the full exercise), and a training technique used to add additional stress to a muscle group. In the case of a bridge (shown here), it may loosely resemble a pelvic thrust, yes, but what you're really doing here is using a very small, controlled movement to exhaust the glute and hamstring muscles. Pulsing an exercise after you've completed a set of the full movement is a great way to further tax the muscles without adding additional weight or requiring a spotter.  8. Stay Light on Your Toes (also: land lightly, light feet, soft landing, toe-to-heel) This cue is often used during jumping, high-impact, or plyometric exercises. The idea is to recruit your muscles and joints to maintain control of your own body weight as you make contact with the ground. To stay light on your toes, let toes hit ground first (rather than stomping down with your entire foot). Then use the mobility in your ankles to roll through the balls of your feet, to midfeet, to heels as you bend your knees. This allows you to properly distribute your own weight as you land and lets your muscles absorb most of the impact instead of your joints.  9. Burn It Out (also: feel the burn) Similar to pulsing, when told to "burn it out," you're being asked to perform an exercise repeatedly to completely fatigue the muscle or muscle group (such as the triceps, shown here). As muscles start to fatigue and use up all of their stored energy, your body releases lactic acid, which results in a tingling, burning sensation. Of course, if this burning ever feels more like an impending injury than muscle fatigue, you should stop the exercise immediately. Otherwise, light those guns on fire.  10. Draw Shoulder Blades Back (also: pinch shoulder blades together, draw shoulders down) As mentioned above, many of our daily activities cause our shoulders to slump and fall forward. But proper posture and alignment calls for our scapulae, or shoulder blades, to be pulled back rather than forward. This cue is especially important when performing exercises that target your shoulders, back, and lats, since you need to first ensure your shoulder blades are in the correct position before strengthing the muscles that surround them to hold them in the proper place. To practice, pretend there's a sheet of paper between your shoulder blades and that you need to squeeze them together to hold it in place.  11. Square Your Hips (also: hips like headlights, square off, square your shoulders) When you're instructed to square your hips, you're being asked to keep hips in-line and balanced so that they form right angles with an external surface (the floor, wall, an opponent, etc.). The same goes for squaring your shoulders. The reason this cue is used with hips and shoulders is because the pelvis and shoulder girdles require stability for proper form and alignment. You'll use the muscles surrounding each (core and glutes for hips; upper back, shoulder, and arm muscles for shoulders) to lock them in place, ensuring balance. 12. Tuck Hips (also: pelvic tuck, scoop, hollow core, flat back, neutral spine) Tucking is often heard in barre or Pilates classes, but understanding the concept will benefit you with basic posture and most exercises. The purpose is to encourage perfect posture by eliminating an excessive arch in your lower back. To do so, roll or rotate your pelvis under, engage core, and stack shoulders in-line with hips. This is where you'll find a "neutral spine," or "flat back." This position prevents overcompensation and is less stressful on your lower back, which means less risk of injury. 

Special thanks to Rodrick Covington, certified Pilates and fitness instructor and founder of Core Rhythm Fitness, for demonstrating these moves for us. 

9 Healthier Ways to Enjoy Your Favorite Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout Cookies—while delicious and supportive of a good cause—are not the healthiest. They're also impossible to eat in moderation. That's a dangerous combo for us, so this year, we're avoiding it altogether by digging into these nine healthier versions of Samoas, Thin Mints, and Tagalongs instead. From pops to peanut butter shakes to no-fuss fudge, these bites (and sips) will make you think outside the cookie box.

Samoas 1. No-Bake Samoa Cookie Granola Bars Wake and (don’t) bake with this recipe—mix, microwave, and refrigerate instead. If you swap out the corn syrup for honey or maple syrup, you'll have 12 amazing granola bars to snack on that are healthier than the original cookies. 2. Samoa Kefir Pops Hello, probiotics. By using kefir in place of yogurt, you’ll get extra healthy bacteria, calcium, and protein. Plus, since these pops are made with only five ingredients (kefir, shortbread, toasted coconut, chocolate, and caramel), they're a cinch to make and a delight to eat. 3. Sinless Samoas More like energy bites than actual cookies, this vegan and gluten-free snack is a great way to celebrate Samoas without fear of sugar overload. They're made with dates, almond butter, unsweetened shredded coconut, dark chocolate, sea salt, and vanilla, and pair amazingly well with a banana or latté. Thin Mints 4. Thin Mint Freezer Fudge Frozen Thin Mints are pretty awesome. What’s even more awesome: Thin Mint-flavored freezer fudge. With heart-healthy almonds, real mint, plenty of cacao, and natural sweeteners like maple syrup, this healthy dessert provides as many nutrients as it does delicious flavors. Bonus: Keeping it in the freezer means it will last that much longer. 5. Paleo Thin Mints These Paleo Thin Mints (made with gluten-free flour, grass-fed butter, egg, Himalayan sea salt, and maple syrup) will definitely make you consider going full-on caveman if you haven’t already. Pro tip: Pile dairy-free ice cream between two of the chocolate crisps for an extra treat. 6. Thin Mint Spinach Smoothie Really, there’s nothing thin about this smoothie—the combination of Greek yogurt, spinach, and almond milk actually makes it pretty darn thick. It won’t leave you overly full or bouncing off the walls with a sugar high, and you can make it even creamier by adding a quarter of an avocado or vanilla protein powder. Tagalongs 7. No-Bake Tagalong Cookies This vegan dessert proves you don't need milk and butter to make a delicious sweet treat. What these cookies lack in butter and dairy, they make up for in serious flavor (and health benefits). Plus, they're no-bake—which means you can eat them that much sooner. 8. Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Shake This shake might not have "Tagalong" in the name, but it has all the elements of the original cookie—and by that we mean chocolate and peanut butter are front and center, of course. Since this shake is sweetened with dates instead of added sweeteners, there's nothing really unhealthy about it. Breakfast, anyone? 9. Clean Eating Tagalong Bars Getting those perfect Tagalong layers can be tricky if you're making individual cookies, so consider Tagalong bars your clean-eating shortcut. The "shortbread" here is made with almond meal, but the choclate and peanut butter layers keep these healthy alternatives tasting like the original cookie.

Originally published January 2015. Updated April 2017.

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