Melissa Rudy

A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into the online content field in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.


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What Is the Mono Diet and Why Should You Avoid It?

They say variety is the spice of life, but most of us are creatures of habit. When we find a food we enjoy, we tend to stick with it. SparkPeople member ROSEWAND eats the same thing for breakfast every day: steel-cut oats with blueberries, half an English muffin with a little jam and tea. And for lunch, WAN2BHIKING always has a big salad with veggies, craisins and pine nuts topped with leftover chicken or tofu.
 
There are plenty of reasons why someone might want to cook, eat and repeat the same meals over and over. Of course, there's the obvious: It tastes good. And then there's the convenience factor—when you are practiced at preparing a certain food, it becomes quicker and easier to whip up, and you don't need to have dozens of ingredients on hand for multiple meals. But for followers of the so-called mono diet, eating the same foods is purportedly a way to boost weight loss.

Posted 8/16/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 44 comments   9,326 views

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An Obese Teacher Learns to Love Herself Enough to Lose

Like many who struggle with their weight, 35-year-old Jamie (WINDMILLS18) has started her journey more times than she can count—and she has been overweight for as long as she can remember.
 
Now a high-school teacher in Lexington, Virginia, Jamie's own school years were marked with shame over her weight. "I was always one of the biggest kids in my class at school," she recalls. "My chubbiness as a child turned into obesity in high school, then in college, I kept gaining at a steady pace, causing me to fall into the morbidly obese category. From there, I spent the majority of my adult years as super morbidly obese."

Posted 8/10/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 63 comments   17,443 views

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11 Hamstring Stretches to Help Sore, Stiff Muscles

Stiff, sore muscles are never fun—and they're certainly not conducive to a mobile, active lifestyle—but there are some areas of the body where they are even more irksome than others.

Hamstrings, we're talking to you!

This trio of muscles includes the biceps femoris, the semimembranosus and the semitendinosus. They run down the back of the upper leg and are involved in pretty much every lower-body movement, so it's not really possible to mollycoddle the hamstrings by using them less. From walking and running to biking and stretching, these muscles are called upon often—and when they're not feeling healthy and happy, they'll let you know it.

If they're not addressed, tight hamstrings can lead to more serious problems throughout the body, according to Dr. Keith Sparks from ICT Muscle & Joint Clinic. "Over-taught hamstrings can create problems local to the hamstrings, such as low back pain and knee pain, but it can also create issues further away from the hamstrings, such as plantar fasciitis and shoulder pain due to fascial connections," he explains.

Specifically, tight hamstrings can cause sacroiliac joint pain in the lower back because they tend to pull the pelvis out of position, according to HIIT Pilates instructor and wellness coach Melanie Kotcher. Engaging in dynamic hamstring stretches and holding positions for 15 to 30 seconds can help to alleviate tightness in the hamstrings, pelvis and lower back region. 

According to physical therapist Vivian Eisenstadt, tight hamstrings are directly related to lower back pain. "When a person's hamstrings are too tight, they pull the pelvic bone into what's known as a 'posterior pelvic tilt,'" she explains. "This in turn pulls on the low back, reversing the curve of the low back and making it vulnerable to muscle strain, aching and, in severe situations, disc herniation." Sitting for prolonged periods of time can also make the hamstrings tight, which is why

Eisenstadt recommends a consistent stretching regimen for all of her patients who have desk jobs or drive a lot. Including hamstring stretches in your daily routine is key to relieving pain and tension, increasing your range of motion and preventing future injuries.

Standing Hip Hinge (beginner)


Dr. Keith Sparks, ICT Muscle & Joint Clinic

The standing hamstring hip hinge stretch helps to fully lengthen the hamstrings while applying light pressure into the stretch without compensating tension elsewhere in the body.
  • Place a straight leg on an object at lower shin to knee height, such as a chair.  
  • Keep the target leg, knee and lower back straight.
  • To feel the stretch, push your hips backward.
  • To feel a deeper stretch, bend the standing leg as you push your hips backward.
  • It is very important to keep the lower back straight as you push your hips backward and bend the standing knee.
  • Advanced progression: Before hinging at the waist, rotate the foot inward or outward. From here, hinge at the waist. This will target different hamstring muscles.


Seated Saw Stretch (beginner)

HIIT Pilates instructor and wellness coach Melanie Kotcher

  • Sit with your legs extended out on a mat about hip width apart with your feet flexed. 
  • Extend your arms out alongside you in line with your shoulders with palms down. Engage your abs. 
  • Twist from your waist to the right with your arms following and fall down over your right leg, reaching your left arm to the outside of your right foot with your head down. 
  • Roll your spine up one vertebra at a time with arms still extended and twist a little more to the right with a straight spine.
  • Rotate your body back to the center with your arms following and extend both arms out to the side, in line with your shoulders.
  • Repeat on the other side. 

 

Modified Bear Crawl (intermediate)

Dr. Keith Sparks

The modified bear crawl helps to not only lengthen the hamstring, but also stretches the tight calf and foot muscles and associated fascial connections through movement.

  • Start on your hands and knees.
  • Push your hips upward toward the ceiling in "bear position."
  • As you bring one leg forward, do not allow the same side's hand to leave the ground until you straighten the same side's knee completely.
  • The closer you can bring your foot to the same side's hand with a straight leg, the more flexibility you will have in your posterior chain.


 

Seated Hamstring Stretch (beginner)

Melanie Kotcher

  • Sit on a mat with your right leg extended and your left leg bent, with your left foot placed against your right inner thigh.
  • Lean forward with a straight back from your hips and reach your arms up alongside your ears until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. Squeeze in your abs and close your ribs together.
  • Fall over your right leg with a rounded back and head down, and grab onto your shin or foot for a deeper stretch. Try pointing and flexing your foot. 
  • Repeat on the other side. 


 

Downward Facing Dog (intermediate)

Melanie Kotcher

  • Start by placing your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips on a mat in a triangle position. 
  • Press firmly through your palms and extend your elbows as you relax your back, tuck your toes and lift your hips up away toward the ceiling. Keep your head, neck and back aligned. Engage your abs and keep your shoulders externally rotated. 
  • Press the floor away from you as you lift your pelvis more and push through your heels into the mat.
  • Try bending one knee at a time to get different variations of the hamstring stretch. 


 

Wide-Leg Modified Hamstring Stretch (beginner/intermediate)

  • Stand tall with back straight, feet wider than the hips and arms at your sides. Turn from the waist to face your right leg.
  • Bend forward from the waist, placing your hands on your right thigh for support, until your back is flat. Think of reaching your chin out towards the floor in front of your right foot. 
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not to the point of pain. Never bounce. Keep your abs engaged to protect your back. Bend your knees, if necessary, to decrease the intensity of this stretch. 
  • Repeat on opposite side. 

Wide-Leg Hamstring Stretch (advanced)

  • Stand tall with back straight, feet wider than the hips and arms at your sides. Turn from the waist to face your right leg. 
  • Slowly bend forward from the waist, bringing your hands toward your right foot as your torso collapses over your leg.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not to the point of pain. Never bounce. Keep your abs engaged to protect your back. 
  • Repeat on opposite side. 

Stance Leg Stretch (advanced)

Dr. Keith Sparks

  • Start by laying on the edge of a bed or couch (stretch works best on something hip-height)
  • Keep the knee in between the foot and hip. Activate the entire leg by driving the foot downward into the floor and pushing the hip toward the ceiling.
  • From the top view: the knee is in a straight line; it does not fall inward or outward of the foot. The torso does not bend side-to-side—everything stays straight.
  • From the side view: The hip is higher and behind the knee. The shin is relatively vertical. Do not let the shin drift too far forward over the knee. The torso is straight, keeping a neutral spine. The belly button does not fall to the ground.


 

(If you can achieve all of this, your body is in a perfect, activated position. This means all the muscles, tendons, nerves, fascia, ligaments, etc. are in unison, creating the adequate amount of stretch and activation. By putting your body in this position and activating it, you brain-body connection finds the appropriate amount of stretch needed.)   

Standing Hamstring Stretch (beginner)

Melanie Kotcher

  • Bend your right knee slightly and pull your abs gently inward with ribs closed. Extend your left leg with your left foot flexed on the mat. 
  • Lean forward from your hips and place your palms on top of your right thigh for balance and support. 
  • Keep your back straight and your head and neck in line with your back. 
  • Switch to stretch on the other side. 


 

Reclined Hamstring Stretch 

Melanie Kotcher

  • Lay down on your back and extend your right leg up to the ceiling with your left leg extended flat on the mat. Keep your pelvis neutral and grounded onto the mat.
  • Grasp the right leg at the back of the thigh, just below the knee, and slowly and gently pull it in toward you. 
  • Repeat on the other side. 


 

Myofascial Hamstring Release (beginner)

  • Sit on the floor and place a foam roller under the back of your thighs. Lower your legs onto the roller.
  • With your palms flat on the floor beneath your shoulders and fingers pointing forward, straighten your arms and legs, lifting your hips off the floor so that you are balancing your weight on the foam roller (under your thighs) and your hands. Keep the shoulders relaxed and away from the ears. Allow the weight of your body to relax onto the roller. 
  • Breathe steadily as you shift your weight forward and back, allowing the foam roller to move up and down on the back of your thighs (hamstrings) from your hips to your knees. Repeat several times. 
  • As you move the roller up and down by shifting your weight forward and back, find tight and sore areas of your thighs and hold those positions to help decrease tension. Keep your abdominals and glutes engaged. Don't roll past your knee. 

Posted 8/7/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 62 comments   145,210 views

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40 Daily Decisions to Keep You on the Right Path

There's a claim floating around the internet that any given person makes, on average, a whopping 35,000 decisions per day. Obviously, that may be exaggerated—but hey, even if you drop one of those zeros, that's still a pretty enormous number of choices.
 
Of course, not all of those selections will be earth-shattering. Wearing the blue shirt instead of the red, watching "Game of Thrones" instead of "Breaking Bad," trying a new brand of laundry detergent—none of those is likely to have an enormous impact on the quality or longevity of your life. But on any given day, there are many decisions (more than you might think) that have the power to improve or impede your health. Granted, one decision in and of itself won't have a noticeable effect—but added up over time, all of those incremental choices will eventually manifest themselves in your wellness…and, yes, even your weight.
 
Every morning when you wake up, your decision meter resets, and you get a brand-new opportunity to make the right ones. From choosing what to eat, how to exercise and other health and wellness options that come your way, making the correct decision can set you up for a lifetime of healthy living.

Posted 8/2/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 64 comments   24,156 views

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40 Mouthwatering Recipes You Can Make Using a Bag of Spinach

Popeye was onto something. Packed with nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants, spinach is definitely a powerhouse in the world of vegetables. The dark, leafy green has been shown to serve up a myriad of benefits, including preventing cancer, managing diabetes, increasing bone health, lowering blood pressure and improving hair and skin health.
 
As with most good-for-you foods, though, spinach can sometimes get a bad rap for being less than appetizing—but we're here to dispel that age-old myth. There are plenty of tasty and creative ways to enjoy the versatile veggie—and we definitely don't mean straight out of the can, Popeye-style. Keep a bag of frozen or fresh spinach on hand at all times, and you'll be one step closer to whipping up one of these nutritious and delicious recipes.

Posted 7/30/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 30 comments   11,664 views

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SparkPeople Members Offer 20 Tips to Bounce Back After a Bad Day

You've been doing so well. As in: seriously rocking this health and fitness thing. In fact, if you weren’t so modest, you might say you've been a meal planning, calorie-burning, goal-crushing machine. The numbers your doctor is watching are right where they should be, your before-and-after pics are on point and your regular weigh-ins are starting to include more triumph than terror.
 
And then, it happens: You have a bad day. Maybe it's just a not-so-good day, or maybe it's a very, very bad day.
 
When you're on a weight-loss journey, there are lots of different definitions of "bad day." It might include the obvious blunders of eating all the wrong foods or choosing couch time over gym time. But it could also mean overdoing it with too much of the right foods, not getting enough sleep or letting negative thoughts or influences deflate your mood or motivation. In a nutshell, a bad day occurs when you feel yourself sliding backward, in the opposite direction of your goals.
 
The good news? A bad day is just that—a day. Like so much else in this journey, it is fleeting and temporary. And in just a few short hours, you'll get to push the reset button simply by waking up to a brand-new morning.

Posted 7/27/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 58 comments   10,913 views

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Can CBD Oil Help You Get More Out of Your Workouts?

Chances are you've used plenty of different oils—to add flavor to your food, to moisturize your hair and skin, and maybe even to infuse your home with delicious aromas. But there's one oil you may not be familiar with: cannabidiol oil, more commonly known as CBD oil. Although it's not entirely mainstream (yet), this substance is firing up controversy in some health and fitness circles. While some fitness professionals are skeptical of its risks and legality, many people claim that CBD oil helps to enhance not only their workouts, but their overall wellness.

Posted 7/18/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 45 comments   17,437 views

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How Many Calories Are Really Burned While Walking?

When it comes to low-impact cardio that burns calories while toning muscle, walking wins every time. Sticking to a regular walking program puts you on the fast track to a slew of health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, stronger bones and joints, improved mental health and accelerated weight loss. When combined with a healthy, well-balanced diet, walking can be a great way to lose or maintain weight—but do you know just how many calories all those steps are really burning? The actual number of calories burned walking may be more—or less—than you think.

Posted 7/13/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 58 comments   24,993 views

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What Things Weigh: Measure Your Progress With Real-World Items

"I need to lose a ton of weight!"
"I don't even know where to start."
"All that work and I've only lost three pounds?!"
 
If any of these sound familiar, you know how frustrating it can be when you have a lot of weight to lose—especially when the scale seems to be moving in slow motion. Instead of getting fixated on the number at your feet, try using visualization as another way to measure your progress. By comparing how much you've lost to actual, tangible items, suddenly those small steps forward will feel much larger.
 
We love the list that our member NUMD97 posted in her SparkPeople blog about what things weigh. Below, we've included many from her list, and thrown in a few others for good measure. Are any of these surprising to you?

Posted 6/27/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 83 comments   14,708 views

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9 Ways to Sit Safely & Comfortably at Your Work Desk

You may have heard the phrase "sitting is the new smoking." Sure, that might seem a little extreme—after all, the impacts of smoking are a lot more blatant and widely broadcasted—but experts agree that too much extended chair time can add up to some undesirable, and uncomfortable, effects.

Posted 6/21/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 44 comments   27,090 views

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Spark Spotlight: Patty (POHOUSE99)

At SparkPeople, we love helping people accomplish big goals—but we believe it's equally important to celebrate the small successes along the way. Each week in the Spark Spotlight, we'll check in with a featured member about his or her proudest moments, biggest challenges and advice for others on living, thinking and feeling healthier. We hope these quick snapshots will help motivate you to keep moving steadily toward your own goals, week by week.

Posted 6/18/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 19 comments   5,314 views

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25 Hot-off-the-Grill Recipes for Carefree Outdoor Cooking

While there's no reason grilling can't be a year-round activity, there's just something about summer—balmy air, extended daylight, backyard BBQs—that has us reaching for the tongs and charcoal (or propane, depending on your grilling style) more often than usual. Whether you’re making a meal for the family or entertaining a large group of guests, grilling is a fun and easy way to prepare flavorful, healthy fare in the great outdoors. As an added bonus, the crumbs stay outside and there's no kitchen clean up!
 
If you’re searching for something beyond the same old burgers and brats, consider grabbing  some of these ideas and get grilling!

Posted 6/14/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 37 comments   56,292 views

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Spark Spotlight: Brenda (POGIRL17)

At SparkPeople, we love helping people accomplish big goals—but we believe it's equally important to celebrate the small successes along the way. Each week in the Spark Spotlight, we'll check in with a featured member about his or her proudest moments, biggest challenges and advice for others on living, thinking and feeling healthier. We hope these quick snapshots will help motivate you to keep moving steadily toward your own goals, week by week.

Posted 6/11/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 33 comments   11,201 views

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12 Health Signs You Should Never Ignore

In our mile-a-minute, super-stressed world, it's all too easy to dismiss symptoms or allow them to be drowned out by the noise of life—especially if there's an underlying fear or anxiety of seeing a doctor. For those on weight-loss journeys, ailments are often chalked up to a side effect of being overweight or obese, when they actually could have more serious implications. In many cases, medical red flags go unheeded until they ultimately result in a more serious or even life-threatening emergency. If you notice any of these health signs, take action right away—your life could depend on it.

Posted 6/6/2018  1:00:00 PM By: Melissa Rudy : 133 comments   43,970 views

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Spark Spotlight: Amber (BABYSTEPS2015)

At SparkPeople, we love helping people accomplish big goals—but we believe it's equally important to celebrate the small successes along the way. Each week in the Spark Spotlight, we'll check in with a featured member about his or her proudest moments, biggest challenges and advice for others on living, thinking and feeling healthier. We hope these quick snapshots will help motivate you to keep moving steadily toward your own goals, week by week.

Posted 6/4/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 32 comments   9,649 views

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