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.


Read More of Melissa's Blogs:

24 Heavenly Hummus Recipes for Your Next Gathering

When it comes to dips, sauces and spreads, you'd be hard-pressed to find one as hardworking as hummus.

With its roots in the Middle East, this popular condiment is made from a blend of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini (sesame seeds), lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Yummy, yes—but it's way more than just a palate pleaser: Hummus is packed with protein, fiber and other vitamins and minerals, serving as a great nutrient-booster for vegetarian and vegan diets. Plus, its ingredients have been shown to fight inflammation, promote good digestive health, reduce heart disease risk and keep blood sugar within healthy levels.

As if that's not reason enough to leave the French onion and queso dips in the dust, hummus' high fiber and protein content helps to curb appetite and speed up metabolism, meaning it could give weight-loss efforts a serious boost.

And when it comes to versatility, this spread steals the show. Hummus wears many hats, each more delicious than the last. Whether you're hosting a Mexican fiesta, get giddy over garlic or need a splash of color for a holiday tabletop, there's a hummus for that. Whatever you're dipping—veggie chips, raw veggies, whole-wheat crackers, pita bread or just your spoon—go beyond the basics with one of these inventive variations.

Posted 10/17/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 20 comments   3,088 views

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50 Workout Songs Straight From Our Members' Playlists

We've all been there: You're only halfway through your workout, and you feel the fatigue setting in. Your lungs are working overtime, your muscles are begging for a break and you're starting to bargain with yourself: "I'll just call it quits now and eat a little less at dinner," you think. And then, just as you're about to stop the treadmill, put the weights back in the rack or cut your run short, it happens.
 
That song comes on.

Posted 10/10/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 37 comments   7,159 views

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35 Self-Care Ideas You Can Start Practicing Today

Self-care is a hot buzzword these days, but what does it really mean? Beyond the obvious tenets of eating healthier, exercising regularly and relaxing more, what could or should you be doing to pamper and protect your mind and body?
 
Dr. Heather Hammerstedt, a board-certified physician and CEO of lifestyle coaching company Wholist, says that self-care is far from selfish, and is in fact an essential health tool. It resets your cortisol levels, which helps with prevention of weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a multitude of other issues—not to mention what it does for balancing your neurotransmitters for mood and emotional reset.
 
"You can't fill anyone else's cup if yours is empty, something that busy moms, dads and professionals often forget," Hammerstedt says. "Planning is key. You will always make better decisions ahead of time than you will in the moment. This means that you have to find a way to schedule and plan for you.”
 
So, you know this self-care thing is legit—but how are you supposed to carve out time in your busy days when every minute seems to be monopolized by other people's needs? Good news: It's easier than you might think to sneak in some much-deserved selfishness.

Posted 10/2/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 65 comments   28,609 views

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19 Ways to Stop Taking Yourself So Seriously When Losing Weight

We get it. Trying to lose weight—whether it's 10 pounds or 100—isn't exactly a barrel of fun. It's a long and often arduous journey marked by confusing signs and steep hills, with the occasional pothole or detour thrown in for good measure.
 
Planning nutritious meals and exercising regularly is hard work, and it can be maddening when the scale doesn't respond as quickly or as dramatically as you'd like. But that doesn't mean you can't find ways to lighten things up a bit. Weight loss can be an emotional roller coaster—so, next time you feel like want to cry, look for opportunities to laugh instead.

Posted 9/28/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 58 comments   22,216 views

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8 Tips for Slimming Down Your Fast Food Orders

In some areas, "fast" is a good thing. When it comes to improving your running or walking pace, completing a dreaded task or even losing weight (safely, of course)—well, the faster, the better. Fast traffic, fast money, fast meetings: all good.
 
But when it comes to fast food? Not so much.

Posted 9/25/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 216 comments   34,573 views

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25 Creative Ways to Enjoy Cauliflower

It's naturally high in fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants, choline, calcium, potassium and other essential vitamins and nutrients. Including it in your daily diet could help protect against cancer, improve digestion, boost weight loss and strengthen bones. One cup of it contains only 27 calories, five grams of carbohydrates and virtually no fat.
 
But if you made a list of your top 10 most-craved foods, we'd bet cauliflower doesn't snag a spot. Hey, no judgment here—the cruciferous vegetable doesn't exactly win a lot of produce popularity contests. But if you're not a raving fan, could it be that you just haven't found the right recipe to make the most of this cabbage-like veggie?
 
The next time you find yourself with a head of cauliflower on hand and aren't feeling particularly creative in the kitchen, try one of these inspired ideas.

Posted 9/20/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 52 comments   37,934 views

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How Would You React If Someone Called You Fat?

During childhood, SparkPeople member Katie* endured all sorts of abuse about her weight. Eventually, she grew up, finished college, found a good job, got married and had children, her weight fluctuating throughout the years.
 
In the 1980s, Katie was carrying 260 pounds on her 5'2" frame. She knew she was very overweight, but tried her best to not care—or not think about—whether people were judging her. "As long as I didn't know their thoughts, I figured I was fine with it," she says.
 
But then came the day when she visited a hardware store with her husband. As they were talking to the owner about what they needed, the owner's wife struck up a conversation with Katie.
 
Suddenly, she said, "You have a lovely face."
 
At first, Katie felt gratified by what seemed to be a nice compliment. Just as she opened her mouth to thank the woman, there came the kicker: "...so why don't you lose that weight so everyone can see how pretty you are?"
 
Although the woman didn't use the word "fat" itself, the meaning was clear as a bell. Katie was shocked into silence, her mind reeling. She whispered to her husband, "We need to leave." Back in the car, Katie burst into tears and cried so hard that it took awhile for her to be able to explain to her husband what had happened.
 
"We never went to that store again, but it didn't make me feel better," she recalls.
 
Katie's experience was shocking and hurtful, but sadly, it wasn't unique. Every day, countless people are shamed, ridiculed and judged, either directly or indirectly, as a result of comments about their weight. No matter how determined and motivated someone is, a single spoken criticism can be enough to elicit crippling self-doubt and bring progress to a screeching halt.

Posted 9/17/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 63 comments   18,924 views

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Should You Replace Your Soda Habit With LaCroix?

It's no secret that soda doesn't do the body any favors.
 
According to nutrition information from Harvard, consumption of sugary drinks can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. A 64-ounce fountain cola drink packs a staggering 700 calories—more than most lunches—with no nutritional benefit. And as SparkPeople's registered dietitian Becky Hand points out, even a 12-ounce can of regular soda has 10 teaspoons of added sugar and 150 calories.
 
And diet sodas may not be much better: While they lack the calories of their full-sugar counterparts, some studies have shown that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners could actually lead to weight gain over time. And if the soda you're drinking is caffeinated, it can actually cause fluid loss and dehydration.
 
So why, then, are roughly half of all Americans still consuming sugary beverages (primarily soda) each and every day? We suspect it's for either the taste or the fizz (or both).  
 
We get it: When you're thirsty and craving some carbonation, cracking open a can of soda can sometimes seem a lot more appealing than grabbing a bottle of water. But what if there was another beverage option that delivered those satisfying effervescent bubbles, with none of the extra calories, sugar or artificial sweeteners?

Posted 9/12/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 86 comments   57,956 views

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17 Strength Training Exercises for Walkers

If there was one perfect exercise, it would quite possibly be walking. It's improves heart health, burns calories, strengthens the bones and reduces stress. Plus, walking is low-impact, easy on the joints and requires no equipment other than good shoes and stable ground—which means almost everyone can do it.

That being said, for all the wonderful benefits of walking, there's actually no such thing as "one perfect exercise." Every activity, no matter how awesome, is always more beneficial when paired with a complementary one. It's a concept called cross-training, and it helps prevent overuse injuries, balances out the muscles and promotes better recovery after workouts. It also adds variety to workouts, which prevents boredom and burnout.

Posted 9/11/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 114 comments   90,970 views

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20 Healthier Potluck Recipes to Please Any Crowd

Whether you're reading this in the dog days of summer, the crispness of fall or the dead of winter, 'tis the season for potlucks. From backyard barbeques to football Sundays to holiday gatherings, the concept of everyone bringing a dish to share not only takes the burden off the host, but it also adds a hearty helping of good cheer to any event. There's nothing like a delicious spread of shared food to bring people together—and maybe spark some healthy competition for the last scoop of spinach and avocado dip.
 
But on the not-so-healthy front, potlucks and weight-loss programs don't always make great party companions. From cookies and brownies to queso dip, loaded nachos and fried chicken wings, many of the most shareable foods aren't conducive to a healthy diet. But that doesn't mean you have to send your regrets and stay home with only a plate of veggies to comfort you. Instead, bring your own healthier dish so you know there will be at least one option that won't break the calorie bank. Or, better yet, host your own healthy potluck event, where the only rule is that everyone has to bring something that can be consumed with zero-to-little guilt or regret.

Posted 9/5/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 59 comments   19,449 views

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7 of the Worst Health Tips We've Seen on Pinterest

Since launching in 2010, Pinterest has evolved into so much more than a place to post handicrafts, DIY projects and dream homes. These days, it's also a top online destination for those looking to lose weight and embrace a healthy lifestyle. You can find thousands of inspirational pins linking to nutritious recipes, effective workouts and motivational quotes. Pinterest can be a great complement to the SparkPeople community.

Most of the time.

Like any free social media network, Pinterest isn't always a reliable resource. For every handful of high-quality, expert-endorsed pins, there are likely to be a couple of bad apples with false, exaggerated or possibly even harmful information. If something sounds like it could be damaging, dangerous or just too good to be true, don't try it unless you've vetted it with a trusted professional.

Posted 8/31/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 72 comments   52,598 views

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SparkPeople Members Share 50 Things They're Grateful For

Some days, it's easy to feel proud of your accomplishments and hopeful for the future. Other days, your relaxed-fit jeans don't live up to their name, your workout partner has lost three times as much weight as you, and you'd consider trading your firstborn for some french fries. When you've sworn off chocolate, finally know how to pronounce (and prepare) quinoa and have traded post-work happy hours for workouts—yet the scale hasn't budged in the right direction—well, it may seem difficult to focus on the positives.
 
But we promise, they exist. Hint: They don't have to be directly related to having a perfect, or even passable, physique. The key is to seek out the things in life that bring you happiness, humor or peace (or all three!) instead of focusing on your perceived flaws.

Posted 8/28/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Melissa Rudy : 83 comments   12,405 views

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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 : 66 comments   20,724 views

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A Teacher Loses 120+ Pounds and Learns to Love Herself

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 : 71 comments   24,742 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 : 69 comments   155,861 views

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