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Wellness

What Self-Care Really Means

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Chronic stress is a huge problem. Everyone gets it, everyone feels it. Our lifestyles are busy, our days are jam packed all the time and when we’re not on the go, we’re usually caught in the endless cycle of scrolling through social media instead of hitting the hay. I get it, I’m pretty much there all the time, but there are some things that we can all do to take the edge off. This is where self-care comes in and just like a diet, there’s no “one size fits all” solution.

Self—care has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, especially with all of the wellness coaching programs coming out. People are slowly starting to understand the importance of taking the absolute best care of yourself all the time, especially during times of stress. Self-care is also one of the hardest things to do when the shit hits the fan. As much as you may want to just wrap yourself up in a blanket and shut out the world, it may not be the best solution, although sometimes I must admit that it definitely is.

Think about the last time you were under some serious stress or you got thrown a massive curve ball with no warning. Chances are you probably weren’t getting much rest, the gym was out of the question and nutrition consisted of grabbing a couple of Oreos as you ran out to whatever you were dealing with. Again, that’s pretty much been me; in a time of crisis or super busy workdays where there’s a lot on the line, everything else stops and all of your focus goes into dealing with this big problem. It’s rough and it’s hard to see beyond that when you’re fully immersed in it. Whether it’s a love one who is suddenly unwell or work takes a turn for the worst and your job is on the line or you’re raising your kids and trying to take care of your household, or you’ve suddenly got some scary financial stuff come up, it’s all very intense and it weighs heavily on us.

Apart from the aforementioned raising kids, I’ve experienced all of the above so I totally get it. In the last couple of weeks, things have gotten so stressful for me; I’ve come home practically in tears on the verge of a meltdown. Just last week during my weekly mastermind group session, the woman who runs our group spent 20 minutes guiding me through a meditation and trying to talk me down from the proverbial ledge. In the midst of all of this craziness, I’ve still been going to the gym regularly, but my nutrition is still something that I struggle with (a bite of chocolate here, a little extra pasta there and maybe an extra spoonful of peanut butter) and sleep has been non-existent. But an interesting thing happened yesterday. I had the choice to either go home or go to the gym and I chose the latter, which was without question the smart move for me. A few sets into my workout and I started to feel better, calmer and clear headed. When I did go home, my mood had improved and I was able to enjoy the evening with my hubby and our two baby rabbits that we adopted about a month ago. I ultimately knew that what I needed was to go to gym, not to workout my frustrations or channel all of my anger into weightlifting, but to get some movement in and shift my focus away from the stress. Had I gone home, I would have probably spent a big part of the night bawling my eyes out and letting the stress take over, and that was something that I knew I didn’t need. I knew that that wouldn’t serve me in anyway or resolve anything, in fact it would only amplify it, so I chose to do something healthier instead.

This is not to say that the answer is always hit the gym and grind it out, because sometimes it’s the exact opposite that you need. Although you may hear a lot of fitness gurus say that in times of stress that’s when you really need to hit the weights hard and push yourself. However, if you’ve been training hard consistently and for a long time, then it might be a good idea to take in an extra rest day (don’t worry, your physique won’t suddenly turn to mush). Or maybe you’ve been dieting down for a while and have been losing lots of weight and the thought of steamed veg with grilled tofu is just not gonna cut it. In that case consider eating a treat meal or just having something a little bit heartier and comforting like a warm stew with some sprouted grain bread or some lasagna made with brown rice noodles and tofu ricotta, or even some oatmeal with a little drizzle of maple syrup and some walnuts. Maybe it’s sleep that you really need, so try taking a hot shower and having a warm cup of chamomile tea in the evening before curling up in bed.

The idea here is to tune in to your emotions and do what you really need and what will serve you best. Self-awareness is a big component of that and it does take some time to gain that, but gradually with time you will get there. So if your day is tough or you’re dealing with a lot, take a step back and see what you are in need of and take it from there. Always keep in mind that before you can truly take care of anyone else and really give your best to something or someone, you have to take care of yourself. You have to be healthy as this is what allows you to be in the right mindset and with the right energy to approach whatever is coming your way. Always prioritize your health and your overall well-being above everything else, and then the rest will just happen and fall right into place.

Denise K

P.S. In case you missed it, check out this morning’s FB Live where I went into extra detail on the importance of self-care.

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Nutrition, Wellness

Losing Steam & Overeating

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I am seriously running out of steam. Since competing in the Provincial Championships in June, I have had a rough time staying on track with nutrition. Although I know that consistency is key, part of me wants to take an extra week off from working out and sneak in some extra treats. My first off-season is proving to be much rougher than I thought.

Today while sitting at my desk at work I got hit with a hankering for something sweet and fatty with a chocolate/nut flavour; no cake, no cookies, just chocolate and nuts. I knew very well that my mind was trying to comfort myself with food (it’s been a stressful work week), but no matter how much willpower and knowledge I have, the need to self-soothe outweighed my logic. I stood in the health-food section at the grocery store by my office with 4 different treats (cashew-coconut bites, almond butter granola bars, chocolate covered peanuts and a chocolate protein bar) in my hand, seriously contemplating getting all of them. These seemingly “healthy” and “natural” items might appear to be a good alternative to conventional snacks, but they are loaded sugar (even naturally occurring like in dates or raisins, or natural sweeteners like brown rice syrup and agave) and fat from nuts. In small portions these are super beneficial, but as with everything else, it can easily morph into too much of a good thing that can lead to gaining body fat, indigestion and bloating. So as I stood there imaging eating these delicious snacks with a hot cup of coffee at my desk, I made the conscious decision to choose just one and to enjoy every bite of it. No guilt, no binge eating, just enjoyment. I chose the protein bar because I knew that it was the most balanced item that would satisfy my craving without leaving me with this heavy feeling in my belly. 15g protein, 8g fat, 26g carbs (9g from sugar – brown rice syrup). Now you might be thinking “What’s the big deal?” and “What’s so bad about that?”. Well the reality is that as a bodybuilder whose diet comprises of whole foods, with lots of fiber and no sweeteners, and who is very regimented with meals and nutrition, that bar is not in line with my diet. Will I gain body fat from that bar? No, but the psychological impact of that additional off-plan snack is enough to send anyone into a tailspin. That’s the reality of bodybuilding and the reality of being lean and muscular with lots of definition all the time; you can get a nutritional burnout. In my case, this burnout has impacted my psychological well-being and I think this is where a lot of bodybuilders can get into the space of disordered eating patterns. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from athletes, many of whom are recently retired, confessing that they developed some pretty nasty habits whether in contest prep or not and felt super guilty about eating foods that weren’t “perfect” or whole.

A lot of fitness and diet gurus would tell you that everything in moderation is key. They might say to eat slower and put your fork down in between bites. They might say do something healthy like drink a glass of water or go for a walk to try to distract yourself. I have tried all of those concepts and they are a big load of crap that just don’t work for me or for most people either. It’s like telling a heavy drinker to put their glass of scotch down in between sips or to only have half of a beer; it’s not going to work. Most people can’t handle just one cookie or a few fries. If you’ve ever had a problem overeating or binging or overdoing it on your weekly treat meal and turning it into an entire day instead (as I have and still do), then those concepts of moderation just won’t do.

Not all hope is lost though. The way that I see it is that these slip ups are not as intense as they used to be and since I am far more advanced in my training, my body handles it a lot better than it would have even just a year ago. After a few days of working out and eating nourishing foods, the bloat goes away and the definition finds its way back. It’s not about looking a certain way, and a definitely don’t have any distorted view of how my body looks, in fact it’s actually the opposite. The way that I feel physically sometimes doesn’t line up with how I actually look. I’m always amazed with my leanness and definition, but I don’t always feel it. Many times after a treat meal or an extra little something, I get that heavy bloaty feeling, but when I look in the mirror I’m still pretty close to stage ready, which is the goal of every bodybuilder even in off-season.

What I’ve come to realize is that unless I am in a contest prep my willpower is not enough on its own. Contest prep creates such clarity for my goal that nothing tempts me and slip ups just don’t happen. I’ve always been able to get super focused and completely block out even the thought of going off-plan. I’m not bragging here at all; it actually amazes me that this is the case. I know that it’s because the goal is so clear and the structure and path is laid out in front of me by my coach so there’s no guesswork, I have all of the answers already so I don’t even think about it. Since this is my first time in about a year and a half of not being in a prep, this is foreign territory for me, and old/unhealthy habits are popping up again.

My post-contest recovery phase from my coach included 2 weekly off-plan treat meals and at first I was excited, but then I realized that it was hard to control myself with that second meal; it always snowballed into an entire day. I never felt physically good after, who does after overeating? But in the last couple of weeks I’ve come to see that it is helpful and gives me a bit of leeway if my husband and I decide to order in Chinese food or if I decide to partake in my office’s weekly Friday brunch or for when I have my monthly book club meet-up. Letting go of guilt is helping to alleviate the potential of the “ah screw it” moments that we all go through when we decide to plow through a bag of chips or bucket of pasta.

The best thing that works for me time and again is to mix up my meals throughout the week. As much as I love meal prepping and appreciate that it simplifies my life, I also know that eating the same thing every single day gets boring. Even if you love these meals and flavours, it gets old really fast. So my goal going forward is to change up at least one thing I eat each day. That doesn’t mean entirely new meals each day because that would be super time consuming, but more so along the lines of swapping sources of macros to keep it interesting. Instead of white rice, I’ll opt for baked potato or rice pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of oats, I’ll try sweet potato fries or sprouted grain toast. Instead of grilled tofu, I’ll go for tempeh meatloaf or a veggie burger patty. And every few days I’ll swap my rice and beans for sweet potato – black bean brownies or chickpea-oat flour muffins. These simple swaps are super easy to prep in advance and massively impact how I feel; it’s a healthy alternative treat to keep me feeling good without feeling deprived or restricted. I think that’s the key when trying to be healthy, you have to find what you can do for the rest of your life without feeling restricted.

I’m certainly not perfect and I’m still dealing with trying to find the right healthy mix for me, as I think most of us are, but I’m definitely getting closer and making progress each day. Each of us is completely different, so this might not work for you. You might be better off including a small treat each day (like a couple squares of dark chocolate or a small bowl of Pop Chips) or maybe you just can’t handle any treat meals at all without overdoing it each time, that’s ok too. Just pay attention to what you need and what comes naturally with ease to you. It might take some time and tweaking to figure it out (as it has with me), but once you get there and gain that self-awareness, you’ll never fear overeating again.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Fitness

Booty Building

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Amanda Latona-Kucklo, the Booty Queen herself, said it best: Butts are back. Gone are the days when women were vying to be skinny and small, instead we now strive for those coveted sexy curves coupled with some nice muscle definition. More and more ladies are making their way towards to weight rooms in their local gyms and understand that getting in shape is more inline with lifting heavy weights than doing hours of mindless cardio. Whether you’re a physique competitor or fitness enthusiast, booty building is a staple for any workout plan.

The most important thing to keep in mind when training your lower body in the mind-muscle connection. This is a huge component to progressing with fat loss and muscle gains. You might be thinking that muscle gains is synonymous with bulking, but trust me it’s not, not even a little bit. Bulking up is a whole other method of training and dieting that requires a massive calorie surplus, very specific supplements and nutrient timing. Muscle gains in this case means building all the right curves in all the right places which makes you look fabulous in pretty much any outfit you throw on. The idea behind the mind-muscle connection is that during your workouts you bring your attention to the body part that you are training. More specifically, you focus on the muscle that you are working throughout each rep and each set. A good example of this would be performing a squat, during the concentric or shortening phase o the lift (when you are moving upwards) to really focus on digging your heels into the ground to bring most of the resistance towards your glutes. Same thing during a deadlift; although many consider this to be more of a back exercise it actually really works the legs and the more you engage the legs by bringing your attention to them as you lift, the heavier the load you can work with and the greater muscle you can build. With a deadlift, right at the midpoint of the concentric phase you want to focus on really pulling in those glutes and giving a big squeeze.

This mind-muscle connection isn’t just for weightlifting, but for cardio as well. Think about the elliptical machine. Most people that I see at the gym have a tendency to come up onto the ball of the foot and kind of bounce up as they go through the motion. What they end up doing is taking all of the resistance out and using momentum to move the machine ultimately working a little bit on their calves and quads instead of on their glutes and hamstrings. Same goes for the stepper machine. I can’t tell you how many people I see each day who hold on to the side rails, lock their arms and again come up onto their toes while stepping. Locking the arms removes all the resistance out of the movement and, just like the elliptical, coming up onto the toes will work everything but the hamstrings and glutes. This is fine if your goal is to build up your calves, but for most of us, the glutes and hamstrings are what really need a lot of work. The proper form for both of these cardio workouts is to hold onto the machine (not too tight!) to balance yourself, sit back slightly so the weight is distributed to the back of the legs and push your heels down throughout the motion, no doubt that you’ll really feel the burn. So whether you’re weight training or getting in some intense cardio, if booty building is your goal, get your mind-muscle connection on track.

The next thing to consider on your quest to building great glutes is that the lower body contains some of the largest muscles in your body. What this means is that in order to build curves in this area, you need to lift really heavy. The larger the muscle the heavy the load it can handle. Using myself as an example, I can leg press over 200 pounds for 12 reps, but I can’t curl more than a 25 pound barbell with my biceps for anything over 15 reps. The bigger the muscle, the heavier you gotta lift. Unless you are an athlete or work with a coach, chances are you’re lifting heavy enough. My rule of thumb is that when I get to the last rep of each set I’m swearing to myself or at least saying “ouchie!” when I’m done. Whenever you finish a set, if you feel like you could keep going or if you haven’t broken a sweat, then you are not lifting heavy enough.

Now for the actual exercises. There are countless ways to build a great booty, whether it be from bodyweight training, machines or free weights, the possibilities are plenty. Like I mentioned though, weight training is essential here and cardio alone won’t cut it, even if you include plyometric training like jump squats, burpees or switch lunges, it’s not enough, you have to include some serious strength training in there. For free weights, squats are great and there are tons of variations from foot positions to grip to placement of the weights. Everything from the standard back squat to front squat, then there’s goblet, sumo, deep and narrow squats. Same for deadlifts; there’s stiff-leg, sumo, wide grip and narrow grip. For lunges try walking forward lunges, backward lunges, curtsy-style or Bulgarian with one leg elevated on a bench. And then there’s always to essential barbell hip thrust which will no doubt leave you crawling your way out of the gym with a great pump in your backside. Although a lot of the strength machines may look like some sort of torture contraption, they are actually super effective and pretty straight forward to use. Everything from the abductor machines, to the butt blaster or even using a pullup machine for a leg press down. Not to mention the endless possibilities with cables like glute kickbacks and side leg raises. When building muscle and curve, you’re trying to achieve hypertrophy which is where your existing muscle fibers and cells are triggered to initiate muscle protein synthesis and ultimately muscle growth. In terms of exercise structure, to achieve hypertrophy aim for 3-4 sets or 10-15 reps per exercise and dedicate 2 days of lower body weight training each week to see maximum results (cardio does not count as leg training FYI).

If you don’t have access to equipment or if you workout at home then body weight exercises can still be useful. The usual squats, lunges and hip thrusts are essential here but definitely up the reps to feel the burn and opt for supersets (doing two exercises in a row without rest). Also try out some exercises using very slow movements like squatting down for 4 seconds, pause for 2 and then rise for 4 seconds and squeeze at the top, then at the last rep, squat down a pulse for 30 additional reps. You will definitely be sweating something fierce. There is always a way to get in a great workout and let yourself get the body you’ve always wanted while getting super strong in the process, regardless of your circumstance.

Sound simple enough? Notice I said simple not easy! Progress does take time so like everything else, you won’t see results in one day, but over the span of several weeks coupled with sound nutrition, you’ll start to see some real changes in your physique. No more skinny and puny, just curvy and strong. So get out there, train hard and love your new look.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Nutrition

Low-Carb VS Low-Fat

In the 1990s low-fat was all the rage. Food conglomerates put all their marketing towards this trend and created an entirely new category of food products where everything was non-fat this or fat-free that. Then in the early 2000s it changed gears and the focus was low-carb everything. Suddenly Atkins, Zone and more recently Paleo style diets were the in thing to do, where high protein and fat were praised and whole grains and sugar were shunned. The question is: which one is better and more effective for fat loss? Although many still believe that low-carb is the way to go, there are a few major things to consider first.

The low-fat craze of yesteryear paved the way for excess sugar/carb consumption which ultimately started many on the path towards obesity. This is mostly what led many to find that carbs are the devil years later. But…when you really look at the low-fat diet you may notice that there is a very specific reason why it didn’t work. At the time, people weren’t eating diets loaded with vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains, instead it was a diet based on junk food. Anything that was marketed as low-fat, non-fat or fat-free was eaten in bulk whether it was cookies, granola bars, chips, cakes, breads, yogurts, etc. Do you see the pattern? The focus wasn’t on nutrition, the focus was on eliminating an entire macronutrient while still being able to eat “off-limit” foods.  As we all now know, when the fat is removed something needs to be added in to give off some flavour and that’s where excess sugar came in full force and sugar is super addictive.  The low-fat diet was essentially a junk-food diet.  That was the start of us all being overfed and undernourished.

Then came low-carb. I remember this well, it was right around the time that I was started college and had started working out and losing weight after gaining the freshman 15. The idea behind this diet concept is that carbs get broken down into glucose, fructose(from fruits) and galactose(from dairy) and that it is the primary source as fuel for the body. That’s why so many of us “carb-up” pre-workout; we can push harder with the extra fuel without losing muscle. Any glucose that isn’t immediately used up gets stored in the body as glycogen for later use. This led to the belief that if you’re glycogen stores are minimized or depleted that your body will instead have no choice but to turn to its excess stores of bodyfat as fuel. Suddenly, fat was back and loads of protein was the key to weight loss.   Everyone was praising Dr. Atkins saying that carbs were so bad for you and was the cause of the obesity epidemic. It was effective, in fact, many people saw results and still do. This diet is still super popular and even as a bodybuilder, cutting carbs is a big part of contest prep. Why was this really so effective? Well if you look at it closely you’ll notice that it ultimately forced people into eliminating a couple of very specific things namely flour and sugar, which led most to cut out junk food. At the time there were no low-carb chips and cakes and cookies (although now we have protein pancakes and baked kale chips). The reason why people were losing so much weight was because they started eating more veg, less junk food and an overall reduction in calories. Many of us, myself included, skipped the bread basket or ate burgers without the bun or ordered a side salad instead of fries. So not only were we swapping out junk food and consuming more produce, but we also started cutting back on the excess calories too.

Right now you might be thinking “Great, so low carb is definitely the way to go then”, but consider this: if it is so effective why is it that people who lost the weight gained it all back and why are obesity rates still rising? Low-carb like all diet fads are very short-lived and unsustainable, it is something that you just can’t do long-term. Carbohydrates from plant sources are the only way for your body to get fiber and without it you will get some massive health issues. That’s not the only thing though. Think back to when you may have gone low-carb, how did you feel? I felt like crap. Not only was I exhausted all the time, but I was never satisfied. If you try to lose weight and put yourself on a calorie deficit while going low-carb, you are going to be SUPER hungry mostly because you’ll be taking in less volume with your food. Even with an increase in dietary fat, the volume goes way down since fat is very calorie dense compared to carbs and protein. It may not happen right away, but as we all know when you go too extreme with low calories and low carbs you will hit a roadblock. By roadblock I don’t mean plateau, what I mean here is that if you’ve ever struggled with overeating or binge eating, going low-carb will put you back into that danger zone. If you feel hungry or have cravings, your body will override any sort of willpower and logic that you have and signal your brain to go for the foods that will bring your body weight back up. This isn’t because your body is trying to fight you, it’s actually trying to protect you from starvation because it doesn’t tell the difference between trying to drop some weight on purpose or food scarcity. That’s why we rebound, that’s why we gain weight back.

You might be wondering how much carbs you should be eating in a day and it really depends on your goals, but even then it should always make up the bulk of your diet. Obviously you want to load up on veg with lots of grains and beans with some fruit, even if you’re trying to lose weight. If you’re still skeptical then look at this:

On the right is me on show day after going low-carb (less than 50g per day) and higher fat (50g per day) and cutting out weekly treat meals. As you can see, I look pretty flat and kinda puny and even though I’m lean I there’s not that much definition going on. On the left is me on another show day after following a prep that was lower-fat (30g per day) and higher carb (100g per day) with weekly refeed meals. I look fuller and more firm with more curve and I’m still lean. Each week I was setting new PRs in the gym whenever I hit the weight room. No carb cutting, no lethargy and no crazy cravings. Post-contest the thing that always makes me gain back body fat is fat. As soon as I include even a small amount of nuts to my diet, the weight just packs back on. When I increased carbs instead by the same amount and dropped my added fat intake, the weight gain would stop. It’s pretty obvious what works best.

So let’s not shun any particular macronutrient anymore and let’s just focus on eating real and legitimately healthy foods. No more relying on convenience snack foods that are marketed as natural, healthy or even “real food” when in truth they are just prepackaged bombs of sugar and fat that will no lead to satiety. FYI one particularly popular granola bar that is marketed to women as being real, hardy and nourishing is 100 calories, has 7 grams of sugar and 58 ingredients of which 20 are variations of sugar. Don’t be fooled people, it’s all crap! This is not to turn you into a skeptic, if anything it’s all to help you open your eyes to what food is meant to be and how it is here to fuel you and help you be awesome all the time. Don’t fear carbs, don’t fear fat,  instead choose to eat up and eat well each day. Remember that there is no one thing that’s causing obesity, it’s a lot of different things so keep your food real and in turn, keep the weight of for good.

P.S. There’s only 1 week left to take advantage of the Summer Special going on for the month of July. If you’re ready to learn about what real nutrition is and how easy it is to eat enough, eat right and eat great tasting food then reserve your spot today! A 60 minute 1 on 1 Nutritional Awareness Session is only $40 and is a 1 time limited offer only, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to reach diet freedom!

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Nutrition

Diet Overload

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There’s a lot of hooey out there, I mean A LOT. With diet and exercise, there is always some new claim popping up almost on a daily basis. It’s so confusing. For myself, even with all of my studies and research I still hear conflicting “facts” that throw me off. Everything from the benefits of a high fat diet, to animal based protein being superior to plant based protein, to whole grains being bad for you, it’s hard to sift through the crap to get to the truth. So let’s address some of the biggest claims of today and see look at what’s real and what’s a waste of your time.

Let’s start off with the very popular current topic right now: fats. The consensus seems to be that fat is back. The low-fat diet craze has been over for a while and now eating higher fats each day and at each meal is great. Avocados, coconut oil, steak, whole milk, eggs with the yolk and even bacon are all good for you! Before you start cheering, let’s take a deeper look at this first. The idea behind this is that fats are slow digesting so you stay fuller longer making it helpful for fat loss and that fatty acids help regulate hormone health by supporting the thyroid function. Fat is one of 3 macronutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates) so you need to consume some each day in order to, you know live and stuff without keeling over. How much fat you need has been debated over for so long and it still is. The current flavour of the month advocates that a diet higher in fat and ultimately lower in carbs is ideal to lose bodyfat. These diet types tend to favour more animal based sources of fats and protein that are heavy on the saturated fat. The worst thing I heard that sent me into an uproar was in a podcast where a so-called health “expert” claimed that since breastmilk is high in saturated fat that humans are always meant to consume saturated fat in significant amounts each day. What a load of crap! The nutritional requirements of an infant who is growing at an exponential rate in a short time period is nothing like the nutritional needs of a grown-ass adult who is no longer in need of growing their organs or bones. When you hear garbage claims like that, disregard them immediately as comparing a baby with an adult is like comparing apples to a hybrid car. It’s crap, it’s useless and it has no business being compared.

The issue with fat is that it is the most calorie dense macronutrient with 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram of protein or carbs, making it very easy to overdo it without even realizing.  Saturated fat in a small amount (as in the amount in 1 TB of avocado or young coconut meat) each day is fine and healthy, but when you consider the amount in animal foods that many consume at each meal then it’s a problem. You put yourself at a higher risk for heart disease, alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes and cancer (click here for more info). Yikes! So let’s all ease off of the fat bandwagon for a bit and limit your intake to no more than 50g a day if that.

Next up is supplementation. This industry alone is massive where each year consumers spend billions of their hard-earned dollars on protein powders, vitamins, green “superfood” blends, fiber mixes, pre-workouts, muscle building supporters, protein foods like bars, cookies and pudding and all kinds of other stuff. It’s BIG business, but is it necessary? Truthfully, no it isn’t. For the average person who is not an athlete, but who does workout regularly you definitely do not need any supplement whatsoever unless you have a nutritional deficiency and have been advised by your doctor to supplement. When you do supplement keep in mind that most multivitamins are synthetic and are not fully absorbed by the body on top of the fact that the body can only absorb so much of each micronutrient and that any excess amount will be excreted. So, what you’re really paying for is expensive pee. Supplements are meant to supplement a diet that is already balanced, whole and providing you with the necessities, even protein powders aren’t needed. It tends to be the source of choice for post-workout nutrition for pretty much everyone, both competitive athlete and not, but it’s pricey, it tends to have added fillers and artificial sweeteners and unless it’s plant-based it’s once again devoid of fiber. Speaking of which, a client recently asked me whether or not she should take a very popular fiber supplement that you mix in water. A friend of hers had mentioned that it’s the best way to start each day and is necessary for digestive health and aids in weight loss. Not true. So long as your diet is full of veg and whole grains with some fruit, there is no need to waste your money on this. Most people who do supplement with this see an improvement with their digestion mostly just from drinking that water first thing in the morning and not from the fiber mix.

Then there are the fad diets that are centered around one ingredient only like the coconut oil diet, the sweet potato diet and the cabbage soup diet. These diets are always very short term, trust me, you get fed up with eating the same type of food each day. Case in point, during my contest prep I was having about 3 oz of sweet potato each day, sometimes baked, sometimes roasted, sometimes as fries and sometimes mixed with other ingredients to create baked goods like protein cookies, waffles or brownies. Although I mixed it up regularly and it was delicious at the time, now that I am in my off-season I can’t even glance at a sweet potato. When a diet advocates including a specific food into each day you ultimately end up restricting yourself from eating other foods instead and are taking in less variety and less nutrients. In my case, with the sweet potato I could have opted for oats which are high in magnesium, selenium and zinc, or millet which is a good source of tryptophan and B vitamins. On the other end of the spectrum are the diets that demonize one very specific thing that is apparently the root of all evil like fat in the 1990s, carbs in the early 2000s and more recently sugar. In reality, it’s not one thing only that’s contributing to the obesity pandemic, it’s everything. Even though most people know that fast food, prepacked snacks and restaurant meals in general are unhealthy and have no nutritional value, we still consume these things on a daily basis. We still consume the granola bars or cereal that are marketed as whole and natural or we use premade sauces and marinades when cooking at home or we make our own salad dressings but add oils or mayo for creaminess and some kind of sweetener to cut the tanginess. All of this stuff adds up and it accumulates in your body. All of these things both big and small contribute to the weight and health issues that we all deal with.

Of course things are shifting and diets are now marketed as “lifestyles”. One particularly popular one is all about eating the way our ancestors did by cutting out dairy and grain, ultimately going low carb, high fat and heavy on the animal based sources. There are several things that don’t really add up with this “lifestyle”. First off, our paleolethic ancestors didn’t eat as much meat and fish as initially believed, but they did eat some grain (click here to found out more). What’s more is that we are so far removed from that life altogether; we don’t spend our days hunting, foraging and gathering, instead we spend our days indoors, sitting under fluorescent lights in front of a computer screen and when we’re home it’s pretty much the same. So to claim that eating a diet similar to this when our lives and environment are so different makes no sense and is sending us down the wrong path.

With all of this mixed info and confusion it’s no wonder that diets are so short-lived. So instead of trying to figure out what’s real, let’s simplify this as much as possible. When it comes to diet just eat lots of veg, make this the bulk of your meals, seriously. It’s not as expensive as you may think when you opt for seasonal produce and frozen options whenever there’s a sale. Try to sneak in veg wherever you can like blending leafy greens into a shake or sautéing mushrooms and peppers into pasta sauce or adding grated zucchini to oatmeal muffin batter. The advice we always here is to fill up at least half of your plate with veggies and it is so true. Add to that by choosing a variety of veg at each meal and buying at least one new veg at the grocery each week instead of always going for the standard lettuce, kale and carrots. Another thing to keep in mind is that carbohydrates are not the devil and whole grains are good for the body, unless you have a digestive illness like Crohn’s or Celiac and your doctor has advised you to avoid these altogether. I love eating grains, the taste, the flavour and the texture are all wonderful and I include a whole grain at pretty much each meal each day. In terms of protein, well don’t fret so much because we actually don’t need as much as you might think. The protein requirement is about 5-10% of your total calories per day. For the average person consuming 2000 calories that would mean 25 to 50 grams, THAT’S IT. Most protein powders are 25g per scoop FYI. The only time you may want to consider going above the 10% mark is if you are an athlete or if you are trying to mass gain or build lots of muscle and even then extra protein alone will not do it. I strongly suggest (as I’m sure your healthcare provider does to) that you opt for plant based protein sources as much as possible as they contain no dietary cholesterol and are high in fiber. Think beyond tofu and chickpeas and try out seitan, pinto beans and all kinds of lentils. In terms of fat, well try to minimize added oils when cooking and choose raw nuts and seeds with the occasional nut butter to keep it interesting.

Nutrition is always on everyone’s mind and there’s always some gimmicky thing coming out each week that claims to be the answer that we’ve been looking for. But the answer that we’ve been looking for is to just keep it simple, stop over thinking it by trying to adhere to something written in a book or magazine. Look at your entire diet and at how much of it is coming from a prepacked source or restaurant and how much is being made by you. Always choose whole foods as close to their natural state as possible and eat lots of it. Fill your belly at each meal, get lots of volume in and nourish yourself with the good stuff. You know what’s right for you and for your health, so let’s stop resisting and just start eating real food instead.

The next time you find yourself confused, think about this quote:

“You should really cut back on the vegetables” – said NO ONE EVER

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Nutrition, Wellness

I am no longer plant-based

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That’s right everyone, I am no longer plant-based…

Well, here’s the truth: I am no longer using the term plant-based to describe my nutrition. I am vegan, that’s my reality and that will always be me. I have been vegan for 7 years now, but for the majority of that time I always said that I was plant-based. In all honesty I said it as a way to “take the edge off” so that it wouldn’t cause any kind of conflict or aggressive reaction from others. People tend to hear the term vegan and think animal rights protests and extreme judgement of omnivores. So I decided to try to avoid that by using a different term and telling everyone that I was choosing to eat this way for health reasons. But, that’s really only half the story.

I stopped eating meat a decade ago and became pescetarian. The thing that prompted me to do so was when I was at a restaurant with my family one evening (a restaurant known for their ribs smothered in a bbq sauce) and so I ordered the ribs as usual, I always really enjoyed them. When my plate came and I looked down it suddenly occurred to me what I was actually eating. I placed my hand on my midsection and could feel my own rib cage and needless to say that was it. I realized how icky it was and had this sudden image of what it would be like if roles were reversed and this happened to humans. To this day I still get nauseated whenever someone talks about or describes a rack of ribs that they ate. That and pulled pork; I noticed that people tend to make a pulling/shredding motion with their hands when they talk about pulled pork. Usually I try to zone out and go to my happy place whenever someone talks about these things.

Three years later I transitioned to veganism all because of one book that I borrowed from my sister, The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. It really spoke to me and opened my eyes to this way of life. I did think that part of it was intense and a bit overdoing it (like not using a microwave, or eating sea vegetables at most meals), but I was intrigued. This was also right around the time that I started fasting for lent where every year for 40 days you basically adopt a vegan diet (no food or drinks from animals at all). So I started reading up about the benefits of this nutrition not just health-wise, but on the environment and based on animal welfare as well. I tried out all kinds of funky recipes and started finding more and more reading material that inspired me to go even further. Once my fast for Lent was over I decided that going forward whenever I would prepare my own meals I would make it vegan and that if I found a vegan option at a restaurant I would always order that. It was great. I started ordering pizza without cheese at restaurants and asking servers for giant salads without the standard grilled chicken and cheese. Gradually over about 6 months I completely eliminated all animals from my diet altogether and I felt really great and I never missed anything that I “gave up”.

I got a lot of push back from pretty much everyone I knew. Some were just eye rolls or snarky comments like “Yeah, we’ll see if it lasts”, and some were horrible and aggressive. I remember one family lunch where every single person (apart from my husband, then boyfriend) was unintentionally trying to prove that it wasn’t going to work or that I was somehow wrong. I remember one person in particular shouting at me “HOW CAN YO NOT EAT CHEESE!”. It was awful, I took a real emotional beating that day. Not mention the more recent emotional beating/bullying that I took at a work event about a year and a half ago (you can read the article here). That was really bad. Then there’s the media where vegans are always portrayed as a laughing stock in television shows. Either the person is a “hippie” who is being mocked throughout the show and by the end is proven that their ways are wrong and they are shown stuffing their face with these super heavy animal foods as if they  were some ravenous, starving, deprived lunatic. Or, they are portrayed as these super intense protesters screaming “meat is murder” all the time and by the end of the show someone seeks out vengeance on them in one way or another and they are again proven that they are wrong (if you’ve ever seen American Housewife then you know what I’m referring to). Why? Well it comes back to people attacking what they don’t understand and as a result, feeling the need to prove them wrong, which is really just their way of projecting their own fear onto you. Think about it, the majority of people are eating animal food all the time and the idea that it can be completely removed from the diet and that they could be healthier and happier is such an uncomfortable thought that it creates this super intense response and the need to prove that their way is right. It’s all that they know and have ever known, it’s what they’ve grown up with; drink milk for strong bones, eat meat for protein, eat fish for healthy fats, eat eggs for energy. Just the idea of veganism is enough to send someone into a tailspin because it is so far out from the norm, that it’s totally unfathomable and from their perspective, invalid. They try to resist as much as possible by pushing back and attacking with either aggression or so called “jokes”; it’s really just very strong resistance being projected onto someone else. So you can see why I would choose to shy away from using the term vegan or claiming that I’m only doing it for health reasons as a means to protect myself from some pretty nasty and unwarranted confrontation.

In the 7 years of eating this way, there have been only 2 people who were genuinely positive when they would first find out that I am vegan. One was a former colleague who said “Good for you! Do you feel better? Do you feel the difference from how you were before?”. In case you’re wondering, the answer to that is yes, without question. The other person is my aunt who immediately told me that she thought that what I was doing was fantastic. Later on my sister told me that she thought that it took a lot of courage for me to adopt this way of eating an of course the rest of my friends and family got on board and have been very supportive since. Not that I need external validation or anything like that, but it’s just nice to have some support from loved ones.

I have had a lot of curiosity and questions being asked which I am happy to answer so long as the person isn’t coming at me from a place of aggression. The usual “where do you get your protein” in which I had to train myself to make a conscious effort not to roll my eyes and call the other person a dumbass. Then there are the questions of iron deficiency and calcium, which I will get to in a moment. A recent conversation with my in-laws left them stunned when I mentioned that I have never had any issue with an iron deficiency or come even slightly close to that. They were stunned and genuinely confused; the assumption was that since I am a vegan woman then I must be supplementing with iron pills which I am not and never had. Many people will ask “So what do you eat, just like vegetables and that’s it?”. That’s usually when I give some more info on how I eat and I always try to mention how cheap it is to eat this way. Seriously, after 7 years it still amazes me that many times I spend a whopping $5 on weekly groceries! Suck on that!

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, let’s get back to reality.

When we think milk, we tend to think of calcium. Why is it that cow’s milk is high in calcium? Well, cows are herbivores that are meant to graze and eat grass. Grass contains loads of calcium and when cows eat grass they get a higher calcium consumption that goes into their milk. Now this doesn’t mean that humans should eat grass, but it does mean that we should be eating more calcium rich plants instead of dairy so that we are not only getting calcium but other micronutrients along with lots of fiber.

Let’s do a little comparison:

1 glass of milk = 125mg calcium + 0g fiber

2 cups of kale = 188mg calcium + 5g fiber

2 cups of turnip greens = 394mg calcium + 4g fiber

½ cup of oats = 200mg calcium + 4g fiber

1 cup of firm tofu = 861mg calcium + 1g fiber

Another fun fact for you is that calcium from cow’s milk is not fully absorbed by the body as dairy is very acidic and once your body starts to digest it creates more stomach acid destroying a large portion of the calcium. The veg listed above (like all veg) is more alkaline making it way easier to absorb. And FYI, as you probably know, livestock is mainly factory farmed and their nutrition comes from a feed mix with added calcium to it, otherwise there would be know calcium in the milk that you buy at the grocery store.

P.S. humans are the only animals on the planet that consume another animal’s milk or any milk for that matter after being weaned off of breastmilk from their mama.

As for iron, well let’s compare again:

3 oz of ground beef = 2.2mg iron + 0g fiber

1 cup of lentils = 6.6mg iron + 16g fiber

1 cup of soybeans = 8.8 mg iron + 17g fiber

1 cup of collard greens = 2.2mg iron + 1.4g fiber

There you have it: eat more plants and get more nourishment without harming any animals.

You might be thinking that cows aren’t being hurt by the dairy industry, but cows like all animals only lactate and produce milk due to pregnancy. So cows are inseminated constantly to be continuously producing milk and once they stop producing milk, they don’t just get to live out their “lives”. Nope, cows are very expensive to feed and they eat a lot, so if they are not returning a profit to the farmers via they milk production then they are sent to the slaughterhouse, not to mention the fact that their calves are turned into, drum roll please: veal. Oh and it’s not just the animal welfare that comes into play here, but the environment does too and in a massive way. One fifth of the amazon rainforest is gone FOREVER due to deforestation to make room for livestock. What’s more is that 1 cow will produce between 70 and 120kg of methane gas per year and methane gas is 23 times more harmful to the environment than the effects of CO2. Apart from these horrendous facts, is the research from The China Study, where it was proven time and again that consumption of the protein casein found in milk turns on genes for cancer. This was not only tested in animals but humans as well, where they found that when milk was consumed, cancer genes where turned on and when subjects went vegan, they turned off.

I know this post is super long and may seem like a bit of an info overload, but to be fair I have been keeping this bottled up inside for the past 7 years. All of the articles that I post and the info that I share tend to be more towards the health side of veganism and bodybuilding and that’s what I intend to continue doing. That’s what I am passionate about and that’s how I serve, help and coach others. My reality is that animal welfare is what got me started here, but the health benefits is what sealed the deal for me. Yes, it is a bit coming from a place of fear; I’ve seen cancer and heart disease up close and it is terrifying and if this nutrition can help prevent that then I am all for it. It’s such a simple solution towards disease prevention that i can’t not live my life this way. No food is worth risking my health and my vitality. Even in those moments at the grocery store or at a restaurant when the thought crosses my mind about how easy it would be to just eat whatever without giving it a second thought or without having to ask the server what’s in this or that, I always go back to the animals. It always pops up in my mind that there’s an animal suffering for this, for nothing and I just can’t do that, I just can’t contribute to that.

Being vegan is a personal choice and one that I am proud of. I’m not walking around all high and mighty thinking that I’m superior to others or scolding people who choose to eat animals. FYI, all of that stems from deep passion for animal welfare and empathy for these living creatures. Instead what I can hope for is that people are aware of what they are putting into their bodies, where it comes from and how it affects their lives. The ultimate goal is to do the best you can each day, that doesn’t mean being “perfect” because that doesn’t exist. Just bring your attention to what foods you are consuming and maybe consider the occasional Meatless Monday or swapping cow’s milk for almond milk in your coffee instead.

If you are ready to dig a little deeper into this and get on the right path towards nutrition check out this Summer Special going on for the month of July. Spaces are VERY limited so reserve your spot today!

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Nutrition, Wellness

Going Raw

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The raw food diet is something that I always thought was pretty intense. It’s essentially vegan to an entirely different level, where no food or beverage can be heated to anything higher than 118 degrees. I always thought that the “science” behind this diet was hokum, but I’m also a little intrigued too and since I’m now in my off-season this would be the perfect time to test out whether raw foodism could work for a bodybuilder.

Let’s get into the science behind this diet first. The idea here is that food in its natural state is the most nutrient dense and that heating anything above 118 degrees will destroy its enzymes and in turn its nutritional value. The emphasis here is obviously lots of fresh fruits and vegetables with some raw whole grains that can be soaked and eaten uncooked like oats or raw buckwheat along with raw (unroasted) nuts, nut butters and some cold pressed oils. A lot of recipes involve using a dehydrator, especially to try a create things like crackers, flatbreads or wraps and many also include a lot of nuts and therefore fats, especially with dessert recipes. The really hardcore version of this involves taking it up a notch by not using any dehydrator, food processor or blender (as the belief is that the machine will heat up the food to a certain extent and destroy the enzymes) also grains are avoided (even ones that are raw), but there’s lots of sea vegetables consumed and fats are a minimal part of your diet. So in this case you’re eating a ton of fresh produce; notice I said fresh here as freezing is also believed to damage nutrients. A few things that are also avoided in general with this diet is coffee, as the beans are roasted, and soy proteins such as tofu and tempeh, since the soy beans are cooked in the processing. So yeah it’s pretty restrictive, but I was willing to give it a shot.

I decided to embark on a temporary raw food diet for at least a day. I made sure that it was a rest day as I figured that my carb and protein intake might be slightly off making weight training a big challenge. I didn’t go hardcore version here so I did include some grains and dehydrated snack foods to keep it interesting. I tried out all kinds of fun stuff like buckwheat porridge where I combine ground buckwheat with almond milk, hemp seeds, fresh peach slices and macadamia nuts. I also treated myself to the most amazing kale chips (I swear they were awesome) store bought of course, and cocoa almond energy bites, along with the standard salads, fresh veg and fruit. What I was very pleased to discover was that raw nuts and nut butters have a nice sweet taste to them that we actually don’t get from the roasted versions. I definitely prefer raw here and will probably incorporate more of this into my diet as it was super good. I did notice that my eating was pretty sporadic during the day though; I wasn’t really paying attention to how long I was waiting between meals and snacks, but I was also not eating the entire portions of food in each sitting either. I stopped when I felt like I had had enough, but I still wound up overeating at times…needless to say, intuitive eating is not for me. I also noticed that I was not getting a big amount of protein here but that my fat content was higher than usual. The truth about protein is that the average person eats double the amount of protein that they actually need and then some, so protein deficiencies are non-existent. In my case though, as a bodybuilder with significant muscle mass, I could feel it and the added fats definitely felt pretty heavy even though it was delicious. Everything I ate was really good, but when I got home I was ready for some solid and warm food.

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That was Part 1 of my raw food adventure. Part 2 was a whole other story. I decided to embark on a 1 day juice fast. Yup, that’s right, no solid food only cold pressed juices for one day. I did my research ahead of time to see how to best prep for this and what to expect. In the days leading up to it I had cut out caffeine altogether started eating more raw fresh produce and slowly switched to cold meals like rice salads and overnight oats and also drinking lots of water. Obviously this juice cleanse would take place on a rest day over the weekend since I found that many claimed to have low energy levels while juicing. So I ordered my juices from a local shop and had them delivered to my home which was super convenient. Bare in mind that these cold pressed juices have all the pulp removed so they aren’t thick like a smoother and don’t have any fiber either. The thought behind a juice cleanse is that it’s easy to digest, it gives your body a break from trying to breakdown all of the foods that we eat, helps to remove and flush out toxins and hydrates you in the process. I’ve always been a bit weary of this because you’re body naturally detoxes itself via the liver (which is your body’s filter) and through excrement and sweating, so an actual detox isn’t really necessary. But I still wanted to give it a try. It actually was pretty good. The juices tasted really nice, I wasn’t starving or exhausted at all, I didn’t spend most of my day in the bathroom (as many people reported they had) and by the next day I had gotten rid of my post-contest bloat. I think the main benefit to this is to shed excess water weight and bloat but that’s pretty much it.

So there you have it, my raw food diet experiment was a semi-success. It was fun trying out new recipes and finding alternative treats at the grocery store, but long term I don’t think this will be a fulltime thing for me, especially during winter months. The thought of eating pineapple and raw almonds during a snow storm sounds pretty unappealing to me. During the warmer months I say bring it on! It is a great time to try out the local and seasonal produce and eating raw is very refreshing on a hot summer day. One thing we all know for sure is that we all need to eat more plants and less animal (whether dairy, fish, eggs or meat). Everyone needs more fiber, more micronutrients and less protein and dietary cholesterol which is only found in animal foods. This is the absolute truth, I guarantee you that no doctor will ever tell you to cut back on the veg, but they will tell you to cut back on the animal food, especially if you have an underlying health issue. So give raw food a chance, maybe not fulltime, but definitely through in some snacks like crudité or fruit and nuts, and have some raw meals too like overnight oats and all kinds of fun salads. Your abs, your digestive tract and your body will love you for it.

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