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

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!

Start Strong, Finish Strong

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.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

P.S. Remember to sign up for your 1 on 1 Nutritional Awareness coaching session. This special offer is only available for the month of July and spaces are extremely limited so book your spot today by checking out the link below!

Summer Special – Nutritional Awareness Session

 

Contest Prep, Wellness

Peak Week Pain Points

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Once again I have made it to Peak Week. It is the culmination of the entire contest prep process; from mass gaining all the way through to fat loss/cutting, this is the week where one’s physique is in it’s prime condition. This is the most exciting week of the entire experience, but it also tends to be the toughest too. After weeks and months of training, some may run out of steam right at the end because they went too hard for too long, while others breeze through with a big smile on their face. Either way, this final week of prep involves lots of adjustments and commitments, both big and small.

For me, this marks my third peak week leading to the biggest competition to date: Provincial Championships, where the top 5 in each height class move on to Nationals with a chance to earn their coveted IFBB Pro Card. Many of my fellow competitors will involve ladies who have been training and competing for many years, who qualified well over a year ago and/or have had a long time dedicated to their prep. In my case, I qualified only 6 weeks earlier at the Provincial Open placing 4th in my height class. On the plus side, seeing that I was already in peak condition at 6 weeks out meant that I wouldn’t have too much work ahead of me in terms of dieting down or trying to pack on extra mass. Ultimately this short prep was different from my first two in that I was able to maintain my physique while having shorter workouts and enjoying a higher amount of carbohydrates and still seeing great results each week.

Then there came the “problems” or “challenges”. At 3 weeks out I started a new full time job (yay!). Unfortunately my office is far from home and the gym, giving me a pretty sizeable commute each day (2 hours total). This also meant that fasted cardio would be a big challenge. Instead of getting up at my leisure each morning and taking my time before heading out for a run, I now have to get up SUPER early (usually as the sun is rising) and head out the door about 20 minutes after crawling out of bed. Even with my pre-workout supps, I still feel tired and I am definitely running at a much slower pace than usual. Then I rush back home for a couple minutes of stretching, get ready for work and run out to catch the bus. After a full work day, it’s back on public transport to the gym for some serious weightlifting. By the I get home I’ve had about a 14 hour day including my workouts and transport. Needless to say, I’m wiped! The first week was intense because that was the biggest adjustment, especially with sleep. Truth be told, my solution was to just drink more coffee, which helped in the short term, but by the end of the week I started feeling the negative side effects. Too much caffeine can cause insomnia and irritability, all of which I experienced a few days into the week. Not only was I having a bit of information overload, but I was also getting way too much stimulation without any quiet downtime that I so craved. So that first weekend, I completely cut out caffeine and switched to some soothing chamomile tea instead and took some time out to listen to a few podcasts on wellness and do some quiet meditation. At 2 weeks out, I kept the caffeine intake reasonable and only having coffee pre-workout even if I started yawning midday; I definitely felt better. I started to get into a groove with my new routine, started running at my usual pace and got my energy levels back up. I also started to appreciate the early morning jogs; there’s hardly anyone out, the sun is shining and my route goes through this beautiful bike path with lots of greenery and trees. A definite positive shift in energy by week two.

Here comes the really hard part. For peak week, I’m traveling. I’ll be spending the week at a hot and sunny spot, which sounds all nice and good, but the timing is a huge problem. First of all, my flights are super early in the morning so I’ll be getting up well before the sunrise. Secondly, a plant-based contest prep diet is hard to manage while flying, options are limited so I have to be super prepared and since I’m flying international there’s no way for me to prep meals in advance. The best I can do is bring along individual packs of protein powder with some brown rice cakes, and pick up some kind of veg at the airport. Now I can’t just have any kind of salad because these always have added fats, marinades and sugars, so I’ll have to settle for the non-starchy dressing on the side type of foods. The key here is to write down everything that I eat to keep track of macros throughout the day so that I’m not missing any nutrients. Another factor is water intake. Air travel causes dehydration and bloating, which isn’t a big deal for the departure, but coming back home is a major concern (I’ll get to that shortly). Thankfully I’ll be staying in a spot with a full kitchen ad access to groceries, so sticking with my nutrition is no problem. There’s also a gym nearby, so workouts can easily be done.

You may be thinking “well, at least you’ll get to soak up some sun on the beach”…NOPE! In the 3 weeks leading up to any competition you have to avoid the sun. That’s right, I’m going to the beach but have to completely avoid all contact with the sunshine at all times. Why? Because in the sun we tan, and tan-lines cannot be covered by the spraytan on showday. No matter how hard the spraytan company may try, any difference in skin tone or color cannot be covered and evened out by the spray and I’m sure you’ll remember that my posing suit is not like a regular bikini; it’s a lot smaller and sits on the body far differently than what you see on the beach. God help you if you get sunburnt because you won’t be able to compete at all; any kind of skin irritation or redness will only be accentuated by the spraytan. So I’ll be walking around in massive heat, completely covered from head to toe with a big giant hat at all times, even if I go into the ocean. Oh, and did I mention that three days into the trip I have to stop wearing deodorant? The chemicals in deodorant turn the spraytan green and nobody wants to see moldy looking armpits.

The flight home is a whole other animal altogether. Once again, I leave early in the morning, but it also happens to fall on the day that I start my carb load and water manipulation. I’m going to be running the risk of bloating due to air travel (a big no-no). Plus in a carb load we cut all vegetables and fats, so I’ll be pretty limited to what I can eat. Again, writing everything that I eat and drink down will be the key to staying on track. Worse case scenario it’ll all protein powder and rice cakes until I get home and then I’ll eat the standard tempeh, sweet potatoes and white rice. When I do finally make it home I have to do a full workout and pre-contest beauty prep (hair stuff, mani-pedi, etc.) and pack for the contest weekend. Busy, busy.

Now this show is different in that registration for my class which usually takes place 1 day out at around 1pm is now going to be at 10:30 am, and it’s not close to home. So once again, I’ll have to get up super early for a light workout, skin prep and probably get stuck in traffic on my way there. Thankfully I will be staying at the host hotel so I’ll be able to drop my stuff and have a few hours to kill before the athlete’s meeting and my spraytan. I will be taking the opportunity to go to the hair salon and enjoy a little bit of pampering and then hopefully have enough time for an afternoon nap in my room.

The game plan for showday is nothing different (hair, makeup in the morning followed by pre-judging), but…finals is way later in the night. Usually finals would start around 1pm, this time though it starts at 6pm, so there will be at least a 5 hour gap in between. So I caved and reserved my hotel room for an extra night (since check out is at 3pm)  that way I can take a nap in between, which I’m sure I’ll need and I can stay over night if the show finishes late, which for sure it will. Finals usually lasts about 4 hours, so we won’t be out of there before 10pm. It’s an added expense, but a necessary one.

It’s gonna be an exhausting week and if you haven’t already figured out by now, I’m felling fairly stressed out over this. Stressed over the travels, stressed over the timing and planning, and stressed over how tired I know I will feel throughout the entire week. I am, however, trying to focus on the bright side. If while away I feel tired, I will sleep and if I feel overwhelmed or overstimulated, I’ll take some quiet time away from everyone to get centered again. This may not the ideal time to travel, but I know I’ll still enjoy myself even if I’m not the norm and am pretty unconventional. This trip will still give me the chance to spend some quality time with my family, maybe take an evening stroll on the beach with my husband and hopefully move at a slower pace than usual. It’ll give me the chance to slow down and get some relaxation time in while connecting with loved ones Like everything else, the key to success is to work around what you already have in place and tailor your approach to that. In my case, maintaining a positive mindset throughout, by focusing on gratitude and the progress of this particular journey to the stage, is what will ultimately allow this to remain a positive learning and growing experience.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

 

Contest Prep, Nutrition, Wellness

Eating Enough

There is one concept that seems to evade so many people. In fact, it is most likely one of the main reasons why so many struggle to get in shape, lose weight and keep it off for good. What is this mystery concept you ask? Eating enough. That’s right, for most eating enough and losing weight just don’t mix, which is why we still believe that diet equates calorie restriction and deficit.

The old theory of calories in, calories out isn’t as clear cut as you may think. Actually calculating how many calories you burn in a day is almost impossible, even if you have wearable tech (for example a Fitbit) because it doesn’t take into account your resting metabolic rate, stress levels, hormone fluctuations, etc. So trying to figure out the right amount of calories to take in is equally as challenging. Some say 1500 calories for others it’s 1200 and so on. It’s pretty confusing. Truth be told, there is no one size fits all for calories, but if you are looking to lose weight or if you have ever tries to in the past, chances are you’re not eating enough. You still have to support your body’s basic requirements to function and if you drop calories too low your body is going to tell your brain that it is starving and it will hold on to whatever bodyfat it can no matter how hard you workout or how low you drop your carb intake.

The reactions that I get when it comes to my regiment and my nutrition is usually surprise followed by slight disbelief and “Yeah, right” look in the other persons eyes. Others are always surprised to hear that I eat 6 to 7 meals each day and with that surprise assume that it’s a tiny miny portioned sized “meal”, which could not be further from the truth. I even get asked “Yeah, but how many of those so called meals are just protein shakes mixed with water?”. The answer is zero FYI. Yes, I do consume protein powder, but it’s always paired with additional food otherwise it wouldn’t be filling enough. I eat for volume and I like to feel full no matter where I’m at in my training.

To help shed a little light on this, here is what a typical day of eating looks like at 4 weeks away from the Provincial Championship.

Meal 1

 

A combo of carbs and protein is perfect for my post-fasted cardio meal. I opt for 1/4c dry measure of a whole grain with a 30g scoop of brown rice protein powder and 1/4c of blueberries. Anytime I go for something sweet I always spice it up with cinnamon and a pinch of turmeric (it’s an anti-inflammatory). My 2 fave ways to prep this meal is to combine the ingredients to make either a Brown Rice Bowl (as shown on left) or a Mug Cake (on the right). Delish!

Meal 2

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For this meal I always go for 4 oz of either tofu or tempeh with 1 cup of veg…and everything is smothered in mustard and hot sauce.

Meal 3

This serves as my pre-weight training meal which I’ll have about an hour before hitting the gym with a giant cup of coffee instead of a pre-workout supplement. This meal is sweet and combines 1 scoop of brown rice protein powder with 3 oz of mashed sweet potatoes with (again) cinnamon and turmeric. It’s kind of like a protein pudding with some extra carbs to fuel me up for some heavy lifting.

Meal 4

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My post-workout meal is eaten 45 minutes after my gym session is done. I always opt for white rice (which I love!) and 3 oz of this high protein bread (recipe courtesy of my coach) made from wheat gluten. It is so nice to eat bread every day when in contest prep. You may have noticed that most post-workout meals contain fast digesting carbs (like white rice). The reason for that is because whenever you exercise your body releases cortisol (the stress hormone), but this is a good thing as it is what allows you to push hard when you train. After you’re done, the sugars in carbohydrates are what help bring your cortisol levels back down to a stable amount.

Meal 5

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This one is probably my favorite. 1/2c black beans, 2 cups of sautéed spinach with hot sauce and 1 TB coconut oil is a great combo. The great thing is that on Mondays and Fridays (when I train legs) I get to up my carbs for this meal and add 3 oz of sweet potatoes, since I’m lifting heavier. The bigger the muscle, the heavier you can lift, the more recovery fuel (i.e. food) your body needs. So twice a week I like to mix things up a bit and use my ingredients to make brownies!

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Meal 6

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This is a quazi-oatmeal type of meal. Since I want to keep protein high at my last meal of the day, instead of using actual oats I use what’s called texturized vegetable protein (TVP). TVP is great because it’s a blank canvas and it takes on whatever flavours you add to it. Obviously I want this to be sweet so I go for 1/4c dry measure, with shredded zucchini (for volume), 2 TB of powdered peanut butter and 1/2 tsp of stevia. Surprisingly good.

Even though I’m less than 1 month away from show day, I still get to enjoy a once weekly refeed meal. Let me be clear though, a refeed meal is not a cheat meal. A refeed is like a carb load where you eat high carb, moderate protein and the least amount of fat possible (no fats are added to this meal). If I want something savory I’ll go for pasta, but I make the sauce myself so that there’s no oil added to it. usually though, I prefer sweet and I recently created and devoured this cereal treat. I found a brown rice cereal and vegan marshmallows (made from cassava instead of gelatin). It was SUPER amazing!

So there you have it. As you can see I don’t “eat like a bird” and neither should you. Food is fuel so nourish yourself and eat to live. Give yourself the energy you need by eating enough each day, regardless of your goals. Don’t worry about the calories, because chances are, you’re probably not eating enough as is. Focus on quality ingredients and balanced meals to support you, your workouts and your health.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness

The Skinny Complex

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I remember from a young age and even today being praised for being tiny and skinny. I remember standing in my bedroom at 6 years old and knowing how much I weighed and that it was a good thing that the number was so small. I remember being a teenager and a relative of mine stood next to me and said to our family “Look how small Denise is, she’s half my size!”. I remember this past summer, running into a friend after I had just gone for a jog and her saying to me “Oh my God, you’re so nice and skinny, it’s amazing”. I thought that things were shifting, that people were starting to see health before skinny, that the focus was on taking care of yourself instead of losing weight. I was completely wrong. Nothing has changed. People are still obsessed with being skinny. The more time goes by, the more I think that it’s getting worse.

At every family gathering, the conversation always shifts to losing weight regardless of what else is going on in our lives, it always goes back to being thin. I even had one relative ask me for advice when she mentioned that her biggest issue was that she gets so busy during the day, she forgets to eat and then goes home and overeats. Before I share my response, I would like to say this : HOW CAN ANYONE FORGET TO EAT?! Seriously!!!! I have never forgotten to eat; it is a concept so foreign to me. But I guess it does happen so I suggested that she pack a little something ahead of time that she can toss in her purse as a snack or buy something like individual prepackaged unsalted nuts or fresh cut fruit and leave them in the fridge at her office. Well, it was in one ear and out the other, she had this glazed over look in her eye and instantly responded with “well, that would mean that I’d have to be organized which I am not”. If that’s what you truly think of yourself and what you say to yourself, then that’s exactly what you’ll be. What you’re really saying is that you’re too lazing to eat right. That’s the bottom line, it’s harsh, but the truth hurts. Needless to say, the conversation went right back to losing weight. No mention of health or wellness or nutrition, it was all about the number on the scale dropping.

For some reason people always feel the need to point out when someone is skinny or eating healthy. It’s always such a big deal. A prime example was when I went out to dinner with some friends and the only plant based option on the menu was a salad, so that’s what I ordered. Out of the 9 of us, each one of the ladies at one point or another during the evening would say “Denise, you must be starving!”. This happened non-stop throughout  the night. No matter how many times I repeated that I was good because I eat every 2 hours anyway so I was perfectly fine, they kept on making a fuss over my meal and pointing out that I was eating light. It’s not as if I was sitting there staring at everyone else’s plates and salivating, or saying “that looks so good, I wish I could eat that!” That wasn’t the case at all, trust me when I say that I was really very much good with my salad. Finally towards the end of the night after my trying to no avail to convince my group that I wasn’t depriving myself of nourishment, one friend turned to me and said “I think we are making a bigger deal out of this than it actually is”. Yes, yes you were.

I like to think that when people say things or point things out that it’s coming from a place of love and concern, but really it’s not. If anything, it’s coming from a place of discomfort. People are genuinely uncomfortable eating with someone who is choosing a lighter option when they are eating something a bit more decadent. At this point it’s happened so many times that it no longer surprises me. I’ve heard it all. The saddest one was when after enjoying a big dinner, I had turned desert because I was stuffed and the back-handed response I received was “well, you’ve become very reasonable haven’t you?” This was coming from a person who admitted to hiding in the kitchen and stuffing their face with cookies when their mother had passed away just minutes before. It’s tragic, it’s suffering. I’m sad for this person because I know that they are hurting, but that at this point they’ve given up on themselves, and yet they still feel the need to point out that my husband and I are always reasonable when it comes to eating habits and always says it with a touch of disdain.

Another aspect of The Skinny Complex is self-deprication. A few days ago a friend of mine pointed out that the ladies in her family who appear to be slim always point out that they’ve gained a few pounds, or need to work on their tummy or love handles or try to get rid of their muffin top. These ladies unfortunately feel the need to point it out and claim that they have these so-called flaws. Why are these flaws? Why do we need to point them out? Self-deprication is just a way of protecting yourself, by pointing out what you think is wrong with you before anyone else might. First of all, nobody notices this stuff on other people because they are so busy thinking about themselves and their own “flaws”. Think about it: Do you seek out the cellulite on other women? Do you stare at woman’s midsection if she doesn’t have a six pack of abs? My guess is that you don’t, I know that I don’t and when I realized this, I realized how ridiculous we can all be. The negative self-talk isn’t something that you would say to anyone else, ever.

This obsession is so intense, being skinny seems to be on everyone’s mind all the time, whether they realize it or not. The comments I’ve heard, the conversations I’ve had, the back-handed snarky remarks thrown at me are all just projections of other peoples issues. A person’s size has nothing to do with anything whatsoever. Being a certain dress size is not an accomplishment at all and it doesn’t deserve to be praised in any way. Just because someone may appear slim doesn’t mean that they are healthy and it certainly doesn’t mean that they’ve done something so miraculous that it needs to be pointed out. An accomplishment in terms of physique would be someone who decides to become healthier by becoming more active or starting to eat more whole foods and balanced meals. Dress size has nothing to do with it, looks have nothing to do with it. Focus on health above anything else, because it’s everything. When you’re health is not 100% everything stops, priorities shift and suddenly the number on the scale or those emails that you just have to respond to or that Instagram post that you just have to put up no longer matter.

Those comments that I heard when I was younger could have been so damaging and dangerous to me; I couldn’t become terribly sick as a result of that. The reason why I didn’t was honestly because I have always enjoyed exercising, I’m terrible at sports, but working out has always been fun. Everything from doing workout videos with my mom in our basement to taking up jogging with my dad and then weightlifting in recent years with my husband. Being exposed to that from an early age helped me understand and become aware of health above size. Everything that I’ve done in terms of nutrition, diet, weight loss and workouts have always been driven by my wanting to be as healthy as possible, not as thin as possible.

The next time you catch yourself pointing out someone else’s meal or size or anything of that sort, stop before you speak and think about why you are saying this. Remember that this is only you projecting some insecurity onto someone else and keep in mind that it may even impact that other person in a negative way (especially if they are young). Just focus on yourself and your well being, instead of how everyone else looks compared to you. Stop the cycle, stop hurting yourself and please start recognizing that skinny is not something to be praised or celebrated. Being physically active, eating a well balanced diet, maintaining a healthy body are what should be celebrated and considered inspiring. Be the best you every day, eat to live and be well.

Start Strong, Finish Strong