Nutrition, Wellness

Quality over quantity

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“Quality over quantity” is what we here all the time. When it comes to food we all know that the best quality groceries will not only nourish us but will impact our overall health and well being in the best ways. But we’re all still looking for a bargain and sometimes we compromise on quality to get the most bang for our buck.

I’ve certainly found myself standing in the grocery store looking at the conventional peanut butter vs the natural one and just feeling so irritated over the price difference. Now I know that the conventional stuff is loaded with sugar, fillers and trans fats and that the natural one just contains peanuts, but still, it’s annoying. Even though deep down it goes without question that the healthier stuff has far more nutritional value, sometimes it’s hard to rationalize forking over our extra hard earned dollars.

Could there be a happy medium where we could eat healthy without spending a fortune?

There are the standard tips that we can all implement to stay within budget. There’s couponing, checking store flyers and focusing on the discounted items only, buying seasonal produce, shopping the farmers market, buying in bulk or wholesale, and the list goes on. These are all great tactics, but it does require a lot of work, and that’s usually where we tend to drift off course. It’s perfectly natural to want the convenience and less expensive items in order to save time and money. A lot of this stuff though is unhealthy. Look at most granola bars, they are loaded with added sugar and fat. Even the ones marketed as healthy, natural and low calorie are just empty calories that don’t serve you.

Thankfully, there are some great and healthy solutions that could easily fit your budget. Meal delivery services are gaining popularity in every city and many offer vegan and gluten free solutions, along with meals and snacks that are customizable to your budget and taste preferences. There are also plenty of great alternatives to that and meal replacers that are super healthy and taste amazing. This is my personal preference these days. I found myself struggling to stay on track with my day to day. Meal prep, day job, training and coaching business was leaving me with no downtime and no quality time with my husband. One night I found myself scrambling to get everything prepped for the next day and I realized that there is a better way. I found a solution that meets my nutritional requirements, fits my budget and tastes great. Initially I was a bit hesitant, but then I realized that it’s not a purchase in addition to what I’m spending, it’s just a reallocation of my budget.

The moral of this story is to look at the bigger picture and maybe step back for a second and see if you can find something is both healthy and convenient and affordable. It is possible and it does exist. We can bridge the gap between quality food and affordable food and eat great food every day.

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Nutrition, Wellness

Eat what you want, when you want

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What do we really want? It’s simple actually: Eat what we when, when we want. Is it possible to do so and still be healthy? YES! Does it mean that you have to always focus on portion control and moderation? Nope. Allow me to explain…

I used to think that this concept was all about being able to eat junk food, dessert and big decadent meals all the time. Then it shifted towards eating tiny portions of decadent meals like in the books French Women Don’t Get Fat or Naturally Thin. I tried that out and it was short lived, that style of eating doesn’t work for me or most people for that matter. If it did, the obesity epidemic would not exist because we would be able to stop at one bite. Moderation is rough. What this really means is gaining a bit more self-awareness in order to better understand your cravings and taste preferences, and then eating accordingly.

Self-awareness might sound a bit new-agey, but when it comes to dieting, it really comes in handy. It basically helps you to move away from eating something just cause it’s there or just cause it’s a special occasion and to instead eat something because it’s what you really want.

A prime example that I can give you is my weekly treat. In the beginning I always overdid it and ate whatever junk food was available to me and then I’d end up feeling bloated, heavy and guilty. But now I think about what would really taste good to me and what I’m actually in the mood for and then I can just enjoy every bite without the guilt and then get on with my life.

Maybe instead of saying I want to eat what I want, when I want, we can shift towards I enjoy the foods that I really want, whenever I choose to. It’s so powerful when you are able to get to that space and genuinely enjoy food instead of just shoveling it down. You can look forward to your meals without feeling guilty afterward. Guilt is a huge component of this; how many times have you felt bad after overdoing it or going off-plan or cheating on your diet? It sucks and it can easily send the most disciplined person into a tailspin. So just eat what you really want but pay attention to the food and how it tastes and how you feel. In the beginning it might feel like you’re overthinking everything you eat because it’s a bit of a challenge to gauge your cravings and tastes at first. With time though, you’ll get into a good rhythm and soon enough it’ll just be second nature.

This isn’t to say that you should just eat whatever fatty foods are at your disposal, this all comes down to understanding what your body needs nutrient-wise, what your taste bud preferences are and combining the two to create awesome and delicious meals each day. This concept has led me to create countless healthy and delicious recipes like Pad Thai or Oat Flour Waffles or Protein Brownies. Yes, nutrient rich foods are the baseline for good health and they’re an absolute necessity, but you can still make them taste great. So tune in to your preferences and eat real foods that will nourish you, fuel you and satisfy you everyday.

Nutrition, Wellness

The Scarcity Diet

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What’s the most common thing that people do right before going on a diet? Binge eat. That’s right, when most of us decide that it’s time to take control of our health we also decide to go all out for one last hurrah. The thinking here is that you will never get to eat these things ever again so you might as well enjoy it while you still can. This is the scarcity mindset and it is the most counterproductive thing that you can do that will ultimately sabotage your resolve before you even get started.

Most of us equate dieting with deprivation and restriction. We see it as a fad that is totally ineffective in the long run, and yet we still get on board. Billions of dollars are spent every year in the diet and fitness industry and so many of us embark on this journey with the best intentions, while subconsciously feeling skeptical. This thinking is all based on past experiences where it was really hard or too intense and restrictive or it cost a fortune and you just didn’t get the results you wanted, or someone close to you experienced these things. As the saying goes “everybody’s got a story” and this case is no different. Whether you’re aware of it or not, these issues dictate your entire experience and outcome.

When we choose to overeat leading up to a new diet plan we’re already in that state of mind where we’re thinking that this is it and we’ll never get to eat anything tasty again. So instead of being upper jazzed up about starting something healthy, we’re going into it kinda bummed out, thinking that this is going to totally suck. Mindset really is the key to long lasting change and continuous progress. Your willpower alone will not get you there, otherwise you’d already be a size 4 with a 6-pack of abs! If you at any point feel restricted or feel that sense of food scarcity, the diet will fail you.

All of this doesn’t mean that you’ll never reach your goal, because countless people have turned their lives around and kept the weight off. In order for this to work, you have to truly want to do this and have to fully believe that you will succeed. Understand that it will take work on your part and make peace with that, but keep your eye on the prize and focus on that vision of constant progress towards a lifetime of great health.

Another key component to getting your mind right is to not plan too far in advance. For example, many people during the holidays decided that starting in the new year they are going to finally start exercising and losing weight. The problem is that in this case you are relying on the timing being perfect in terms of not having events to go to where there will be decadent food at your disposal. However, there will always be holidays, gatherings, work events, dinners, luncheons, cocktail hours and all kinds of other social events that will occur and that you will take part in. That stuff doesn’t just end. So waiting for the time to be just right is actually never going to happen. What are you going to do come Easter or come your birthday or vacation or girls night out? Stop waiting and start doing. Start right now and go at a pace that works for you. ease yourself into it by slowly incorporating healthy habits into your life as it is at this moment. Go to bed a little early (even if it’s just 5 minutes earlier), have a glass of water when you get out of bed (before you start knocking back the coffee), walk up the escalator, add a little more veg to your dinner. Simplicity is your best friend for lasting change.

Instead of the all or nothing approach, look at what you have right in front of you and start to make some simple changes. This has been huge for me and it is exactly what has prevented me from getting into that scarcity mindset. In the past, I’ve gone ahead and stuffed myself before any new regiment, but last year I started approaching it differently and I continue to do so. It’s what has gotten me through 3 contest preps and my first photoshoot prep as well and has allowed me to maintain my results after the fact. Keep in mind that there will always be an abundance of food and food-related social gatherings in your life, so there is no need to eat everything just because it’s there or just because this may be your only time to try it. eat the food that actually looks good to you and that you know tastes great. And most of all, eat when you’re hungry (not starving!), when you’re full just stop or slow it down and pack up the leftovers for another time.

Nutrition, Recipes

Healthy Donuts!!!

I love donuts so much! But we all know that the store bought conventional donuts are in now way healthy. It’s loaded with sugar and fat, and of course tasty goodness. In the last few years of my fitness journey, I’ve been tinkering around with all kinds of ingredients to find just the right balance between nourishing and delicious. Well, I found that recipe and I am thrilled to share it with you!

Sour Dough Donuts

Serves 6

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Ingredients:

2 cups oat flour

1/3 cup coconut flour

6 tablespoons ground coconut

2 teaspoons stevia

1 teaspoon ground flaxseeds

½ teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

½ cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a donut pan with non-stick cooking spray
  2. In a small bowl, combine milk and vinegar. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl combine the remaining ingredients, then add in the milk and vinegar mix. Stir to combine. *If too dry add water 1 tablespoon at a time until a thick batter forms.
  4. Portion out the batter evenly into the donut pan to six donuts.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, rotate pan halfway through. Let cool completely before serving.
  6. *Can be stored in the freezer for 3 weeks

Enjoy!

If you love this recipe and what more meal and snack ideas like this one, be sure to check out my Recipe Collection here. You’ll find 25 delicious recipes for every goal and craving!

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

Contest Prep, Nutrition, Recipes

The Final Cut

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Fat loss and dieting down can be a huge challenge for anybody. With only 9 days left until show day, I am down to the wire and getting to the last phase of losing whatever last bit of body fat I can before I hit the stage. Here I’ll share what a full day of meals looks like for me and a few last minute tricks that help my body get lean while staying strong.

Meal 1

My first meal of the day also serves as my post-fasted cardio meal and it’s high protein, low carb with a little bit of added fat.

What you see above is 3 oz of tempeh, 1 cup baby spinach with 1 TB of coconut oil, plus 1 scoop of brown rice protein powder. Tempeh (fermented soy beans) serves as a great source of protein as it contains probiotics and fiber. The brown rice powder is also ideal as it’s easy to digest and has the same amino acid profile as a whole egg. I choose spinach as my veggie for this meal as it contains lots of fiber and iron (*I always drizzle some lemon juice with this to increase my body’s ability to absorb the iron). Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides which are (again) easy to digest, go directly to the liver and are ultimately used by the body as fuel instead of being stored as body fat.

Meal 2

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This meal is composed of 4 oz of extra firm tofu and 1 cup of veg. In this case I opt for mixed greens drizzled with lemon juice and top the sautéed tofu with yellow mustard for added flavour.

Meal 3

This serves as my pre-weight training meal and is 1 of 2 meals that I am able to lightly salt and have a small serving of starch. For this one I take in another scoop of brown rice protein, 2 oz of steamed sweet potato and 1 cup of the dreaded steamed asparagus. The tiny amount of added carbs for this meal is an absolute must for me to be able to crush my workout every day and the asparagus is a great natural diuretic that serves as a staple for every bodybuilder. I usually will combine the powder with mashed sweet potato and cinnamon to create a sweet tasting protein pudding mix that goes nicely with my pre-workout strong-ass cup of coffee; for an added boost.

Meal 4

My post-workout meal contains yet another cup of the dreaded asparagus, lightly salted, along with another 2 oz of sweet potato and 4 oz of tofu. I’ve become very creative with this meal in particular as I started to notice that I was always wanting something sweet post-workout. So I blend the tofu and sweet potato together and add a bit of stevia, cinnamon and water to create a my contest prep friendly cheesecake. It may sound odd but it’s amazing. It satisfies my sweet tooth, keeps cravings to a minimum, while allowing me to maximize my recovery with solid nutrition.

Meal 5

I don’t really enjoy this meal to be honest. No matter how I try to tinker with the flavor profile or method of cooking, it’s just boring and pretty bland to be honest. I eat 4 oz of tempeh with 2 cups of veg; usually either spinach or mixed greens. I season with lemon juice (also a diuretic) and hot sauce (great for fat burning and jacking up the metabolism as it contains capsaicin). Like I said though, it’s not that great but at least it’s filling.

Meal 6

This one I love! I take one scoop of a plant based blend of protein powder with another scoop of brown rice powder and combine with water to create a pudding. Then I add 1 tsp of melted coconut oil and stir to combine. It’s soooooo good. I love it so much. There’s something really wonderful about sitting in my jammies in front of the tv before bed, watching a sitcom while eating a creamy and sweet late night snack. The protein combined with the coconut oil makes for a slow digesting meal that is ideal for my body to digest overnight while getting a good night’s sleep.

So that’s that. Six meals each day, spaced every 2-3 hours apart to deliver constant fuel and nourishment. In terms of my water consumption, thankfully I’m only having 4 litres a day, as opposed to the 6 litres I was having in my last prep. My supplements haven’t changed except that I’ve added a fat burner in the last few weeks to help ease my body into continuous fat loss, but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s short term use only. You may have also noticed that I’ve cut out the cruciferous veg at this point and it’s for a good reason. Things like brocoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts tend to cause bloating, so instead I stick with the non-bloaty stuff like mixed greens, spinach and stupid asparagus.

After 4 months of prep and training, I’m down to the last 9 days. I’m so excited to get back on stage again! Next up is peak week which means lots of posing practice, water manipulation and carb-loading. Some find peak week to be the toughest part, but I see it as the final chapter before the fun part.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Wellness

Now What?

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Just over a month ago I completed a 12 week fitness challenge which involved following a specific nutrition program and workout schedule. The entire experience was both great and difficult; I saw big changes in my body composition, increased strength and some serious muscle definition by the end. Once the challenge ended though, I was left thinking “Now what?”. So today I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at what to do once you reach a big goal and how to plan out your next steps.

I’d like to start off by sharing what the last month has looked like for me since the challenge ended. As this was a 12 week program that involved working out 5-6 days per week, it was recommended that we take a full week off from working out which I did. This is a habit that I had incorporated in the last few years and that I completely agree with, but the only problem is that I always feel totally bloated during that week off no matter what I do. Another unfortunate thing that I realized was that as soon as the 12 weeks were up, I started noticing that everyone around me was under the impression that since it was over I would just go back to the same eating habits that I had before. Suddenly, anytime I was invited out for lunch it was always for either fast food or something that was a little extra starchy than I was used to during the challenge, and anytime I’d be invited over to someone’s home, the food although delicious was a little extra decadent. So instead of one treat meal per week it wound up being more like three or four, in which I ended up just feeling heavy and really full. Although I appreciate the nice gestures and I don’t want to seem impolite, I also don’t want all of my hard work to go to waste either (it’s quite the conundrum). In terms of exercise, I went back to a four day weight training split with one day of either hot yoga or cardio each week. Again, this has unfortunately become a bit inconsistent as October has proven to be an excessively busy month in terms of evening work events, personal commitments and social gatherings, leaving some weeks with only 3 days worked out no matter how much I tried to schedule it in. On top of all of that, for the last week I have been fighting one of the worst colds of my life that has left me practically bedridden, incoherent and sleep deprived. Thankfully I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and am finally feeling my symptoms going away.

Now, I’m not saying all of this to complain or trying to make it out like everyone is against me because I know that’s not the case at all. What I am saying is that sometimes things get in the way and interfere with our intentions no matter what we do, but we are all in control of our own lives and the decisions we take to be healthy. For example, I could have easily said no thank you to the fast food and deserts and offered up a health alternative instead, likewise for bringing a healthy dish to someone else’s home whenever invited (it’s not only good for you, but it’s also the polite thing to do). My point is that since completing this challenge my biggest issue has been poor planning, so let’s take a look at some simple strategies to consider after reaching a big fitness goal in order to maintain the hard earned results and maybe even take it a step further.

Maintenance is probably the most difficult part of any regiment, that’s why diets in general don’t work or last; most people will gain some or all of their weight back and will lose some muscle definition. You get the body you’ve always wanted and maybe start thinking or hearing from others “One bite won’t hurt” or “A cookie isn’t going to change anything”. But when one bite leads two and three and so on, and this continues everyday it will add up and it will affect your body. So the number one priority when it comes to maintenance is staying on track with your nutrition; keep your meals clean as in no added sugar, eating every 2-3 hours, no more than 1 treat meal per week. Focus on lots of non-starchy veggies (this should fill up the bulk of your plate), lean protein, some healthy fats (small handful of nuts once a day or a tablespoon of olive when cooking) and whole grains. Try to focus on keeping your blood sugar steady throughout the day, meaning that it’s not the best idea to have a bagel at breakfast or a bucket of spaghetti at dinner, instead have 1 serving of whole grains at each meal if that. Your total carbohydrates should account for about 40% of your daily dietary calories, but remember that vegetables are a carb, as are beans, legumes and fruit so these do add up. Think about volumetrics in that you can eat either a mountain of veggies or ½ cup quinoa, frankly I’d rather load up and take an hour to get through a mountain of food than a tiny sad portion of a complex carb. If you’re not sure how much you should be eating overall or what your macronutrient breakdown should be, than take some time out to calculate it and portion out your meals and snacks accordingly. Be careful of your total calorie count as well, don’t ever go below 1800 per day otherwise you’ll be losing muscle before you lose fat which is a big no-no. When you do go out to eat choose the best option you can and don’t be afraid to eat a veggie burger without the bun and order a salad instead of fries; at the end of the day it’s your body and you’re life so whatever other people may think of you and your regiment is their problem not yours, don’t let yourself be swayed by anyone. Always offer to bring something when invited to someone’s home for a meal and do your best to keep it clean without imposing on others.

For your workout regiment, try to take your current schedule into consideration when making your plan and go with what’s easiest for you. Weight training will definitely have the biggest impact on your body composition so aim for at least 3-4 days of weights per week. In terms of cardio 1-2 days per week minimum is a good way to go, and if you can squeeze it in on an extra day then go for it, just be mindful of how much rest you are getting and if you feel too tired or rundown then stick to the minimum only. Try to have at least one workout day per week where you try something that’s fun and enjoyable without being overly strenuous; I love taking ballet classes, hot yoga or going for a hike in a wooded area. Another great trick to always keep in mind is to always change up your routine every 3-4 weeks by either changing exercises, increasing the amount of weight that you lift or even just changing your grip on the weights themselves so as to avoid hitting a plateau. If ever you’re stumped for new ideas there are plenty of websites that offer great workout ideas, sample plans and how-to explanations.

Try to keep challenging yourself no matter where you’re at in terms of your physique; there’s always room for growth and improvement. If you’ve recently lost a lot of weight, then consider gaining muscle as your next goal, or if you’ve gained a lot of mass, then maybe try leaning out for fat loss. Once you reach a goal, acknowledge it, celebrate it and then set another one, this is a great way to keep you at your best. My next goal is to continue to build more muscle by increasing the weight that I lift a little bit each week. For those particularly busy weeks where I won’t be able to fit it a 40 minutes weight training session after work, I will instead opt for a 20 minute total body workout mixing cardio with body weight training before going to work. I also want to focus on more mindfulness and meditation as well, so going forward each morning I will set aside 15 minutes for a guided meditation to set the tone for the day and help me better appreciate being present. In terms of nutrition, I liked the plan that I had followed during the challenge; it fueled me for the intense workouts and I felt very well-nourished so I will be going back to that plan, but allowing for 1 treat meal per week. Whatever you decide to do be sure to tell others about this as it will hold you accountable and help you stay with your goal for the long haul. So for everybody reading this, hear me now: As much as I appreciate it (and I really do) please stop buying me junk food and taking me out for fast food, or if you do beware that I will most likely not be eating the bread on my sandwich or the fries on plate, this stuff just doesn’t make me feel good. Okay, your turn … make your goal and spread the word, accountability is key!

Start It, Finish It