Contest Prep, Fitness, Nutrition

The Rebound

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Rebounding is just one of those things… after you reach a goal weight or successfully complete a contest prep, the rebound that follows seems to be the natural part of the process. Or is it? What I it were possible to lose weight and actually keep it off for good and maintain your body weight while maybe even improving your body’s composition? And, dare I say, what if you could be stage ready year round? OMG right? There are some things that can be done to make this happen and these mostly come down to one massive concept: mindset.

Mindset is a very tricky thing because it can be used for some really positive things, but it can also stop you right in your tracks without even being aware that you are part of the problem. Losing weight is the perfect example as you have a specific goal in mind, a magical number to reach on the scale or by dress size. that becomes your focus and seeps into all aspects of your life in that you are always mindful of the quality and quantity of food that you are choosing to consume each day and how it will affect your results. The problem usually kicks in after you’ve reached your goal when one of two things happens: either you went too low in calories and/or certain macros for too long, or there is no follow through or maintenance plan in place to help you, well, maintain your physique. Either way your mindset will take a hit once you surpassed your goal. Sometimes it can be by rewarding yourself or celebrating your achievement with food which can lead to a binge that lasts several days, and sometimes it can be the fact that you no longer have a super specific goal to keep you on track and you’re just lost.

One very popular concept floating around, but very rarely being practiced is moderation. So many of us want balance, we want to be able to enjoy foods, eat what we want when we want it. I’ve heard countless say “everything in moderation is key” or “the 80/20 rule is the way to go”, I’ve tried these things and they don’t work and not just for me but for pretty much everybody. Why? because moderation is REALLY hard, much harder than losing weight and cutting out certain foods altogether. The hard truth is that most of us can’t stop at just one or two bites, no matter how well intentioned we are we just don’t have the will power. I can absolutely attest to this. I know that when I taste something really decadent, I am all in and I will eat the entire box of cookies or pizza or mac n cheese (all vegan versions of course, animal based would make me sick!). As much as I wish I could be the type of person that has just a taste and moves on, I’m not and most people are exactly like me. As I mentioned, it can lead to a full on cheat day or binge that can massively impact not only how you look, but your health as well. When you diet down and lose body fat, your metabolism becomes very sensitive and so a sudden increase in calories especial from fat combined with simple carbohydrates will cause an increase in body fat and will ultimately impact your cardiac health too.

Another important factor in all of this is the fact that as humans we are physiologically hard wired to survive no matter what. When we lose weight or try to, our bodies signals to our brains that we may starve, so the next time you do indulge or everything in you is pushing you to eat, eat and eat. This is why it sometimes feels as if we lose control when eating or as if our bodies are trying to fight us. Our bodies aren’t actually fighting us, they are trying to protect us from starvation and ultimately death. That’s all it is, it’s not because we lack self-control or we are weak, it’s just cause we’re all made that way. Again, this is why moderation very seldom works.

This is why so many bodybuilders pack on weight in the week following a show. Everybody has a victory meal; it’s part of the contest process and part of the culture. Most athletes have been low carb and without a treat meal for so long that it’s all they can think about during peak week, so when the show is over they go nuts. I’ve seen people step off stage and run directly to their coach or family member who is waiting for them with a box of donuts. I can understand why and I certainly engage in the victory meal, but I also know that I’m not gonna feel great right after either. I get bloated and heartburn, it’s not good. In the days following the competition, my muscle definition drops and my six pack of abs starts to fade away along with my spraytan. Now most of this is because I rehydrate and so everything plumps up, but some of it is also body fat. If one  cheat meal leads to a day and then a week, well I would definitely gain back some fat.

As a woman, being at 10% body fat over the long term can impact the hormones, so the best way to be “stage ready” long term is to work directly with your doctor and your coach to find the right combination and possible hormone therapy. Yup, that’s right, anything less than 13% will usually cause amenorrea which can lead to osteoporosis and thyroid problems, so it’s very important to work with a doctor here. Now you may not be super shredded all the time because you can’t be depleted of water all the time, so another equally important part of this is to keep your electrolytes in balance by keeping your water intake high while lightly salting all meals and including potassium rich foods in the diet such as potatoes, winter squash, white beans and bananas. That way you won’t hold on to any excess water weight and you won’t be depleted of electrolyte either. The other two big components here are to hit the gym hard and use an extra calories as a means to mass gain and pack on muscle, and obviously to eat quality food that nourishes you, even if that includes sprouted grains waffles with some earth balance and maple syrup 😊

For the non-competitor who recently hit a milestone in their fitness journey and reached their goal weight or finally dropped those last 5 pounds, the a great option to making it last is the reverse diet. Essentially you will be slowly adding in calories back into your diet usually on a weekly basis. How much to add can be tricky to figure out so it may be best to consult with a nutrition coach for help with this one. Usually a couple extra hundred calories will do the trick so long as all meals are balanced and you are still working out hard. If you are going to have some treats, as a rule of thumb stay away from refined sugars and starches and opt for something that may be a bit easier for your tummy to digest. One thing that’s easy to incorporate is switching to whole grains whether it’s flours in baking, past or bread, that alone will help you get in extra fiber and micronutrients.

Having the right mindset is the difference between just reaching your goal and moving beyond that goal. Just remember that it doesn’t have to be this horrible fight with yourself; it doesn’t have to be this big struggle where you have to be super strict for the rest of your life. Change your mindset and start seeing the reality that food is here to nourish you and that’s all, the fact that it tastes great is just the added bonus.

If you liked this article, be sure to check out my Summer Special for the month July!

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Nutrition

The One Size Fits All Diet

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If only there was one diet that every single person could follow. If only this diet was equally effective for everyone in helping lose weight and keep it off for good. Think about how much easier life would be if that were the case; all of the confusion over eating right and how much would no longer exist. Ultimately it would render the bombardement of marketing schemes obsolete and take out all of the guess work for each person when it comes to nutrition. Unfortunately that’s not the case.

Have you ever noticed that one person may follow aa diet plan and see amazing results while another will follow it exactly the same way, but instead will make hardly any progress? It’s very common. Why? Let me count the ways…

There are so many different factors to take into consideration when it comes to diet and nutrition. You’ve got the standard items like age, current weight and body composition, level of activity and training age (the number of years a person has been consistently exercising), and gender. Then there’s the more specific things like genetics, pre-existing health issues, current lifestyle (for example having a sedentary job or more manual labour), stress levels and adequate sleep acquired on the average night. All of these things play a key role in whether or not a diet plan will work for you.

A prime example of this is when a friend of mine mentioned that she and her husband were going to follow a 30 day diet plan. This particular plan emphasized eating “real food” only with a focus on organic foods including meat, fish, nuts, oils, vegetables and fruits. At the same time it also requires that you do not eat any legumes (like beans or peanuts), grains (even whole grains), any kind of sweetener, dairy or sulphites. What’s more is that it also bans any kind of sweet treat items even if it contains “approved ingredients” only in order to get you out the dessert mindset. Many of the suggested recipes included a high portion of protein along with a high level of fat accompanied with vegetables. Starch-wise your only option is the starchy vegetable such as potato, sweet potato or carrots. Now in theory this diet plan sounds solid as you are eating foods close to their natural state and avoiding things that may cause allergies or sensitivities.

So my friend and her husband embarked on this 30 day plan and followed it to a T while trying many of the suggested recipes along the way. Her husband did great; he lost weight and was no longer bloated, he had great energy each day and never had any cravings. My friend however had the exact opposite experience. She gained weight, felt bloated all of the time and had very low energy, even though her portion sizes were in check. After 11 days, she had had enough and went back to her previous nutrition plan which had worked very well for her in the past. This plan was lower in fat and allowed whole grains along with health treat meals. Not only did she find herself feeling way better and less bloated, but within a few days she was well on her back towards her weight loss goals.

I can also definitely attest to the no one size fits all diet solution. I’ve tried everything from portion control, to calories counting, to IIFYM, to low carb and ketogenic. Well, none of them worked…that’s not entirely true. Some worked, but all were very short term solutions and none of them did anything to improve my body composition. These diets all pretty much left me skinnyfat. What does work for me and what has helped me to get lean, strong and build muscle is a low-fat plant based diet with at least half of my total calories coming from complex carbohydrates including whole grains. Keep in mind though that by low-fat I mean no more than 40-50 grams total per day including those found naturally in food like tofu and tempeh. Anytime that I have deviated from this in anyway, I have always experienced fat gain, bloating and indigestion whether in contest prep or not.

Now what works for me may not work for you, that’s for sure. The best thing to do if you are confused about what’s right for you is start by cutting out added sugar and artificial sweeteners. Then look at any food that may give you an upset tummy or heartburn, try to gradually reduce your intake of this and replace it with a healthy alternative. Overall though, be sure to keep all meals well balanced with all 3 macros while taking into account the naturally occurring sources of fat found in your protein and naturally occurring carbohydrates and sugars found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Don’t ever be fooled by prepackaged snack items. they always contain too much fat, carbs and sugar without enough protein. Even if these items are marketed as healthy take a look at the ingredients, nutritional info and serving size. If you’re still confused or are eating clean/balanced but aren’t experiencing any progress then keep a food journal for at least a week, writing down everything that you eat, drink and how much, and then calculate the macros for each day and nutritional value of your meals. It may indicate some unbalanced eating on your part. I did this exercise a couple years back and my nutrition was way off; too much fat, not enough protein.

It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to nourish yourself so don’t put too much pressure on getting it right from the beginning. Seek out help from a nutritionist or dietician to maybe help shed a little light on what you can do and what you want to do for the long haul. Focus on your health first and creating a nutritional way of life that you can easily incorporate into your everyday.

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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

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