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.

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.

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