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

Low-Carb VS Low-Fat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Nutrition

Diet Overload

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about nutrition and get more helpful tips like this be sure to sign up for the Nutritional Awareness Summer Special available only through the month of 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 healthy 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.

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

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