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.

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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!

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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

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

Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness

And so it begins…

We finally made it to 2017 (good riddance to 2016!) and with the new year upon us that usual means that gyms are now packed with newbies and that the majority of people are going on a diet. All I can say to that is that I hope it works; I hope that everyone who has made it their new year’s resolution to lose weight, get fit and healthy, sticks with it.

I must admit that I was wrong about diets when I said in the past that diets don’t work; in reality diets do work but they are a short term solution to a lifelong journey. If you want to lose weight and keep it off for good, it’s all about having a fit lifestyle meaning sound nutrition and challenging workouts for the rest of your life. That’s right, I said THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. A quick fix fad diet (can you say The Cabbage Soup Diet?) or gimmicky fitness gadget is not going to do it, and it’s not going to happen overnight either. After all, it took me eight months of intense training to prep for my first show in 2016, not to mention the years of at-home workouts and proper nutrition just to get into okay-ish shape to begin with.

Case in point:

20160407_194511                      APQ Coupe Espoir 2017

On the left is me in March 2016 and the right is November 2016…

Clearly it’s a marathon not a sprint. In eight months I dropped 20 pounds and went from 23% bodyfat to 15% bodyfat. All of this done without going to any crazy extreme such as subsisting on protein shakes and celery for months on end or taking chemical fat burners that cause massive indigestion or taking chemical diuretics that having you running to the bathroom every 20 minutes the night before the show or doing 90 minutes of fasted cardio every single day for five months in the hopes of getting stage ready. These are just a few strategies that my fellow competitors mentioned to me on show day as we chatted about our prep. I kept it real throughout my training by eating right, getting lots of sleep, drinking so much water – 6 litres a day at one point so that I wouldn’t have to take anything harsh to shed the water weight, and of course lifting weights and getting in my cardio.

Taking an approach that allows you to incorporate healthy strategies in all areas of your life is the key to finally shedding the weight for good, getting in shape and being healthy .This is one thing that you can do for yourself and that you can completely control. Yes it’s challenging  at first, but wouldn’t it be nice to go to the doctor’s for your physical and not have to sit through another lecture about how you have to lose weight or you’re at risk for this ailment or that disease because of your unhealthy habits or that you may have to start taking medication for your blood pressure, fatty liver, high cholesterol, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice to just go for your physical, be in and out of your doctor’s office within 2o minutes? Trust me when I say that it’s really nice.

If you make your health a priority every single day, you can do anything because when you are well and healthy you will bring great energy to each challenge that’s sent your way. By now you may be thinking about how you’re going to do this, so let me make this easier for you with a few simple tips to keep in mind:

  1. Schedule your workouts for whenever it works best with your schedule as it is now. For example, if you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, it might not be the best idea to plan on hitting the weight room at 6am.
  2. If you just don’t have time to workout out for 30 to 60 minutes in one shot then break up your workout into 10 or 15 minute increments throughout the day wherever you can.
  3. Workout out consistently, that means 4-5 workout days per week FOREVER.
  4. Eat REAL food (not just prepackaged stuff – which includes low carb or high protein items) don’t just focus on calories, look at the entire label including macros, fibre and sugar.
  5. Make your life easier by carving out a few hours one day per week to meal prep
  6. Ladies: LIFT WEIGHTS don’t just do cardio or wait until you lose some weight first. Weightlifting is what will shape your body and no you won’t bulk – if you don’t believe me, scroll up to my photos above.
  7. For the guys who already lift weights: never neglect cardio, you won’t lose muscle if done correctly. If anything it’ll help keep you lean.
  8. Forget about sports drinks, you really don’t need them, unless you’re in the midst of a 3 day elite crossfit event or triathalon. Even the sugar free ones are unnecessary; stick with water and add a scoop of BCAAs only if your workout lasts longer than an hour.
  9. Turn off the tv, put your phone down and go to sleep. Make it non-negotiable and always give yourself at least eight hours every night in bed. If you’re not sleeping enough, your hormones will be all out of whack making you crave calorie dense food all day long.
  10. Stop thinking about how your going to get fit or how hard and overwhelming this is, and just do it. Get it done and before you know it, this will all be second nature to you.

*Bonus tip: Stop eating food just cause it’s there, just cause someone offered it to you, just cause you’re out with friends or at a family gathering or at a restaurant, just cause you don’t want to be wasteful, just cause your kid’s done eating and it’s just sitting on their plate, or just cause you’ve lost some weight and deserve it. YOU ARE NOT A GARBAGGE CAN, so stop treating yourself like one!

Keep in mind that there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to a good health, so go at your pace, but make it happen. If you need to dive right in one shot then go for it or instead slowly ease yourself in if need be by incorporating new healthy habits and letting go of the unhealthy stuff on a weekly basis. Talk to a healthcare provider, hire a trainer or nutritionist if you need to, make an appointment at your gym to get some info, take a tour and scope it out before your first training session. Don’t just talk about how you know what works for you or that you prefer group fitness classes to solo training or in-person weight loss support groups to online program; actually start and stick with it, make this happen. Even though it may seem really hard at first and even a bit daunting, you can do this. Focus on your health above all else and make 2017 the beginning of your fit life.

Start It, Finish It

 

 

 

Fitness

Tracking your progress

 

When it comes to fitness or really anything in life that you are trying to accomplish, seeing improvements on an ongoing basis is invaluable. This is the tool and key to helping gage how far you’ve come, where you’re at now and how much more you have to do in order to complete your goal. Being able to “measure” your progress is not only essential to move you further, but it’s also a huge motivator that can allow you to push past any potential roadblocks. The question is: How can you actually track this regularly?

In terms of being fit, in shape and having a great bod there are thankfully several ways that you can see how well you are doing and decide whether or not you need to make a change. In general, you have to be constantly challenging your body with intense exercise and proper nutrition to support your workouts (this is fairly obvious to say the least). However, if you are always doing the exact same thing week after week, the progress will slow or stop altogether at some point. Typically after four to six weeks, your body will get comfortable and stop responding to your regiment; this is why trainers and health experts advise that you change up your routine on a monthly basis on average. You want to keep your body guessing and push it to get stronger with each gym session and each meal.

Instead of waiting to reach a plateau, an alternative would be to set aside a specific day and time each week to see if you’ve made any progress from the previous week. For many , we step on a scale to see the pounds that may have been lost or gained, but this is only part of the picture. Weight scales don’t tell you your body fat, they don’t know how much is water weight and they don’t take into account things like restful sleep, stress, hormone fluctuations, etc. That doesn’t mean you should just toss it out; it is good tool especially for those who are just starting out and have a lot of overall bodyweight to lose (i.e. more than 30 pounds). It can though be a little misleading. When you start a new training program or you start eating a better diet, in the beginning you will see huge changes each week. The scale will show that you are dropping 5 pounds, 10 pounds or so on, for the first little while and of course it feels great to see that number go down, but as I said it will slow down at some point and that can lead to some serious discouragement.

Instead of just relying on one thing to demonstrate any changes, consider a different approach. One option is to take photos of yourself each week (same day, same time) and do weekly comparisons. This was something that I was doing during my 12 week fitness challenge and it was a huge help. I found myself getting very frustrated about half way through and felt like there was no change, but when I looked at my weekly photos from day one, I saw the improvement and kept going. Being able to actually see the progress in front you is something amazing and it definitely helps when you may not be feeling your best. On the other hand, the photos can show you areas where you need to work on more or areas that you have either a hard time adding muscle to or that take forever to drop the fat. This will allow you to make changes accordingly. Another option is to go with how your clothes fit. If you are trying to lose body fat, obviously you look for how much looser your clothes sit on your body each week. If you are trying to gain mass and muscle then look for tightness in how your fit in certain areas like your booty or your quads or shoulders. A third option is to take into account how you feel physically in terms of your stamina and strength, during your workouts and also throughout the day. Ask yourself if you are able to lift heavier each week, do a few extra reps and up intensity of your cardio. Check your heart rate, pay attention to how out of breath you are or how sore/tired your muscles feel after exercising. All of these strategies can give you an idea how well you are doing and if it’s time for you to kick it up a notch.

There are so many other methods to check your progress that it can get confusing. You can try to calculate your BMI or BMR, use calipers, BodPod or measuring tape on certain areas, but some of these can be inaccurate or expensive and hard come by. Even the machines at your gym that measure your heart rate or calories burned tend to be somewhat off, so don’t rely on just one thing. Always keep in mind that we need to be challenged in order to grow and improve  and get stronger, not just physically. When things do start to slow or halt completely, really take time to consider why this is the case and remember that there are so many things and outside factors that can have an impact on you. Have you been under more stress lately? Are you getting a restful night of sleep? Is your schedule slightly off this week? Did you deviate from your diet or try some new foods or ingredients or a new restaurant? There are so many little things that can influence how well you do, so don’t get too discouraged, just pinpoint what it is and look at how you can alter what you are doing.

It is so important to have a clear goal for what you want to for yourself; this lets you set a plan and have a vision for where you want to be. As you get closer to achievement, your motivation can really kick in and help propel you to get there and keep going. You may on other hand shift your goal as you go along and maybe come across other things you want to accomplish. When I first started working I wanted to be lean and loved cardio and felt like that was my thing, but once I started weight training and seeing how amazing it shapes the body and how strong I have become, my goal and regiment started to change. Now my focus is more towards lifting weights to build more and shape myself in a certain way. It’s a good thing to change gears as time passes as we are all changes as are our priorities. So remember to set your goals, find effective tools to track your progress and when you’re ready, move on to your next big thing.

Start It, Finish It

 

Nutrition

What’s Trending Now? Part 2

20150108_063429Earlier this week we looked at new trends in fitness, today we’re going to zero-in on new diet trends that many are turning to in order to drop the extra holiday weight. With each new year there always comes along some diet that promises amazing results with significant weight loss, and pretty much everyone goes on a diet on January 1st so these “diet gurus” certainly capitalize. That’s not to say that they are not effective because many diets do work, but it’s usually in the short term; eventually we go all go back to our old ways and end up gaining back some of the weight. So let’s have a look at three diets that claim to give you big results and a slimmer waistline.

The first trend we’re going to look at is The Skinny Gut Diet created by Certified Nutrition Consultant Brenda Watson. This diet is all about keeping your healthy gut bacteria flora in balanced by eating certain foods that promote a well tuned digestive track. There’s a big focus on healthy fats like omega-3s (from walnuts, flaxseeds and fish), probiotics and fermented foods (from yogurt, miso and sauerkraut, etc.). These foods aid in digestion and keep things moving to help you remove toxins from the body. This diet also claims to have a positive impact on one’s emotions, autoimmunity and ability to concentrate. It also suggests that you should include protein at each meal (as most diets do) to help you feel fuller longer and to manage cravings. The good thing about this diet is that it’s more of a lifestyle than quick fix scheme as it encourages these solutions to be maintained over one’s lifetime in order to achieve better overall health. It doesn’t seem like a gimmick or fad in fact The Skinny Gut Diet appears to be a well balanced way of life that may actually be maintained long term as part of a healthy way of life.

The next trend was developed by Dr. Mike Moreno and is called The 17 Day Diet. With this diet there are 3 phases of 17 days where with each phase you alter your overall calories and meals in order to avoid plateaus and to keep the metabolism elevated. In the first phase you cut calories down to 1200 per day, reduce sugar intake and eat a balanced diet with carbs, protein and a little fat; this is the phase where most weight is lost. The second phase allows you to alternate between the low calorie days of the first phase with some higher calorie days, while maintaining a balanced diet throughout; there is still weight lost during this period, but it is slightly less than in the first 17 days. The final phase is meant to lead to the ongoing healthy lifestyle where you eat healthful, balanced meals on weekdays and treat meals on weekends; you can still achieve weight loss in this phase, but it will be significantly lower than in the first 2 phases, around 1-2 pounds per week. This diet seems like it has the potential to be effective, but nothing’s been proven just yet to back up its claims, although there are a lot of success stories on its website. The low calorie consumption of phase one is really intense and may be too much for most people to maintain even if just for 17 days; the worry here is that if the calories are too low you may end up with crazy cravings that lead to a binge. The basis of this diet does make sense though, weight loss plateaus happen frequently and the best way to avoid them is to change up the diet a bit and add more physical activity to your day, whether 17 days is really the magic number has yet to be proven.

The final trend we’re going to look at isn’t new at all in fact it was created in 1924, but seems to be making quite the comeback, I’m referring to The Ketogenic Diet developed by Dr. Russell Wilder. Initially this diet was created to as part of treatment for epileptic patients suffering from seizures, now however with the advances in modern medicine it is very rarely used for this. The focus for this diet is actually similar to The Atkins Diet in that it requires very low carb consumption (only 5% of daily calories from carbohydrates), where it differs is that The Ketogenic Diet also suggests high fat with moderate protein intake; lots of fatty meats, fish and cheese. This high fat diet claims to change the way the body uses energy, as ketones are used instead of glucose which leads to a state of “ketosis”, this unfortunately has a possible side effect of potentially causing you to have bad breath and excess body odor. On a positive note it is suggested that this can help slow the signs of aging, alleviate heartburn and symptoms of diabetes.

So there you have it, three diet trends that may very well lead to a healthier you. The good thing about diets these days is that they tend to be more of a “non-diet diet” as they are starting to be more centered on living a healthy lifestyle instead of the former old school ways of just extreme calorie cutting.  Just remember that everyone’s body is different from each other so what works for your friend or colleague may not necessarily work for you. If you are thinking of going on a diet please seek out the advice of a healthcare expert to be sure that you are on the right path for your overall health.

Start It, Finish It