Five things to keep in mind this Thanksgiving

I know what it's like to want to indulge in the annual holiday and all the associated calories, but not throw away all the progress you've worked for; which can feel like a pull in different directions. I've had several clients tell me they're worried about Thanksgiving, or don't want to do weigh-ins or pictures this week because they're nervous about all the damage they will have done on Thursday. 

I wanted to share some guidance and suggestions so that you hopefully feel a little more comfortable, calm and confident going into this week. 

Tip 1: Thanksgiving is one meal

I usually get annoyed when people say "Christmas is just one day!" because really, it's four weeks of parties, social events and work potlucks with temptations on every end cap at Target that you have to endure (click here for Christmas advice). However, Thanksgiving really is just one meal on one day, so unless you're planning on having pumpkin pie for breakfast too (in which case, we probably should talk privately, haha), then you really can't do that much damage with that one dinner. This week should be exactly the same as last week, with the exception of Thursday afternoon/evening.

Tip 2: Enjoying yourself every once in a while is why we work so hard in the first place

You don't need me to tell you that the time you take each day to measure and track your food, and the healthy choices you make when sometimes it would be way easier to just give in, is intentional effort by you to get closer to your goals (you rock!). Because you do that so well most of the time, it's important to indulge in a little life balance so you don't get burnt out, you don't feel left out or resent what you're doing, and to reduce the chance of binging later. What fun would it be to eat perfect 100% of the time and never enjoy yourself and a less-than-macro-friendly meal? Which leads me to my next point...

Tip 3: Don't make your Thanksgiving dinner fit your macros

In fact, I suggest just not tracking that meal at all. Everyone views tracking a little differently, so if you prefer to guess the quantities and put something similar into My Fitness Pal, I won't stop you. But please don't starve yourself all day to try and make it fit, or get your food scale and measuring cups out on the table. PS: Do track your meal prior to Thanksgiving, per usual. :) PPS: If you have no idea what I'm talking about with macros, click here to learn about them.

Tip 4: You should eat well (normal) earlier in the day, especially protein

Your breakfast, lunch and/or snacks should resemble the normal quality of your food (which is awesome, clean, nutrient-dense food...right?), and maybe slightly smaller portions. You don't want to go into your Thanksgiving meal starving, because you'll be more likely to overeat. There's not usually many vegetables present on the table (that aren't in a casserole - doesn't count folks), so get your fiber in early in the day. Generally, while turkey has protein, you're going to get more full off the higher-carb options at your feast, so getting some extra protein in earlier in the day as well will help make sure you're not shorting yourself too much and keep you feeling a little more satisfied throughout the day. When you feel more satisfied, not only do you make smarter food choices but you have less cravings and/or crashes as well. Some good quick options: hard boiled eggs, sliced turkey or ham, chicken breast, mini bell peppers, non-fat Greek yogurt or a protein shake.

Tip 5: Everything goes back to normal on Friday

Wake up and enjoy your typical breakfast and get back on track to hitting your goals. Recall the 80/20 principle we've talked about before: if you're tracking and crushing your goals at least 80% of the time, you're still going to see positive results with that 20% margin of error, better known as life happens, "I forgot my lunch at home" or in this case, holiday celebrations. I'll give you an example: if you eat 4 times per day, that's 28 eating opportunities during the week. If you count Thanksgiving dinner as an off-plan meal and crush the other meals during the week, that still puts you at 96% adherent for the week. Boom! However, if you let Friday slip, and roll into the weekend eating untracked leftovers for snacks, your adherence rate will drop quickly. ;)

Bonus Reminders

Drink lots of water. Before you eat, during and after. Don't make bad food decisions out of dehydration. Chew slowly, and take breaks (setting your silverware down) frequently to chat with loved ones so you're able to identify when you're full. Wait at least 15 minutes before deciding to go back for a second helping. Lastly, if you can, catch a workout Thanksgiving morning. Whether it's a jog or bike ride around the neighborhood, a quick gym session, or some air squats in the backyard; getting your heart rate up early is always an awesome way to start the day.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and don't stress about your food too much. Focus on the intent to spend time with your friends and family, rather than overthinking the food. If you found this advice helpful, please share with a friend. :) Cheers!

How to Track a Recipe in My Fitness Pal

Creating a recipe in My Fitness Pal (MFP) makes tracking your food so much easier if you’re someone that likes to get creative in the kitchen, cooks in bulk for the week or makes large portions, such as for a family. It also improves the accuracy of your tracking and makes it quicker to log next time you eat the dish and/or make the recipe. Follow the steps below to learn how, and reference the set of pictures at the end of the instructions if needed. Happy cooking! 

Step 1. Open the MFP app on your phone and select More on the bottom right of the screen

Step 2. Select Meals, Recipes and Foods

Step 3. Select Create a Recipe at the bottom of the screen

Step 4. Select Enter Ingredients Manually

Step 5. Under Recipe Information, give your recipe a title. Then change the Serving Size to 1, and press the arrow in the top right corner to move on to the next step.

Step 6. Select Add Ingredient. This will enable you to search the MFP database for millions of foods so you can add ingredients individually. Try to check your ingredients for accuracy because there can be some incorrect listings in the database -- the more specific you can be with your search (brand name, store you purchased it at, etc.), the better. You can also scan the barcode of items you have on hand by pressing scan on the bottom right. Begin adding ingredients, adjusting their quantities to reflect how much you’re using for the total recipe.

Step 7. Once you’ve added all your ingredients, make sure the serving size is set to 1 before completing -- you’ll see it next to the Calories Per Serving at the bottom of the page. Click the arrow in the top right of the screen, and you will be taken to the Save Recipe page. Note that the nutrition facts shown are for the entire recipe, because your serving size is currently set to 1.

Step 8. You need to weigh the finished product in grams, which may have to be done in several bowls if the quantity is too large (then just add the measurements together). When you set an empty container on the food scale, press “tear” or “zero” to zero out the scale, then start adding food to get the weight -- otherwise it will include the weight of the bowl/container in your measurement.

Step 9. Once you have the total grams of the recipe, you’ll return to the Save Recipe page you left on and update the servings from 1 to the grams total you just measured. Then press Save Recipe. You’ll notice that the nutrition facts updated (and are much lower) because they now reflect a single gram of the recipe.

Step 10. Now you’re ready to enjoy and log your recipe! When you go to track the food, you’ll see Recipes on the food diary page. Recall that 1 serving = 1 gram, so when you weigh the portion you’d like to eat, just change the amount to the grams you weighed for that meal. As you can see in the example, the tracker is eating 100g of the recipe.

All things pumpkin: part two

Last post, I told you what to ditch/replace to improve your seasonal treats, but the vegetable doesn't deserve a totally bad rap.

Here's what you can love about pumpkin (when it's not covered in icing):

  • The orange color is derived from beta carotene, which provides vitamin A to the body and is good for eyesight and immunity
  • It also packs some vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Manganese + Potassium (more than a banana!)
  • Pumpkin is a member of the squash family - doesn't everyone love it's sister spaghetti squash?
  • The seeds have an average of 12g fiber per 1 cup - you'll feel fuller, longer using them as a crunchy, satisfying snack

Get in the kitchen: roasted pumpkin seeds

Roasting pumpkin seeds yourself is an easy, hands-on activity for kiddos. Once you've carved the pumpkin and scooped out the seeds, rinse and roast for about 20-30 minutes to dry. Then, toss in 2 teaspoons of butter and a pinch of salt, bake in a single layer (on foil, for easy clean up) at 300 degrees for 45 mins or until golden brown. That's the traditional method, but there's lots of ways to change up your pumpkin seed flavor:

  • For a spiced seed, add in 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce.
  • For a deeper profile, mix in 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (skip the salt)
  • Feeling Italian? Mix with dried Oregano and parmesan 
  • For something a little different, skip the salt and use butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ranch seasoning mix - yum!
  • For my southwestern friends, mix butter, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon taco seasoning and a tablespoon of fresh cilantro
  • For a barbecue feel, toss in 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle chile powder and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Everything is better with bacon - cook 3-4 slices separately and crumble over the roasted seeds
  • Make a tasty trail mix: once roasted, combine with dried fruit (cranberries, raisins), almonds and cashews

Bonus: the science behind the craving

Less relevant to nutrition, but equally fascinating, I thought I'd touch on the "why" behind your craving for pumpkin spice, that seemingly only happens a few months out of the year. 

Pumpkin spice isn't really pumpkin (especially in syrup form), it's actually a combination of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, ground allspice and ground cloves. Because these spices are commonly used in home cooking, the scent brings feelings of comfort; perhaps family gatherings, home cooking and warm memories. We learn and create associations with odors over time, and generally speaking, all the associations with pumpkin spice are all very positive. When the spice is created synthetically, it mimics the aroma of butter browning with sugar, giving your senses the illusion of freshly baked pie.

About 80% of flavor comes from smell; largely why when you're sick and congested, nothing tastes or sounds good. That's also why the pumpkin spice smell is strong enough to make us crave and enjoy it.

It's truly marketing genius. The pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks unofficially marks the beginning of fall, and the drink even has its' own verified Twitter account. Since the roll out of the drink by the coffee chain in 2003, there have been more than 200 million cups of PSL sold.

As mentioned above, real pumpkin provides great health benefits, and all spices come from nutrient-packed plants. Enjoy more of the real thing this season, and less of the artificial versions.

Cheers!

A healthier take on the pumpkin spice craze

Do I think it's silly that every girl (+ the guys who won't admit it) obsess over all things pumpkin this time of year? Yes. Will I still partake in the seasonal nonsense? Also yes. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - you can have your PSL and drink it, too. ️

Here are some things to keep in mind this fall to keep indulgences in check:

  • Order a low-fat latte (non-fat or almond/coconut milk), add 1 pump pumpkin spice, ask for pumpkin spice sprinkles on top and skip the whip. That cuts the originally 340 calorie drink in HALF (literally). PS: the actual pumpkin spice sauce has dairy, so the alternative milk doesn't make it completely dairy-free, if that's something you're cautious of.
  • For an even lighter coffee, order an Americano (espresso + water) with some steamed cream or coconut milk (the steaming makes the milk taste sweeter), and add 1 pump pumpkin spice. Boom! 
  • Snag some pumpkin spice K-Cups for your Keurig.
  • The store bought pastries are hefty: running 380-500 calories (+ lots of sugar) per muffin or scone. Make baked goods yourself with healthy tricks like utilizing apple sauce, Greek yogurt, egg whites and/or protein powder. Test one, and give the rest away. I found a handful of ideas (complete with nutrition facts) on Cookie and Kate and on Amy's Healthy Baking.
  • Treat pumpkin pie like Thanksgiving food, not "because Costco has them already" food. You're in control of your choices, not the supermarket.
  • Pick up some pumpkin spice tea on Amazon for all the warm-your-heart-deliciousness and none of the calories (seriously zero, it's just tea).
  • To make a macro-friendly pumpkin spice hot chocolate, steam 8oz of chocolate almond milk (or heat in the microwave), add 1/2oz pumpkin pie sauce and top with cinnamon, nutmeg and if you're feeling super festive, finish with a dollop of whip (15 cals per 2 tbsp). This version: 132 calories. An 8oz pumpkin spice hot chocolate at Starbucks: 438 calories. Whoa!

Lastly, below is a shake recipe I love to make this time of year. By utilizing real pumpkin and no added sugar, it satisfies the craving without the added empty calories. And, sneaking protein in throughout the day is always a plus! This blended treat has good sources of protein and carbs, and is low in fat -- perfect for a post-workout meal.

Recipe: Pumpkin Protein Shake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon honey or agave
  • 1 scoop protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 banana
  • Ice cubes (about 6)

Directions

Throw it all in a blender and mix until ingredients look smooth. Top with nutmeg and cinnamon. 

Macros

32g carb, 6g fat, 27g protein (290 calories) for one shake.

Modifications/Suggestions

  • For extra protein, add 1/3 cup Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of collagen protein, or 2 tablespoons of powdered peanut butter.
  • For extra fat, add a tablespoon of almond butter or MCT oil.
  • For extra sweetness, add 1 tablespoon cocoa nibs, a pinch of stevia or a few drop of liquid stevia.

Enjoy, 'tis the season!

Resources:

Starbucks Nutrition Facts

 

Eat, Breathe, Work Hard, Repeat

I’m going to tell you something, and you may be shocked. Drum roll please… I eat ice cream sometimes. Gelato specifically, it’s my fav. And cheesecake, like on my birthday last month. And even chocolate, because every 20-something girl loves chocolate, it’s science. I know, I know -- you’re totally shocked. A nutritionist eats things full of fat, sugar, processed ingredients and insane amount of calories sometimes? Sometimes, yes.

Every time I’m at a social gathering and indulge in something less-than-nutritionist-worthy, heads literally explode and I hear comments ranging from “oh my God you eat things like that?” to “how do you look like that and eat like that?” -- there’s flaws all in, out, and around the logic of those statements and I’m going to break them down for you really quick. Partially for my sanity, but mostly to help you take better control over your approach to nutrition as well.

Eat

First, I eat things like that sometimes. I’m a BIG advocate of balance, and my clients know this well. If you hate what you’re doing, you’ll grow resentful and create an unhealthy relationship with your approach and possibly foods. Anything that doesn’t bend will eventually break, and your “diet” should allow for flexibility.

Balance is open for interpretation, but with something like sugar, it’s fair to assume it should be consumed far less than the higher-priority, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables (especially the green ones), lean proteins, whole grains and fruit.

Next, I’m not actively trying to lose weight right now. I’m eating for maintenance, which supplies my body enough calories to train hard, be less strict with my calorie intake and/or macronutrient distribution, have plenty of energy, and hold consistently at the same body weight. If your primary goal right now is to lose weight, it’s also fair to assume your balance should be more strict than the person who is trying to maintain. Note: you can still eat delicious things and lose weight, but as a general rule of thumb, less frequently.

Furthermore, maintaining is pretty easy (especially once you’ve been doing it a while). Basically: keeping abs is generally easier than getting them. So don’t fret if you are trying to drop pounds, you’ll have even more flexibility once you’re trying to maintain, too.

The 80/20 approach means eating nutrient-dense food 80% of the time, and enjoying other things 20% of the time. Of course, these percentages will vary based on if you have specific goals you’re working toward, but for maintaining weight and overall wellness, this structure works well for most people. So if you’re absolutely just craving that doughnut, consider it part of the 20% for that week. Keep in mind: in order to stay within that 80%, you want to get right back on track after an indulgence -- be mindful of that, and don’t let one meal turn into a weekend.

Breathe

It’s so important for your mind, body and overall health to not beat yourself up when you do indulge. Way easier said than done, I totally get it. But the practices below really help me keep that “guilt” in control.

I make the meal count. I don’t eat indulgences in my car, alone at home (unless that’s your happy place, no judgement), or at the office. Don’t let your circumstances dictate your decisions; you can always find an excuse: it’s so-and-so’s birthday, but there’s a work happy hour, someone else is in town and your aunt is having a baby shower -- if you indulge every single time something comes up, you’re probably further from the balance concept we just addressed. You are in control of your nutrition choices, the food sitting on the break room counter is not.

Try to eat well most of the time so you can really enjoy the pieces that don’t fit in the “most”. Do you ever eat something and think “man that wasn’t worth it?” — “it” being the calories. I strive to avoid that feeling. If I’m going to splurge on something sweet, it’s going to be planned and in-line with what I’m really craving. This notion can be applied to events, too: if you know you’re going to a dinner party, eat well most of that week to allow yourself to embrace whatever delicious items are available in that scenario. Be in control when you can, so that when you aren’t it doesn’t set you back (thus, ladies and gents, an example of the 80/20 approach).

Another thing that really helps with the breathe component is meditation. I used to think meditation was rah-rah yogi stuff and totally not for me. Since I’ve let that assumption go, I’m in the process of writing a piece on how much guided meditation has positively impacted my, and many of my friends’ lives, but in the meantime, know that I use an app called Headspace. Download it on any smart phone -- your first 10 sessions are free. It REALLY helps with the whole “letting things” go thing. Seriously, look it up, right after you finish this post.

Work Hard

Lastly, work hard! My clients know we don’t call them cheat days, we call them reward meals (not “cheating” because you’ve earned the indulgence, this is a lifestyle not a diet, and it’s not full days). Reward meals are earned for, you guessed it: following the plan 80% of the time, not making excuses, and working hard.

Truth be told, in addition to the ongoing comments aforementioned during the introduction, the inspiration for this blog post came from a conversation with my CrossFit coach. On the first Friday of each month, our gym does Fran (a famously terrible workout in the functional fitness community). After everyone sweats their heart out, our coach brings in something fun like snow cones or a waffle truck. It is his intention (and him and I are quite aligned on nutrition-based things) that members eat well most of the time, work really hard during the workout, enjoy the indulgence with their fellow CrossFit friends, and then don’t stress about it and get right back on track the next day. Hmm… it’s almost like, that is what I just outlined as my approach, too! :)

I hope you find these concepts helpful and apply them to improve your mental health, quality of life and relationship of food. Cheers!

How to Beat Nighttime Sugar Cravings

Craving some sweet, chocolaty and delicious before bed is totally normal -- but it's no basis for derailing your progress. The best thing you can do is to know the craving is coming and be prepared with a strategy to win the day. Plan for your roadblocks to happen so you're ready to get through them, until they don't happen anymore.

Below are a bunch of strategies you can utilize to kick those cravings, overcome them completely, or simply make a more mindful choice. If you find any of them helpful for you, please feel free to comment and/or share with a friend!

Try these out:

  • Plug in something small and sweet into your food log for the evening before logging the rest of your day so you can account for it and it's planned in later; like a piece of dark chocolate. Then, you can look forward to it all day and it doesn't throw you off when you have it.

  • Have some fruit, its naturally sweet and will curve the craving a little bit. Fruit breaks down into sugar the same way sweets do, and they have way more micronutrients (vitamins + minerals)! Try: strawberries with a little whip cream on top, peaches warmed up and topped with granola, apple slices topped with cinnamon or a little peanut butter, frozen grapes, or some raspberries topped with Stevia.

  • Drink more water at night; that helps with cravings -- and you could do something fun like add orange, cucumber or lemon slices to your water.

  • Have some hot, decaffeinated tea. There's plenty of naturally sweet teas (no added sugar) you can find at a local Fry's or Sprout's store, or via Amazon that come in decedent flavors like caramel and actually promote restful sleep.

  • Brush your teeth right after dinner so you're less likely to snack on something.

  • Set an alarm to go off on your phone about the time this usually happens at night; change the name from "alarm" to "you've got this!" or a brief message about your why behind your goal you're working toward. This literal reminder will come at the perfect time to re-instill that motivation.

  • Ask yourself: are you tired, stressed, bored, or upset? Those feelings may increase your cravings, and I encourage you to recognize that you are in control of your actions, not your emotions at the time.

  • Journal about what you're craving -- seriously! Write down why it might be, how committed you are to your goal, and then how proud of yourself you are that you stuck to the plan. Then, in your next moment of weakness, you'll have this to reference.

  • Distract yourself: go do some meditation (Headspace, for example), go for a walk outside, or write in your gratitude journal.

  • Just go to bed -- seriously! I know that one seems silly, but really, you probably just need to catch some zzz's. I promise you'll wake up being glad you stayed strong. If you need some ideas for before bed rituals to get your mind off the candy drawer and on the pillow, check out this blog post.

Good luck, and cheers to empowered, healthy evenings! :)

Set up for success: Eating while traveling

Hitting your macros, eating well, resisting temptation: those things are all hard enough when you’re in your usual environment such as work or in the comfort of your home. Once you throw traveling into the mix, people tend to completely fall of track. Finding healthy options and maintaining some sense of positive nutrition habits while flying, on the road or in unfamiliar towns can be challenging -- but it’s absolutely doable.

Many of my clients travel often for work and have utilized many of these strategies already to consistently work toward their goals, regardless of where they are. I’ll reference tracking macros in the information below, although even if you’re not diligently following your protein, carb and fat intake, these tips will help you stay on track and feel your best while on vacation.

Restaurant research

Prior to arriving to a new city, or first thing when you get there, scout out a couple top-rated restaurants in the area; you might as well try the best food while you’re there! Once you’ve identified ones within your proximity and price point, pull up their menu online and look through some options of things that fall within your macros from an estimated perspective. 

Example: if I know I’m trying to keep my carbs within reason, a dish with a pasta base, served with bread, topped with something crusted and breaded, probably isn’t the best choice.

Doing this research ahead of time ensures two things: you have some places to go ready to reference when you’re hungry which helps you avoid stopping at some semi-decent hot dog hut, and secondly, you already know what on the menu sounds appealing before you get there and are tempted by smells, other customer’s plates, and so forth.

If the restaurant's nutrition facts are available online, great! Definitely reference those to get an idea of the composition of their dishes. Consider that if their veggie-based plates are super high in fat, they may be cooking in a lot of oil or butter. You can use this information to eat less fat throughout the day to maintain some balance, and/or to track the actual macros.

Estimated nutrients

The reality is that when you’re eating out, protein is expensive and served in small portions. Always look for ways to add lean protein to your meals, and ask your server what’s available for cooking methods: grilled is more ideal than fried, for example. Fat is usually used in excess (because it tastes so good!), everything has more salt than you can taste to preserve ingredients longer, and most things are carb-dense. This doesn’t mean you should just eat less, but rather be more mindful of the nutrients you’re looking for. If you haven’t had many vegetables that day, add some in at dinner on the side. If you had a huge omelette at breakfast, maybe skip the cheese or bacon to keep your fat in check. These small tips go a long way and require no measuring or counting. And always, always, always: drink more water. Being out of your element, it’s easy to forget to get those fluid ounces in.

Reasonable expectations

It’s a good idea to have a conversation with your traveling partner or family in regards to your restaurant suggestions, and share ideas for healthy snacks and ways to stay active during your trip. It’s also important to remember that consistent progress is key: whether or not you got significantly closer to your goal while on vacation isn’t important, but as long as you made some conscious healthy decisions and made an effort to stay enough on track to continue working toward progress, you’re golden. Don’t be too hard on yourself; having unrealistic expectations of eating perfectly and working out every day while traveling will only make falling short of those more upsetting. Let go of the perfection mindset, and prioritize consistent progress.

The adherence “rule”

Let’s start with this: we’re always shooting to hit your goal nutrient intake about 90% of the time to move consistently in the right direction on the progress scale. If you’re eating four times a day (for example), in a given week you’d not want to stray too far off track for more than two meals. 90% of 4 meals per day x 7 days per week = 25 meals to crush perfectly. Over the course of months and a year, you really do have some wiggle room to allow yourself to go a little off track while still achieving progress.

With that said, there’s always going to be some flaw in your measuring -- even at home. Sometimes we don’t have our food scale or measuring cups (like, at a work lunch or on vacation) and we have to eyeball the ounces of chicken or cup of rice. When eating out, you don’t always know how much or what oils food is being cooked in, so we do our best to guess. And furthermore, nutrition labels aren’t 100% accurate, but we go off the information anyway. This small, common discrepancy is called what I refer to as your margin of error. If you’re not totally new to tracking food, you probably have a good sense for what portions looks like. If you tracked everything on vacation pretty closely, you’d probably only be off about 10% (or less) of the time, given all the mentioned variables. That would still put you in the 90/10 area of adherence we’re striving for.

This is a lifestyle

Whether you’re eating healthy or counting macros, it’s a lifestyle -- not a short-term gig. Consider the importance of balance and quality of life before you make yourself miserable avoiding treats or “cheat meals” on a trip. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying, “This is good fuel for my body, and what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Make your indulgences count and cash in on really good, tasty food that’s worth it if you’re going to stray away from your norm.

Back on track

The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. When you get back in town, your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer your wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours. Consider ordering some food ahead of time to have ready to go when you get home, or have some easy-to-prep ingredients on hand so vacation doesn’t roll into a week of “off” eating once you’re back in town.

Come prepared

Bring snacks that don’t need to be kept cold in your suitcase: protein powder (and shaker bottle!), protein bars, those kind of things. If you have access to a cooler, pack in tons of veggies, fruit and extra water. For some more snack ideas that are easy to bring along, check out my recent blog post here

On my most recent road trip, I ordered pre-portioned meals from FitChoice Foods to eat during the day, with the intention to treat myself to a restaurant meal each night. These stay great in the cooler, and can be quickly heated in a microwave at a gas station, hotel room, or hotel dining area if there’s no microwave in your room.

Due to my own recent traveling and busy weekends, I looked into ordering my meals from a prep service to make sure I stay on track consistently when my time to meal prep falls short. After ordering from FitChoice several times over the last couple months, I reached out to the owner (based in Mesa) and asked if they'd consider a partnership because I'm a big fan of their service. I'm stoked to announce they provided me a discount code to share with you all!

Here's a brief rundown of why I’m a big fan:

  • You order your meals online, choosing from pre-selected options OR create your own meals by picking a protein, veggie and carbohydrate to pair together

  • You can select your size of protein with each order, and the macros are listed on the container

  • There's a TON of options for carbs, proteins and veggies -- and each meal comes with your choice of a sauce (score!)

  • You can have it delivered to your house, or choose to pick it up at a gym located near your house during set times given on the website

    • Make note of the order cut-off times for ordering listed on the website.
      Tip: I put these deadlines in my calendar, so I don't forget to order!

And, bonus: I've been buying one meal for lunch and/or dinner every single day, and I'm spending less on food each week than I was when I was meal prepping all my food.

If you give it a try, please let me know how much you love it, and don't forget to use heypreslie10 at checkout for 10% off your order for the discount, and so they know I sent you their way. :) If you need suggestions or have any questions while navigating the site, please don't hesitate to reach out to me.

Cheers to happy, safe traveling and a summer full of progress toward those goals!

Prepping for success: Snacking secrets

Many people only think about breakfast, lunch and dinner when they’re meal prepping for the week. Snacks serve a handful of beneficial purposes, including:

  • Keeping your hunger in check between meals
    • You’re a lot less likely to want your healthy, prepared meal if you’re absolutely starving – avoiding reaching the “hangry” state keeps your appetite in a good place.
  • Getting extra nutrients in
    • I don’t love huge meals, so it’s hard for me to stomach all the protein I need during the day in a few portions of chicken. I use snacks as a tool by having small amounts of protein in between meals to ensure I hit my protein goal by the end of the day.
  • Making a healthy diet work with your lifestyle
    • Depending on your job and/or schedule, it’s not always possible to sit down, find a microwave or utensils, and eat a typical meal. Nutrient-dense snacks help you avoid going long periods without eating in these situations.

My tips and tricks:

  • Cut any fruit that won’t brown. I’ve found after slicing apples, they only stay good in the fridge for a couple days. I’ll slice and portion 2-3 apples at a time, and then repeat midweek. This works well for watermelon and strawberries, too.
  • Don’t leave chips, or anything that’s easy to grab and eat too much of, in the bag you bought it in. Separate them out into reasonable portions, so they’re perfectly sized for snacking. I pair these with hummus for a salty, satisfying snack.
  • Cucumbers are refreshing and crunchy, and you can eat a ton of them for a small caloric-value. When you get an itch to snack on something at your desk, these are an easy go to.
  • Hard boiled eggs are a great source of fat, protein, Vitamin A and Potassium. If you don’t like the consistency of the hard boiled yolk, or don’t have enough fat to spare, consider eating just the whites for quick, accessible protein. Hard boil a dozen or two with your meal prep, and then peel just a few at a time; repeat midweek to keep the outside fresh.
  • Portion out your favorite granola into small containers and pair with your favorite non-fat yogurt.
  • In terms of macros, rice cakes are pure carbs. They come in a ton of great flavors, and simple to take anywhere when you need to get some fuel in. They stay good for quite a while, so have plenty of these separated out on hand.
  • Sliced turkey is a great way to get some extra protein, especially if you get sick of chicken, beef and fish during your regular meals. I prefer the kind sliced by deli counter (as opposed to pre-packaged) to maintain a fresh texture and taste. It rolls up great by itself, or with a piece of cheese, tomato, hummus or lettuce wrapped in.
  • Salami, similarly to the sliced turkey, is a protein option that you don’t have to cook. It’s higher in fat than some alternatives, so you don’t need as large of a portion to feel satisfied.

When a food is nutrient-dense, it contains vitamins and minerals your body needs, outside of what you’re measuring by tracking macros. The most nutrient-dense foods come from the earth in the form of real foods, which you can read more about here. I think about nutrient-density as “more bang for your buck” kind of items, asking myself: how many vitamins, minerals and grams of fiber can I get in this food, for the lowest amount of calories?

For example: 100g of pretzels is about 380 calories, and contains vitamins such as Potassium, Iron and Magnesium. For the same amount of calories, you could have almost 450g (that’s 4.5x more!) of sweet potato and score more of the three nutrients found in pretzels, along with tons of Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin C. In this case, the sweet potato would be a much more nutrient-dense carb to choose.

The above example also highlights the concept of volume eating. It’s similar to nutrient-density in that you’re looking for the most “bang for your buck” in food quantities.

For example: 200g of spaghetti squash is about 60 calories; 1.2g protein, 1.2g fat, and 14g carbs. For roughly the same amount of calories and carbs, you’d only be able to have 46g of whole-wheat spaghetti. A plate of 200g of spaghetti squash vs. a plate of 45g of pasta will look and feel very different when you’re eating it. Certainly, the spaghetti will fuel your body differently than the spaghetti squash – however the concept here is how much food you can eat to achieve more volume without necessarily eating more calories. Eating high-volume foods can help you feel fuller, and easily increase the overall nutrient-density of your diet.

Idea: One of my favorite ways volume eating habits is to mix shredded cauliflower and rice together for the base of a stir-fry meal. 1 cup of jasmine rice is about 250 calories; 5g protein, 2g of fat and 52g carbs. 1 cup of shredded cauliflower is about 25 calories; 2g protein, 0g fat and 5g carbs. They both have similar consistencies, color, and take on flavor really well. By mixing the two, say 1/3 cup of jasmine rice and a full cup of cauliflower, you now have a bigger portion overall and get the best of both worlds: some hearty rice, more food on your plate (volume eating), and all the nutrients that cauliflower contains (nutrient-density).

For a refresher on what macros are, check out my blog post here.

Sick of counting sheep?

I’ve never liked bedtime. From a toddler to twenty-two, I’ve never been good at it. Falling asleep, staying asleep, quality, quantity, cat naps or long afternoon slumbers, the whole shebang is not my jam. Frankly, I’ve just adjusted to living on minimal rest and an arguably borderline unhealthy caffeine addiction.

It’s hard to deny that adequate sleep at night is the backbone of personal health: overall energy, exercise effectiveness, nutrition needs, cravings and efficiency, brain and cognitive function, the list goes on. When one area of your health lacks, it impacts the others and before you know it, one issue is the cause of several problems causing your quality of life to suffer.

While my primary interest of health has always been in nutrition specifically, it would be irresponsible to not acknowledge that all the pieces work together to supplement a healthy lifestyle. In thinking about what I can do to improve my personal health, I can no longer hide from the fact that sleep improvement is at the top of the priority list. Similarly, my mom has always said that if you have a question, chances are ten other people in the room have the same question. Therefore, I figure (and hope!) this information is helpful to at least one of you.

I’m grateful to know Chrissy Barron, Director of Operations at Nova 3 Labs. She lived in Arizona for a short time and I had the privilege of training with and being coach by her. She’s an exceptional athlete, hardworking entrepreneur, wizard of all things health, and an advocate for continuing education both personally and professionally. Early in our friendship from her frequent bursts of advice, I learned she has not only a background in but passion for all things sleep. I had a chance to catch up with her for this post, and although normally I prefer to write my pieces in my own words, her answers are so well-spoken (and expose her glowing personality) that I thought I would let Chrissy tell the story herself. It’s not a short read, but definitely worth it.

Preslie: Why do you feel quality and/or adequate sleep is important?

Chrissy: What if I could sell you a magic pill and the effects of the pill were: alertness, improvements with learning and attention, creativity, and better quality of life? You would give me all of your money for this right? Sounds like a new age Adderall, but I am not talking about a tangible item, I am talking about SLEEP!

Sleep quality is vital to your survival as a contributing human being to society! I know that can be a tad dramatic but in all honesty making sure you are getting enough quality sleep can help protect your mental health, quality of life and safety. Sleep studies show that a good night’s sleep can improve your learning, helps you pay attention, make decisions and be creative. Sleep helps with maintaining a healthy balance of hormones ghrelin (makes you feel hungry) and leptin, (makes you feel full) and also affects how your body reacts to insulin (the hormone that is in charge of your blood glucose levels).

Deep sleep promotes a healthy growth and development in teens and children, and also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens and adults (NHLBI, 2012), all things that are essential to success as an athlete! Lastly, but most important is your immune system; your immune systems relies on sleep to stay healthy. So you overwork yourself, under or over eat, and then under sleep and expect your body to get with it? Nu-uh! The immune system’s job is to defend your body against harmful substances, and when you have an ongoing sleep deficiency your immune system will change the way in which it responds which may result in your body having trouble fighting common infections!

This all seems a little far-fetched as I am sure most of you wake up each morning without feeling like superman, but why? Well I guess we should start with how do you measure sleep? According to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) there are a couple different ways to measure sleep including using a Polysomnograph (you can go to a sleep lab and get this measured, insurance usually covers one sleep study a year, usually used for clinical sleep disorders). For those of us normal humans that do not want to stay the night with a bunch of wires attached to our heads you can always record a sleep diary. In this diary you will record what time you fall asleep and wake up, the type of sleep you had (did it feel deep, restful, restless). I personally like to use the app “pillow” which measures the time you said you would go to sleep, what time you fell asleep, woke up and it also records your audio while you are sleep and the level of sound (snoring). This app is hard to utilize when you sleep with a partner and or (AND) a lovely 80lb animal in the bed who chooses to snore loud and walk around.

P: When did you first discover the importance of sleep, and how?

C: This all started about two years ago when I accepted a job as a Medical Sales Territory Manager for the second largest sleep lab company in Southern California. Throughout my training I not only learned how to interpret, understand and explain sleep reports with a Polysomnography (PSG) as well as Electroencephalograms (EEG), but we also expanded our reach into seizures (adult and pediatric) where I learned to understand the EEG reports and was expected to provide insightful information to physicians and physicians’ offices regarding sleeping issues.

P: How has your life changed since you started sleeping better?

C: When I was introduced to Nova around a year and a half ago I had very minimal sleep quality, I was very stressed out from work, training and I was really run down internally. I had a consult with Mike Kesthely, CEO of Nova 3 Labs, where aside from the nutritional changes, and supplementation, he said if he could change anything at this moment that would help me exponentially it would be my sleep duration and quality. I was ordered to start working on that ASAP. Since focusing more on my sleep duration and quality, fixing my nutrition and taking the added supplements that my body needed, my overall energy has been higher, my workouts feel better (more energy going into them) and my focus has improved.

P: I remember you told me once you had to teach yourself and practice going to bed. Can you explain that?

C: I had to teach myself good sleep hygiene, what is sleep hygiene? Whenever I bring this up to people I assume they think I am asking if they showered before bed, which is not what I am looking for, but thanks for sharing  Sleep Hygiene is different practices that are necessary to maintain normal, high quality sleep at nighttime and daytime alertness. The National Sleep Foundation provides some awesome examples of sleep hygiene, I will re-cap some below.

  • Avoid napping during the day
  • Avoid stimulants (caffeine) too close to bedtime (within 4-5 hours)
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine
  • Sleep in as dark of a room as possible (blackout curtains)

P: What is your bedtime ritual?

C: I take Max Sleep right before getting into bed, and get into bed 30-45 minutes prior to wanting to go to sleep, I relax by reading a book, (playing on your phone isn’t ideal due to the blue light, even with the new upgrade), and make sure the fan is on and the curtains are close, oh and that the pup is also under the covers, duh.

P: What kind of factors promote good sleep?

C: Good sleep hygiene will promote sleep, along with lack of caffeine 4-5 hours before bed, adequate nutrition and if needed the right supplementation (i.e Max Sleep, melatonin, GABA, etc.)

P: If you could give advice to someone who doesn’t sleep well now, what would you say?

C: Start small and hack away at your sleep issues. Go into your bedroom and make a mental checklist: Do you sleep in a light room? Do you play on your phone before bed? Do you drink alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime? Do you have a balanced meal at dinner? Start small and hack away at this list, changing one thing at a time and soon you will be a SLEEP MASTER!

Note: The “caffeine” link takes you to an article about what caffeine is and how it affects the body.

P: In your opinion, when is supplementation necessary to help someone sleep?

C: This is hard for me to answer because everyone is different. I would argue that if you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep you should first look at all of the non-supplementation factors you can change, along with sleep hygiene. If you are still having trouble with sleep onset or duration, then consider supplementation.

P: Are there any academic/trusted resources you look to for information on this topic, or health in general?

C: I refer to this site a lot, https://sleepfoundation.org, along with:http://www.gssiweb.org/en/home.


As always, your feedback is encouraged and appreciated. If you try these tips, or have your own, please let me know — and share this post with a friend who may benefit as well!

You can contact Chrissy at chrissy@nova3labs.com.

Reader note: Preslie never has been or is currently sponsored/endorsed by or affiliated with Nova 3 Labs and/or their products.

References: Why Is Sleep Important? (2012). Retrieved December 04, 2016.

So you wanna eat healthier...

Let me rephrase, so you’re going to start eating healthier; because truth be told you probably don’t want to. If we could eat pizza and ice cream all day and achieve the same results as chicken and broccoli, well, we would all probably opt for the first option. But because it doesn’t work that way (damn), you’ve taken it upon yourself to spruce up your diet. Whether you want that 6-pack you’ve been thinking about, to fit into old jeans, impress your peers at holiday gatherings, or just feel better, the list of motivators goes on.

People contact me all the time wanting to improve their physique and performance, but are clueless as to where to start. To no fault of their own, they usually ask the wrong questions and ignore important factors in their success and make changes to ones with small impact. Based on common mistakes, here’s a couple examples of what I’m talking about: being worried about your post-workout recovery drink when you aren’t eating at all (or are eating crap) before you workout; being concerned about the aspartame in your diet soda, when you are still drinking that high-calorie, sugar-saturated coffee beverage in the morning; obsessing over calories, rather than quality.

Look folks, getting in a groove with your nutrition isn’t an easy feat. It takes time, trial and error, self-motivated education, planning and the forming of good habits, amongst other things. That’s not at all to say it’s too difficult for you to accomplish, however it is a tremendous lifestyle change and mindset shift, and especially if you’re new to the “healthy eating” concept, getting it perfect right off the bat is both unlikely and overwhelming. Shoot for excellence, not perfection.

Pick your battles: identify your largest barriers to success, and attack the biggest threats first. Create good, sustainable habits there, and then move forward. It’s like how in the Chinese Olympic Weightlifting methodology, they’re forced to execute movements time and time again with an empty bar, achieving flawless technique almost mindlessly, before graduating to adding weight. In your kitchen, make sure you’re focusing on the most important components of your diet first, before worrying about the smaller stuff. Think of it like a pyramid, the smaller stuff at the top (supplements, micronutrients, nutrient timing), doesn’t matter much if your foundation (quality, quantity, consistency) is rocky.

Okay, soap box rant over, on to the good stuff.

Cut the crap

Identify the worst parts of your diet and fix those first. If there are several, it’ll be pretty tough to eliminate multiple unhealthy behaviors simultaneously. But work on them one or two at a time, and replace them with better habits. If you always eat Taco Bell for lunch and you cut fast food, then you won’t have lunch; by replacing Taco Bell with a more nutritious lunch, now you’re cultivating healthy habits. Before I give you my list of what to “cut”, I must mention the disclaimer that an expectation to eat clean 100% of the time is unrealistic — I’m not saying to never eat fast food again, what I am saying is that it should not be a regular thing, rather an indulgence, and a very infrequent one to achieve an overall healthy lifestyle.

Now, these are your biggest offenders:

  • Fast Food (including delivery, pizza, or frozen meals)
  • Soda (including diet)
  • Sugar (candy, desserts, fruit juice)
  • Snack foods (chips, for example)
  • High-fat dairy (butter, 2% milk)
  • Processed carbohydrates (white bread, bagels)

I encourage you to try and eliminate these behaviors (slowly, if needed), as they are inhibiting your progress holistically. Going back to the introduction, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting all your supplements in and having a healthy dinner once in awhile if you’re eating/drinking all of the above on a regular basis.

Challenge:  Cook more! If you’re intimidated by the kitchen, start slow and easy. I’m in the process of writing a post on what I make week to week, as it’s simplistic and definitely indicative of my lack of chef skills. By preparing your food at home, you know what’s in it and it’s immensely cheaper than eating out.

Portions

Do you eat breakfast because it’s morning, or because you’re hungry? Do you eat chips and salsa while watching football, just because the game is on? I advocate that you live deliberately, and less out of mindless habit when it comes to eating patterns. Give your metabolism a chance to work, and it will return the favor by expending the energy you intake. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. I realize that’s much easier said than done, here’s some tips to help:

  • Eat dinner at the table, not in front of the TV
  • Don’t eat in your car (unless it’s a quick, pre-planned snack)
  • After serving your plate at home, put the rest of the food away
  • When eating out, ask that half of the entree be placed in a to-go container
  • Wait 15 minutes before grabbing a second helping at home
  • ALWAYS drink water with your meal
  • Drink water when you feel hungry, before grabbing food (often we think we’re hungry, when we’re actually just dehydrated!)

Consistency

In all my time helping friends, family, clients and members of my gym, this has, without a doubt, been the most common barrier to success. Eat the same amount, day to day. Notice I didn’t say “foods”, but rather quantity. Your body can’t get in a groove if you’re starving it one day, and overfeeding it the next. Get in a routine so it can balance the energy and use the excess calories for fuel. Furthermore, if you’re doing something consistently, you can tell whether or not it’s working. If your quantities are all over the place, it makes it practically impossible to identify what needs to be changed to foster success.

Especially if you’re new to a healthy lifestyle, I strongly recommend tracking everything you eat. Whether that’s in the MyFitnessPal app, a notebook, whatever your preference. Results are generated by analyzing data. Create the data.

Note: generally speaking, the above explains why macro “dieting” works so well for people, especially over time. To understand more about this topic, read my previous posts about what they are and how to count them.

I hope you find this information helpful. Share with a friend who might need some ideas, and I sincerely appreciate any comments/feedback.

CrossFit athletes: How the simple rules you’re breaking are inhibiting your progress

You’re kicking ass in the gym: mobilizing, warming-up, getting after it in metcons, crushing your barbell lifts and maybe even catching a yoga class or grabbing the foam roller occasionally. But the fact of the matter is you can only get so fit without nailing a couple principles located outside the walls of Magna. You’ve heard “you can’t out-train a bad diet”; it goes hand-in-hand with the lesser known phrases like “you need lots of good food to get strong” or “beer doesn’t count toward your water intake”.

These concepts are rooted in science and practice, utilized by our coaches and Games athletes alike. In many cases, people don’t realize they don’t feel optimal, until they feel better. Consider your current habits and note areas of improvement given the general guidelines below; a friendly reminder to adequately supplement your exercise efforts. Hold yourself accountable, and to a higher standard, to reach your fullest potential as an athlete (and a healthy human being).

Drink More Water

If you’re thirsty, you’re already too dehydrated. Aim to drink a gallon per day, and don’t count things like coffee, milk, or flavored liquids toward your intake. Getting plenty of H2O is critical for proper cognitive function, muscle and joint health, digestion, and not dying on the rower. If you’re struggling to get sips in, try these ideas: have water handy every time you have a meal/snack, set an alarm on your phone every half hour to drink 5 big gulps, draw lines on a gallon jug to set incremental deadlines, track your water in the MyFitnessPal app, or aim to fill up your Hydroflask a certain amount of times per day.

Then, Drink Less Alcohol

This seems like a given, but definitely a necessary discussion. Alcohol carries the second most calories-per-gram, just under fat. This substance dehydrates your body and depletes your organs of the energy it needs not just to exercise, but to build muscle and capacity. Although I’m not advocating for completely abstaining, be mindful that a best practice would be to enjoy alcohol in the same matter you indulge in birthday cake — for special occasions. If consuming alcohol is a regular pastime for you, cutting back even a little bit will make a world of difference in how you perform, how you feel and how you look.

Eat Pre and Post Workout

You need to give your body fuel to expend during training: plain and simple. A car doesn’t go very far without gas. Get some quality food in 90 minutes before you get to the gym, and play with what foods make you feel better than others (rice vs. potatoes before cardio, for example). Fat is a good source for strength and skill work, and carbs are your go-to for aerobic training/endurance.

Contrary to popular belief, gains are made during recovery, not necessarily while working out. During exercise our body is tearing muscle fibers and being exhausted of fuel sources. Gettingenough of the right stuff after training gets the rebuilding process going. The better you strategize your post-workout plan, the better you’ll feel in terms of soreness and energy levels the next day and throughout the week, and over time in regards to health and longevity. This meal should have lots of carbs, some protein and a minimum amount of fat because we want the body to cash in on these nutrients ASAP. Keep in mind that what works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work best for you, too.

Furthermore, I mentioned “quality” and “right” when discussing food choices. These terms are relative, but generally refer to things with less crap in them; meaning product labels with few ingredients, plant-based foods, lean meats, lots of veggies, whole grains, carb sources with little sugar, and healthy fat sources. Don’t obsess over advertising claims and health fads, like Organic or gluten-free. Strive to eat a variety of colors and nutrient-dense foods, primarily coming from things that can be grown or killed. (You can read more about my thoughts on eating real food from a previous post here.)

Then, Eat More

To create an understanding, without getting too technical: everyone has a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or how many calories you burn at rest/just walking around throughout the day. This number is influenced by a few things, one of which is how much lean muscle mass you have. So take that indicator, add in the amount of calories you burn working out, and consider that you need a surplus of calories to build muscle. It’s clear that many athletes are eating far below what that caloric total is, essentially starving themselves and simultaneously training at a high volume/intensity. Over the long term, this will make you feel terrible, inhibit progress, and wreak havoc on your metabolism.

Try tracking your food, even for the sake of getting an accurate look at how much you’re typically eating. Then, try having smaller meals more often, adding in calories/increasing your daily average slowly, and changing up where you get your nutrients from. Don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry, but experiment to make sure you’re sufficiently fueling your body. You can also find out your BMR through the InBody machine at Nutrishop.

I hope you found these reminders of some simple nutrition rules helpful, and as always please don’t hesitate to reach out to myself, BK or any Magna Coach with questions or for clarification — we are always happy to help.

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.
— Greg Glassman (CrossFit Founder, CrossFit Journal, World Class Fitness in 100 Words)

Note: This post was written specifically for members of my gym, CrossFit Magna, thus why it is referenced above. However, the subject is applicable to many other CrossFit athletes which is why I wanted to share it through this platform as well.

Quick tip: Consider the circumstances

I stumbled upon this thought sometime ago, but I’ve found keeping the concept in mind keeps me on track. So I’d like to share it with you.

Consider this: it’s 10am and you’re at work. You’re a little hungry, which is normal between meals or when it’s about time for a snack. Then, a co-worker brings donuts into the office. Do you have one?

My answer would be no. I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way: I wholeheartedly believe in a balanced approach to nutrition. A healthy lifestyle includes small indulgences in “non-clean” food to maintain happiness, and frankly sanity. However, I still wouldn’t eat the donut in this case.

If this was any other day when your co-worker had not brought pastries, would you still have gotten one? Would you have driven out of your way to intentionally go get a donut? Probably not. You made healthy choices all morning, brought your lunch and are on track to crush today’s goals. So why are you going to let what someone else did impact your success? You are in control of your nutrition choices, the food sitting on the break room counter is not.

Drink some water and move on with what you were doing before you were distracted by the big box of sugar cakes. You’ll forget about them before you know it.

Furthermore, I try to eat well most of the time so I can really enjoy the pieces that don’t fit in the “most”. Do you ever eat something and think “man that wasn’t worth it?” — “it” being the calories. I strive to avoid that feeling. If I’m going to splurge on something sweet, it’s going to be over quality conversation with a friend, or during a movie in the comfort of my home, planned and in-line with what I’m really craving. This notion can be applied to events, too: if you know you’re going to a dinner party, eat well most of that week to allow yourself to embrace whatever delicious items are available in that scenario. Be in control when you can, so that when you aren’t it doesn’t set you back.

The 80/20 approach means eating nutrient-dense food 80% of the time, and enjoying other things 20% of the time. Of course, these percentages will vary based on if you have specific goals you’re working toward, but for maintaining wellness this structure works well for most people. So if you’re absolutely just craving that donut, consider it part of the 20% for that week.

Consistency is key. Stay on track this week: plan your indulgences, and intentionally set yourself up to succeed most of the time

In my moments of doubt, I’ve told myself firmly; If not me, who? If not now, when?
— Emma Watson

Improve (or start!) your meal prep process

First, if you aren’t already meal prepping — you should start. All the cool kids are doing it.

But seriously, it makes things immeasurably more efficient. It also boosts your likelihood to stick to a healthy diet, saves money and time, and creates a self-awareness and pride in regards to the food you’re eating. Often when I talk to people who do (or did) meal prep, they absolutely dread it and think it’s a tedious undertaking. I also used to feel that way, until I changed my strategy and perspective. Therefore, in the list below I’ve explained some of my favorite tips for meal prepping gained through my personal experience that should make a world of difference for you going forward. And regarding perspective, take a moment to consider that this process is perhaps a blessing in disguise. Use this time to collect wholesome food, organize your materials thus setting yourself up for a successful week, and enjoy some calm kitchen time where you can reflect on your intentions and embrace the opportunity to be in control of how you nourish your body.

  1. Make a plan and a list

Have some structure for the week ahead by planning out your meals and snacks ahead of time. If it’s too overwhelming for you to forecast 7 days out, plan 3-4 days. All it takes is a piece of paper, a pen and 10 minutes of goal-oriented thoughts and you won’t be aimlessly wandering aisles at the grocery store or realize you forgot something when you’re already unpacking bags back at home. In your head, walk yourself through the process of cooking and eating it, too. When I skip this step, I always forget things like baggies to put food in, spray for the cooking pan or cinnamon for the decadent finishing touch to my morning oats.

  1. Schedule the time

This may be one of the most magical steps of the method: meal prep as you’re unloading the grocery bags. If you pack it all in the fridge and cabinets with the intent to meal prep later, you may never get to it, or waste time digging it all out again trying to figure out what’s old and what’s new.

When you get home from the supermarket, put the cold stuff away (such as bacon, dairy products, freezer items), and leave everything else out. Then ask yourself what takes the longest: baking before steaming, cutting and separating last. Preheat the oven and place all items to be baked (i.e: potatoes, chicken, veggies) on their appropriate sheets prepped to go. Next, place eggs in a big pot covered in water ready to be hardboiled. Then, while those two items are cooking slice up all your cold veggies and fruit and place in containers (more information on containers in tip #3). Lastly, sort snack items like cheese slices, almonds or granola into easily grabbable zip-tight bags and put away. By executing the steps in this fashion, everything finishes about the same time — saving you minutes in the long run, and making cleanup a breeze.

  1. Those darn containers

Plastic containers can be a pain: you can never find a matching lid, they’re a nuisance to wash, and you never have the right size for what you need. For these reasons, keeping everything in gallon-size zip-tight bags is a great method. However, I still like the look and feel of rectangle containers so here’s my approach for those: use big containers of the same size. The small, individual container system is why I believe most people are emotionally scarred from meal prep. The large ones stack nicely and it’s easy to see what’s inside when you open the fridge. Keep all of one food product in a container and measure it out as you use it.

For example: if you know you want to eat 4 oz. of chicken everyday for lunch, it takes less than a minute to complete that measurement in the morning before you take it with you to work. It takes a wasted extra amount of time, containers and fridge space to measure out several portions of 4 oz. of chicken for the week.

  1. How much to buy: bulk shopping and wasting less food

I eat a lot of food, and I still can’t finish the container of fruit you buy at Costco before it goes bad. Buy in bulk what stays good for a while such as frozen fish and chicken or oats, for example.

If you’re new to meal prepping: you probably need more food than you think you do. Consider that two bags of broccoli will only last you a couple days, or one potato won’t get you very far.When you give it your first go, do your best to guess based on portion sizes listed on the label (or how much you’ll actually eat, who really eats just 2 tablespoons of peanut butter?) and then either keep your receipt or write down how many of everything you purchased while you’re prepping. That way, you’ll have some data to reference for making modifications to quantities next grocery trip.

What I’ve discovered works well is to pick a central couple foods from each category to eat that week, and rotate to maintain variety. I suggest picking two or three to eat in a given week; then buy the others the meal prep after and rotate. It takes more money and time spent prepping for an unnecessarily wide variety.

For example: chicken and beef this week, fish and turkey the next.

  1. Keep it easy breezy

It’s not practical that you’re going to made slider burgers, BBQ this, lemon-crusted that and rosemary something or the other every single week, or want it every day for that matter. Complicated recipes can be exhausting to repeat and the extra ingredients make tracking macros a little harder. I stick with basic stuff for the week, and let myself spend extra time on the weekends to have a culinary experiment. Spices have a long shelf-life, and simple ingredients like spinach, bell peppers or onions can be thrown in to add a pop of flavor (and nutrients!) to many dishes.

For example: bake sweet potatoes plain for the week and add cinnamon when you’re heating them up to eat. Mrs. Dash makes great salt-free seasonings that I love to sprinkle on vegetables, Old Bay is killer with beef and chicken, low-sodium soy sauce or olive oil in small amounts go a long way, and a pinch of salt and pepper are the perfect touch for many things.

We’re in this together

It’s probably rather silly how much I enjoy both meal prepping, and talking about this stuff. I suppose I have a soft spot in my heart for it, because I’ve learned all of these things first-hand and can emphatically say there’s no way I’d be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle without taking time to meal prep — it’s a conscious decision to prioritize your nutrition. Afterall, the saying goes, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”.

Don’t let it stress you out, enjoy the adventure of learning a technique that works for you. I hope you find this list helpful, and please share with a friend who needs to take control of their kitchen, too! If you have additional suggestions for how to make meal prep even more awesome, or feedback on these ideas, I would love to hear from you in the comments below. Happy prepping!

 An example of my meal prep

An example of my meal prep

You don’t have to be a pro to have fresh eggs

He runs! He jumps! He tackles! He…raises chickens?

That’s right. NFL Pro football player Jamell Fleming, #30 cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs, resides in Phoenix with his wife and young son, where they are responsible for 24 chickens roaming freely in their backyard.

Fleming was originally drafted to the NFL by the Arizona Cardinals from the University of Oklahoma in 2012. His wife Ashriel Osgood is a Bikini Pro and personal trainer, so it goes without saying that good, wholesome food is a priority in their household.

While he’s probably typically interviewed about his field performance, I asked him if we could chat about his experience being a dad to a handful of chickens and he was thrilled to share.

About a year ago his family went down to the local feed store, worked with a knowledgeable store-clerk, and came home with chickens and everything they needed to take care of them.

“There’s a big difference having fresh eggs: the color of the egg, the color of the yolk, they even smell different when you boil them,” Fleming said.

He described the varieties of egg colors his mix of chicken breeds produce, everything from light shades of copper to dark brown. He explained that the only difficult part of this job is learning the chickens’ unique personalities and getting them to all get along when new ones are introduced, but even this becomes easier with time.

Fleming uses all Organic-feed, and claims they’re still cheaper to feed than a typical family dog. Fleming stated proudly “my chickens are happier”, and their treatment and quality feed is to thank for that.

Many consumers don’t understand the differences between different types of eggs, though take note of the dramatic price difference between these cartons at the store.

First, all eggs have identical nutritional-value. The only difference between white and brown eggs is their color, as the type of chicken (specifically their breed, earlobe and feather color) is what determines the pigment of the egg shell. Similarly, grades AA, A and B are given based on the presence of exterior spots, amount of air between the yolk and the shell, and thickness of the yolk, all of which are hardly indicative of the egg quality and not at all of chicken treatment.

Some egg cartons will market themselves “hormone-free”, however this is true for all eggs because the FDA prohibits administering hormones to egg laying hens.

Free-range simply means the chickens aren’t kept in traditional battery-cages and must be given some kind of access to the outdoors, but there is no regulation on how often they get to soak up the sun or how humanely they’re treated. It’s entirely possible they are kept primarily indoors in such cramped quarters that they are still unable to engage in natural behaviors.

Battery-caged chickens are on average given 67 square inches of space, less than the size of a piece of letter paper and thus unable to spread their wings most of their life. The Humane Society reports that in many cases the chickens’ beaks are partially burned off, they’re deprived of food and water, and killed before they reach two-years old and/or shortly after laying a sufficient quantity of eggs, which is far shorter than their natural 5-11 year lifespan. When a group of chickens become sick, a farmer may choose to slaughter them as a cost-effective practice.

Organic eggs means they came from chickens who were not given antibiotics. However, these farmers are required to treat the animal if it becomes ill and in this case, the chicken is vaccinated and those eggs are no longer sold with that seal. Although, the FDA only allows three different kinds of antibiotics to be given to any chicken, and the U.S. Egg and Poultry Association claims there is no residue of antibiotics left in the egg to reach the consumer even when they are used. While most Organic eggs are cage-free, there is no caging regulation in place for Organic eggs.

If you’re interested in getting fresh eggs from your own backyard, I encourage you to do so! Friendly reminder: you may want to consult your homeowners association, lease or similar for any rules on owning chickens. If you’re not sure where you local feed store is located, I found a couple links where you can learn a little more about raising your own chickens that may be helpful for you: here or here.

Sources:

http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-white-and-brown-eggs-word-of-mouth-113678

https://www.uspoultry.org/faq/faq.cfm

https://www.southernstates.com/articles/size-grade-eggs.aspx

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/constitutes-organic-chicken-egg-79176.html

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/facts/cage-free_vs_battery-cage.html

http://www.nfl.com/player/jamellfleming/2532839/profile

 

  An egg from one of Jamell’s chickens, provided by him for this post

An egg from one of Jamell’s chickens, provided by him for this post

Nature’s Pasta: Spaghetti Squash 101

I’ll be the first to admit I was a little skeptical of this imposter-like vegetable. Quit trying to be something you’re not, spaghetti squash. You’re not pasta and I will not be tricked into thinking so.

That’s how I felt anyway, but as of late you could say I’m pretty obsessed with this piece of produce. I cut it some slack and gave it a shot, and now I’m a big fan. I’ll get into a few ways to enjoy it, but first I want to explain why it rocks. And if you’re anything like me and may have been too intimidated to buy it because you don’t know how to cook the darn thing — well, I’ll cover that too.

First, it’s a nutrient powerhouse! Those little strands are packed with fiber, vitamins C, A, K, B-6, thiamin, niacin, folate and riboflavin and the minerals manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. Friendly reminder/disclaimer: some of these are found in smaller amounts than others, but beneficial nonetheless.

Secondly, spaghetti squash is a big bang for your buck kind of ingredient. You can eat a lot of it without consuming a copious amount of calories. I like to think of it as a macro-counter’s secret weapon. At approximately 42 calories/10g carbs and little to no fat or protein per one cup serving, it makes a great substitution for traditional pasta. It’s also naturally gluten-free and Paleo-friendly.

As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s not a pasta and this is true. However, it’s an extremely versatile vegetable and can add tons of volume to your meals (volume meaning eating lots of food for not all the gross fullness feeling). It helps you stay on track with your healthy eating regimen and doesn’t make you feel sluggish like a big bowl of pasta would. I don’t consider it a substitution for spaghetti, rather a completely alternative ingredient that can be used how pasta can.

Lastly, there’s dozens of ways you can serve it, which keeps the creative juices flowing in the kitchen and the feeling of variety in your diet (read more about how variety leads to success in another one of my posts here).

Here’s how you do it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cut the squash in half lengthwise. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to remove the seeds in the middle, then drizzle olive oil and dash some salt and pepper, and any other handy cabinet spices you enjoy, all over. Next, turn the two halves facedown on a foil-covered sheet (yay for easy cleanup!) and bake for 25-35 minutes or so, until you’re happy with the texture (test this by scraping the inside with a fork). Lastly, let cool and scoop out the squash with a fork to get the spaghetti-like pieces.

My Tips:

  • I usually do this while I’m doing something else (like making a different meal, cleaning, studying, etc.) because most of it is baking time and doesn’t require hands-on work.
  • Cook 2-3 squashes at a time so you can enjoy it for a few days following without having to get the baking pan out everyday; it stores perfectly well in a big container in the fridge.
  • Keep the seeds, roast separately, and enjoy as a snack later.
  • If it’s too hard to cut in half initially, try cooking it in the microwave for 2 minutes to soften before cutting. If only you could see the several times my roommate and I have switched off max effort attempts and different knives trying to get some of these suckers open. I’ve read you can poke fork holes in the squash and roast it whole (though it takes a little longer to cook) and cut it after to get to the stringy-goodness.
  • Lastly, use it as the base of a meal and get creative! It goes well with most proteins and vegetables and takes on the flavor of added ingredients wonderfully. I like to start with a heaping amount, and then use up whatever’s in the fridge and eat a big ‘ol bowl style dinner.

Try adding things like:

    • Bacon! Bacon goes with everything, duh
    • Mexican-inspired ingredients like black beans and salsa
    • Lemon juice and shrimp
    • Shredded cheese and avocado slices
    • Sautéed mushrooms and spinach
    • Ground beef, ground turkey or shredded chicken
    • Steamed zucchini and broccoli
    • Grilled asparagus and light soy sauce
    • Tomato sauce – mmm! Remember: you don’t need much sauce to get plenty of flavor, and either use real tomatoes, make your own sauce or be mindful of the ingredients of a store-bought brand. Packaged tomato sauce usually has lots of added ingredients, especially sugar.

Now go enjoy a big plate of spaghetti squash for me! I’d love to hear your favorite things to pair it with in the comments below.

Everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about hormones in milk

The idea for this post was sparked by an encounter I had with a customer at work, a local coffee shop.

I was at the drive-up window when a lady asked for a coffee with a cream base, only if our milk was hormone free, but wanted almond milk if it wasn’t. I was stumped by this question, but eagerly asked her to explain what she meant to help her get the right drink, and because I was personally intrigued.

She asked to see the container of milk and almost immediately smiled and pointed to a sticker. On the lower front-side was blue sticker that said “rBGH free”, so small that my co-workers and I had never noticed it. She explained to me that she was breast-feeding and it’s not good to give your newborn these kinds of hormones, so she’s careful with things like milk.

Before this experience, I would have assumed all store bought cow’s milk have hormones in it. So naturally, I did some research.

The hormone bovine somatotrophin naturally occurs in cows, though a genetically engineered version named rBGH (also called rBST) is sometimes given to the animal to expedite the maturity process and thus produce more milk, faster. This process was first used in 1993, and continued to grow in popularity in the years following. However, as personal health ownership and public health education have become more prevalent, fewer cows are being injected with it to appease consumer requests. So why do people care if it’s in their dairy products?

According to the Center for Food Safety, the hormone injection prompts a chain-reaction type problem, starting with a correlation between cows treated and those that develop numerous health conditions such as lameness, udder infections (mastitis) and infertility, just to name a few. To combat the growing amount of cows’ health issues, farmers are using more antibiotics, which can leave residue in the dairy products sold on the supermarket shelves. Some studies report that these residues can be linked to human allergic reactions and encourage the build up of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which in turn undermines the effectiveness of human antibiotics.

Additionally, a hormone called “insulin-like growth factor-1” (IFG-1) is said to be found in the milk produced from cows treated with the rBGH hormone. There are several sources that claim IFG-1 is a factor in the development of breast, colon and prostate cancer. According to Breast Cancer Action, there is conflicting evidence on whether IFG-1 survives in the digestive system or not, but the inconclusiveness is enough to raise concern. The potential health consequences were enough to convince places like Japan, Canada and the 27 countries of the European Union to ban the use of rBGH in their cows.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed rBGH treated products safe to consume for humans. Some companies like Shamrock Farms acknowledge this position, but pledge to keep their cows free of this hormone to satisfy their customers requests.

In the FDA’s report on the safety of rBGH, last updated in late 2014, they claim the connection between rBGH and IFG-1, as well as IFG-1 to cancer are both insignificant.

In a published review of the hormone by The American Cancer Society, a study was presented in which the levels of IFG-1 were measured in subjects who drank cow’s milk or soymilk, and discovered the amount to be similar. This finding suggests the possibility that it’s not rGBH, and rather another element in milk, as a factor for increased IFG-1.

Grace Communications Foundation published an interesting piece which amongst other things, expressed that the gentleman responsible for writing the FDA labeling guidelines regarding this issue, was formally a lawyer for Monsanto, before working for the FDA. Monsanto is the original producer of the rBGH hormone (it was sold to Eli Lilly in 2008). This kind of conflict of interest, lobbying and/or political influence is not foreign amongst matters that affect public health and marketing, though rarely gets noticed by consumers.

The American Cancer society takes no formal stance regarding rGBH, and notes on their report of the hormone that there is correlation between the use of the substance and cow health, but the evidence regarding the impact upon human ingestion and specifically as it relates to causing cancer, is inconclusive.

Not all milk has contains this rBGH, although unless it’s labeled “rBGH free”, it’s a possibility.

I’m certainly in no qualified position to make a recommendation on whether or not you should eliminate products made from cows injected with rBGH from your diet. Though because it isn’tdefinitely safe, I now understand the precautions the mom I met at work took, avoiding hormone ingestion when it concerns the health of a newborn child.

I hope that my efforts to both compile information for this post and understand this issue better can save you some time and this piece serves as a tool you can use to make your own decision, or at the least, be a more informed consumer.

Sources:

http://www.babycenter.com/0_bovine-growth-hormone-and-milk-what-you-need-to-know_12493.bc

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/recombinant-bovine-growth-hormone

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/1044/rbgh/about-rbgh

http://www.organicvalley.coop/why-organic/synthetic-hormones/about-rbgh/

http://www.shamrockfarms.net/health-wellness/rbst-pledge/

http://www.sustainabletable.org/797/rbgh

http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/past-campaigns/about/dairy-breast-cancer/

Keeping variety in your diet

Sometimes people think eating healthy is boring or dull, that they’ll always eat the same thing. Giving yourself variety is a key to staying on track and not feeling deprived.

I truly  am never bored with my meals. I try to incorporate different vegetables throughout the week and really take advantage of spices and cooking techniques. Investing in a collection of good spices is a relatively small price for the amount of possibilities you’ll create in the kitchen. By cooking techniques, I mean try things grilled, ground, shredded, baked and sauteed for a difference in texture.

I designed a list of some of my favorite foods to rotate between. I hope you find it helpful!

Navigating the grocery store

If you’ve ever walked into the grocery store feeling a little lost, especially when you’ve shown up with some motivation to clean up your diet, you’re not alone. The old suggestion used to be to shop the perimeters of the grocery store to keep wholesome food in sight. But the store structure is adapting with our attempts at wellness and some are placing the processed junk on end caps and nuts right in the middle by the candy.

Friendly reminder: anything advertised “low-fat”, “lowers cholesterol”, “high fiber” and the like, usually isn’t stamped on a real food product. Don’t fall victim to these claims; notice real things like meat, vegetables, fruits and eggs don’t have any marketing on them. (Check out my last post on on eating real food here: Back to basics: Eating real food)

As a college student who has to watch how much I spend, I typically buy all my produce and packaged items at a regular grocer (especially the places where you earn points), and my meat or poultry items somewhere with a little higher meat and seafood standards like Sprouts or Whole Foods. These products at a typical supermarket are usually packed with water and salt, driving the weight, and therefore price up, while ripping you off and increasing your sodium intake. Now if grabbing chicken or beef at a higher-end grocery store is not an option for you, whether due to transportation or financial reasons, I would definitely recommend eating chicken breast from Wal-mart or a traditional grocery store than not at all; the nutrition benefits from these kinds of foods are outweighed by the potential additives they may contain in my opinion (just make sure you cook them thoroughly, but you should do that anyway no matter where you buy it).

My second effective strategy is to come armed with a list. Plan out what you’d like to eat for the week (meals, snacks, spices/extra ingredients as needed) and write it all down in your phone or on a piece of paper to reference in the grocery store. Staying on track with what you’ve already planned is good for your wallet and sticking to your goals.

Happy shopping!

Back to basics: Eating real food

Here’s the deal

At some point or another you’ve likely either already tried or thought of dabbling in some type of structured approach to your nutrition to maximize performance during workouts (feel better, faster, stronger) and/or to improve body image (typically through leaning out or “toning”). When I talk to people in this boat, they are usually in search of answers to questions like: How much do I eat everyday? How many carbs should I be eating? Which protein powder should I use?

So, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is: it’s not even nearly as complicated as you think it may be to eat better. The bad news is: it’s also not cookie-cutter, black and white, eat this not that, meal plan on a silver platter laid out for you either. And while you’re already a little apprehensive, I’ll get this out of the way: it won’t be easy at first. Up to this point you’ve likely taught your body to run on fake sugars, simple carbohydrates and too much of everything. Breaking that cycle can cause withdrawal symptoms, commonly in the form of cravings. But, they do go away. Food is a substance we consume for energy; you are in control, not food.

The “secret”

You may have heard before that the secret is: there is no secret. To achieve better athletic performance, feel better all-day long, sleep better, live longer, get sick less often, lose excess body fat, have prettier skin and every other marketable benefit you can think of: eat real food.

Real food in this capacity is defined as things you can grow or kill. This is not to be confused with a Paleolithic approach, a method that although follows a similar framework, is more exclusive and theory-based.

It can be overwhelming to start anything new; especially something that impacts your daily activities, mood and size of your jeans. But, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Keeping your plan simple and goal in mind will set you up for success. When I made the biggest physical transformation of my life to date, my phone background read: “I know what happens when I quit, I want to see what happens when I don’t.”

This real food system is applicable for quite literally everybody. Overweight, fit, old and young persons alike all benefit from a balanced, nutrient-dense diet. It isn’t just about changing body composition, it’s about feeling better, improving quality of life and establishing longer, healthier lives. As a side note: sure, this may seem like the slower way to achieve your desired results when compared to methods like a crash diet or steroid use. Although you want to follow something that will give you health benefits and be sustainable long term. Without getting too personal or off track, after my last crash diet I put 20lbs on in 6 days. You read that correctly. And get this: I wasn’t eating an abundance of carbs, sweets and the entire kitchen pantry during that rapid weight gain. When I increased my water intake to healthy levels and consumed food that was anything other than malnourished portions of lean fish and greens, my body freaked out.

For example, eggs are real food. Bagels or the weird glossy deli meat at Subway aren’t real food. Gluten-free soy-free dairy-free low carb high protein some fiber crackers, aren’t either (I’ll cover health halos/marketing in a post soon). 

It’s all about balance

Now I’ve given you these examples, but some of you will still pick up peanut butter and rice cakes at the grocery store without stopping to think about it. There’s nothing wrong with peanut butter, that is when “peanuts” are the only ingredient listed. (Next time you’re at the store try to find a jar that only lists peanuts: it’s a challenge!) Becoming familiar with nutrition labels to identify ingredients will be important for you to be successful in this new real food endeavor. I still remember the first time I ditched bread and started wrapping lettuce, tomato and cucumber in turkey for bread-less sandwich type snack. Just for kicks I read the label on the turkey: sodium phosphates, nitrates, corn syrup, citric acid, water, maltodextrin, the list goes on. What? I thought turkey was just turkey, and I thought wrong.

I think the best part of eating real food, is it’s pretty hard to overeat and when done right, requires little additional expensive vitamin supplements, aside from health condition related issues. Your body will tell you when it’s full, and will stay full longer from wholesome ingredients. I don’t believe in a “this is the only right way for everyone” concept, and I’m a huge advocate of balance and enjoying food that isn’t clean on occasion. However, I think embracing this mindset most of the time is a good tool for success.

Nutrition alone will not make you run faster or expose a 6-pack set of abs, but anyone, especially athletes, will not reach their absolute fullest potential without adequate, nutrition balance. Our bodies were designed to breakdown and use the nutrients that occur naturally in foods the earth provides to us through plants and animals. So whether you are wanting drop pounds or to sharpen your athletic edge, you’ve got nothing to lose (well, except excess body fat and health issues), and a lot to gain, by cleaning up your diet.

A quick bit on food sensitivities

My (previous) roommate, who works in the health industry, always says “you don’t know how bad you feel until you feel better.” Most people aren’t feeling their best as a repercussion of something they’re eating causing a food sensitivity reaction. Sensitivity is commonly confused with allergy, which aren’t one and the same.

I initially became interested in this concept after my last bodybuilding show. Being so lean, I became way more clued into what made my body look (and thus react) in a different way. I noticed yogurt gave me small, pink raised bumps on my triceps and whey protein made me look puffy. I later discovered this was a casein sensitivity.

Sensitivities prompt a less urgent response and instead cause side effects that are more subtle and delayed, but impact quality of life just the same; things like mild skin reactions, fatigue, headaches, congestion, digestive issues, stomach aches, bloating, and so on. Many people never get tested for their sensitivities (it’s a pretty pricey exam), and end up medicating to alleviate symptoms, live with them or don’t realize how much they’re being affected throughout their entire life. For example, waking up congested each morning may not be something that’s just “normal for you”, or needs to be treated with a morning dose of over the counter allergy medicine. Rather, it could be the spoonful of peanut butter you eat each night or the glass of nonfat milk at dinner.

When people eliminate foods that trigger sensitivity reactions, they will often think clearer than they realized was even possible. Similarly, physical changes may become apparent, such as a huge decrease in water-retention or bloating by removing whichever food was causing you trouble from your diet.

When I got my CrossFit Level 1 certificate, we spent a solid amount of time discussing nutrition and how it impacts how you feel, both in and outside of the gym. The suggestion given by the host of that session, Nuno Costa (such a great speaker!), was to eliminate all possible ingredients that would cause a food sensitivity from your diet, and then add them back in slowly one at a time (that’s key for this to work) to see if any of them are effecting you at all. Like I said, there is a blood test you can have done by a local lab to find this information out as well, but this method is a little easier on the wallet (and a rather cool experiment, don’t you think?).

Here are things you should eliminate from your diet to perform this test yourself:

  • cow’s milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • soy foods
  • wheat and/or gluten
  • fish
  • tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.)
  • lactose
  • preservatives or additives

Take these things out of your regular diet and once you’ve done it for a week or so, you can add your favorite products back in slowly for a more powerful look at if or how it’s impacting you. Cheers to feeling good!