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KALE: It Is Super Good For You (even though it is gross)

3 Oct

Friends, let’s talk about kale.

First of all, let’s get some things out of the way:

1 – I am captain of a roller derby team called the Venus Fly Tramps.  Historically, they have been known as the “crunchy-granola-hippy”  team of TCRG.  This does not make me queen of the hippies.

2 – I garden.  I am not great at it, but I like the idea of growing my own veggies and stuff, and I like to have a moderate amount of control over what I put into my body.  This does not mean I am some sort of green-thumbed earth mother.

3 – There is kale growing in my garden.  I DON’T KNOW HOW IT GOT THERE.  (Yes, I do.  My mom had a ton, and she gave me a clipping, which I planted thinking I would kill it, as is the case with a number of my gardening ventures.)  NOW IT IS TAKING OVER.  I tried to sacrifice it to the bunnies in my yard, but after we put up chicken wire to protect our spinach, in a totally different part of the garden, they stopped lunching on the kale.  Bunnies!  Come back!  This kale is for you!

For some reason, kale is really cool right now.  I’ve always loved spinach.  I’m a recent convert to Swiss chard.  But of the healthy, leafy greens, kale seems to be getting all the press.

Kale is one of those vegetables that you probably (or at least I didn’t) hear much about growing up, unless your parents were hippies.  Now, you can’t turn the corner without hearing how great kale is.

(True Fact: Since joining roller derby, I have met two women who have children NAMED Kale).

I am trying REALLY hard to like kale, since it is ridiculously good for you.  Yes, I know, it’s easy to over-hype almost any food these days, but kale sort of lives up to its current hype.  It is definitely finding a renaissance amongst current foodies and fitness pros, and I feel like I should jump on that band wagon, lest I get left behind with the other spinach-eating troglodytes.

Here’s why kale is a good food that you should eat:

It’s low in calories, high in fiber, and has no fat.  It’s also chock full of an alphabet of vitamins – especially Vitamin K, C, and A.  That means it’ll help with digestion, elimination, and is very nutrient-dense, without being calorically-dense.

It’s high in iron. Allegedly (according to science), kale has more iron per calorie than beef, hence its current moniker, “The New Beef”.  Iron is crucial for cell growth, liver functioning, forming enzymes and hemoglobin and enzymes, and other important stuff inside your body.

Kale is high in calcium. Not content with taking over for beef, kale is also muscling in on milk’s calcium claims, providing superior calcium absorption per calorie.  As we all know, from the milk commercials, calcium is important for in preventing osteoporosis and maintaining healthy bones.

It’s also a decent anti-inflammatory food. A cup of kale contains 10% of your daily recommended omega-3 fatty acids, which help to fight against various ailments and keep inflammation in check.

It freezes well.  it actually gets a little sweeter if you expose it to some frost.  Convenient.

It blends reasonably well.  If you are not a super kale fan, like the author of this post, get a good blender, because you can just blend your kale until you don’t hate it anymore.  great for smoothies, rough blending/chopping for sauces.

Kale has been found to contain a group of resins that lowers bad cholesterol and decreases absorption of dietary fat – these properties are enhanced with steaming.  Also convenient  – SINCE THAT IS THE ONLY WAY THAT KALE ON ITS OWN TASTES TOLERABLE.

I kid.  Somewhat.

The moral, kale is good for you, it sort of tastes okay, so you should probably eat more of it if you want to.  Here are 3 recipes that make kale not horrible to eat:

HIDE THE KALE SMOOTHIE

Just make a green monster: ice, banana, kale, dairy or dairy alternative of your choice or water, flavouring – peanut butter, frozen fruit, etc.  The banana will hide the kale (make sure you blend it well, it’s tougher than spinach), and the rest of the flavour can be whatever you desire – that said, don’t add strawberries.  It tastes fine, but looks like baby vomit.

STEAMED KALE

Steam your kale, drain it, add a little butter or coconut oil, season it with cracked pepper and sea salt.  That’s not so bad, is it?  You can also wilt kale and add it to anything that you would normally put spinach into – sauces, under meats, chopped up in rice.

 

KALE CHIPS

I, personally, am not a fan (much prefer dried seaweed for my chip alternative).  But lots of people are fans, so here’s how to make them:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Remove the ticker part of the kale steams and tear into chip-sized pieces.  Wash and dry kale thoroughly.  Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt  (or curry, or rosemary, or Parmesan cheese, or whatever floats your boat).
  3. Bake 10 to 15 minutes until the edges brown.

BAM.  Non-horrible kale in three super-low-effort ways.  Enjoy!  Also, if you’re looking for some kale, I might know a backyard that’s full of it.

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Summer Yummers

25 Jul

Didn’t even realize it had been over a month since my last post – oh summer derby season, why are you so crazy?  I’ve missed blogging, but the derby, she needs me.

In the height of derby game season, it can be a challenge to keep things straight (your life, your appointments, your mountainous pile of email).  One thing that I’ve been working hard to keep on track is my nutrition.

I find that in summer, it can be easier both to eat healthier – salads, good cuts of meat, lots of veggies; and to sabotage ourselves – fast food on road trips, lots of food-centric get-togethers.

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I read an interesting article the other day about aiming to eat for the weather.  It suggested that food not only has a thermic effect, but that each food has an “energetic temperature”.  “Hot” foods consumed by an already stressed person would cause toxic heat in the body, resulting in anger, elevated blood pressure, and headaches.  A cold person eating “cold” foods would be more apt to experience aches and pains, and maybe catch cold.

Some examples from the article:

“Heating” foods – ginger, squash, cabbage, hot peppers, beef, lamb, chicken, brown rice, lentils, winter squash, nuts, garlic, cherries, oats

“Cooling: foods – apples, pears, corn, watermelon, asparagus, spinach, bok choy, citrus, tomato, seaweed, yogurt, crab, alfalfa sprouts, tofu, cauliflower

Do I buy it?  Not really – however, I do think that each season (and each bodily state for that matter) has foods that are easier to eat since they’re in season, are ripe and tasty, and either make you feel light and energetic (summer), or warm and comforted (winter).  The examples above would seem to fit with the idea that the more you eat in season (or even better, grow for yourself), the better you’ll feel, no matter what the weather.

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On that note, here are some recipes I’ve been rocking this summer.  I’m working on increasing my protein intake (ALL THE PROTEIN!  ALL THE TIME!), and eating veggies with every meal.  That second one is easy since there are so many awesome vegetables around right now.  To try to eat more mindfully this summer, but still eat meals that I know and love, I’ve been making educated substitutions and additions.  Instead of having mashed potatoes, I have cauliflower puree – with the right seasoning, I’ve actually come to prefer the cauli.  Instead of just having a side salad, I protein it up.  Here’s what I mean:

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TUNA SPINACH SALAD (serves 1)

  • 2-3 giant handfuls spinach
  • can of tuna or salmon
  • slices cucumbers
  • handful cherry tomatoes
  • sometimes mushrooms or scallions
  • sometimes orange slices or berries if I’m really adventurous
  • oil-based dressing or balsamic vinegar

Mix together.  Eat like a boss.  It’s so yummy and summery, and will get you a decent protein intake for such a light meal.

lettuce

LETTUCE TACOS (serves 1-2)

  • 2 big lettuce leaves (iceberg)
  • 1/2lb ground beef
  • chili seasoning and dried pepper flakes
  • diced jalapeno pepper
  • 1/2 each diced onion, green pepper, tomato
  • grated cheese, sour cream, salsa to taste

Fry veggies, and beef together (not tomatoes unless you like them mushy, I don’t).  Drain excess fat.  Add seasoning, mix well, let sit  – since you don’t have a starch to soak up the fat, you want to make sure that the meat mixture has a bit of time to thicken.  Prepare cheese and other toppings.  Add meat mixture, toppings into lettuce leaf.  Roll like a soft taco.  Enjoy!  Tacos are awesome – tacos with added veggies are even more awesome!

two fresh zucchini isolated

ZUCCHINI LASAGNA (serves 4)

  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (I use 2%)
  • mozzarella (or whatever) cheese, sliced or grated
  • flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 diced tomato
  • 1 each medium green pepper and onion
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1lb ground beef

First thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise (long, thin strips).  Boil until soft – set aside to dry.  DON’T SKIP THIS STEP.  You might think you don’t need to let the zucchini dry, but trust me, you do.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fry ground beef until brown.  Drain excess fat, add green pepper, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, tomato paste.  You can add the green pepper and onions earlier if you’d like them to soften.  Add tomato paste.  Let simmer on very low heat.  In a separate bowl, combine cottage cheese, a bit of grated cheese, egg, and flour to thicken.  Once zucchini “noodles” are dry, you can assemble: zucchini layer – cheese mixture layer, with added cheese on top – sauce layer.  Repeat and top with cheese.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until browned.  If you don’t let the noodles dry, your lasagna will be soup.  It will still be delicious, but it will be runny.  Please dry your noodles.  This keeps really well in the fridge, and might even be tastier as leftovers.

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What I love about these recipes is that they take foods I already love, and make them lighter for the summer (except the salad, adding meat just makes it better).  I’ve tried lots and lots of ways to “eat better”.  Denial only works for so long.  The only method that works on an ongoing basis is finding meals that you love, that are also good for your body, and working them into your regular schedule.

What about you, what are your go-to summer dishes?

I Hate Mornings (or, How I Eat and Get Out the Door Without Becoming a Monster)

14 Mar

 

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Garfield and I have a couple of things in common. First off, we both hate mornings. Secondly, we both love lasagna. Unfortunately (fortunately), now that I am a grown-up and am committed to building my business, I need to free up some extra time. And when better to do that than first thing in the morning? Ugh.

In the past, my mornings generally went like this:

  • (starting the night before), I say to Slim as we’re going to bed, “I’ll totally get up with you at stupid early o’clock”.
  • Stupid early o’clock arrives, I roll over and tell Slim to have a good day, that I’ll see him in 10 minutes, and hit the snooze button. (This was actually progress, since initially, I would just reset the alarm for an hour or two later).
  • I hit the snooze again.
  • I hit the snooze again.
  • I hit the snooze again.
  • Slim leaves , I drag my sorry ass into the shower to wake up, get dressed, boil the kettle, drink tea, leave for work.

This type of morning did not leave me with the sort of energy and sense of accomplishment that I’d like to start my day with. To be clear, I have NEVER been a morning person. My parents used to have to drag me out of bed as a child, in University I scheduled classes in the morning so that I wouldn’t just sleep the entire day through.

To manage this paradigm shift, I had to do a few things. Let’s refer back to Switch – I had to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. To shape the path (or change my environment), I became accountable to more than my alarm. Nowadays, when Slim wakes up, he bugs me until I actually get out of bed. Another way to shape the path would be to move the alarm clock to Slim’s side of the bed. We haven’t done that yet, but it would work.

Next, to direct the rider (or appeal to my logical mind), I gave myself a morning task to accomplish. I don’t train optimally in the mornings, I’ve tried, I just get cranky, so that couldn’t be the thing I did every morning. Instead, each night, I make a list (surprising!) of the tasks I’d like to complete and have them ready for me tackle in the morning. If they’re there staring at me, the desire to get them done will override the desire to snuggle in bed.

Finally, I needed to motivate my elephant (engage my emotional self). Lists are all well and good, but having random tasks on them wasn’t enough, since I didn’t actually care about accomplishing them. Without emotional engagement in the task, the snooze button/crap morning TV began to look more and more attractive.

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I thought back to University, and even though I hated every second of the waking up early for class, once I was in the classroom I didn’t feel so bad. And by the time it was done, I felt like I’d accomplished more that day than my friends who were still tucked in their beds. So these days, I focus on my continuing education stuff every morning. First thing is when I watch videos, take online classes, study, and plan. I feel awesome when I can check things off my list before I’ve even finished my first cup of green tea.

Let’s recap: I wanted to make more time in the morning to get stuff done and feel good about myself. I am not a morning person. I changed my environment to help me along, I gave my logical mind a reason to get up and a task to accomplish, and I gave my emotional drive a reward (pride) to look forward to. Fantastic! I am most of the way to not hating mornings. Until the night that the dog barks for no reason for hours, or the time changes, or I was up late the night before.

I recently passed my Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coaching certification (for which I studied almost exclusively in the morning), and I learned a TON. One of the huge takeaways was the power of habit versus the power of intention. How many times have you decided that you were going to eat healthy/workout every day/start getting up earlier/etc. etc. only to be derailed when things get busy or you have a tough day?

I often have tough mornings.

Habits will carry you through (or drag you down) in the tough times. Don’t assume that your life will always operate under the best-case scenario; plan for things to get hairy once in a while. Take the time to ingrain healthy habits to replace less healthy ones, and you’ll be much better equipped to manage when things go pear-shaped.

To nail down my getting-shiz-done-in-the-morning habit, here are my actionable steps:

1) Wake up at roughly the same time every day (even if it’s a weekend). This helps more than you think it will. And you get TONS done on your days off, since you don’t spend half of it sleeping.

2) The Saturday Ritual (PN calls this the Sunday Ritual, but I have derby on Sundays) – Use whichever day you have the most time to commit to the task and give over a couple of hours to writing a menu, grocery shopping, and prepping your food for the week. You can chop veggies, cook proteins, make batch meals – like chili (or lasagna!), make dry mixes for shakes. Meal plans don’t have to be complicated, or detailed. For example, I have a shake for breakfast and a salad and a protein (usually eggs or cottage cheese) for lunch – I don’t really have to over-plan those, because they don’t change. Devote a couple of free hours that you would have spent on facebook, and you’ve got healthy meals for the week, and a WAY less stressful morning.

3) Eat Breakfast. I didn’t. For a very long time. I had myself convinced that breakfast made me feel sick and sluggish all day. So I just didn’t eat it. As I dug deeper into training and nutrition, I figured I should probably try a little harder to eat in the mornings, but it was so challenging to find the time that I’d end up just having instant oatmeal or a bagel. With no fruit or veggies. Or protein. So, not ideal. Enter the Super Shake. It’s an easy way to eat well in the morning that literally takes about 2 minutes. Here’s what you do:

In your blender, mix:

  • ice – 1-10 cubes depending on the consistency you want
  • a fruit – I like banana, it thickens up the shake
  • a veggie – kale, swiss chard, spinach, pumpkin, sweet potato, beets (roast first), celery/cucumber (make sure to use less liquid because of the water content in these), greens powder
  • a protein powder that you digest well – whey, rice, hemp, pea, or other
  • a nut or seed – walnut, flax, hemp, chia, cashew, almond, nut butter
  • a liquid – almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, green tea, water
  • a topper – coconut, cacao nibs, dark chocolate, oats, granola, cinnamon

Yummy shakes, all the nutrients you need, no brain power required. My fave – 4 ice cubes, a banana, pumpkin puree, unflavoured (or vanilla) whey protein, almond butter (or crunchy peanut butter), almond milk, cinnamon. IT’S LIKE PIE FOR BREAKFAST.

4) The Power of Proximity. If you want to make healthy choices, make them the easiest choices to make. I know mornings are where I fall down, so my green tea is the foremost tea on my shelf, my blender is right out on the counter, and I don’t have bagels, or instant anything, in the house any more. This totally works if your issue is not breakfast, but rather post-work or late-night snacks too. Just have the healthy snacks in plain view. Don’t have questionable snacks in the house if you can manage it. If you’re actually hungry, you’ll go for the easy (healthy) choice.

I’m trying to be a little less Garfield-ish these days. I’m still a grumpus when I first get out of bed, but I’m getting out of that bed with a plan, some steps to take, and sound morning habits to support me.

I’m not going to stop loving lasagna though. Case in point, here’s a PN coach’s recipe for lasagna using zucchini strips for noodles (scroll to Anytime Lasagna) – genius!

garfield-lasagna

Fresh to Death: Three Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Fresh Meat

7 Mar

TCRG just had its latest Fresh Meat intake on Monday. What a charming and enthusiastic group of girls! They came in all bright-eyed and hopeful for what was the first time on skates for some of them, and they all performed admirably.

Every time we have an intake, I hearken back to the days long, long ago when I was fresh meat, and didn’t know my ass from my elbow – but definitely fell on both of them – and I reflect on the things I wish I’d known.

Here are three things I wish I’d been told:

From Nike+ Training

Hope Solo, From Nike+ Training

You Need to Train Like An Athlete

I’ll tell you what I told my new freshies on Monday – Derby isn’t the workout. Train outside of derby. Seriously. It will make a world of difference. This is probably the area that I get the most questions about since people know they need to cross-train, but haven’t a clue where to start. I’m a little reticent to give blanket workouts, since everyone has their own set of challenges, imbalances, and patterns. Your best bet is to find a trainer who knows a thing or two about bodies move, talk to them about your goals, and get them to write you a program. Or get a trainer to come up with an off-skates plan for your league. If that’s not the way you roll, no worries, you’ll just need to do a bit more research to find a plan that works for you. Try to get a professional to look at your form periodically though, there are few quicker ways to invite injury than repeating a faulty movement pattern over and over. Also, if something hurts (actually hurts – not is sore from exertion, learn the difference) – STOP DOING IT. Don’t keep plugging through something just because you think you have to be a bad-ass, pain is the body’s way of telling us something is up. What might be perfectly safe for others might not be a good idea for you (like I said, we all have our own challenges). Don’t ignore your body’s signals.

All of that disclaiming aside, here are a few key points to keep in mind when you get started with your cross-training and a basic plan to get you on your way:

In the derby, generally (very generally) our quads (the muscles on the front of your thigh that control extension at the knee, as well as flexion at the hip, along with your hip flexors) get crazy strong and muscular (hello, none of my pants fitting in the thigh anymore). Sometimes the left is slightly stronger (because you balance on it all the time turning left). Strong quads are great, but we need to encourage balance amongst the muscle groups, lest your quads take over everything. I wrote an entire post about training your glutes. Don’t neglect your posterior chain – it’s the most powerful mover in your body and you should give it some love.

When you start skating, oftentimes you find yourself with a host of new aches and pains (and bruises, but we’re not really talking about those), pay attention to them. If your low back is hurting, it could be that you need to work more on your glutes and hamstrings, it could be a lack of core strength, it could be something clinical. Track your pain and see if it gets better or worse as you get stronger. Bring a foam roller with you to practice, and roll out your shiz before (and after) practice – rolling out your calves often helps with shin splints, rolling out your quads often helps with posture.

When you’re training, if one side is stronger, only do as many reps of an exercise as you can do with good form on the weak side. On that note, meet yourself where you’re at. Don’t do exercises just because you think they’re cool, do them because they’ll give you the appropriate training effect. Don’t jump into something advanced before you are ready, there are tons of ways to regress an exercise (inclines, band assistance, lighter or no weights, smaller range of motion, etc.) – make sure you can perform the exercise with perfect form before you progress into a more challenging variation.

You can use a few simple multi-joint exercises – both upper and lower body, save time, and get a great training session. Here’s an easy template you can quickly adapt to a derby off-skates training regime. In any given session, you can include:

Upper Body Push – horizontal: eg.) push-ups, chest presses; vertical: eg.) military presses, push presses

Upper Body Pull – horizontal: eg.) rows – inverted, seated, alternating; vertical: pull-ups, chin-ups, lat pull-downs

Lower Body Squat Pattern – eg.) front squats, back squats, wall squats, goblet squats

Lower Body Deadlift Pattern – eg.) deadlifts, glute bridges, hip thrusts, romanian deadlifts (also kettlebell swings to a certain extent)

Lower Body Unilateral – eg.) split squats, step-ups, lunges, 1-leg RDLs, bulgarian split squats

Core – (I’m a big fan of stabilization here) – prone planks, side planks, woodchops, birddogs, get-ups

Agility and/or Endurance – I’m a big fan of interval training, going hard for brief spurts, recovering, going again. I find it carries over nicely into the energy systems you use in derby, takes less time overall, and is less boring than steady state cardio. Start with a working pace you can maintain and a challenge pace that is actually challenging. Be creative with your cardio. It doesn’t have to be treadmills and bikes – it can be sled pushes, swings, heavy carries, ropes, hill sprints, jumping, dancing – the only limit is your imagination (and your threshold for fatigue).

Pick 4-6 exercises, 3+ sets (depending on what you’re doing and what you want to accomplish), set appropriate rest periods – don’t skip them, have a dynamic warm-up, plan a cooldown, and go to town on your off-skates training!

Again, I restate – make sure you’re moving well, that nothing gives you pain, and that you have a plan. My most favourite advice, from the incomparable Grey Cook, ‘First move well, then move often.’

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You Need to Eat Like An Athlete

(Hopefully) Gone are the days where your pre-bout meal was a slice of pizza and a large Coke. Poor nutrition all week will manifest in your derby performance, so it’s important to eat well. General sound guidelines (and I mean general – I am not a doctor or nutritionist, just someone who tries to eat well and help skaters to do the same):

Eat whole foods as often as you can, local or organic when you can swing it.

Eat lean proteins, veggies, and healthy fats (oils, nuts, seeds) with each meal.

Save your starchy carbs for post-exercise meals.

There are a raft of additional tools that you can use to help you dial in your nutrition, and to make sure that you are getting the energy you need to support your sport. I use (and love) Precision Nutrition – full disclosure: I’m a certified PN coach, so I’m a tad biased. If you struggle with this sort of thing, or are curious about nutrition – talk to someone! There’s so much nutritional information out there, some of which is helpful and some of which is bunk – instead of trying to sort through all of it, find a professional out there who can give you some tools.

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The Trainers Critique You Because They Love You

I mention this because I am one of those trainers. I’ve had newly graduated meat tell me they thought I was picking on them. I’ve had girls break down because they think they’re never going to master a skill. I’ve had girls harbour negative feelings about trainers LONG after they joined the league. It’s a tough position – you are learning something new and challenging. The trainers are there to help you, not belittle you. We do, however, have to tell you when you are doing something that might be dangerous, and give you tips on how to refine your skills. If we’re giving you lots of feedback, it’s because we believe in you. If we’re only giving you negative feedback, it’s because there are more girls than trainers, and that’s all we have time to give. Know that when the trainers get together afterwards, we all talk about the great things you did and how far you are coming too. If you have an issue with the way a trainer critiques – talk to them. Let them know how to teach you best. We’re all in this to get better and bad-asser, so let’s help each other do it in the least emotionally-fraught way possible.

Finally, a couple of extra tips that make a difference in your Meat Experience:

Derby Takes Time to Change

Whenever you join a new organization, it’s easy to see the flaws. You have a fresh set of eyes, and you can see where people are dropping the ball, where there’s room for improvement, and where you can help out. I highly recommend only publicizing that last one. When new skaters come in with energy and the desire to pitch in wherever they can, managers love it. When new skaters come in with a laundry list of changes that should be made, we don’t love it quite so much. Have your great ideas, document them, and start work on a committee that interests you. Once you know a little bit about how the committee operates, and how the head of the committee likes to manage, pitch your idea – and say that you’ll do the work to implement it. This saves a lot of undue stress. We all want our leagues to be the best possible machine they can be – just sometimes the gears grind slowly, and you have to apply the grease gently.

Don’t Forget About the Things That Were Important Before Derby

Before you join derby, presumably you have friends, maybe a life partner, pets, a family, hobbies, a job. Don’t forget that these things exist just because you have a shiny new thing that you do. Derby will take up A LOT of your time if you let it, so have a plan to keep some balance. Make dates with your friends, family, and life partner and keep them. Try to keep things in your conversational reservoir that are not derby-related. People will want to hear about what you’re doing in derby – it’s a pretty cool thing to do – but don’t forget to ask about them and what they’re doing, they might be doing cool stuff as well.

Finally, The most important part of joining a roller derby league is finding your own way.

I can give you lots of helpful tips and tricks, but you need to learn who you are and where you fit into derby. There are lots of people ready and willing to help you along the way, just ask them. Vets aren’t as scary and insular as you think. They’re like bears – just as scared of you as you are of them. Most of us join derby because we’re social misfits to begin with – take the first step and introduce yourself to people you think you’d like to get to know. Come into derby with open ears, a willing spirit, and a determined heart and it’ll be no time before you find where you belong.

30 Days, 30 Decisions

24 Jan

So, I mentioned a post or so ago that I might think about trying the Whole 30.

Well, I didn’t try it.

Here’s why:  The Whole 30 looks, to me, like a decent way to get to the bottom of some of your nutritional intolerances, to examine which foods affect you how, and to test your fortitude for 30 days.  It doesn’t really look like the disease-fighting, life-overhauling magic bullet that some of the literature proclaims it to be.  Maybe for some folks, but not for me.

I think I *might* have been able to hang for the 30 days.  Maybe.  Maybe some day I’ll try and see.  But right now, I don’t want my nutrition to feel like a competition.   I don’t always want to feel like I’m losing a fight.

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So, I simplified.  Along with a couple of friends, we chose a much simpler 30 day plan.  For me, no dessert for 30 days.  I never used to eat dessert.  I had a big dinner, was satisfied, and that was it.  Then, in college, I started eating junk after dinner, then I ate healthier junk (like almond butter and fruit), but still I was finding a reason to eat after feeling full.  So, I’m not doing that for 30 days.

My friends 30-day decisions include, respectively, no fried food, no fast food, and no eating in front of the TV.

All totally manageable, simple, and good-habit forming.

There is just so much information overload out there when it comes to your nutritional well-being.  Is Intermittent Fasting the way to go?  What about Paleo?  Maybe carb-cycling?  Should I count calories?  Should I weigh my food (thanks for the scale mom)? Should I only eat local? Organic? Vegan?

Should I be struggling against myself every time I go to my fridge?Should every time I don’t indulge feel like a victory?

It sounds a lot like having to sort through the conflicting information out there about exercise selection, strength/cardio balance, and the like.

And the food fight sounds a heck of a lot like wanting to beat myself into the ground with every single training session – muscles screaming, buckets of sweat, never wanting to work that hard ever again.

I don’t know.  That doesn’t seem mentally stable to me.  On either front.

If you kill yourself every time you train, or berate yourself for making bad choices every time you eat, you won’t keep it up.  Trust me.  We crave routine and reliability.  That’s why crazy diets and training regimens only work for a little while, while slow-grown healthy habits work for a lifetime.

Here’s my two cents, if you’re just starting out, keep it simple, and talk to someone who knows more than you (I’m starting to work with a nutritionist).    Instead of making all of the changes at once, change one thing that you know will make a positive impact in the way you live your life.

Once you’ve chosen your small change, find the bright spots – the things you do well – and acknowledge them.  Maybe not eating fast food makes you plan to pack your lunch more often.  Maybe not having dessert automatically makes you more aware of the satiety signals your body is sending.  Notice those things, and apply them to the next small change you make.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, healthy habits are where it’s at.  We need (I need) to learn patience.  It can be tough not to get caught up in the latest thing, diet or exercise, the ones that promise instant happiness and dramatic results.  We should all take a step back and remember that the tortoise beat the hare in the end.  Make one strong habit your focus, and then make decisions that support that focus each day.  Keep it simple, keep it sustainable.

That’s why the Whole 30 just isn’t for me right now.

How to Handle the Holidays

20 Dec

It’s that time of year again (though it does not look like it AT ALL in Southwestern Ontario).  A time of feasting and fun with family and friends.  A time to enjoy life, the company of others, and the bounty of the earth (and the supermarket, and grandma’s kitchen, and the wine cellar).  A time where maybe sometimes, some of us, overindulge maybe a tiny, little bit.

holiday-buffet-ss

Here’s the thing: it’s the holidays.  There will be parties.  There will be merry-making.  There will be drinks, and hors d’oeuvres, and sweets.  The end of December tends to bring out the host in all of us, and that’s not a bad thing.  Holiday parties – not a bad thing.  Meals with family – not a bad thing.  It’s the cycle of massive over-indulgence, followed by massive guilt and shame that end up being a bad thing.  Trust me, I know all about the food guilt and shame.

Couple a comfort-food-rich time of year with the stress of getting everything done before December 25th, the money-managing that has to happen, and the challenges of family relationships, and you might be looking at a nutritional and emotional powder-keg.

holiday-stress

But the end of December doesn’t have to be a threat to your health and fitness goals.  Rather, it can be an awesome time,  where you maintain your sanity, maintain your healthy eating habits, and still have a good time with those you love.

Here’s how I try to keep things in check over the holiday season, so that I don’t start my January full of stress, shame, and cheese.

Learn to say no (and to say ‘not right now’).

There are tons of holiday parties, gatherings, lunches, dinners, and events.  Prioritize.  Seriously, you can’t do everything.  Give yourself permission not to attend every single event you’ve been invited to.  If you want to go somewhere, go there.  If you’re doing it because you feel obligated or pressured, evaluate the pros and cons, and let yourself say no.   Absolutely the holidays are about people-pleasing, but as they say, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  I have spent many a New Year’s Eve trying to attend every single party, and ended up not really having enough time to spend with the people that matter.   The people that love you understand that everyone is facing about a million demands from now until the New Year, and will understand if you need to offer a rain check*.   Try to manage your time wisely, and make sure that you carve out chunks of time that are just your own.

Check yourself from time to time.

Holiday time is stressful.  Trying to find the perfect present, the perfect outfit, and also be on your best behaviour for in-laws or bosses – it can wear on a person.  Make sure to check in on your mental health and stress level.  It can seem like a sprint from mid-December to January 1st, make sure that you use your rest stations.  Running yourself ragged will do you no favours, not for your peace of mind, and not for your overall health.  Realize that sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that being yourself is a pretty good thing to be.

Make Lists.

Right now, on my person, I have 3 to-do lists.  There are days when I have more.  Lists keep me sane.  They keep me on track, and crossing things off them makes me feel good.  The book, The Checklist Manifesto, is totally boss.  It talks about how simple checklists keep the most detailed professionals – surgeons, pilots – on track and operating at their most efficient (it’s also a great gift for that Type-A person on your shopping list).  It’s true that what gets measured gets managed, so list your responsibilities, list the tasks you’d like to finish, list the places you need to be, and list the goals you want to achieve.  Then get after it.  The other nice thing about a checklist is that once something is on the list, it becomes a priority.  For example, almost every single to-do list that I write has my personal training session on it.  That way, I make it a priority and don’t just skip it because I’m too busy.  I make the time, and I’m glad that I did.

Indulge in splurges, not substitutions.

So, I haven’t talked a lot about dietary choices thus far.  I think that’s because managing your stress and checking in with yourself go a long way in helping to keep food choices on course.  However, this time of year offers lots of temptation, and popular media really likes to highlight the familiar scene of binging all December and begging forgiveness come January.  I’m pretty sure there’s a better way.  There are lots of little tips to avoid holiday overeating – eat a healthy meal before you go to parties, keep your plate full of veggies, try to talk more and eat less, keep your glass full of water, and so on.  These will work for various people to various degrees.  Here are the two things that work best for me when it comes to eating over the holidays:

  • Don’t keep checks and balances.  This might be a contentious point, and some folks may respond very well to doing the exact opposite of what I say here, but this is about what works for me.  I know how my food crazy operates, and what will make it spin out of control.  If I start obsessively tracking what is “bad” in my diet, I will start taking measures of self-denial and commence with the negative self-talk.  If, in stead, I try to eat healthy, whole foods 90% of the time, and don’t fuss too much about the other 10%, I’m a much happier, healthier person.  It can be so easy to beat yourself up about “giving in to temptation” over the holidays, but what good does it do?  More often than not, it leads to feeling worse about yourself, and making more of those choices you are beating yourself up for.  Guilt and shame about food add more stress to an already stressful time of year.  This year, try some new, healthy recipes, work in lots of veggies and lean proteins, and remember to enjoy the act of sharing food with friends and family.
  • In order to abide by the advice above, this is my main holiday (and also all-year) eating tip:  Splurge, but don’t substitute.  I LOVE freshly roasted turkey, I LOVE stuffing.  I LOVE pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream.  I LOVE Toblerones.  And I will eat these things over the holidays.  I like cookies, and brownies, and truffles, and chocolates, and pastries.  But I just like them.  I struggle, because I know when these things are put in front of me – if I have one, I’ll keep going, and I’ll probably feel bad about it later.  My best tool against eating a bunch of stuff that I sort of like is eating a little bit of something that makes me drool with anticipation.  When the treat is something that I’m crazy about, I can revel in my decadence, be totally satisfied, and move on.  When it’s just a filler, I’ll keep eating because I’m not getting what I really want.  So, instead of eating things because they are there – eat them because you really, really want to.  You’ll eat less, and you’ll feel better about it.

and finally,

When you have time to train, train.

This is a busy time of year, and your training sessions can often be the first thing that gets skipped.  Don’t let them be.  Training time is important time.  Last year, the first thing I did on Christmas morning (after kissing my husband, petting my dog, and putting the turkey in the oven) was went down to my studio for a workout.  Remember that energy begets energy.  A good training session will leave you with more energy to tackle your to-do list.  It’ll put you in a better mood, and can serve as that valuable “me-time” that we all crave.  Remember that training is treating yourself well, and the holiday season is all about treating those we love.  Love yourself – train in December.

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I wish you all the happiest of holidays and wonderful things in the year to come.

* Here’s an interesting fact about the expression “Rain Check”:  It’s apparently American in origin, and refers to a token (originally from sporting events), rather than a cheque to be banked later, so even though the Canadian in me wants to spell it “rain cheque”, that would be incorrect.  Seriously, read all about it.  Also, I think I have a new favourite website.

Change – It’s What’s For Dinner!

20 Sep

So, I’ve ordered (and received, super quick!) the Precision Nutrition certification course.  I’ve been loving the way the Dr. Berardi thinks, speaks, and educates about nutrition.  I can’t wait to get started!

Nutrition, portion control, and healthy eating habits have been a lifelong interest of mine, mostly because I find them so challenging.  The thing I like best about PN is the one-by-one, meet-you-where-you’re-at habit coaching.  Diets are easy and short-lived, lifelong healthy habits are not.

For much of my life, I’ve had a rocky relationship with food.  I generally make okay food choices, generally eat huge portions once a day and little else the rest of the day (which is another reason I like PN – they’re not so hung up about when you eat, but rather what and how).

My personal food challenge is change.  I’ve been making my own meals since I was eight.  With two working parents, and a busy extra-curricular schedule growing up, I became very accustomed to doing things a particular way.  I wanted my plate set up a particular way, with nothing touching, with a certain food pairings, certain plates, certain portions and so on.

This is one of the reasons that I used to love McDonald’s – no matter where I was in the world, a McDonald’s sandwich would always taste the same.  This was the framework around which my eating revolved.  It took me years to try sushi (which I now super love), and even more years to eat more than three things off the menu at the all-you-can-eat buffet.  At most restaurants, I would eat one dish that I knew was safe – I would never, ever try anything that included an ingredient that I hadn’t tasted before.

The height of the food neurosis came in college, where everything changed.  In a new city, with new roommates, and new everything else, food was the one place that I could find sameness and comfort.  I cut the same number of cheese slices to be melted in my macaroni & cheese every time, always ate 12 chicken wings and half a plate of fries, wouldn’t make a dish unless all of the components – including garnishes and the “right” plate and utensils were available.  I’d freak out if my roommates suggested eating together.  I’d freak out if a restaurant couldn’t make my order exactly the way I’d had it prepared last time (the girls at Subway hated me).  And if any little thing went wrong with the dish I was ordering, preparing, or planning – the meal was ruined and I wouldn’t eat at all.  Until later that night, when I’d eat a bag of chips or swedish berries.

Trust me, I was not a pleasure to live with.

Things didn’t start to change until I moved in with my now-husband, Slim.  He simply didn’t put up with the crazy rules and would often sneak unusual things into the meals that he made for us.  I remember him cooking turkey bacon (instead of normal bacon) one night, not telling me, and dealing with the fallout.  We once had a huge fight about him not cutting a tomato the proper way.  But he hung in there, and I gradually relaxed.

I think much of the mealtime relaxing was due to my life becoming more secure.  I don’t need food to be the same kind of security blanket that it once was.  I still have my hang-ups, and like to do my research before trying things.  But I feel that as I learn more about nutrition, I want to try more.  Also, there are things I want less – I haven’t eaten McDonald’s for a few years now.  While, on tough days, I occasionally crave it’s sameness, I know that I would far prefer to go to my gym and do a familiar workout than fill my body with what they have on offer.

Changing the way you eat doesn’t have to be terrifying.  It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.  It doesn’t have to be pass or fail.

Rather, it should be a learning process.  Trial and error, figuring out what works for you, and how to treat your body the best way you can manage.  If you tackle “bite-sized” habits, one at a time, at your own pace, you are far more likely to stick with it and make the lasting changes you want.

For me, that’s not fearing change, and embracing that new foods and dishes can be just as satisfying as old, familiar ones.

So, in the spirit of trying new things, here’s a recipe that I think would be awesome for this rainy day.  It’s from Gourmet Nutrition (PN’s awesome cookbook).  I (newly) love spaghetti squash and this dish looks amazing.

Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti

Spaghetti squash 4 cups
Coconut oil or butter (melted) 1 tbsp
Salt ¼ tsp
Pepper 1⁄8 tsp
Cinnamon 1⁄8 tsp
Olive oil cooking spray
Ground sirloin or extra lean ground beef (340 g) 12 oz
Onion (small diced) 1 cup
Tomato sauce 2 cups
Cashews (crushed) ¼ cup
Parmesan cheese (grated) ½ cup

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut squash in half and clean out the center and seeds. Place cut side up on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil or butter. Season with salt, pepper and cinnamon and then place in the oven. Bake squash for 45 minutes or until tender enough to stick a fork into it with minimal resistance. Remove from oven and allow it to cool a little. While the squash is baking, preheat a non-stick frying pan on medium heat, lightly coat with spray and add the ground sirloin. Sauté the sirloin in batches if necessary, until lightly browned and cooked all the way through. Add onions and sauté for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat, add in the tomato sauce and cashews, and set aside. Once squash has cooled a little, scoop the flesh out of the skin with a spoon, measure and add it to the meat sauce. Next, reheat in the frying pan on medium until warm. Garnish with the parmesan. Serves 2 large or 4 small.

For more great recipes and info about Precision Nutrition, click here.