APRIL 2017

The Problem with Cheat Meals and What to Do Instead

I know I've been writing a lot about nutrition lately. It's because I recently finished my Precision Nutrition Sports and Exercise certification. I am discovering that I have this passion to help people with their nutrition. 

THE PROBLEM WITH CHEAT MEALS AND WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD

I don't have a problem with adding calorie surplus days, or even indulgence days, I just don't like to call them cheat days. 

Cheat implies it isn't part of the plan. You cheat on your diet. Diets are flawed. You can't cheat on your lifestyle. You may say it's just semantics whether we call it a cheat day or an indulgence day but getting into the right mindset is paramount to success. Psychology is a big part of what is holding people back from reaching their goals. 

When you make a commitment to long term permanent lifestyle changes then there is no more cheating. I prefer indulgence meals or calorie surplus days. 

The reason that calorie surplus days are recommended is if you spend a lot of time in a calorie deficit (consuming less calories than your body needs for maintenance in order to lose weight) your body may down-regulate your metabolism in order to compensate. Your body is smart. When it realizes that that you are consistently taking in less food, it assumes that there is less food available and it adjusts so it doesn't need as much food to live. 

Adding an occasional higher calorie day that meets or exceeds your daily calorie requirements sends the signal to your body that you are not starving and it's ok to keep that metabolism revving. There's no rule that that these higher calorie days have to be junk food days, it's totally possible to get a calorie surplus on healthy food...but what's the fun in that? Hah. 

Indulgence meals are great for the mental aspect too. If you are usually very calculated about what you eat then it can be a mental and emotional break. I am all about balance, if you decide that you will never eat an unhealthy food again, you are setting yourself up to fail. There is always room for indulgences in your otherwise healthy lifestyle. 

 

5 TIPS FOR HAVING an indulgent meal while maintaining a healthy balance. 

1. No Guilt. 

Savor it. Enjoy it. No guilt.

2. Plan ahead.

When trying your best to live a healthy lifestyle there will always be occasions when sticking to a healthy meal is not reasonable or sustainable. Do you want to tell your Italian Grandma that you can't have her garlic bread, spaghetti and homemade cannoli? Do you want to bring tupperware of chicken and broccoli to your best friend's wedding reception? I didn't think so.

Food is just as much about connection and joy as it is about nutrition. There will always be holidays, special occasions, celebrations and parties. If we miss out on the social and cultural connections over food, then we are missing out on a big part of health and happiness. Plan your indulgence meals around those celebrations and special occasions so you can have the best of both worlds.  


3. Portion control. 

An indulgence meal should not be a license to binge. Think about proper portions and eat slowly until you are 80% full. You will find that you are satisfied on less food, while still enjoying your indulgence. 

I try to make choices on a continuum. Even if I am at a burger restaurant, I think to myself, how can I make this a little bit healthier? Maybe I'll enjoy that burger with a whole wheat bun instead of white. Maybe I'll skip the fries and order a salad on the side or maybe I'll order the fries, but get a veggie burger or salad. I find that I enjoy it just as much and a little indulgence is all I need. 

If you have red flag foods that you know cause you to overindulge, then choose those foods sparingly or not at all. If you can't open a family size bag of chips without polishing it off, then the right choice for you may be to not open that bag. It's up to you. If you struggle with binging, I recommend working with a Registered Dietitian. 

4. The 80/20 Rule.

I'm not good at math, but I try to make healthy choices 80% of the time and indulgent choices 20%. It's not a hard and fast calculation, but generally speaking it is 1-2 indulgence meals a week with maybe a treat thrown in..

Some people eat a strict healthy diet all week and then let loose on the weekends. I'd just ask you to consider if you are having an indulgence meal, an indulgence day or a whole indulgence weekend, every single weekend. If you decide to have indulgence weekends, that's 2.5 days, 35% of your week. I don't think there should be strict rules about when you and can not have indulgences, but if it is all weekend every weekend from Friday night through Sunday night of junk food, then you might consider how that could affect your goals. 

5. Move on.  

Don't allow an indulgence meal to be a trigger for more poor choices.  Do it, love every second of it, and move on to your next healthy meal. This also means that you shouldn't attempt to exercise twice as long or hard the next day to compensate. 

I always say what you do daily matters more than what you do occasionally. It goes both ways, if you eat healthy foods all week, one indulgent meal will not have a big impact on your results and if you eat junk food all the time, then one salad is not going to make a difference either. 

When you find the balance of healthy foods and indulgent foods that you enjoy you really can have the best of both worlds. Eat foods that make you feel good, that taste good and you enjoy. 

DO YOU EAT CLEAN OR DIRTY?

Do you eat clean? It's impossible to say. It means different things to different people. What I do know is that things go south when we moralize our food choices. You're not bad or dirty if you eat a less-than-healthy food and you're not a perfect angel because you made a healthy choice. In fact, orthorexia is a disorder associated with having an obsession with healthy eating. 

We should aim to eat healthy foods from nature most of the time, but we are not bad people for choosing to eat things occasionally simply because they taste good. 

I believe that there are no inherently good or bad foods. Some foods are good for your health, some foods are good for your soul (like Grandma's cannoli), and that's ok in moderation. 

I've personally struggled with balance and yo-yo weight in my 30s. It wasn't until I let go of labels, rules, diets and guilt that I learned the art of balance. Once I went off diets and adopted health as a long term goal, the weight loss (and more importantly, maintenance) was a natural side effect. 

What's your favorite indulgence meal? Mine is sushi and pizza (not together, silly)

What's your favorite healthy meal? I love spaghetti squash and eggs (Again, not together. Although that may be #strangebutgood)

Need help with your nutrition strategy? Tired of dieting? Want help developing healthy habits while staying sane and balanced? Join my nutrition and lifestyle coaching program today.

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The 30-20-10 Interval Running Workout

Welcome to the latest edition of workout Wednesday! This week I have a great interval running workout for you to try. This workout was developed by Dr. Jens Bangsbo at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark to increase speed in recreational runners. If you are looking for an easy way to incorporate interval or speed training into your running workouts this is a great place to start. You could do it on the street or the track with a timer (affiliate --> I use a gymboss interval timer) or on the treadmill.

This is a by-feel paced workout. That means you don't need a GPS watch to make sure you hit certain paces. All you need is a timer and a pair of running shoes (OK, clothes would probably be a good idea too). 

Warm up by walking or jogging 10 minutes or one mile.

30 seconds

Start at a slow pace for 30 seconds. This should feel very easy, breathing is easy. For a beginner this may even be a brisk walk. It's called conversation pace. You could hold a conversation while maintaining this pace. 

20 seconds

Accelerate to a moderate pace for 20 seconds. This should be your race pace. A little faster than your easy pace but not an all-out-sprint. It should feel comfortably hard. You could probably get out a sentence or a few words between breaths, but you are working too hard to hold a conversation.

10 seconds

Then sprint as hard as you can for 10 seconds. Go for it. Give it all you have for 10 seconds. You can't talk at all while holding this pace. 

Repeat four more times in a row without rest for a total of 5 minutes of these intervals.

2 Minutes

Rest until your breath is fully recovered (about 2 minutes).

Repeat

Repeat these 30-20-10 sessions and rest periods until fatigued (no more than 30 minutes) for a quick and effective speed workout for runners of all levels

Cool down by jogging or walking 10 minutes or one mile.

Doesn't  Ollie  demonstrate the 10 second sprint pace picture perfectly? Good dog. 

Doesn't Ollie demonstrate the 10 second sprint pace picture perfectly? Good dog. 

Add this workout to your schedule 1-2 times per week with rest days and easy-paced run days in between hard workouts.

A general rule for intense training: A little is better than none and a lot is too much. Remember that our bodies adapt (grow stronger and faster) during rest, not during the workout. Allow your body adequate time to recover between hard workouts for the best results.

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52 Healthy Habits: A Rant on Sugar, Cocaine and Artificial Sweeteners

One thing I love about writing a blog is it that it gives me a chance to air my grievances (even when it isn't Festivus!) to no one in particular and everyone on the internet all at the same time. 

When things bother me, I usually tell my husband, but when I start to notice his eyes glaze over I know it's time to get it out in writing. He even told me once, "You need to blog about that because I stopped listening 10 minutes ago." Hah. At least he's honest. 

I am not usually someone who rants. I usually keep things that bother me bottled up inside until it explodes...like a normal person. Just kidding. 

Last Friday we had a health fair at my corporate marketing job. It was a half day event when speakers came in to educate us with seminars and they served a delicious healthy lunch. It's a great benefit and I usually look forward to hearing speakers on various topics. It gets me out from my cubicle for a few hours and immersed in the world I love, heath and fitness. 

scenes from our healthy lunch - colorful mini peppers.

scenes from our healthy lunch - colorful mini peppers.

One of the speakers was a doctor. When you have some letters behind your name and a book under your belt you command a certain amount of respect and authority. Everything started out great. He showed us a sugar cube that equaled four grams of sugar. He taped plastic baggies of these sugar cubes to popular food products that are often marketed as healthy options. That box of organic bran cereal? Six cubes (24 grams of sugar) per serving...and watch out, that serving size is only 3/4 cup. So-called healthy yogurt? As many sugar cubes as a can of Coke. It can be eye-opening for someone who never really thought about hidden added sugars in their diet.

It was a great visual representation of the amount of sugar in processed foods and how, if we don't pay attention, the sugar adds up quickly and can hurt our health and body composition. It is a an important message that most people need to hear, but this is where things went south, in my opinion. 

He then recommended to replace the sugar in our diet with artificial sweeteners (he said he preferred to call them sugar substitutes) and not to eat any foods with more than 2 grams of sugar per serving, and this is where he really lost me....not even fruit.

He suggested that when you are in the produce section of the grocery store to think of bananas and grapes (and sometimes apples) as bad and berries as good. My takeaway from his message was that all sugar is bad and artificial sweeteners are the solution to the sugar problem because they do not spike blood sugar or raise insulin levels. 

He said sugar causes the same reaction in the brain as cocaine. Message received doc, Cocaine bad = Fruit bad. 

Look, I'm no doctor. This guy is clearly educated. He went to medical school and treated cancer patients. I respect that level of commitment and service. I went to a community college and have some personal training and nutrition certs. He obviously is far ahead on the education front. But I have something he has seemed to miss: Common sense, or at least context. 

It is irresponsible to tell the general population that fruit is bad and artificial sweeteners are the solution to the sugar problem. Yes, bananas are high in natural sugars but they are also nutrient-rich and have benefits. Are there better things you could eat? Maybe. But is it the worst choice? Absolutely not. Is natural sugar as bad as cocaine? Let's not be ridiculous. (To be fair, he didn't say that directly.) No matter what your health and fitness goals are, a banana, a cupped handful of grapes or an apple is generally a good, healthy choice for most people.

I like to look at all foods on a continuum. What food choice would be a little bit better? What food choice would be worse? If we are always inching towards making healthier, better choices, we are on the right track. We have to get away from all the all-or-nothing, it's either good or it's bad mentality. 

NUTRITION INFO

One small-to-medium sized banana (100g) contains about 89 calories, 1.10g protein, 0.33g of fat, 22.84g of carbohydrates, 2.60g of fiber, and 12.23g of sugar.

Bananas are rich in potassium, vitamin C, and manganese.

 

We can get into a discussion about high level athletes or physique stage competitors with body composition goals and how eliminating certain foods (temporarily!) can help them meet these aesthetic goals. However, in the context of our health fair, we are talking to office workers who are sedentary for at least eight hours a day looking to improve their lifestyle and eating habits. For general health and weight loss, moderate amounts of fruit is A-ok.

Most people eat a poor diet and a piece of fruit would be an improvement on a daily snack. Herein lies the problem: If you label fruit as bad, and you already know that a Snickers bar is bad, maybe you would just choose the snickers bar because it tastes better. After all, they are both bad, right? Um. No. 

When people start to label food as good or bad it causes all kinds of problems. It can lead to nutrient deficiencies and maybe worse, disordered eating or thinking. Especially when things get labeled as bad that are, in fact, nutritionally beneficial. For health (body and mind) we should aim to eat a wide variety of whole, minimally processed foods that we enjoy, in proper portions.

We are not talking about the nuisances of food intolerances, diabetes or other outliers. My problem is telling a room full of office workers that fruit is a generally a bad choice for them.

Nutrition isn't as hard as the industry would have us believe. It's just that there are so many mixed messages, that people start to get confused. Most people don't need to worry about the possible downside of eating a piece of fruit because they are still drinking soda, eating processed foods or restaurant meals on a regular basis and sleeping five hours a night. Let's work on improving the basics before we start talking about advanced diet strategies. 

On the subject of artificial sweeteners, I don't mind artificial sweeteners...wait for it...in moderation. Like anything else, what you do every day is more important than what you do occasionally. I happen to like the taste of Diet Coke, probably because I drank it most of my adult life. These days, I don't drink it often, but when I am craving a Coke, I go for the diet option. If I preferred the taste of regular Coke I would go that route. It is an occasional indulgence, not an everyday activity. For me, it's no problem.

I don't, however, recommend artificial sweeteners as a solution to your sugar problem. They are probably fine for most people in moderation, but we should be aiming to move towards whole natural foods whenever possible. If the problem is too much sugar, let's fix the problem by reducing added sugar intake (mostly by reducing processed foods), not just band-aid it by replacing all of our sugar intake with artificial sweeteners. 

I am all about balance, finding that sweet spot of sanity and sustainability. What healthy foods do you enjoy eating? Eat more of those. What not-so healthy foods make you feel like crap later? Eat less of those. Learn to tune in to your body's natural signals. If a less-than-healthy (notice I didn't say 'bad') food brings you joy, then definitely enjoy it in moderation without guilt. It sounds overly simplistic, but when nutrition is so far off track, it's exactly what we need: simplicity. 

I'm no smarty pants doctor but if you like bananas, go ahead and eat them. 

For my 52 Healthy habits this week, I encourage you to eat a piece of healthy, natural fruit every day this week, limit added sugars and artificial sweeteners and oh yeah, don't use cocaine. How's that for health advice? Who wants to hire me to speak at their health fair? My presentation will be called 'A Rant on Sugar, Cocaine and Artificial Sweeteners' Hah. 

Seriously. Need help with your nutrition strategy? Tired of dieting? Want help making healthy choices part of your lifestyle while staying sane and balanced? My nutrition and lifestyle coaching program begins in June, get on the list for a big pre-sale discount. 

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How To Cut Carbs Without Cutting Your Sanity

Let me start by saying that I love carbohydrates. It's my favorite macronutrient. Our bodies need carbs, especially if we are athletes. Who am I to deny my body something it needs. Amiright? 

Food is not just about nutrients and fuel, it is also about enjoyment. We need to find the balance of what we enjoy eating and what is good for our bodies. Let's find the sweet spot of sanity and sustainability. What healthy eating habits can we sustain for the rest of our lives?

If you tell me I can never have a carb again, then we are not friends. That is simply not sustainable for my lifestyle. I want to be healthy, but I also want to enjoy my life. Finding that balance is key. 

Cutting carbs is popular on the diet circuit because when we cut carbs we lose water right away and the number goes down on the scale. It isn't magic. In the beginning it is likely water weight. It's great. You look a little leaner, the scale shows a lower number and the button isn't popping off your pants anymore. You probably didn't lose fat, but you lost weight. I get it. It feels good. 

When we cut carbs we also cut calories. If you order a hamburger without the bun, you just cut 150-300 calories from your meal. The calorie deficit is also contributing to your weight loss.

I don't have any issues with limiting carb intake to reach body composition goals, the problem arises when we ignore our bodies feedback and take it too far. Our bodies have a way of telling us what it needs. We just need to get in tune with our bodies to hear these messages. 

Carbohydrates aren't bad. When we demonize foods we end up unbalanced and risk nutrient deficiencies. Our ultimate goal should always be health and balance. That includes a healthy body and mind. We shouldn't stress about any foods.

Our bodies are all different and we have different tolerances to carbohydrates. While some people may thrive on a low carbohydrate diet all the time, others will be grumpy, low energy and...did I mention grumpy? (Raises hand.) It's all about experimenting with carb intake and honestly assessing how you look, feel and perform. If you look, feel and perform your best on a low carb diet, then go for it. If you feel like $hit after day three and your workout sucks, maybe it's time to eat some oatmeal.

We are all individuals and have individual nutrient needs. Just because your friend claims to to have lost 20 pounds and feels great on a low carb diet, doesn't mean your body will react the same way. In turn just because I feel like crap on a low carb diet doesn't mean all my clients will too. As a nutrition coach, it is not about pushing my personal diet strategies on my clients, it is about working with them to establish a protocol that works best for their body. 

The key to achieving all the benefits of a low carb diet without going crazy is in carb quality and carb timing. 

FOCUS ON CARB QUALITY

The first way to cut carbs without cutting sanity is to simply cut out processed carbs. If we limit our carb intake to whole foods we eliminate most of the problems with carbs. Carbs aren't bad in themselves, it just so happens that most processed foods are carbs.

If you first work to eliminate or reduce the white flour, added sugar, salty snacks, most packaged foods, cereal, beer and soda you cut out the carbs that are less than ideal. What's left? Fruit, oatmeal, potatoes, whole grains, vegetables, quinoa and rice as some examples. If you limit processed foods and added sugars, that is probably all the carbs that most people need to cut. Especially athletes.

I am also not saying never to eat a potato chip or slice of pizza again, just that these things should be the exception, not the rule. What you do daily matters more than what you do once in awhile.

CARB TIMING

Once you have already reduced processed carbs from your diet you can take it to the next level with carb timing by consuming most your carbs for the day right before and after your workouts and reducing carb intake on your rest days. This is an effective way to ensure your body gets the carbs it needs to perform well, while reducing the chances that there will be excess calories that lead to fat storage. 

Remember that carbs don't make you fat. Fat doesn't make you fat. Calorie surplus over energy needs is a major factor in fat storage. It's about balance. 

Focus on eating whole nutrient-dense foods in proper portions from a variety of food sources for happy healthy body and mind. 

HOW'S THAT WORKING FOR YOU?

There is a lot of controversy surrounding nutrition and people can have very strong beliefs about their diet approach, the best way to eat healthfully and lose weight. The truth is there is no one best diet. Each of our bodies are different and only we know how our bodies respond to different diet philosophies. The problem only arises when we ignore our body's natural feedback in order to stick to a diet that clearly isn't working for us. The bottom line is that if you can honestly say that you LOOK, FEEL and PERFORM your best, then I'd say keep doing whatever you are doing. 

Me? I'm sticking with healthy carbs. Need help with your nutrition strategy? Tired of dieting? Want help making healthy choices while staying sane and balanced? Join my nutrition and lifestyle coaching program for long term sustainable results.

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MINI BAND EXERCISES FOR RUNNERS

Welcome to the latest edition of Workout Wednesday! When I talk to runners about strength training we often talk about minimum required dose. Runners aren't usually thrilled of the idea of spending hours in the gym each week. They run because they love to run. They strength train (or they probably should) because they want to be a stronger, faster runner while reducing the chances of injury.

Minimum required dose is the least amount we can do to get results. The truth is you don't need to spend hours and hours in the gym each week. You can spend 10-15 minutes at the end of each run, or 30 minutes three times a week or an hour twice a week. It depends on your goals, your lifestyle, your preferences and your abilities.

My friend took these pictures for me in the  #ShredShed  and she sent me this GIF. 

My friend took these pictures for me in the #ShredShed and she sent me this GIF. 

If you want to be a great runner it makes sense to spend a lot of time running. However, investing the time in strength training often yields big results for runners. It is OK to start small and build over time. A little strength training is always better than none. Our goal should be to become well-rounded athletes. 

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click on a link in the post and make a purchase I make a small percentage of the sale with no additional cost to you. No one is getting rich here, it just helps with the running (pun intended) of this blog. 

This is why I love mini bands. They are very inexpensive, portable and the exercises can be done anywhere at anytime (well, maybe not in the halls at work or school). You don't need to invest a lot of money into strength training equipment, these little bands provide plenty of resistance. You could even put one in your running belt so you can squeeze in some exercises after your outdoor run. 

 

This weekend I hit the #Shredshed to show you some exercises you can do to incorporate glute/hip strength training into your running routine. Weak hips are often the missing link for runners and can be the source of all kinds of problems and injuries. A little pre-hab can go a long way in injury prevention. 

If you are brand new to this or if you don't have mini bands, you can do these exercises without the bands to start and then add bands in a few weeks in order to continue to progress. Our bodies adapt to the exercises that we do, so every three to four weeks look for ways to make the exercise harder, either by adding more resistance, more reps, more sets, more days, etc. 

I recommend starting by incorporating these exercises at the end of an easy run day two times per week. Start with 2 sets of 10 reps of each exercise. I like to do them in circuit fashion, moving from one exercise to the next with little break, then repeating the circuit one more time.

You can buy mini bands here on Amazon.

Coach's Tip

Be careful not to let your knees collapse inward when performing any of these exercises. Work to keep your knees out and inline with your toes. 

what NOT to do.

what NOT to do.

Good luck! Give it a try after your next easy run and let me know if you feel the burn! 

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