Ask Amanda: Clean House

A few months ago a loyal client asked me a tough question and it’s taken until now for me to figure out how to answer it.  She is a dedicated client; works her buns off in the gym and does her best to shop for and prepare healthy meals.

Her problem, though, is a common one: her family doesn’t eat clean – and doesn’t want to.

How hard is it to prepare a nice, clean meal of chicken breast and broccoli and have your kids begging for mac n’ cheese?  Or to stick with a piece of grilled fish and salad when the husband brings home a bag of deliciously greasy-smelling McDonalds?  Or spend your time putting together a big batch of quinoa pilaf for the whole fam and they turn up their noses?

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In my opinion, what happens at home is about 100 times more important than what happens in the gym, and more often than not, is also a better determinant of how successful you will be on your fitness program.  You can hit it hard on your exercise program but come home to a den of temptation – and once you’re in the comfort of your own home, it’s a lot easier to give in.

I used to be a huge fan of the TV reality show The Biggest Loser, and it used to kill me when you’d see episodes of the newly-health-conscious contestants going home to their families and seeing their entire program unravel because their partners and kids refused to support their new wellness routines.  Time and time again you’d watch these formerly-obese people return to the toxic environments that enabled them to become that way, and like a caged wolf released back into the wild, they’d slip right back into their “natural” habits.

So what do you do when you want to make a lifestyle change and the people around you don’t?

My first answer comes with a lot of tough love: find new people to be around.  Ok, so that’s easier said than done when it comes to family, sure – but if you are part of a group of friends that gets their kicks from sitting around eating junk food, hating on “skinny people” and lamenting how hard/unpleasant it is to get up and exercise, it may be time to surround yourself with some new, more positive influences.  Find a bootcamp of like-minded people.  Hire a personal trainer to be your fitness partner.  Recruit a lunch buddy at work that will go get salads with you when the entire office orders in a pizza.  You control who you let into your inner circle, and if you can find a tribe that supports you, you are more likely to find success.

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Now onto the family/home issue more specifically.  If you are serious about making a lifestyle change, especially if it’s a critical issue of health (you need to lose weight because of prediabetes, for example), you should be able to have an open and honest conversation with someone who truly loves you about why you need their support.

Don’t let anyone belittle or rationalize away your reasons for wanting to make a positive change; see if you can work together to create and post an actual, written action plan (i.e. “we cook dinner at home three nights per week” or “I take walks at lunch every weekday”) that you can point to whenever there is some tension about wanting to do/eat/add/eliminate something in your life.  Never be afraid or ashamed to ask for what you need from your partner, especially if it is something that matters to your long-term health and happiness.

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As for the “kids food” issue, this of course is a bigger philosophical discussion than I have room for in this little ol’ blog (and truth be told, as someone who is not yet a parent, I may as well stuff my foot in my mouth before I talk about how someone else should raise their kids).

But what I can say is this: children are children.  They will eat what they are provided or they will hold out until they’re truly hungry, but either way, you are the parent and you are in control of what goes on the plate.  If you don’t put mac n’ cheese in the house, there is no mac n’ cheese in the house.  If you demonstrate healthy habits by putting green vegetables on the table at dinnertime, even if they don’t touch them at first, they will still see the example of you making a commitment to healthier options at home (remember those somewhat-creepy “I learned it by watching you” anti-drug commercials in the 90s ?  Yeah, it applies here too).

It make take time, effort, and a few tears to make healthy changes happen in your household – but as they say, nothing worth having comes easy.  When it comes to your wellness goals, you’re the one in charge – and where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Pioneer the positive habits and attitudes you want to embrace, and one day, the people around you will want to do it without their hands being forced.  Be your own best example.

How do you deal with less-than-supportive peers when you’re working toward a goal?

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Ask Amanda: Bulletproof Your Mornings

If you haven’t heard of “bulletproofing” your morning coffee, you’re not alone.  Whenever I casually toss it out in a group of my non-trainer, non-nutritionist friends I get weird looks, similar to when I assume that everyone knows what a burpee is or how to interpret the acronym AMRAP.

It sounds high-tech, a little dangerous, and kind of gimmick-y.  And so, even though bulletproof coffee is on the menu for only five bucks at one of my favorite little coffee bars in Singapore, I doubt the majority of folks that go into that place even have a clue what it means – or why it is such an amazing, valid, and useful food-beverage hybrid.

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At its simplest, bulletproof coffee is simply a high-quality coffee mixed with coconut oil and butter.  Yes, you heard me right – you put a ton of plant and animal fat in your coffee, then you swig it down all thick and creamy-like.  As you can imagine, it is not a low-calorie treat, it is not for the faint of palate, and it is (in my personal opinion) one of the most g*ddamn delicious ways to enjoy your morning cuppa joe.

Bulletproof coffee has come up on this blog briefly, once suggested as an alternative to the skinny vanilla latte (or any other sugary blended beverage, to be honest) and once as a recommended part of a balanced breakfast.  But I’ve never actually gone into the nitty gritty of what bulletproof is, why it matters, and how you can give it an honest try.

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First of all, true bulletproof coffee isn’t just a bean/oil/butter combo.  It’s a very specific “upgraded” black coffee, “brain octane” MCT coconut oil, and grass-fed clarified butter (like ghee).  A man named Dave Asprey went on a Himalayan trek during which all they were given for breakfast was a steaming hot cup of strong coffee with yak’s (very fatty) milk, and he found that it not only helped him stay full and sustain his high activity level throughout the trekking day, but that it was also helping him lose body fat – a very notable development indeed.

Upon returning, he did some experimenting and came up with the bulletproof recipe – and its central claim that it puts the body into ketosis (burning fat for fuel, aka that thing we’re always trying to get our metabolisms to do).  While this claim has yet to be backed by any actual science (sorry, Dave), there is great evidence to the fact that MCT oil (i.e. one-third of the bulletproof formula) helps send the body into ketosis all on its lonesome, which combined with the satiety provided by the butter and the caffeine boost from the coffee can make for one helluva satisfying breakfast drink.

So what do I personally think of it all?

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As a committed intermittent faster, I am a huge fan of “using” bulletproof coffee to get you over the hump of no longer eating breakfast (a huge transition for a lot of those new to IF).  Sure, it’s a bit of a cheat, but because the ketonic effect of MCT complements the ketonic metabolic goals of IF in general, I call it a win-win – you feel good, you wake up, you stay full, and you can push your fast a little longer than you might otherwise.

On the contrary, bulletproof coffee is still just coffee, and if you’re the type of person who needs to chew in the morning, it probably won’t take over your usual breakfast food – and shouldn’t be added on to what you’re eating due to the fact that it’s a nearly all-fat, nearly 500-calorie little beverage.  Some rogue bulletproofers have experimented with adding egg whites or protein powder, making for a more meal-like experience, albeit at the expense of the purity of the main ingredients.  And don’t forget that texture here is absolutely crucial – you need to put the ingredients in a blender (nor stir with a spoon) to get the full experience of deliciousness.

In my humble opinion, if you have normal cholesterol and don’t feel the need for a sweet, food-filled breakfast, bulletproof could be an absolute breakthrough for you – and it’s definitely something worth giving a whirl (pun intended) in your morning routine.

What do you eat for breakfast?  Are you a coffee person, bulletproof or otherwise?

Ask Amanda: Friends in Small Spaces

Imagine the scene: you’re all pumped for your new workout routine, and you’ve got it all figured out.  You’re going to wake up early, pop into the gym before work, kill your workout, take a nice leisurely shower, and head to the office feeling accomplished and productive for the day ahead.

Now imagine how it really works: your alarm goes off at an unthinkable hour, you rouse yourself after a few snoozes with just enough time to squeeze in maybe a half hour workout, you speed to the gym in record time…and immediately realize that everyone else has the same idea you do.

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When you arrive at the gym, it’s so crowded you can’t get on a single machine, all the treadmills have a waiting list, and the shower room is so packed you’d be waiting until next Tuesday to try and sneak in even a quick one.  You shrug your shoulders and think, hell, I tried.

So many of my clients are too quick to admit defeat when it comes to facing a rush-hour status gym, but friends: there IS a solution.  The strategy is to carve yourself out a small corner of space, dominate a couple pairs of dumbbells, and focus on using the equipment in the gym that is chronically underutilized but effective.

Such as?

First off, forget the ellipticals even exist (I wrote a full post on this and other “gym sins” a while back) and get yourself onto a machine that matters for your warmup.  If you have access to a rowing machine, fantastic – it’s a quick, effective full body burn that will help you break a sweat within the first five minutes (click here for a sample rowing warmup).  Nearly as good is the stepmill (NOT the stairmaster, guys – the one that actually looks like a set of stairs), and if all else fails, pop on an empty treadmill and kick that mother up to a 10% incline (try walking at least a 3.5mph/6.0kph pace).

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No machines?  No problem.  One of the best warmups (and HIIT-style cardio intervals) you can do is jump rope, and there are so many different ways to do it you’ll never get bored.

Now that you’re nice and warm, grab two sets of dumbbells (one heavy for rows, one lighter for curls and presses) from a nearby rack – or in lieu of DBs, get a kettlebell (more on this below).  With only these pieces of equipment you have nearly limitless combinations of exercises you can perform, and without the “crutch” of a weight machine or rack you can work balance, stability, and core engagement in addition to the basic muscular development work.  Five key compound movements I recommend in every full-body dumbbell workout (start with three sets of 10 reps each) include:

Don’t worry, kettlebell users – I have a circuit for you, too.  Consider alternating the following five exercises for time (I usually start clients at 30 seconds per movement), making sure to work with a weight that is challenging but allows you to maintain form:

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Now let’s imagine the worst-case scenario – your gym is SO crowded you can’t get anything but a space on the mat.  No worries – your body is the best piece of equipment that money can’t buy, and it’s available to you 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world.  The key to using body weight for exercise is to make your movements powerful, explosive, and intense – and complete a full range of motion with each one.  Some ideas for the best time-saving body weight exercises are:

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Finally, remember that a crowded gym is not the only place you can get a good workout – consider buying a bit of your own equipment and taking your workout to a nearby park, joining an outdoor bootcamp or working with a personal trainer outside, or even building a decent home gym.

Options for fitness are limitless – you just have to find what works for you (and sorry – I still haven’t figured out a reasonable trainer tip for battling those locker room showers…).

Where do you work out – and what types of moves are in your go-to routine?