Ask Amanda: Max Your Metabolism

After (semi) lecturing a client about why it was important to lose body fat BUT maintain lean muscle (even if the “weight” on the scale stood stagnant because of it), she looked me straight in the fact and said, “So this whole process is just about building a better metabolism?”

I wanted to hug her.  “YES,” I cried to my dear and startled client, “YES IT IS!”  

And herein lies one of the most obvious but most misunderstood connections between exercise, body composition, and nutrition: metabolism.  Scientifically, metabolism is the sum of all the chemical processes inside our body that help us maintain life.  In layman’s terms, metabolism is the way in which your body converts and uses energy for fuel.

So why does this metabolism stuff matter to those of us out here in the streets, just trying to get fit?

There are lots of reasons.  Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) refers to the amount of calories your body burns at rest – and the higher your BMR, the less you have to do to actually burn the energy (read: food) you consume.

People with a greater muscle-to-fat ratio have higher BMR, even if their weight is exactly the same as someone with more fat than muscle.  Men tend to have higher BMR than women (sh*t, they win again!).  And people who go on starvation (VERY low-calorie) diets, even temporarily, can actually permanently decrease their BMR by sending the body into a “starvation mode” and causing it to hold onto energy and store it as fat.

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A bit exaggerated…but like, not much. #damnyoumen

In short: metabolism matters, and you definitely don’t want to mess yours up.  So what can you do to promote a faster, better metabolic rate?

First and foremost – SLEEP!  A lack of sleep, particularly when chronic, can lead to a neuroendocrine imbalance that not only makes the body store more energy as fat, but can also make you feel ravenous all day long (increased appetite hormones) and forget to tell you when you’re had enough to eat (decreased satiation regulators).

Second of all, lift weights.  I’ve talked about this time and time again, but the single best thing you can do to “speed up” (and I use this term loosely since you don’t actually change the metabolism itself but rather its efficiency in processing energy) your metabolism is to build lean muscle.  Every pound of muscle burns TRIPLE the amount of calories (six versus two) than the same weight in fat.  If you want to burn more by doing less (something appealing even to my least-active client), muscle is where it’s at.

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Beginners Guide to Lifting Weights for Metabolism

Third – and this may seem obvious – eat food.  Your metabolism is like a gas grill, and it doesn’t spark a fire without fuel.  When you don’t eat enough, not only does your body think it’s starving (and start holding onto every bit of energy/food you DO put into it), it starts to cannibalize your precious muscle tissue (SEE ABOVE) for energy – not good. What you eat is also important – protein is the best muscle-retaining macronutrient out there, fiber can rev up the fat-burning process even more, and staying hydrated (with water, by the way) makes all of your body’s most vital processes run smoothly and more efficiently.

Finally, be a mover (and heck, while you’re at it, a shaker).  Separate from the resistance exercise I mentioned above, what scientists are now calling NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) can actually be more effective in helping you lose weight and build fat-burning metabolism than “actual ” exercise.  Everything from fidgeting to taking the stairs up to your office to standing instead of sitting to take a phone call counts as NEAT, and in very active individuals, their NEAT daily calorie burn is more than what most other people might burn in a 30-minute elliptical session (something many people mistakenly consider a “workout,” which is a topic for another time).

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The combination of what you eat, how you move, and your other lifestyle factors (sleep, stress, etc.) is mostly responsible for how efficient your metabolism works – but don’t discount the “big G-factor” known as genetics (womp womp, I know).  If your family is prone to PCOS, Cushing’s Syndrome, diabetes, or thyroid issues, or if you’re on certain antidepressants or other medications, your metabolism may be slower than most – and it’s out of your control.  But even with these clients, I always encourage them not to use their medical conditions as excuses to be lazy with diet an exercise – but rather as a catalyst to rise above what they can’t control and focus on what they can (clean eating, regular workouts, and a positive mindset).

Do you think you have a “fast” or a “slow” metabolism – and do you personally believe it can change over time and/or with lifestyle habits?

Ask Amanda: Size Me Up

I meant to write this entry weeks ago when the whole Lady Gaga body shaming thing came out, but other #AskAmanda inquiries came up, and I had to save my little soapbox for a while.

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ZING!

But now, I’ve been thinking about my dear Lady as well as some other recent body-related posts I’ve seen (female boxer Alicia Napoleon on what being “beautiful” means; H&M’s new body positive advertising) and I just feel like it’s the right time to talk about an issue that underlies so much of the communication, presentation, and function of the fitness industry – especially as it applies to women*.

(*Male readers, by the way, don’t think you’re “excused” from the conversation – if you choose to leave, you’re just part of the problem.)

“The problem,” by the way, is this: the true definition of fitness as an ideal should be a strong, healthy body, mind and spirit – but the working definition of fitness in our culture is a muscled yet somehow miraculously lean body without much attention to the whole “mind and spirit” thing and even less to the whole “life in balance” thing.  Throw in the fact that many female representations of “fitness” are often just regular (underweight) models wearing sports bras, and I think the issue is quite clear.

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Not hating on how she lives her life, but it probably doesn’t involve a lot of exercise – or food.

Think of how fitness companies sell their products – whether it’s gym memberships, vitamins, group classes, fancy equipment, clothing, whatever – it’s usually by showcasing these impossibly “fit” bodies (and again, if we’re talking about women, usually “fit” and “skinny” are frustratingly and inaccurately interchangeable, since visible muscles can actually have the opposite effect on sales) and promising that the product/apparel/supplement will deliver them as quickly as possible.

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She has no muscles; he has a bunch; somehow they both got the same result from 6 minutes with a hand-held vibrator?  Let’s use our brains here, people.

In a word: wrong.  And in another word: misleading.  And allow me one more: destructive.

Even if these companies have the best of intentions, they’re still delivering the age-old message that the only reason to get fit is to have a hot (thin/muscled, again, depending on gender) body, and if a certain method doesn’t guarantee a hot (thin/muscled) body, it’s not worth pursuing.  Screw you, tai chi.  Forget it, low-impact cardio.  Sayonara, stretching.  Our fitness culture screams push, starve, sweat, burn – rarely if ever, balance; and nearly never, fitness at any size.

Furthermore, advertising and communicating this message does double damage in that it negates the actual reality of achieving hot (thin/muscled) bodies, which is that it often takes much more sacrifice and social isolation than the average person is willing to commit, and that a hot body is no more a symbol of true health than a Louis Vuitton bag is a symbol of true wealth – it’s just an easily identifiable status symbol, and just as shallow.

I once had a client tell me that she would not have signed up to train with me if she didn’t “want my body” – how I interpreted that was, if my body shape and size didn’t meet her ideal of what a fit body should look like, she would negate the decade-plus experience I’ve had professionally training clients and hire someone who “looked the part” better than me.

I’ve had it with that type of bullsh*t.

Because I specialise as a weight loss coach, you may think it’s a bit hypocritical for me to harp on the hyperfocus on body size and shape as a problem, since it’s exactly that “problem” that keeps me in business.  But I counter with this: I specialise in helping people get to their healthy weights, with lots of lean muscle, functional mobility, clean nutrition, and personal growth along the way.

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Mmmm, I’ll have an extra large serving of downtime please.

Not a single one of my clients is encouraged to take supplements, go below normal recommended calorie targets, slog away hours of cardio, or even give much credence to the raw number on the scale (I emphasise the importance of body fat percentage and body measurements as the appropriate progress metrics for fat loss).  No one in my gym gets by calling themselves “weak” or “fat,” and I really try to discourage (particularly female) clients from pointing out singular body parts as “problem areas” and rather encourage a full-body fabulous approach to training.

I refuse to accommodate women who tell me they don’t want to get “too muscular” (for the record, it’s never one happened, because gaining muscle is not an easy feat for most of us) from training with weights, and I absolutely have no patience for clients who choose to starve themselves or do hours of cardio to “lose weight” rather than do it the right way.

Before I lose focus (and I know, I’m almost there), I want to leave you guys with the summary point of all this: how you look on the outside is only one (often misleading) indicator of how you’re functioning on the inside, and no one – not even your doctor, not even your trainer – can assess your health and fitness just by looking at your body shape or size.  You control your real health outcomes with attention to clean eating, resistance training, and proper sleep and stress management, and when you do those things well, you’ll see exactly what your healthy body is supposed to look like.

Have you ever had comments about your body, fitness, or size that hit a nerve?  How do you – did you – deal?

Ask Amanda: Where To Start Again

Oh hello, last Wednesday of the year – didn’t see you coming so fast.  Next week will be January 2017 (thank GOD), and with that date comes the inevitable deluge of brand-new gym goers, resolution-makers, and diet-followers determined to “get fit” in the new year.

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As a trainer, nutritionist, and wellness coach, nothing makes me happier than people realizing it’s time to make a health-related change – and for many people, a new year actually is an effective time to do so.  Unlike lots of us in the fitness industry, I actually don’t dread or lament the wave of newcomers banging down our doors in January; in fact, I get more eager than ever to help convert that brand-new-year excitement into lasting and meaningful lifestyle changes.

But THAT, my friends, is easier said than done.

I was lecturing chatting with my dad the other day about his own fitness goal for the first half of the new year – to lose 20 pounds and regain some muscle tone with weight training**.  I asked him why he wanted to do it, and he said, “so I’m not such a slob.”  Of course, we had a laugh, but honestly, I challenged him to unpack that goal a bit further.

  • What is “being a slob” to you? (feeling heavy and sluggish; not fitting into certain clothes)
  • Why does “being a slob” bother you? (makes him feel older, slower and out of shape)
  • What would “not being a slob” look like? (getting to his gym-machine circuit at least twice a week, stopping nighttime snacking, and  watching portion sizes at meals)

And from that probing, we were able to put together some guidelines on what he’d need to do to reach his goal by May 2017.  I encourage all my clients to do some thinking along these lines, whether you consider them “resolutions” or not, around the new year.  All of us (yes, even us trainers!) benefit from revisiting our short and long-term goals regularly, and doing a reevaluation of where we are versus where we want to be.

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All that said, what if you have a massive and complicated fitness goal (such as lose 50 pounds, reduce body fat by 15%, eat healthier, develop enough running fitness to run a 5K, and get off blood pressure medication) – where do you even consider starting?

In my honest opinion, the single most important thing you can do for your overall health (after quitting smoking, if that’s also on your plate) is get your damn diet in order.  This will result in the most rapid weight loss, address your most urgent health concerns (one of my favorite quotes from Hippocrates applies here – “let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food”), and improve your sleep, energy levels, and mood more than any other single thing (and yep, that includes exercise – sorry, pizza-binging gym rats).

I am always reminding my clients about the 80/10/10 rule (full blog post here), which in shorthand simply means that 80% of your body composition is a result of your diet, 10% a result of your workout program, and 10% a result of your genetics.  The single biggest thing you can do to get a six pack, lean out your upper arms, thin out your waistline, or shrink your hips is clean up your diet – and I promise, I’ll dedicate a whole separate post on my ideas on how you can do that another time, but here’s a great place to start.

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Once you’ve committed to cleaning up your eating, getting a consistent and effective workout routine is your next order of business.  Consistent means 3-5 times per week (and yes, I mean every week, even the week with your birthday in it; the week you’re on vacation; the week between Christmas and New Year’s – all the weeks); effective means not wasting your time with 55 minutes on the elliptical machine.  

Are you a group exercise devotee?  Need a personal trainer to keep you accountable?  Love to get out on the open road for a long, peaceful run?  Figure out what you’ll actually do, and do it – there’s no single right or wrong path, as long you a) incorporate some cardio and some weight training into your weeks, b) remember to mix up your workouts for functional fitness, and c) maintain “backup plans” for when your workout of choice isn’t available.  As I love to remind my clients, excuses are for those who need them – and if you’re serious, you won’t.

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My third and final piece of advice for starting an overall wellness renovation in your own life is to consider exactly that – the overall, big picture of what wellness looks like for you.  Diet and exercise are great, and of course important, but don’t undermine the importance of things like proper sleep, stress management, stretching and massage, meditation, positive thinking, and supportive relationships.  You will never be your best self if you’re constantly berating yourself, belittling your progress, feeling exhausted, feeling alone, and dragging through your day with negative self-talk.  When you’re thinking through your goals for 2017, make sure to pencil in some self-love – the most successful of my clients always do.

How do you get motivated to kick off your goals in the new year?  What are yours for 2017?

**my dad runs a 5K course every other day, religiously, and is FAR from a slob, btw.

Ask Amanda: Harried Holidays

Perhaps it’s more symptomatic in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world – we do up the sugar-fueled trick-or-treating for Halloween in October, binge-eat like patriots on Thanksgiving (and days after) in November, and ramp up a December so full of holiday parties and celebrations that, come January, we can barely drag our bloated carcasses onto the scale, much less face the gym.

Ugh.  It’s a vicious cycle, peeps – but a predictable one, and one you can break.

An #AskAmanda fan (and real-life kickass client!) of mine inquired last week about how to stay on track when the holiday season threatens to break our wills, and I thought long and hard about whether to reveal the following fact (deep breath):

Nearly every winter, I lose weight.

Yes, you read that right.  I decrease in mass during the holiday season.  I tend to start off January at my year-long lowest weight, typically peaking somewhere around my birthday (June, don’t ask me why, maybe because I hate summer?), and then downhilling past the October/November hump and ending up at a nice clean and lean place come December.

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So how does this happen?

First of all, I am a big rules person.  Those of you who know me IRL know that I am a giant fan of deadlines, limits, boundaries, and accountability (especially when it comes to fitness and health).  When the holidays start pushing into my world with their nonstop flow of parties, happy hours, and general disruption of schedules, I push back – with a consistent plan that keeps me centered and focused.  Some examples:

  • At the risk of beating a dead horse, I only allow myself to eat within an 8-hour window, then I fast the remaining 16.  Got a holiday party at 9pm?  Either push your eating window (2-10pm, for example) or finish up your eating well before, and toast a glass of champagne – but skip the canapes.  Easy peasy.
  • Not so ready for the strict window?  Try this: set a carbs deadline instead (I suggest either 2pm or 4pm, depending on how strict you wanna play it).  Rather than confining all your food to a specific time limit, simply give yourself an end game for the white stuff (refined sugar, flour, bread, pasta and rice) and hold yourself to it. Egg rolls after 4p?  Pass.  But let the good times roll on that chicken satay!

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  • You can also focus on playing the swap game – pick and choose your battles, so to speak.  Got a company holiday party catered by your favorite restaurant?  Plan for it by “trading” your dinner for a spin around the appetizer buffet instead.  Got a boozy cookie-baking party with the gals?  Choose one – the sugar or the swill – and allow yourself a little indulgence without going overboard.  Life is all about choices, and when you feel in control of your own, you’re less likely to make the wrong ones.

Second, I make my own workouts even more of a priority – and a stress reliever! – when the end-of-year schedules start to pack up.  I experience so many client cancellations in the month of December  I want to tear my hair out – and most of them are for reasons like last-minute shopping, back-to-back events at school or work, or prepping for holiday travel.  As I say so often to clients and classes alike – “when you want to do something, you’ll find time – when you don’t, you’ll find excuses.”  So just cut the crap and:

  • Schedule your workouts into your calendar.  Make your most important meetings the ones that maintain your personal health, energy, and spirit – what could be more crucial when the holiday rush threatens to drain you of all of that?  If you want to get super real about it, assess yourself a strict “cancellation fee” if you do skip – making a contribution to a worthy political cause (cough, cough) or putting five bucks in a gift fund for your mother-in-law.  Money talks, and eventually, you’ll listen.
  • Seek out exercise classes that you want to go to.  GuavaPass and other services like this are great for this time of year because they allow you to break up the monotony without (financial) commitment – and who wouldn’t feel less stressed doing a workout like trampoline gymnastics, boxing, or aerial yoga?  When the workout is exciting, new, and fun, you can view it as pleasure – rather than the boring ol’ routine of picking up dumbbells in a sweaty gym.
  • Make working out together a social engagement.  One of my favorite memories in my entire exercise history was when a bunch of girlfriends and I “sweated to the Oldies” at Richard Simmons’ SLIMMONS studio in Beverly Hills.  He wore a sequined tank top and a tiny Santa hat; we wore neon 1980s workout gear and danced like no one was watching.  Afterward we got dinner and drinks and it was an absolutely perfect holiday get-together – better than any parties I’d been to that year.

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My final tip is this: drop the guilt.  It’s the holiday season, a time to celebrate what makes you happy, be with friends and family, and enjoy the decorations, festivity, and magic that truly only comes once a year.  Focus on what’s really important this time of year – gratitude, compassion, and kindness – and no matter what, you’ll lose the “weight” of negativity and frustration that tends to build up during a long, hard year.

What are your favorite stay-healthy holiday tips?

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?

Ask Amanda: Stress Eating

Tell me if the following scenario sounds eerily familiar to you:

You start a new eating program – maybe it’s a Clean & Lean, or a Whole30, or just Paleo or low-carb or something of the sort.  You adhere to it strictly, almost religiously, and you start to see the weight coming off.  You are motivated.  You feel in control.

Until one day, life throws a curveball.  Maybe you and your partner have a fight, or perhaps you have a sh*t day at work.  A single cookie won’t deter your results.  One little Frappuccino after lunch isn’t a big deal.  But suddenly the cookie turns into a whole bag, or before you know it there’s a croissant accompanying that Frap.  And one slip-up turns into two.  And two slip-ups turn into a reverse read on the scale.

Within what seems like a painfully short amount of time, you are back where you started.  The clean eating thing seems so far away, like a friend you were once really close with but haven’t spoken to in years.  You feel discouraged, tell yourself that losing weight is impossible, and slide back into the habits you were initially trying to break.

Hitting a bit close to home?

Even the best (healthiest?) of us have some version of this story to tell – but the difference is that it doesn’t end the same way.  When I finally decided to get my weight under control, I committed wholeheartedly – which absolutely doesn’t mean I became a perfect clean eater (read: the drunkenly-consumed FULL BAG of Tostitos I ate on Monday night).

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What it means is that I committed to the process (in my case, intermittent fasting) and refused to let one bad decision or snack derail my entire program.  Whether I break fast a couple hours early on a super-hungry morning or slip into the aforementioned late-night snack, I never let one screw-up become multiple.  I take a deep breath, remind myself why this way of living is important to me, and refocus my priorities.

My friend and client Laura asked me to talk about some strategies to combat stress eating (to which I am going to add boredom eating / drunk eating / general feelings-eating) in this week’s Ask Amanda and I cheerfully obliged, as I do feel it’s one of the “dirty little secrets” that even fitness professionals struggle with (and are ashamed of doing themselves).

First of all, if you are trying in earnest to lose weight (or heck, accomplish any major goal, really), you have to commit to a plan.  Just saying “I want to eat better” or “I want to clean up my diet” is too vague to have any practical meaning, and it will only frustrate you to try and find your way without an inkling of a road map.  Again, there are several ways to do this – this article suggests a few starting points – but once you’ve selected one that sounds feasible, make sure you give yourself every bit of preparation needed (food prep, mealtime adjustments, grocery shopping lists) to succeed on your given plan.

Second, identify your stress (or boredom, or sadness, etc.) triggers and create an “immediate action” plan of what you are going to do – besides eat – when they hit.  Soldiers in the Singapore Armed Forces practice IA (immediate action) drills to train themselves to react quickly in case of a rifle malfunction – their reactions to such problems then become automatic and applicable without a split second of confusion.  This is what you want for when your own cravings hit – an immediate deterrence (think deep breathing, taking a bath, reading a magazine, going out for a walk, calling a friend) that you turn to without a second’s thought instead of going directly to food.

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Third, be sympathetic to yourself.  You are likely wanting to stress eat because something is going wrong and you don’t feel great – so don’t beat yourself up further with the guilt of overindulging in food and going “off plan.”  Instead, get inside your own head and retrain your brain – the power of positive thinking isn’t just a new-age mantra, it really works!  Be kind and respect the feelings you have when food cravings hit, then reassure yourself that this, too, shall pass – and channel that energy somewhere else (I always recommend a good workout, of course).

Remember that no one at any stage in her personal health journey is absolutely perfect – as they say, life is what happens when we’re making other plans.  Give yourself room to enjoy food, indulge once in a while, and maintain the pleasure of feeling healthy and satisfied.  Learn to feel the difference between hunger and stress and practice giving your body and mind outlets other than food for when the going gets tough.  And as I said before, having a strong meal plan to “fall back on” when you’ve been derailed can be a very comforting and supportive thing – not a “diet plan,” per se, but a true lifestyle choice.

What has helped you win the battle against stress eating – and what’s your “immediate action” plan for when you need a little help?

 

On the Topic of Excuses

My favorite quote about excuses is, “excuses are for those who need them.”  I try to live my life in a way that does not necessitate making excuses; if I don’t want to do something or fail at something or want to avoid something, I try to be upfront about it – not skate the issue.

That said, I also have a hard time saying no – which means I get myself into situations that I absolutely dread, but have already committed to, and without a solid excuse cannot remove myself from without a great deal of guilt.  Case in point: Velocity Urban Attack 4.

The Urban Attack is a local obstacle race not unlike a (heavily) watered-down American Ninja Warrior.  From the moment I saw the course being built at the mall down the street, I was intrigued, and when I realized it was only $25 to give it a run, I signed up.

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The morning of the race rolled around and I was confident though completely terrified; the few practice rounds I did before my start time were mostly successful and while the obstacles were challenging, they were not impossible.  My turn came up and I went for it, monkeying across bars, climbing ropes, swinging from poles, and finally, slamming my hands down on the oh-so-gratifying red buzzer to signify I’d finished the course.

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I was one of only a few women to finish that day and it felt good – but lo and behold, my performance was actually good enough to get me into the finals, held two weeks later.  The week in between I spent in Japan, alternating between stressing out about whether I would race again when I returned to Singapore and just enjoying myself with an ultimate overindulgence of booze and food (see below: bowls of ramen as large as my head and gyoza for days).

Reality came back when I returned from Japan and the question remained: would I commit to revamping my performance that weekend, or would I bow out?  The pro/con list rattling around my head looked something like this:

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PROS:

  • could win actual money dollars (first prize was $1500 cold hard cash)
  • physical challenges are kind of my thing
  • adrenaline keeps you young (eh, reaching…)
  • already completed the course; no fear of total failure
  • no additional cost to just try
  • trying to be strong role model for my clients and others

CONS:

  • absolute terror at having to face the course again
  • feeling of impending doom over possible injury (I failed to mention above that I got my leg caught on one obstacle and had a huge, deep cut for about 10 days)
  • adrenaline is overrated
  • deep-down knowledge that winning was very likely out of reach
  • nagging fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt that creeps in with all unknown and/or stressful and/or challenging situations like this

So yeah, while the pros were very tangible, sensible things, as you can see, the cons were very intangible, improbable, and often pointlessly worrisome things that I am always trying to tell my clients not to concern themselves about.

But can you guess what I did?

If you guessed “let the fear consume you and skip the finals even after going all the way down to the venue and actually signing the liability waiver,” then you guessed correctly.  I went all the way down to the site, registered as a finalist, and signed the form – then walked out the door, bailed, and never looked back.  I still have no idea who won that day.

Excuses are excuses, and mine was an amalgam of fear, worry, and some deeply-rooted concern that I would either make a fool of myself going up against all these spry young girls, hurt myself past the point of my insurance coverage, or both.  So I didn’t show up.  

I am not sure what the full point of me writing this post is; in some ways I suppose it’s cathartic to let my readers and followers know that despite the image I try to project on Facebook and Instagram I am not always the warrior princess; I am not fearless; I am far from the podium winner on lots and lots of things I do in life, even though I prefer to highlight the ones in which I am (don’t we all?).

When faced with obstacles in life we have a choice – go through the course, bruises and all, or turn around and bolt away to safe space.  Some days you’re the warrior; some days you’re the weak – and while I hate the situations that make me the latter, I know that sooner or later, I’ll have my redemption, and feel like my strongest self again.

Just don’t make me climb that damn rope again.

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Where Have I Been & Other Excuses

Oh hi, hello.  I’m here, really, but this time, like actually really.

My 2016 New Year’s resolution (loosely) was to write more.  And I’ve sort of been doing so, in terms of submitting more articles to health & fitness publications and starting a collection of short stories (details later, don’t hold your breath) on my own time.

That said, have you noticed the blog kind of died?  Yeah, I did.  And I am turning that around.

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First of all, I am recommitting to giving you guys topical fitness and health-focused discussion here at least once a week.  That means talking about something near and dear to my personal trainer’s (cold, black) heart that might be of interest to you all as well.

Second, and perhaps most exciting – I am bringing back Ask Amanda Wednesdays (absorbing and reviving the ever-popular Would Amanda Eat It? series as well)!  OH HELL YES, loyal readers, we will again have our open-talk venue here and on my Facebook page for you to ask me all the weird / tough / confusing health and fitness questions you’ve been pondering and want some professional advice about.

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And finally, fit people, I’ll make sure to take the time to be real with y’all as well – giving you straight talk about what’s going on with me personally, rating all the best dresses on the red carpet (looking ahead to you, MTV Music Awards), and making sure ThisFitBlonde is giving you lots and lots of reasons to keep clicking back.

Thanks for sticking with me, guys.  I promise I won’t let you down.

GOALvember Outcomes & Lessons Learned

Every now and then I will undertake a challenge – 10 Pounds in 10 Days (2013), Whole30 (2014), and this year, ROCKtober and GOALvember.

I don’t think of any of these are “lifestyle changes” or “system reboots” or anything like that, but I do think that in life, we should seek out challenges, and more than that, we should look to better ourselves in whatever small ways, for whatever small reasons.

With that (overly noble) idea in mind, here’s my two-week-delayed review of GOALvember – my pursuit of 10 lifestyle “tweaks” intended to make my day-to-day life better, lose a little weight, and get back to a wellness plan that really works for my life and my goals.  Behold the list:

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#squadgoalz

So what did I learn from trying to make these 10 rules stick?  Well…

“Forcing” workouts is almost a guarantee of not getting them done.  Sure, I exercise near-daily, and I love exercising, so it’s not a chore for me.  But trying to quantify workouts (yoga, Crossfit, running, swimming…) is almost more stressful than helpful.  There are four types of target workouts I like to do (see list above), but I am more satisfied plugging them into my week as I go – and as I can- rather than trying to check off some ambivalent number on a list.  There is room for flexibility!

Positive self-talk works.  And guys, I go overboard.  I look in the mirror and say out loud, “Fierce!”  I take selfies that I never post just to give myself a high five for putting makeup on that day.  I put on dresses that hug the curves of my body and for once don’t focus on the little bit of “extra” that peeks out near my upper arms.  I have been giving myself mental high-fives on a way more regular basis, and I will tell you – I feel better each passing day when I do it.  As they say – fake it till you make it.

Alcohol is not (really) the enemy.  I’m not saying it’s good for you, and I’m sure not saying it’s not a vice in my own life.  But what I am saying is that the days I chose to have a few extra tipples among friends were not the days my weight would stagnate or go up; in fact it was often the opposite.  As a social drinker, I associate a few beers with a bit of fun, and I realize that cutting that channel out of my life (again, for an arbitrary reason) makes me more stressed than just letting loose a bit.  And hey, it’s the holidays, right?  Time to toast under the mistletoe, in my opinion. 😉

Clean eating is always the solution.  Well, what do you know – when I am eating more vegetables (salads included, but not exclusively), skipping the heavy breakfast carbs (read: cereal), and enjoying reasonable and protein-focused portions, I have more energy, I lose weight, and I perform better.  Surprise, surprise.  I have all the tools I need, I just need to remember to wield them.

I am happy to report that I am “off program” for the next couple of weeks – even trainers like to enjoy themselves at the holidays, of course!  I’m excited about what the new year holds – Ragnar Ultra, perhaps a triathlon (!), and who knows what else…2016 is a year of possibility.

What are you looking forward to in the new year?  Any great fitness goals?

The Idiot-Proof Functional Fitness Workout

I was looking up some different workout ideas today and all of a sudden I stumbled upon what I believe to be one of the most awesome summaries of all things exercise that I have ever seen (and paraphrased):

When in doubt, squat, hinge, press, pull, do something for your core and/or carry something heavy.

This is such a useful answer to the question I get so often as a trainer:

What should I do in the gym?

Functional fitness for 100, Alex.  Planning your workout isn’t brain surgery; it’s simply putting together the most effective summary of parts so that you aren’t (a) wasting time or (b) about to injure yourself.

Case in point: I, like many women, used to spend time on “little muscles” – think triceps kickbacks, biceps curls, or thigh abductions.

go hard

You can go hard, or you can go home.

Sure, muscles are muscles and they all need work to function optimally.   But consider a complex movement like the deadlift-row – where the body must hinge, pull, engage the core, and lift something heavy – and you see why 10 reps of dead-rows versus 10 reps of arm-kicking makes a lot more sense.

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The deadlift row. Please use larger weights, ladies and gents.

So what does a squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling, core stuff and carrying things type of workout actually look like?

I know, it sounds like some sort of complicated version of Mouse Trap, but honestly, these fundamental movements are some of the easiest to put together on your own when faced with a gym and a half hour(ish) to work out in it.  Here’s one example:

SQUAT – why not just um, squat?  Or add weights?  Or jump?

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Drop it like a squat

HINGE – you know I love a deadlift.  Or heck, a kettlebell swing.

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NOT a squat. #hiphinge

PUSH – don’t discount the humble push-upPush-press?  Chest fly too.

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My fave Crossfit move.

PULLpull-ups are hard.  Seated rows aren’t.  Or how about cables?

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Ripped dudes make it look easy.

CORE – so many planks.  Crunches.  Lower back work.  Twists.

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CARRY – pick up a sandbag.  Drag something behind you.  Farmers walk.

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This workout is a drag, man.

As with most things in life, the best answer is often the simplest one.

What do your functional workouts look like?  What are your fave moves?