Ask Amanda: Total Recall

The timing on this legit reader-request #AskAmanda could not be more perfect as I’ve just returned from a wonderfully indulgent vacation in Japan.  She asked me how I get myself back on track after a weekend (week…month…year…life….) of too much food, too little exercise, and a general lack of health and fitness habits.

To give you an idea of what I mean when I’m talking about overdoing it, take a peek below. Over the five glorious days I spent in northern Japan, a typical day of eating looked a lot like this:

As you can imagine, upon my arrival back to Singapore, I solemnly and quietly slid my bathroom scale away under the sink, vowing to give myself a week to “recover,” and devised a plan on how to get back to my fit, firm self after a weekend of overindulgence.

Step one: food.  Whenever I need to clean myself out, I don’t go for the typical quick fixes (think juice cleanses, starvation diets, or some protein-shake regimen).  I simply buy the clean, healthy foods I enjoy and commit to eating them – and only them – for about a week.  For me that looks like:

  • breakfast: none; I return to my intermittent fasting program
  • fast breaker meal: banana or apple with natural chunky peanut butter
  • lunch: can of water-packed tuna mixed with plain hummus and 1/2 avocado
  • snack: a cup of full-fat Greek yogurt with blueberries and nuts
  • dinner: 1/2 avocado and 3 eggs over German bread with a side spinach salad

Sure, it’s not super exciting, but it definitely works – and that’s what matters to me.  The ingredients are cheap and simple, there’s barely any cooking involved, and I like all the food listed here.  I pair every meal/snack with 1/2 liter (16 ounces) of water and make sure I drink at least one container of coconut water (especially important in the Singapore climate) per day to offset all the dehydration of the (black) coffee I tend to gulp by the gallon.

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Step two: workouts.  When I’m coming back from an inconsistent or nonexistent workout schedule, I like to come back with a week of two-a-days – either an endurance cardio workout in the morning and superset weights in the afternoon, or a HIIT workout early and a slower weights program later.  I don’t overdo it in either workout session, but I do like to make up for lost time a bit and recommit my body and mind fully to exercise.

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Step three: sleep and skin.  After even one weekend of indulging, especially at age 33, I can see the effects of too much alcohol and sleep deprivation all over my (bloated, dull, patchy) face.  I like to use the first week back to do some serious rehab on my skin (think exfoliating scrubs, hydration mask, and heavy-duty eye cream every night, plus a scheduled facial as soon as I can make time for one), and get tons of sleep (for me “tons” is anything above 7 hours, and I cherish every second of it) until I no longer resemble the walking dead.

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If the Korean girls do it, I’m doing it – cleanse, tone, eye cream, face mask – ALL OF IT!

Finally, a wonderful step four: massage.  Sure, I was just on vacation, surrounded by leisure time and onsens aplenty, but I was also crammed into an economy-size airplane seat for about 10 hours each way and traveled two red-eye flights to make the trip happen. When I got  back, my neck felt like it had been strangled and my sore legs (from two days of snowboarding after an 18-year hiatus from the sport, sigh) felt like they were radiating pain.  I like to get a nice, deep, almost-painful massage to work out the travel tension and body aches from a whirlwind trip and help me get back in the mindset of work, business, and responsibilities again.

What are your best post-vacay rituals?  How do you get back to your healthy routine?

Lose Weight the FAST Way

Guys, I’ve written on this topic before – but I feel it bears repeating, so stay with me if you think you’ve heard what I have to say about the “silver bullet” of weight loss (yep, it exists) called Intermittent Fasting.

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Intermittent Fasting (shortened to IF for the duration of this post) simply means not eating during a specific period of time throughout the day, then “feeding” (eating) during a small window of time.  The type of IF that I do is 8 hours on, 16 hours off, which means that I eat for 8 waking hours of each day, then do not eat again for 16 hours, save for coffee (legit) and beer (not so legit, but LAY OFF ME it’s my own body, ok?).

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During those eight hours, I eat relatively clean (mostly salads, sandwiches, rice-and-veg dishes, or tuna on avocado) but not impeccably so – I have been known to throw down some pizza, burgers, or cookies on occasion (and by “occasion” I mean “at least once every week I totally eat these foods”).

In addition, and again by personal choice, I eat low-carb for one week out of each month (typically the last week) to maintain my ideal body composition (ratio of fat: muscle).

In doing this, and only this (though truth be told, I am a personal trainer and so by necessity spend many, many active hours in and out of the gym every day), I managed to lose 22 pounds (10KG) from last September to present.  A lot of clients and friends have asked me how I did it, and I am being completely transparent when I say it was IF and not much else (my workout routine, sleep habits, and social life have all remained the same).

So why does IF work so well?

If you think about the “eating several small meals a day” thing, consider that the glycogen roller coaster – you eat food, your body uses the food for fuel, you eat food again, your body uses the food again.  Sure, you are continuously eating and burning (assuming you are a perfect human being whose caloric intake and output are in exact balance, cough cough), but you are never actually attacking your body’s fat stores – and never training your body about how to convert fat to energy.

Frequent Small Meals

See, by continuing to feed the body over all of your waking hours, you are only training your body to produce more and more insulin – which can lead to increased abdominal fat storage (yuck), insulin resistance (uh oh) and eventually even diabetes (NOPE) and metabolic syndrome (worst of them all).  By never giving your body a chance to actually mobilize and utilize fat (versus glucose) for energy, and so it never does, and this results in you thinking, “why am I eating these tiny tiny meals but NOT losing any weight?”

Frustrating.

Luckily, by feeding yourself larger meals in a smaller period, you give the body a) the lovely and wonderful feeling of satiety (no more 250-calorie “mini meals”), b) tons of fuel-based energy during the feeding hours, and c) a metabolic kick in the ass by waiting until your body actually needs fuel to feed it.  Not bad for something that takes little to no effort (other than, uh, watching the clock?), is completely free, and fits into a busy person’s lifestyle (and often makes healthy eating even easier, since you don’t really need to worry about that whole “breakfast” thing anymore) really well.

The last common question I get from clients is do I fast every single day – and the answer, dear readers, is yes.  I find that it makes more sense for me to stick to IF as part of a lifestyle, much like sticking to a bedtime or an exercise program or flossing or any other healthy habit, rather than treating it like a fad or a temporary “quick fix.”  I’ve been fasting fairly religiously (save one week traveling in Japan and a couple drunken late nights here and there) since January and I find that it is the easiest and most effective weight control strategy I have ever used or recommended – and you can quote me on that.

If you are looking for a ton more science behind why and how people fast, this article has it all laid out for you, and you can even download a free 5-page starter kit from James Clear here if you are confused about how to get started on IF.

Let me know if you’ve tried – or would try – IF, and how fasting worked for you!

IF You Want to Lose Weight

A couple of months ago I realized that I had a big race coming up – the Ragnar SoCal ULTRA, to be specific – and concurrently realized I’d done barely any real running training toward that goal.  Add to that the fact that I was hovering around 5 pounds heavier than my driver’s license weight, and you can imagine I was motivated to do something about it.

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There are three distinct ways I’ve successfully lost weight in the past.  One is clean eating, the likes of which I detailed in my ROCKtober and GOALvember posts from late last year.  A second was a short but notable period of my early twenties where I began taking a diet pill that has since been pulled from the market for being highly dangerous (and did I mention I was highly stupid in my early twenties?  Weren’t we all?).

The third way I first tried about a year and a half ago, called intermittent fasting (IF).  There are many different ways to try IF, and some strategies work better depending on your lifestyle, preferences, activity level, and general habits.  Some of the main ways to do it are as follows:

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The eight-hour diet.  This is the method I use, which I find the easiest.  Basically, you choose which eight hours of the day in which to “feed” – and fast the remaining sixteen.  For my lifestyle, I allow beverages during the fast, including coconut water, soymilk lattes, and yes, beer and wine, but abstain from eating actual food outside the feeding hours (which for me are typically 11-7, but vary based on my dinner plans and workouts).

The 24-hour fast.  One day per week, abstain from eating.  Yep, that’s it.  Give your body a day without food, then return to normal (presumably healthy) eating habits.  Most people like to time the fast to coincide with the greatest number of sleeping hours, starting after dinner one and breaking fast with a slightly later dinner the next day.

One and done.  Also known as the “warrior diet,” this mimics the great hunters’ feasts of days gone by and requires the dieter to eat one (GIANT!) meal per night – and that’s it.  The timing and composition of the meal is more crucial here since it’s a one-time shot, so be prepared to focus on multiple servings of veggies, lots of protein, and a big dose of fat.

Fast cycling.  Combining elements of a few other IF methods, this one allows one complete and utter cheat day (woot!) along with a 36-hour fasting period (not-so-woot), plus another 4.5 days of regular clean eating (low-carb, high-protein, and lots of produce).  Supplements are also a focus of this program, especially during the 36-hour fast.

Day-on, day-off.  Also called alternate-day fasting, this variation alternates high-calorie or “normal” days (2000-2500 calories) with low-calorie or “fasting” days (400-500 calories).  The idea is that reducing calories on the fasting days actually provides health benefits similar to eating less on a daily basis, even if the foods are not clean.

I’m sure there are lots of way to do it, but as with exercise, the two most crucial points are consistency and adherence.  If you fast one day, binge the next, don’t eat for two days, and then have a couple normal days, your body gets confused.  What’s important in IF is choosing a strategy, planning for it, and sticking to it – which, again like exercise, is where most people fall short.

My strategy is pretty sound and it definitely works for me – I’ve lost 15 pounds over the past two months, 19 pounds overall since my highest weight reached here in Singapore, and I have more energy, better sleep, a more efficient digestive system, clearer skin, and my body fat is at 16 percent – all because of IF.  I am also running some of my fastest miles (but here, I’d definitely credit the training rather than the IF) and feeling stronger than ever during workouts.

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So what exactly does a day in the life of a semi-strict IF’er look like?  Here’s mine:

  • Wake up between 5:30-6:30.  Drink a bottle of water or coconut water, depending on how “festive” a night I had prior
  • Go about my morning business, which is either a starvation run, teaching group exercise class, or training clients
  • Grab a venti soy latte around 9:30-10am and bask in its blissful deliciousness
  • Eat lunch between 11-11:30, consisting of a can of water-packed tuna mixed with Greek yogurt (3 days per week) or a good part of a rotisserie chicken (4 days per week) and dou miou or salad
  • Take a 30-minute nap around 2pm to reset and recharge
  • Wake up and grab my fave snack, hummus and crackers, and a couple squares of my favorite Vietnamese dark chocolate, Marou
  • Make dinner around 6pm, focusing on whatever is healthy (like salmon and a sweet potato) or whatever is delicious (noodles! rice!) depending on whether I’m headed out drinking that night – either way, finishing up before 7pm
  • Either go to bed around 10pm like a wonderful and responsible human being, or:
  • Go out, enjoy 2-4 beers or glasses of wine, and feel no guilt.

Some of the benefits of this lifestyle for me are the fact that I can still enjoy normal food in normal amounts (my days total between 1500-1800 calories) and never feel lightheaded or hangry like I might with other diets (like juice cleanses).  I have my soy latte toward the end of the fast, when the hunger is most urgent, and it provides the “bump” I need to get through to lunch, at which point I bask in the fact that I have eight hours of glorious eating ahead of me.

Moreover, when I need the fuel the most – during the day, when I’m active – it’s there, and then my calorie intake wanes as my body prepares to shut down for sleep – just as nature intended.  Also, after not eating for 16 hours, you really have an acute understanding of what biological hunger symptoms feel like – and it has helped me kick the joint habits of a) boredom eating and b) drunk eating without feeling deprived or frustrated.

I’m not a doctor, and I’m sure as heck not a dietitian (although both groups agree that there are myriad health benefits to IF), which is why I don’t “prescribe” IF to my clients.  However, I will talk anyone’s ear off about it that will listen, because it has worked so well for me and is just about the easiest thing to maintain no matter how busy your lifestyle, since you set your own “feeding” hours and eat your own preferred foods.

So for all of you out there that have seen me recently and wondered how and why I decided to get kinda ripped all of a sudden – there’s the long form answer!  I would love to hear from you if you give IF a try – or if you’re not so keen on the concept.

Would you ever fast in any capacity?  What’s your preferred healthy eating strategy?

 

 

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?

GOALvember Updates & Running Ragged

Party people, it’s still the great month of November which means that GOALvember is still very much in effect.  I am keeping my health and wellness goals strictly on point until I head back to the U.S. for the holiday season, at which point I will joyfully allow myself the American excesses of eggnog, cookies, and locally brewed craft beer.

Until then, I am plugging along on all ten (!) of my goals, though they’ve definitely morphed in form since first I wrote…

For example, running once a week in the death humidity, heat and haze of Singapore seemed like a pretty decent goal…in late September.  Fast forward to now when it’s beautiful blue skies, slightly cooler (I mean, it was only 75 at 6:20am this morning!), and oh yeah, I’m registered for a Ragnar Ultra Relay.

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What’s Ragnar Ultra, you ask?  Oh, nothing much.  Just a 200 mile (321+ kilometers for you overaseas readers) footrace for time with only 6 runners, one van, and no sleep.  And yep, believe it or not, this was MY great idea (of all things) to make the most of a trip back to the States in April.  Luckily I have the best team on Earth to train with, so even remotely I know we’ll keep each other on our game.

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Continuing my love/hate relationship with yoga, I tried two new studios this monthRealYoga at The Centrepoint (think “legit” Indian style bendy yoga with an instructor seemingly determined to tear me in half) and Wings to Wings near Chinatown, a studio I found on my newly obtained Guavapass membership (jury’s still out on the GP, by the way, since it doesn’t have an app and seems to have far fewer studio options than my beloved Passport).

Clean eating is going well also; it’s getting more habitual to grab a salad for lunch (although today I did break down and get some delicious vegetable spring rolls – still veggie servings, dammit), my new obsession with sous vide everything means I’m cooking at home pretty much every night, and those vicious Tim Tams have finally made their way OUT of my house (for good).

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Finally, in the spirit of renewal and self-betterment I even took the time to clean out my closet (a quarterly ritual for me back home; first time I’ve been able to do it here in six months of living) and put aside a dumpload of clothes for donation.

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As always, purging feels amazing – but I can’t wait to acquire some great new pieces during after-Christmas sales back in the good ol’ US of A.

Have you set monthly – or “before year end” goals for yourself?  How are you progressing toward your best self?

A Day in the Life

A loyal reader asked me to break down a day in the life of a personal trainer – when I wake up, what I do all day, and how I stay fit.

Those of you who are also independent consultants like me know this: there is no typical day.  Each one is different, and plan as we may, days tend to take very different courses depending on cancellations, traffic, and a host of other “unpredictables” as the hours roll by.

That said, because my days are so varied and (perhaps) somewhat interesting, I figured I’d combine that reader request with today’s Blogging 201 assignment, which is thus:

B201 – Day 6 – Make the Most of Events

Create a recurring blogging event on your site, and/or make plans to attend a blogging conference.

Besides looking up blogging conferences in my area (not too difficult seeing as I’m in Los Angeles), I am hoping to draw some inspiration from my daily life to create a recurring but meaningful blog event (think World Fitness Day, or American Clean Eating Month [don’t take my idea – this may happen!], or something we can all participate in for the greater food).

Until I figure that all out, here’s a breakdown of what my #dayinthelife looks like this lovely Tuesday:

5:00am– alarm goes off; I groggily walk to the coffee pot and brew up some DD

5:15am – take my temperature (for fertility tracking), take my Biotin (for hair growth), and get ready (using my fave sweatproof products by it Cosmetics)

5:30am – coffee in hand, drive out to my first (outdoor) client while listening to Kevin & Bean, my absolute favorite morning radio show

7:00am – first client done, drive back to Fox Studios to teach CycleSculpt class

8:30am – class over, client at Fox

9:30-11:00am – bathe and prep for wellness presentation; breakfast of two hard boiled eggs, leftover arugula salad, and 1/2 whole wheat pita

11:30-2:00pm – give back-to-back wellness presentations at Fox (title: Exercise Intensity – The What, The Why, and the How-To)

2:30-4:00pm – work with online clients (all 89 of them!) over on FitOrbit.com; nosh on leftover Winter Day chili and pumpkin cornbread from last night

4:00-8:00pm – train more clients (both at Fox and outdoors)

8:30pm – receive Amazon Fresh and Blue Apron deliveries, prepare delicious meal (tonight: caramelized pork and congee); watch Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, Tosh.0, and/or House Hunters International with the fiance

10:30pm – after a couple chapters of Lena Dunham’s new book, hit the sack

What does your #dayinthelife look like?  If you blog, what’s your favorite blogging event and/or conference?