Ask Amanda: Sleep Goals

Before you read this, ask yourself: did I sleep enough last night?  Most of us busy people would almost immediately say no, and those of us who didn’t are probably lying.

What counts as “enough” anyway?  Who cares if I don’t sleep?  And what’s the long-term effect of sleeplessness on health, body, mind – all of it?  #AskAmanda has you covered this week.

In our go-go-go society, especially where the pressure for us to achieve, demonstrate, and act is so high, successful people have somehow become martyrs for sleeplessness.  As a trainer, I see firsthand the effects of this lack-of-sleep mentality in the gym.  My clients that come in exhausted aren’t able to push as hard, they forget or misunderstand instructions more often, they get frustrated with simple tasks or deviations in their programs, and their heart rates soar through the roof even at lower intensities.

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I have been known to actually turn away clients that come to me on fewer than five hours’ sleep since what they really need is a nap – not an hour of a*s-kicking.

Sleep is an absolutely crucial part of a full fitness regimen, and not one to be taken lightly.  The adult human body functions best on about seven hours of sleep, but these must be quality (read: not up-and-down, mind-reeling, restless) hours.  One of the best moves you can make for your “sleep hygiene” is to set a bedtime and a wake-up time, and stick to it – or within 30 minutes of it – all week (yep, that includes weekends).  I absolutely love the iPhone’s new Bedtime mode for helping you do this – set one alarm all week and get reminders on when you should be in bed (that pop up most often while you’re up checking your phone, ahem).

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Once you’ve got the consistency thing down with your sleeping hours, you can focus on making your sleep quality top-notch.  Invest in a real, adult mattress and luxurious, soft sheets – your bed is the one thing in your house (besides your toilet, ha) that you rely on every single day – so it’s worth every bit of money you put into it.  Spray your sheets with relaxing essential oils, get a dimmer on your bedroom light switch, cut the alcohol and caffeine at least two hours before you crawl into your cocoon, and remove any unnecessary electronics from your reach so you’re not tempted to check your phone, watch one last episode of Suits, or do anything other than sleep in your bed (I have been known to put my iPhone on a very short charging cord so I literally cannot get to it from my bed once it’s plugged in, and I also have to get OUT of bed to turn my alarm off in the AM, which helps me wake up).

If you’ve mastered sleeping regularly and sleeping well (which, let’s be honest, from a health perspective is about as easy as saying you’ve “mastered” eating clean and cooking nightly), you’re ready to reap the myriad benefits of healthy sleep patterns, which include:

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The more you have on your plate, the harder it is to settle your mind and “wind down” for a good night’s sleep – as a trainer, wellness coach, and small business owner I absolutely understand that.  This is where some mindfulness training – whether it’s formal “meditation” or not – can help.  I’m a big fan of apps for this – helpful for me since I spend a lot of time commuting on public transit with my headphones on – but going to a meditation center, reading a mindfulness book, or even just sitting for 5 minutes in a quiet room with your eyes closed can get the job done – and set you up for better, more peaceful sleep at night.

I don’t know about you, readers, but all this sleep talk has me ready for a nap (check out a past #AskAmanda for even more specific nap-related tips) – who’s with me?

Are you a religiously good or chronically poor sleeper?  What are your best tricks for a good night’s rest?

Ask Amanda: The Opposite of Exercise

A wonderful (and sidenote, gorgeous) TFB reader and bride-to-be came to me with a frustrated #AskAmanda question earlier this week, and I felt for her, because I feel like it’s something I commonly hear from training clients that are just starting out:

“I’m busting my ass in the gym (or, training for this marathon; or, doing CrossFit; or, taking the 40-day hot yoga challenge, etc. etc.) and I’m actually GAINING weight.”

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Sound familiar?

Believe it or not, I’ve been there.  There was a time in my life when I was running more than 25 miles per week, lifting weights, and doing CrossFit, and watching that infuriating little red ticker on my scale NOT BUDGE AN OUNCE.  Here I was, legitimately exercising at a high intensity at least 2 hours per day and not losing weight.  Seems impossible, right?

How could adding more exercise produce results that are the exact opposite of exercise?

So….here’s the thing, guys.  Remember my 80/10/10 theory (if not, read all about it here)? The basic idea is this: only 10% of the way your body looks in terms of fat-to-muscle composition comes from the gym.  The other ten percent comes from genetics (hey, don’t fight Mother Nature).  And the remaining EIGHTY (eight-zero) percent comes straight from what you put into your mouth: your diet.

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Focus on the first and last columns.

Anyone who’s lost a significant amount of weight without illness or surgery will tell you, if they’re being honest, that it’s making a radical dietary change that made the final difference in watching the scale go down, down down.  Social media, pop culture, and fitness magazines do their best to tell you that it’s “gettin’ swole” in the gym or doing some particular sort of workout that’s going to make your six pack pop – when in reality, dropping carbs for a week will do more for your abs than a thousand crunches ever will.

That being said, of course there are some nutritional strategies that are more effective than others, and there are some workouts that are more effective than others, and there are some “insider” trainer tips that can help speed along body fat loss – and I want to give you a little insight into all of those, right now:

BE.  CONSISTENT.  Above all, you need to be consistent in your diet and exercise routine.  As you know, I am a big fan of intermittent fasting (IF), and the reason it works for me is because I do it every day.  Maybe IF isn’t for you, but maybe the four-hour body is.  Maybe my style of working out (mid-distance running interspersed with traditional weight training and twice-per-week obstacle training) isn’t for you, but Pilates is.  I am not as concerned with WHAT clean-eating plan you’re following or WHAT workout you’re doing, as long as  you’re not doing it a couple days a week and acting “shocked” when results aren’t there.  Success is a full-time gig, my friends.

TRACK & CONQUER INFLAMMATION.  Especially when picking up the iron for the first time, a lot of my clients experience a great deal of muscle soreness and inflammation, which can lead to skipping workouts, poor sleep quality, and just general feelings of OUCH.  I wrote a whole blog on how to get over this initial exercise adaptation (so hey, I’m not gonna repeat myself too much here) but just know this: if you don’t reduce inflammation in the body, your brain doesn’t receive enough of the leptin hormone (yep, the one that controls and regulates your appetite), and you end up hungry & tired.

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TIME YOUR MEALS TO CONTROL YOUR APPETITE.  A lot of first-time marathoners complain that they’re ravenous because of their increase in weekly running mileage – but the strategy here is to use your meals strategically so that they curb your appetite and refuel your body rather than leave you stranded and starving.  My best advice is to exercise first thing in the morning – yes, before you’ve even eaten – to “use” a large, nutritious breakfast (NOT this “fat-free yogurt and fruit” BS that so many of my clients think is healthy) as your recovery meal (by eating before you work out, you “use up” the fuel during your work out, and often feel hungry afterward and need a “second breakfast” to keep going).  Have a lunch that features lots of protein and a healthy carb, then let the carbs go after 4pm – focusing on protein alone as afternoon snacks (read: hard boiled egg, protein shake) and as the centerpiece at dinner.  As the old saying goes, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”

DROP THE WHITE STUFF.  Speaking of eating, the three food “groups” (eye roll) you can let go in a jiffy if you’re honestly trying to cut fat are sugar, flour and salt.  Point blank. These three ingredients (especially when consumed to excess) are poison to your system, dull your skin, slow your metabolism, clog up your bowels, and worst of all, make you fat.  You know what DOESN’T make you fat, in the ultimate irony?  FAT.  You can even lose weight drinking liquid butter for breakfast – but not if you can’t drop the croissants.

DIURETIC YOUR DIET.  A lot of us retain a lot of water (per the above, often due to overzealous salt and sugar intakes) that in turn makes us have the “appearance” of chubbiness even when body fat is not that high – think puffed-up cheeks, swollen hands and feet, and distended bellies.  If you are one of these people (and hey-o, I am too!), diuretic foods and beverages can be your best friend.  Granted, you don’t want to lose all the water in your system and you need to stay super hydrated throughout the day for diuretics to be healthy and effective, but integrating diuretic foods can help beat the bloat and give you a slimmer, tighter appearance almost instantly (definitely a fitness-model trick for photoshoot day, believe you me).  Here’s a list to help you figure out what to eat.

Finally, USE YOUR GYM TIME WISELY.  Most of us don’t have hours to slog away on the treadmill and per my above points on inflammation, appetite, and weight loss – you don’t want to be doing that anyway.  Building more muscle is the surest way to make your body a lean, mean, metabolic-functioning machine, and building more muscle comes from a combination of eating enough protein and 3-4 sessions per week of lifting heavy weights (ladies, you too).  Add in a day or two of HIIT-style cardio to shed a little more fat and bingo – your kick-started fat loss journey has begun.

What’s worked for you in terms of body fat loss – and if you’ve never needed to lose weight, what are your best stay-slim strategies?

Ask Amanda: The Six Pack Story

Among my female clients, the requests for body sculpting via personal training and nutrition are many: some want skinnier thighs, some want a bigger booty, some are looking for cut arms, others want a flat stomach, a lot want to lose back fat, etc etc.

Among my male clients, the most common request is simple: get me a six pack.

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Not quite there yet, fellas.

If you search the internet, you’ll find a myriad of articles pointing you in the direction of which exercises to do for a six pack (an issue which I will touch, but not dwell, on in this entry) – but relatively few explaining the other components (diet, sleep, stress control) that are even more crucial to achieve this physiological phenomenon.

A few years back, the website Greatist had one of their writers perform an “absperiment” to see if he could get six-pack abs in six weeks.  Some caveats: dude was, well, male (always going to be harder for us ladies to nail the sixer), young, and already above-average in terms of fitness and exercise habits.  That said, like many of my clients, despite his genearl fitness, he didn’t have that visible, hard midsection muscle development that seems to scream, more than any other muscle you can have, “I am fit!  I am sexy!”

Spoiler alert on his story:  he did it.  He got one.  And it nearly killed him.  Read here for a list of the sacrifices he made to achieve his goal – and then reconsider if you want to read the rest of my tips, hahah.

The reason I bring up his story is because I want to write this piece as a how-to guidenot as a must-do mandate.  If you want to know the real talk on getting a six pack, you also must know that it is not generally an easy, nor pleasant, nor natural thing for most of us – and the people you see that have wicked-awesome ones are usually genetic beasts or absolute ascetics – or both.  That said, with dedication, persistence, and self-control, it is not outside the realm of possibility (especially for those who are young, fit, and male) – and I’ll give you my best advice on how to get there.

First things first – great abs are made in the kitchen.  Carbohydrates, alcohol, dairy, too much sodium, and nearly ALL sugars gotta go (as in, 100% gone) if you want to get that six-pack fast – and protein and “good” fat consumption has to go wayyyyy up (think about 1 gram protein and 1/2 gram fat per pound of bodyweight, minimum).  For most of us, we have to drop our portion sizes, and for almost everyone, we have to cook at home for every meal to avoid the inevitable salt, oil, and grease bombs that restaurants serve in massive proportion.

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Second, the exercise.  A visible six-pack, especially for men, isn’t just a “tight” core – it takes a larger, stronger muscle development to really pop.  That’s why crunches and planks, though fantastic otherwise, won’t a six-pack make.  Think of incorporating hypertrophic (muscle-growing) moves, such as ab wheel rollouts, hanging knee raises, cable crunches, and medicine ball declines to your program – the more you add weight and resistance to an abdominal exercise, the more the muscle will grow in size (and visibility).  You’ll need to make sure you’re doing other fat-burning full body exercise as well (since you can’t just “target” the fat on your abs without getting the fat in other places off, too) – and I’ll recommend HIIT (over steady-state cardio) as a time-efficient way of doing this.

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Third, let’s chat about nutrient timing.  Yes, I’ve already taken away your precious carbs and alcohol, and now I’m going to take away even the time in which you can eat food.  Whether or not you choose to go for full-on intermittent fasting (IMO, the quickest way to shock your body into ketosis, the fat-burning metabolic process), you’ll need to put a limit on how many hours of the day you spend eating, and at what time in the day you stop eating any form of carbohydrates (yes, even vegetable ones).  Most folks entering the six-pack zone stay fasted until lunch, include around 100g of carbs in that first meal, and then eliminate carbs anytime after 4pm – putting a firm end point their overall food intake no later than 8-9pm.  It’s not easy, but timing your food intake is effective – and cost-free!

Next, don’t forget about the key component in hypertrophy (again, muscle gain): adequate and consistent sleep.  When you’re not sleeping enough, your muscles don’t recover, which means they don’t build in size, which means you’ll never actually see them (visibility being a key part of the six-pack allure, of course).  Add to that the fact that when you’re sleep-deprived, your body is constantly searching for sources of energy, which makes your appetite more ravenous and your body crave for more carbohydrate sources from which to get it – a double whammy for fat loss.  Also don’t forget that when you’re tired, your workouts suffer – and regular, intense exercise is a key part of the overall process.

Finally – and this is really the summative point for every other tip I’ve given you guys – you have to be consistent, and you can’t afford to cheat.  Visible six-pack abs come from a combination of being very physically fit and having a very low body fat percentage, and there’s no way to skirt around that.  You have to keep your diet insanely clean (as in, cleaner than even a dietician or doctor would prescribe for optimal health), work out 5-6 days per week (hard), and manage your sleep and stress patterns like a professional.  These are not easy tasks, nor are they even doable for some folks depending on your home and work situations, but they are what it takes to get the oh-so-coveted ripples in the midsection.

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What your “six pack” looks like at different body fat percentages

In my professional opinion as a personal trainer, there are so many other goals worth working toward that may or may not produce a six pack.  Eating more vegetables will boost your immune system and keep you healthy.  Integrating more protein and fewer carbohydrates into your diet will help you lose weight.  Lifting weights and performing heart-rate-raising cardio exercise will improve your heart health, bone density, and longevity.  These are the goals worth working for – not just the six blocks on your bod.

So what do you think, readers?  Are washboard abs worth the trouble – or all hype – for you?

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: The Half Of It

Hey, did you guys know I ran a half marathon this past weekend?  

I’m almost kidding, since I feel like I posted it all over every social media platform I had – but who can blame me*?  The race went great, the location (Angkor Wat Archaeological Park; definitely worth your visit) was incredible, and the training I put into the effort was top-notch.

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All the amazing kweens of the 2016 Angkor Wat International Half Marathon (me, far right)

*I almost turned this post into a mini-rant to counterpoint OTHER peoples’ mini-rants about how “annoying” it is to post your workouts on Facebook; a habit which I not only have NO problem with but find encouraging and inspiring – but I digress; that’s not what today is about.

Today is about half marathon training, my friends – or really, any endurance event training, since I’ve been doing a lot of those things of late.  How do I train for a long-distance running or obstacle event?  What are the keys to success in these cray-cray distances?  And how can you avoid some of the common mistakes new racers make?

First of all – and I stress this so much to clients it’s almost a joke – I don’t run that much.  Ok, before that seems absurd, let me clarify – I absolutely do run more than your average person not doing half marathons.  But I do NOT run every day, every other day, or really anything over 15K (9.3 miles, American friends) unless I am training for an actual full marathon.  What I do do is make every single run count – I hit one speedwork, one strength/hill run, and one distance run per week when I’m in endurance training.  The speedwork usually involves a legit rubber track; the strength involves hills (if I can get ’em outdoors), treadmill inclines (if I can’t), or tempo work (like this); and the distance run starts at just 5 miles (8K) and grows to a max 15K (in this hot and humid weather, I find it is more than enough to get a sense of what race pace and fatigue feel like, and also enough to test nutrition and fuel options).

Which brings me to my next point – the centrality of proper nutrition.  Hate to be a downer, but guys, it’s not just the big fun carboload meal you eat before the race that “counts” (and for the record, my favorite pre-race meal is NOT a big plate of pasta, but rather, a big slab of red meat – either a burger and fries or steak and potato), but in fact the nutrition program you use on a day-to-day basis throughout training and during the actual race that matters most.  I do intermittent fasting each and every day of the week, but I also limit my carb intake in the week leading up to the race.  Two days prior, I start to add refined carbs back in force, and then the night before the race, I give myself a healthy dose of simple carbs and animal protein – and believe me, this method makes me feel like I have a jet pack on my back.

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As for race-day nutrition, everyone is different – so it is crucial that you find a strategy that works for you well before the actual day.  For me, I have trouble eating in the morning due to a mixture of nerves, lack of appetite, and fear of pooping my pants, so I like to load up a later dinner the night before and race on coffee, water, electrolyte beverages, and GU gels alone.  Other athletes I know like to wake up with a hearty bagel or muffin, then hit some chews throughout the race; even others I know carry actual food with them on the course (believe it or not, I know one gal who legit races with a cooked sweet potato in her pocket).   Lance Armstrong was renowned for taking in nearly 20 PowerGel packets (!) during the 26.2 miles of the NYC Marathon the first time he ran it.  Summary point: it does not matter what you need to do for race-day eating; it DOES matter that you practice, practice, and practice again eating EXACTLY what you’re going to eat in EXACTLY the conditions you’re going to eat it to make sure it doesn’t cause you any hassle, GI distress, or general discomfort when the big day comes.

Besides nutrition, the biggest advice I can give new endurance runners is to cross-train with weights.  You heard me – don’t be afraid of getting bigger, be focused on getting stronger and more indestructible.  Sure, there’s something to be said for being light and fast on your feet, and I absolutely do recommend finding a healthy race weight and adjusting your nutrition program to help you reach it – but there’s also a great deal of value in being powerful (this was the first half marathon in six years that I was able to PR, and I attribute it to a killer kick that allowed me to drop two fellow female competitors that had led me for the entire race in mile 11), recovering easily, and finishing strong.

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So what do I mean by cross-training with weights?  I mean 2-3 sessions of dedicated, structured resistance training per week.  Perhaps for you that’s a bootcamp-style workout, or a circuit training class, or a TRX session – all great options.  Maybe you’re the type who likes to follow a traditional training split (like back/biceps, chest/legs) in the gym alone.  A third option may be to join a CrossFit or obstacle-racing gym (depending on your goals) and practice functional skills like flipping tires, kettlebell swinging, or rope climbing.  Whatever your preference, make sure you’re lifting with proper form (a session with a personal trainer can be an awesome investment here to master the basics), lifting heavy, and lifting with a focus on core development (i.e. choosing free weights or a barbell; not relying on gym machines to do the stability work for you).

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Finally, and this underlies all of my advice above – make sure you have a plan.  Serious runners get coaches; if you can’t afford one, get yourself a solid running plan online, make your runs and workouts as serious as your work appointments or meetings, and stick to it.  I advise 12-16 week plans for new half marathoners; 16-20 for new marathoners.  For shorter distances, allow yourself at least 8 weeks to fall into a focused run-and-resistance  training routine, and for obstacle racers, make sure you’ve got race-specific (like the aforementioned rope climb) training at least once per week in the 4-5 weeks leading up to race day.  And as always – listen to your body.  Even the best runners on the most finely-tuned programs get injured when they build mileage too quickly, skip their cross-training, “forget” to stretch or do yoga, and stop sleeping enough to recover fully – so make sure you’re keeping your self-care intact as you ramp up your endurance work, too.

How do you train for a long-distance race?  What are some of your time-tested tips?

Ask Amanda: Getting Older Is A Bear

A lovely client/friend of mine (and definite hot mama!) asked me the tough question the other day – why, even though I’ve been working out for years and keeping the diet in check, is it harder and harder to keep the weight off?

Mind you, this is a fit, healthy-weight woman with good muscle tone and great cardiovascular endurance.  She does not have to worry about her weight, however, she found in the past that it was easy to lose 5 or 10 pounds here or there simply by amping up the workouts and/or cutting down the carbs – and nowadays, not so much.

Sound familiar?

Especially for us ladies, the metabolic reality of aging is grim.  Our insulin-resisting (read: skinny-keeping) hormones decrease after 30, our muscle mass (read: natural fat-burning stuff) decreases at a rate of about 3-5% per decade, and even our calorie needs decrease (bummer).

Men, you’re not immune either – after 30, your testosterone starts to drop (meaning no more “I worked out once this week but I’m still swole” delusions) and your DHEA (the hormone that makes you feel like a beast in the gym…and in bed, tee hee) drops right beside it.

Le sigh.  So what DO we do?

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Listen up, and listen well: to stay fit well into older age, you must be open to change.  I can’t tell you how many clients tell me they had “no problem staying fit” when they were 20 years old, or “used to have so much more energy,” or “could eat anything in college and not gain an ounce.”

But guys, let’s face it: you’re not 20 years old anymore, you lack energy because you don’t work out enough or eat right, and yes we ALL could get face-deep in a pizza at age 18 with relatively zero consequences.  #realtalk

The crucial point of aging healthfully is that you must adapt to your body’s changing activity, fuel, and sleep needs and adjust your wellness program accordingly.  Make small changes incrementally so that it doesn’t feel like everything’s crashing down on you all at once – growing up is still supposed to be fun, remember?  Consider these 5 starting points:

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The only thing we all have in common is that none of us are getting any younger, so the sooner you come to terms with the fact that you are aging – and the fact that you CAN take control of your health at any age – the happier you’ll be.

What strategies do you use to stay healthy as you age?  What’s your best tip?

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.

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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!

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.