Ask Amanda: Gimmicks Make Me Gag

A few friends of mine in L.A. have been #AskingAmanda about the true “health factor” of a popular spot called Moon Juice and seeing as I’ve been a bit out of the scene (you know, just 8000+ miles) for a while, I had to do some online digging to find out exactly what that place was.

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Pretty pretty Moon Juice, Los Angeles

For those of you who are as ignorant (or non-SoCal-residing) as me, here’s a primer:

The Moon Juice slogan is “plant-based alchemy to elevate body, beauty, and consciousness,” which in layman’s terms means “we’re going to charge $7 for the same bag of dried mango you can get at the neighbourhood bodega, and serve it up with a side of self-righteousness.”  Ok, I’m being a bit harsh.  But places like this have one thing in common:

They sell you basic (and usually inexpensive) ingredients, repackaged and upcharged to make healthy eating seem hip.

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Don’t forget your daily…ashwagandha.

At its simplest, I have no problem with this marketing strategy (and guys, recognise it for what it is: A MARKETING STRATEGY).  I’d LOVE for my nutrition clients to use more anti-inflammatory spices in their meals; if it takes baking cumin into a swiss chard “crisp” and charging six bucks an ounce for it, well, that part is actually fine with me (the “dusts,” activated nuts, and powdered supplements from Moon Juice are all perfectly healthy, unlike a lot of competing “natural” foods brands).

The problems I have with this new batch of new-age “granola” food are as follows:

  • they’re expensive AF, perpetuating the excuse that “I can’t afford to eat healthy”
  • a lot of it is just masking and repackaging unhealthy ingredients (read: sugar!) in seemingly healthy ways (don’t get me started on KIND Bars, Jamba Juices, or the now-popular in Singapore Unicorn Tears)
  • powders, pills, and shakes, even if made with the good stuff, disguise the appearance of what “real” ingredients look like – further distancing the relationship between modern humans and their food
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MIND BLOWN

That being said, what these places are doing right is this: putting healthy food into attractive formats and selling it in convenient and attractive ways, which means the average (monied) person (who may never buy, juice, and pack their own organic kale) has increased access to better food choices on the go, which in our fast-paced society is a definite plus.  One of the top questions I get from clients (especially in Singapore!) is “where can I get something fast to eat that won’t destroy my diet?” and I’d love to point them in the direction of something like a Moon Juice if we had it here (note: we do have some awesome go-to healthy spots like Kitchen by Food Rebel, Little Farms, and Mojo, but they’re not as centrally located and affordable as I’d personally prefer).

A final note on health and fitness gimmicks: be discerning, guys.  Don’t pay $6 for a sugar-packed, preservative-ridden bag of “Yo Cherry Guilt-Free Snacks” (an actual product sent to me by a client last night looking for a healthy snack choice at the movies) when you can pack your own (bigger!) bag of raw almonds, dried unsweetened cherries, and cacao nibs for a cheaper, cleaner choice.

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If you need dat granola fix, stat

Don’t let fancy-looking packaging, the word “natural,” or the popularity of a product be your reason for choosing it.  Read the label (pro tip: if food doesn’t HAVE a label, like a fresh apple, it’s probably the healthier choice) carefully, watch for hidden sugar and high sodium, and get the majority of your daily calories from clean, unprocessed, unpackaged, as-close-looking-to-the-original-state-of-the-food (think celery sticks rather than celery “juice”) foods as possible.

Have you come across a “gimmicky” food or product you just KNOW isn’t healthy?  Let TFB be your soapbox – and warn the others! 😉

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Ask Amanda: You’ve Got the White Stuff

By 2017 we’ve all started to realize that sugar (white carbs), not fat, is the real culprit in making people fat (and if you haven’t, here’s a primer on how that all works).  Most of us know that sugary beverages like soda are the fast track to weight gain, and that cutting carbs (not necessarily eliminating, but decreasing) will help you lose body fat.

But let’s also be real – there’s a lot of confusion about what sugar actually is, the differences between the types of sugars on the market, in what ways added versus natural sugars are different, and whether artificial (calorie-free) or natural sugars are “better” for you in the long run.

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ALL of these are sugar.  NONE of these are healthy.  You’re welcome.

#AskAmanda is here to save the day – as much as I can, at least – with some not-so-sweet talk on sugars and how they affect your overall health.

First of all, know this: consuming sugar in any amount is not superb for the human body. We need carbs to live, but we don’t need refined sugar (and in fact, studies confirm that our ancestors lived just fine without it) – so when we have it, it hits the system hard and fast.  Think I’m kidding?  Scientists have found the addictive properties of sugar are similar to that of cocaine – and in fact, even worse.

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Sugar addict response, far right – more intense than drug addict at center.

Second, understand that artificial sugars (Stevia, Truvia, Equal, Sweet N’ Low, aspartame, etc.) are no free pass.  In fact, a recent study just found that artificial sweeteners contribute to accumulation of body fat in humans – the exact opposite aim of what these “sugar-free” products claim to do.  Artificial sugars are chemical compounds that trick the brain into thinking it’s getting real sugar – and in turn leave the body craving for the sweetness factor it’s not actually getting, which more often than not leads to a binge on actual sugar (backfire!).  So what’s the solution?

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Just as dairy is best enjoyed sparingly BUT in its full-fat form, sugary treats are similar.  If you’re going to have a cookie, have a homemade chocolate-chip one with real chocolate and full brown sugar, rather than a few “fat free” packaged ones stuffed with chemical substitutes and fake sweeteners (again, this will only trigger cravings for real sweetness in the end).  Unlike dairy, sugar has no redeeming nutritional value – it’s pure additive; pure calories; pure carbohydrate – but used in moderation (there are about 15 calories in one tableside “packet” of white sugar), will not derail a diet that is otherwise healthy.

A quick note on that, while we’re here – a “healthy” diet is one that is comprised of at least 7-9 servings of vegetables, at least one gram of lean protein (chicken, fish, pork, tofu, lean beef) per kilogram of body weight, at least 2.5 litres of plain water, 1-2 maximum servings of whole grain carbohydrates, and less than 25g total sugar (including fructose, from fruit, lactose, from dairy, and all other added sugars) per day.

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Clean eating made simple: if it’s in this picture, you can eat it.

If you’re not sure if your diet adds up, it’s worth logging your meals for 3-5 days (use an app like MyFitnessPal if you’re not into transcribing food labels) so you can track thees numbers – specifically your carbs/sugars, veggie servings, and protein counts – and see where you can make real, tangible improvements – pretty sweet after all, huh? 😉

Do you have a sweet tooth – and if so, how do you feed it in moderation?

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: Bulletproof Your Mornings

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do I personally think of it all?

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

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

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

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

Battle of the Bite: Blue Apron vs. Plated

I am sitting here drinking a glass of Dry Riesling (from our amazing wine club, by the way) and digesting the amazing salmon I just had courtesy of Blue Apron.  What’s Blue Apron, you ask?  Well, let me tell you a story.

Those of you who know me “IRL” (in real life, Mom) know that I am somewhat resistant to new ideas that aren’t my own.  For example, when I love a product or service, I will recommend it to everyone I know – and sincerely hope they take my advice on it.  But when someone suggests something to me – especially if it involves any sum of money – I will almost always pooh-pooh it.  It’s like a reflex.  I’m not proud of it, but it happens.

Two of my clients and trusted friends suggested I try a recipe delivery service – in this case,  Plated or Blue Apron – and to both of them, I said “it sounds like a nice idea but I actually like to cook.”  To which they (in their obvious wisdom) responded, “then you are the PERFECT target audience!”

They were right.

The basic idea is this: with either service, you pay a delivery fee ($12-15 per plate for Plated; $60 per 6 plates for Blue Apron), you receive fresh, properly portioned, organic, whole ingredients to your doorstep (packed in individual, labeled packaging inside a cooler with ice), and you learn how to prepare it using a (detailed, full-color) recipe card.

Sounds like fun, right?  It is!

plated1 ba1We tried Blue Apron first, indicating that we were “omnivores” in our profile, and in the first week (all three meals get delivered on Tuesdays) we received Lamb Ragu, Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Kale Salad, and Rice-Cake Crusted Salmon.  The following week, with the same lack of dietary restrictions, we went head-to-head for comparison with Plated (two meals only), and received Redfish Roti and Asian Duck Tacos.

Before I reveal our winner, some points of note:

Blue Apron in Summary

  • More complicated recipes by far; mise-en-place took an average of 45 minutes
  • Creative ingredients – think preserved lemon, candy cane beets, or black garlic
  • Beautiful, full-color cookbook-worthy recipe cards, as well as a weekly letter explaining the origin/history of the meals and ingredients
  • Three meals (two plates each for us) costs $60 weekly

Plated in Summary

  • Easy recipes; mise-en-place took a maximum 30 minutes
  • Creative ingredients – we got duck as a protein which was a nice surprise
  • Very adaptable for dietary needs – can “deselect” nuts, dairy, spicy, soy, gluten, beef, chicken, fish, shellfish, pasta, or pork
  • Two meals (two plates each for us) costs $48 weekly, but you can order as many “plates” (for as many people) as you wish each week, a la carte

Let me say this – I am an experienced home cook, which means that I am always looking for a new challenge.  I love trying out ingredients that I’ve never worked with before, and I enjoy practicing my knife skills with different techniques (julienne, matchstick, etc.).  I am also a sucker for a beautiful presentation, cost is a consideration, and the people in my household have no dietary restrictions of any kind.  So in the end, we chose…

BLUE APRON! (applause)

What pushed it over the edge for me (besides price and recipe diversity) is that Blue Apron recently partnered with Top Chef, my favorite reality show, and offers a service wherein you can get the ingredients and recipe for the show’s winning recipe delivered to your doorstep two weeks after it airs.  How cool is that?

Now I feel like a baller whipping up the meals that pro chefs create – without the fear that I am messing up or wasting expensive ingredients.  It’s a win-win for amateur but creative cooks like myself.

Have you ever tried a recipe delivery service?  If you’re an avid home cook, where do you find new ideas for recipes/ingredients?

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?