Ask Amanda: How Healthy is TOO Healthy?

In the course of my Precision Nutrition coaching homework, I’ve read a lot about overcoming the “introductory” type of of challenges you get when coaching folks that are new to health and fitness (things like, “I don’t like vegetables” or “do I really have to eat protein with every meal?” or “why are five Diet Cokes a day a problem if they have zero calories?”).

However, it’s not the newbie clients that are the most challenging. ¬†Not by a long shot.

fruit.jpg

My clients are too savvy for me to sneak this by them ūüėČ

I am currently reading the chapter about “special scenarios” in nutrition, and it is here that we delve deep into the many, MANY types of disordered eating (DE). ¬†Mind you, this is not the psychiatric/clinical type of “eating disorder” we associate with diagnosed anorexia or bulimia (although those are definitely disordered). ¬†DE habits can include:

  • constantly obsessing over food / eating / not eating
  • eating behaviors that both cause and are trying to relieve distress simultaneously
  • eating in a way that doesn’t match physiological need (i.e., eating way more or less than you actually need for optimal health)
  • eating behaviors that harm yourself or others
  • orthorexia
ortho.jpeg

One lonely tomato does not make a healthy meal…for anyone

If you haven’t heard of that last one, you might want to read up on it, as orthorexia is one of the fastest growing DE tendencies around the world. ¬†It means an obsession with “clean eating” – not just healthy eating to lose weight, but an all-consuming focus on the relationship between food choices and health (alongside an increasing inabilty to enjoy food socially, or feel satisfied by food that isn’t stringently prepared/”approved”).

But is that such a bad thing, you might ask? ¬†Don’t all us high-falutin’ nutrition folks wish the world were more like us, with our macros and our tracking apps and proper portions and our real-food-focused organic gluten-free sugar-free dairy-free spelt grains?

Sort of…well, actually probably no.

bacon.jpeg

Mmm, salad.

Here’s the thing I always try to hit home with my clients: human nutrition is, and will always be, a balancing act. ¬†You have to balance the food you want to eat (fries!) with the body you want to have (abs!) with a lifestyle you truly enjoy (fun!) and the best possible health you can achieve (fit!). ¬†Examples:

  • If you have the fries sometimes, you will probably have the fun, you likely won’t have all six of the abs, but you just as likely won’t probably do any long-term damage to your health.
  • If you never have the fries, you probably have no fun (though perhaps also no guilt?), you might just find your abs, and your general health can still go either way.
  • If you have all the fries all the time, it probably gets less and less fun, you can forget about the abs, and you are probably not living in your healthiest body.

You see how this works? ¬†There are mandatory tradeoffs between lifestyle and nutrition, and they’re not all either damning or rewarding – they just are (one of my favorite-ever infographics about this very topic can be found here).

trade

Why is time always wayyyyy in the other direction?

As a trainer, I feel a dutiful responsibility to demonstrate a strong, fit body, balanced nutrition, and a healthy life-work balance to my clients – but I have long given up on the pursuit of perfection. ¬†As a wellness and health coach, I make my own tradeoffs too, and those of you know who me know that I will always choose an ice cold beer over uncovering those 3rd-6th abs (I’m ok with a two-pack at age 34, aight?).

So how do you know if you have a disordered relationship with food?  A wise man once said, check yourself before you wreck yourself:

  • Are you terrified of becoming overweight (especially if you have never been overweight)?
  • Do you feel guilt after eating?
  • Do you avoid eating, even when you are physically hungry?
  • Have others expressed concern over how much you eat, whether too little or too much?
  • Do you exercise with the sole purpose of burning the caloric content of your food?
  • Do you feel controlled by the food that you choose to eat (or not eat)?
  • Do you feel like others pressure you to eat more/less?
  • Do you claim to feel better when your stomach is empty?
  • Are you constantly preoccupied with thoughts about being fat or being thin?
  • Do you avoid trying new foods, going to social events with food present, or celebrating with food because you are afraid of eating “bad” food?

There’s no “grade” for the above test, but it is loosely based on the Eating Attitudes Test from Psychcentral.com, a screening tool used to pre-diagnose common disordered eating patterns before they become full-blown disorders – and I find it helpful to start some necessary – if often uncomfortable – discussions with clients that I sense may be heading down the DE path (or recovering from former DE patterns).

If you think you might have some of the warning signs of DE, definitely get an appointment with a nutritionist or dietitian to get your habits back on track and make sure you’re eating a balanced, satisfying, and nutritionally sound diet for your body. Healthy eating is a major part of a wellness lifestyle, but it’s not the only part – and when eating (or not eating) takes away the joy from other parts of your life, you know it’s time to reevaluate.

What tradeoffs do you make in balancing your body, health, diet – and sanity?

Ask Amanda: Wellness WHUT?

After reading a particularly harsh NY Times account of the navel-gazing self-indulgence carnival that was Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Summit, it made me think – what does the public¬†think that wellness professionals actually do all day?

coach.jpg

Are we a bunch of wheatgrass-shooting, collagen-chugging hippies that have completely lost touch with the mundanities and responsibilities of the real world? ¬†Muscle-bound meatheads that only talk about food as “macros” and eschew any workout that doesn’t revolve around a plate-stacked bar? ¬†Even worse, are we jargon-spewing, unlicensed, fancy-rhetoric fanatics armed with a bunch of lazily Googled anecdotes to support whatever pill/product/program we’re pushing at the time?

God, I hope not.

The health/fitness/wellness industry as we know it is a multibillion-dollar one, including all manner of things from gym memberships to supplement sales to sleep analysts to meditation apps. ¬†We’re a diverse group of people and organizations dedicated to (hopefully!) bettering people and the planet by providing healthy and holistic solutions to common human problems.

wellness

Not everyone defines wellness as I do, but for my line of work, I like to use the simple idea that wellness is an active and self-aware pursuit of better health. ¬†This situates wellness both as a process and an activity, not a passive “state of being” that somehow just arrives onto your doorstep. ¬†You must work toward it, strive for it, and be realistic in the acceptance that wellness is a journey toward “better” – not “perfect.”

To refine my role in the wellness sphere more specifically, I am a personal trainer (first and foremost, I stand for the transformative and empowering experience of building strength and fitness), a nutritionist (not a clinically registered dietitian Рrather, someone who advises individual food choices based on stringent data collection, iterative testing, and program revision), and a wellness coach (above and beyond the goals of weight loss and proper nutrition, I also help clients find balance with their sleep patterns, stress and time management, coping strategies, and goal setting).

Whew. ¬†It’s a lot.

But know this: it should be a lot because I’ve been doing this a long time. ¬†Looking back on my now 11-year career in wellness, I’ve been certified as a personal trainer by the American Council on Exercise, a group exercise instructor by the Aerobics & Fitness Association of America, a pre and postnatal corrective exercise specialist by FitForBirth, a nutritionist by both Precision Nutrition and the American Sports and Fitness Association, and a myriad of smaller sport-specific agencies (SPINNING, TRX, BOSU, SilverSneakers, THUMP Boxing, IndoRow, Aquaspin, and Stages Cycling, to name a few).

My point with listing all this here is this: it is¬†crucial that you look at the qualifications of your wellness professional before you commit to an intimate, expensive, and time-consuming process with her or him. ¬†Ask questions about their experience, their success stories, and their methods. ¬†Ask for data. ¬†Ask for photos. ¬†Do not hesitate to tell them what you expect from working with them, and ask for progress reports and indicators toward those goals. ¬†And above all, make sure you “click” with them; you trust them, and you think they might inspire you to find a better version of yourself.

One of my fave quotes about working with a wellness coach in particular is this: “it’s like hiring a tour guide to a place you already live.”¬†¬†My day-to-day job involves a lot of “behind the scenes” wellness work with clients – for every hour I spend with them in the gym or consult room, there’s at least a half hour of workout planning, another half hour of text and email communication to ensure they’re feeling well and check in, potentially another hour of reviewing and commenting on food photos, and so on. ¬†I try to be entirely present with my clients, taking each of them for the individuals that they are, and giving full credence to their place in their personal journey.

inspired

Ok, now I’m the one sounding like Gwyneth. ¬†But it’s true: my most successful clients are those who use me as a guide, sounding board, facilitator, and second opinion – rather than co-depend on me as a guru, “yes” man, decision maker, magician, or savior. Finding a wellness pro to partner with you and help you create and stay accountable to action steps (a coach!) is much more valuable than finding someone that forces their way of wellness on you, pats you on the back for anything and everything you do, or worse, uses criticism and shaming to reprogram your habits and beliefs.

My message for this week’s #AskAmanda is this: we should all strive toward wellness, and we could probably all use some help doing it. ¬†Finding a trainer, nutritionist, wellness coach, or other professional to help you set and reach goals is a worthwhile investment, and one I (obviously) recommend as a top priority. ¬†Whether it’s coaching in-person, online (using a service like Trainerize) or simply exchanging a few well-thought-out emails with someone in the industry, investing in your own health is never a waste of time – as long as you do it with your best interests (and realistic expectations) in mind.

Have you ever sought professional help to reach a health, fitness, or wellness goal?  What lessons did you learn?

Nobody Likes You When You’re 33

(by the way, if you get the reference from this blog title, bless you, we’re probably of the same pop-culture generation)

I interrupt this regularly scheduled #AskAmanda blog spot with a not-so-riveting revelation:

In just a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll be turning 34.

34 is not an exciting birthday, it’s not the type of birthday you make lists for (“30 Things to Do by Age 30”) or feign dread about (“OMG 40! Over the hill!”) or even anticipate with anything more than a mild sense of whimsy (“My 21st is gonna RAGEEEEE”). ¬†It’s sort of one of those birthdays that gets lumped in with all the other ones from 31 onwards, and maybe gets marked with a few spirited beverages with friends or a nice dinner out.

That said, I was reading an article about how to age gracefully today, and in that article, it said that the official age category¬†of¬†being considered¬†“young” is¬†1-49, which gives me a solid 15 more years of scientific youth.

Whew. ¬†I’ll take it where I can get it, surely.

But of course, in the same article, it noted some of the inevitabilities of physiological aging, such as bone degeneration¬†(yep, a little every year after age 30 for women), muscle loss (3-5% per decade after 30), running speed decline (up to 20% between ages 20-59), and the biggie, of course – the end of “biologically optimal childbearing” kicking in at a the ripe ol’ age of 35.

Sigh. ¬†One more year, and even my poor neglected uterus can’t keep up.

Perhaps some (or all?) of this started weighing on me more heavily the past year, particularly as I was going through a rough patch personally over the past eight months. Every time I looked in the mirror I felt old, slow, lethargic, a little less vibrant, a little less confident. ¬†I didn’t like this feeling, so I sat down to make a list of all the things¬†I wanted to do differently in the coming year – since, as I tell my clients, you are your own problem, so you must be your own solution.

burf.jpg

The first thing I wanted to address was my mental game. ¬†As I’ve aged (and moved beyond my many, MANY years of formal education), I feel like my brain fires a bit more slowly, I can’t find the words I’m always looking for, and I’m a bit less clever. ¬†I recommitted to keeping this blog alive on the regular (you’re welcome), as well as reading at least one book per month, and I signed up to advance my nutrition coaching career by going through the (quite comprehensive!) Precision Nutrition curriculum.

I’ve also downloaded the app Buddhify and tried to complete at least one meditation every other day, ranging on every topic from “calm” to “sleep” to “focus.” ¬†I’m actually not too much of a stress case despite my insane schedule, but I definitely lack mindfulness, and it is something I definitely need to work on – especially when it leads to easy mistakes at work or temper tantrums in my personal life.

meditate.jpg

The second focus¬†is¬†of course, outward appearance. ¬†Decades of being an “expressively” emotional person means I have some impressively deep wrinkles on my face, so I finally bit the bullet and went for Botox, which I’d been talking about doing since I was 30. ¬†Believe it or not, the whole experience was easy-breezy, especially considering they’re putting needles directly into your face without painkillers. ¬†I noticed major results (around the eyes and forehead, in case you’re wondering where) immediately and short of wearing an I ‚̧ BOTOX t-shirt, I am a total convert and devotee. #faceneedlesforever

I’ve also committed to getting regular facials (kind of a cheat since I really started doing this when I moved to Singapore in 2015), actually caring about how my nails look (you know, throwing some non-chipped color on there once in a while), and taking care of my skin and hair – including,¬†believe it or not, not only regular haircuts (!) but my first round of eyelash extensions which, I must say, were absolutely spectacular and gave me a near-Botox-level feeling of addiction¬†after the first treatment.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Look Ma – no wrinkles!

The day after the extensions I decided to double down and even go for my first LED lamp tooth whitening treatment, which despite the sensitivity factor (I have sensitive teeth and gums even without putting chemicals all over them), gave me back the sparkling-pearly teeth I remember having before rampant coffee addiction took over my life.

IMG_0275.JPG

Mah teefs, before and after

And now for the third prong in the self-improvement game – emotional wellness. ¬†I noticed that I feel better when I am more connected to family and friends, even during uber-busy times at work, and that when I don’t have these relationships thriving, I feel exhausted and empty no matter how well I’m doing with my career. ¬†The demands of opening and operating a small business have definitely taken their toll over the first half of this year, but I’m not letting it get me down – I’m recommitting to my closest and most important relationships no matter what this year.

granted.jpg

NOT happening.  Not again; not ever.

I’m going to Skype with my parents once per week. ¬†I’m going to remember to send postcards to my niece when I travel. ¬†I’m going to cook dinner for my partner once per week, and go out of my way to make him feel special. ¬†I’m going to keep my (pen-to-paper) journal updated. ¬†I’m going to say YES to friends and NO to clients when the latter start to drain my energy with unreasonable demands. ¬†And I’m going to rediscover my yoga practice – yes, the one I actually had for so many years – at least once per week.

There are some things in life that are non-negotiable when it comes to maintaining health and happiness, and in my (impending) 34th year, I’m focusing on exactly what makes life worth living – no more working toward other peoples’ priorities at the expense of my own health and sanity. ¬†As the poet Robert Frost once said, “Time and tide wait for no man, but time always stands still for a woman of thirty.”

As for me, you read it here first:¬†I’m going to use every bit of the next 365 days to its¬†fullest.

What are your best habits for staying well as you age?  What keeps you going each day?

Ask Amanda: Size Me Up

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

bodyshame.jpg

ZING!

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

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

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

skin.jpeg

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

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

shake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

platter

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

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

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

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

Have you ever had comments about your body, fitness, or size that hit a nerve?  How do you Рdid you Рdeal?

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.

nye

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.

smart.png

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.

nocarbs

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.

quick-hiit

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: 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).

clean.jpg

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.

goal.jpg

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 Рwhich 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.

attack

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.

48451FCB-FC95-47D1-8F5C-2B4E6CDED6A3

I was one of only a few women to finish that day and it felt good Рbut 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:

congress

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.

IMG_1538.jpg

 

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:

2015-10-01 07.39.36

#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. ūüėČ

Clean eating is always the solution.  Well, what do you know Рwhen 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?

My Top 10 Life Quotes

I was recently asked to share my “top 10 quotes” with a media outlet and to be honest, the first few were really easy – and then I had to dig deep.

Who are my favorite authors?  Who are my heroes?  What are they saying about life, love, and everything in between?

I was finally able to compile a list of my favorites, which taken together really do say a lot about my personality, my values, and what I hold to be true.

Read on and hopefully they’ll inspire you a bit, too – and I’d love to see your favorite quote down in the comments!

inspiration.jpeg

He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg. [Chinese proverb]

  • ‚ÄčI am a decisive person and indecisiveness in the name of “deliberation” drives me crazy. ¬†Action is more valuable than inaction, and it is always better to redirect the ship than never to leave port.‚Äč
The cure for pain is in the pain. [Rumi]
  • ‚ÄčAs a marathon runner, if you stop when it hurts, you’ll never get to the finish line. Learning how to live with discomfort is a skill lost among many these days.
‚Äč If things go wrong, don’t go with them. [Roger Babson]
  • ‚ÄčNever be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, even at the risk of being unpopular. ¬†This is especially important for women – use your voice and go with your gut.
‚Äč It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. [Henry David Thoreau]
  • ‚ÄčI’m a “glass half full” type of person. ¬†We can all see the worst in every situation, but it takes practice to filter our negativity and focus on the best.‚Äč
‚Äč Always do what you are afraid to do. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]
  • ‚ÄčMy next tattoo is going to read “fearless,” but only after I make it through my biggest fear – childbirth! ¬†I have jumped out of planes, off cliffs, and off bridges (with a bungee cord!) and I was terrified each time – which is why I knew I had to overcome it.‚Äč
You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot stop spring from coming. [Pablo Neruda]
  • ‚ÄčAgain, so many people live with¬†sadness and negativity – doing their best to ‚Äčkeep themselves in¬†a place¬†of darkness. ¬†Remembering that no matter what we do within our lives, time does pass, and spring does come – it gets better.
‚Äč Whatever you are, be a good one. [Abraham Lincoln]
  • ‚ÄčMy parents used to say some version of this to me growing up – they weren’t concerned with me being a doctor or a lawyer or some bigshot – they simply wanted me to strive for excellence in what made my heart sing, and I always have been happy because I do.‚Äč
You show people what you’re willing to fight for when you fight your friends. [Hillary Clinton]
  • ‚ÄčEveryone loves a “yes man,” that is, until they say no. ¬†If you are willing to fight for what you believe in, even against someone you love, that shows character – and hopefully you’ll remain friends because of it.
Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward in the same direction. [Antoine de Saint-Exupery]
  • ‚ÄčMy officiant read this quote at our wedding because I think it summarizes true love quite perfectly – you can be two different people, you can lead your own life with your own interests, but at the end of the day, your future is tied to your partner – and you are both working toward the same goals. ¬†I love thinking of it this way.‚Äč
‚Äč Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right. [Henry Ford]
  • ‚ÄčOne more tally for the power of positive thinking – ‚Äč‚Äčif you believe it, you achieve it. ¬†There is no goal unattainable except the ones you tell yourself you can’t reach – and I have learned that less time and again in my own life.

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.

2015-11-18 16.00.09

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.

2015-11-11 06.38.30

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).

2015-11-03 20.49.19

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.

2015-11-16 17.24.21

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?