Ask Amanda: Oiled Up & Ready

Every now and then, ThisFitBlonde takes a break from yakkin’ about fitness (my first love) to talk about nutrition (my…life partner?).

A quick disclaimer, for the sake of my clinical (and wayyyyyy more well-qualified) friends: I am a certified sports nutritionist, which means that I have the necessary background and examinations to advise clients on what types of foods to eat to better their athletic and fitness performance.

I am not a registered dietitian (R.D.), which is a health professional that has completed a relevant bachelor’s degree, done countless hours in a supervised and accredited practice program, and passed a (very challenging) national examination.  Whew.

That said, I do feel qualified to offer an informed opinion on certain nutritional topics – and which oils are best to use while cooking is one of them.  A lot of clients of mine “default” to olive oil because they’ve heard it’s healthy; some use coconut oil on everything because they’ve heard it’s even better; even others spend a fortune on avocado or hempseed oil because it sounds a bit fancier, or maybe because they think it boasts a higher smoke point.


Sound familiar?

I want to clear up some of the pros and cons on different oils and offer my professional opinion – both in terms of health and performance – on which ones you should be using.  For those of you who are already bored of this post, print out this easy-to-read guide – it’ll give you the down low in one quick visual you can post on your fridge.


OLIVE.  This is basically your #1 best all-around oil – it’s high in the good fats, low in the dangerous ones, tastes delicious, delivers on the flavonoids, tastes good in dressings and is pretty useful for cooking.  Higher quality olive oils are bought in tins or dark glass bottles, not clear ones, and extra virgin (versus regular olive oil) has a stronger flavor.


COCONUT.  I’m talking unrefined (the type that’s solid at room temp) and virgin, as the other types (read: cheap) are definitely not healthy to ingest.  High in the good saturated fat (lauric acid), low in the bad ones, superb as a butter substitute in baking and fabulous for cooking Asian cuisine (for flavor) and cooking in general (for its high smoke point).


GRASS FED BUTTER.  Please don’t ignore those two words in front of the yummy word “butter” because they do matter – and ghee, or clarified butter, also counts here.  Real, honest butter has a ton of Vitamin A, E, and K2, and if you’re using the clarified sort, it doesn’t burn when cooking (since clarifying removes the lactose and proteins).  Plus, um, did you realize that BUTTER IS OF COURSE THE MOST DELICIOUS?!?!?


HEMPSEED.  It’s basically the same as olive oil in its health properties, but with the added benefit of having the type of Omega-6 fatty acid that acts as an anti-inflammatory, which we can all use.  Hempseed oil has also been shown to have an anti-clotting effect on the blood – but this one is best used for dressings and cold foods, as heating hempseed oil changes its nutritional composition somewhat significantly.


OILS TO AVOID.  I’ve just highlighted the ones I’d recommend to clients, but in general, you’re going to want to avoid this (shockingly) long list for any sort of long-term use (as in, fine for the occasional dose of Grandma’s Christmas cookies but not ideal for everyday cooking): soybean, palm, corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, pumpkin seed, margarine, lard.  These contain way too much Omega-6 (bad) fat and not enough Omega-3 (good) fatty acids to make ’em worth your while, and some are also high in saturated and trans fats to boot.

All this talk about oil is making me hungry – and making me think I’ll need to add a follow up post about one my favorite nutrition myths to debunk – that FAT doesn’t actually make you fat, and OILS are actually a wonderful part of a healthy diet!  But until next time, readers…

What’s your favorite oil to use for cooking, baking, or just a good old-fashioned bread dip?

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).


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.


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?


IF You Want to Lose Weight

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



GOALvember Outcomes & Lessons Learned

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

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

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

2015-10-01 07.39.36


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lost Art of Saying “Yes”

This post is distinctly not about health and fitness, but in a lot of ways, it’s the best wellness lesson I’ve learned in a long time.

Just about two months ago my husband and I decided to move to Singapore for his job, and a month ago he left to start working there.

For the past month, I’ve been alone in L.A. and I’ll admit it – for the first week or so, I moped a bit.  I missed my man.  I felt lonely.  Nights that used to be full of movies, meals, and cuddles were just…empty.

I mentioned this to a coworker, who looked at me and said: YOLO.  And we laughed.

But then I thought about it a bit longer, and I realized something – she was right.  So completely right.  You only live once.  And what is the point of moping around L.A. – the city that has literally witnessed the entirety of my coming-of-age experience – when I could be getting out there, loving on L.A., meeting new people, and just killing it?

Since that moment of realization that my 16 years in L.A. were coming to an end and I had a finite amount of time to see a finite amount of people that I love, I’ve been determined to say “yes” to as many invitations/suggestions as possible – big or small, frivolous or important, old friend or new – and here’s an abbreviated list of where those “yes-es” have already taken me:


My friend and I (I’m the one with orange shoes!) at the NTC Tour

And here’s some upcoming stuff I’ve already committed to in hopes of more YOLO moments:

The excitement and “newness” in my life – magnified by new friends, new experiences, and the generally new attitude of just saying YES has been completely reinvigorating – I’ve been getting less sleep than ever but feeling more energized than I have in years.

It’s wonderful – and at the same time, sad.  Why now?  Why not every single day?  Why did I wait?

I am trying so hard to live in the moment and not think a month ahead to the inevitable goodbye.  I am trying to make the “yes” my focus and not consider the consequences.  I am living my best life and feeling my most joyful. And I know that I will always have this (albeit short) memory of a time in my life when I was truly, honestly free – and happy.

What are you saying “yes” to right now in your life?

Would Amanda Eat It?

There’s nothing I love more than reader requests here on ThisFitBlonde, and this week’s Would Amanda Eat It? is just that – a personal request!

One of my favorite clients asked me to take a look at her burrito (wait, that sounded wrong…) and give it the full TFB assessment, so I obliged.  Here we go, Mexican-food-lovers:

The good:

  • this burrito is a single serving, which means you’re not getting tricked thinking your burrito only has 340 calories when really it’s “three servings”
  • 14g of meat-based protein is nothing to shake a churro at
  • all organic – USDA certified – and non-GMO to boot – so you don’t have to feel like a horrible person as you chow down on a frozen burrito

The bad:

  • ooh, Mama, that sodium – 600mg is literally half of what I try to eat in a full day
  • similar reaction to the carbs – 51g is a lot for only 4g of fiber in return
  • definitely not dairy free, which, mixed with the beans, is a recipe for GI disaster

The verdict:

  • Personally, I wouldn’t choose this here burrito – but mostly for the fact that I don’t like Mexican food.  It’s not a horrific choice for someone in a hurry that absolutely needs something to eat right this second – and cares about the ethics of their ingredients.
  • If I’m going to throw down 51g of carbs and 600mg sodium, you better believe I want something more than a measly burrito – I better get a full platter of carne asada, black beans, brown rice, and guacamole (which would have about the same nutritional punch for only about 100 more calories)

The alternative:

What’s your favorite “healthy indulgence” in terms of convenience food?

Would Amanda Eat It?

My final Would Amanda Eat It? of the month (don’t worry – I’ll be back in March!) focuses on one of the humblest, most unassuming of foods.  It’s not from a package, processed in any way, or sold in a convenience story.

It’s a potato.

Yep, just plain ‘ol white (Russet) potatoes.  When Atkins came on the scene in the late 90s / early 2000s, white potatoes got thrown into the “devil foods” list along with white rice, white pasta, and white bread.  Avoid the white stuff, went the message, and you’ll lose weight.  It sounded like a good plan, but…

Could something from the earth truly be that bad for you?

I remember growing up and going to restaurants where your side options were french fries, mashed potatoes, or a baked potato, and being told that the baked potato was the “healthy” option.  I also remember entering the fitness industry and hearing the message that anyone who “still eats” white potatoes versus sweet potatoes was a fat idiot.

So what’s the deal with our old friends, white potatoes?  Here’s my two cents:

The good:

  • a medium sized white potato only has about 160 calories, which is less than a Quest bar, two slices of cheese, or 1/2 cup of pasta
  • white potatoes contain flavonoids (which aid in immune system function) and potassium (an essential mineral)
  • if you eat the skin (which you absolutely SHOULD!), you’ll get a bonus 4g fiber

The bad:

  • sure, white potatoes still “count” as a major carb serving – 29g in a medium size, which is like two slices of bread, two small apples, or 1/2 cup of pasta
  • white potatoes, despite being tubers in the same class as sweet potatoes, have significantly fewer vitamins to offer than their orange-fleshed brethren
  • this goes without saying, but outside a “baked” preparation (where only heat is applied), there are a lot of easy ways to make a white potato unhealthy (adding butter, cheese, sour cream, or frying in oil, to name a few)

The verdict:

  • Peeps, I’ve been eating white taters for years and ain’t no way I’m gonna stop now.  They are an excellent source of natural (read: unprocessed) carbohydrates, which are great for active, healthy adults, and eating the flesh and skin together makes for a super-filling, super-tasty, super-satisfying snack that won’t break the calorie bank.
  • Make sure that when cooking white potatoes you boil, bake, or steam them – and add fresh herbs rather than salt, butter, and oil – and if you’re a “white potato only” type of person, read on for why you might want to come over to the sweet side…

The alternative:

  • Per the above…sweet potatoes still come out the nutritional winner here.  They have similar amounts of fiber and protein (again, eat the skin!) but give you an extra boost of vitamin A and beta-carotene, all with fewer calories and carbs than the white stuff
  • If you’re simply trying to watch the carbs and calories, mashed cauliflower is a fantastic potato substitute that gives you the same satiety and “mouthfeel” without any of the aforementioned “bad” parts – so it’s worth a try if you’re watching your macros really closely

Do you eat white potatoes – or do you prefer sweet?  What’s your fave way to cook ’em?

Would Amanda Eat It?

One of the things that drives me craziest in the nutrition side of my business is questions about processed food.  If it comes from a box, has a label, or has a shelf life of over a couple of weeks, it’s probably not great for you.  Sorry kids, that’s the cold, hard truth.

As you know from past Would Amanda Eat It? posts, that’s not to say I don’t understand why someone would need to eat a processed food from time to time – Quest bars being my own convenience food of choice when I’m running from client to client.

It’s just that I get a lot of submissions asking about this type of chip or that kind of fruit snack, and the overarching answer is usually – skip the junk, make it yourself, or find an alternative.

That leads us to today’s Would Amanda Eat It? – not technically a processed food (I mean, it does come in a bag, typically), but not technically a fresh one either.  The product in question today is dried fruit.

But it’s fruit!, you may cry, wondering how I could even question the merit of nature’s candy.  Sure, it was fruit.  But does it still count as fruit when it’s been dried, (often) sugared, and packed up?  Here’s the info:

The good:

  • At its best, dried fruit is simply a dehydrated form of fresh fruit – when it has no added sugar, you are getting most of the benefits of the fresh fruit (for example, fiber and iron from prunes, vitamin E and B6 from figs, or beta-carotene in dried apricots)
  • The portable, long-lasting benefits of dried fruit mean you can take it anywhere, pack it in purses or bags, and/or mix it with unsalted raw nuts for a powerful protein and carbohydrate combo

The bad:

  • let’s be real, peeps – a lot of the dried fruit you get at the grocery store has a ton of added sugar – and even if it has none, the concentration of the sugars natural to the drying process means that you’re getting a big dose of fructose – and calories – with every (tiny, tiny) serving of dried fruit (you only get 4 dried apricot halves, and even that has quadruple the calories of a nice, fresh apricot)
  • beware of course the “commercial” dried fruit (i.e. not the nice, natural kind from Whole Foods or the farmers’ market) – one meager 1/4 cup of Craisins has most of your sugar for the entire day (29g out of a total 40g) – and you know those little bad boys are so addictive it’s hard to stop at 1/4 cup!

The alternative:

  • Um, no brainer here – the alternative to dried fruit is fresh fruit!  Delicious, skin-on, water-filled, healthy and delicious fruit.  Sure, you may have to think ahead a bit more (you can’t just stash bananas in your car for a week), but it’s way worth it to grab an apple rather than an apple chip, an apricot rather than a Turkish dried apricot, or a big bunch of grapes rather than a tiny 1/4 cup raisins.
  • If you must get your dried fruit fix, look for those with no added sugar, use them sparingly (like sprinkled over a salad, rather than a big handful), or just bite the bullet and dehydrate your own fruit (in the oven – no extra gadgets needed!) – that way you know where it’s from, what’s in it, and how much you’re really eating.

Are you a dried fruit fan?  What’s your favorite kind, and where do you get it?