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.

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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
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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.

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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).

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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?

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Ask Amanda: Nice to Meat You

I could dedicate my entire blog to the genesis for this post, which is a response to the pro-vegan, anti-animal-protein messages sent in the recently popular documentary “What The Health?”

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Don’t tell me to read The China Study; I already have.

But I won’t. ¬†Why? ¬†Because other people have already addressed it, and far better and more in-depth than I would have, and I’m sick of just straight ranting here every week. ūüėČ

What I do want to address is this – the common question I get from vegetarians and those thinking about eliminating animal products from their daily diets – can’t I get all the protein I need from plant-based sources? ¬†Do I really need to eat meat?

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Liiiiisaaaaaa….I thought you lovedddd meeeee

My simple and honest answers?  Not ideally, and sort of.

If I hear one more vegetarian tell me “but rice and beans are a complete source of protein!” I’m going to blow my top. ¬†YES, there is some protein in beans (21.5g per 1/2 cup, along with 300 calories and 55g grams of carbs, hoo boy), and even less in rice (2.5g per 1/2 cup, along with 110 calories and 22 grams of carbs), but even when added together, don’t even come near the protein power of a 4-ounce chicken breast (35g protein, 187 calories and absolutely zero carbs).

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Calories still count, even in the pursuit of protein.

In short, it is a challenge for the average active, healthy person to get enough protein without overdosing on a big chunk of carbs (or worse, processed junky vegetarian snacks) if they’re not integrating some animal product (egg whites count; and I’m not neglecting tofu here, but there are a lot of other reasons to limit soy intake outside of its protein content).

Before this gets too inflammatory, let me address some common responses to this remark:

  • Protein is not the only macronutrient that makes a healthy diet (the others being fat and carbohydrates), and of course there is a danger to getting too much protein as well. ¬†However, among my clients (especially women) that are trying to lose weight, protein is usually the make-or-break macronutrient – if they don’t get enough or try to get it all from non-animal sources, they tend to go over their recommended caloric intake, eat more, feel hungrier, have less energy, and have more of a problem maintaining muscle mass and losing fat.
  • Sure, there are high-profile vegan athletes like ultramarathoner Scott Jurek (whose sport demands lower muscle density and tons of quickly digestible carb calories) or even bodybuilder Alex Dargatz (who very likely keeps the protein powder industry in business from his massive daily consumption of the stuff). ¬†But these athletes are not “normal people” (especially weight loss clients) looking to maintain a generally healthy diet – they are high-performing professionals with specific and often extreme macronutrient requirements. ¬†For most people, eating too many carbs and not enough protein is a major reason for carrying around extra body fat.
  • Some animal products are (way, way) better choices than others. ¬†I’d never advocate eating processed sausage over a nice vegan quinoa pilaf just to get more protein, or chowing down on a hunk of cheddar cheese over a fresh orange just to nosh more daily calcium. ¬†Choosing organic, grass-fed, humanely raised, and free range meat, fish and poultry (and perhaps avoiding beef and lamb altogether) is a great way to make your animal protein intake more environmentally friendly (and if the cost of those things makes your pocketbook shudder, consider cheaper and also eco-sensitive protein sources like free range eggs, canned tuna, or Greek yogurt).

Let me digress for a moment to say that all of the above information and opinions are from a purely nutritional perspective, without considering the many (valid) moral and political reasons one may choose to eliminate his or her use of animal products (if you’re interested in my sole personal opinion on this issue, this article sums it up nicely).

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Deep thoughts.

I have absolutely no problem with anyone that chooses not to eat meat for any reason, but I will reiterate that not eating at least some animal products makes muscle gain, fat loss, and the general eating experience (everything from choosing healthy options at a restaurant to finding low-carb high-protein snack choices to tossing together a quick healthy meal at home) a heck of a lot tougher – and for many animal-free clients, that “toughness” becomes too great a barrier to eating clean (why toil over making a tempeh-cake -and-nutritional-yeast parmigiana when you ca just grab a nice, tasty vegan cupcake to go?).

If I can leave you with one nugget of takeaway from this entire thing, it’s this: the healthiest diet for humans is one that is based on ingredients grown and raised in the best possible conditions for the most possible nutritional value having gone through the least possible amount of processing. ¬†That’s it. ¬†So in my (professional) opinion – pick an apple. ¬†Catch a fish. ¬†Grow some herbs. ¬†Your body will thank you.

Are you pro-meat or choose to abstain from it? ¬†Are you a flexitarian, pescatarian, or have some other way of limiting your animal intake? ¬†I’d love to hear from you!

Ask Amanda: Precision Nutrition

A long time ago in a place far, far away, I got my first Sports Nutrition certification.  For what I was doing at the time (mainly, teaching group exercise classes and giving some basic diet advice on the side), it was enough РI was able to articulate the basic tenets of metabolism, energy balance, and clean eating with some level of authority.

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Don’t get it twisted – I never was, and (probably) never will be, a registered dietitian. ¬†An R.D. is authorized¬†by the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. ¬†All R.D.s have a bachelor’s degree (at minimum), have undergone extensive scientific coursework in the area of dietetics, have completed an internship in various nutrition settings and have passed a licensing/registration exam.

Whew.

As for me, while I do have two Masters degrees (one perhaps more relevant to these topics than the other, but hey, all education is worthwhile, right?), I am “only” a nutritionist – defined as a person who studies or is an expert in nutrition. ¬†And since no one asked me any specific #AskAmanda questions this week (sniff), I figured I’d tell you guys a little bit about the Precision Nutrition certification I am working on right now.

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The PN certification itself is incredible – it covers a wide range of topics from the nitty-gritty (cellular makeup, metabolic processes, nutrient breakdown) to the psychological (nutrition counseling, working with difficult clients, motivational skills) to the practical (PDFs of helpful forms, legal documents, and assessment tools). ¬†But I am not here to promote the PN cert – they’re not paying me for that (ha).

Rather, what I love about Precision Nutrition is that it doesn’t end at the textbook – they have a lively, active Facebook group and an incredibly informative blog with super-helpful infographics that I’ve already used with a variety of clients to explain topics like:

The biggest thing for me about being a qualified nutritionist is debunking all of the crap advice that people get from who-knows-what sources (US Weekly magazine; some celebrity website or trainer; a doctor who got board licensed in the 1960s; American President Donald Trump) and doing my best to provide up-to-date, relevant, digestible, and helpful information to my clients in the most straightforward way possible.

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That said – here are my quickest, best nutrition tips that I give to almost every client:

  • fat doesn’t¬†make you fat – sugar and refined carbs are the problem
  • whatever cuisine you’re eating or wherever in the world you are, if you can find a meal consisting of¬†protein and vegetables, that’s going to be the healthiest choice
  • eating late at night is a really bad habit. ¬†Cut it out. ¬†Same goes for post-alcohol binges.
  • try eliminating dairy and/or wheat, especially if you have persistent bloating and swelling issues
  • drink enough (2-3 liters daily) water, and if that’s too boring, add in some green tea, black coffee, and coconut water – but not much else
  • and finally – eat enough food. ¬†Starvation destroys your metabolism. ¬†You’re better than that.

If you’re truly interested in fitness, you must also be interested in food – and really, you should be interested in understanding fuel. ¬†There is no one “diet” that is right for everyone, but there are certain tenets of health eating (as I’ve outlined above) that really do transcend individual differences and make a big impact on how we look, feel, and perform.

What are your best clean-eating habits?  How do you regulate your healthy diet?

Ask Amanda: Max Your Metabolism

After (semi) lecturing a client about why it was important to lose body fat BUT maintain lean muscle (even if the “weight” on the scale stood stagnant because of it), she looked me straight in the fact and said, “So this whole process is just about building a better metabolism?”

I wanted to hug her. ¬†“YES,” I cried to my dear and startled client, “YES IT IS!” ¬†

And herein lies one of the most obvious but most misunderstood connections between exercise, body composition, and nutrition: metabolism. ¬†Scientifically, metabolism is the sum of all the chemical processes inside our body that help us maintain life. ¬†In layman’s terms, metabolism is the way in which your body converts and uses energy for fuel.

So why does this metabolism stuff matter to those of us out here in the streets, just trying to get fit?

There are lots of reasons.  Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) refers to the amount of calories your body burns at rest Рand the higher your BMR, the less you have to do to actually burn the energy (read: food) you consume.

People with a greater muscle-to-fat ratio have higher BMR, even if their weight is exactly the same as someone with more fat than muscle. ¬†Men tend to have higher BMR than women (sh*t, they win again!). ¬†And people who go on starvation (VERY low-calorie) diets, even temporarily, can actually permanently decrease their BMR¬†by sending the body into a “starvation mode” and causing it to hold onto energy and store it as fat.

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A bit exaggerated…but like, not much. #damnyoumen

In short: metabolism matters, and you definitely don’t want to mess yours up. ¬†So what can you do to promote a faster, better metabolic rate?

First and foremost – SLEEP! ¬†A lack of sleep, particularly when chronic, can lead to a neuroendocrine imbalance that not only makes the body store more energy as fat, but can also make you feel ravenous all day long (increased appetite hormones) and forget to tell you when you’re had enough to eat (decreased satiation regulators).

Second of all, lift weights. ¬†I’ve talked about this time and time again, but the single best thing you can do to “speed up” (and I use this term loosely since you don’t actually change the metabolism itself but rather its efficiency in processing energy) your metabolism is to build lean muscle. ¬†Every pound of muscle burns TRIPLE the amount of calories (six versus two) than the same weight in fat. ¬†If you want to burn more by doing less (something appealing even to my least-active client), muscle is where it’s at.

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Beginners Guide to Lifting Weights for Metabolism

Third – and this may seem obvious – eat food. ¬†Your metabolism is like a gas grill, and it doesn’t spark a fire¬†without fuel. ¬†When you don’t eat enough, not only does your body think it’s starving (and start holding onto every bit of energy/food you DO put into it), it starts to cannibalize your precious muscle tissue (SEE ABOVE) for energy – not good. What you eat is also important – protein is the best muscle-retaining macronutrient out there, fiber can rev up the fat-burning process even more, and staying hydrated (with¬†water, by the way) makes all of your body’s most vital processes run smoothly and more efficiently.

Finally, be a mover (and heck, while you’re at it, a shaker). ¬†Separate from the resistance exercise I mentioned above, what scientists are now calling NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) can actually be more effective in helping you lose weight and build fat-burning metabolism than “actual ” exercise. ¬†Everything from fidgeting to taking the stairs up to your office to standing instead of sitting to take a phone call counts as NEAT, and in very¬†active individuals, their NEAT daily calorie burn is more than what most other people might burn in a 30-minute elliptical session (something many¬†people mistakenly consider a “workout,” which is a topic for another time).

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The combination of what you eat, how you move, and your other lifestyle factors (sleep, stress, etc.) is¬†mostly responsible for how efficient your metabolism works – but don’t discount the “big G-factor” known as genetics (womp womp, I know). ¬†If your family is prone to PCOS, Cushing’s Syndrome, diabetes, or thyroid issues, or if you’re on certain antidepressants or other medications, your metabolism may be slower than most – and it’s out of your control. ¬†But even with these clients, I always encourage them not to use their medical conditions as excuses to be lazy with diet an exercise – but rather as a catalyst to rise above what they can’t control and focus on what they can (clean eating, regular workouts, and a positive mindset).

Do you think you have a “fast” or a “slow” metabolism – and do you personally¬†believe¬†it can change over time and/or with lifestyle habits?

Ask Amanda: Food As Fuel

As a sports nutritionist, my practice is a little bit different from that of your average clinical dietitian or clinic nutritionist.  As opposed to trying to cure a condition or better your overall internal health, my real background is in eating for optimal performance Рto run faster, for example, or to get a stronger swim stroke.

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Be better.  Move more.

Sure, the majority of my nutrition clients are looking for something more general Рweight and/or fat loss Рbut a lot of my high-performing friends (think other trainers, competitive athletes, and amateur racers) are actually clueless about how to best fuel their bodies to better their sports performance.

This week’s #AskAmanda centers on exactly that – what to eat before and after a workout, when to eat it, and how¬†important is¬†sports-specific nutrition.

A reader mentioned that she is perplexed about what to eat before yoga,¬†since if she doesn’t eat anything, she’s lightheaded during practice, but if she eats too much, she feels heavy and inflexible. ¬†In this case I would absolutely recommend taking in a small amount (100-200 calories) of liquid, easily digestible carbohydrate-focused calories, such as a glass of enriched soymilk or a nondairy fruit smoothie made with 1/2 cup almond milk and a handful of strawberries, or if you¬†can stomach real food while holding a headstand, go for half a banana, a few dates, or a piece of sprouted grain toast.

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Oats, oats, they’re good for your heart…

For longer duration exercise (think runs of 60+ minutes, Spin classes, 2000-meter swims, or similar), you’ll need a bit more fuel – but¬†it’ll have to be equally digestible. Here I’d recommend taking in closer to 300 calories of mostly high-GI carbs, such as a baked potato with olive oil, a bowl of organic rolled oats made with non-dairy milk and a handful of berries, or a couple slices of sprouted grain bread spread with 1/2 an avocado. Endurance exercise lasting under one hour, by the way, requires no extra nutrition outside your normal meals – if you’re feeling low on energy, try mixing coconut water into your water bottle, or nosh a handful of nuts just before you head out.

Finally, high-intensity training – such as HIIT, weight lifting, Crossfit, or similar – means high-impact protein is needed to repair and build muscles as soon as possible after the activity. ¬†Assuming you start your workout well-fueled, aim to take in about 200-300 calories of mostly protein and a few lower-GI carbs within 30-60 minutes after exercise. Here I’d recommend something like a small can of tuna mixed with 2-3 TB Greek yogurt spread on a few whole grain crackers, a sweet potato topped with steamed broccoli and shredded chicken breast, or a¬†quick sandwich of sprouted grain bread and natural peanut butter.

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Choose quality protein over junky carbs.

The crucial foods to avoid before any physical activity are oily, spicy meals (think heavy sauces, fried foods, and curries), dairy products (milk, lactose protein powders, and yogurt are definite barf-brewers), beans and seeds (gas-o-rama), eggs (zero carb), and fancy coffee drinks (the combination of caffeine, dairy and vigorous movement is like a gastrointestinal time bomb).

What are your favorite pre-and-post-workout foods – or do you have an “uh oh” fuelling horror story?

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! ūüėČ

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? ūüėČ

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

Ask Amanda: Long Haul Health

An old sorority friend of mine came to visit from ye olde London last week, and she had a very urgent #AskAmanda question – how can you possibly stay healthy on (and before/after) long-haul flights?

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I’ve definitely¬†touched on healthy air travel before, as well as how to get through a¬†bout of travel without getting sick, but I’ve never specifically touched on long-haul flying (which I’ll define here as 8+ hour flights with at least three¬†time zone changes) and how it can mess with even our best healthy intentions.

First of all, prep it up. ¬†As they say, failure to plan is planning to fail, so as soon as you are aware of your travel plans, start to conceive your strategy. ¬†Figure out when/where you’re going to eat your meals (on the plane? ¬†before you travel? ¬†upon landing?), what hours you’ll need to sleep on the plane to minimize jetlag on arrival, purchase your in-flight support items (such as a neck pillow, travel moisturizing mask, reusable¬†water bottle, water pills, and compression¬†socks), where you’re going to sit (I always choose an aisle seat near the restrooms so I can stretch¬†and “go” as I please) and what you’re going to wear for both comfort and necessity (if you’re not going straight to work upon landing, why not go straight to the gym – and wear activewear on the place so you can?).

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Second, commit to finding the best quality food possible during your travel. ¬†Crappy airline¬†snack boxes are less-than-tempting when you’re packing a decent salad from Au Bon Pain in the terminal; bringing your own food¬†from home to avoid sodium-and-carb filled airplane¬†food is extra credit. ¬†If you absolutely can’t plan ahead for your food, at least try and switch your airline meal – you can often pre-book low-sodium, low-calorie, or vegan meals, all of which will save you tons of unnecessary junk in your system.

Next, once you land, don’t immediately plunge into full vacation mode, especially if you’re traveling for work (which is, let’s be honest, the opposite of vacation). Google search¬†your new surroundings for the terms “salad” or “healthy restaurant” or even “best healthy food” and commit to eating at least one vegetable-heavy, clean meal per day while traveling. ¬†And guys – hydration could not be more important on flights like these. ¬†Stick to a¬†2.2-3 liter per day habit, and again, get that bathroom-adjacent seat.

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Fourth, stick as closely as possible to your normal routine. ¬†If you’ve found weight control success using protein shakes, stick that powder in a Ziploc and make yo’ shakes in your new locale. ¬†If you’re a runner, make sure to bring along your running shoes and gear, and ask your hotel concierge for a safe local route (rather than saying “I didn’t¬†know where to go!” and skipping the whole thing). ¬†Pack your vitamins and supplements, continue your intermittent fasting window, sleep as close to your normal hours as possible, and don’t overdo it on booze or unnecessarily indulgent food (wine and dessert with clients is ok…if it’s not three¬†evenings in a row).

Finally, plan for a glorious return.  Even with relatively healthy habits, long-haul travel and its associated time changes, dietary changes, and often-harried schedules can leave you frazzled the moment you reach home.  Put together a little detox routine (mine includes as much sleep as possible, a deep tissue massage for my swollen lower limbs, a short run or yoga class, and a giant dose of green vegetables) that you always have to look forward to as a re-energizing and relaxing treat.

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For those of you who regularly travel long-haul – how do you recuperate and recharge?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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?!?!?

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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.

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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: Where To Start Again

Oh hello, last Wednesday of the year – didn’t see you coming so fast. ¬†Next week will be January 2017 (thank GOD), and with that date comes the inevitable deluge of brand-new gym goers, resolution-makers, and diet-followers determined to “get fit” in the new year.

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As a trainer, nutritionist, and wellness coach, nothing makes me happier than people realizing it’s time to make a health-related change – and for many people, a new year actually is an effective time to do so. ¬†Unlike lots of us in the fitness industry, I actually don’t dread or lament the wave of newcomers banging down our doors in January; in fact, I get more eager than ever to help convert that brand-new-year excitement into lasting and meaningful lifestyle changes.

But THAT, my friends, is easier said than done.

I was lecturing chatting with my dad the other day about his own fitness goal for the first half of the new year – to lose 20 pounds and regain some muscle tone with weight training**. ¬†I asked him why he wanted to do it, and he said, “so I’m not such a slob.” ¬†Of course, we had a laugh, but honestly, I challenged him to unpack that goal a bit further.

  • What is “being a slob” to you? (feeling heavy and sluggish; not fitting into certain clothes)
  • Why does “being a slob” bother you? (makes him feel older, slower and out of shape)
  • What would “not being a slob” look like? (getting to his gym-machine circuit at least twice a week, stopping nighttime snacking, and ¬†watching portion sizes at meals)

And from that probing, we were able to put together some guidelines on what he’d need to do to reach his¬†goal by May 2017. ¬†I encourage all my clients to do some thinking along these lines, whether you consider them “resolutions” or not, around the new year. ¬†All of us (yes, even us trainers!) benefit from revisiting our short and long-term goals regularly, and doing a reevaluation of where we are versus where we want to be.

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All that said, what if you have a massive and complicated fitness goal (such as lose 50 pounds, reduce body fat by 15%, eat healthier, develop enough running fitness to run a 5K, and get off blood pressure medication) – where do you even consider starting?

In my honest opinion, the single most important thing you can do for your overall health (after quitting smoking, if that’s also on your plate) is get your damn diet in order. ¬†This will result in the most rapid weight loss, address your¬†most urgent health concerns (one of my favorite quotes from Hippocrates applies here – “let food be thy¬†medicine, and medicine thy food”), and improve your sleep, energy levels, and mood more than any other single thing (and yep, that includes¬†exercise – sorry, pizza-binging gym rats).

I am always reminding my clients about the 80/10/10 rule (full blog post here), which in shorthand simply means that 80% of your body composition is a result of your diet, 10% a result of your workout program, and 10% a result of your genetics. ¬†The single biggest thing you can do to get a six pack, lean out your upper arms, thin out your waistline, or shrink your hips is clean up your diet – and I promise, I’ll dedicate a whole separate post on my ideas on how you can do that another time, but here’s a great place to start.

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Once you’ve committed to cleaning up your eating, getting a consistent and effective workout routine is your next order of business. ¬†Consistent means 3-5 times per week (and yes, I mean every week, even the week with your birthday in it; the week you’re on vacation; the week between Christmas and New Year’s – all the weeks); effective means not wasting your time with 55 minutes on the elliptical machine. ¬†

Are you a group exercise devotee? ¬†Need a personal trainer to keep you accountable? ¬†Love to get out on the open road for a long, peaceful run? ¬†Figure out what you’ll actually do, and do it – there’s no single right or wrong path, as long you a) incorporate some cardio and some weight training into your weeks, b) remember to mix up your workouts for functional fitness, and c) maintain “backup plans” for when your workout of choice isn’t available. ¬†As I love to remind my clients, excuses are for those who need them – and if you’re serious, you won’t.

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My third and final piece of advice for starting an overall wellness renovation in your own life is to consider exactly that – the overall, big picture of what wellness looks like for you. ¬†Diet and exercise are great, and of course important, but don’t undermine the importance of things like proper sleep, stress management, stretching and massage, meditation, positive thinking, and supportive relationships. ¬†You will never be your best self if you’re constantly berating yourself, belittling your progress, feeling exhausted, feeling alone, and dragging through your day with negative self-talk. ¬†When you’re thinking through your goals for 2017, make sure to pencil in some self-love – the most successful of my clients always do.

How do you get motivated to kick off your goals in the new year?  What are yours for 2017?

**my dad runs a 5K course every other day, religiously, and is FAR from a slob, btw.