Ask Amanda: At the Core of the Issue

The keyword used to be “flat abs” and then “six pack” and more recently, “core stability.”  Everyone wants that carved-out, washboard-flat, super-toned tummy – and about 1% of us want to do the actual work that looking like that entails (this article, about the high cost of getting super-lean, is worth your time).

Such is life, eh?

A recent few clients have been asking me about core training – what it actually means, how important it is to do it, and what is the best way to train the core most effectively (without doing a million crunches per day) – so as always, I am here to help!

First off, your core is made up of several muscle groups that cover both the front and the back of your torso.  Much like the “big chest, poor posture” syndrome (see below) I see in a lot of weight-training men, the quest for flat abs has left a lot of folks with puffed-out rectus abdominus (the muscles on top of the stomach) and a weak lower back, which is pretty much a recipe for back pain (and frustration).

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The major muscle groups that make up what most of us call the “core” are the abdominals (rectus, external/internal obliques, transversus), the erector spinae, and the quadratus lumbar.  In shorthand – your abs and your mid-to-lower back.

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It is crucial to make sure you are doing work that targets all of these groups, both dynamically (with movement) and isometrically (with a deep, held contraction).  Crunches are fine, sure – as long as they’re done with proper form, within reason (in terms of number), and as part of a larger core program that uses other methods as well.

There are two core stability programs I love to use with clients – one is called Stop & Go, and the second is called Plank & Crunch.  Both focus on using all parts of the core muscle groups in different ways, and all improve functional health for the relief of back pain and overall weak middles.  Check them out below:

STOP & GO

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Perform the paired exercises listed, back to back, for 20 seconds each without rest.  Between pairs, rest for 20 seconds, then move on to the next exercise.  Once the set becomes easy, start to increase the time in each exercise (30 seconds, 40 seconds, etc.)

STOP / full plank / GO / mountain climbers

STOP / boat pose / GO / in-out crunches

STOP / side plank / GO / side plank leg lifts

STOP / table top / GO / reverse plank leg lifts

STOP / forearm plank / GO / plank knees-to-elbows

STOP / Superman hold / GO / swimmers

PLANK & CRUNCH

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Complete 20X (10 per side, if single sides are used) of each of the exercises below, aiming for minimal rest between movements.  Alternate the plank and crunch movements to ensure adequate recovery from each position and rest the neck accordingly.  Once one round is easy, aim to complete all the exercises twice.

PLANK / plank hold / CRUNCH / bicycle crunch (shown)

PLANK / knees-to-elbows (see above) / CRUNCH / reverse crunch

PLANK / twisting hip plank / CRUNCH / leg drops

PLANK / up-down plank / CRUNCH / butterfly crunch

PLANK / side plank twists (each side) / CRUNCH / lumbar extensions

I recommend that my clients incorporate some form of core training every time they work out (whether it’s a dedicated set, like those above, or incorporated into an overall strength program using apparatuses like TRX, Bosu, or a balance board for instability).

And finally, guys – I wouldn’t be a good trainer if I didn’t tell you for the hundredth time that lean abs are made in the kitchen.  You will never – EVER! – have a six pack if you eat tons of carbohydrates, intake a grip of sodium, suck down the soda and alcohol, and don’t watch your saturated fat intake.  The real, hard talk is this – most of us already have abs, they’re just hidden underneath the layer of android (central) fat made up of what we eat.

So, in summary, here’s the cold hard facts on core strength: get up, plank down, crunch out, and keep the white stuff (sugar/salt/flour) out of your system.  Easy, right? 😉

What are your favorite ways to work your core?  Share!

 

Ask Amanda: Real Talk About Cellulite

At one point or another, almost every female client of mine has asked me about cellulite.

Why is it there?  How can I get rid of it?  What in the holy hell is it?  And why does it seem to plague some of us more than others?

First of all, I’ve never seen an issue so universally shared by women than the fight against cellulite.  It’s a selling point for endless books, online manuals, and even one of the companies I work for (Aquaspin, by the way, and I’ll tell you in a bit how doing underwater cycling can actually help in this effort!) – and as a trainer, just uttering the words “cellulite reduction” is bound to get you at least a couple hits/views/likes on your social media.

cellulite

But let’s be real.  Cellulite is body fat, and just like any other excess fat on the body, it takes overall calorie reduction and lean muscle gains to disappear (or simply reduce in prominence).  Sure, it’s not super attractive (comparisons to cottage cheese or an orange peel are common, both ew) but it’s also not fatal.  As a health professional, I wish more people were concerned with their blood pressure, glucose levels, or sugar intake rather than a few bumps on a thigh, but I promised I’d write about cellulite so I digress.

The basic concept of cellulite is that it’s the outline of the compartments that separate fat cells, forming a round-shaped pattern.  Imagine overstuffing a mattress (in this case, the fat cell) and seeing the excess bulge out around the edges – that’s what cellulite looks like in the human body. cellulite

And in case you’re wondering why you don’t see it as much in men (lucky bastards), it’s because their “compartment outlines” run horizontally, in a cross-cross pattern rather than a rounded one, preventing the bulge visibility – plus their skin is naturally thicker so the cellulite they may have is less visible beneath it.  Again, jerks.

Remember that no matter the gender, fat is soft (versus muscle, which is hard) and doesn’t lie flat under the skin – it puffs out, takes up more space, and is more visible than lean muscle.  This leads to my first point – that reducing overall body fat and increasing lean muscle, especially in women over 30 (we lose muscle at an alarming rate after this age), is your first and best defense against cellulite.

Movements like side lunges, donkey kicks, and squat-lifts target the common “sitting” areas where cellulite lies (thighs, hips, and glutes) and allow for easy progressions in difficulty from bodyweight-only to versions using dumbbells or barbells.

Second, cellulite is often a symptom of poor circulation, and I’ve seen clients actually derive great results from simply incorporating dry brushing (or self-massage, whatever floats your boat) into their morning routines.  Using a dry brush to stroke the body in the natural patterns of the lymphatic system can help increase fluid drainage, move toxins away from the body, and yes – decrease the surface-level appearance of cellulite.

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If you want to take your circulation game to the next level, consider coffee scrubs after your dry brushing routine – just combine 1/4 cup of coffee grounds with 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and massage it into affected areas with an anti-cellulite brush for about 2 minutes per area, per day.  The caffeine can actually help tighten and rejuvenate the skin by removing dead cells and improving appearance.

Finally, consider your diet and hydration patterns when you’re trying to work on cellulite reduction.  Simply being dehydrated can make the skin look deflated and loose against already-fatty areas, and diets high in white starch (yep, that includes sugar), saturated fat, and sodium only make it worse.  Structure your diet around the cornerstones of high-water-content fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and nuts to help lean out all over (and boost energy to boot!).

The main point of me telling you all this great stuff about cellulite is to emphasize that despite its fancy name, at the end of the day cellulite is just fat.  Plain and simple.  To reduce fat you must reduce caloric intake, build lean muscle, and stay active.  Boom – no secrets.

What have you tried to reduce cellulite – or body fat?  Have you had success?

 

Ask Amanda: Supplementary Angles

As a trainer, I get asked to recommend/represent supplements a lot.  Like, a LOT lot.  Like, every other day  I am fending off an email about somebody’s “miracle” shake, pill, powder, or juice.  And across the board, I just hit “delete.”  Why?  It’s simple.

Nothing – and I mean nothing – replaces the nutrition and health benefits of real food.

Write that down, commit it to memory, and shout it from the rooftops.  Human beings survived millions of years without downing a single vitamin – and what we’ve lost in hunting prowess over that time, we’ve gained in convenience, access, and choice.  Middle and upper-class folks (this is not my platform to talk about the abhorrent limitations of many lower-income and working-class people when it comes to finding equitable sources of healthy food) have an entire universe of nutrition at their disposal – and yet many of them would rather spend their hard-earned bucks on a bottle of pills than a bunch of kale.

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So why am I so hell-bent on getting my clients away from supplements?

First of all, check your pocketbook.  Supplements are expensive – and they require at least some level of commitment (order, reorder, store, portion, etc.).  You can walk into any supermarket, and without much effort, pick up a fruit, vegetable, or protein product that provides the same function as most common supplements for much less money – and much greater satisfaction (I don’t know about you, but I’d rather chew on some tasty berries than force fake-orange-flavored powder down my throat).  Here are some ideas:

Taking a fiber powder?  Try an apple (skin-on, 10g per fruit).

Trying to get protein out of a powder?  Eat a couple of eggs instead (6g each).

Downing your Vitamin D in a pill?  Chow down on some salmon instead (450 IUs for 3 ounces).

Doing the antioxidant thing?  Feed your chocolate addiction for a tastier option (21,000 ORAC for 1 ounce, 70% chocolate or more).

superfoods

Second of all, listen to your body.  I used to take an energy supplement that basically destroyed my GI tract and made me feel gassy, bloated, and uncomfortable all day – come to find out that it had a fake-sugar ingredient (sorbitol, which can’t be naturally digested) that was making me feel that way.  Solution?  I switched out my “energy supplement” to a good old-fashioned cup of coffee – no side effects, tons of proven health benefits, and again – cheap.

Third, consider your real reasons for supplementing.  Are you deficient in a certain vitamin (common: Vitamin D, iron, calcium) and trying to figure out a way to get it fast?  Are you trying anything to lose weight (be honest)?  Have you “bought on” to a quick-fix trend (sorry to name names, but Shakeology and Herbalife both come to mind) “guaranteed” to bring you to better health?

Bad news, fam – the single healthy solution to nutritional deficiencies, weight control, and overall wellness is a clean, balanced diet and regular exercise (womp womp, I know).

pie

But are there exceptions?  Sure, but they’re fairly extreme.  Here are a few cases in which nutritional supplementation may be necessary:

  • you are a citizen of a developing country where access to food is limited or unavailable and you need high-calorie, high-protein food that can be delivered cheaply and without refrigeration
  • you have been prescribed a high-quality supplement by a doctor to treat a specific medical condition (for example, glucosamine for joint pain)
  • you are a high-performing or endurance-focused vegan athlete struggling to meet your protein needs with animal-free sources (try hemp!)
  • you do not have daily access to natural sunlight (the case for Vitamin D)
  • you are a competitive bodybuilder intending to develop massive hypertrophy throughout the body and maintain an extremely high muscle mass with extremely low body fat (here’s an idea of what that would look like)

By now I think you grasp the fact that in my professional opinion, the most powerful “supplement” you can take is a visit to a Registered Dietitian to get your diet in check, figure out what you should be eating for your health status and lifestyle, and learn how to swap out the pills and instead integrate nutritionally dense foods into your daily life.

Are you a pill popper or a food fanatic?  What are your favorite “superfoods” to eat?

Ask Amanda: Getting Older Is A Bear

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

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

Le sigh.  So what DO we do?

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

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

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

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

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

Lose Weight the FAST Way

Guys, I’ve written on this topic before – but I feel it bears repeating, so stay with me if you think you’ve heard what I have to say about the “silver bullet” of weight loss (yep, it exists) called Intermittent Fasting.

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Intermittent Fasting (shortened to IF for the duration of this post) simply means not eating during a specific period of time throughout the day, then “feeding” (eating) during a small window of time.  The type of IF that I do is 8 hours on, 16 hours off, which means that I eat for 8 waking hours of each day, then do not eat again for 16 hours, save for coffee (legit) and beer (not so legit, but LAY OFF ME it’s my own body, ok?).

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During those eight hours, I eat relatively clean (mostly salads, sandwiches, rice-and-veg dishes, or tuna on avocado) but not impeccably so – I have been known to throw down some pizza, burgers, or cookies on occasion (and by “occasion” I mean “at least once every week I totally eat these foods”).

In addition, and again by personal choice, I eat low-carb for one week out of each month (typically the last week) to maintain my ideal body composition (ratio of fat: muscle).

In doing this, and only this (though truth be told, I am a personal trainer and so by necessity spend many, many active hours in and out of the gym every day), I managed to lose 22 pounds (10KG) from last September to present.  A lot of clients and friends have asked me how I did it, and I am being completely transparent when I say it was IF and not much else (my workout routine, sleep habits, and social life have all remained the same).

So why does IF work so well?

If you think about the “eating several small meals a day” thing, consider that the glycogen roller coaster – you eat food, your body uses the food for fuel, you eat food again, your body uses the food again.  Sure, you are continuously eating and burning (assuming you are a perfect human being whose caloric intake and output are in exact balance, cough cough), but you are never actually attacking your body’s fat stores – and never training your body about how to convert fat to energy.

Frequent Small Meals

See, by continuing to feed the body over all of your waking hours, you are only training your body to produce more and more insulin – which can lead to increased abdominal fat storage (yuck), insulin resistance (uh oh) and eventually even diabetes (NOPE) and metabolic syndrome (worst of them all).  By never giving your body a chance to actually mobilize and utilize fat (versus glucose) for energy, and so it never does, and this results in you thinking, “why am I eating these tiny tiny meals but NOT losing any weight?”

Frustrating.

Luckily, by feeding yourself larger meals in a smaller period, you give the body a) the lovely and wonderful feeling of satiety (no more 250-calorie “mini meals”), b) tons of fuel-based energy during the feeding hours, and c) a metabolic kick in the ass by waiting until your body actually needs fuel to feed it.  Not bad for something that takes little to no effort (other than, uh, watching the clock?), is completely free, and fits into a busy person’s lifestyle (and often makes healthy eating even easier, since you don’t really need to worry about that whole “breakfast” thing anymore) really well.

The last common question I get from clients is do I fast every single day – and the answer, dear readers, is yes.  I find that it makes more sense for me to stick to IF as part of a lifestyle, much like sticking to a bedtime or an exercise program or flossing or any other healthy habit, rather than treating it like a fad or a temporary “quick fix.”  I’ve been fasting fairly religiously (save one week traveling in Japan and a couple drunken late nights here and there) since January and I find that it is the easiest and most effective weight control strategy I have ever used or recommended – and you can quote me on that.

If you are looking for a ton more science behind why and how people fast, this article has it all laid out for you, and you can even download a free 5-page starter kit from James Clear here if you are confused about how to get started on IF.

Let me know if you’ve tried – or would try – IF, and how fasting worked for you!

Ask Amanda: Stress Eating

Tell me if the following scenario sounds eerily familiar to you:

You start a new eating program – maybe it’s a Clean & Lean, or a Whole30, or just Paleo or low-carb or something of the sort.  You adhere to it strictly, almost religiously, and you start to see the weight coming off.  You are motivated.  You feel in control.

Until one day, life throws a curveball.  Maybe you and your partner have a fight, or perhaps you have a sh*t day at work.  A single cookie won’t deter your results.  One little Frappuccino after lunch isn’t a big deal.  But suddenly the cookie turns into a whole bag, or before you know it there’s a croissant accompanying that Frap.  And one slip-up turns into two.  And two slip-ups turn into a reverse read on the scale.

Within what seems like a painfully short amount of time, you are back where you started.  The clean eating thing seems so far away, like a friend you were once really close with but haven’t spoken to in years.  You feel discouraged, tell yourself that losing weight is impossible, and slide back into the habits you were initially trying to break.

Hitting a bit close to home?

Even the best (healthiest?) of us have some version of this story to tell – but the difference is that it doesn’t end the same way.  When I finally decided to get my weight under control, I committed wholeheartedly – which absolutely doesn’t mean I became a perfect clean eater (read: the drunkenly-consumed FULL BAG of Tostitos I ate on Monday night).

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What it means is that I committed to the process (in my case, intermittent fasting) and refused to let one bad decision or snack derail my entire program.  Whether I break fast a couple hours early on a super-hungry morning or slip into the aforementioned late-night snack, I never let one screw-up become multiple.  I take a deep breath, remind myself why this way of living is important to me, and refocus my priorities.

My friend and client Laura asked me to talk about some strategies to combat stress eating (to which I am going to add boredom eating / drunk eating / general feelings-eating) in this week’s Ask Amanda and I cheerfully obliged, as I do feel it’s one of the “dirty little secrets” that even fitness professionals struggle with (and are ashamed of doing themselves).

First of all, if you are trying in earnest to lose weight (or heck, accomplish any major goal, really), you have to commit to a plan.  Just saying “I want to eat better” or “I want to clean up my diet” is too vague to have any practical meaning, and it will only frustrate you to try and find your way without an inkling of a road map.  Again, there are several ways to do this – this article suggests a few starting points – but once you’ve selected one that sounds feasible, make sure you give yourself every bit of preparation needed (food prep, mealtime adjustments, grocery shopping lists) to succeed on your given plan.

Second, identify your stress (or boredom, or sadness, etc.) triggers and create an “immediate action” plan of what you are going to do – besides eat – when they hit.  Soldiers in the Singapore Armed Forces practice IA (immediate action) drills to train themselves to react quickly in case of a rifle malfunction – their reactions to such problems then become automatic and applicable without a split second of confusion.  This is what you want for when your own cravings hit – an immediate deterrence (think deep breathing, taking a bath, reading a magazine, going out for a walk, calling a friend) that you turn to without a second’s thought instead of going directly to food.

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Third, be sympathetic to yourself.  You are likely wanting to stress eat because something is going wrong and you don’t feel great – so don’t beat yourself up further with the guilt of overindulging in food and going “off plan.”  Instead, get inside your own head and retrain your brain – the power of positive thinking isn’t just a new-age mantra, it really works!  Be kind and respect the feelings you have when food cravings hit, then reassure yourself that this, too, shall pass – and channel that energy somewhere else (I always recommend a good workout, of course).

Remember that no one at any stage in her personal health journey is absolutely perfect – as they say, life is what happens when we’re making other plans.  Give yourself room to enjoy food, indulge once in a while, and maintain the pleasure of feeling healthy and satisfied.  Learn to feel the difference between hunger and stress and practice giving your body and mind outlets other than food for when the going gets tough.  And as I said before, having a strong meal plan to “fall back on” when you’ve been derailed can be a very comforting and supportive thing – not a “diet plan,” per se, but a true lifestyle choice.

What has helped you win the battle against stress eating – and what’s your “immediate action” plan for when you need a little help?

 

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.

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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:

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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.

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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?

 

 

Would Amanda Eat It? KICKSTARTER Edition.

Not to break any hearts here, but the product I am looking at for today’s Would Amanda Eat It? doesn’t actually exist yet – but with the success of its Kickstarter campaign, it looks like it will very soon!

My (very savvy and plugged in) cousin alerted me to Torani Plus Ups via text this morning – and it makes for a perfect review.  Check the basics:

The Torani Plus Ups are powders – they come in three flavors, Harvest Veggie, Green Veggie, and Green Coffee – that you mix with water or your favorite beverage for an extra nutritional boost.  The issue with my review today is that I can’t yet see the nutritional information and ingredients – but  I will do my best to offer up a decent review!

The good: 

  • these appear to be basically pared-down veggies, converted to shelf-stable powders that rehydrate and provide a heavy dose of nutrients (something like juicing, but dry)
  • there are no preservatives, additives, or artificial colors in any of the products
  • the coffee doesn’t taste like coffee per se, so it can add a “clean” caffeine boost to your regular green juice or smoothie

The bad:

  • do we really need another way to eat veggies more “conveniently”?  One might ask why one can’t just blend their veggies into a shake and get the full nutrient value…
  • similarly, do we really need another way to supplement caffeine?
  • again, I don’t know what all is in the powders so there may be some element of sugar content or caloric value that isn’t exactly clear yet

The verdict:

  • guys, I’d be way willing to try these – and may even support the Kickstarter in order to do so!
  • the fact that they are shelf-stable and portable means they’re really convenient for travel, which is a huge priority for me, and if they are in fact JUST veggies converted to powders – no problem!
  • the recipes they post on the Kickstarter sound amazing – and truly clean & healthy

The alternative:

  • well, again, if you want to eat more vegetables – how about just EATING MORE VEGETABLES?  You can easily blend a mixture of greens into a smoothie or shake just as “quickly” as you can scoop a powder into one, and a big salad at lunch will likely hit more veggie servings than a powder anyway – but again, if the buzzword is convenience, this product has it in spades – and powdered veggies are still better than none!

Would you be willing to try Torani Plus Ups?  How do you get your daily veggies?

Would Amanda Eat It? Quinoa Pasta Edition

When a client approaches me wanting to lose weight – and particularly wanting to lose body and belly fat – my first piece of advice is almost always to cut out sugar and white carbs.  “White” carbs are those made with white (refined) flour, such as bread and pasta, as well as the refined versions of whole grains (white rice and quick oats, for example).

That said, I encourage clients to keep healthy, whole and unrefined grains in their diet, including steel cut oats, farro, and quinoa – which then brings us to the confusing issue of quinoa pasta.

Realizing now that this popular brand of “quinoa pasta” is actually “supergrain pasta,” there is a bit of a misnomer at hand – the Ancient Grains brand of pasta actually contains corn flour (!).

Now all that being said, it’s still ONLY corn and quinoa flour.  And it’s all organic.  So I’m going to treat it as a legit Would Amanda Eat It product and analyze accordingly:

The good:

  • only two ingredients (quinoa, corn) – and both of them organic.  Me likey.
  • calories are modestly lower (205 versus 215-225) than white pasta
  • less than 1g sugar – very low for any processed/boxed food

The bad:

  • so…it actually has LESS protein than white pasta (4g versus 7-8g) – not good
  • for being whole(ish) grain, it doesn’t give you that much more fiber (about 1g) because it’s still flour made from grains versus the grains themselves
  • and because it is still made of flour, you’re still looking at a heavy dose of 46g carbs per serving (!)

The verdict:

  • because there’s really no strong advantage to this pasta over a regular white (and let’s face it – damn delicious tasting) pasta, I’d have to say no – I wouldn’t spend the extra cash to hit up some quinoa (and corn) pasta

The alternative:

  • that said, it doesn’t mean I’m going around downing loads of white-flour spaghetti.  I know lots of “reformed” fettuccine fans who swear by Shirataki noodles, which are made of tofu, gluten-free, and virtually CALORIE free (!) – at 20 calories per 2 ounces.
  • if soy/yam noodles aren’t your game, then I have to recommend “zoodles” (zucchini noodles) as the tastiest veggie-based noodle out there (made using a spiralizer right in your own home!) or baking up a spaghetti sqaush (aptly named) and dousing it in the most decadent and delicious sauce you can find (because, hey – you’re saving about a million calories and carbs from NOT eating flour-based noodles!).

Are you a pasta person?  What’s your favorite noodle/sauce combo?

Would Amanda Eat It?

This post was going to be about juice – orange juice, Juicy Juice, unsweetened cranberry juice – you know, the stuff that comes in big jugs at the grocery store with labels like “all natural!” and “not from concentrate.”  The juice of our childhood, folks.

But then the more I thought about it, the more my comments boiled down to one general conclusion: juice is basically soda without the carbonation (no, really – there’s so much sugar in juice it may as well be soda).

Even fresh-squeezed OJ has tons of sugar

Scratch that one.  Amanda wouldn’t eat (drink?) it in a million years.

However, the idea of looking at an even bigger juice “trend” – cold pressed juicing – is still relevant.  With juice bars and juice shops popping up on every corner, and juices making their way as far into the mainstream as your neighborhood Starbucks, what exactly is fresh pressed juice?  And how is it different from the Jamba Juice we all overdosed on in the 90s?

Juice shops like Pressed Juicery, Nekter Juice Bar, and Kreation tout “cold pressed” juices (and juice cleanses, which warrants another post all its own), which are juices that are extracted from their “host” fruit or vegetable using a high-pressure masticating blade that produces less heat – and reputedly preserves more nutrients – than a traditional spinning juicer (like a Breville, the one you probably got as a wedding gift at some point).

So what’s the nutritional down low on these fresh extracted juices?

The good:

  • it’s about a billion times healthier than “box juice” in that it is actually made from fresh fruits and vegetables, without additives, preservatives, or flavors
  • the cold pressing extracts every last drop of juice from the produce, meaning nothing is wasted and all vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes are kept intact
  • if you aren’t into eating fruits and vegetables, cold pressed juicing can be like your non-synthetic daily multivitamin

The bad:

  • when you extract juice away from its skin/pulp, you know what you’re left with?  Sugar.  And the (naturally occurring) sugar content of cold-pressed juice is no lower than it would be if it was extracted another way – and in some cases, is much higher, since it takes lots of fruits and veggies to make a 16 ounce glass of juice (at the juice bar I have at work, they put a full beet, two carrots, two stalks of celery, and an entire apple into one “small” size)
  • you know what else you lose when you lose skin and pulp?  Fiber.  And that’s why juices in general are a poor substitute for whole fruit.
  • you gotta drink fresh juice quickly – typically within 15 minutes, or it oxidizes and loses a lot of the antioxidant power for which you’re drinking it

The verdict:

  • YES, Amanda Would – and does! – Eat It.  I choose fresh pressed juice in a pinch – when I’m hungry but in a rush, when I know I am low on my veggie count for the day, or when I am in an airport and I know it’s a healthier breakfast option than a bagel and OJ.
  • But let’s be honest, people – it’s still just extracted sugar, to some degree, and it keeps me full for about a nanosecond – not worth it for me as a regular/daily dietary choice in terms of the calories ingested versus nutrients gained (think zero protein, fat or fiber).

The alternative:

  • what’s cooler than being cold?  BLENDING!  Yep, putting actual full fruits and vegetables – skin and all – into a high-speed blender and then drinking the smooth, thick, creamy result is a much more satisfying and healthy way to get your fruits and vegetables – and it actually counts as a fruit and vegetable serving since you’re preserving every part of the produce (no wasted pulps and skins)
  • you know what else is really underrated?  Just eating fruits and vegetables, ideally with a bit of protein and fat to keep you satiated as well.  An apple with almond butter, some turkey slices wrapped around celery sticks, or carrots and amped-up hummus (my version of homemade hummus mixed with Greek yogurt) are all lower in sugar and calories than most pressed juices and will keep you fuller longer – without the $12 price tag, either.

Are you a juice addict – fresh or otherwise?  What’s your favorite blending recipe?