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: 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: 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: Bulletproof Your Mornings

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do I personally think of it all?

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

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

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

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

Ask Amanda: The Deal With Dairy

A lovely friend and avid TFB reader asked me if, within my intermittent fasting lifestyle and general love of indulgent and diverse foods, there was anything I NEVER ate. ¬†Well, readers, while I can’t say there’s anything that I “never” eat (never say never, and I’m not a damn quitter) –¬†there IS something specific¬†I actively try to avoid.

About two years ago, I stopped eating (most, cow) dairy. ¬†I hadn’t¬†realized how much dairy I was actually eating until I mindfully tried to eliminate it as part of The Plan (an eating program you can read all about here, should it interest you) – and once it was out of my life, I noticed some real changes.

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What kind of changes?  Glad you asked, peeps.

When I stopped putting cream in my coffee, getting cheese on my burgers, popping feta in my salads, ordering extra cheese on pizzas, pouring¬†milk in my lattes, ordering the cheese plate at fancy restaurants, treating myself with ice cream and fro-yo, and considering plain yogurt my “healthy” snack, some amazing things happened:

  • I lost actual, measurable¬†weight
  • My skin basically became breakout-proof (save an errant zit here and there)
  • I stopped bloating after meals
  • I pretty much eliminated any gas issues (much to the relief of my¬†crop-dusted husband)
  • I had more energy
  • I discovered my long-dormant love for soy and nut milks (bonus!)

My cousin summarizes the non-dairy movement in one simple phrase: “not your¬†mom, not your¬†milk.” ¬†By that he means that if it’s not your “native” species’ developmental food (I’m definitely not about to hate on the magic of breastfeeding!), and if you’re already a fully grown adult, your need for any other animal’s milk is pretty much nonexistent.

The old wives’ tale about milk being the best source of protein and calcium has also been busted by – you guessed it – SCIENCE (eggs have far more protein without sugar per serving;¬†sesame seeds, almonds, and spinach have more calcium by weight by far), and for most of us, we can absolutely do without the lactose sugars most¬†dairy products have in spades (a single cup of skim milk, for example, has almost¬†as much sugar as a 3/4 cup serving of Lucky Charms cereal – and if you combine both for your breakfast meal, you may as well be eating a McDonald’s McFlurry to kick off your day – it’d have less sugar).

There are studies that show that sheep and goat milk dairy have less of an impact on human digestion than does cow’s milk, and of course soy and nut milks are even more neutral (though they vary widely in quality, so make sure to do your research on these). ¬†There are enough coconut, almond, hemp, and soy products on the market to fill nearly any gap that taking dairy out of your diet may leave – and I for one have rarely had trouble finding nondairy alternatives unless I was way out in the boonies (damn it, Cambodia!).

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If you are determined to maintain cow’s milk dairy in your diet by persistence or preference, cool – I’m not here to take your Taleggio or be libellous to your¬†¬†Limburger. ¬†What I would recommend is making the switch (for many of us, the switch BACK, after the non-fat craze of the 1990s) to full-fat dairy, limiting your cow’s milk dairy to special occasions (like a trip to Paris, for example), and making sure plain Greek yogurt is one of the dairy products you keep in your rotation (can’t beat the probiotic and protein double hitter).

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Whether or not you choose to continue eating cow’s milk and other dairy products is of course a case of personal preference – but if you’re mystified about why you feel sluggish, bloated, fat,¬†or are breaking out – it may be time to rethink the white stuff n your diet.

Are you a true-blue milk drinker or a nondairy convert? ¬†What’s your fave dairy alternative?

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).

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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).

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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?

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!