Superfoods aren’t real, but these foods are super.

cinderellaIf you stuff a smoothie with maca powder, quinoa, acai berries, hemp seeds, and cacao, will you fly? Or at least be tremendously healthy? In other words, what’s up with superfoods?

Get back to me on how that smoothie goes. But I don’t think you can walk into a grocery store these days without seeing something labeled as a superfood. The words conjurs up all sorts of imagery, doesn’t it?

I imagine a superfood makes my insides kick ass like Salley O’Malley. You know, glowing and full of energy. 

salley

But why do some things get labeled as superfoods? Have you ever wondered if they really deserve such a grandiose title?

I walked into a market this morning and was reminded of some of the misconceptions about how we think about food as it relates to our health. Just check out this snapshot:

superfoods

And then I peered a little closer. Chocolate covered goji berries. What the hell is a goji berry, anyway? I’ll answer that for you in just a bit. But first, let’s talk about the idea of a “superfood.”

 
Do superfoods even exist?
The most common benefit associated with most things labeled as superfoods is antioxidant power. Stay with me for a moment so I can science you.

Some foods contain chemicals that seem to counteract the effects of oxidative damage. If the processes in our body create too much oxidative stress, it can damage our cells.

That’s not so super. Too much production of things like free radicals and things like oxygen ions and other chemical reactions may cause disease and other unhealthy conditions within the body.  

And so it seems like we’d want to grab onto anything that can prevent oxidative damage. Interestingly, sometimes that damage is a good thing. For example, when we get injured, inflammation helps us heal up.

So a certain degree of oxidative damage is normal in our bodies – if we are healthy.

Magic juices and other tales

photo credit: mr. ginseng

photo credit: mr. ginseng

You’ve probably heard of certain fruits being full of antioxidants: acai, goji, pomegranate, in particular. Berries are particularly rich sources of plant chemicals like polyphenols, stilbenoids, and tannins.

And these compounds have an association with combating bad juju like inflammation, cancer, certain neural issues, cardiovascular disease, and other disease states.

Unfortunately, we can’t simply gorge on foods that have high antioxidant ratings and automatically improve our health. That’s because the way that nutrients interact with each other in our body to produce effects is still a bit of a mystery.

We do know that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps prevent disease. But we don’t know if it’s the fact that they have antioxidant properties or rather other compounds that influence a healthier body.

You need to remember two big things when considering choosing food for your health:

All foods are useful to our body.
We need to eat them in proportions that serve our overall health from diverse sources. That means plenty of whole foods rich in nutrients and less of those things that are nutrient poor (especially if they’re very dense in calories.)

But every food can be super. Even a donut before working out. It’s still fuel. Some foods just let us meet our goals more easily than others. 

Many items labeled as superfoods are no healthier than other whole foods that we eat.
And they probably won’t do anything remarkable except put a giant dent in your wallet. Some also are basically junk food masquerading as health food, which confuses people. And that stinks.

Check out my chocolate covered goji berries.
chocolategojiomg

As a treat? Sure, if that’s your thing. I’m more of a Raisinets fan, personally. But if you’re looking for a big boost of nutrition, don’t buy candy. 

So what foods are super if superfoods are merely make believe?

My personal list of “super” foods includes those foods that do a bang up job of helping you eat for a happy, healthy life. Here are just a few of the many good things to put into your belly.

Whole fruits and vegetables.

veggies
You knew I’d say that one, right? Fruits and veggies are full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, energy-giving carbohydrates, and fiber. They taste amazing. They’re not hard to find. And these keep you feeling full and nourished. Eat lots. 

In fact, if you’re currently struggling to eat well, start by adding a fruit or vegetable to your day. Don’t obsess about packing your diet with expensive, exotic bags of “superfoods.” Eat more colorful stuff. Or as my friend and trainer Jenna says, “green shit”. Eat more green shit. 

But what about those goji berries? I’ve only found them in dried, powdered, or juice form.

I bought some to test out. They looked a little chewy, like dried fruit. Except harvested by ancient people from somewhere. The bag boasted their innumerable health benefits, including fiber and protein but seemed to convey a sense of specialness that one could only obtain for about $12 a bag. Hmmm.

I had a hankering for some Greek yogurt and needed a topping, because I’m fancy. So I weighed out a half portion of goji berries along with a half cup of fresh raspberries.

berries

Here’s how they stack up nutritionally:

Goji Berries (14g)
Calories: 50
Protein: 2g
Carbs: 14g
Fat: 0g
Fiber: 2.5g
Sugar: 6.5g
Random nutrient perks: high in fiber, vitamin C, like other berries, high in antioxidant compounds. May interact with certain meds, especially blood thinners.

Raspberries (68g, about ½ cup serving)
Calories: 26
Protein: .5g
Carbs: 6g
Fat: 0g
Fiber: 3.5g
Sugar: 2g
Random nutrient perks: high in fiber, vitamin C, and manganese, along with other vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.

Nutritionally speaking, the raspberries have less sugar, a bit more fiber than the goji berries. Neither one is a terrible choice for a snack, but I’d prefer a big bowl of raspberries over the calorie dense dried berries. Plus the goji berries tasted rather blah to me.

Lean protein
meat

Protein is full of amino acids that build up your body – and your muscles. Protein- rich foods help you maintain and build muscle mass. They also help you stay full longer. Choose them from a variety of sources, especially:

  • Lean meats and fish
  • Dairy (Greek yogurt is my best friend)
  • Eggs
  • Plant-based proteins from soy, legumes, etc. (Try tempeh, tofu, chickpeas, and beans)

By mixing it up, you’ll get the unique nutrients that each kind provides.

Healthy fats
You need fat in your diet. For your overall health, energy, and hormonal function. And because things like salmon and avocado taste pretty freaking fantastic. Foods with fat also may contain a healthy portion of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids – your body can’t make them, so you need to get them from foods.

Plus fat helps you absorb all those powerful nutrients in your veggies. Don’t go fat free: just eat them in small amounts at your meals to get their health benefits while keeping your calories in check. 

Whole grains
Whole grains can reduce your risk of getting certain diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Eat starchy whole grains around workouts to fuel yourself. I set aside packaged cereals and bars most of the time. Instead, try cooking up batches of oatmeal, quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, and other minimally processed foods. My favorite one lately is farro: it’s nutty, chewy, and easy to cook. 

Funky fermented foods
kimchi

Good bacteria in our gut has the power to improve our digestion and boost our immunity. Gut health is a fairly young area of nutrition research. What kinds of fermented foods should you eat?

Think kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and yogurt, for starters. Fermented foods contain probiotics that can help keep your gut healthy. As a bonus, many of them are relatively low in calories and perk up other food you’re eating. Kimchi in my scrambled eggs is now my thing. Try it, I dare you.

Foods that allow you to maintain your weight more easily.
Sometimes I get the urge to munch on things. Especially if you’re working on fat loss, having low calorie options available can make it way easier to meet your goal. Try celery, strawberries, pickles, and even sugar-free jello. No, the chemicals won’t kill you. Yes, it’ll take the edge off the urge to eat a pint of ice cream.

Foods that bring you life happiness.

This is actually real.

This is actually real. And it is a glorious junk food. 

No, you probably shouldn’t eat a pint of ice cream on the regular. But leaving room in your life for foods that you love is just as important as eating for your health. Truly. You’ll be less likely to go off the rails if you know that no food is off limits. Who cares if it unlocks the secrets of the Mayans? If it tastes good, have a little bit from time to time. After all, Captain Crunch may have a few secrets of his own. 

References
Seeram N. Berry fruits: compositional elements, biochemical activities, and the impact of their intake on human health, performance, and disease. J. Agric Food Chem. 2008: 56(3): 627-629.

Dragsted LO, Pedersen A, Hermetter A et al.The 6-a-day study: effects of fruit and vegetables on markers of oxidative stress and antioxidative defense in healthy nonsmokers. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004:79(6):1060-72.

Meal Planning Monday: December 4th, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

Oh helloooooo. It’s time to plan. So that when the thing hits the you-know-what, you at least have dinner prepped. 

I feel like I returned from battle yesterday after buying my groceries for the week. The store was so busy it seemed like people were prepping for a zombie apocalypse. Instead, I think it was just a really good sale combined with the weather forecast predicting snow. People start buying milk and bread and basically lose their minds. This always amuses me a whole lot. 

But I have milk and bread now. And all the things to make this week’s meals. Check out mine here:

Monday: Lightened up Parmesan chicken: just skip the breading and bake chicken breasts. I sprinkle with Italian seasoning and salt then bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Toss on some cheese and marinara and bake 5-10 minutes more: until the sauce is warm and the cheese is melty. Serving with sauteed spinach instead of pasta – but have a bit on the side if you’re craving some. 

Tuesday: spicy California shrimp stacks from Skinnytaste. How freaking clever are these? I’ll serve with a cucumber sesame salad on the side. 

Wednesday: Chicken spinach frittata with leftover chicken from Monday. Add bits of whatever veggies you have around, and you can play with cheese. Here’s one variation from an Oregon Cottage. 

Thursday: Turkey taco stuffed sweet potatoes. Just use lean ground turkey and make taco filling from it. I like to add homemade taco seasoning, a bit of salsa, and a can of black beans to the meat. Then stuff your baked/microwaved sweet potatoes. Top with plain Greek yogurt and/or a little cheese. Nom nom. 

Tip: if you can, make a giant batch of the taco meat. Freeze the extras and then you can use this as a super fast dinner on crazy nights. 

Friday: Hey family, make your own damn dinner! Or… leftovers/cooked soups I found in the deep freezer. 

Saturday: Lower calorie Shepherd’s pie. Just take your favorite recipe and use 90% lean ground beef, plenty of veggies, and top with a mixture of mashed cauliflower and potato. Using buttermilk and cutting back on butter helps scale back calories for mashed potatoes. I’ll put some umami bombs into the sauce with cues from Serious Eats. 

Sunday: Roasted turkey tenderloins (I get these inexpensively at Aldi) with cranberry shallot sauce from Eating Well. Steamed green beans and roasted sweet potatoes on the side, because I’m still feeling Thanksgiving in my soul. 

What’s for dinner at your house this week? Have something good? Share it in a comment below. Happy cooking! 

Old school lifting techniques to build maximum muscle (with maximum fun).

titanicfunnybodybuildingBeing strong is empowering: exhilarating, even, much like Rose must have felt out there on the bow of the Titanic. Before it met its demise of course.

Getting strong makes you feel more confident and capable – for everything that life tosses your way, including sinking ships (probably). 

But I also like to look like I lift. Maybe I’m becoming a vain old lady. But I don’t care. Seeing my muscles get bigger and stronger is a reminder of all my hard work. Plus people don’t always realize an important truth: you can’t train only in that low rep, heavy range all year long.

First of all, it can be really hard on your body to train hard and heavy 100% of the time.
Second, it becomes really boring to do the same training regimen all the time. 

And finally… at a certain point, you need to grow your muscle. That means less of the big heavy stuff and more of the higher rep, lighter movements. You want hypertrophy – that’s muscle growth – to happen.

That’s how I’ve been working during the last few months. My own coach, Jordan Syatt, has been introducing me to all sorts of hypertrophy work. And I’ve shocked myself with just how much fun I’m having in the gym. My joints feel great. I’m building muscle and getting stronger. 

Like so many others who do hypertrophy training, I’ve been using several “old school” gym classics. The ones that bodybuilders have been using since back in the day, when Arnold and Lou Ferrigno went head to head to compete in Mr. Olympia. You can watch that play out in the movie Pumping Iron. It’s fantastic. It’ll get you pumped too.

pumpingiron

Which brings me to these muscle pumping tricks you should try. There are scores of techniques that bodybuilders use to maximize things that will help you sculpt lean and mean muscle.

Why do they work? Because they play on some of the big mechanisms that allow muscle growth to happen: mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. Those three ideas are big enough that they deserve their own article.

But in short:

1. You need to be doing movements that maximize your time under tension. You’ll still include heavy enough lifting to exert large amounts of force.

2. You’ll do work that gets “the pump” – blood flowing into your muscle cells, will help your muscles grow.

3. Fatiguing your muscle fibers is a must. You wear them down – break them down, actually. And in repairing that damage you’ll grow them.

These techniques were used by lifters long before we even understood many of those principles that explain why lifters used them with success.

Serious lifters have tinkered and toiled with all sorts of  training variables. It’s key to remember that not everyone will respond the same way to them. But there are many tried and true ways of building muscle that may help you get over humps, maximize your effort, and invigorate your time at the gym.

Give these a try as you move through your training year: 

Pre-fatigue sets
I’ve been doing them before my main lift of the day. This seemed crazy to me at first. Why would I want to wear myself out on purpose?

When you’re building muscle, your goal isn’t to PR your bench press total. It’s to build your muscles that help you bench press. Pre fatigue sets help you break down muscle tissue more effectively when you work on that big lift. They also help me connect my mind to my muscle as I prepare to do the big work. This allows you to work your muscles even better during your lift.

How to do them:
Before one of your heavy “big” lifts: like a bench press or a squat, use an isolation movement at a fairly light weight first. Before I bench press heavy sets of 6 reps, I might do 2-3 sets of something to target my pecs: like the squeeze press or a pec fly. It lets me both fatigue my pecs and also get a good feel for those muscles, which helps me hammer them better during my main work. Try 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps.

 
Rest-pause sets
If you want to maximize intensity and fatigue, a rest pause set can do the job. It also lets you squeeze in some more reps, giving you the opportunity to spend more time stimulating your muscles over the span of a set.  These work especially well in slightly lower rep ranges. And they work great for not only building muscle but building strength. Particularly with moves that you feel limited to doing for only a few reps because they’re really difficult.

I used rest-pause training to get more quality reps done in my chin ups when I could only do a few at a time.

How to do them
:
Complete your reps for your set. Let’s take lat pulldowns for 8 reps.

After you perform your set, wait 10-15 seconds.

Do your lat pulldowns again for as many reps as you can do.

Wait another 10-15 seconds. Then do it again.

You can add another mini set to your one big rest-pause set. Wait a few minutes, and then do 1-2 more rounds.

Drop sets are not comfortable. But you'll love them anyway.

Drop sets are not comfortable. But you’ll love them anyway.

Drop sets
The Arnold called these “strip sets”. And no, you’re not stripping, though that would be quite something at the gym. But this technique allows you to fatigue your muscles like crazy, which is key to growth.

How to do them:
Use these as an accessory lift during your session. Start with a weight you can lift for 6-10 reps. Do as many reps as you can, then lower your weight. Either take plates off your barbell, grab lighter dumbbells, lower the weight on the cable stack… you get the idea.

Now immediately complete as many reps as you can at this lighter weight – which is usually 25%-30% lighter than what you chose the first time. It will be hellishly hard.

But wait, there’s more: lower the weight again. And maybe even one more time, for funsies. Do that. Now rest a few minutes, and do it all again.

Try 3 sets of drop sets the next time you frolic at the gym. I’m doing them this month with hammer curls and triceps press downs.

Eccentric sets
Create more time under tension to build more muscle. Eccentric sets slow down your movement during the eccentric, or lengthening muscle contraction. They also force you to maintain better control, which translates to better technique and bigger gainz.

How to do them:
Pick any move that you want to improve or focus on for more muscle building. I’ve used them on the lowering phase of a lying hamstring curl; the lowering portion of a pushup; the second phase of a lat-pulldown as I control the rise of the bar to its starting position. And an eccentric squat is a particularly brutal way to build strength and control by taking a full 4 to 5 seconds to lower yourself into the bottom position.

Keep the reps on the lower side for these, as you’ll already be spending more time on each rep. Anywhere from 5-10 reps is a sweet spot.

firegirl

AMRAP
Training coach Bridget Schmitt of Guns and Poses Fitness is also a figure pro and powerlifter who loves (and loves to hate) AMRAP sets. AMRAP means “as many reps as possible” and it’s a tool for not only building strength and muscle: it allows her to test her limits. 

“I like to be competitive with myself every time I lift. Mentally I have to push everything else aside when I AMRAP”.

How to do it:
Schmitt doesn’t always use AMRAP in her training, but when she does, she uses them after completing a few working sets. On her final two sets she pushes herself to take them to their limits – AMRAP. 

Finishers – the final burn. 
Want to make sure you REALLY fatigue and burn out a muscle group? Try a sweeping, final flourish using light weight and a ton of reps.

Jenny Leonard, aka “JennyB”, a nutrition/wellness coach with Guns and Poses, also competes as a bikini competitor in bodybuilding. She finds that many popular hypertrophy techniques like drop sets don’t work as well for building her physique. But she loves high rep finishers for building her glutes. Jenny uses banded hip thrusts, glute bridges, monster and lateral band walks, and body weight frog pumps to set her glutes on fire – and help them grow.

How to do it:
Pick a move to tack on to the end of your main strength work. I’ve been doing 1 set of 50 bent rear delt raises at the end of my upper body workouts. For glute work, I often do 2-3 sets of banded hip thrusts in an AMRAP, or create a mini finisher circuit of several moves that all target one muscle group. 

If using additional weight, choose a load that is light enough to make these hard but completable. You may have to pause for a few seconds during the work, but try to keep it going with little to no rest.

Century sets
Fit pro Tanner Baze shared one of his favorite variations for a final flourish: century sets. Perform them alone, or better yet, with a partner.

How to do them:
You complete 100 reps with light weight, and then your partner does the same. I imagined that you’d do this only one time, but gym crazies may actually do a few of these. The partner will definitely help keep you going because you may want to quit the gym about halfway in.

weight-rack

Run the Rack
Tanner also reminded me of another of Arnold’s favorite moves: running the rack. This is another workout finisher that turns that brutal, fatiguing work you do into a game of sorts.

How to do it:
Choose a dumbbell exercise for your last move of the day. Pick up some dumbbells that are heavy enough that you will only be able to do around 6 reps. Complete those reps, then put them back and immediately grab a pair that are 5 pounds lighter. Complete another 5-6 reps. Keep “running the rack” down until you hit a weight that is so light that you can easily do more than 6 reps.

All of these moves have the ability to boost your muscle building mojo. Many of them will feel hellishly hard. But your mind will stay engaged and I’m willing to bet you’ll have fun.

For the long haul, enjoying what you do and staying present during your workouts is going to help you make just as much progress as following a solid program. Stay present, work hard, and enjoy the process. Then go flex.

Want to talk workouts, healthy eats, and how to build a body that feels and looks fiiiiiine? Sign up below to get my emails delivered right into your inbox. I’ll send you Fat Loss on a Budget plus other fit goodness on the regular. 

 

 

Meal Planning Monday November 28, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

It’s a new week and maybe I don’t need to eat pie every day. Or maybe I do? I had quite a lot of good pie and other treats for Thanksgiving. 

There’s no need to repent or detox.  But I’m craving some vegetables. This week’s dinner menu will have plenty of them. Hopefully there will be good leftovers for lunches, and I’ll throw some spinach into my breakfast smoothies or fold a few veggies into an omelet. 

Monday: Black Bean Pumpkin Soup from Smitten Kitchen with a mixed green salad

Tuesday: Feta spinach chicken sausages roasted with red bell peppers, onions, and broccoli. (Use whatever veggies and seasonings you like! I’ll sprinkle on oregano, salt, and pepper and roast in one pan at 400F until it looks nice and toasty. 25-35 minutes should do the trick. 

Wednesday: Baked ginger soy chicken from David Lebowitz, served with a big side of steamed or sauteed stir fry veggies. (Just buy the frozen ones if you don’t have fresh veg on hand.)

Thursday: Surely we have leftovers. Right? Right? If not, I’ve been itching to make the turkey meatloaf from Skinnytaste. It would taste great with a side of sweet potatoes and broccoli. 

Friday: Lentil chili from Little Broken. With a cornbread muffin, because yum. 

Saturday: Hosting a sleepover for many 4th grade hooligans. A DIY hot dog bar with fruits and veggies on the side will work for the kiddos. Turkey brats with apple sauerkraut and roasted Brussels sprouts for the grownups. Plus wine. Of course. 

Sunday: Blackened fish taco bowls from Noshtastic

Are you cooking up a favorite meal you’ve discovered lately? Tell me all about it in a comment below. Have a great week!

Meal Planning Monday for November 20, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

Need some dinner inspiration? Last week I launched “Meal Planning Monday”. Although truthfully, I do most of my planning on Sunday. According to memes on the Internet, you’re supposed to plan on Monday. It must be due to alliteration. I have no idea. But whatever day you choose to start a new cycle of meals, just get a plan in place.

It’ll make your life way less full of crazy. At least 80% less of the crazy. And for this upcoming week, there will be plenty of that, at least around here. We’ve got Thanksgiving dinner to prep and one of my kiddos is turning 10. 

So this week’s dinner menu needs to be simple. I’ll make lunches out of leftovers, and hang with my favorite easy breakfasts. Happy Thanksgiving! Read on below for meal ideas.

Monday: Greek chicken wraps. Use rotisserie chicken, store-bought Tzaziki sauce, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and whatever else sounds good. A little feta would be perfect. Stuff it all inside a high protein Flatout wrap or a pita. 

Tuesday: Thai peanut chicken slaw. Use leftover chicken from last night. Shred or chop and add to a bag of broccoli slaw. Add a light peanut sauce made with PB2, toss that together, and top with a squirt of sriracha, a handful of cilantro, and perhaps a few chopped peanuts. If you’re fancy. 

Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner. Eggs inside sweet potatoes. I saw it on Pinterest approximately 5,000 times and now I need to try it. You win, Pinterest. You could try a recipe like these eggs in sweet potato boats, but you barely need one. I may try to shove 2 eggs into one sweet potato half because I want more protein in there. 

Thursday: Thanksgiving! I’m bringing many pies to dinner, including a salted honey pie that is out of this world. Use a different crust recipe from the one listed here. The filling will blow your mind. No, it’s not even a little bit healthy. It’s pie. But a small slice is satisfying for this one. 

Friday: Turkey leftovers. I think I’ll make a white chili and substitute turkey for the usual chicken. I may riff off of Ellie Krieger’s white chili but sub cannellini beans for the hominy. 

Saturday: Are we tired of turkey yet? Probably. Try black bean sweet potato quesadillas: Saute cubed sweet potato with some smoked paprika and a little cumin. Dump in a can of black beans and heat. Then fill tortillas with that mixture, top with a bit of cheese like cotija, and heat on a griddle or skillet. Serve with salsa. 

Sunday: Oven baked honey sriracha drumsticks and green salad. It’s my boy’s birthday, and this is what he requested. Drumsticks are an odd favorite food, but I roll with it. I substitute gochujang paste for sriracha because it’s not quite so spicy. Find it at an Asian market. 

What’s on the menu at your place? Leave a comment below and share your favorites. 

Straight talk about how you gain and lose belly fat.

photo credit: smoking hot

photo credit: smoking hot

Why are we so obsessed with our midsections? Take a peek on any drugstore shelf. The one that has all the sketchy yet slightly seductive fat burners and diet products. Blast belly fat! Get six pack abs! Wander over to the magazine rack and you’ll see the same headlines.

When new clients begin working with me, they often want to know how to lose some weight around their midsections. 

That’s because people tend to store excess fat in a few common places. We lose and gain weight over time all over our bodies. I lost a huge amount of weight over the years and even lost fat in my feet. Yes, that was weird.

Our mid sections are just one spot where we tend to store extra fat.  Every one has (and should have) some abdominal fat. But sometimes we have more than we’d like or more than we should have for good health. 

Today I’ll show you what you need to know – about how we get it, when we might need to manage it, and even how six pack abs actually happen. Read on. 

1. You can’t spot reduce.
belly-fats

“Give me some exercises to work on my abs,” my client Pam asked as she gestured to her belly with a frown.
 
The bad news is that you can’t spot reduce your fat. You can strengthen your abs. That’s a smart idea for functioning better as a human. But you don’t get to choose where you lose fat. I know, that sucks.

But the good news is that you can still lose that fat through smart dieting and exercise. What’s that look like? 

Briefly: 

  • Regular strength training. 3-4 days of lifting weights each week will shape your muscles, help you burn fat faster, and keep your body healthy for life. Plus you’ll feel awesome. 
  • Extra conditioning work. To move better, burn some extra calories, and keep your heart healthy. Do short, intense sessions 1-2 days per week. 
  • A nutrition plan for fat loss puts you in a calorie deficit. It also prioritizes plenty of lean protein to keep you from losing precious muscle, healthy fats for hormonal health, and carbohydrates to fuel your mojo and muscle growth. 

2. The times, they are a changing: menopause.

photo credit scarymommy.com

photo credit scarymommy.com

One of the things Pam noticed was how much weight she packed on around her belly. She is in her late 50s and has been through menopause. There are a few things that can lead to weight gain, especially around the belly, when our bodies go through the hormonal typhoon known as perimenopause and menopause.

  • Dipping estrogen levels. Lower estrogen may favor storing fat in the belly area.
  • Poor sleep. This screws with your hormones that regulate appetite.
  • Less muscle mass. This may slightly decrease your metabolic rate. It’s not so much that you lose it because you’re getting older. It’s that many people aren’t as active as they were when they were younger.
  • More insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain. 1

These factors can all make it harder to lose weight as women age. And If you’re going through perimenopause or menopause, doing a few key things may make a difference:

  • Eat a nutrient rich diet. This will help you feel better as you transition and help regulate your weight too.
  • Be willing to decrease your calorie intake. You may require less to maintain your weight now than you imagined. 
  • Lift weights. Preserve your muscle mass and improve your bone density.
  • Make sleep and stress management a priority.
  • Consider hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) if you’re struggling. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons. HRT may decrease how much fat you store around your mid section. 
  1. There is a kind of belly fat you should actually worry about.

    photo credit: live fit

    photo credit: live fit

Doctors talk about “visceral adipose tissue”. If you just blinked, read that again, because it’s important. This is a different kind of belly fat. One that does impact your health more profoundly. When someone has a very big belly but not a lot of “pincheable” fat, it may indicate that they have a lot of fat around their organs. This is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of serious health issues ranging from diabetes 2 to heart disease 3

 Doctors worry if they see three or more red flags:

1. A waist circumference over 40″ for men and 35″ for women.
2. Fasting blood sugar levels > 100mg/dl 
Triglyceride levels > 150mg/dl
3. HDL (the good cholesterol) <40mg/dl for men, <50mg/dl for women
4. Blood pressure > 130/85

Fortunately, there are many lifestyle related changes you can make to not only decrease your belly fat. You’ll also improve those other numbers.

  • Eat plenty of lean protein.
  • Get fiber through fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Lift weights.
  • Move your body often. Get more overall activity.
  • Sleep at least 7 hours per night – or more if you need it to feel well rested. 
  • Keep communicating with your doctor. 

4. Is it fat, skin, or something else?
 If you’re like me and have had some babies, you might have some extra skin waving at you too. That’s very normal – after all, our bellies expanded to grow a person. Sometimes our skin doesn’t bounce back after all that change. 

I have a lot of extra skin in my abdominal area – both from those pregnancies and losing a significant amount of weight. I remember asking my doctor about how I could get rid of it. She told me I could either sling it over my shoulder and learn to love it or have plastic surgery. So far I’m slingin’. 

If you’ve had a baby, give yourself time. Sometimes a diastasis recti is to blame. You have tissue that connects the two sides of your rectus abdominus. During times of rapid weight gain and especially pregnancy, that tissue can thin.

As a result, you may see a little pooch. You may also have some back pain. Head to a physical therapist or your doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment.  

5. The six pack fantasy

photo credit: Heath Cajandig

photo credit: Heath Cajandig

I can count on one hand the number of clients who have asked me to get them a six pack. I work with a lot of working parents, most of them in their 30’s-50’s. I think at some point we realize that we don’t care nearly as much about having chiseled abs as we might have when we were younger.

That’s a perfectly okay position to hold. First of all, a six pack isn’t really a measure of health or athletic prowess. It’s a sign of having both very low body fat and also well trained ab muscles. If you want one, you’ll need to train hard and diet down to a point where you can see them. 

abs-are-cool-but

That means a very low body fat percentage. And a whole lot of saying no to cheesecake, especially as we get older and don’t lose weight as easily as when we were young pups. You have to decide if those abs are worth what you need to sacrifice to get them.

But is a six pack a bad thing to want? Nah.

“A six pack is a symbol”.

I heard that the other day. This is worth thinking about.

We all have personal symbols of the work that makes us feel good. Day in and day out. For some people their symbol is the deadlift they pull off the floor. Or their bulging bicep. Or a six pack.

If you do want to see some actual muscular definition in your abs, you can do that. But a more realistic goal, especially if you’re a woman in your 30s or 40s, is to aim for definition and not an actual six pack. If you get relatively lean AND keep after your training you’ll see your abs peeking out at you.

Have another question about your belly or beyond? Leave a comment below or hit me up with an email at fit@amydix.com and I’ll be happy to chat! 

Notes:

  1. Proudler, Anthony J., Carl V. Felton, and John C. Stevenson. “Ageing and the Response of Plasma Insulin, Glucose and C-peptide Concentrations to Intravenous Glucose in Postmenopausal Women.” Clin. Sci. Clinical Science 83.4 (1992): 489-94. Web.
  2. Ohlson LO, Larsson B, Svardsudd K, et al. The influence of body fat distribution on the incidence of diabetes mellitus. 13.5 years of follow-up of the participants in the study of men born in 1913. Diabetes. 1985;34:1055-8.

Meal Planning Monday for November 14, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

Oh hey there!

I’m starting a new series in the spirit of meal prep. Why? Because having a plan for the week makes healthy eating way less bumpy. 

I hesitate to say “meal planning” because people think of that as a rigid set of meals that they have to eat. Eat whatever you like! But once my menu for the week is set, I can chill out and know that dinner will happen without a last minute trip to the grocery store. 

I usually work off of what I have hanging out in my fridge, pantry, and freezer when I design my weekly dinner menus. I can whip up breakfast or lunch from most anything I have in the house. But dinner takes a little more planning. 

If that all feels overwhelming, start by reading a peek inside a week of healthy meal planning. 

Then if you’re needing a bit of inspiration, check out my menu each week and nab whatever sounds yummy. I try to choose dinners that have a fairly high protein count, are reasonably low in calories, and taste great. 

Some meals take a little more prep than others. If I make soup or stew I usually double the batch and freeze one. Then I have some “no cook” nights for when the you-know-what hits the fan. 

Meal Plan for November 14, 2016

Monday: Sauteed skillet of chicken apple sausages, cubed butternut squash, and brussels sprouts. (I just cook these together with a little thyme and smoky paprika.)

Tuesday: Leftover Turkey Chili from the freezer with mixed greens.

Wednesday: Lasagna soup with mixed greens.

Thursday: Apple stuffed pork loin with Moroccan spices. Roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes on the side.

Friday: Leftovers!

Saturday: One Pot Red Beans and Rice with Turkey Kielbasa

Sunday: Maple glazed baked salmon with pears, Brussels Sprouts, and whipped cauliflower/potato mash. 

Have a go to recipe that you’d like to share or even your menu for the week? Lay it on us! Just leave a comment below. 

The winter blues – getting relief from seasonal depression.

photo credit: 1sock via Flickr

photo credit: 1sock via Flickr

Every year I wait for it. Do you? 

I anticipate what feels like a switch inside of me that Mother Nature controls from afar. Some years its merely a slight dimming. Other years I feel the lights go off so abruptly and harshly that it stuns me. Even though I was waiting for it. 

The feeling is a heaviness that bears down on my chest. Some call it the “winter blues”. The medical definition is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s a very real kind of depression. And I get some form of it every year. Do you? 

You may have SAD if you consistently feel the blues in the fall and winter but notice that you perk up once spring arrives. 

Anyone can get SAD, but it seems to be particularly common among:

  • Women
  • People who live in places where daylight hours become shorter certain times of the year.
  • People with a history of depression. 1

You may experience a mild form of the blues or a more serious major depression.  While nobody knows exactly what causes SAD, many researchers believe it may be caused by a lack of sunlight. 

Not having enough sunlight could disrupt our normal patterns of sleeping and waking. That influences our circadian rhythms. 

It’s also possible that lowered light levels may cause our serotonin levels to dip. Serotonin is a chemical in our brain that impacts our mood. 

That’s what it is. But this is what it feels like. 

  • You may be grumpier than usual and more easily irritated by small things. 
  • You might gain weight – especially if you find yourself craving comfort foods and eating things you normally don’t.
  • You may feel lethargic. You may have less energy and want to sleep more. Or you may just want to sleep because being awake makes you sad. 

If you nodded your head to those things, here’s what I want to tell you. On a personal level. There are ways you can get relief. 

1. Exercise. 
jogs

I’m not including this just because I’m one of those fitnessy fitness people. Working out has been demonstrated to alleviate symptoms of depression. 2 I always underestimate this until I have a week like the one I’m going through right now. I caught a bad cold and couldn’t make it to the gym for a few days. 

I could feel my mood plummet. The challenge is when you feel really depressed, it’s hard to force yourself to exercise. Because you feel exhausted and paralyzed. But do something.

Move. If you can make it to the kitchen, stretch your body. If you can make it out the door, walk around the block. If you can make it around the block, do it again. And again. And eventually you’ll get into a regular routine. 

My gym time is sacred for a lot of reasons. But the reason I very rarely talk about is this one. It lets me keep going during the fall and winter. 

2. Seek the light. 

Photo credit: The Isha Foundation

Photo credit: The Isha Foundation

Get some fresh air and sunlight whenever you can. Exposure to light is a critical tool for helping alleviate symptoms of SAD. 

Just getting outside helps me a bunch if the sun is shining. Light therapy is perhaps the most effective tool for treating SAD. You use something called a light box. A light box has powerful lamps and just sits on a table in front of you while you go about your business for a certain amount of time each day. Numerous studies show the benefits of light therapy. 3

Other forms of manipulating light also exist. Low levels of Vitamin D are linked to depression, though research seems to be conflicted about just exactly how. Supplementing with Vitamin D may or may not help with symptoms. So talk to a doctor or therapist to learn about next steps. 

3. Tell someone.

Photo credit: Indulgy

Photo credit: Indulgy

The kick in the pants of depression, SAD and otherwise, is that not only do we feel awful for having it; we do a few other things that make ourselves feel even worse. 

We may isolate ourselves because we don’t want anyone to know that we’re struggling. We sometimes feel like that makes us weak. Or we may discount our struggling and believe that because we’re going to work each day that it’s not actually a problem. Just suck it up, right?  

Don’t just suck it up. Reach out – even if it’s just to one person whom you trust. One of my clients is an old friend. She goes through SAD just like I do. And she now knows that it’ll be coming for her. 

The most amazing thing she did was to tell her close friends something along the lines of this:

“Hey. I know winter is going to make me feel like crap. I’m going to try to hide and stop eating well and exercising. And so I need you to keep checking on me. Because once it hits, I won’t be able to do it.”

Nobody will think you’re weak or dumb. They’ll just love you and help you through. 

4. Give yourself permission to not be a shiny happy cartoon person. Nobody is. 

Here's a meme that did make me laugh.

Here’s a meme that did make me smile. Heh. 

I think that I’m generally a positive, proactive person. Having a constantly negative mindset about the world and everyone in it is probably a sign we need to do some internal work. But when you have the blues, simply telling yourself to be positive may make you feel worse.

We see everyone post on social media. They may look like they have a radiant, perfect life. They may even be posting memes about how you should feel happy. Every time you see one you might feel worse about yourself because you enter what Mark Manson calls “the negative feedback loop.” 

You don’t feel happy because you feel depressed. Then you feel bad about yourself because you don’t feel happy. Then you feel even worse. 

Sometimes I do that. You might too. The truth is that social media is curated. It’s a collection of everyone’s best times with all the normal, day to day bullshit of dirty dishes and kids who threw tantrums and our heartbreaks left out. Nobody sees that. But it’s always in the background. 

And what is helping me on days like these is to just embrace the bad day instead of feeling guilty for not being happy. “Yeah. Today blows. That sucks. But most likely tomorrow won’t.” I just roll with it. And it surprises me how much that helps. 

5. When your squad drags you out, you go.
squad

It took me many years to get this into my skull. When you feel depressed you probably don’t want to be around people. Yet spending time with those who care about you – the friends who make you laugh and connect. Those are the people who will make that brick on your chest a little less heavy. 

Let them in. Get out of your house. Do things that help you take care of yourself. 

6. Consider medication. 
happypill

There is absolutely no shame in needing anti-depressant medication. There were times in my life when they got me out of the hole and able to actually work on the first five items on this list. See your doctor and talk about how they might help. 

You don’t need to suffer in silence. Talk to someone. Anyone. You’re normal. And worthy of feeling better. And if you made it all the way through this article and you think someone else might find it helpful – please share. Thank you!

Notes:

  1. Melrose, Sherri. “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches.” Depression Research and Treatment 2015 (2015): 1-6. Web.
  2. Cooney, Gary, Kerry Dwan, and Gillian Mead. “Exercise for Depression.” Jama311.23 (2014): 2432. Web.
  3. Magnusson, Andres, and Helgi Kritbjarnarson. “Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder with High-intensity Light.” Journal of Affective Disorders 21.2 (1991): 141-47. Web.

Can’t take another shake? Try these ways to use your protein powder.

I giggled.

I giggled.

Do you have a bag of protein powder sitting in your pantry? Sweet: you’re in business today. 

If you’re like me, your containers may be collecting dust. I go through phases with how I choose to get more muscle building protein into my diet. Lately I feel ‘meh’ about protein shakes. Especially now that it’s autumn and I just want to bake things. And shove them in my belly. 

Protein shakes can save the day. Whey protein in particular is top notch for being easy to digest, quick to whip up into a shake with nothing more than water, and relatively cheap to boot. There are other kinds of protein powders too, and you can learn more about how they work here. 

You can fancy them up too with some milk, fruit, and whatever else you can dream if you’re feeling like channeling your inner Top Chef. 

Sometimes I’d rather eat more “food food” for my protein intake. You know – meat, fish, eggs, lentils, or a bunch of Greek yogurt. Sometimes I can’t stomach the idea of sucking  down yet another protein shake. Still, using protein powder makes it way, way easier for me to hit my daily protein target. And it’s a high quality source of those amino acids your body needs to build those gains. 

If you’re feeling burned out on bro shakes but want to get that extra boost from a powder, here are a few ways you can shake things up (without the shaker bottle). 

 

Spiced Pear Rice Pudding
rice-pudding

Use whatever kind of rice you have sitting around for this not-too-sweet dessert that works for breakfast too. The idea is simple: use equal parts rice and milk, add a splash of vanilla and a little bit of spice. I substituted pear for my usual apple, added a pinch of cardamom, and sprinkled on a few teaspoons of hazelnuts. 

Get the recipe here. 

Mug Cakes
lemon protein cake
Protein mug cakes are a thing now. Usually you microwave them and they become rubbery and sad. Yes, an affront to cakery. Is that a word? In any case, I almost always skip these. I’ve found a few good tips if you do decide to nuke one. The power level in your microwave should stay at around 30% power as you bake your cake. Start with a minimal time-  like 30 seconds. And then check.

The kind of protein you use makes a difference when baking with powder. Whey protein absorbs less liquid than other protein powders, so be wary of substituting when you follow a recipe. 

Or you can just bake your little cake in the oven, as I did with my lemon protein mug cake. It was surprisingly tasty and felt like dessert. Or breakfast dessert. 

Rating: 1 or 9, depending on your recipe. The lemon was a 9 for “almost real dessert”. 

Sludge
sludge
This recipe isn’t pretty. It sounds kind of gross. But it’s a chocolatey way to increase your protein intake. I added a few teaspoons of peanut butter chips. Because peanut butter is life, and I was PMSing like a beast. You know, weeping intermittently while watching the Walking Dead. I also needed a gateway recipe to help myself stop stealing my kids’ Halloween candy. Get the recipe from Muffin Topless. 

Cinnabon Protein Oatmeal
cinnabon

You don’t even need a recipe for this breakfast treat. And it’s crazy good. Instead of adding whey protein to my oatmeal, I whipped egg whites into my oats along with a little cinnamon and vanilla.

The magic comes in the topping. Use a tablespoon of Greek yogurt cream cheese or lowfat cream cheese.  Add a half scoop to a full scoop of protein powder depending on how much of a boost you’d like. Thin it out to a thin frosting by adding a little milk, bit by bit.

So good. Not funky. Much yum. Get my recipe here. 

Strawberry Fluff

So fluffy.

So fluffy.

This is the bro-iest bro treat to ever bro. I avoided it because it didn’t sound very yummy to me. But I finally caved and I’ll make this over and over again. Because it’s tasty.  But mostly because: holy mother of God, it’s filling. If you’re having a hangry kind of day, make fluff. It’ll fill your belly. 

You only need fruit, protein powder, some kind of milk, and perhaps a little extract and stevia.  Plus something to help whip it up. Most people use xantham gum. I used an egg white. Yeah, it’s raw. I probably won’t die. 

Get my recipe here

I have two questions for you, because I’m a curious cat. First. What’s your favorite brand/flavor/type of protein powder? And what’s your favorite way to use it? Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page. Thanks!

P.S. I share ideas for workouts and nutrition in my newsletter. I’ll help you build muscle, get lean, and feel mighty fine. Just fill out the form thingy below and I’ll hook you up with my Fat Loss on a Budget book. See you there!

 

Strawberry Fluff – a Protein Packed Treat to Fill Your Belly

So fluffy.

So fluffy.

Protein Fluff is Bro Treat 101. I’d read recipes for this treat on nearly every bodybuilding website. But I avoided it for years, thinking that the concoction was likely some sad dessert devised by people who’d been eating chicken and protein powder for too many years to remember real dessert. 

But I finally gave it a whirl. Here’s the thing. It’s not going to give you the same feeling as a decadent mousse. But it’s yummy. It’s insanely filling. And it provides a wallop of protein. 

I’ve read plenty of recipes. Many call for casein and xantham gum. But I didn’t have those, and I’m too lazy to go to the store. So I used whey protein and an egg white in my mix. The result was fluffy and wonderful. 

I think eating it straight out of the mixing bowl is completely cool. I won’t judge you. But if you stick the fluff into the freezer for 15 minutes you might enjoy it more. I wanted it to be cold. 

You can use nearly any fruit – but some fruits are sweeter than others, so when you blend your concoction before whipping, consider adding some stevia or other sweetener. Want to make it? Read on for the recipe. 

Strawberry Protein Fluff
Serves 1
Fluffy. Filling. Full of gains.
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 large egg white
  2. 70 ml(s) Skim Milk
  3. 115.00 g, Strawberries, frozen
  4. 1 tsp Stevia
  5. 20 g Whey Protein Isolate (I used True Nutrition strawberry flavor but vanilla would be great too)
  6. 1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
Instructions
  1. Use a blender to blend all the ingredients. Pour into a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Blend until very, very fluffy. (See notes).
  2. Eat right away, or freeze for 15-20 minutes.
Notes
  1. You could use a hand mixer - itl'l just take longer. Most standard recipes indicate whipping for 8-10 minutes, but my powerful stand mixer got the job done in under 3 minutes.
  2. This is a half recipe from what is typically suggested. If you're extra hungry or a very big dude, you may double it and it'll fit into your bowl. This serving size is more than enough to fill me up.
Nutrition
  1. Calories: 153
  2. Carbs: 13g
  3. Sugars: 10g
  4. Fiber: 2g
  5. Fat: 1g
  6. Protein: 25g
Adapted from Every bro forum on the Internet
Adapted from Every bro forum on the Internet
Amy Dix http://amydix.com/

Strength and Nutrition Coaching to Help You Find Your Fit