Single leg Romanian deadlifts to make you awesome sauce.

single leg RDLIt happens every so often, and it may happen even more often if my coach reads this: I get single leg Romanian deadlifts put into my program. I used to cringe when I saw Bulgarian split squats, but I have made my peace with the Bulgarians and their exercises. I actually enjoy them now.

heartbulgaria

But the Romanians… oh, you Eastern bloc countries, with your strength prowess. You make me work harder. And you make me better, which is why I continue to do the Romanian deadlift as well as a variation, the single leg Romanian deadlift. But they’re still tough.

The single leg Romanian deadlift in particular gives me a run for my money every time I work on it. My old hip injury might shed light on that: this exercise demands (and builds) hip stability like crazy. It also builds strength and stability through the entire posterior chain. That’s your backside, FYI. You know, your butt, hamstrings, and to a lesser extent, your back. It also requires your abs to help you maintain core control. Those are all good things to improve: so every time I begin doing single leg RDLs again, I remember that I should probably be doing more of them.

Here’s the lowdown on the single leg deadlift: what it is, how to do it, and when to use it in your workouts. Read on:

Basics first: what’s a single leg deadlift?  
A single leg deadlift is a basic hinging movement that requires mastering strength, balance, flexibility, and overall control of your body. That’s a lot, isn’t it? For this reason, I like to have beginners start by just using their own bodyweight to practice.

Deadlifts in nature: I’m mostly thinking “omg it’s so hot. Why am I wearing pants?”

Why to use them:
Single leg Romanian deadlifts build strength in the butt and hamstrings, though I don’t use them as a main strength move in workouts. For building brute strength and muscle mass, I still rely on the “big” players like squats, conventional and sumo deadlifts, as well as hip thrusts and 2-legged Romanian deadlifts. The lack of stability one on leg makes it tough to add a huge amount of weight to the single leg variation – but that’s exactly why you should do these as an accessory exercise.

They do a bang up job of building single leg stability, core control, flexibility, and still give you extra volume to work your muscles. I also use them in metabolic conditioning.

When to do them:
I put them near the end of strength workouts, typically with 3 sets of 8-12 per leg.  I also like doing the movement slowly with just my bodyweight as a glute activator.

How to do one:
You’ll start by thinking about your hips shifting back as you elevate one leg while your torso shifts forward.

Tips for getting off to a great start:

  • If you think about bending forward instead of reaching your leg back, you’re more likely to round your back and you’ll never get that beautiful hip hinge you’re aiming for. Instead, think of your body as a teeter totter and your working leg as the axis. If you focus mostly on making that elevated leg really long, you’ll have an easier time getting the movement down.
  • People move farther down than they need to: work on getting that lifting leg elevated toward the sky instead of worrying about your working arm reaching the floor. You want a big stretch on the back of your planted leg.
  • Locking the knee: it’s no bueno. Instead, think about keeping your knee just a little “soft”.
  • Try to keep your hips as square with the ground as you can. While doing this movement, it’s easy for the hip on your lifting leg to open up too much.
  • Gaze at the floor about 10 feet in front of you – if you crane your neck up to see yourself in the mirror, it tends to throw off your back alignment and makes it tougher to get down into the position.

Balance bonus – if you have a tough time holding your footing, a few things may help you out:
1. Don’t be afraid to lightly drag your foot for a few moments as you extend it behind you. This gives you a little extra contact time with the ground that goes a long way in helping you learn to balance.

2. When you begin the movement, lightly brace your abs and try to maintain stiffness through your torso. A more active core makes it easier to stabilize your body.

3. If you have squishy shoes, consider taking them off and doing this exercise barefooted – or put on a very flat, stiff-soled shoe like some Chucks.

4. One balancing trick that really helps me is digging my big toe of my working leg into the floor. It also seems to help me avoid opening up at my hip too much.

Once you’ve mastered the basic move, load ‘er up. Give one of these variations a try:

  1. Hold one or two kettlebells:

    I like the challenge of holding only one kettlebell, as it makes for feeling a bit more of an unbalanced load and makes me think about my core stability more. Grip it hard. I picked up this trick from Tony Gentilcore, who explains that a tight grip gets your rotator cuff firing and puts your shoulder into a better position as you move. Your shoulder will be less likely to creep forward.

  1. Barbell single leg deadlift:

    Sometimes I don’t have access to heavy enough kettlebells or dumbbells to do my deadlifts. So a barbell variation does the job.

    3. Landmine single leg deadlift:

    I had this crazy fantasy that the landmine variation would rock my world because  the bar would be less annoying to hold onto than a heavy dumbbell. While a big dumbbell or kettlebell is less stable than a barbell, try holding onto the end of an Olympic bar with a small hand: it’s a huge grip challenge! My grip strength is only slightly above grandma level, so I’ll be doing more of these.

If you don’t have a slick landmine holder set up in your gym, just do what people have been doing for eons: shove it into a corner of the room or into the corner of a rack like I did. Some people like to use the center hole of a 45 pound plate too.

Other ideas for your single leg deadlifting pleasure:
1. 1.5 rep single leg Romanian deadlifts –
move to the bottom of your pattern, come up partway, back to the bottom, then all the way back up. That’s one rep. 
2. Eccentric single leg Romanian deadlifts –
take a full 4 seconds to lower yourself down into the bottom of your position. 
3. Combo moves for metcon –
try doing a rep of a single leg deadlift and then following it with a lunge. Do all your reps on one side, and then switch. Your legs and heart will be talking to you. 

What’s your favorite way to do single leg RDLs? Leave a comment below and share! 

Psst – if you want workouts to use the moves I talked about, I share them on the regular with my insider newsletter subscribers. Sign up for free below – I’ll hook you up with a copy of Fat Loss on a Budget too. 

 

Stop Burning Calories.

Photo credit: Sara via Flickr

Photo credit: Sara via Flickr

Stop burning calories.

Ok, so maybe I’m being dramatic.  I want you to burn calories, because that means you’re moving your body and doing physical work. But when we look at our workouts primarily as opportunities to burn calories, it’s usually for a few reasons that may actually get in the way of your progress toward worthwhile goals. 

1. You think about burning calories so that you can “earn back your food”. First of all, you can easily eat back the calories you burned in less than a minute depending on what you choose to eat. Especially when we use tracking tools like Myfitnesspal or treadmill computers, we often overestimate how many calories we’re actually burning and then end up overeating. 

photo credit: dogs.about.com

photo credit: dogs.about.com

2. It sets you up to have a bad relationship with exercise, if you’re just working out to get to eat more. Someone once remarked “you’re not a dog dancing for treats.” That really stuck with me. We may exercise to change our bodies – it might be the shape of them, or how they function, or how exercise makes us feel emotionally. Those are all great reasons to hit the gym. And yes, calorie expenditure is a bonus effect because we really can eat more food and maintain or lose weight more easily when we’re active. Yet if we begin to feel guilty about eating unless we’ve done a killer workout, it can become less pleasurable to work out. 

3. Some of the activities that will improve your body composition goals the most aren’t actually the ones that burn the most calories during your workout. Yeah, running moderately for an hour will burn a bunch of calories while you’re running. But after you stop, your body doesn’t take long to get back to its starting point. By contrast, when you lift weights, you will burn relatively few calories while you’re actually lifting, but because you’re using so many big muscle groups and doing really intense work, your body has to work harder afterwards to pay back the oxygen debt you created.

 

This effect is called EPOC, or exercise post oxygen consumption. What it means for you is that your metabolism will be revved up more for several hours after you do a strength workout or do an intense metabolic session. And yes, your body will burn some extra calories from that.

You may miss out on other benefits of exercise.

 
I’d also say that while easy walks may not burn a lot of calories, they do tremendous things for your overall health and stress level. Walking is an extremely underrated recovery tool for those who often do intense exercise. Yet I used to ignore walking because I thought it was a waste of time. Go walk it out. 
 

4. Still thinking about burning calories? Packing on more muscle means your body is burning more calories all the time to fuel that muscle. That’s another win for lifting if you’re trying to change your physique while getting to eat a bit more food.

So all in all, what I’m saying is this: lift weights because it’s great for your metabolism, your bones, your overall health, and will make you feel and look like a badass. Do cardio-based activities because they’re good for your body too. But don’t work out only because you burn calories to earn your supper. Does anyone say supper anymore? Let’s bring that back.

And finally, if you’re trying to lose body fat, start with your nutrition. If that’s not on point, no amount of exercise is going to overcome it.

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How and Why to Choose a Protein Powder

photo credit: Dave Taylor

photo credit: Dave Taylor

The importance of getting more protein in our diet seems to have hit the mainstream hard this year: has anyone else noticed the explosion of protein-enhanced products on supermarket shelves this year? Some of them make me cringe a bit. Just like it’s a better choice for you to eat an apple instead of a Fiber One bar if you’re trying to increase your fiber intake, I’d much rather people get their protein from whole food sources like lean meats, eggs, dairy, and legumes than cereal labeled “Protein Fruity-O’s!”

Why? Those things aren’t inherently evil, but they contain a bunch of other ingredients that you probably don’t need. The apple has vitamins and minerals and lacks some funky additives that your body might not actually digest all that well from that fiber bar (like chicory root, for example. It does a number on my stomach.) 

The American recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is actually fairly low. But keep in mind that those guidelines are to maintain a baseline of overall health. If you want to maximize your potential for things like burning fat, building muscle, and enhancing your performance, you’ll need to eat more than that. I won’t delve into the intricacies of how much you should eat for today, though aiming for daily grams that equal roughly your target body weight is a good start.

Instead, I want to talk about what most of my clients face when they begin to increase their protein intake: it’s pretty tricky at first. Over time, you learn to choose meals that are naturally higher in protein to meet your goal. But often, many of us are either too busy to prepare all of our meals and snacks at home or we just want to change things up.

As it turns out, protein powders are one of the few added supplements that are an excellent boost to your intake. I don’t really think of them as a supplement so much as a highly concentrated food. For example, the whey in your dairy products gets filtered out and micronized into powder form to be used in whey protein powders. But when you go to your local vitamin shop, supermarket, or look online, the varieties available can feel incredibly overwhelming.

proteinpowders

Not only are there countless brands to choose from; there are all sorts of proteins available; whey, egg white, casein; plant based solutions like hemp, rice, and pea powders; grass-fed beef and even cricket. Yeah, for real, cricket. (I can’t quite get past the idea of the last one but hey, to each her own.)

So what kind of protein supplement should I choose?
My short answer is the one that you can afford that also tastes good to you and aligns with your overall nutrition needs. If you’re a vegan, my recommendation to try an animal-based protein isn’t going to do much for you.

My long answer is that if you want to really get into the nitty gritty of how the body uses protein, we have to understand the idea of bio-availability. That just means that your body can use more or less of the protein in different kinds of foods. Dairy and egg based protein sources are the most highly bio-available of any protein source; soy protein is also quite high; other plant-based sources are often lower.

photo credit: critical bench

photo credit: critical bench

But does that mean we should do nothing but guzzle milkshakes? Nope nope nope. The amino acids that protein sources contain are important – they’re the building blocks for everything that your body does. But food also contains a host of other nutrients that your body needs, so slurping nothing but smoothies might be delicious but you’d miss out on quite a few other vitamins and minerals. I’m pretty sure it would get boring really quickly, too. So keep in mind that your supplement should probably only serve as one snack or meal out of your day. Put in the context of your overall diet, the type of protein powder you choose probably matters less than we think .

But whey is still my first pick… here’s why:
Aside from whey having a very high bio-availability score, in the sea of protein powders, you can find high quality whey protein inexpensively. I look for protein supplements that don’t contain a ton of extra fillers and ingredients that add fat and calories. If I want extra calories, I would rather add them back in with tasty whole foods. You’ll find whey protein concentrate, isolate, and hydrolyzed isolate in the whey protein market.

gainz

gainz

All whey powders go through a filtering process that removes most of the carb, fat, and lactose from unprocessed whey. Both concentrates and isolates are high in their protein content, though isolate is higher. Concentrate has more lactose, so if dairy makes your belly hurt, you might choose an isolate. Hydrolyzed isolates further break down the isolate through processing and are easier to digest. Personally, I don’t like the taste of the hydrolyzed isolates I’ve tasted. They’re also more expensive than other forms of whey protein.

anabolicmeme

Whatever form you choose of whey, your body quickly digests it, making it a good source of post-workout protein. The idea of an “anabolic window”, i.e., of having only a short time to take advantage to muscle-repairing protein, has been reconsidered. You can chill out and don’t need to choose a particular form of supplement purely based on rate of absorption.

Getting some recovery fuel into your body within an hour or so after your workout will aid your gainz and help you feel better. The only people who really need to examine nutrient timing more closely are athletes – endurance athletes in particular need to make sure they’re fueling their work with sufficient nutrition. 

sciencepepsi

I’m intrigued as well by a recent study shared at the April meeting of the Endocrine Society too: researchers found that obese subjects with Type 2 diabetes felt much fuller after a breakfast containing whey protein than other high-protein breakfasts. They also experienced fewer spikes in their glucose levels thoughout the day. Of course this is just one study and its worth will emerge more in the context of more studies. But it’s one that I’m keeping my eye on 1

For those with dairy allergy, an egg white protein powder would be my first pick. It has a high score for bio-availability and is a “complete protein”, meaning it contains all the amino acids your body needs to function well. It may sound funky, but I’ve sampled several and they don’t taste eggy at all. Vegans might take a look at supplements containing pea protein, which is easily digested and contains several, though not all of the amino acids your body needs. It digests more slowly than whey protein, but like slow digesting casein, this might be a bonus for staying full longer.  Hemp protein contains a good dose of fiber and is also easily digested. All in all, if you’re shying away from animal-based protein supplements, a vegan supplement with a blend of plant-based protein might be your best bet to try.

Brands
Some companies have been caught spiking their supplements with non-protein sources to increase the overall nitrogen content of the powder. When tested, they appear to contain more protein than they actually do, because carbs and fats, unlike protein, don’t contain nitrogen. If you’re eating a well balanced diet, this isn’t a make or break scenario. However, as a business practice I think it stinks. So before you heavily invest in a brand, spend a few minutes on Google to learn a bit about the reputation of the company.

Everyone’s budget and tastes are unique; I’ve read glowing reviews of certain powders only to find that I could barely stand ingesting them. When you can, start with a sample or the smallest size available. I’ve consistently had good luck with companies like True Nutrition, Optimum Nutrition, and Cellucor. For vegan protein powders, I loathed many of them but found that Vega Sport tastes excellent, to me at least.

Some people prefer unsweetened protein powders for their versatility and lack of artificial sweeteners. Sometimes I just want to mix powder with water and ice and go, so flavored protein is a bonus in my book. Vanilla is versatile, works in lots of different recipes, and is often less cloying than other varieties. I also try to choose brands that use stevia as a sweetener because it tastes less fake and funky to me.

How to Eat/Drink Protein Powders

I’ve had a few that tasted great enough by themselves to just shake up in a blender bottle with some water, add ice, and go. If you have to bring one to work and want to minimize extra calories, this is, of course, a fine option. However, if you have a bit of extra time, making a smoothie with some kind of milk, fruit, and vegetables is an easy way to amp up both flavor and nutrient content.

I’ve also used protein powder in place of part of my flour in pancake recipes. This works surprisingly well as long as I don’t make the powder ratio too high. Mug cakes have historically ranged from cake disappointments to epic disasters. A half scoop melts seamlessly into my overnight oats, and a small amount added to Greek yogurt along with a bit of fruit is surprisingly tasty. If I throw that concoction into the freezer for 15 minutes I can almost convince myself it is ice cream. Except not completely, because I’m no chump. Have a small bowl of ice cream if you really want some, but it makes a very yummy and healthy snack.

In general, I avoid using protein powders to make a lot of healthified “Frankendesserts” and instead just enjoy it for what it is: an easy, inexpensive, and tasty way to boost my protein intake when I need it. Here are two summer smoothie recipes I made this week. The calorie and macro profiles will change a bit depending on the type and brand of supplement you use, but you’ll have a basic idea.

strawberrysmoothie

Strawberry Cheesecake Protein Smoothie
Serves 1

Note: I made this for breakfast, and it makes a gigantic shake. Halve the recipe for a snack if it’s too much food for you.

Ingredients:
½ cup strawberries, fresh or frozen
¾ cup vanilla cashew milk (or milk of your choice. It’s what I had on hand.)
½ cup 1% cottage cheese
2 Tbsp Greek yogurt cream cheese spread (I use Green Mountain. Lowfat cream cheese would work too.)
1 scoop strawberry or vanilla protein powder (I had a sample of Quest strawberry whey-casein blend, which whips up like crazy from the casein. Vanilla is just as good here.)
5-6 ice cubes
½ graham cracker sheet
Optional: grated lemon zest and a packet of stevia. My berries were ripe and my protein was sweet, so I skipped the extra sweetener. The zest is optional but adds a nice something something to this shake.)

Directions:
Whirl everything except for the cracker in a blender. Top your smoothie with a crumbled cracker, and marvel at how cheesecakey it actually is.  

Nutrition:
Calories: 314|Protein: 40g|Fat: 6g|Carbs: 28g|Fiber: 3g|Sugars: 18g

Full disclosure- this photo was from a kale smoothie, but all green smoothies look pretty much the same!

Full disclosure- this photo was from a kale smoothie, but all green smoothies look pretty much the same!

Big Green Smoothie
Serves 1
Note: adding spinach or kale to protein shakes is a very quick way to get more leafy greens into your diet. Coupled with fruit and flavored protein powder, you won’t taste the “green stuff”. I swap out fruits in this smoothie, but usually leave in some banana – it adds extra sweetness. Use frozen fruit to make this shake thicker and creamier. 

Ingredients:

1/2 frozen, medium banana, preferably frozen
1/2 cup strawberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup spinach
1 packet stevia
1/2 Tbsp chia seeds (for healthy fats)
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 scoop of  vanilla protein powder (I used True Nutrition vanilla whey isolate)
5-6 ice cubes if not using frozen fruit

Instructions:
Blend it all up, and enjoy!

Nutrition:
Calories: 296|Protein: 36g|Fat: 6g|Carbs: 29g|Fiber: 7g|Sugars: 14g

I hope this demystified choosing some powda for you. If you already use a protein supplement, what are your favorites and how do you use them? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear your ideas. 

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Notes:

  1. The Endocrine Society. “Large whey protein breakfast may help manage type 2 diabetes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 April 2016.

Leaner, stronger, faster – stop majoring in the minors to start making big progress.

photo credit: Central Bike Thai

photo credit: Central Bike Thai

Do you ever major in the minors? Spending too much energy on small details while neglecting the “big rocks” may not only waste your time and energy – it can prevent you from reaching your goals effectively. I also must admit that I’ve done this more times than I’d care to remember. I suppose it’s partly because I’m someone who wants to go all in once I commit to a new goal. I’ve often read every detail, absorbed way too much information, and basically got in my own way.

I did exactly that last year, when I decided to sign up for my powerlifting meet. By nature, I’m not a dabbler: once I decide I’m in, I’m all in, baby. I took mental notes at my powerlifting-focused gym, where veteran, record-winning lifters worked out. I read every damn article I could find on the intarwebz. I hired Jordan Syatt, a top notch powerlifting coach.

He gave me my program, and I followed it. I improved my strength and technique. But still, I spent an inordinate amount of time on things like researching the pros and cons of grip widths, knee sleeves, water cutting strategies for meets, and training schemes. I was, of course, excited about my sexy new sport. But when I asked Jordan if I needed squat shoes for my upcoming meet, he just said this:

“Stop worrying about that stuff and just get strong.”

ermagerd, sherz

He was right. That sucked a little, because I love any form of new footwear. There is a time to consider squat shoes, if we need them. If you dedicate yourself to a new sport or really any health pursuit for long enough, you may reach a point where delving in deeper and refining your approach will benefit you. But like I did, you may be spinning your wheels fixated on minor nuances of your training or nutrition that will make almost no difference in your outcomes if you haven’t first built a firm foundation.

I can recall some instances where friends and clients have got caught in a similar trap with training and nutrition:

  • Buying a $5000 bicycle and aerodynamic wheels that set back their retirement savings yet haven’t dedicated themselves to a consistent, well planned training program for gaining speed. I’d like to thank these guys, however, because I like to make a game out of passing dudes on fancy bikes with aerobars while riding my old steel Bianchi with big, non-aero accessories hanging from it. Am I immature? Probably.
  • Obsessing over losing a few percentage points of body fat to become faster in endurance sports yet haven’t spent any time building muscle to help power their bodies.
  • Worrying about complicated periodization schemes when you learned how to deadlift last month.
  • Investing heavily in a new superfood juice, vitamin supplement, or special powder harvested with the same technique used by ancient Mayans yet haven’t nailed down the basics of eating mostly whole foods in your day.
  • Toying with advanced nutrition strategies like intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets, and rapid fat loss protocols when you haven’t yet figured out how to consistently eat in a way to create a calorie deficit.
  • Researching the ins and outs of nutrient timing but you’re currently not on top of your calories, macronutrient targets, or eating nourishing foods on a regular basis.

These are just a few examples of times when we over complicate things and fixate on the trees instead of the forest. Sometimes it’s because we are excited and want to belong to the tribe. Plus, squat shoes look kind of bad-ass. We read headlines that tout the benefits of a new supplement or training strategy.

But most of the time, getting faster, stronger, and leaner is a lot simpler than we think. What we typically need more of at first is patience, time, consistency, planning, as well as willingness to dig in and do some hard work.

bigrock

So here’s to keeping things simple. Peek at these lists of the major players before you plunge into the fine details.

If you’re a strength athlete:

  • Have you followed a well-constructed training plan for a solid block of time? I’m not talking weeks – I’m talking months of consistent hard work with a plan to see the fruits of your labor.

If you’re an endurance athlete: 

  • Do you include a progressive strength and power training scheme in your yearly sport planning?
  • Are you eating nutrient dense foods for overall performance and health?
  • Do you appropriately fuel your workouts and understand the roles of protein, carbs, and fats in health and your sport?
  • Do you include workouts for endurance, tempo, and power?
  • Have you spent time building your base, and do you know how and when to plan these workouts in the scope of a training year? If not, the aerobars will not help you enough. Hire a performance coach or get mentoring from more experienced athletes in your sport.  

If you’re losing fat:

  • Have you tracked your calories if you notice that you can’t lose weight?
  • Do you weigh your food to see exactly what you’re taking in?
  • How well honed is your understanding of appropriate portions for your body’s needs, and what kinds of foods will keep you full, fueled, and in a calorie deficit?
  • Do you know how to incorporate more whole foods into your diet?
  • Are you getting adequate protein into your days?

If you want to begin lead a generally healthier life: 

  • Are you exercising regularly most days of the week?
  • Do you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains? If so, high five. If not, start working on these habits instead of worrying about minor supplementation or optimal workout designs.

There is a place for using high-level tactics in your training and nutrition. If you’ve put in the time in your sport and want to squeeze out even more improvement, small tweaks to your training, nutrition, and gear can absolutely help you. If you’re already very lean and want to achieve advanced aesthetic goals, you probably need to investigate some advanced strategies for accomplishing your goals.

Just make sure you haven’t skipped over the steps that make the biggest difference for improving your efforts. Work hard, be smart, and keep things as simple as possible.

5 Things That Prevent You From Being a Consistent Exerciser – And How to Fix Them

chickstrength

Have you ever heard the phrase “consistency is key”?

It’s true. Especially when it comes to improving your body composition, your performance, and your health. It may seem like no big deal to blow off your workouts, but over time, those who reliably put in the time do far better than those who are, well, all over the place. I’d even go so far as to say that WHAT you do matters less than how well you stick to it. Let’s take two workout programs: one really excellent, and one mediocre;  the mediocre one done on a regular basis will likely bring better benefits than the perfect plan that only gets done sometimes.

OK – so you know that it’s important, but you still keep struggling to get ‘er done? I feel you. The hardest part when you’re doing something new is sticking with it long enough to see some benefits that would actually make you feel excited to keep going. It’s those early hurdles that are the biggest. I tripped over them about a million times, by the way. But just like I did, you’ll get over them too.

What I first want you to do is read through these scenarios: you may see your own situation in one or more of them:

  1. Accept that you must practice. You’ll also have to reshuffle and rebuild the life you now lead. Knowing this with your eyes open helps. Makes sense, right? You’ve been going about your life. Now you’re asking yourself to squeeze in a new thing. You’re not accustomed to having to accommodate things like meal prep, calorie logging, or weight lifting sessions several times a week. So first of all, be kind to yourself. But then start building that ritual.

The fix: take a cue from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. Let’s take building the workout ritual as an example. You can tie the things you need to do to things you already do.

10

  • Every morning after you drink your coffee, you put on your gym shoes. That’s one step toward getting out the door.
  • Every evening after you brush your teeth you set out your workout clothes and put together your gym bag. This takes away barriers that may make it feel harder to get to your gym session.
  • You can also try making an appointment for it that holds as much weight as any other commitment. If someone wants to meet, it had better be *really* important to bump the gym meeting you set for yourself.
  • Other tricks include tracking your gym workouts in a log or an app – it feels great to see your progress right in front of you, which in turn helps you keep going.

2. Stop hitting the reset button. We often say “I’ll start next week.” Or Monday. Or even tomorrow. Instead, do something sooner. Maybe it’s improving your next meal. Missed your gym workout? We all have 2 minutes to do a set of pushups at home. When you do something positive for yourself, you reinforce the fact that it’s what we do repeatedly, over time, that makes the biggest impact.

photo credit: Sujan Patel

photo credit: Sujan Patel

The fix: ditch the guilt. Instead, learn from this – ask yourself what got in your way, and what might make that not happen next time. But today is not a loss. Action begets more action.

3. Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good. When we set very high standards for ourselves, excellence can happen. But there’s a difference between striving to be our best and crashing and burning because we fall short of unrealistic expectations.

If you’re skipping workouts because you don’t have time to get in a full session, it wipes out your movement for the day. If you’re setting goals that overwhelm instead of inspire, you may be shortchanging yourself of the opportunity to improve your body, your mind, and your health.

You can train to be awesome without nearly ending yourself.

You can train to be awesome without nearly ending yourself.

The fix: Sometimes when you ease a little pressure off of yourself it can feel way more fun to do those things that will bring you success. When you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be more consistent. And when you become consistent… well, we talked about how awesome that’ll make you. Scale back with some challenging yet realistic goals that enable you to take pleasure in achievement yet don’t set you up for near certain failure.

4. Ask yourself if you feel confident about what you’re doing. In a study of employee motivation, researchers Nohria, Grohnsberg, and Lee found that people are driven by four central needs. 1 One of them is the desire to comprehend. I’ve found that my clients who skip gym sessions regularly are often not too busy to get them done: instead, they either lack confidence or enthusiasm. Often, the enthusiasm comes once they feel like they know what they’re doing.

Log enough time with your new skills and you too will walk like swagger cat.

Log enough time with your new skills and you too will walk like Swagger Cat.

The fix: scale back to tackle what you can absorb right now. Master one workout. Or one new skill, like meal planning, finding new protein sources, or even getting in regular walks or eating an extra veggie per day. Those small successes give you a boost of success and make you physically and mentally feel the benefit of doing good things for your body.

5. Enlist support. At the Strong Fit Pro Summit in Toronto recently, Mark Fisher of Mark Fisher Fitness said “change happens within the context of community”.

Another basic drive we have is one of bonding with others. We want to connect; to be able to get ideas, support, affirmation, and a feeling like people get what we’re trying to do. Besides the bonding of a fitness community, you’ll find accountability. Knowing that people will wonder where you’ve been may make you more likely to get to your regular class or meeting.

Most importantly, when we go to a gym or participate in a program where we feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, we take pride in that. We cherish it. And it helps form our new identity that includes our new actions.

my gym family <3

my gym family <3

The fix: find your people. They may be at a physical gym that embraces newcomers. You may find them in a running club or on a powerlifting team. Or you might even find them in a Facebook group filled with people who are into what you hope to get into more. For me, I find my support, caring, and accountability from my team gym as well as from my coach. My communities have made a gigantic improvement in my commitment to my workouts.

Some might say “you just have to suck it up stop making excuses. But I’ve never much liked that advice. Because as you can see, usually when we make excuses there are underlying needs we have that just aren’t being met. If you’re struggling with building consistency in your fitness routines, take a moment to find your underlying reason – and then start working toward change from a more informed, positive place.

I hope these help you. My fixes are by no means the only useful ones, but they’re some of the “biggies” that I’ve found really make a difference in helping people over those hurdles. The hurdles, which, by the way, you’ll be sailing over in time if you give yourself the opportunity to learn.

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Notes:

  1. Nohria, Nitin, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee. “Employee motivation.”Harvard Business Review 86.7/8 (2008): 78-84.

Can you booze without busting your fitness goals?

photo credit: TowerGirl, flickr

photo credit: TowerGirl, flickr

My girlfriends and I have been not-so-patiently waiting for summer pool and patio weather. Now it’s here. Sweet! A patio night usually includes a few snacks and drinks for us. But if you’re also trying to take care of your gym performance, your body composition, and your overall health, you may be wondering how many, if any adult beverages you can get away with without negative effects.

 
I’m talking more than hangovers – I’m thinking about how our bodies function, how it impacts our metabolism, and more. But before you start wondering if I’m a fun hater, let me assure you: I love having a few drinks as much as the next person. My bro friends have even converted me into a scotch sipper. I blame my pal Robbie Farlow’s “whiskey drinking for newbies guide for that. 
 
But you want to know what alcohol does to your body, if you need to worry about it, and most importantly, how much and how often you can drink and still be full of healthy awesomeness. Read on:
 
Firstly, understand what alcohol is.
In terms of nutrition, the alcohol in your drink has around 7 calories per gram. But it’s coupled with other ingredients too in whatever drink you’re imbibing. Alcohol may provide energy (biologically speaking) but it doesn’t come with any micronutrients that help our bodies do their jobs. It’s the quintessential “empty calorie” item.
 
What happens when you drink the drank.
When you ingest alcohol, your body prioritizes digesting it before anything else you eat or drink. That’s because it can’t be stored within our bodies. That matters because our bodies aren’t processing those other big deal nutrients: fats, carbs, and proteins. So in effect, that’s temporarily slowing down your metabolism.

You’ll also experience swings in your blood sugar, possibly disrupted sleep, temporarily elevated levels of stress hormones, and dehydration.If you’re lifting the weights and putting them down to build muscle, alcohol gets in the way of that too –it temporarily diminishes the ability to repair and build muscle.

The more we drink, the more likely we are to say “eff it” and eat things that pile on extra calories for the day. 2 a.m. pizza, I’m looking at you. 

And finally, of course, and if you drink way too much, you’ll wake up to a hell of a hangover the next day.

hungover

 
So yeah – I think we can agree on those all being pretty terrible for our bodies. But the good news is that an occasional drink won’t derail your overall health. Just like one giant slice of cake won’t either – it’s what we do repeatedly, consistently, over time that creates our body composition, our performance, and our health.
 
How much, how often, and how to?
There is no single “right” answer, but my own advice is this:
 
  1. If having a drink is a nightly habit, consider cutting back to one day per week. If you’re serious about achieving a fitness goal, making alcohol a very minimal part of your life may make a very positive impact on your progress. 
  2. Limit your drinks to just a few when you go out. You’ll still enjoy your friends, make less of an impact on your fitness goals, and be way less likely to make an ass out of yourself.
  3. Once or twice a year, let loose a bit more. Please be safe if you get “turnt”. Call an Uber. But for the vast majority of your days, scale back and be more like a grandma and less like a college kid. Your body will thank you.
  4. Eat a little food with your boozing. You’ll be less likely to unintentionally end up in the #3 scenario.
  5. Regardless of how much you decide to enjoy, drink 1 glass of water between each alcoholic beverage. You’ll feel better the next day.
When I do drink, what should I choose?
If you’re trying to scale back on calories, clear alcohol with seltzer and a twist of fresh fruit is never a bad idea. A glass of wine isn’t that big of a calorie bomb. I also sometimes sip on plain bourbon or scotch because it doesn’t go down quite so quickly. To cut down on calories, avoid drinks with combinations of several alcohols or lots of added sugar. For your next patio party or other summertime fest, try the plum prosecco smash or strawberry spritzer that my friend Cathy Bormann of Fit Des Moines made with me. Watch our video, where we goof off and make summer drinks and snacks (with recipes)!

What’s the lightened up summer treat you like best? Leave a comment and share!

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Make Now, Eat Later: Turkey Sausages with Zucchini and Apple Will Rock Your Breakfast

sausageplayas

Let’s see- a quick and easy breakfast option that we can make on the weekend for brunch but also eat all week long? Sound good? It does to me too. Read on if you’re nodding your head a lot at that. I gotchu, babe. 

My breakfasts have been larger lately – I want to munch on some veggies and a big punch of protein to hold me over until lunch. So I was looking for some ideas to beef up my usual breakfasts of eggs: eggs on greens, eggs in breakfast bowls, eggs on tostadas. Yeah, egg obsessed. Why not add a little turkey to the party? 

Ground turkey breast – whether it’s 93% or 99% lean, is a super resource for getting the job done. In four ounces of turkey you’ll get between 30-35 grams of protein, depending on the fat content of the turkey you choose. It’s low in saturated fat, but it’s also rich in other nutrients, especially B vitamins and several minerals like selenium, zinc, copper, iron, magnesium… and others but you’re probably less interested in THAT and more interested in how to make a tasty, healthy breakfast. 

Yes, turkey meat is valuable in a healthy diet. But it can cook up dry: that’s why adding veggies like zucchini can solve the problem. And add some green stuff to your day to boot. I also added a little apple for extra sweetness, and because apple pairs so naturally with sausage. 

Wondering why the hell anyone would make their own turkey breakfast sausage? After all, there are plenty at the grocery store – and if you dig those, that’s just fine. But I think they taste underwhelming. OK, I really think they just taste like sadness. So I made my own. Here’s the kicker though: they take a bit of time to prepare, so save them for a weekend. Cook up a giant batch, freeze them, and then pop them into the microwave to reheat them when you need them. 

You can just eat them on their own, chop them up into an egg scramble, throw on an egg sandwich, or onto a breakfast salad. Or in a taco, because everything is better in a taco. 

Here’s how it’ll work.

Here are the players for today.

Here are the players for today. Yassss. 

You'll chop up and lightly saute some apples.

You’ll chop up and lightly saute some apples.

You'll mix up all of that meat. It'll look gross.

You’ll mix up all of that meat. It’ll look gross.

You'll use a scoop to make uniform patties. I can't say turkey balls. Well, because.

You’ll use a scoop to make uniform patties. I can’t say turkey balls. Well, because.

pattiesuncooked

Get all the patties ready for action before beginning to cook them.

You’ll saute them in a nonstick skillet or griddle for 3-4 minutes per side.

You'll make them a bit bigger than I did if you want them to look less silly on your breakfast sandwich. Ooops.

You’ll make them a bit bigger than I did if you want them to look less silly on your breakfast sandwich. Ooops. 

I wanted a LOT of patties because then I could use them more easily at will in recipes. Mine made 34 little guys. But you could easily just make them a bit bigger – it won’t really change the cooking time. Let me know how you like these!

 

Apple Zucchini Turkey Breakfast Sausages
Yields 34
A healthy breakfast staple made more flavorful with zucchini, apple, garlic, and spices.
Write a review
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1.5 tsp fennel seeds
  2. A few pinches of allspice
  3. 2 tsp rubbed/ground dried sage or 2 TBSP freshly chopped
  4. 2 tsp dried thyme
  5. 1.5 tsp kosher salt
  6. 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  7. 4 scallions, white and light green parts, finely chopped
  8. 4 cloves of garlic
  9. 3 Tbsp real maple syrup
  10. 2 pounds 93% lean ground turkey breast
  11. 1/2 cup zucchini, grated
  12. 1 cup peeled and diced apple
  13. Nonstick spray (I like olive oil)
Instructions
  1. 1. In a pan over medium heat, spray nonstick spray in pan and lightly saute the diced apples to soften them a bit. This should take 3-4 minutes tops.
  2. 2. In a big bowl, combine the apple with the remaining ingredients. Just dump it all in and mix it together with your hands.
  3. 3. Make your patties. I used a 1.5 inch scoop to make patties that ended up being quite small.
  4. 4. Heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Spray your pan with nonstick spray and add the patties, leaving plenty of space between them. Cook 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a plate. Continue with the remaining batches of turkey patties.
  5. 5. Eat!
Notes
  1. When the turkey patties are cool, you can put them between wax paper layers in a container and pop that into the freezer. Boom. Turkey sausages all week long.
Adapted from Eating in the Middle
Adapted from Eating in the Middle
Amy Dix http://amydix.com/
 Nutrition Info Per Patty
Calories: 45|Protein: 5g|Fat: 2g|Carbs 2g

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Cheat days, sucky diets, and how to end the struggle between fun and fat loss.

buddybinges

A client recently asked me about cheat days. Is a scheduled day of eating whatever we want, with abandon, a helpful thing or a bad thing? So I shook those ideas around in my head awhile. My initial thought was no no no, don’t do a cheat day. And I rattled off a list to myself of reasons:

Because saying that you’re cheating makes you feel like you screwed up, even if you gave yourself permission to eat things that don’t support your nutrition goals if eaten too often or in large quantities. 

Because cheat days or even cheat meals often lead to overindulgence, tummy aches, bad feelings, and may yank us right out of the calorie range we were intending to manage our weight.

Because cheat days can reinforce a restricting and binging cycle that derails progress and feels miserable.

Because when you really think about it, are there really “good” and “bad” foods? Perhaps there are less emotionally-loaded terms to describe more and less nutritious food. 

Because looking at our nutrition management as something we turn on or off might rob us of an opportunity to develop a happier relationship with the food that we eat. 

When we unpack these observations, we reveal complicated ideas about the psychology of eating behaviors. They show us how easy it is to feel conflicted and burdened by managing how we eat on a daily basis. In short, we ascribe way too much moral value to how we eat. And that screws with us.

Our awareness of them matters. But I think what most people really want to know is far simpler:

How do I achieve my aesthetic/performance/health goals while still getting to eat the things that might make nailing those goals more challenging?

In other words…

Is there a way to have fun and still be a lean, healthy, and sexy motherfucker?

whynotboth

It’s the conflict: the wanting of two things that sometimes appear incongruent.

But maybe they’re not exactly incompatible: we just have to learn to mesh them in ways that help us get where we want to be with both our health goals as well as our fun goals.

A few issues typically arise when we’re dieting:

  1. I’m so honnnngry.
  2. All the stuff I crave is the stuff that I feel like I can’t have.
  3. I’m tired of thinking about this and want to relax ffs.
  4. I don’t know how to eat just one cookie. I feel out of control unless I’m 100% “on”.

Let’s work on each of these:

I want to eat all the things. My diet sucks.
Hunger is such a drag. Yet if we’re operating in a calorie deficit to lose weight, some hunger is normal. That doesn’t make it any less irksome.

Hunger isn’t always a terrible thing: we won’t immediately implode if we feel that gnawing sensation. But if we constantly have to fight it, we’re more likely to give up on dieting as well as find ourselves overindulging when we just can’t even anymore. If you’re always hungry, make sure you’re doing a few big things:

  1. Get more protein, yo: packing more protein into meals and snacks curbs hunger. Fat is said to do the same thing, but personally I’ve found that higher protein meals coupled with fiber-rich carbs do the job smashingly well.
  2. Choosing whole foods most of the time. Yeah, processed meals are convenient. And remember, no foods are “bad”. But if they make it harder to stay full, choosing fewer highly refined, “fluffy” foods and more filling fruits, veggies, and lean proteins will make you less hangry.
  3. Stashing a few secret weapon snacks in your arsenal for days when you feel extra hungry. Sometimes we’re hungry because we’re bored, stressed, tired, or just need extra fuel. That doesn’t change the fact that we wanna eat. Try waiting for just a bit before you decide to eat: sometimes the feeling passes. Still need food in your belly but you know you’ve already had quite a bit of food for the day? Don’t starve yourself. Instead, start with some “low impact” foods: a few of my favorites are flavored seltzer water, egg white crepes, air-popped popcorn, fresh berries, and pickles. They also seem to satisfy cravings – fizzy, savory, sweet, or salty.

I have to get all these whole foods like veggies and lean protein into my days which leaves, like, no room for margaritas and tacos. My diet sucks.
First of all, how lean are you already? Going from healthy to shredded requires some additional skills and mindset that we’ll get to. But for most people who start out overweight, it’s easier than you’d think to make room for some “fun” stuff. And I’ll get to teaching you how in a second. But first ask yourself this:

Think about what you can add to your plates instead of what you have to take away. 

When we begin to try new foods that are both fat loss friendly and actually taste good to us, it’s easier to become excited about developing healthier habits. Instead of struggling to avoid things we want, if we get lots of foods that we like yet still do a bang up job of meeting our health needs, it’s mentally easier at first. Then we want more of them, because we notice that we feel better. Soon, we find that we’re jonesing for junk food less often. This takes time. But it will happen.

On the days when I still want some of those big treats that don’t easily fit into my plan, I use a few key tactics you can snag for yourself:

  1. if you know you are going to have that margarita and taco, load up on mostly filling veggies and lean protein earlier in the day, eating enough to not hurl yourself into that meal already feeling ravenous. Vacations, special dinners, and other outings give you the opportunity to both relax and practice alternative strategies for having fun while still eating in a way that serve your long-term goals.
  2. If you really need a “mental health” day with less monitoring of your intake, you can eat a bit less on the days surrounding the event. I see it as creating balance instead of going “off program”. I’ve never had a free for all because I never felt like I needed one. No food was off limits. I didn’t feel guilty for eating cake or pizza. Sure, I might have mused that I would enjoy some more of it, but I didn’t spiral out of control because going off plan from time to time was always part of the plan.

We begin to have fun and eat in a way that helps us rock our goals. And over time, we develop habits that are neither completely focused on nutrition nor lead us to eat like a frat boy on a bender. We hang out in a mentally healthier middle ground.

Lean A.F.
When you get to a place where you’re already at a healthy body weight yet want to diet your way down to “super lean” you have a lot less wiggle room for “yolo” meals and days, depending on what timeline you have set for your goals. Figure competitors, bodybuilders, or just people who have dreams of a particular bod for themselves may encounter this issue. That’s fine. But at this point, I think it’s helpful to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

What’s your “happy” weight? Is it sustainable? Is it worth it to you to keep yourself on a tight leash in order to get dem abz?

There’s really no right answer. However, during the period in which I started leaning out hard just to see if I could do it, my mindset played a pivotal role in the choices I made. Still, there is room for moderation. I recall Sohee Lee’s piece on her own figure competition prep, when she ate a Snicker’s bar every day to prove a point: there’s no reason to completely deny yourself foods that you enjoy. You’ll end up sticking with your plans a hell of a lot longer and be less likely to binge yourself into oblivion.

I feel like gatherings are no longer about gatherings and instead I have to go in with a damn rulebook in order to just hang at dinner. And then I eat something less than spectacular while my buddies are pounding wings and chugging beers like they have not a care in the world about it. My diet sucks.
This is the reason that days of not tracking are a good thing. Coming to a place where we don’t view ourselves as being “on” or “off” is pretty damn important. We can begin to relax and yet still pay attention to how full we feel. We can eat nachos and stop when we’ve had enough. And we can eat things that nourish our bodies most of the time: we will know that on those days when we want to kick back and not think so hard, we’ll have put money in the bank towards long term weight management.

My colleagues and I gathered at The Fitness Summit last weekend. We all drank a lot more than we normally do. We ate a lot of bbq and cookies. But we all knew that on Monday morning we’d be back to the usual. And these occasions, for most of us, are not a frequent thing. As a result, they don’t matter even a little in the grand scheme of our body composition.

I do so well all week long and then I lose control.
You’re not alone. Be kind to yourself. Learning to balance food as pleasure and purpose is a skill that we have to practice.

Most often I see this occur with people who restrict themselves most severely. The people who come in with pre-conceived ideas about foods they should and shouldn’t eat seem more likely to go off the rails because they work so hard at being perfect all week long.

Maybe Sohee’s daily Snickers trial would be good for many of us – what would we experience if we took the edge off of cravings or if we took the label of “ilicit” off of a food? If we know that we can most likely fit some of it into our lives whenever we want, would we be less likely to go overboard?

For some, there will always be foods that seem to be really hard to moderate. Sometimes it’s okay to put controls on how often and how much of them you put on your path. That’s okay too. I’m looking at you, homemade coconut brown butter cookies.

So to summarize: cheating on a diet? Nah. If we see our nutrition as part of our overall lives and take away some of the power of food to dictate our worth, we don’t need to cheat. We just live our lives, with both health and pleasure as part of the big picture. Our ideal health has room for all the reasons that we sit down to a meal.

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High Protein Spiced Banana Baked Oatmeal

baked oatmealI woke up needing banana bread. So much needing. But banana bread is one of those treats that calls to me all day long and  I know before long I’d eat the whole thing. Then my kids would look at me bitterly. And also, I needed some filling oats and protein to keep me going until lunchtime.

As it turns out, baked oatmeal does a pretty bang-up job of both filling my belly and tasting like a breakfast treat. I took a risk with vanilla protein powder. Sometimes it ruins recipes with the funky taste. But not here.

It’s also remarkably low in calories per generous serving: mine came in at 241 kcal and 19.6 grams of protein for 1/4 of the pie. It boosts potassium from the banana and filling fiber too. I sprinkled on a few walnuts that my kids painstakingly picked off. If you don’t have to endure this, toss some inside the mix. Or add peanut butter. Or pb2.

Fancy bananas on the top are just for pretty but they do give you an extra hit of banana flavor. I caramelized mine in a nonstick skillet for just a few minutes while the oatmeal finished baking. Yum yum.

High Protein Spiced Banana Baked Oatmeal
Print Recipe
A higher protein, fiber filled baked oatmeal masquerading as banana bread. Adapted from Southern in Law blog.
Servings Prep Time
4 people 5 minutes
Passive Time
22 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 people 5 minutes
Passive Time
22 minutes
High Protein Spiced Banana Baked Oatmeal
Print Recipe
A higher protein, fiber filled baked oatmeal masquerading as banana bread. Adapted from Southern in Law blog.
Servings Prep Time
4 people 5 minutes
Passive Time
22 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 people 5 minutes
Passive Time
22 minutes
Ingredients
Optional Toppings
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Coat a pie plate or 8x8 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Or lightly coat with oil or butter. Set aside.
  3. Mash banana in a medium mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients except for the egg whites and mix well.
  4. Whisk the egg whites lightly in a small bowl until frothy. Then fold into the oatmeal batter. I use this technique with pancakes and even if they're not whipped fully, I think this makes the oatmeal a bit fluffier.
  5. Pour into your pan and bake for 22-27 minutes, until fairly firm and lightly brown around the edges. I took mine out at 22 and the oats were still soft. Just the way i like 'em. If you want yours firmer and more cake like, add a few more minutes.
Recipe Notes

Nutrition info:
(before toppings)

241kcal|19.6g protein|2g fat|33g carbs|4g fiber|11g sugar

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Could this nutrition buzzword be killing your fat loss goals?

healthycookiewhat

I just told my business coach, a.k.a “harsh taskmaster,” that I was busy doing research for an article. And by research, I mean baking cookies. I wasn’t exactly lying, because I baked these cookies to confirm my hunch about something. It’s about the idea of “healthy food”.

I kind of hate the word healthy. Ok, that’s not completely true – it’s an okay word to describe things that help our bodies live longer and better. Nothing wrong with that, right? But the word is used so often and so broadly that it’s not all that helpful to us – especially for managing our body comp. Want to lose fat or keep yourself from gaining it? You probably consciously think about eating “healthy food”.

But what does that mean, exactly?

It took screwing around on social media looking for recipes to realize that many of us don’t have a clear picture of what “healthy” means as it relates to managing our weight. I saw breakfasts full of wonderful, nutrient rich ingredients that were also 500 kcal or more and mostly carbohydrate with little to no protein. If you’re trying to lose fat, that may not be the best breakfast option.

I also saw recipes labeled similarly that contained staggering amounts of coconut oil and high calories to boot. Interestingly, the search also turned up an images of a really bizarre, glowing picture of an intestine coupled with a woman in a sports bra. Yeah, “healthy” on social media can get pretty weird.

wut

Mostly, I found recipes for baked goods that looked so pretty and yet seemed virtuous. I mean, the caption always reads something like “no sugar treat” or “yummy fat loss snack!”

So I made some cookies. Here was my inspiration:

oatmealpinterestcookie

Hmmm. The caption says “sugar free”. I found the recipe while searching for ‘healthy’. Who wouldn’t want a healthy cookie? Or any cookie? Check out these ingredients though:

-3 bananas
-a half cup of raisins

This recipe isn’t sugar free. Sugar isn’t something to get your knickers in a knot about, by the way. It’s the total amount of sugar that we have in our diets that matters most. But bananas have sugar. And raisins are not only very concentrated sources of calories, they almost always contain added sugar.

Still, fruit is also coupled with fiber and nutrients that make it an excellent part of our diet.

However, the recipe also seems woefully lacking in basic components of a baked good. Where’s the leavener like baking powder or soda? Why aren’t there any binders like egg, even if the recipe’s author chooses to leave out fat? Fats aren’t the enemy of good health either. But they’re high in calories and eating too much of them, just like too much sugar, isn’t wonderful for our bodies. Moderating them can help both our calorie balance as well as our health. We don’t have to avoid them entirely.

Beyond lacking “truth in advertising”, these cookies sounded pretty terrible. So of course I had to bake them to see if these could actually work.

At the same time, I wondered how they would stack up in terms of both nutrition and flavor with my favorite oatmeal raisin cookie recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook. To make my experiment as sciencey and fair as possible, I used the same 2 inch scoop to make uniform cookies and logged all the nutrition info into my recipe creator on Myfitnesspal.

Any guesses on my results?

Here’s how they came out:
comparingcookies

In my bake off, the two cookies were nearly identical in calorie count – close enough for me, at least.

“Healthy” cookie nutrition: 117kcal|29.6g carbs|2.5g protein|.9g fat|9.5 g fiber|7.9g sugars

“Decadent bakery cookie” nutrition: 138 kcal|21.5g carb|1.8g protein|.9g fiber|13.7g sugars

Where they diverge the most is in fiber count – with the extra fruit and whole grain, the Pinterest recipe had an impressive amount of fiber for one cookie, as well as less overall sugar than its traditional counterpart. The banana also gave the cookie a good boost of potassium.

So what’s the problem? It tastes like… I’m not sure I can fully describe to you just how bad this cookie tastes. There’s no sweetness, despite it containing so much fruit. It tastes almost like nothing, and the texture is just awful: it’s gummy and rubbery and when I threw it against the wall, it bounced back onto the plate. That can’t be good, right?

Meanwhile, the Flour bakery cookie tastes like a perfect oatmeal cookie: lightly perfumed with nutmeg and cinnamon, chewy in the middle and crusty around the edges. Mmm, cookies.

The real deal is this: if I really need some fiber, I can think of about 10 things I’d rather eat than “healthy cookies”: a banana, a bowl of raspberries, or some oatmeal. In fact, I’d rather eat a plate of kale than this cookie. It’s that terrible.

Cookies have ingredients like sugar, eggs, and butter for a reason: they make cookies taste good. They’re not meant to supply us with our vitamins and minerals. They’re supposed to be a treat. So from my day of cookie adventures, I’ll share the biggest takeaways:

  • Be wary of “sugar free” and “healthy” labels on recipes. While many recipes labeled this way may have good nutrition, they can be just as high or higher in calories as anything else. Eating them with abandon with the perception that they’re good for us can impact our weight.
  • Calling something a healthy treat may lead us to overindulge because we perceive that it’s good for us.
  • The differences nutritionally between cookie imposters and the real deal may be more minimal than we think.
  • For fat loss, calories still matter the most.
  • If you’re going to eat a cookie, make it a really good one: raisins optional. Have some spinach on the side if you’re looking for more whole foods.

I’ll be pawning off cookies for a few days now.

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