When Life Shuts You Down (damage control included)

I haven’t worked out in 4 weeks, or if I did workout, it wasn’t a full session.

I haven’t cooked or meal prepped for 3 weeks and my dishwasher didn’t get ran once.

And I ate two miniature birthday cakes over the past 2 weeks.

The cake I ate this week.

The miniature cake….

My life got crazy; my house is sold and I have to move in 30 days.  My long time boyfriend and I are going our separate ways…..(some of you are familiar with him, as I referenced his expertise a lot).  Much of what I knew and loved in my simple but comfortable life is now gone.

So what did I do to overcome this devastation and hurt?  I slept.  Well, I went to work and then slept when I got home.  Sleep is great in the sense that you temporarily can’t feel any emotional pain AND your brain can turn off for a bit.  My brain doesn’t turn off in general, so throw some negative life events at it and WHOAH.  Give me some melatonin and let’s put me outta my misery!

What happened to my fitness level and body composition over the past month?  NOTHING.

Yes, that’s right.  I actually am still as strong as I was (tested out some strict pressing and chin ups yesterday and was pleasantly surprised).  I likely lost a few pounds because I wasn’t taking part in my mindless pleasureful snacking (because I was asleep a lot and not in a pleasure-zone).

Whew, I look the same! Damage averted.

Although this “life lesson” is not what I wanted to happen, I want to share it with you.  I’m sharing it only because I want you to know is that as much as some of you panic when you miss a workout or have ONE bad week  — when you think that you will gain fat, lose strength and ruin all of your goals — that is nonsense.  Not even the fitness professionals we look up to can keep up the perfect routine and diet 365 days per year.  You have to allow yourself to go through life events, good and bad.  Live, relax and simply allow your fitness/food routine to complement your life, not be your life.

I care very much about my health but my emotions and energy levels were drained.  And that was okay.  I had a faint voice saying “Get up!  Go unleash on a workout, do it!  Go throw some weights around!”  But that voice was too faint.  I’m not that person.  That’s not how I deal with being upset.

However, I’m back at it now, getting into a new groove!

A Few Helpful Things To Do When You Are Drained and Off-Course:

  1. Take your supplements.  My meals (if you can call them that) were lacking nutritional value, so I made an effort to take my multi-vitamins, fish oil and powdered greens (in almond milk).
  2. Get sleep.  Yes, I slept a lot.  But if you have a fighting chance to make it to work, take care of your kids, pack your home for a move, etc….you need real, 8 hours a night sleep.  Not just that “I’m so upset I’m going to lay on the couch after work” sleep.
  3. Walk.  If you can’t visualize killing a high intensity conditioning session or going for a PR in your deadlift, at least try to get in some walking.
  4. Yoga/stretch.  It was nice to get a good stretch on and work on some mobility.  Even if it was only for 5 or 10 minutes.

I write with a message to give yourself permission to go through stress and adversity with or without your fitness and diet regime in tact.  I want you to be fine with the fact that you missed a class or workout.  Be fine with the fact that you ate some less than nutritious foods.  As long as you don’t forever lose site of your health routine, do what you are feeling during adverse times, not what you THINK you should be doing.

Life is definitely a journey — I feel fortunate for each and every day — so I really want to get back to it.  It’s been an eventful past 4 weeks but life can’t be a ball of fun everyday — it definitely is a box of chocolates though.  You never know what you’re gonna get!  (Couldn’t help myself).

Enjoy the journey and have fun when you can!

Enjoy the journey and have fun when you can!

Hoping you all have a ball of fun on most days —— cheers.  xoxo

~Melissa

Opinion: IIFYM

My macros

My macros

My boyfriend's macros

My boyfriend’s macros

A few weeks ago on my Facebook page, I asked what people would like to know more about in regards to nutrition.  One of my very disciplined and fit friends threw out the topic of IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros).  As an excited and newly certified nutrition coach, I welcomed researching this topic and comparing it my current knowledge and practices.

As a disclaimer, I will say that I’m very much from the school of different nutrition plans work for different people.  We all have different physiological traits, activity levels, lifestyles and food preferences/tolerances.  How could I ever beat the drum on just one plan?  With that being said, this piece is simply an opinion and overview of how this may or may not work for certain people.

IIFYM Summary

For those not familiar with IIFYM, this nutrition plan works within a certain number of calories per person each day based on BMR (basal metabolic rate) and activity level.  It then takes those calories and gives a universal guideline of breaking down each macronutrient into grams (or calories), factoring in no nutrient timing or micronutrients.  Macronutrients (macros) are your proteins, carbohydrates and fats.  Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

Once you have your calorie total, you break into macro categories in the form of grams.  The IIFYM’s calculator helps you figure all of this out (link to calculator found in next section).

The appeal of this plan is giving you a basic guideline but allowing for FLEXIBLE food choices.  And flexible here means choosing ANYTHING you want to eat…if it fits into YOUR macros. The theory is that less restriction and stress, usually leads to success when it comes to sticking with a long-term diet plan.  Because let’s face it, it’s ridiculously hard to adhere to a strict food choice guideline when you are on vacation, have a pot-luck lunch day at work, go to the movies or attend holiday gatherings.  IIFYM planning allows for eating basically whatever you want in those settings.

Okay, so what are YOUR macros?

Great question, right?  I asked the same one — so to figure it out, I used two different IIFYM calculators (one very basic and one more customized).  The first result is what I would call irresponsible recommendations (www.dailyburn.com’s version).  It does a strict breakdown of 40% carbs, 40% proteins and 20% fats.  This yielded the following macro requirements, based on my current activity level of moderate and at 35 years old, 5’4″ and 138 pounds (I don’t weigh myself, so this is a guestimate on my weight):

  • Total Daily Calories: 2088
  • Protein: 208.8 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 208.8 grams
  • Fats: 46.4 grams

My first thought – Cool!  I can eat over 2000 calories everyday, that’s new (according to everything I’ve ever calculated in the recent past).

My second thought – Holy protein and carbohydrates, that can’t be right.  And that fat recommendation seems a bit low.

I did then go back and use the IIFYM calculator on the iifym.com site (http://iifym.com/iifym-calculator/).  This has better customization settings, brought my protein requirements down but had my carbohydrates still quite high, at first glance.  However, I then realized that carbohydrates are not necessarily only the stereotypical “starchy carbs” — vegetables and fruits are technically carbohydrates.  So perhaps the carbohydrate recommendation isn’t so terrible.

IFFYM.com Results for a Goal of Fat Loss:

CARBS PROTEIN FAT FIBER CALORIES
GRAMS per day 195.2 110.4 55.2 28 – 35 1719

How It Applies and Why People Kinda Sorta Love It

Now that I know my macros, I can feel wild and free — no more stressful food options, just keep those macros at the forefront………………

Protein – so this one is hard to really “mess up” — there are few “bad” protein options out there.  For me though, lunch meat vs. steak — steak wins that nutritional battle.  But according to this plan, you can eat the fattier protein types (because you just calculate the fat into your daily macro-fat category).  So if you eat 8 oz. of pulled pork that will take up 11 grams of the fat your are “allowed” each day — but it’s okay, it’s part of your protein/fats choice.  And choices is what this is all about.

Fats – IIFYM encourages eating healthy fats but doesn’t make this a strict guideline.  Therefore, if you really wanted to, all of your fat can be saturated or trans fat.  Which makes me cringe.  Your body needs all fat types and specifically needs omega-3 fats, which we get less easily from our everyday food sources.

Carbohydrates – oh this is where it gets a wee bit tricky.  On this plan, I can eat sweet potatoes, french fries, donuts, rice, ice cream, quinoa, lentils, cake, brocoli, licorice, fruit……………………..and the list goes on and on.  Does that list seem to make total sense?  To me, as a nutrition coach, it does not.  Primarily because I find micronutrients to be very, very important to the overall balance and health of our bodies.  Your body is an amazing machine that constantly seeks balance in it’s energy and PH levels, as well as needs maximum cellular health.  To achieve this, we must feed it the proper energy amounts (calories) and also proper nutrition (micronutrients).  So often you hear of people that have deficiencies that affect their overall health and they are asked to take supplements or eat more of certain nutrient dense foods.  And for those of you interested in “keeping your metabolism high”, your body needs to be in balance.  IIFYM really doesn’t encourage this, but does leave room to incorporate it, if you make solid choices.

What I Like About IIFYM 

  1. Flexibilty.  (gasp) Yes, the whole premise is what I like.  Where I see myself incorporating the IIFYM plan into my daily life is what I already do now…if I know it’s “popcorn night” with my boyfriend, I am mindful of my caloric intake leading up to this.  I also know that on a day I eat my dark chocolate bar or eat my weekly post-volleyball ice cream, that I need to account for that into my daily intake — they aren’t “freebies” and I don’t do “cheat meals.”  So in this case, IIFYM works for me on those days I have extra foods that aren’t part of my normal nutritional intake.

2.  Food Guilt Destroyer – IIFYM can lessen that evil “food guilt” feeling, as well.  So many of us suffer from feeling food guilt and IIFYM basically tells us that there is no such thing.  #winning

3.  Psychology with Fat Loss Clients –  may have a place for a person who is overweight and seeking fat loss as the major first goal towards a healthy lifestyle.  From a psychological standpoint, in the first phase of coaching someone that has a lack of will power with food choices — namely in difficult settings (weddings, parties, restaurants), this can work for them.  AT FIRST.  As a coach, I’d phase them into making overall nutrient dense food choices, as opposed to just any food choices that fit their macros.

What I Don’t Like About IIFYM

  1.  Assumes all calories are equal.  Okay, so a calorie is simply a unit of energy, but the make up of that energy does matter in the long run.  IIFYM does not incorporate micronutrients to the level that I would prefer.  On the iifym.com website, they encourage healthy choices in some of the forum/FAQ sections but definitely don’t embrace it.  This is to keep that “flexibility” that is so popular about their plan.
  2. Carbohydrates are in one big box.  Ahhhhh, maybe the worst thing of this plan in my opinion.  Yes, again, calories are simply an energy source and if you don’t put more calories into your body than your body needs, you should either maintain body composition or lose fat.  However, there is a big difference in digesting a high fiber, nutrient dense vegetable versus a plate of pasta.  That pasta is pure fuel for either an intense work out/endurance event or it’s assisting in fueling the body’s muscle repair after a heavy workout session.  Otherwise, that amount of pure starchy carb energy entering the body on a daily basis can end up being stored as fat.  Unless you are that controlled with calorie/macro counting and hit your activity level/intensity entered into the IIFYM calculator with such precision…….which leads me to my next “dislike.”
  3. Activity Intensity/Timeframe & Nutrient Timing – activity type is not taken into account, which may be a bit more minor, but in my experience, it matters.  An endurance athlete has a much more different nutrition protocol surrounding their activity as opposed to a weight lifter.  For example, I often do my strength workouts on a fast (have not eaten for past 12-16 hours).  My workouts are typically a total of 45-60 minutes.  I do not feel faint or weak and my body has a long caloric burn period post-workout.  A person running a 10K will definitely need to eat proper energy prior to setting out on their run, which may take them 40 – 60 minutes.  They would likely feel faint at some point had they set out on that run on a 16 hour fast; they will also not continue to burn as many calories post-run as I would post-lifting.  So when you calculate activity level AND nutrient timing – activity type can be very indicative of calories used and needed.
  4. Macro/Calorie Tracking.  Personally, this is where I can’t be bothered in my real life in the long run.  A diet should be maintained for the long term.  Tracking calories is not something I see myself doing everyday for the next 20 years of my life.  However, I am VERY mindful of the basic caloric value of what I’m eating.  I do not calculate or count.  It’s merely impossible to know.  Especially at work events — you go to lunch with a client, do you ask the waiter for the caloric breakdown of your meal?  No, no you do not.  And unless you are in the state of New York, where they are required to put calories on the menu……you may be out of luck.  Oh but wait, the calories alone don’t help you understand the macro breakdown of your food, anyhow.  Nonetheless, I do get the feeling that IIFYM plan assumes that the person has a basic overall knowledge of food composition.  Which now leads me to my last point…….
  5. Lack of Knowledge.  IF you have a solid knowledge base of foods/macros, you can probably be very successful with IIFYM.  You can adjust on weeks you miss some workouts and have a basic idea of the macro breakdown of most foods.  However, if you don’t fall into the aforementioned category, you do not have a nutrition coach, do not have a background in nutrition/exercise education and are getting your advice from magazines and your friends (that are not educated)……this plan can go very wrong for you.  It encourages food choices being a free-for-all when that is just simply dangerous, in my opinion.

My Conclusion

IIFYM can be a successful diet to follow if you are educated in the field of nutrition, have a nutrition coach or have the basic understanding that the carbohydrate portion of IIFYM is not a daily eat cake/pizza/french fries plan.

The “original” IIFYM experiment might just be the 2004 documentary “Super Size Me”.  This is the experiment where a science teacher only ate McDonald’s for 90 days and loses 37 pounds.  However, he actually ate oatmeal, salads and one value meal everyday.  He made smart choices within the many poor menu options he was faced with.

The official IIFYM macros website is a source of SOME information but withholds a lot of guidance in an attempt to have you sign up for their coaching.  Which hey, that’s a good business move, I’m not hating — and that could help with navigating some of my above “dislikes” of the plan.

In conclusion, if YOU are comfortable with what you know about nutrition and/or have someone to help coach and guide you — then go with IIFYM.  It truly is a guilt-free plan, which is pretty awesome.  Life is too short to be restricted and stressed about food.  Food is fuel AND a source of essential nutrition — but it is also supposed to be enjoyed!

Cheers to a great week!

~Meliss

References: 

http://dailyburn.com/life/health/if-it-fits-your-macros-iifym-diet/

http://iifym.com/

Precision Nutrition: The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition: Certification Manual, 2nd Ed.

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/super-slim-mcdonald-diet-leads-weight-loss-man-article-1.1566465

The Bikini Rebellion Movement

Good Evening!

I write to you all today, live from the Amtrak regional train, en route back to New York from the lovely and beautiful beaches of Newport, RI.  Today I played my first beach volleyball doubles tournament in 3 summers.

I mention my activities to you, because when one plays in a tournament ON THE BEACH, one typically wears a sport BIKINI.  Oh lawdy, the thought of running and diving in a bikini is really quite mortifying.  Unless you are 12% body fat, something is jiggling during these spectacular acts of athleticism.  It just is.

Oh to be in a bikini all day in front of strangers...

Oh to be playing  in a bikini all day in front of strangers…

But on the heels of completing my first week of Neghar Fonooni’s Bikini Rebellion (search for #bikinirebellion on Instagram for examples), I coped with my insecurity a bit better today.

Instead of having total body envy of some of the women and body shaming thoughts of some others, I just didn’t focus on it as much.  Now, did I see some shredded females, tall females with legs I’d kill for?  Oh sure.  But it didn’t eat at me, like usual.  Often I’d have thoughts of “If I just were more disciplined, I’d look like her….if I stopped eating so many sweets, I’d look like her….”

Today I accepted myself for where I am now in life and know that I can make changes moving forward if I want. But today was about volleyball on the beach with my friend.  It wasn’t a day to loathe in selfishness about my body image obsession (which is improving every day now).

I also am happy with myself for not body shaming.  Yes, folks, I have had thoughts inside my head that were judgmental at times.  I’m not perfect but I’m working on being a better person.  Like who am I to judge?  I’m not perfect and can be judged too — and would be so devastated if I knew someone was judging every ounce of fatty area on my body.  So instead, today I felt proud of all of us ladies for getting out on the beach, brave enough to bare our skin AND do athletic movements where we are vulnerable to all spectators around us.

As I get older, I know that life is too short to constantly worry about how large my thighs are or how I shouldn’t have eaten something that I did.  I do enjoy working on daily practices of healthy habits, but am okay with not living by restriction and rules.

This day is too gorgeous to worry about thigh size and fat percentages!

This day is too gorgeous to worry about thigh size and fat percentages!

With all of this being said, the mantra of this week with the #bikinirebellion challenge on Instagram is to really love your body always, no matter what phase of life you are in.  Know that you can make changes but don’t worry about what others think.  Be present and stop waiting to lose weight/fat to be happy with yourself.

Alright, here is my pitch to you all.  It’s not too late to join the rebellion!  Click here for details and to sign up:  http://www.negharfonooni.com/2015/06/04/bikini-rebellion/

It has legitimately helped me…and ask my boyfriend if he’s tired of hearing me body shame myself………………he’s grateful for the Neghar challenge!

I truly hope you will join or at least search for the hashtag to get inspired by others.

Be well and confident,

~Melissa

Simple Recipes for the Grill

Good Morning!

As it is Saturday, almost summertime and you may be hosting picnics and BBQs soon, it seems only appropriate to write about grilling today.  Tis the season!  Not that you can’t grill year round, as my boyfriend will put on snow boots just to grill a steak in the winter, but I’m admittedly not that dedicated.  Nonetheless, grilling is a great cooking technique that is healthy in the sense that you aren’t adding a lot of extra calories through cooking oils and sauces, etc.  It also just brings a new and unique taste to some of our common food choices.

I always thought grilling was difficult and tended to stay away from it.  My parents both would grill quite a bit in the summertime, but I never cared to learn, just wanted to eat.  Then I started to get a little more ambitious and purchased a small propane grill for my back deck one year.  And I discovered grilling was for the most part REALLY EASY and SUPER TASTY.

So you can either turn on the Food Network right now and get some extremely advanced grilling advice and recipes — or you can keep on reading and I’ll bring you some simplified but favorite grilling recipes so far this grilling season:

Grilled Romaine

  • 2 Hearts of Romaine
  • Light dressing of your choice (caesar or any vinaigrette)
  • Parmesan or Asiago cheese shreds
  • Salt/pepper to taste

Slice the romaine hearts in half (long ways); drizzle dressing on them.  Place on grill for a few minutes, up to 5-6 at the most.  Remove from the grill, sprinkle with cheese and salt/pepper.  Serve.

Note:  I like to chop up my romaine after grilling so that it is like a warm salad.  Many serve it halved and cut it as they go.  

Pork Tenderloin

  • Pork tenderloin
  • Marinade of choice

Marinade your pork tenderloin for up to 24 hours, however a few hours will do.

Use the 7-6-5 technique.  You will need some sort of stopwatch or timer.  I use the stopwatch function on my phone:

  • Place the tenderloin on the grill, fat side up, over high heat.  Do not place directly in the flame area of the grill.  Leave for 7 minutes.
  • Turn the tenderloin to the other side (fatty side) and leave for 6 minutes.
  • Turn the heat off of the grill and let it rest inside the hot grill, for 5 more minutes.
  • Slice and serve
  • Note:  If your tenderloin is larger than usual or very thick at one end, you may want to add a minute to each of the above steps.  

Tuna Steak

wpid-20150413_191024.jpg

  • 1 filet of tuna
  • 1/4 cup Liquid aminos
  • 1 tbsp Minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Black pepper (a few dashes)

Marinade – mix all above ingredients (not the tuna though, doh); pour into a ziplock baggie and add in the tuna filet.  Refridgerate for 1 hour.

Grilling it – I prefer my tuna fairly rare, therefore I place it on high heat on the grill for 90 seconds – 2 minutes per side.

Grill to your liking but know that if you grill it 5-7 minutes like a red meat steak, it will become dry and somewhat chewy.  

Sweet or Baked Potato

  • 1 baked or sweet potato
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt/Pepper

When grilling a potato, you can either cut into it but not the whole way through, long ways, then put another 2 slices going the other direction.  This opens up the potato in order to lightly coat with some olive oil, salt and pepper (I do not pepper sweet potatoes, btw).

OR

Slice the potato into wedges, spray/coat with olive oil, salt/pepper.

Place your potato onto the center of a sheet of foil that will be large enough to wrap the entire potato in.  Wrap it around the the potato, loose or tightly, doesn’t matter.

Place on grill for 25-35 minutes or until fully cooked.

BONUS Recipe: Cucumber-Corn Salad

wpid-20150605_175914.jpg

  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 5 cooked ears of corn (or 3 cups of cooked sweet corn)
  • 1/2 cup fresh, chopped basil
  • 1/4 cup snipped chives
  • 2 tbsp light mayo (recommend Sir Kensingtons)
  • Dash of salt to taste

Mix all the above together and serve; or chill until ready to serve.

And that is it, a few very simple but very yummy items to throw on your grill this weekend.  Have an active but relaxing weekend!

~Melissa*

Food Decisions One Moment At A Time

GOOD MORNING!!!!!!

It has been a long, long time since I’ve written, but let me explain.

I had lost some general oomph and didn’t want to just blog to blog.  I want to give you content that you can hopeful relate to.  With that, I set out to educate myself.  And I commited to not blogging again until it was complete.  Therefore, I happily greet you all today as a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certified Coach.  It was A LOT of amazing information that I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

Without further ado, let me get to today’s topic.  Food decisions.  Oh man, do I sometimes sway in the direction of “poor choices”.  I let my mood or level of hunger justify a less than adequate decision.  It’s okay, this happens.  I’m simply working on eliminating the frequency of these poor decisions.

Let’s take an example and then discuss some decision making techniques.

Yesterday I was on day 4 of a whirlwind travel week.  I arrived at a client in the morning, assuming I would be done there by Noon.  My Quest bar supply was gone — all I had was a pack of gum in my bag and a bottle of water, kindly supplied by the Hampton Inn that morning.

Well, I wasn’t done by Noon.  And I wasn’t done by 1:00.  I was done at 5:00.  It was a situation where a lunch break was near impossible and I was on the ultimate fast at this point.  I hadn’t eaten one calorie since 8:00 the night before, which was going on 21 hours without food.  Oy vey!

When I left work, I was in Philadelphia with a good 3 hour drive ahead of me, starving and disgruntled.  Most times when this conglomerate of circumstances hits me (hunger, annoyance, traffic, pity party)…I think the alleged reward for my mood problems should be eating non-nutritious food.  Typically this means purchasing some sort of chocolate treat and ordering a meal deal at a drive thru — salty french fries and I have a certain love affair.

Look, most of us have some comfort foods here and there, and that’s alright.  We’re human.  But I travel for work alot, so should I justify poor food choices weekly?  Probably not.

Yesterday my turnpike food options were as such:  Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Hershey’s Ice Cream Creamery, Nathans Hot Dogs, Burger King or Sbarro.

I walked around and around thinking, “Are you joking me?  This is what I have to choose from?”  Eventually, I went up to Sbarro for a third time and ordered.  I wanted the pizza and I wanted it bad.  I was on a fast, this was deserved, right?!

Wrong.

Knowing that I didn’t earn any starchy carbs that day (I sat ALL DAY), I decided on something else.  I ordered salmon, mixed veggies and a side of cucumber-tomato salad.

Salmon and Veggies

Salmon and Veggies

Decision Making

1.  Always keep nutritional content at the forefront.  Does what you are going to eat have protein, healthy fats, fruit or vegetables involved?  This goes for snacks and meals.

2.  How will you emotionally feel after eating what you decided on?  It may help with your immediate, impulsive need but if you struggle with food remorse or food-guilt, don’t do that to yourself.  Make a solid decision 80% of the time — allow that 20% for the impluse (ice cream, cheese sticks, french fries, etc).

3.  Consider the number of servings with snack foods.  Sure, a raw trail mix with a few chocolate chips and dried fruit isn’t so bad.  But if you eat more than a handful, you are likely eating multiple servings.  That can add up.  Don’t purchase something with more than 2-3 servings in the bag.  1 serving is most ideal.

4.  Compromise.  Often I want a “sweet treat” to go with my meals.  Last night I grabbed a container of strawberries and got a coffee for the road.  Wasn’t exactly the dark chocolate bar I typically want, but it worked.

5.  Take your food decisions one moment at a time.  Don’t think that because you ate chocolate chip pancakes smothered in syrup for breakfast that your whole nutrition plan for the day is blown.  You can make a new decision during the next meal.

Lastly, although I will write about nutrition and food a lot, I strongly feel that restriction with food and following too many rules is not natural and can lead to a lot of unnecesarry stress.  Do your best, correct poor decisions with better ones moving forward.  As I stated above, you have several times per each day to make a new food decision, so take them one at a time.

Have a Great Weekend!

~Melissa

Mild Curried Vegetables & Sweet Potatoes

Hello!

I hope you all are having a great week!  Per the request of some of my Facebook friends, I am going to share a recipe that is PACKED with nutritional density and deliciousness.  It is a revised version of a recipe found in Dr. Johnny Bowden’s book, 150 Healthiest Crock Pot Recipes.

Before I get into my version of this recipe, I want to point out that it is loaded with nutrient dense food.  As I mentioned in my last blog, your body will trigger satiety when you eat nutritious foods versus processed, non-nutrient dense ones.  After I ate this for my lunch yesterday, paired with a portion of red meat, I was 100% satisfied.  It may have been one of the first times in recent history that I did NOT eat all of the food/snacks I brought to work with me.

This recipe was intended to be used as a nutritious side to pair with my proteins for lunches this week.  The other intention of this recipe is also to pour it over a rice, quinoa or pasta, which is great for a full vegetarian meal.

Lastly, if you are a vegetarian, I suggest you utilize brown lentils in this dish, as the original recipe calls for.  1-2 cups would be sufficient for the recipe portion:

  • 3 medium sized sweet potatoes
  • 5 parsnips
  • 5 carrots
  • 2 medium sweet onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 16 oz fresh spinach
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • chile pepper (1-2)
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 1/2 tbsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • cinnamon stick

1.  Peel and thinly slice the sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips.

2.  Chop the sweet onions.

3.  Mince the garlic cloves.

4.  Chop the spinach and put aside for later.

5.  In a large saute pan, saute the parsnips, onions, carrots and garlic with the coconut oil over medium heat for 4-6 minutes.

6.  Add the vegetable stock to the pan and let it come to a low boil; boil for another 4-6 minutes.

7.  Transfer the contents of the pan to a medium to large crock pot.

8.  Add the sweet potatoes to the crock pot mixture.

9.  Add the spices (tumeric, coriander, black pepper), cinnamon stick and chopped chiles; stir.

10.  Cook on low for 4 -5 hours or high for 2-3 hours. (I did high for 2.5 hours)

11.  After the 2-3 hours of cooking time has passed, pour the cup of coconut milk into the crock pot over the contents.

12.  Take handfuls of the chopped spinach, put them into the crock pot and stir it with each handful until no spinach remains.

13.  Cook on high for another 20 minutes.

14.  You are done!  Enjoy over grain or pasta of choice or eat alone as a side dish.

REMEMBER:

**If you are a vegetarian and want to use this as a complete meal, add in 1-2 cups of lentils.

**I didn’t have a cinnamon stick, so I put a few dashes of ground cinnamon in and it worked fine.

**If you can’t tolerate spice of any kind like myself, leave out the chiles!

Eat this in large servings with no food-guilt!

~Melissa

 

Calming the Calorie Count

Calorie-Count2-505x336Last year, my friend asked me to ask my boyfriend Matt, how many calories she should be eating every day.  Matt is my main squeeze but he also has his degree in Exercise Science and is a seasoned personal trainer…so I asked him.  And he basically told me that he can’t make a recommendation without knowing a lot more information, blah blah blah.  Well, I thought it was blah, blah, blah at the time.  I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t give a faster, more clear answer.

However, now that I’m studying for my nutrition certification, I get it.  There are so many variables for each individual person.  Different types of workout programming can impact your RMR (resting metabolic rate), genetic variables, etc.  I learned that more or less, each human expends somewhere around 1100 calories each day just to stay alive — yah, to consume oxygen and keep you alive, you use around that many calories.  Again, that is an estimated number (because we all have different variables in regards to our energy needs, remember).  But isn’t the human body amazing?!

Furthermore, the coursework I am studying indicates that diet is NOT the majority to your success, namely for fat loss.  They say it truly is 100% diet, 100% exercise; both are equally important to a healthy life.  Understanding how diet and exercise work together is becoming increasingly helpful to my outlook on wellness and fitness.  I’m excited to share my learning with you, but I need to put in some more work before I’m comfortable making any real recommendations.

BUT, let me put it this way.  I will be adding in some additional cardio work to my programming and eating a lot less processed foods.  I have always been saying I won’t snack as much and will eat more “clean”, however with new knowledge, I should make better conscious and consistent decisions moving forward.  Here is what turned a light bulb on for me —  processed foods that lack nutrients (which are a lot of snack foods), do not typically trigger satiety, therefore not suppressing our appetites.  We don’t get satisfied and end up eating more food later.  Essentially, these non-nutrient rich foods are wasted calories and likely cause many of us to be in a positive body balance state (which is when energy storage happens, which leads to fat gain, not loss).

The cardio (aerobic) work I mentioned is something I have not been doing much of over the past year, focusing primarily on strength training.  Strength will still be my priority, but I can see how the body can benefit from a mixed program and utilizes different types of energy during each type.  So weights, walking, HIIT and perhaps some spin classes are on the menu for me in 2015.

PS – I use the word “energy”  a lot, because this is referencing calorie intake (in a very broad sense) — nutrition/caloric intake fuels the body, providing it with the energy it needs.

Therefore, what all of this means is when it comes to counting calories, perhaps we don’t need to obsess on counting as much as I would have thought.  Granted, being in a caloric deficit is often needed for fat loss goals, but sometimes you can under eat based on your activity level.  That can stall your RMR and make you feel sluggish.  I’ve learned that keeping your body in balance with nutrition can be a bit tricky, if you over think it.

So let us stop over thinking.  Today let’s commit to eating more natural foods, cook more meals and avoid grabbing a worthless processed snack to “hold you over” until you get real food into your stomach.  That’s one simple rule we can start with.  Again, try to cook more meals, eat more unprocessed foods and not grab for the bag of Chex mix at the gas station when you are hungry.  Try it — commit to this new habit and don’t obsessively food log.

HOWEVER, I will say that if food logging or using a calorie counting app has helped you achieve body composition goals, I am not saying for you, personally, to stop doing this.  But I am recommending to make a sustainable life habit, as well as relaxing about counting every last calorie going into your body (most of the labels are inaccurate with error up to 25%).

Do note that I am aware of a roundabout calorie intake on a daily basis, but I do not obsess on it.  And now that I know what I know — I’d rather “overeat” on proteins and vegetables, as opposed to pretzels, rice cakes and cookies.

For example, I applied this yesterday when I landed at JFK from a fasted morning of rushing to the rental car return, check-in and flying.  I was hungry and my ride home was about 20 minutes away.  The express snack shop was staring at me and my stomach said, “Do it!  You can’t wait to get home!”  So I scanned the options for a good 5 minutes, annoying those trying to get around me with their suitcases…..and I chose a Justin’s Honey Almond Butter packet.  In the past, I would have said, “Oh no, 200 calories for that little bit of almond butter?!”  I would have grabbed a bag of popcorn or pretzels instead.  But applying my new learning, I knew that almond butter had some positive nutritional benefits and would help suppress my appetite better than any pretzels would, regardless of the calorie count.

And there you have it.  I was fine with that choice — got home and hour later, heated up homemade chili and felt good about my food decisions.

I wish for us all happiness first and foremost — one key to being happy means to have balance in all aspects of life.  If you are obsessing on counting calories, getting in a certain number of minutes of workout time each day…suddenly being healthy is a stressful chore.  Therefore, I hope by sharing some insight on calorie counting and starting with one little change, I can bring some peace of mind to you.

Have a Happy & Healthy Weekend,

~Melissa

How Fitness Fits into *Real* Life

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

I may have missed the ball drop and am up doing some work that has lingered into the new year, however — I swear I’m still tons of fun at the ripe age of 34!  Anyhow, I was just browsing through my email and came across one that really hit home to me — and epitomizes what my blog has been about since its inception in 2013 — being healthy, fit and active on a *real life* schedule.  One day my goal is to own my own business and be able to workout all day everyday like some of the fitness professionals we all see out there.  BUT until then, I’m working full time, traveling and living in a hectic world.  If you are too, please find comfort in the excerpt I pulled from Precision Nutrition’s Dr. John Berardi’s email:

“Stats on New Year’s Resolutions — especially fitness ones — are
abysmal. Packed gyms on January 2 are ghost towns on March 2.

I thought about this the other day while driving home from a
family function (and while trying to keep Kid #1 from punching
Kid #2).

One phrase kept popping up in my mind:

“Fitness in the context of a real human life…”

Imagine:

* All 3 of your kids are sick (at the same time)…

* Your mother-in-law is in the hospital after a heart attack (and

you’re visiting daily)…

* It’s Christmas — or Thanksgiving or Passover or Diwali or Eid
or…

* Because of the holiday, you’ve got a tight deadline at work…

* When you’re stressed your lower back acts up…

…and just as you’re about to head out for the 30-minute workout
you’ve been looking forward to…your dog drops a diarrhea poop
on the living room carpet.

THAT, my friends, is fitness in the context of a real human life.

Is it any wonder most fitness resolutions fail?

If you think about it, most health and fitness plans live OUTSIDE
the context of a real life:

“Here’s a 30-day detox diet to follow… and a new hardcore
workout DVD…”

“Why not do a fitness competition in April… and a triathlon in
August…”

“It’s time to go all-in… it’s the only way to win!”

Except that it’s not.

In my experience, this kind of all-or-nothing thinking rarely
gets us all. It usually gets us *nothing*.

Because that diet plan, or workout DVD, or one-size-fits-all
training program you pulled from Triathlon magazine was never
built to accommodate sick kids or open heart surgery or your co-
worker’s 2-week vacation.

And when the insane idea that you have to do all things *perfectly*
takes hold, it’s pretty damn hard to shake that feeling loose.

Sure, we can play make-believe. We can imagine a life where
everything is peaceful, calm, and totally in our control all
the time. But that’s a sure-fire recipe for fitness failure.

Real human lives are messy and complicated. They’re
unpredictable.

When we learn to accept this they can also be dynamic and
exciting. They can push us to grow.

That’s why — with 3 children, aging parents, active social
lives, and thriving businesses — my wife and I really did make
New Year’s Resolutions this year.

As we always do, we plan on continuing to prioritize our health,
build strength and fitness, and maybe even maintain our abs.

But 2015 is our year to do it flexibly — and honestly — in the
context of *our* real human lives.

Our children will be fevered, snotty, and barfy. Our time will be
limited. And we’ll miss last call at the gym because of doggie
poo.

This year we’ll plan for all that in advance.

After we’ve cleaned up the poo and sprayed the Febreeze, we might
work out in that same living room. With no weights or machines
maybe we’ll jump around like maniacs so we can move our bodies
while keeping an eye on the kids.

Or maybe we’ll be stuck eating nasty hospital food. If so, we’ll
make the best choice we can within the spectrum of choices. And
then do push-ups and air squats in the cafeteria, or walk laps
around the cardiac ICU.

And on those rare days we’re not dealing with emergencies? Maybe
we’ll soothe our control-freak souls with the Perfect Workout. Or
all-day Clean Eating.

Even though neither is actually required.

Every single person I’ve seen achieve health and fitness in the
long run accomplishes it by simply showing up every day, not by
trying to “get it right”.

In the end, I have no clue what real life will bring us in 2015.

But we’re committed to doing the best we can, when we can, with
whatever we’ve got. Day in and day out.

I hope you are too.

Because, with 2015 just around the corner, it’s an interesting
time to make (or renew) your commitment to health and fitness.

Why not do that while considering the context of *your own* unique,
interesting, and challenging life?

Happy New Year,

-JB and the rest of the PN family”

And there it is.  He said it better than I could ever have.  Let’s live in a flexible 2015, where we don’t try to be perfect, we don’t obsess and we are honest with ourselves and what is going on in our crazy lives.

Wishing you health, safety, fullness in life for 2015,

~Melissa*

I Dare You To Be Food Weird

Good Morning!

It has been a LONG time since I’ve sat down to write.  I have been off the map, the radar system, the whole shabam.  I’ve been absent from my blog, BUT — not absent from working out and eating well.

I’ve simply been adjusting.  And I only write when I’m inspired and feel I have something of value to share.  So in this time of adjustment, I was bee-bopping in and out of a workout program and continue to work on gaining a nutrition certification.  It was too chaotic to bore you with.

Anyhow, this brings us all the way to now, December, and the holidays!

This is where I dare you to be food-weird.  And when I say weird, I mean I dare you to make something healthy that others will think is weird (but tasty).  For example, I made mushroom gravy for a past Thanksgiving as an alternative to real gravy.  My family members wrinkled their nose as they hovered over the bowl, inspected it and made a face that implied how super weird having mushroom gravy to them was.  Yet when they very cautiously taste tested it before pouring over potatoes, they were pleasantly surprised at how yummy it actually was.

For my boyfriend’s family dinner I made protein-almond bread as a dessert item.  Some of them didn’t get it nor want to try it, but his Mom appreciated it and found it filling for an afternoon snack.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  BUT I will keep pushing my “weird” nutritious dishes and desserts.  I want to be a good influence and show that eating healthy is not boring or bland.

With that, I leave you with the dare to be weird.  To take or make something a bit different for your family or friends during your holiday outings.

Bonus!  If you are in charge of hors d’oeuvres or snacks for any outing, here are a few ideas —

  • Tortilla chips made from whole wheat wraps with:
    • homemade guacamole
    • nacho-like ingredients (seasoned ground beef, salsa and shredded cheese)
    • sprinkle with coconut sugar and cinnamon for a sweeter version
  • Bacon wrapped scallops or asparagus
  • Large pot of turkey chili (can also be paired with tortillas)
  • Mini-meatballs (made with meat of your choice) and coconut-cilantro dipping sauce
  • Veggie platter (healthy-boring but always a hit anyhow)

Oh did you want that coconut-cilantro dipping sauce recipe?  Okay here you go:

Yummiest Dipping Sauce

Coconut Cilantro Dipping Sauce

  1. 6- 8 oz tomato sauce
  2. 10 sprigs of cilantro
  3. 2-3 cloves of garlic (or 2-3 spoonfuls of pre-minced garlic)
  4. 1 tablespoon of coconut oil
  5. Chop up cilantro in a mini-food processor
  6. Mince the garlic cloves
  7. Heat up the sauce in a sauce pan (medium heat); add in the coconut oil once warm and stir.
  8. Add in cilantro and garlic; stir.
  9. That’s it, you are done.  And it is amazing!  **recipe was originally shared by Neghar Fonooni

I truly wish each and every one of you a very, very Happy Holiday and a fantastic New Year!!!!!!!!!  I’ll be back with much more in 2015 (including some solid nutritional info and recipes)……..until then……CHEERS!

~Melissa

FitThings To Love: KETTLEBELLS

Good Morning!

How have you all been?  I have been as I say “all over the map” — literally and figuratively.  Ever since I came back from Greece in September,my new job took off into a whirlwind schedule, my hamstring was injured and I generally have been swirling around with no stable plan for fitness or nutrition.

BUT.  It is all good!  That’s my mantra, to never obsess on fitness and nutrition.  Make it a habit and maintain it as much as possible.  But do not obsess.  With that being said, I wanted to get a blog out this weekend and decided I’m going to do a series of “fit things” I love or don’t love (but thought I would).

This brings me to kettlebells.  Kettlebells I love.  They saved my fit life over the past few months.  They are a workout tool that I really enjoy, therefore it didn’t take much motivation to grab them and do a quick complex or a full strength workout.  So when I didn’t squeeze in the gym, I could at least grab my trusty 35 pound set of KBs and get in something.

Matt and I often debate as to how a dumbbell and a kettlebell differ.  Although you can do a lot of the same exercises with both, the kettlebell trumps on versatility.  Here are a few things that a KB does better and just flows more naturally than a DB:

  • Complexes.  Linking movements together with a KB is so easily and lends itself well to a solid conditioning complex.  Here is an example of a double KB complex that I like to do: 
  • Turkish Get Ups (TGUs).  So TGUs can be done with anything really, but the easiest way to stabilize the weight and work on your form is with a KB, in my opinion.  Here is an example of a TGU:  
  • Swings.  Sure, you can swing a dumbbell but it just isn’t the same.  The KB handle makes it more secure to hinge and thrust and work those glutes.  Below we demonstrate how a swing is really great fun to try in synchronization. KB partner is the one and only, Heather Risso.: 

Look, I may be biased.  But I truly love working with KBs and can easily do a workout at home with them.  I’m 100% serious when I say they have saved my fitness life.  I got into many funks where I didn’t think I had time to go to the gym and then my KBs are staring at me from the corner of the living room….and then, all of the sudden, I am motivated to at least do something.

I am now embarking on a time that I know I need a more solid workout plan and that means back to the barbell, dumbbells AND kettlebells at the GYM for me.

Nonetheless, I recommend that you always have that one fit tool that you love — and go to it when you feel in a slump with other workouts.  It’ll get you going again, trust me!

That’s it for my “FitThings To Love” for today.  Please let me know the fit things that you love!  I want to hear and maybe even try!

Have an awesome weekend,

Melissa