The One In Which I Feel Like A Miserable Walrus Because Science

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I bet if I sat you down you could recite me a list of milk slogans and benefits that have been drilled into our collective heads ad nauseum for the past few decades. It’s a big source of calcium, It makes you grow!, Your bones need it, It has protein, Got Milk? Milk, it does a body good.

Or, does it?

But, sometimes, the benefits of a particular food ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Are you surprised? Don’t be. The food industry relies heavily on marketing just like any other business.

The difficult, and sometimes even dangerous part is when we allow for these marketing strategies, this loud information, to override what our own bodies are trying to say. 

See, healthy food is healthy… as long as it isn’t harmful. Doh.

Kind of obvious, right? But you’d be surprised at how many people blur the lines and ignore serious signs of potential problems simply because they continue to be convinced they should be eating x or y since they’re “healthy.”

Whole grains are healthy, as long as you don’t have Celiac disease or an intolerance.

Milk is (debatably) healthy, as long as you don’t have a lactose allergy or intolerance.

Heck, even vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and everything under the sun can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on whether your body loves it or hates it.

See where I’m getting at?

Enter: Me.

I grew up with the same information as you, and thus I grew up drinking many-a glass of milk. Everything was fine.

And then I became an adult. And at some point over the past five years I began noticing that milk doesn’t settle in my stomach very smoothly anymore. Sometimes it gives me a stomach ache. It causes me inflammation and bloating.

I drank milk yesterday to show you exactly what happens to my body (see what I do for you). The first picture is what my abdomen typically looks like after a normal exhalation. Then I drank one glass of milk. And about 20 minutes after, that’s what my stomach looked like after a normal exhalation. See the crazy bloating? It was painful, too, like heartburn. It becomes hard to stand up straight or move freely thanks to some sharp cramps, and all I want to do is lie down in a bundle until the pain is gone. Not pretty.

 

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Even though I never had issues with milk when I was a kid (or maybe I wasn’t paying attention?), as an adult willing to experiment I did begin noticing patterns: I discovered straight up milk gives me discomfort. Milk chocolate bars do, too. But somehow cheese, butter and yogurt don’t seem very problematic to my body.

Why the changes? I have no clue. They may be linked to the fact that as we grow we produce less of the enzyme that helps us break down milk, which in turn causes people who could tolerate milk just fine to begin having issues with it later in life.

But the reason doesn’t matter as much as the straight facts: Milk doesn’t benefit my body now. And I know this because my body yells it out loud and clear.

Should I continue drinking milk because calcium! bones! osteoporosis!  Hell no.

I get all my calcium from spinach, kale, beans, almonds, almond butter, salmon, and sardines. None of these foods make me feel like a beached whale in agony. That’s how I know they’re a superior option for me.

 

So now the question becomes… Are you ignoring any clear signals from your body?

There is a reason why our bodies react the way they do, after all.

We’re only wise to tune in and truly listen.

 

Give Me Give Me MORE

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more

 

Do more, work more, accomplish more, be more, have more.

And more is causing us chronic stress.

And more is giving us ulcers, migraines, acid reflux, and high blood pressure.

And more is slowly but surely killing us.

 

I’m done with more.

 

From now on I’m striving for better.

 

I don’t want to train more and spend half my life at a gym. I want to train better, because by training better I can multiply my results and reduce the time invested.

I don’t want work more and end up resenting my job. I want to work better, respecting my own creative times and tuning into what is important.

I don’t want to give more. I want to give better, focusing on how I can effectively impact others, and, equally important, give to myself: my down time, my playful time, my mindful moments.

I’m done with more for the sake of more. This is simply about getting better at what we already have going. Because through the accumulation of little betters it is that we can achieve great.

 

And I don’t know about you but I’m all for being great.

 

Bring it.

Better.

Just better.

Exhausting Day And You Don’t Want To Work Out. Now What?

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Sometimes you’ve had a long day at work or with the kids and you definitely don’t feel like going to the gym by the time evening rolls around. Even if your job isn’t physically demanding, mental exhaustion alone can be so draining it leaves you like a rag doll flopping around from the couch to the sofa.

However,  that nagging little voice in your head knows you should be getting your workout done. After all, you want to change your body, stay healthy, lean down, be stronger, or whatever your goal is. But you’re faced with a conflict between what you should be doing (exercising) and what you want to be doing (putting up your feet and binge-watching Netflix.)

How do you solve this riddle?

Well, you begin by first of all questioning why, in your mind, exercising and relaxing are opposites and incompatible with one another. 

When athletes and avid gym-goers say that exercising helps calm them down and unwind after a tough day, they’re not just speaking like zombie cult members who drank the Kool-Aid. Research actually backs them up.  This effect, of course, is hardly noticeable after one or two gym sessions. But if you stick with it long enough, your body will start yearning for that surge of endorphins, and you will begin to understand what the fuss is all about.

Take a quiet moment with yourself and discover how you truly think about exercising. What words come to your mind?

Is it an obligation, a chore, boring, a must-do, a drag, awkward, a necessary evil? Then no wonder it sucks the life outta you.

But if working out is energizing, a joy, a privilege, an opportunity for achievement and success, part of your ritual for health, part of what keeps you grounded and sane, would you ever want to skip a day? Probably not.

 

Action begets action

And inaction begets inaction. That’s why most people feel it’s so terribly hard to get back at the gym after a few weeks off. That’s why after a long day of sitting at an office job, the last thing you want to do is move. But you must consciously break that chain. I like to think of this principle as an extension of Newton’s Laws of Motion. Newton stated that “An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it.” That’s right! If you don’t move, well, you will continue to not move. The external force to give you a jolting start may come in the shape of a workout buddy who drags your ass to the gym, or it can come in the form of your own inner awareness knowing that you’re fighting through a hump right now, but you’ll cross it over and feel better after.

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You can trust the time will come when this fight is close to non-existent, because as Sir Newton pointed out, “An object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless an external force acts upon it.” This means that once you get truckin’ and you’ve found your groove day after day, the inertia of your habit will continue to carry you. There will be less resistance, because working out after a long day is now just part of your normal life.

Now you know the importance of having a positive frame of mind towards all things exercise. But how do you accomplish that, exactly? Glad you asked!

Visualization

Listen, I don’t care if you think this sounds like woo-woo new agey bullshit. This shit works for Olympic athletes, has won gold medals, has been credited for speeding up miraculous recoveries after tragic accidents and even making the difference between living and dying in emergency situations. You and I are not above this technique, so let’s get off the logics soapbox already and just give this a try because it may very well change your darn life.

Every night as you’re dozing off to sleep take the time to clearly see yourself in your mind: it’s the following day, you just finished work, you feel happy and energized because you get to go exercise now. Be very clear and detailed. What are you wearing? What song are you singing along to? What does your car smell like? Feel the tranquility and contentment in you because you get to go and do something amazing for your body. Focus on how incredibly energetic and invigorated you feel!– this more than anything, since it’s what has been holding you back from going to the gym lately. Visualize your entire drive to the gym, your arrival, saying hi to staff members or friends, anything you do when you go to the gym… but see it clearly in your head feeling that sense of high energy you so much desire. Do this every single night for two weeks and watch the magic unfold.

 

Hands on, baby

As if this wasn’t enough, here are some additional techniques to help you kick lethargy to the curve.

1) Play with your schedule.

You may be firmly and adamantly not a morning person… and that’s ok. But maybe you just haven’t given an early morning workout a fair chance, in which case I invite you to do so. If your schedule and other obligations permit, give yourself four weeks in which you’ll go to the gym before your work day. Who knows, you may find that this helps you begin your day full of energy and that you love it. Or not. But you’ll only know until you give it a fair try. And if that doesn’t work out…

2) Set up for your success.

You have to eradicate obstacles before they arise. Leave everything ready the night before: your workout clothes, your ipod and ear buds, your water bottle, wallet, and towel. Leave a snack ready in the fridge, maybe the fruits to be blended into a smoothie. Make sure the car has gas. Set up an alarm. Basically anything that could pop up and give you an excuse to backtrack on your plan (Ah, my favorite shirt is in the wash… guess I can’t go today!) needs to be sorted out beforehand. Having no excuses  sets you up for success.

3) Make sure you’re having fun.

Do you have a workout program you absolutely love? Or are you stuck doing three hours on the elliptical? This is a pivotal issue I come across with people who can’t understand why they hate the gym… but how is that any surprise, if they hate their program? Even worse if there isn’t a program to follow! Then you feel scattered because you’re doing whatever and seeing no results. You need a solid program to follow with consistency, and luckily they abound in the internet. Find one you’re excited about.

What about your music? Do you have a playlist that songs that set your heart on fire? Music can play a huge roll on performance and motivation! It’s worth paying attention to and using to your benefit. While we’re at it, also think about your gym clothes… do you like them at all, or do they consist of ratty shorts and a concert t-shirt from 1987? I know it sounds superficial and silly, but it does make an impact. It may very well be worth it to invest the time in finding a top and bottom you feel comfortable in. You don’t have to break the bank, either. I like doing my share of second-hand shopping with great results!

4) Visualize.

Because I can’t say this enough. Do it. See yourself being happy and full of energy on your way to the gym. Do it every night and you will see things change almost instantly.

Change your mind and you will change your life.

 

The Beginner’s Guide To Going To The Gym

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I didn’t name this a “guide to the gym.” I named it a “guide to going to the gym.” See, it’s nice to want to learn about machines and exercises, about gym etiquette and basic rules. But to wrangle those things we first have to tackle the very real fact that most people never actually set foot in a gym. Imma help with that.

That’s why I came up with this handy-dandy guide intended to help you get your butt out the door and actually in the gym; to finally shut up that jerk of a voice in your head telling you you’ll look ridiculous and out of place, so why bother going at all. Enough of that shit.

And why should you listen to me?

Because this is what I do for work and how I earn a living. I have insider information.

And also because once upon a time I was in your exact same shoes.

Which brings me to The Things You Should Know #1: Every single gym rat, buff guy/girl and fitness enthusiast you may ever come across, has at some point in their lives started off as a newbie. Just like you. We’ve all been there: the uncomfortable feeling of stepping into new territory, the self-consciousness of knowing we’re going to mess up and be ridiculed, the awkwardness of thinking we don’t fit in, so sure that others will see right through our pretending, sorry asses. Actually (and you have my permission to laugh. Because, really.) I want you to know that I was in your shoes just two years ago– and I was already a personal trainer! Even though I was a fitness professional, I had lots of experience, I knew all the ropes… I couldn’t help but feel scared when the time came to start training at my new place of work. You would imagine that with all I knew and the cred that comes from having put your fair amount of time training yourself and others I would be immune to the mental B.S. But I wasn’t. Because when push comes to shove, survival instincts kick in and fear of the unknown is a very real defense mechanism. It took me one week to finally walk down that narrow hall into the weights area, the lonesome girl amidst the lifting guys. And it got better. Real quick, actually.

That fear you feel is normal.

You got that? It’s normal. 

It’s actually kind of natural, expected and even somewhat healthy to feel this way. Back in the days when our survival depended on our awareness and familiarity with our surroundings, our monkey brain evolved to be uncomfortable and hyper-aware in new situations. Although our lives have drastically changed, to this day that part of our brain feels threatened as we experience something new, as though we were in great danger, and is trying to kick us into fight or flight mode. I mean, what if a sable-tooth tiger jumps out from behind the leg press machine, right?

Our logic, conscious mind knows that new can be scary though not necessarily bad or dangerous. But monkey brain didn’t get that memo. And this is why you have to remember that your brain is simply doing its part in keeping you safe from harm when these feelings arise. It’s trying to convince you to stick to what you know, to what’s familiar and comfortable (like staying at home instead of going to the gym.) Thank your brain for taking such good care of you, but don’t let the fear dominate your life experiences. You got this.

A powerful exercise to deal with such thoughts of doom is what is called notice and name. When the uncomfortable thoughts arise, simply notice their presence without judgment or trying to push them away. “Oh, there’s fear.”  “Why hello, self-doubt.” “Hm, I’m thinking thoughts of ridicule.” This simple action strips them of their iron grip over your life. You become an observer, no longer the main character suffering the story these thoughts want to tell. Sure, it takes practice to catch yourself, but trust me, the benefits of noticing and naming cannot be understated.

 

And while we’re in the subject of “thoughts of ridicule,” let me introduce you to The Things You Should Know #2: No one went to the gym today with the sole purpose of judging, criticizing or humiliating you. Really. Our tendency may be to make everything about ourselves, but in this case it’s just not. Most people in the gym are genuinely there to exercise. Shocking, eh? Most don’t have a whole lot of time in their day to stand around pointing fingers and laughing and newbies (and if they do, how sad is their life?) Even though you feel extremely self-conscious and like all eyes are on you (remember: Your brain is in hyper-aware mode) remember other people have their own worries, goals, insecurities, and time frames to even give you or me a second thought.

Some day down the line, once your gym is familiar territory and you’re rocking to your favorite tunes and kicking ass in whatever you’re doing, you will suddenly realize how you truly don’t pay much attention to anyone else around you. You’ll know with all certainty you had nothing to worry about in the first place.

 

I want to make this as easy on you as I can. So here are my easy-peasy pointers to successfully get your rear in gear.

1) Find a gym you like.

Big, impersonal chain gyms aren’t the only option out there. Find a gym or studio that gives you a nice feeling, that reflects values and ideas that are important to you. If being surrounded by bodybuilders isn’t your idea of fun, maybe stay away from Gold’s gym. There are so many quirky, cute, special and unique spaces where there is a sense of community within members– if that’s your thing. If you’re a loner and would rather not share space with many others maybe find a 24/7 gym to which you can have access at odd hours and rock it out alone. This is about you and what you enjoy. You won’t go to the gym if you can’t stand what it looks like, smells like, feels like, and represents. Be true to yourself.

2) Get at least a one-hour session with a personal trainer.

Many new gym-goers skip on this because of financial reasons, but you have no idea what even one hour alone with a trainer can do for your gym life. You have one hour to ask all the questions you want, they will tell you about the gym rules (the stipulated ones and the unspoken ones), they will teach you how to use the machines and equipment. This can give you all the confidence you need. Plus, it allows you to solidly meet one staff member. Bonus: Have them introduce you to other staff members! They’re you allies, your spotters, your guides. They want to see you succeed and keep coming back. Use them.

3) Do what you like.

If you hate cardio please don’t spend endless hours on the treadmill or elliptical. If you hate cycling don’t join a spinning class. At least in the beginning focus on what you like. Remember we’re in the process of making the gym a familiar place where you feel comfortable. You’ll have time to tackle more new things soon enough. In your first few tries, be kind and patient with yourself.

4) Prep. Practice. Mentalize.

Prepare your gym bag (shoes, water bottle, iPod and ear buds, wallet with gym membership card) the night before. Leave your gym clothes laid out, too. Choose a training program you’re excited about following and (trick of the trade) PRACTICE. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the equipment, simply practice the motions when you’re alone at home in front of the mirror until your body feels comfortable with the movements. Make it easy to succeed! Find YouTube videos explaining proper form for each exercise and practice the shit out of ‘em. Mentalize yourself doing the exercises at the gym– this adds to the feeling of familiarity, since your brain can’t tell the difference between what you imagined and what you have in reality experienced. So, as far as your brain knows, you have been in this gym doing these exercises before. Less stress, yay!

 

This should be enough to set you up in the path of being an avid gym-goer. Welcome to the dark side, rockstar.

 

The Piece Of Advice I Never Imagined I Would Receive From a Fitness Professional

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A few weeks back I attended the largest fitness conference in Canada, and, as you can imagine, I was in my bliss. 

Previous to the event I had my own mental bucket list of things I wanted to do and people I wanted to see. One of those people was Dr. John Berardi, co-founder of Precision Nutrition

Yours truly with Dr. John Berardi

Yours truly with Dr. John Berardi, Canfitpro 2014

There are many reasons why I have felt a pull towards this company from the first time I heard about their coaching techniques and ideology, but to make a long story short you need to know that it was mainly because it makes sense. Their no bullshit, direct, common sense approach just felt right to me, and I have felt compelled to learn from them all that I can ever since. 

So when I found out Dr. B. would be presenting at the Canfitpro cleared my schedule and made sure I was there early. 

 

I approached the conference room and saw him standing by the door, greeting attendees. Never mind that he recognized me right away from reviewing my pictures from the photo shoot I did for his company last month (that alone was super cool, obviously!), but he was attentive and kind. He has a very gentle nature that shines through as he looks people in the eye and genuinely engages. 

 

My first appearance in the Precision Nutrition website.

My first appearance in the Precision Nutrition website.

 

At the end of his talk and as the room emptied, a few of us huddled at the front for a more personal round of questions with Dr. B. My turn came, and this is where I heard the unthinkable. 

 

You see, I had a question about my own physique. I wanted to solve a mystery about my own body composition, but I also had –unknowingly– already created a pre-conceived idea of what this uber successful fitness pro was going to tell me. I was sure he would prescribe me a specific macro ratio formula. He would certainly mention the ultimate research regarding effective exercise to achieve my goal. For good measure, he would surely finish off with some wise guru-ish comment about how it is all in me, and my ability to change is powerful. 

 

But what I got is, I got schooled in the most beautiful way. 

 

“I’m in the process of weaning my baby,” I began my story. “And lately it feels like almost overnight a very slight but noticeable to me layer of fat has appeared on my abdomen. Is it hormone changes? Is it stress and cortisol? Why is it there? And is there something I can do to get rid of it?” 

In my head I was ready to mentally record the complicated formulas and prescriptions I was sure he would throw at me. I had to pay attention and not let a detail escape me!

But… 

“Well… you don’t have to do anything,” he responded calmly.

I must have looked at least half as confused as I felt. But, the formulas! The supplements! The complicated advice!

None of that came out of his mouth.

What he did say, however, has forever re-arranged my views on myself and even on my coaching practice. 

“Of course there are things you could do if you really wanted to, but is it necessary? Instead, you could take a moment to trust your body and understand that your body knows what it is doing. It knows how to sort itself out. You exercise. You know how to eat. You can trust your body will get itself where it needs to be. Because it knows how.”

 

Trust the process.

Trust your body. 

 

And while I’m at it, stop assuming that everything requires a fix, a change, an improvement. It is so true, my body does know what it’s doing, and it’s about time I give it proper credit. 

 

Thanks Dr. B. 

 

Got it. 

 

Cottage Cheese Pancakes With Berry Reduction Sauce– ALL SUGAR-FREE!

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Move over Aunt Jemima. I got this.

I don’t often eat “normal” breakfast food (like sugary cereals, waffles,  muffins, toast, etc.), but today I had a particular craving for pancakes. If you know anything about me by now you’ll know I’m not one to forbid myself any foods (because, really, who wants to live life like that?) and so I set out to try a better option to the traditional breakfast food.

Regular pancakes are such a trap. Not only are you downing a helluva lot o’ flour, chemicals and sugar in the pancake mix itself, but then add to it the gross amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, more chemicals and even more sugar in the syrup and you have me weeping for humanity. No thank you.

So I made a sugar-free syrup to go with it. And it was good.

 

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I really liked them. Twenty-two month old Era really liked them. Like… really, really liked them (I may have fought her for the last bite). But my hubby wasn’t too impressed. He thought the texture was too mushy, so feel free to play around with the quantities of each ingredient until you find what tickles your taste buds.

Cottage Cheese Pancakes 

2/3 C rolled oats (no instant or 1-minute things. Just regular rolled oats. Use gluten free oats if necessary for you.)

1/3 cottage cheese

2 eggs

1/2 banana

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 Tbs. almond milk, or any milk of your preference

Put all ingredients in the blender and blend until well mixed, about half a minute. Seriously, that’s all. Lightly butter a pan and cook as regular pancakes.

 

Berry Reduction Sauce

1/2 C of frozen berries. I used strawberries and blueberries

1 Tbs. raw honey

Place in a saucepan in medium-low heat. Berries will become mushy, the honey will melt, and everything will simmer together. The berries will release water from having been frozen. Let the mixture reduce until it’s syrupy and as thick or runny as you like it. And yes, I’m aware of the irony in heating up raw honey, but it’s the only type I buy, use and recommend, even if I’m going to end up heating it for some recipes.

 

For those times when pancakes are a must this high protein, sugar free and fiber-rich recipe will do!

 

Lentil Sunflower Dip

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A nice mid-day snack full of fiber, protein, with no added fats, and offering the perfect chance to get in some more veggies. This is my version of the health.com recipe.

You’ll probably want to make it easy on yourself and grab a can of lentils. But, in full disclosure, I’ll have you know that as a Certified Mexican™ I’m a total bean snob and always cook my own from scratch. (Note: Just now in that last sentence I accidentally typed cock instead of cook. I thought you should know.)

But yeah, I totally get it that cooking beans can be daunting and intimidating*

So, fresh from the stove or straight from a can, have your lentils ready and give this dip a try.

 

*No I don’t. It’s easy.

 

Lentil Sunflower Dip

 

 

Lentil Sunflower Dip

-1 can (or 1 C fresh) brown lentils

-1 Tbs. lime juice

-Sea salt and pepper, to taste

-1 to 2 Tbs. sunflower seeds

-Chives

 

If using canned lentils, drain and rinse well. Blend everything together except the sunflower seeds and chives. Mix them in at the end. Can’t get any easier!

 

Now don’t go ruining this shit by downing along a bag of pita chips or some other similar crap. Eat your damn veggies, alright?