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Following the Dream

30 Jan

Hey folks, you may have noticed that the content on the site is becoming less frequent that before (was it ever truly “frequent”?). I just want to keep you up to date as to why.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I moved to Barcelona to do my Master’s degree in Nutrition and Metabolism. That goal was competed last summer and now I’m moving on the next stage of my plan.

I’m currently setting myself up as an online nutritional consultant based out of Barcelona, basically pursuing my passion of helping people live healthier lives. There’s quite a bit of work ahead of me with website design and content writing for my new site but I’m very, very excited about it.

On top of that I’m also writing articles for Latin Dance Community which I find very rewarding too. All of this means that I may not be dedicating as much time to the Dancing Irishman blog for a while. I’m still here, just focusing on other projects at the moment.

Anyway, I hope you’ll still be looking forward to reading my stuff when I finally get back to it in the future (it could be next month for all I know).

Keep Dancing folks.

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Forget about New Year’s Resolutions (and actually achieve something)

30 Dec

It’s that time of year again. You’ve probably spent the last few days eating your own bodyweight in (less than totally healthy) food and sitting on your backside watching traditional Christmas movies (which if you’re Irish, means Indiana Jones… for some unknown reason).

You’re also probably reflecting on the past year, what you’ve achieved and what you haven’t and more importantly what you want to do for the coming year… that is, your New Year’s Resolutions. (NYR)

I’m hear to tell you stop that train of thought right now because it’s not doing you any favors.

Why you fail
If you’re anything like the vast majority of people, you’ve failed miserably at your NYRs within the first few weeks of the year (for many it’s the first few days or even hours). To be honest it never struck be as being sensible to begin some major life changes on a day you are likely to be seriously hung-over from the night before…. not many people are likely to want to go for a 5 mile jog and make themselves a nice healthy salad on a day when they’re really only physically capable of lying on the couch wrapped in a blanket and eating leftover pizza (I know you know what I’m talking about 😉 ).

Be it eating healthy, exercising more, learning a new language, mastering a new skill (dance anyone?) people decide to take on huge challenges and then give up at the first sign of difficulty. Inevitably, this year’s failed resolution will become the resolution for next year instead… and so continues the vicious cycle.

nyr

Don’t let some random date dictate when you make changes in your life. If you want something, go for it and stick with it.

3 Huge Mistakes
Most people who fail at making new changes in their lives do so because they’re making 3 very common mistakes.

  • They aren’t specific with their goals
  • They don’t plan on how to achieve their goals
  • They attempt too much too soon and get demotivated when they fail

Be specific
If you want to learn to dance, what do you want to learn? Salsa, Bachata, Swing, Tango? There’s a lot of styles out there so you better look into it and ask around. If you want to eat healthy, what exactly do you mean by that? I’m a nutritionist and the term “healthy” is very subjective depending on who you speak to or what you read. You need to educate yourself to make informed decisions.

Plan
Once you know what you want, how are you going to achieve it? If it’s dancing, where are you going to take classes or go to socials. If it’s learning a new skill, what learning materials will you use. If it’s exercising more: when, where and what? If you fail to plan you plan to fail.

Slow and Steady
You want to get a beach body by summer so do you decide to immediately go from doing no exercise at all to lifting weights 7 days a week? Hell no, that’s a quick way to burnout and failure. Equally, do you decide to do two hours of language exchanges every day to learn French? It’s just not realistic. Fair enough, it might work for some people but not for the majority. If you want to develop new better habits, you’ve got to make them easy to stick to at first otherwise you’ll get fed up pretty damn quick.

Make it a long term change
When people decide on their NYRs they generally do something to try and improve their lives; to be healthier and happier. These aren’t things that you should undertake lightly… your health and happiness are the most important things you will ever have.

So, instead make these changes something that you’re going to work on gradually and CONSISTENTLY… for the rest of your life.

Don’t decide to go on a drastic diet and start binge exercising just so you can fit into a dress for a wedding in April, only give up entirely once the wedding is over. Instead decide to start making some lifestyle changes that will allow you live a healthier life, with a body you can be proud of for the rest of your years.

Don’t suddenly decide to give up all alcohol for the next 6 months if all you want to do is reduce your consumption to be healthier (Bear in mind that I don’t drink alcohol at all but also did my masters thesis on the health benefits of wine so I have conflicting opinions on the subject). If giving up booze entirely makes you unhappy or isolates you from your social groups then you’re very likely to give up on it entirely and just continue drinking as much as ever.

What I’m saying is that life changes don’t need to be ridiculously drastic nor should they make you miserable. The more drastic they are and the more miserable the make you the more likely you are to just give up and go back to the way you were before. Consistency is key in life, be it diet, nutrition, dance or whatever. To make something work you need to stick with it (assuming you really want it to work).

And this brings us back to New Year’s Resolutions. These important life changes or goals you have shouldn’t be dependent on a specific time or day of the year. The benefits of change are reaped over time, not instantly so it doesn’t matter if you decide to make a change the day before new years or a month later or in the middle of September. What matters is that you stick to your guns and make the change a consistent part of your life. As Aristotle famously said “We are what we repeatedly do” (not what we do for the first 2 or 3 weeks after New Years).

I haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution in a long time and I’m very happy with the results. Try to forget about them this year and instead make a long term effort to be consistent and really achieve the things you want in life.

Happy New Year, folks.

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It Is Done!

30 Jun

UBToday, I finished my Masters Degree in Nutrition & Metabolism at the University of Barcelona.

I’ve just presented the defence to my thesis about the effects of wine polyphenols and I am starting to feel human again. IMG_2644
This has been the the most mentally and emotionally demanding year I have ever lived and while I’m happy I did it, I am so glad it’s over.

Now, time to sleep for the next 24 hours.

Keep dancing folks.

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How to Cook & Track Your Macros for IIFYM (Return of the Cooking Irishman)

13 Jan
Quick, Healthy and Macro-Friendly Chorizo & Vegetable Omelette. I can still taste that chorizo-goodness

Quick, Healthy and Macro-Friendly Chorizo & Vegetable Omelette. I can still taste that chorizo-goodness

Happy New Year all!

I hope you all had a ball over the holidays, spent with family and friends and if you’re anything like me, enjoying lots of delicious food.

In December I posted an article about IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) and how it can be used to make losing, maintaining or gaining weight more enjoyable. I use an IIFYM-type of approach to my own diet nowadays and I have to admit that I’ve never enjoyed eating while achieving my weight goals as much as I do now.

To make the whole concept of IIFYM easier to understand I’ve decided to make a few videos showing you how I apply it to my daily life while also sharing a few very easy and very healthy recipes.

In the video below I’ll show you how to make a delicious Chorizo & Vegetable Omelette and I’ll also introduce you to the wonder that is Proats (specifically with Dark Chocolate and Banana).

I do apologize for the VERY homemade feel of the videos, it’s surprisingly difficult to cook one-handed while filming and narrating a vlog 😉

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. If you do give the video a like and maybe follow my channel because I plan on putting up more videos like this in the coming weeks.

Eat well and keep dancing folks.

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Macros, IIFYM, Clean Eating & Enjoying Food over Christmas and Forever

23 Dec

When it comes to diet, my body is a laboratory.

Name a diet and I’ve probably experimented with some variation of it. Atkins, Paleo, Gluten-Free, Vegan… the list goes on. I try it out and I take what I like.

It’s all about finding what works best, continually tweaking it and following a diet that keeps me happy and healthy.

Basically everything I’ve tried until now has led me to my current way of eating… and I am healthy and happy.

Macros, IIFYM, WTF?!
If you follow this blog you’ll know that I like talking about nutrition and fitness and that I’ve written about the Paleo Diet (and why I don’t follow it) andIntermittent Fasting (which I still love) and how I apply aspects of each to my eating habits.

Well, I’ve been experimenting with something else and I have to say that I simply love it the way it allows me to enjoy every type of food imaginable and still stay healthy and lean.

I’m talking about “If It Fits Your Macros” commonly known by its acronym, IIFYM.

In a nutshell, IIFYM is a way of eating that makes you focus on the macros that you eat everyday.

What the heck’s a Macro???
Macros or macronutrients is the umbrella term for Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates, the 3 main energy sources in our diet. They’re what make up the calories of food.

So if you follow IIFYM, you “Track Macros” in your food, usually using one of the many apps available for smartphones such as “My Fitness Pal” (which I absolutely love).

Basically, its a way of food journaling, keeping track of what your eating and trying to keep it within certain calorie/macro limits that you set based on your personal goals (weight loss/gain/maintenance). Food journaling, it turns out, is a really effective way of getting people to stick to their diets. When we write something down, we’re adding a level of responsibility to our food habits and this seems to really help us stick to our goals.

You can find out more about actually calculating your own macro targets here.

Here’s a little secret… MOST DIETS WORK! You’ll hear of people (especially celebrities) trying out a new fad diet and losing loads of weight and you’ll assume that diet must be the answer to your fat loss problems. You’ll get into it all gung-ho, lose weight but then probably gain some of it back. That doesn’t mean the diet is ineffective, it probably means your just not following it as well anymore. You’ve lost compliance.

Tracking macros sounds like a pain in the a$$
For the first week or so, it is. Then, you get used to it and, just like any established habit, it becomes natural and automatic.

The app I recommended above, My Fitness Pal, while not entirely perfect is really easy to use and helps you track and plan your food intake on a daily basis. It also allows you to look back at how you were eating a few weeks ago and compare that to changes in your body weight over time. The best way to learn how to use it is to simply start using it. Best of all, it’s completely free to download to your phone.

Here's a screenshot of a typical calorie/macro tracking app

Here’s a screenshot of a typical calorie/macro tracking app

But why bother?
Here’s the deal, most of the diets I mentioned above, work (somewhat indirectly) by limiting your calories by eliminating or restricting various foods. Restrictive diets, more often than not, result in reduced compliance over time.

For example, if someone told you to do Atkins (a very low carb diet) for a month, you’d lose weight but at the end of the month, you’d probably only have one thing on your mind: eating all the food you “weren’t allowed” during the diet. Bread, cakes, ice-cream, french fries, sugar-dipped deep-fried snickers… it would be a big free for all, that might last a few days or a week and would result in two things:

  • you gaining back all the weight you lost and…
  • you feeling guilty about what you ate

And so begins another restrictive weight-loss/binge cycle. This is pretty typical of “Clean Eating” type diets that work by eliminating various categories of “undesirable” foods. A good example would be Paleo (I’m not trying to demerit Paleo, I’m just saying that it’s a restrictive diet.

With IIFYM, you don’t eliminate any foods.
You can technically eat whatever you want as long as it fits your daily macro targets i.e. as long as you get it to fit your daily goals for calories, protein, fats and carbohydrate. In the case of IIFYM, you control portion size to fit your needs.

Here’s an example of meals I ate yesterday (a pretty typical gym-day of eating):

  • Oat Porridge with Raisins and White Chocolate Whey Protein
  • Kale Salad with Balsamic dressing
  • A Banana
  • Grilled Jamaican Jerk Chicken
  • Over 1kg of Cajun-Spiced roasted Potato Wedges with tomato relish
  • Olive Oil Sautéed Red Onion and Kale
  • More Porridge with Raisins and Whey Protein
  • Half a Passion Fruit and Mango Cheesecake (yeah you read right, half a whole cheesecake)

That added up to about 3,045 calories, 169 grams of protein, 82 grams of fat & 327 grams of carbs.

I actually needed the cheesecake to help me meet my macro targets for the day.

This is an example of how I eat now, and I love it. You can actually see other examples of my meals and macro breakdowns on my Instagram page.

The Problem with IIFYM
Nothing is perfect and there is one, “potentially” huge  problem with IIFYM. From what I’ve seen of other people that practice IIFYM is that there can be a tendency to eat absolutely whatever you want as long as you hit your macro goals. This means that you could technically hit your goals eating junk food and supplementing with a little protein.

THIS IS NOT HEALTHY!!!

IIFYM works when you follow a healthy diet filled with whole foods, vegetables and fruits etc and allowing yourself SOME relaxed (read not so healthy) food too.

If you look at my day of eating above, almost everything I ate was unprocessed apart from the whey protein and the cheesecake. I ate lots of fruit and vegetables and got plenty of protein, fibre and phytonutrients so I had no problem allowing myself the cheesecake at the end of the day.

Would it have been healthier to replace the cheesecake with whole foods? Absolutely! But then I’d also be left craving cheesecake and be more likely to binge on it in the future. This way, I fit it into my daily goals, don’t feel restricted and still woke up this morning with a six-pack. WIN WIN!!!!

The Importance of Whole Foods
The problem with the way we eat these days is pretty simple; we eat food too high in calories and too low in nutrients to maintain health.

The more calories you eat, the more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre we need to help our body deal with the excess energy load. Unfortunately we’ve managed to strip our foods, thanks to processing, so that these days most processed foods just provide us with easily consumed calories and not much else. If I have learned anything so far in all the lectures of this Masters degree in Nutrition that I’m doing, it’s this:

For our body to function optimally we need to provide it with the nutrients it needs while not not consuming more energy than we expend. 

The best way I’ve found to do this is for us to eat a diet rich in vegetables and other unprocessed foods while tracking our macronutrients and allowing ourselves some of foods we love and crave in responsible portionswhile exercising like a beast 😉

A healthy diet should be based on healthy, whole foods with a little leeway for some of the good things in life!

A healthy diet should be based on healthy, whole foods with a little leeway for some of the good things in life!

I exercise (weight training and almost no cardio), I eat a lot to cover my energy needs and I eat enough vegetables to feed a small petting zoo. But on top of that I eat out with friends from time to time and I always make room for some ice-cream or cheesecake or whatever else I feel like. I track what I eat and this way I keep myself happy and healthy.

What about Christmas Dinner?
I track my macros daily and exercise hard to maintain my weight and it works because I do it consistently. The state of our body and health is the result of what we do most of the time!

So am I going to track my macros on Christmas day? F@€K NO! I plan on eating like a beast (and for a small guy I can really down a lot of food). I’ll eat to excess and it’s not going to bother me because it’s just one day.

This will all be mine!

This will all be mine!

However, the very next day I’ll be back in the gym and back counting macros (and enjoying it).

This article is really meant just as an introduction to the concept of something I have found to be very useful in my life. The best way to get into it yourself is to download the app and just start. If you do it right and if you do it consistently, it can help you achieve your diet goals in a way you never thought possible.

Merry Christmas Folks & Eat Well!

Intermittent Fasting: Why I haven’t eaten breakfast in over two years!

22 Jul

Breakfast can be amazing… I’ll be the first to admit it.

Seriously, what could be better than waking up on a lazy Sunday morning and going out for a slap-up breakfast of fried pork-parts and pancakes?

That said, I don’t (regularly) do breakfast anymore. I have almost completely eliminated it from my life and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made (and that includes my decision to switch from boxers to boxer-briefs).

IFs and buts and why’s…
For the past two years I have been practicing a form of eating known as Intermittent Fasting (IF) that has steadily been growing in popularity in recent years.

IF basically means you go without food at regular, defined time intervals to reap the health benefits of fasting, evidence of which is starting to appear in recent scientific literature, including:

  • Better blood sugar levels, lower insulin and prevention of diabetes
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Treatment of certain cancers
  • Improved concentration
  • Weight loss
  • Prevention of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimers
  • Increased longevity

I’ll take a slice of that pie please!!!

In particular I have been fascinated with research on increasing longevity through diet for as long as I have been interested in nutrition. I like the idea of being able to live a long, healthy, dementia free life and there’s quite a bit of science that says I can help myself achieve that through diet and fasting. The only problem is: I love food way too much to not eat!

This is where IF comes in. IF allows you to achieve the benefits of fasting while still eating regularly. Read on and find out how.

Variety is the Spice of life…
… and accordingly there are a few different forms of fasting that include:

  • fasting every other day
  • fasting two days a week
  • prolonged (modified) fasting for up to a week or more (under medical supervision)
  • daily fasting

The type of fasting I’m going to talk about here is a form of daily fasting known as the Leangains method which was developed and popularized by one of my favourite Diet & Fitness bloggers, Martin Berkhan. His blog, aimed at serious diet and fitness enthusiasts,  goes into serious detail about many aspects of IF. It is a very worthwhile read!

Just so you have proof that Martin knows what he’s talking about here’s a picture of him and his body, all produced by IF.

That is the year-round lean physique of the one and only Martin Berkhan (about 5.5% body fat)

This is the year-round lean physique of the one and only Martin Berkhan (about 5.5% body fat)

The Leangains approach can be (over) simplified as follows:
Fast for 16 hours a day and eat within an 8 hour “Feeding Window” (FW).

Now, there’s much more to Leangains than that but lets just focus on the simplest aspect for this article.

In practice (and to make it infinitely more understandable) what that means for me is that I skip breakfast, have my first meal of the day at 12pm and finish my supper by 8pm (my 8 hour FW) and then fast (don’t consume any calories) for the next 16 hours.

The magic happens during the later parts of the fasting period. First off, your body starts to eat into its fat-stores to provide you energy which helps you reduce body fat and secondly and more importantly fasting causes your body to rev up its cellular defenses against molecular damage. That’s where many of the benefits of fasting come from.

“No Breakfast!!! Madness…Why, it’s the most important meal of the day…”
… I hear you roar! Once again my dear friends, this is not madness, this is SCIENCE!!!

I could write a few paragraphs explaining why everything you think is wrong with fasting/skipping breakfast is pure bulls#!t but Martin does it much more eloquently and in detail in his Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked. Read and learn.

Besides, many of the people who consider breakfast sooo essential to one’s health are probably eating cereals for breakfast and the majority of breakfast cereals are nothing more than morning candy. I’ll happily go without that, thank you.

Why I do IF
On top of the amazing health benefits I’ve mentioned above, IF has given me two major benefits:

1. It keeps me lean. I’ve always had trouble keeping my weight under control but IF makes weight management so easy that I think I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. As proof, here’s a few photos from the day before my 30th birthday earlier this month.

OK, so apart from being the whitest human being on Earth, IF has helped keep me leaner than I've ever been before!

OK, so apart from being the whitest human being on Earth, Intermittent Fasting has helped keep me leaner than I’ve ever been before!

I’m lean, stronger than I’ve ever been in my life and my birthday health check showed my blood work (glucose, lipids, liver function etc) results are on the good side of perfect 😉

Obviously, getting lean wasn’t the result of IF exclusively, my actual diet and exercise plan played a role but the great thing about IF is how easily it fits around other diets and exercise regimes. I wouldn’t have stuck with IF for so long if it had interfered with my gym routine.

2. It saves me time. I now only eat twice a day meaning this form of eating is more time efficient than the standard 3-meals-a-day (which is a relatively modern and artificial concept anyway) and especially more efficient than the 6-meals-a-day taken by some people who believe in such madness. In fact, anyone who I have converted to the IF Life has commented on how easy it makes life.

I can now wake up later knowing I don’t NEED to eat breakfast first thing in the morning. I still have lunch and a huge dinner (especially after the gym) and it still allows me to go out for dinner with my friends every now and then. If I eat later one evening I can just eat lunch later the next day. On top of that I now feel more productive in the mornings (another well known benefit of fasting).

Why would I ever want to go back to eating breakfast!

I can’t skip breakfast, I’ll be hungry
Boo F@¢king Hoo! Did that seem callous and uncaring? Good, it was meant to.

Amazingly, I rarely feel hungry anymore. My body adapted after a few weeks of IF. Even if you think you couldn’t handle skipping breakfast regularly, I recommend you adhere to it for just 2 weeks. That’s enough time for your body to get used to the new eating schedule. Your body can adapt to whatever meal-times you follow regularly; you just need to show it who’s boss for a couple of weeks.

Even if you do get the odd hunger pang at the start, here’s a newsflash: it’ll last for less than than 5 minutes and then you’ll forget you were even hungry at all. You can also have as much coffee, tea and water (with no milk and sugar, obviously) as you like during the fasting hours. As an added benefit, the caffeine in tea and coffee helps liberate fatty acids into your bloodstream, helping you burn more fat for fuel.

This is especially true if you keep yourself busy (idle hands and all that jazz). That’s why I recommend fasting during the morning up until lunch; most people with a standard schedule should be able to keep relatively busy with work/study/play until at least lunch time.

Life After Breakfast
As I’ve said, the benefits that I’ve received from IF mean that I don’t give a second thought to skipping breakfast anymore and the life-after-breakfast looks like it has a very bright future indeed . I’m healthier and have more free time than ever before. What’s not to love?!

I may get a craving for breakfast once in a blue moon but other than that I can happily say that it's gone from my life.

I may get a craving for breakfast once in a blue moon but other than that I can happily say that it’s gone from my life.

So why not dedicate a few weeks to the IF-Lifestyle (and it is, very much, a lifestyle). At the very least you’ll gain some extra free time in the mornings and you might feel so good you might say goodbye to breakfast for good.

Eat well folks.

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Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it 😉

Why Salsa Dancing is the Greatest Fat-Burning Exercise EVER!!!

8 Apr

I hate cardio!

Seriously! I can think of nothing worse than spending 30 minutes or more jogging or doing lengths in a swimming pool. The monotony is mind-numbing. In fact, the only time I ever mildly enjoy jogging is when the weather’s good and I can enjoy the sun on my skin and the view of the mountains from my route… but I live in Ireland where “good weather” is one of those legends we hear of as children but only really get to experience a handful of days out of the year… stupid North Atlantic weather.

Don’t even get me started on treadmills. How anyone can spend more than 5 minutes running in the same place, breathing the same stale air and looking at the same gym scenery is utterly beyond me. People who can spend 30 minutes on a treadmill have truly mastered the art of mentally shutting down and zoning-out. Maybe they’ve learned to meditate while jogging. Or maybe they’re just dead inside!

So why bother?
Well, the cold hard truth is that people do cardio because no one want’s to be fat. Extended periods of moderate intensity exercise (read “cardio”) such as jogging, swimming, biking etc. are good ways to burn body fat. All of these are classified as “aerobic” exercises which means they use oxygen to produce energy. Your bodies preferential fuel source for aerobic exercise is fat as opposed to to anaerobic exercises (such as sprinting or heavy weight lifting) which use carbohydrates as their energy source.

I’m certainly not saying aerobic exercise is better than anaerobic (my own training routine would contradict that), I’m just saying that aerobic exercise has a role to play in getting us ready for beach season.

Bikini season is coming... I've completely lost my train of thought

Bikini season is coming… I’ve completely lost my train of thought!

So what’s wrong with cardio?
Simple answer: IT’S BORING!!!
I actually have to psyche myself up to go for a jog and I know I’m not the only one. As soon as I step on the pavement, all I can think of is “when is this going to be over”. I feel the same way swimming laps in a pool. I’m just counting down the minutes until I can stop. That’s not a good way to encourage physical activity.

Geeky answer: It produces cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone that your body produces in times of stress. Stress can be induced by lots of factors (as we all know) but one of them is exercise, particularly sustained moderate/high intensity cardio.

Now, cortisol is not all bad, it actually induces the beneficial effects of exercise through its catabolic (break down) effects. Basically it signals your body that it needs to get stronger by breaking down tissue. However if cortisol levels remain high your body gets stuck in a catabolic state and can’t get into the anabolic (build up) state that it needs to improve conditioning. Basically your body is stuck breaking down muscle tissue as opposed to building it up. This can result in a whole host of problems such as reduced muscle tone, higher susceptibility to infection, poor sleep and increased abdominal fat (everyone’s favorite type of fat 😉  ).

Excessive cardio (e.g. long distance running) can often result in the body type seen on the right. Probably not the look most people are going for.

Excessive cardio (e.g. long distance running) can often result in the body type seen on the right. Probably not the look most people are going for.

This is a perfect example of too much of a good thing. Excessive moderate/high intensity cardio makes you produce too much cortisol.

Do what you love
The best way to exercise, in my opinion, is to do something you love.

When you enjoy something, you stick with it and when it comes to getting the benefits of exercise, consistency is key.

That’s why it’s better to do something that you enjoy doing for the sake of doing it, rather than just to get exercise. Be it soccer, tennis, basketball or no-holds-barred hopscotch, finding an activity you enjoy is important.

In my final year in Japan I had no trouble maintaining low body fat because I was surfing regularly (I lived next to the sea and had my own car to take my board around). I didn’t go surfing because I wanted to get exercise, I went because I loved catching waves (even though I sucked). I did it regularly and it kept me lean.

Another advantage of doing an activity that you love is that it helps to combat stress which actively reduces cortisol and helps to prevent its negative effects.

Salsa Caliente
I have noticed that I have no trouble staying lean if I’m social dancing around 3 nights a week.

When I lived in Dublin a few years ago, I took a month off form social dancing while I was doing a CELTA course (there was hefty workload in the evenings). Apart from the lack of dancing, my diet and my weight training (which I did in the mornings) didn’t change. I did, however, notice that I was gaining weight. Once I started dancing again, the weight just melted off.

Now, salsa dancing isn’t overly intense. Have a look at the “estimated” calories burned (for someone weighing 70kg) for 30 minutes of the following activities*:

  • Salsa: 214 cals**
  • Biking: 245 cals
  • Jogging: 210 cals
  • Swimming: 315 cals
  • Vigorous Sex: 120 cals (I think they might be doing it wrong)

*Source: http://www.calorielab.com
**Source: SalsaPhD

Now, except for the value for Salsa dancing, I’m very skeptical about the veracity of the remaining values (especially the last one) but lets assume they’re relatively accurate.

Over 30 minutes, salsa appears to have a caloric expenditure similar to biking and jogging. Fair enough, that seems about right. However, I’ve never known someone to go social dancing for just 30 minutes.

The great thing about salsa is that it’s so addictive. When I go social dancing, I can be out dancing for one, two, three or more hours. And I’m enjoying every second of it (as opposed to jogging where I’m just wishing for it to end). So when you look at it like that, dancing for two (very enjoyable) hours could burn ~860 calories as opposed to 210 calories from a torturous half hour of jogging (the value for salsa will obviously be lower due to breaks taken on a night out dancing).

Anyone who has had a good night of salsa dancing also knows how out of breath and sweaty one gets by the end of the night.

Out of Breath and Sweaty?
Sounds like cardio to me. And that’s just what it is. A night of salsa dancing is an extended period of moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

Salsa is one of the best low intensity exercises you can do.

Salsa is one of the best low intensity exercises you can do.

It beats the hell out of jogging as it’s a hell of a lot more fun, it’s easier on the joints, it helps to reduce stress (and associated cortisol levels) and it’s a social activity you can enjoy with friends. You can check out a whole load of other reasons to dance salsa here. Think about it though: Which would you prefer, a half hour of running or 2 hours of salsa dancing?

Why a salsa class won’t help you
Now, after saying all that, if you think going to an hour-long salsa class three times a week is going to give you abs you could grate carrots on, you are sadly mistaken.

Most salsa classes are focused on teaching you new techniques and thus the intensity is far too low. In all honesty, how many times have you been sweaty and out of breath after a salsa class?

The only exception would be Zumba but that’s more aerobics than dancing (no disrespect to zumba, I’m just calling it like I see it).

A few hours of hot and sweaty social dancing, two or three times a week is really one of the best “no will power needed” fat-burning routines you could ever try.

You enjoy it = You do it regularly = You get results

The Secret Ingredient
Let’s not forget the most important factor when it comes to dropping body fat:

“Abs are made in the kitchen”

You can do all the exercise you want but if you’re not eating well, the only time you’re going to see abs is watching Ryan Reynolds movies (damn that guy looks good).

I hate Ryan Reynolds for looking so good!

I hate Ryan Reynolds for looking so good!

Don’t let your good efforts on the dance floor go to waste, make an effort with your food and you’ll be able to put Mr. Reynolds to shame. If you need some tips on tweaking your diet you can check out these articles here and here.

So get up and shake that booty
I don’t have the option to go dancing right now (here in the middle of the mountains) so I have to settle for jogging as my regular cardio (and it is a very distant runner up to salsa). So to those of you who can, get up, get moving and a dance a few songs for me.

Keep dancing folks.

EDIT: After I initially published this article I was contacted by Pablo Alberto Domene, a PhD student at Kingston University who is studying the the physical and psychological benefits of Latin dance. He very kindly corrected the caloric expenditure values I had originally used for salsa (which were too low) based on his own research. You can read up on Pablo’s work on his excellent blog: SalsaPhD
Thanks for your help Pablo and I wish you continued success in your studies.

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Cave-Chicken Casserole (Introducing “The Cooking Irishman”)

25 Mar
Cave-Chicken Casserole: I love me some cave-chicken!

Cave-Chicken Casserole: I love me some cave-chicken!

Champ: “Do you know what they call bats?”
Ron: “Bats!?”
Champ: “Chicken of the cave”
Ron: “No one calls them chicken of the cave”…

After careful investigation I later discovered that, in fact, bats are not known as “Chicken of the cave”!

I was however left with a hankering for some chicken… just not the deep-fried, fast food, could possibly be a bat, kind of chicken. With last week’s article on the Paleo Diet still fresh in my mind, and with the necessity of having to feed my family  (Mam, Dad and four hungry Man-boys) for dinner, I set about rustling up a Paleo-Chicken caserole that would make any prehistoric foodie whip out his iPhone and Instagram the s#!t out of that foodgasm (I’m not sure if “foodgasm” is an appropriate word to use but I really think it’s the word a prehistoric hunter-gatherer would whisper, with his eyes closed in ecstasy, upon tasting this paleo-poultry.

(I really enjoyed writing that last paragraph 😀 )

On top of all that, I’ve also wanted to write a recipe post for a while. I love food blogs and this is my chance to spread my writing wings a little and try something new… (it’s fairly obvious I haven’t been dancing for a while, right!)

Cave-Chicken Casserole
The chicken used in this recipe neither lived in a cave nor was a creepy, flying mammal. It gets it’s name from the fact that everything used in the recipe is Paleo Diet (otherwise known as the Caveman Diet) friendly . Can I get a “Wuhoo”?

It’s high in protein, high in fat (none of which are damaged or refined), high in fiber and antioxidants, low in carbs, dairy-free, grain-free and gluten free. It also taste’s like what the God’s of Mount Olympus eat every Tuesday night… you know, the night they all make sure they’re home early so they can get an extra large helping of this awesomeness. It’s that good!

And I think that’s the important thing about this. I call this recipe “Paleo” because it fits in with the guidelines of some famous diet, but the truth is that this is just a healthy and importantly, delicious meal. I wouldn’t change anything about it. There is no need to add non-paleo ingredients to it because it is just THAT good. I might play around with the spices but that would be for a different taste experience. Trust me, I know my food!

The recipe is at the end but the pictures will give you an idea of how it all comes together. You’ll also notice that I cooked loads. This made 9 portions, so it fed everyone for dinner and had plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day (because I’m lazy and didn’t want to cook again).

Materials & Method
(Yes, I’m a science nerd). Cut up some carrots into bite-sized chunks. Chuck ’em in a big casserole dish!

Mmm, cavemen love carrots. Reminds them of their clubs!

Mmm, cavemen love carrots. Reminds them of their clubs!

Next, cut some onions into quarters, separate the layers and chuck em’ into the casserole dish. I got fancy and used half yellow onions and half red onions. Yes, I’m that fancy.

Chickens love onions... Fa

Chickens love onions… Fact!

Next up I added some quartered button mushrooms but you can add whatever type you want. Chestnut or portobello would be great. I really recommend using mushrooms as they really add to the flavor of the sauce when cooked… unless you’re allergic to mushrooms. In that case don’t add them… that would be stupid.

I killed all these mushrooms myself. Super Mario would be so proud... or horrified... I can't remember.

I killed all these mushrooms myself. Super Mario would be so proud… or horrified… I can’t remember.

Next, chop up some bell peppers into chunks. I once again went with my theme of using two different colours. Aren’t I artistic? At this point I realized that the dish was getting pretty full.

On a related note, red and green are the colours of my village's Gaelic Football team. Nice!

On a related note, red and green are the colours of my village’s Gaelic Football team. Nice!

Some of you may disagree with my next choice. I finely chopped two sticks of celery and add that to the veggie mix. Here’s the thing, if you ask anyone in my house what they think of celery they will all say that they hate it. I can’t blame them. It’s not on the top of anyone’s favorite foods list. However, used as a seasoning agent, it adds a savory depth to the flavor of many meat dishes. I started adding it to my lasagnas and now my lasagnas are pretty damn spectacular. Anyway, just chop it up finely and no-one needs to know.

It'll be our little secret ;-)

It’ll be our little secret 😉

For a final, antioxidant-punch I added a chopped up head of broccoli, one of my favorite vegetables (when it’s cooked well). It doesn’t seem I will be fitting much chicken into this casserole dish.

Studies have shown that when cavemen went "courting" they would rub themselves with broccoli to attract mates. True story!

Studies have shown that when cavemen went “courting” they would rub themselves with old broccoli to attract mates. True story!

Next, I needed to make the sauce, the main ingredients of which are coconut milk, tomato puree and seasoning.

Coconut milk has become a staple in my kitchen.

Coconut milk has become a staple in my kitchen.

So to make the sauce, in a separate jug, I mixed up the coconut milk, tomato puree, oregano, a full head of chopped garlic, cayenne pepper for a little kick, sea salt and a generous dose of freshly ground black pepper. If you have it I would also add the juice of half or a whole lemon. Citric acid is a great flavor enhancer. Once mixed together, it came out looking a little like this…

The coconut milk and tomato puree are the two most processed ingredients in this entire recipe. The Gods of Paleo are smiling upon me.

The coconut milk and tomato puree are the two most processed ingredients in this entire recipe. The Gods of Paleo are smiling upon me.

At this point, the one very full dish was worrying me so I snapped my fingers and…

Holy crap. How'd he do that?

Holy crap. How’d he do that?

Next comes the part everyone’s been waiting for. To satisfy the beast-like appetites of my family, I added a beast-like… beast!? Anyway, I threw in some chicken thigh joints on top of the veggies. I recommend using thighs for a few reasons. The meat of the thigh is higher in fat than the breast and so tastes better. The bones in the legs, once they get cooked, add much more flavor to the sauce than chicken breast alone can. They look a lot better once they’re all cooked (you’ll see the photo later) and to top it off, it’s much cheaper than buying chicken breast. However, if you want to go with chicken breast for convenience, go for it. The same goes for other cave-beasts too: cave-pig, cave-sheep, cave-cow etc. As you can see in the photo, I left the skin on but you can remove it before cooking (just give it a firm tug) if you want to reduce the fat content of the dish.

I also tracked and hunted these chicken thighs myself. I have no idea how they were getting around without being attached to the rest of the chicken.

I also tracked and hunted these chicken thighs myself. I have no idea how they were getting around without being attached to the rest of the chicken.

We’re almost there folks. Next I just poured the sauce haphazardly over the chicken and veggies. If you want to slather the sauce over the meat more evenly, go for it. I like to slather… or maybe I just like saying “slather”. I’ll stop now. It will appear that you don’t have enough sauce, don’t panic. Stay calm and add a little extra water into the bottom of the casserole dishes (I used less than  500 ml of extra water between both dishes).

It will look like you don't have enough sauce but don't worry, I got your back!

It will look like you don’t have enough sauce but don’t worry, I got your back!

The last step before cooking is to cover the dishes, this will keep keep steam in the dish and prevent the sauce from condensing too much. If you have tight fitting lids for your dishes, perfect, if not, use aluminium foil sealed tightly around the sides. I don’t like using aluminium foil but sometimes it really is indispensable.

Look at how well I covered that!

Look at how well I covered that!

Now, if we were real cavemen we would collect wood, build a fire using a piece of flint and throw the casserole dish into the fire. We, however, are more civilized than that. We’ll use science (hurrah!)  and put the dish into into a preheated oven at 170° C for about two to two and a half hours. You don’t need to stir it or mess with, just leave the magic fire box do its work and you should get something that looks a little like this:

Oh yeah, that's the money shot right there.

Oh yeah, that’s the money shot right there.

As you can see, all the coconut-tomat0 mix has sunk down to the vegetables and mixed with the juices from the chicken meat and bones to make a sauce that would bring a tear to a caveman’s eye.

The chicken served with the veggies is a meal in itself but if you feel the necessity for extra carbs, it goes great with roasted sweet potato.

Ingredient List
For those of you who at this stage are probably going bonkers due to me not mentioning the exact quantities of my ingredients, here the list (people like lists):

  • Carrots: 6 med-large
  • Onions: 4 small-med
  • Mushrooms: ~500g
  • Bell peppers: 2 large
  • Celery: 2 large sticks
  • Broccoli: 1 large head (~400g)
  • Chicken legs & thighs: 9 (~2.8kg)

Sauce:

  • Coconut Milk: 2 cans (400ml each)
  • Tomato paste: 1 tube (200g)
  • Oregano: ~2 tsp
  • Garlic: 1 head
  • Cayenne Pepper: ~2 tsp
  • Black Pepper: ~2 tsp
  • Salt: 1-2 tsp
  • Lemon juice: ~whole lemon (optional)

 

Nutritional Breakdown
I used the USDA Nutrient Database to help me calculate the nutrient values for this meal. If you tend to get a little OCD about food I recommend staying away from this site, it’s got soooo much information.

Each portion of cave-chicken casserole contains approximately:

  • Calories: 695
  • Fat: 45g
  • Protein: 47g
  • Carbs: 33g
  • Fiber: 7g

On top of that it’s bursting with antioxidants and phytonutrients from the mini vegetable garden we chopped up at the start. Packed with high quality protein and the fat is saturated (which is not “bad” as it has been demonized to be over the years) and a lot of it consists of medium-chain triglycerides from the coconut milk, which are easily metabolized for energy. I personally would have this, as is (i.e. no extra carbs on the side) on a low-carb day as it’s a little high in fat so avoiding carbs will help you to avoid wearing them later 😉 .

The Cooking Irishman
And that’s that. My first endeavor into the world of recipe blogging. May it be the first of many. A very healthy, very paleo feast for all you wanna-be cavemen and cavewomen out there. I hope you like.

On another note I’m aware that my photos don’t look quite as sexy as the ones you can see on Food Porn Daily but I’ll try and improve for the next one. Promise.

Eat well, folks.

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Cheat Day Diary (A Photographic Record of a Day of Pure Food Hedonism)

7 Aug

I don’t drink… I don’t smoke… I don’t do drugs… but by God do I EAT!!!

A well managed cheat day does not have to be a diet ruiner!

A well managed cheat day does not have to be a diet ruiner!

I have had a weekly cheat day for almost 7 years now and I refined my technique greatly after reading Tim Ferris’s “The 4 Hour Body”. I try to eat as clean as I can during the week but 1 day of pure food-based hedonism out of every 7 helps keep me sane and reminds me how crappy junk food makes me feel. I’ve written about the importance of cheat days for sticking to eating plans here!

The World Games ended here last Sunday (my usual cheat day) so this week I decided to make a pig of myself on Monday.

Here’s a step-by-step, bite-by-bite guide to gorging like a professional eater and not worrying about the repercussions. I’ve included estimates of calorie intake for the meals as best I can.

9.00am: Coffee to start the engines
I start a cheat day the same way I do every other day of the week. Three large glasses of ice-cold water followed by two large mugs of strong, black coffee. I “intermittent fast” so I don’t take any calories before at least midday which means I don’t use milk or sugar.

The caffeine in the coffee causes your body to release lipids from fat-cells into the blood stream when your body is in a fasted state. That means your morning coffee gets you burning fat as soon as you wake up.
Calories: 0

11.45am: Gym

Just back form the gym and ready to start my day of gluttony

Just back form the gym and ready to start my day of gluttony

I’m nursing an elbow injury at the moment and both my physiotherapist and chiropractor advised me to avoid upper body  movements for the next month. So I had a fairly heavy leg’s day to make up for it. I did eleven sets of 5 reps of squats pyramiding up to and then down from my maximum weight.

Having a cheat day on a heavy exercise day means that some of the excess calories you consume will at least be put to good use in rebuilding your muscles.

I also try to cycle around the city throughout the day to keep my muscles active which promotes the shuttling of nutrients into muscle cells in preference to fat storage.

1.00pm: Sugar Rush

Two local specialities, "Panelita de Leche" and "Arequipe". They're pretty much sugar and milk!

Two local specialties, “Panelita de Leche” and “Arequipe”. They’re pretty much sugar and milk!

Right after heavy exercise muscles need sugar to halt the catabolic (muscle break down) effects of cortisol. To begin the anabolic (muscle building) process nothing is better than high-glycemic (fast release) sugars. I normally use a couple of bananas but seeing as I didn’t have any food left in the house (I had no time to go shopping while volunteering at the games) these little desserts I received during the games had to suffice.
Calories: 180

1.20pm: Grilled Beef, Bolognaise, Cheese and Vegetable Sandwich

My first lunch; a surprisingly god sandwich!

My first lunch; a surprisingly good sandwich!

Calories: 600

1.50pm: Banana Bread

I really love good banana bread. This was far from the best I've ever had.

I really love good banana bread. Unfortunately this wasn’t that good!.

Calories: 200

2.10pm: Fried Chicken, Rice, Fried Potatoes, Roasted Plantain, Salad & Passion-fruit juice in milk

This was a nice post workout carb-boost

This was a nice post workout carb-boost (Roasted plantain and fried yellow potatoes are amongst my favourite foods in Colombia)

The day previously I had a whole conversation about fried chicken with my buddy Santana which combined with watching the movie “Soul Plane” left me with some serious cravings for fried chicken. This really hit the spot.

Gloves for eating chicken are such a great idea.

Gloves for eating chicken are such a great idea.

I also had to show a picture of something I’ve only seen in Colombia. People eat fried chicken here with gloves and although it looks weird at first it really is a great idea and stops your fingers getting super greasy.

Also, if you’ve never tried passion fruit juice in milk before, you haven’t lived
Calories: 1300

3.30pm: Peach Genovesa and Black Coffee

This is at one of my favourite cafes in Cali

This is at one of my favorite cafes in Cali

A genovesa is like a sponge cake that has been soaked in condensed milk and cream to create an incredibly wet, sweet cake which in this case was topped with peach compote. I try not to drink my calories so the coffee was black and unsweetened.

On another note, if you’re wondering how I pass my time in between mouthfuls, I read a lot while I’m eating. I always have a selection of books stored on my phone so I never get bored while I’m gorging myself.
Calories: 500

4.10pm: Cherry Cheesecake Ice-cream

Some of Colombia's best icecream courtesy of "Crepes & Waffles"

Some of Colombia’s best ice-cream courtesy of “Crepes & Waffles”

Calories: 200

4.40pm: Almojabana

One of Colombia's better pastry products: Light, slightly cheesy and with a hint of sweetness

One of Colombia’s better pastry products: Light, slightly cheesy and with a hint of sweetness

Calories: 180

4.50pm: Oreo-Cream Cupcake

This expensive little fecker neither lived up to its name nor price tag

This expensive little fecker neither lived up to its name nor its price tag

Calories: 300

5.00pm: Calorie Mate

"Cheese" flavor apparently... they should return to testing.

“Cheese” flavor, apparently… they really should return to taste testing.

Calorie Mate is a product that anyone who has lived in Japan for any decent length of time will recognize. It’s basically a “nutritionally balanced” meal replacement biscuit. I received loads from the Japanese Ultimate Frisbee Team that I was translating for during the World Games. I fail to understand it’s popularity.
Calories: 200

5.10pm: Instant “Tan Tan Men” noodles

Another gift from the Japanese Frisbee Team.

Another gift from the Japanese Frisbee Team.

Calories: 120

5.20pm: Probiotic Yogurt

This is my favourite yoghurt here because of the probiotic mix it contains

This is my favorite yogurt here because of the probiotic mix it contains

Eating huge quantities of sugar and other junk foods can play havoc with your intestinal flora (the bacteria that live in your digestive tract) so I always make sure I take a good hit of probiotic (good bacteria) yogurt when I have a cheat day to help restore the balance of good bacteria faster.
Calories: 50

5.30pm: Nutella (imitation)

Not the real deal but just as tasty!

Not the real deal but just as tasty!

I found this imitation nutella on special offer. I hadn’t had nutella in a while so I added it to the cart. I polished off half of it the way it’s supposed to be done… straight out of the jar with a spoon.
Calories: 550

7.00pm: Oreo Ice-cream

This stuff is simply orgasmic!

This stuff is simply orgasmic!

I have a serious weakness for Ice-cream and this Oreo ice-cream by Popsy is amazing (I avoided it for ages because I “kind of” snobbishly looked down on oreos but it really is an amazing ice-cream. I got through about three quarters of the tub.
Calories: 1200

8.00pm: Oatmeal (The Cleanup Guy)

One very runny bowl of porridge (oatmeal)

One very runny bowl of porridge (oatmeal)

It’s a great idea to finish off a cheat day with a good punch of soluble fiber. This helps to move the food through your digestive tract faster and the soluble fiber also cleans your intestines along the way helping to expel any waste that might otherwise remain after such a day of gluttony.

A couple of tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseeds in water (swallowed as fast as possible as it’s horrible stuff) would be even better.
Calories: 50

9.10pm: One seriously distended stomach

To say that I was on the point of exploding would be quite accurate.

To say that I was on the point of exploding would be quite accurate.

Grand Calorie Total: 5630

Am I worried about this huge glut of calories? No.

Why? Because every other day of the week I eat very, very healthy food in very controlled portions.

If I ate like this everyday I wouldn’t live very long. I would probably have died of a heart attack or diabetes years ago. But I have more sense than that. I realize how important diet is in maintaining one’s health but I’m also aware that it is what you eat most of the time and not what you eat only rarely that makes the difference.

I’ve written a few pointers on how to correctly manage a cheat day at the end of this article. Read and understand them and you too can enjoy a day of pure food pleasure once a week and not have to worry about ruining your diet progress.

Happy Eating Folks

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The Lean Mean Salsa Machine (A concise guide to Eating, Moving and Sleeping)

23 May

No matter what you attempt in life, if your body isn’t in tip-top condition, reaching your goals will be nowhere near as easy as when your at your optimum.

For this reason I try to keep myself as healthy as circumstances allow and I’ve developed a pretty good awareness of what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve been interested in nutrition and exercise science since I was a chubby, unfit 15 year old who spent his time eating junk, playing video games and watching excessive amounts of TV. Since then I’ve devoured a small library of texts about health and I’ve changed my lifestyle considerably and now, thankfully, feel and look a whole lot better.

Abs: for many, the whole world of fitness and nutrition seems to boil down to a hard, lumpy stomach!

Abs: for many, the whole world of fitness and nutrition seems to boil down to a hard, lumpy stomach! Just in case you’re wondering, these aren’t my abs (I never wear black)!

When I’m running at optimum, it makes everything else I do a breeze and I believe that everyone else should do their utmost to look after their bodies so they can always bring their A-game to the dance floor (and everywhere else in life).

I could (and probably will at some stage) write individual posts for many of the points I’m going to mention here, but for the time-being I’m just going to give a concise guide to some easily modifiable aspects of your lifestyle. There are many people who will disagree with some of these points but that doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m only going to talk about things that I know work or have worked for me and may work for you too.

A note on individuality and self-assessment
Everybody is different (thankfully) and that means what works for one may very well not work for another. Thus, I can’t stress the importance of actively experimenting and trying to find what works best for you.
Please try out the following recommendations (and whatever variations of them which you can come up with) and take note of how your body reacts over time. Keep what works for you and discard whatever doesn’t.
Unfortunately, a lot of us these days have been in a state of suboptimal health for so long that we no longer know what it feels like to be truly healthy. So get some outside help and monitor your progress by measuring whatever values you can (weight, body fat, blood pressure, cholesterol etc.) before and after you make these changes. Give them time (at least 4 weeks) to take effect and hopefully at that stage these healthy habits will have stuck.

The following points are in no particular order. While I consider them all important I will make note of those which I feel have a particularly profound affect on your health. Obviously, the cumulative affect of a number of these together is greater than doing any one on it’s own.

Get enough sleep

This one is incredibly important. Lack of sleep disrupts hormones enormously especially those involved in growth and repair and appetite control. Getting sufficient sleep is essential for your body to reset and repair itself every day so can be ready for what the day throws at you.

I know from experience that when I don’t get enough sleep (for me 7-8 hours) the next day I’ll be rife with food cravings and much more likely to eat something that I shouldn’t, when I shouldn’t. Lack of sleep is one of the major reasons (I believe) that people develop food cravings that sabotage their attempts to eat healthily.

What constitutes enough sleep? This varies for everyone, some need less, some more, but I feel that 7-8 hours is a good starting point. If you have trouble sleeping try to address it as soon as possible (it may be as simple as using earplugs and an eye-mask, which I’ve been doing for years).

Don’t smoke

If you’re still doing this, you’re an idiot. Quit!

Don’t drink

While there may be some minor benefits to a little alcohol, these are far outweighed by the detrimental effects of its consumption in excess (experience tells me that the majority of people who drink, do so in excess).

I’m very lucky in that I never started drinking when I was a teenager and neither have I ever felt the necessity to do so. Do your body and your wallet a favor and either reduce your alcohol consumption significantly or eliminate it altogether.

Learn to read food labels

You can not know what you’re consuming if you don’t what is in your food. Learn to read food labels quickly (just takes a little practice) so you can scan them and eliminate unhealthy choices quickly and efficiently.

A good rule of thumb is; the longer the ingredient list the less likely it is to be a healthy food choice.

Eat enough fruit & vegetables to put a small cow to shame

Your parents were not lying to you when they told you to eat more veggies as a kid. Vegetables are not only full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants but they also contains hundreds, even thousands, of so far undocumented substances that can have a profound effect on keeping us healthy and disease free.

This is an example of what I have to lug home from my local supermarket every week! If you're not getting exercise just by carrying your veggies home, you're not eating enough?

This is an example of what I have to lug home from my local supermarket every week! If you’re not getting exercise just by carrying your veggies home, you’re not eating enough?

Eat as many different coloured vegetables as you can every day but focus on dark-green leafy vegetables (like spinach, lettuce, cabbage etc.) and try to get plenty of them raw too. Make it a point to eat one huge, leafy-green salad every day.

Caveat: You should be eating vastly more vegetables than fruit, as veggies are far more nutritionally dense and some fruits contain a lot of sugar (which is fine if your exercising regularly but may not be so good for you if your sedentary). For moderately-active to active people, 3 to 5 pieces of fruit a day is fine (1 piece is equivalent to an apple, a banana, a medium slice of pineapple, a big handful of berries etc.). Dried fruit should be avoided, it’s far too calorie dense.

Cook for yourself

The most surefire way to know exactly what you’re putting into your body is to prepare your own food (or as much of it as possible).

I’ve always loved cooking but if you can’t, now is the time to learn. You don’t need to be a master chef either. Just learn a few healthy recipes that you like and alternate them.

You don’t have time, you say? I’m a time-efficiency freak so I’ve developed a few routines to keep my kitchen time as low as possible. The trick is to cook in bulk. I prepare up to 10 meals worth of food in a gigantic pot, divide it into separate containers, freeze it and then just heat it up when I need it. At any one time, my freezer is full of different chilies, curries and stews ready to be eaten at a moments notice.

Eliminate grains from your diet

I never buy bread, pasta or rice. Grains, especially processed ones are simply sources of calories and provide little nutritional value when compared to other carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains and legumes.

Whatever nutrients they do contain are poorly absorbed due to compounds they contain called phytates which bind to minerals in food and prevent their absorption in your gut. So all you get is a hefty dose of carbohydrates that wreaks havoc with your blood sugar and will leave you feeling hungry in a few short hours.

The worst offenders are gluten containing grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats as the gluten content has a negative effect on digestibility and gut health which, although not having as strong an affect in the general population as in people with coeliac disease, can result in sub-par physical condition. Think of how full you felt the last time you had a heavy meal full of pasta or bread, it probably took quite a while for that uncomfortably full, bloated feeling to subside. That’s more than likely the gluten blocking up your digestive tract.

Do this as a test; entirely eliminate gluten containing grains and their products from your diet for about 3 weeks and then have a meal containing bread or pasta. Do not expect to feel well a few hours later!

Eliminate processed sugar

SUGAR IS THE DEVIL!!! Repeat it until the phrase sticks in your head folks, “Sugar is the devil”.

This one point alone will have a huge affect on your health (and appearance).

The real culprit in sugar is probably fructose which more and more scientific studies are showing has negative affects on health when consumed in excess (which is what most people consume). It has been linked to obesity, liver damage, high blood pressure and even gout. No one wants gout!

Unfortunately, sugar is as addictive as crack (or so I’ve read) and is ubiquitous in modern processed foods. Sugar is pure carbohydrate with absolutely no nutritional value and you should avoid it in all it’s forms so check labels for the following; table sugar, high fructose corn-syrup, honey, raw cane sugar, fructose, sucrose, rice syrup, agave syrup etc. Although some of these are lauded as health foods, they are virtually all identical; almost pure sugar, devoid of fiber and containing only trace amounts (if any) of vitamins and minerals.

I have, in the past, dropped my body-fat significantly by simply eliminating foods containing refined sugar, and nothing else, from my diet.

Remember, “Sugar is the devil!”

Get enough protein

Be it animal or vegetable protein, aim for about one gram per kilogram of lean body-weight. Protein helps to repair your body (especially after strenuous exercise) and keeps you feeling fuller for longer than carbs or fat.

Good sources are lean meats, fish, eggs and (if your a vegetarian/vegan) properly cooked legumes like lentils and beans. A simple rule of thumb is that you get between 20-25 grams of protein per 100 grams of uncooked meat or legumes.

Get adequate Omega-3 oils

Diets high in Omega-3 oils have been shown to improve symptoms of chronic inflammation (such as arthritis and psoriasis), depression, heart disease and a whole host of other ailments common in the modern world. Unfortunately they’re not so easy to consume if you don’t eat a lot of oily fish, like trout and salmon, which are amongst the best sources of these healthy fats.

While Omega-3 oils can be found in plant sources like flax and chia seeds, walnuts and hemp oil, they need to be converted to more active forms (EPA and DHA) by the body, which is not very efficient at doing this. So in my opinion the best way to get them is to eat a large portion of fatty fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel once a week. If you’re a fan of salmon sashimi like I am this will be good new for you. If you’re not a big fish fan (like I was before I lived in Japan and Colombia) you can always buy Omega-3 supplements (of which Krill-oil is now supposed to be the best option).

Exercise

Your body was made to move and if your not moving, your doing yourself a great disservice. Doing any type of exercise is better than doing none but I really recommend lifting weights (here’s the routine I recommend that actually made me love going to the gym) for the huge changes it can bring about in your appearance and in how you feel everyday. Lifting weights is a great form of exercise for both men and women (ladies, don’t believe any “lies” you may have heard about women who lift weights ending up looking like the incredible hulk, it just doesn’t happen like that. Some of the most beautiful bodies I have ever seen have been those of women who lift weights regularly).

This is what you look like without exercise. Remember: diet makes you look good in clothes, exercise makes you look good naked!!!

This is what you look like without exercise.
Remember: diet makes you look good in clothes, exercise makes you look good naked!!! (The spelling mistake isn’t mine)

If you can’t find a gym try body weight exercises like push-ups, chin-ups etc at home. If you can’t do anything else, running is fine but you get much more bang for your buck, so to speak, by dedicating your time to more intense exercise like weightlifting.

That said, the effect of regular, low intensity exercise can’t be ignored. I know from experience that I lose weight quickly if I’m social dancing 3 or 4 times a week and when I’m cycling a lot. A bicycle is usually one of the first things I buy when I move to a new city and I try to travel by bike as much as possible so I’m getting some exercise everyday.

Avoid environmental toxins

This one, unfortunately, is not so easy to accomplish in the modern world. Our food, homes, cooking utensils and hygiene products are loaded with chemicals that disrupt hormones and in many cases are linked to cancer and other diseases.

For this, I try to reduce the amount of chemicals I use in my home as much as possible, I never cook with aluminium nor  non-stick cook-wear and I reduce the amount of contact my food has with plastics of all types.

Fast

These days, people eat a lot, so much so that we can rarely truly say that we have an empty stomach. A great deal of research these days is revealing the beneficial effects of fasting, especially in the area of weight loss.

I’ve practiced fasting, in one form or another, since I was in university and have always felt better because of it. It gives your body, especially your digestive system, a chance to rest and reset for itself and it has a hugely beneficial effect on the hormonal systems involved in repair, weight loss and blood sugar control. I used to do a weekly one day fast but now I practice intermittent fasting (eating a late lunch and dinner and no breakfast) almost everyday.

Not only do I feel healthier doing this but I also save a huge amount of time during the day as instead of eating 4 times a day, as I used to, I only eat two big meals daily which means I spend a lot less time preparing food and have more free time to dedicate to things I want/need to do. Hunger pangs are rare and when they do happen they last for less than 5 minutes and then disappear. I also feel an amazing mental clarity while I’m fasting which I can only attribute to much more stable blood sugar and hormones. Give it a try and feel the difference.

Be flexible

The world is not perfect and neither are humans. No one can be expected to eat perfectly all the time. Life gets in the way; parties, dinners, dates, holidays, stress etc. can all mess up the best of intentions. If you slip up, accept it and get back on track as quickly as possible (I find fasting a great way to reset the system after a lapse into poor eating) and remember it’s what you do most of the time that maters rather than what you do 100% of the time.

If you need help sticking to any type of eating habit you can find a whole load of useful tips in these articles here and here.

Looking at this list now, it doesn’t appear to be as concise as I had first expected. Still, I hope you found something useful here and it helps you make your life and your body a little (hopefully a lot) healthier.

I love talking about health so I’d love to hear your comments and questions on this post.

Stay healthy and keep dancing.

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Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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