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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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The Best Diet in the World (and why I don’t follow it)

11 Mar

Diets these days are like religions.

The followers of a particular diet, just like those of a particular religion, will often do all they can to promote it, spread it to new followers and if ever their beliefs are threatened by other “non-believers”, well let’s just say that some wouldn’t bat an eyelid at waging a holy war, on that great battleground that is the interweb, in defense of of their dietary gods.

Just as in religion, blind faith and unquestioning extremism only cause trouble. I’ll talk more about this a little later on.

Life as a guinea pig
As a lot of my friends and regular readers know, I was a fat kid. Some would say chubby but either way, I just didn’t look right in a bathing suit.

In my mid-teens I started reading about nutrition and exercise science and this started a passion that burns serious calories to this very day.

I love new knowledge so that’s led me to not only read a wide variety of books on nutrition but to also try out those dietary approaches on myself. Truth be told, there are probably very few of the major eating systems that I haven’t given a try. From strict veganism to hardcore ketosis-inducing Atkins I’ve survived or thrived on a lot of different diets.

Today I want to introduce you to one that I think is really worth your time looking into a little more.

“P” is for Paleo
Many of you, I’m sure, have heard of the Paleo diet.

The Paelo Diet intends to bring us a step back towards our ancestors (no harm there)

The Paelo Diet intends to bring us a step back towards our ancestors (no harm there).

These days it is both popular (and growing in popularity) and controversial. Let me go all hipster on you all and just say “I was doing Paleo before it was cool”. I first gave it a try about 12 years ago and I’m still a big believer in its effectiveness at helping people lose weight and improving their health.

Paleo: Excavation to Explosion
The Paleo Diet got its first real dose of popularity back in 2002 when Dr. Loren Cordain published his book “The Paleo Diet”, extolling the virtues of the foods supposedly eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors and simultaneously tearing a new A-hole in any foods that were part of the agricultural revolution.

His work became controversial (for the wrong reasons) and eventually became popular (for the right reasons) thanks to a reinvigorating kick in the form of “The Paleo Solution” written by Robb Wolf, an apostle of Dr. Cordain, along with the promotion of Paleo eating in the ever expanding world of Cross Fit exercise.

There is a glut of info about Paleo online but I recommend Robb Wolf’s website as a decent starting point.

What Paleo IS
Basically, Paleo is a way of eating that attempts to mimic (as closely as we can in the modern world) the diet of our paleolithic (stone age) ancestors i.e. before agriculture reared its “ugly” head and started throwing its “weight” around and making us all the unhealthy fatties that we are today (please forgive my hyperbole, I’m Irish, we get carried away with such things).

The underlying theory is that agri-foods like grains, legumes and dairy have only been in the human diet for a relatively short amount of time (approx. 10,000 years) compared to how long anatomically modern humans have been around (approx. 100,000 years). Thus, it’s believed that the human digestive system/body hasn’t had enough time to adapt to them and certain substances they contain. So, our bodies react poorly to them resulting in a myriad of diet-related illness’ that we are seeing in ever increasing numbers these days like obesity, Type-2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases etc.

In a nutshell, Paleo encourages the consumption of “Paleo foods” such as:

  • Lean meats (preferably from grass-fed animals)
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts and seeds

    A good paleo diet should look something like this; plenty of fruit and veg along with unprocessed meats.

    A good paleo diet should look something like this; plenty of fruit and veg along with unprocessed meat and fish.

and discourages the consumption of “Agricultural Products” which are new to the human diet such as:

  • Grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn, rice)
  • White potatoes
  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • Processed foods in general

Think of it like this: if you were dropped into a tropical rainforest and had to hunt, gather and scavenge your food, you would be eating paleo. You would be saying goodbye to modern day staples such as breads, cakes, candies, chips and “pretty much” anything that comes prepackaged.

What Paleo IS NOT
Paleo is not an excuse to eat nothing but bacon (as some would have you believe).

A healthy diet is not made of Bacon alone!

A healthy diet is not made of Bacon alone! (My God, it’s so beautiful)

Why eat like a caveman?
The very nature of the Paleo Diet dictates that you suddenly begin consuming virtually all of your food unprocessed. Going from the Standard American Diet (SAD, great acronym, right) to Paleo generally means that  you’ll immediately be consuming:

Less
Sugar
Starch
Refined/Damaged Oils
Crap

& More
Vegetables
Fruits
Fibre
Protein
Healthy Fats

So in one powerful swoop the Paleo diet covers the majority of areas that most “other diets” try to improve upon.

The diet claims to help you:

  • Lose weight
  • Treat Type-2 diabetes
  • Improve autoimmune disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Control other forms of inflammation such as acne
  • Make you look daaaaamn sexy in a bathing suit

From my own experience on the diet I can honestly say that I never feel so good as when I’m following Paleo. The best way I could describe the feeling of paleo is that everything is just smooth. Like a well oiled engine burning high octane fuel compared to an old, poorly maintained engine running on regular. They both run, but one runs better and is gonna last a lot longer.

I always lose weight on Paleo (due to the drop in carbs and elimination of water retention), my skin is always clear and I feel full of energy. The diet works and it works well.

Additionally, one of the best things about Paleo these days is the huge community of followers that has developed around it which means that finding info about paleo and more importantly, finding paleo-friendly recipes is now easier than ever.

The Devil is in the Dogma
What’s the catch right? There’s gotta be something? Terrible B.O.? Hairy chests? Development of a sloping forehead?

The Paleo Diet will not result in the formation of Modern Cavemen.

The Paleo Diet will not turn you into a modern cavemen (hopefully).

Truth be told, no! The diet itself is excellent, nourishing and far superior to the crap most people eat today.

The problem lies in the fact that, like religion, the paleo diet suffers from its own Dogma.

The central premise is that if a foodstuff could be found by our hunter-gatherer ancestors it’s good. Equally, if a food wasn’t available to those same ancestors, back in the day, it’s bad. This is an intentional oversimplification but I’m going to use it to explain a point.

Therefore, foods like maple syrup or honey are Paleo. Now, maple syrup and honey, in reality, are little more than sugar syrup with extra flavor and some minerals and other compounds in miniscule quantities. They behave in your body in virtually the same way as sugar (anyone who disagrees has no idea about biochemistry and I, thankfully, have science on my side).

Or another example, the humble spud (white potato) is a no-go but the sweet potato (also an agricultural product) is considered essential by Paleo athletes who heavily rely on it as a carb source.

You also encounter (mostly) newbies to Paleo who look at it as an excuse to gorge excessively on meat (see “Bacon” above) or on fruits. The problem with fruits these days is that they have been altered significantly by agriculture and contain far more sugar than their wild/ancient relatives. Paleo isn’t just about meat and fruit but some people (both inside and outside the paleo movement) would have you believe so.

On the other end of the spectrum, certain “modern” foods (such as certain fermented dairy products) may very well be tolerated on the paleo diet but dogma dictates that they’re bad because they’re new.

In fact, this has led to a schism in the paleo movement with traditionalists (those religiously following the original paleo dogma) and “New-Paleo” followers who are less strict and more willing to try “certain” non-paleo foods. Just like a schism in religion followers of both sects (which have far more in common than otherwise) squabble over these miniscule differences. Religious history repeating itself. But I digress…

Why I don’t follow Paleo (at the moment)
I’ve just said that Paleo is amazing and that “it does exactly what it says on the tin” and that it makes me feel great. Why then wouldn’t I follow it?

We’re finally getting to the point I want to make. There are other considerations to make about the food we put into our mouths than simply its affects on us as individuals.

We live on a small planet, with limited resources but with a population of about 7 billion hungry people. Diets in the developed world (and I’m talking about standard diets too, not just paleo) rely heavily on animal products. The problem with that is that producing food from animals is far more costly (monetary investment, space, environment) than producing food from plants. I’m not going to go into details myself but you can read more here and here.

Long story short, eating meat is far harder on the environment and heavier on our limited resources than eating plants.

As a human being, I can’t justify huge quantities of meat in my diet when I know that it simply isn’t sustainable. I’m “trying” to be responsible.

The Hypocrite
So have I eliminated meat from my diet? Hell no!

From my own personal experience I know that I do far better with some meat in my diet than without. Humans are omnivores (science agrees with me) and we and our ancestors have been eating meat for millions of years (the ability to cook meat is often cited as the evolutionary kick-starter of human brain development). I have little doubt that there are substances that we can get from meat far more efficiently than from plants (Vitamin B12 is an obvious example). I’m not going to sacrifice my health entirely by eliminating meat completely.

Replacing (some) animal protein with plant protein is one step towards a more sustainable planet.

Replacing (some) animal protein with plant protein is one step towards a more sustainable planet.

I’ve come to a compromise with the way I eat that allows me the benefits of meat in a mostly plant based diet. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s the best I’m willing to do. I also don’t want to give up some of my favorite foods  on my cheat days (heaven forbid).

On top of that, my diet changes regularly. Depending on my fitness goals, depending on my health, depending on my budget. I say that I don’t eat paleo NOW but that doesn’t mean that I won’t go paleo (or conversely, vegan for that matter, although I doubt it) in the future. “Never say never” is a dietary policy that has worked well for me over the years.

Food for thought
Our health is vitally important. So is our planet.

They whole point of this article is to introduce an incredibly healthy eating system along with making people aware of the consequences of their food choices. On a planet of limited dimensions, our choices and actions ultimately affect everyone and everything else. I just want people to see the bigger picture.

I’m not telling people to give up meat. I’m not telling people to go paleo. Both would be hypocritical of me (I’ve just realized that saying it like that really puts me in a lose-lose situation). I just want you, as an individual, to be aware of your health, your responsibility and your choices regarding both.

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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How to Bullet-Proof your Diet (Tips to help you stick to your diet, whatever it is)(Part 2)

28 May

This is a continuation of a previous article, Part 1 of which can be found here.

The best way to abs like this isn't endless sit-ups (although they help), it's a dedicated approach to what you eat.

The best way to abs like this isn’t endless sit-ups (although they help), it’s a dedicated approach to what you eat. Now stop drooling and read the rest of the article.

Give yourself an Incentive
This idea may seem a little extreme to some but sometimes we need extreme incentives to get things done. Humans, unfortunately respond more strongly to the idea of losing something than to the idea of gaining something. What that means is that we will work harder when we think we will lose something than we will when we’re trying to achieve something.

The way to make this work to your advantage is to make a bet with a friend or group of friends. What you do is come up with a realistic goal and a time frame (e.g. drop 2% body-fat in a month). Tell your friend that if you don’t achieve your goal your friend has to ensure that there are consequences.

Now, the consequences are where things get interesting. You could keep it simple and just pay a monetary penalty (substantial enough to make you not want to lose it) to your friend or you could do this: give your “friend” the most embarrassing “fat-photo” you have of yourself and ask them to make it public, either by facebook or by mailing it to all your friends. For this you need a really trustworthy friend who is also ruthless (we all have them).

You’ll quickly see how easy it is to stick to your diet when you have the fear of public humiliation floating over your head!

Instead of “I can’t”, say “I don’t”
Studies have shown that simply using the phrase “I don’t eat that” instead of “I can’t eat that” improves adherence to a diet significantly.

The phrase “I don’t” is much more empowering than “I can’t” as it lets the speaker feel in control of their decisions. This feeling of control and empowerment makes sticking to a certain way of eating much easier and much more satisfying.

Remember, when you say “I don’t eat cake”, it’s because you know that it is not good for you and that it doesn’t help you with your goals of being healthier and looking better. When you say “I don’t eat cake” it’s because you are taking the conscious decision to be in control of what you eat and ultimately your health and your body.

Saying I can’t on the other hand makes you feel powerless, like there is some external force in control of you and dictating what you can and can do.

Change your vocabulary and change your results.

Be firm with others, especially your friends
You will encounter plenty of situations where people, especially your friends will offer you something that you shouldn’t have. It might be when your out for coffee or at a birthday party or maybe just at 11am in the office.

Whenever it is you need to put your foot down. Despite the best of intentions, friends can be persistent; “Go on, just have a small piece”, “A little bit won’t do you any harm” (If you’re Irish you know how bad we can be about things like this). You need to be firm and honest with them. Let them know that you appreciate the offer but you don’t eat that food. Ask them to respect your decision and not to offer again. It often helps to be specific and let them know why you don’t want it and that will keep them off your case in the future.

If all else fails just tell them your diabetic. That usually shuts people up.

Deal with your emotions
I could right a whole article on this point alone but this post is already long enough as it is.

The fact of the matter is, people often need some sort of a crutch to deal with difficult emotions. Everyone has something different; alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, food… even sex and exercise.

We need to learn to deal with these emotions so we don’t fall into the habit of emotional/stress eating i.e. Literally using to food to avoid dealing with stressful emotions. This is where relaxation techniques such as meditation can come in handy but I really recommend reading into Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP) and how it can help you handle stress and other negative emotions. I’m not going to go into what it is hear so it’s time to get your google on!

Don't let stress get to you so much that you end up turning to food for comfort.

Don’t let stress get to you so much that you end up turning to food for comfort.

Dealing with emotional eating can go a huge way towards dealing with problems you may have had with sticking to diets previously. Stress is a major issue in the modern world and the role it plays in our eating habits definitely shouldn’t be underestimated.

Learn to cook
There really is no better way to take control of what you eat than by cooking for yourself. However, it never ceases to amaze me how many people say they can’t cook.

If you’re one of these people it’s up to you to take the initiative to learn. I’m not saying you should try and become a gourmet chef but try learning a few basic (and very importantly, tasty) recipes that you can alternate throughout the week.

They say the most successful dieters stick to a limited range of recipes that they enjoy and this is the reason for their success. They keep things simple, tasty and regular (i.e. they have a routine).

If you need help just ask a friend who knows how to cook to teach you a few healthy recipes or just look for some online. There are loads of websites online full of amazing recipes for every particular eating style and diet on the face of the earth. There really is no excuse not to learn a few!

Do your absolute best to make the recipes tasty. There is no point in learning a super healthy recipe that tastes like cardboard and cat urine. If you don’t want to eat it you’ll just end up with an excuse to eat something unhealthy instead!

Know what your eating
The vast majority of diets require you measure (to a certain extent) the quantity of certain foods you eat. It really is for your benefit to learn what exactly is in each portion of the foods you consume regularly.

Learning to read food labels is an essential skill. Better yet, avoid foods that come with food labels i.e. the processed kind!

Learning to read food labels is an essential skill.
Better yet, avoid foods that come with food labels i.e. the processed kind!

The best way I’ve found to do this is to use the USDA Food Tables. This is a database of nutritional values for a huge range of foods. You just enter the food your looking for in the search bar and then it allows you to chose the quantity of the particular food (example: 100g of raw lentils). I always search the value of foods in there uncooked state because that’s when you have the best chance to accurately weigh them; when they’re separate from other foods.

This is particularly important if you apportion your food like I’ve already recommended. You can weigh all the ingredients before cooking and then apportion everything appropriately later. Which brings me to my next point…

Buy a kitchen scales
It is one of the ultimate tools in the dieters arsenal and if you don’t have one go out and get one ASAP. A kitchen scales allows you to accurately measure food portions and eventually you’ll learn how to estimate the nutritional value of some foods by sight.
Buy a scales now!

Cheat… a little
Having a scheduled cheat day or cheat meal is a great way to give yourself a mental break from dieting. Tim Ferris really championed cheat days in his “Slow Carb Diet” and “The 4 hour Body”. Everyone knows I have a serious man-crush on/ vicious rivalry with Tim Ferriss so of course I’m going to advocate this diet tip!

Basically a cheat day is a day that you schedule to eat the foods that you normally wouldn’t eat on a regular diet day. As I said it gives you a mental break but it can also counter some of the negative effects of extended caloric restriction. What I mean by this is that our bodies are designed to store fat (a genetic ability that we have maintained from our past when food was scarce and being able to store fat was advantageous) and when we reduce our calories our body automatically undergoes hormonal changes that make losing body-fat more difficult. Without getting into too much detail (this is an entire article on its own) an occasional spike in calories (and certain macro-nutrients) helps “reset” certain hormones in our bodies that can prevent these stalls in fat loss.

If "The Rock" says it's ok to have a cheat day, who's going to argue.

If “The Rock” says it’s ok to have a cheat day, who’s going to argue.

While cheat-days can sound like proof of the existence of God, they need to be done right to prevent you from going overboard. Here’s a few little tips for cheat days:

  • Keep a list of the foods you’d like to have on your cheat day that you can update during the week.
  • Skip breakfast and wait until lunch time to start eating. This prevents you from taking in too many calories during the day.
  • Don’t stuff yourself late at night as this can result in a bad nights sleep and with you waking up with a “food-hangover” the next day. This can result in the food cravings I mentioned in the section on getting proper sleep (Part 1). In fact, try not to eat after 9pm.
  • Get plenty of fibre during the day from fruits and vegetables which will help move those less-than-healthy foods through your system quicker. I usually finish of my day of gluttony with a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseeds in water or a small bowl of porridge (oatmeal).
  • Try and eat out of the house as much as possible or if you do eat in the house get rid of whatever leftovers there are at the end of the day to make sure you’re not tempted to eat them the next day or during the week.
  • Ideally have your cheat day on a heavy exercise day. That way at least some of the extra calories will go towards muscle growth and repair instead of automatically getting sent to be stored as body fat.
Just try not to end up like this guy at the end of the day! Food-hangovers can be pretty bad!

Just try not to end up like this guy at the end of the day! Food-hangovers can be pretty bad!

A cheat day is a handy little trick to have if managed correctly. Just make sure that you go back to your regular, healthy way of eating the next day. Food-hedonism is great, but in moderation.

To check out a diabetes-inducing photo log of how I enjoy my own cheat days check this out!

Be flexible
We’re all human (I’m assuming) and that means that we are inherently imperfect. Life is going to throw things at you that will try to derail your progress but it’s how you deal with those situations that makes the difference.

There will be times when the only food available to you is something you would rather not have. You have two valid options:

  1. Don’t eat: Yes I’m serious! There are very few situations in life where you absolutely “have to” eat at a certain time. If it’s socially acceptable to do so just skip the food and wait until you get home or until you can get some healthy food. Believe me, we, as a society, eat far too regularly as it is. A little bit of fasting will do you absolutely no harm whatsoever.
  2. Eat the food available… but do it consciously: Dieters have a tendency to see any break-down in their plan, no matter how small it is, as an opportunity/excuse to go crazy and “compensate eat” like it’s going out of fashion. Instead, eat more consciously. What that means is, eat the food available in normal/small portion and leave it at that. You don’t need to eat a second portion, nor do you need dessert nor do you need to visit the donut shop after just because you’ve strayed from the one true path. Accept that you’ve eaten something that wasn’t ideal and be aware that the best way to get over that is just to go back to your healthy eating patterns at the next meal i.e. not to lose your cool and eat everything in sight.

These little hiccups happen. Just make sure they remain isolated hiccups and don’t end up turning into chronic indigestion!

…and that’s that! These are some of the tips that I’ve found most useful for sticking to my eating plans, whatever they are at the time.

As I said in Part 1, you don’t need to use them all but they definitely have a cumulative effect so the more you can incorporate into your routine the faster you should see results.

If you have any tips you’ve used yourself go ahead and let me know in the comments.

Best of luck and Eat Well.

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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 😉

How to Bullet-Proof your Diet (Tips to help you stick to your diet, whatever it is)(Part 1)

21 May
A body like this doesn't come easy (nor does her phone number) but with the right strategy it is possible!

A body like this doesn’t come easy (nor does her phone number) but with the right strategy, it is possible!

How many times have you started out on a new diet with the greatest of intentions of getting healthier and losing weight only for everything to fall apart faster than you can say “white chocolate and raspberry cheescake”?

I probably shouldn't be showing such a tempting picture in this post but my God this is a thing of beauty.

I probably shouldn’t be showing such a tempting picture in this post but my God this is a thing of beauty.

Many of you who have tried dieting before know just how easy it is to “fall off the wagon” and how one little mishap can ultimately destroy whatever progress you’ve already made on a diet.

Falling off the wagon is not necessarily just one little isolated incident where you just dust yourself off and hop back on (although we’ll talk about how to do that a little later). On the contrary, “one little incident” can often be enough to set off a snowball effect of “compensation eating” (trying to compensate for all the things you’ve been avoiding on a diet by eating as much of them as possible) that ends up with you feeling awful both physically and emotionally and hating yourself and your self-destructive behavior. Believe me, I’m talking from experience.

Why fight it?
I really believe that in order for us to be happy  we have to “take control of the controllable variables” in our lives. What I mean by “controllable variables” are the things that we can change ourselves; exercise, the people we spend time with, our food, use of our free time etc. Taking control of your food and exercise habits is a fundamental step towards a healthier and happier you.

In my case, I used to be chubby but I decided to change that when I was 15 years old. I took control of what I ate and started exercising and while it was never easy I have learned many things over the years that can really help you to stick to your dieting guns.

I’ve also learned that when it comes to losing weight, your diet is much more important than your exercise habits (losing weight is maybe 80% diet and 20% exercise). What I mean is that you can exercise all you want but if you’re not taking care of your diet you’re gonna find it very difficult to strip off excess body fat.

Bullet-Proof your Diet
While actually deciding to start eating more healthily is a hugely important step, it’s not going to do anything for you if you mess up at your first hunger-pang,  craving for sweets or the scent of a bakery.

Willpower is an exhaustible resource so you can’t rely on it to keep you on track. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of tips that I have found to be crucial in sticking to ANY eating plan by making it harder to mess-up. Follow these tips and Bullet Proof your diet making it nearly “impossible for you to fail”. You don’t have to use all these tips but the more you incorporate into your daily life the greater their cumulative effect.

The Tips
Get enough quality sleep

You’re probably thinking “what on earth could sleep have to do with sticking to my diet?”. Surprisingly it plays a fundamentally important role. Not getting enough quality sleep can have a whole host of negative effects on your body and one of those is it’s effect on appetite and control of cravings. That’s right, not getting sufficient sleep not only makes you cranky but it also makes you more prone to give in to cravings and even binge on undesirable food. This is something I noticed years ago and I have often “slipped up” with my food choices due a lack of sleep the night before.

Make getting a good nights sleep a priority. If you need more impetus to do so just remember that we need sufficient sleep to secrete growth hormone which not only increases muscle mass and reduces body-fat but also keeps you looking younger (I totally understand if these effects sound repulsive to you 😉 ). Make yourself go to bed at an appropriate time (7-8 hours before you plan to wake up) and sleep in a quiet, dark room (or use ear-buds and an eye mask like I do). Just make sure you get enough sleep and you can expect to see a big drop in your food cravings.

Prepare your food in advance
Following a particular diet often means you have to prepare your own food and this is where a lot of people often falter. How many times have you been on your way home from work and decided to pick up a less than healthy take-away meal on the way instead of preparing something that you know is healthy when you get home?

The problem many people find with cooking is that it’s time consuming and it can get monotonous if you have to prepare the same thing every day. Add to that the clean-up afterward and the fact that you might not always have the ingredients you need in the house and it’s no wonder most people just grab a sandwich and a chocolate bar (or 3) at the local supermarket.

However if you’re Super-OCD like myself, there is a way around this. I prepare the vast majority of my food in advance, in bulk and then I apportion it and freeze it, ready for whenever I need it.

If you look in my freezer you’ll find a selection of different Ziploc bags filled with different colored foods. I have portions of cooked meat and vegetables, cooked and seasoned beans and lentils, cooked vegetables in different sauces and even portions of raw meats for quick cooking. Everything is flattened out in the Ziploc bag to make it easy to store/stack in the freezer and it makes defrost/cooking them a whole lot faster too.

Just a little selection of the "ready-to-go" foods I keep in my freezer.  Clockwise from top-right: cooked chickpeas, cooked lentil and vegetable stew, raw minced beef and raw cubed chicken. I know how much of everything (cals, fat, protein, carbs) is in each Ziploc bag.

Just a little selection of the “ready-to-go” foods I keep in my freezer.
Clockwise from top-right: cooked chickpeas, cooked lentil and vegetable stew, raw minced beef and raw cubed chicken. I know how much of everything (cals, fat, protein, carbs) is in each Ziploc bag.

The great thing about this is, because I’ve cooked these myself,  I know exactly  how many how many calories and how much fat, protein and carbohydrate is in each portion. This takes all of the guess work out of preparing my dinner. For example I know that every portion of chilli-beef that I make has about 50 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat, each bag of brown rice (200g uncooked weight) has about 740 calories (for a post workout meal). I use the dry/uncooked weights of food to calculate the nutritional contents of the food I cook and then I divide it by the number of portions I put the food into.

This way, I only have to do a lot of cooking once or twice a week (on an evening I have free) and all I have to do is defrost something or heat it up directly from frozen and I have a complete, healthy meal with virtually no hassle. And no excuses for not eating healthily.

People will also complement you on how well organized your freezer is 😀

Remove Temptation
There is NO EXCUSE for having unhealthy “trigger foods” in your house.

Do you think that drug rehab centers leave small bags of heroin or cocaine lying around in the kitchen? Hell no! As the great Oscar Wilde once said, “I can resist everything but temptation”. If temptation is staring you in the face, in your own home, chances are your going to fold like tissue paper.

The only way to eliminate temptation is to… well… eliminate temptation. This is one of those “controllable variables” I mentioned. You control what to keep in your house so make sure you don’t have any unhealthy foods or drinks lying around. You don’t need them. No chocolate bars in the cupboard, no sugar-laden soft-drinks in the fridge, no ice-cream in the freezer, no cookies in the cookie-jar. I’m not saying that you’re never going to have these foods again but I am saying that you’re definitely not going to have them in your home. You should not have to feel the burden of temptation in a place where your should feel relaxed and safe.

You can do a big symbolic clean-out and remove all the unhealthy foods from your house. Either give it to a neighbor or a homeless shelter or just throw it out. It will genuinely feel amazing to “get that monkey off your back” while your at home.

Become a creature of routine
Routines get a bad rap (mostly from people who never even genuinely try to follow them) but they are one of the most solid ways of sticking to habit changes. Just like an exercise routine where you usually know what you’re going to do before you do it, you should follow a similar pattern with your food.

Have a set time for meals (with a certain amount of flexibility, obviously) and stick to it. Know what foods you’re going to eat or prepare and fit them into whatever allowances you have on your particular diet.

If you’re having snacks, know what they’re going to be and have them with you so you don’t have to go looking for a unhealthy alternative. The same goes for your lunch at work.

Try and maintain a regular sleep cycle too. This helps balance your hormones so you should start to feel hunger at the same time every day. Otherwise you could find yourself craving food at very inopportune times. Remember, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”.

Keep yourself motivated
If you lose sight of the prize it can be very easy to give up when you feel challenged so your objective should be to keep the prize in view as much as possible.

For this I’m a big fan of both negative and positive reinforcement and I find photographs are one of the best ways to accomplish this.

For the positive reinforcement you can look at pictures of the type of body you want. There are hundreds of groups on facebook or pages on the internet with photographs of people who have built a great physique that you can emulate. I personally find that looking a pictures of FEMALE fitness models really motivates me (go figure!) to stick to my guns. Check out pages like “Fitness Girls”, “Fitness Selfies”, “Sexy Freak” etc. on Facebook, there’s plenty of motivation for both guys and girls.

Ladies, I know you want this ass. Gentlemen, I know you also want this ass!!

Ladies, I know you want this ass.
Gentlemen, I know you also want this ass!!
Best motivation to eat well in the world!

For negative reinforcement you can keep an awful picture of yourself looking your absolute worst (bad bathing suit pictures anyone?) with you at all times. Whenever you feel like giving in and eating a whole pint of Hagen-Daz just take a look at that photo and remember what your working for. A copy of some bad medical-exam results or blood work should be equally effective.

It’s much easier to stay in the game when we know what we’re playing for.

Measure your progress
This is another great way to keep yourself motivated. It’s much easier to stick with a diet when you can actually see the progress that you’ve already made on it.

There are a few ways to do this, some better than others. A lot of people like to use their weight which is fine at the start if you have a particularly large amount of weight to lose. It’s easy to measure and a good indication of progress.

However, if you’re below 20% body fat the weight on the scale is not the best marker to follow. The reason is that your weight varies according to both your muscle mass and body fat. As muscle weighs more than fat it is possible to gain muscle, lose fat and still maintain the same weight. In this case the scales would tell you that you haven’t made any progress when in fact you probably look a lot better.

Which brings me to two, more reliable methods. One is measuring your body fat percentage. Your BF% is a great indication of the progress you make on a diet. The only problem is it’s not easy to measure at home (don’t trust those scales that claim to have a built in body fat monitor, they are notoriously inaccurate). Instead, you should get yourself measured by a professional on a regular basis (once every two weeks is good) using the skin-fold/caliper method. Try and get the same person to measure you each time for consistency.

This leaves us with what I consider to be the easiest and most relevant method… selfies (i.e. self-photographs). Take photographs of yourself in a mirror on a weekly basis. Do it on a set day of the week and wear the same clothes (or similar clothes) (the less the better). Ideally you should take a picture of yourself in a bikini/swimsuit or in your underwear. You want to be able to see as much of yourself as possible. Optimally do it in the same place and in the same lighting (same time of day/night) so you can monitor the changes in your body more easily.

Taking selfies is the easiest way to monitor your physical progress on a particular diet or training regime.

Taking selfies is the easiest way to monitor your physical progress on a particular diet or training regime.

I think it’s great to do this on a weekly basis for consistency but the real changes are seen on more of a monthly interval. Keep the photos in a file on your computer and look at them regularly to show you just how much progress you’ve made.

To be continued… I’ve got a whole bunch of extra tips to help you with your diet goals that you can read in part 2 of this article here. Give these tips a try and see how it works for you.

Eat well

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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 😉

Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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