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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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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 😉

 

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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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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