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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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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 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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The Importance of Being Grateful

23 Apr
Being consciously grateful has many of the benefits of meditation!

Being consciously grateful has many of the benefits of meditation!

We all want…

We want more money.

We want to look better naked.

We want pie.

We want more respect from our coworkers.

We want to be better dancers… lovers… parents… painters… friends… speakers…

We want, we want, we want!

The truth is there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting. It’s perfectly natural and it motivates us to work for what we want in life.

However, if you are in a constant state of “want” you can begin to feel deprived and if you consistently feel deprived your mood and general well-being can seriously suffer. On the extreme end of the scale you could even begin to experience depression.

One thing that we need to realize these days is that no matter how much we “want” we also need to be aware of the many blessings that we already “have” in our lives.

Everyone needs to be grateful
I learned about the importance of gratitude as a way to improve general well-being in the same way I’ve come to learn about many useful things in my life; through necessity.

A few years ago I went through a personal “rough patch” that put me on a path to trying to sort it out for myself. I ended up reading a few self-help books and I took a particular interest in the books written by the very famous Tony Robbins. I learned a few different things and it certainly opened my mind to the power of technologies like Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

But of all the things I learned from that time in my life, one of the few that I have maintained and practiced consistently over the years and which is probably the simplest of them all, is conscious gratitude.

Conscious Gratitude. Why?

Why? It is simply the fastest way I have ever found to feel better… immediately and long-term.
And there are a whole host of other reasons why you should practice gratitude regularly, including:

  • better mental health
  • improves the quality of your relationships
  • greater happiness
  • helps you deal with loss and negative emotions
  • improved performance at work and school
  • better sleep
  • improves your immune system and overall health

Check out this article on Huffington Post for a more detailed look on the benefits of being grateful.

How
To be honest there are probably a million different ways to do this but I’m going to tell you how I do because I’ve found it both effective and easy to make a regular habit. It only takes 2 or 3 minutes a day.

  • Pick a time: You need to make this a habit so make being grateful part of your regular schedule. It could be first thing in the morning or right after lunch. Preferably it should be a time when you can be alone and quiet (not the easiest things to find these days). Personally I always do it at the very end of my stretching routine after I exercise, that way I always just add it on to my time in the gym.
  • Optional: Pick an upbeat song you like: Something that makes you feel good that lasts for 3 0r 4 minutes. You can listen to it as you do the activity and use it like a timer, letting you know when you’ve done enough.
  • Get comfortable: Find a position you’re comfortable sitting or lying in. If you’re at home you could lie on the couch or sit in a favorite chair. I’m a little bit of a purist so I do it seated in “seiza” something I picked up from my karate training. Seiza is not easy so I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to beginners. Whatever position works for you for 3 minutes should be fine.
seiza

Seiza, the traditional way of sitting in Japan, is definitely not for beginners!

  • Close your eyes: This is not necessary but it definitely helps you to visualize and focus. I’ve learned how to do this with my eyes open over time but whenever I can (i.e. when I’m alone) I do it with my eyes closed because it just feels easier and more effective.
  • Think about everything you’re grateful for: this is the “bread and butter” of this activity. You should think of everything you have in your life and are grateful for and try to visualize it in your mind. When you visualize it, consciously feel the sensations of happiness that come with the thoughts of those things. The most important part of this whole activity is that you actually make yourself feel good by thinking of these things in your life that you have been blessed with. Only focus on the positive things that make you happy. Physically smile and enjoy the sensation while you think of everything. Don’t be worried if anyone sees you doing this. What’s the worst they can say? Ha, that guy looks really happy !!! (What a burn!)

A few ideas for things to be grateful about might be:

  • The people you love in your life, your family, your friends, your partner
  • Your health
  • All the good experiences you’ve had in life
  • The coming days, weeks and months and all the amazing possibilities they hold
  • That beautiful girl who wears virtually nothing at the gym
  • Your job and the opportunities it has brought you
  • The delicious meal you had with friends last weekend
  • Your achievements over the years
  • Your skills and the things you do well; cooking, dancing, making ornaments out of paperclips
  • The challenges you’ve faced that have shaped you for the better
smiley

Be grateful. It’s a great way to perk-up your day!

Consciously think of these things, visualize them and experience the happiness and gratitude that they make you feel!

And that’s it. Feel better for the rest of the day knowing how much you have to be grateful for in life.

It’s gonna be one hell of a great day.

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22 Ways Salsa Makes Life Better

19 Feb
You can quote me on that!

You can quote me on that!

My life has changed hugely since I started dancing salsa, unquestionably for the better and I’m certain that this is the case for everyone else who dances.

Whether you’re already reaping the benefits or you’re looking for a little motivation to start dancing, here’s a little list of the things that make salsa so popular and addictive.

1. New Friends: Getting into salsa opens up a whole new world of people from literally every walk of life who you otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet. I’ve even made a lot of salsero friends through this blog, whom I haven’t met in person, yet! I am so grateful for the huge amount of great friends I have made through salsa.

2. Lose Weight: When I’m dancing 3 nights a week I’m at my leanest. If I ever go through a period when I’m not dancing for an extended period of time I really notice the weight pile on quickly! Dance and say goodbye to those love-handles.

3. Stay Healthy: Doctors recommend you get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to keep your heart healthy. Salsa is a great way to up your heart rate and boost cardiovascular health and the fact that it’s so fun means you’ll stick with it. It’s definitely more entertaining than hitting a treadmill for 30 minutes. Social dance has also been shown to keep the mind sharper as we age, better than any other physical activity!

4. Improve Coordination: Salsa teaches you how to coordinate complex footwork with arm combinations. Countless studies and personal experience have shown that coordination gained in one physical activity is transferable to a whole range of others. So if you want to move well in general, dance!

5. Forget about Life’s Worries: I think one of the major reasons I fell in love with salsa was that it became a form of meditation for me. Dance allows you to focus all of your thoughts on the dance and forget about everything else for a few minutes (or more). Losing yourself in the moment when dancing is probably a therapy that a lot of people could use in this day and age!

6. Learn New Languages: Salsa communities the world over tend to be very international and that makes them a great place to learn or practice a new language especially Spanish (well, you may as well learn what all those songs are about: Short Answer = Lovey dovey crap).

7. New Cultures: For the same reason mentioned above you can learn so much about different cultures from meeting new people through salsa. This really helped me to learn more about the large Polish and Latin communities in Dublin.

8. Better Love Life: While salsa should never, ever be considered a dating service I can honestly say that it has done absolutely no harm to my love life.

9. Better Understanding of People: Salsa is social. You will meet all sorts of new people and form all sorts of new relationships and gain new insights into how people work. I can’t begin to explain how salsa will affect every interaction you will have with people in your life but it will, for the better.

10. Discover Passion: This was and is huge for me. Through salsa you discover the passion of dance, the passion created between a couple as they move together as one in harmony with music and then you begin to discover it in every other aspect of your life. And once you taste passion you will never want to look back at how your life was before.

11. Appreciate Music: I never really listened to music before I started dancing but ever since then it has become a huge part of my life. I pay attention to new music, not just what I can dance to, appreciate it, enjoy it and feel it.

12. Travel: I’ve lost count of the amount of countries and cities I’ve danced in. Salsa is truly international and if ever you’re in a big city where you don’t know anyone you can just google a salsa club, get dancing and start meeting the locals and maybe they’ll even show around their city too.

13. Learn to Relax: I’ve always found it tough to relax myself physically, so much so that a Japanese masseuse once described me as the tensest human being she had ever worked with. Losing yourself in the music and letting yourself flow with the rhythm is one incredibly effective way of relaxing your whole body, not to mention how well you’ll sleep after a great night of dancing.

14. Improve your Fashion Sense: While this doesn’t apply to everyone I’ve definitely noticed that when people enter the salsa community they become a lot more adventurous with their clothes, start to pay a little more attention to their appearance and basically “sex-up” their whole wardrobe. I know plenty of guys who have discovered the wonders of hats and waistcoats through salsa (you know who you are).

15. Boost Confidence: Probably the biggest difference most people experience with salsa is just the sheer confidence boost you feel once you get into. In salsa you have to step out of your comfort zone all the time; asking people to dance, trying new moves etc and this definitely transfers to other areas of your life. Sex, business, sports, you name it! An extra bit of confidence goes a long way in life.

16. Discover Other Dances: Once people start dancing salsa, they often don’t stop there. Salsa is like a “Gateway Dance” into a whole world of other dances like bachata, merengue, cha cha cha, kizomba, tango and a whole host more. What will your poison be?

What will your poison be?

What will your poison be?

17. Drink Less: This really applies in Ireland where we have a ridiculously alcohol-centered social culture. In my experience, salsa dancers don’t drink much (some of us not at all) and this may be why some people turn to salsa. It offers a social outlet that doesn’t revolve around booze which is a blessing in some countries.

18. Overcome Addictions: Salsa is addictive! Many people find themselves that the best way to get over one thing is to replace it with something else. Be it smoking, alcohol, drugs, food, popping bubble-wrap, an ex-relationship or whatever, salsa is a very healthy and rewarding alternative.

19. Dodge Pedestrians: This might (probably is) just be me but ever since I started dancing I’ve found I’ve become really good at skillfully dodging oncoming pedestrian traffic when walking on the sidewalk. I don’t walk around people anymore, I glide!

20. Physical Contact: This applies more to people in Asia and the English speaking world but dancing salsa makes you much more comfortable with human contact. Obviously when you dance you’re going to be in close physical contact with your partner but on top pf that, salsa communities, thanks to the Latin influence tend to be warmer and closer; people greet each other with kisses and hugs. The world needs more of this.

21. Meet Me: When I asked people on my facebook page about how salsa has made their lives better, a lot replied saying that it had helped them meet me 😉 So there you go: Dance salsa and meet The Dancing Irishman, what more could you ask for haha!

22. It’s Fun: I can’t believe I almost forgot to throw in the most obvious reason of them all. The more fun in our lives the better right! Dance passionately with countless beautiful people to fantastic music until the sun comes up. It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on… the rest comes later.

What about you? How has salsa improved your life? Let me know in the comments.

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How to be stronger than you’ve ever been in your life!

6 Jul

Do you need another reason to start weight training?
I didn’t think so!

Remember the last time you saw a bus of school children stall on a railway crossing with an express train coming and you weren’t able to shove it out of the way? …No?

Well, remember that time when the barn caught fire and you couldn’t carry the heavily pregnant horse to safety on your shoulders? Oh…well…ok!

What about that time you couldn’t move the pile of boulders blocking the entrance to the hospital for sick kittens? Seriously? No?

Ok…so…remember that time you had trouble opening the lid on that jar of mayonnaise?…Bingo!!!

It doesn’t matter if you work as a fireman, professional super hero or career pillow tester, everyday of our lives we rely on our bodies, our muscles and their inherent strength, to do everything from climbing stairs to wrestling livestock (What? You didn’t do that as a kid?).

It’s true that many of us live lives where the heaviest thing we have to move around all day is our own fat ass but there come times in life when we need to be strong, be it moving the washing machine to the other side of the room or carrying a fair maiden up the stairs to her candlelit chamber (I’m still waiting for something like that to happen).

So I think that we all owe it to ourselves to be as strong and fit as we can to help us deal with whatever life may throw at us because life, just like a spoiled 4 year old, likes to throw things. We may not have the opportunity to rip the door off of a burning car but at least we can make moving the TV from one room to another look like a piece of cake.

Getting stronger than ever
I’ve been lifting weights on and off (this phrase fails to express the true irregularity of my routine over the years) since I was a chubby 15 year old when I finally decided to take some initiative and lose weight. I’ve tried different routines with different levels of success from high reps to super slow sets and many things in between. Most of the time I was focused on simple weight management and looking fit so it’s no surprise that I never made any real strength gains although I was most certainly stronger than your average Joe.

However, after finding the information I’m going to show you today and deciding that I wanted a new challenge, I set myself the goal of getting stronger than I have ever been in my life which I reached after only 4 weeks and I have continued to get stronger on a weekly basis. In the 3 months I had been doing this program I increased my 5 rep max (the heaviest weight you can lift for 5 continuous exercise repetitions) by 12-18% in all of my lifts. This may not sound like much but at my, intermediate, level this is a huge improvement!

The Pros & Cons of Weight Training?
Pros

  • You can build functional strength that you can apply to your everyday life be it climbing the stairs or carrying your groceries.
  • Building muscle is probably the most effective way to reduce excess body fat without dieting. More muscle means a faster metabolism.
  • It’ll bring about serious changes in your physique in a very time efficient manner. This routine takes only about 1 hour, 3 times a week.
  • Intense weight training releases growth hormone, which not only keeps you lean and healthy but also is documented to have profound anti-aging effects.
  • Whether you’re a man or a woman, MUSCLE IS SEXY! (and everyone could do with more sexy)

    You only get an ass like this after doing a hell of a lot of squats.
    (BTW if you have an ass like this, call me!)

Cons

  • You may become just TOO SEXY and have to carry a stick around with you to keep the opposite sex at bay.

Seriously, you have nothing to lose and a whole hell of a lot to gain. Start pumping iron!

Ladies are not exempt
Seriously girls, why rely on guys to do all the heavy lifting around the house? Girls can be strong and feminine at the same time and in my opinion, there is nothing sexier!

If you’re worried about lifting weights and looking like She-Hulk, fear not! I’m working on an article aimed at explaining the benefits of and clearing up some of the myths about strength training for ladies. For the time being all you need to know is that you’re not going to look like you eat “Steroid-Pops” for breakfast if you lift weights. You’re going to look toned and sexier than any “skinny” model-types you see in Vogue.

Enter Bill Starr
The program I used is called the Bill Starr 5X5 routine. Bill Starr is a former Olympic lifter and power-lifting competitor who also has written extensively about strength and conditioning. His most famous book “The Strongest Shall Survive” became something of a bible in the world of American Football strength training (and those guys know what they’re talking about when it comes to being strong).

You need to read the detailed explanation of the routine here (best) and here (use as a supplement) and before you even consider doing the routine you should understand it on paper thoroughly, so read it fully and then read it again. If you find any of it difficult to understand show it to an instructor at a gym and get them to break it down for you (If they tell you to do a different routine, that Bill Starr 5X5 isn’t for you, then tell them that you’re grateful for their suggestion but no thanks, you want to do this routine!).

I followed the routine almost to the letter. The only differences are that I do the Standing Military Press instead of the Seated Incline Press and I do Underhand-grip Bent Over Rows instead of Overhand-grip Bent Over Rows.

You can also download a very handy spreadsheet here, that not only helps you plan your routine but also helps you figure out what your 5 rep max is.

Intermediate Lifters
It’s very important to remember that this is a routine for intermediate lifters i.e. someone with at least a year of regular weight training under their belt. You need to know how to do these lifts well because if you don’t you could seriously hurt yourself, destroying any progress you’ve made.

If you’re a beginner, start a good beginner’s routine (I’ve heard very good things about Mark Rippetoes book) in a gym where the instructors know what they’re talking about. If the trainer looks skinny or overweight try and find one who actually looks like he works out.

You can also watch videos of all the lifts in the routine at the following links:

Squat
Bench Press
Bent Over Row
Military Press
Deadlift

Correct form is essential for movements such as the deadlift.
But you were already checking this photo out for correct form, right!

Watch the videos and get someone who knows what they’re doing to coach you so can perform them with perfect form. Learn how to do these lifts well and you will greatly reduce your risk of injury.

If you work hard, rest hard
This routine will put a serious stress on your body so in order to get the absolute most out of it make sure you help yourself along with adequate rest and nutrition.

What is adequate rest? I would say at least 8 hours of quality sleep at night. When I train on a day after a night of poor sleep I can clearly see it’s effects on my performance. It can make reaching my goals for that day very difficult or even impossible (especially so with my deadlift)

Eat well. Make sure you’re getting sufficient calories and protein (here’s a great link that breaks down what you should be consuming on training and non-training days). I’ve also written an article with some great tips on what constitutes healthy eating.

Remember if you don’t give your body what it needs to recover after these workouts, don’t expect to make as much progress as you possible could. Be good to yourself!

Get out there and break your own records!
There is no better person to be compared with than with yourself. Follow this routine as it’s described, monitor your progress by recording the weights and repetitions you use and experience how good it feels to break all of your old strength records in such a short time.

For example, I have to admit that when I reached my deadlift goal last week I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face all day. Everyone should feel what it’s like to better themselves, it’s euphoric.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and show the old you how far you can go. I guarantee you’ll impress the hell out of yourself (and let’s face it, you’re the only person that matters).

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

23 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get enough sleep

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

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

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

Don’t smoke

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

Don’t drink

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

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

Learn to read food labels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cook for yourself

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

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

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

Eliminate grains from your diet

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

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

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

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

Eliminate processed sugar

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, “Sugar is the devil!”

Get enough protein

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

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

Get adequate Omega-3 oils

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

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

Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

Avoid environmental toxins

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

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

Fast

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

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

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

Be flexible

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy and keep dancing.

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Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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