Tag Archives: Diet

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!

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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 😉

 

Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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