Eat Grandma’s Cookies

This is not going to be one of those holiday-inspired posts telling you the best tricks to avoid any weight gain (and maybe even lose 5lbs!) during the holidays. Nor is it going to tell you to just say ‘Screw it. Eat all the cookies. Drink all the wine. Start fresh in the new year’. After some years of working with people through this time of year, I’ve learned that people are pretty good at aiming towards one of these two directions already.

 

These approaches lead many to be absolutely terrified of the holidays (aka the period between the week leading up to Thanksgiving and the few days following new years).

 

On one hand, I see those who avoid the parties, only eat the white meat from the Thanksgiving turkey, and skip out on valuable family time to get their fasted cardio. These people see the holidays as a period to ‘survive’ rather than enjoy. Every holiday event causes anxiety, and if they can’t maintain their ‘perfect’ eating and workout schedule they feel like they have failed.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who take a 7 week hiatus from any physical activity and a 100% break from health-conscious eating behaviors. These are typically the people for whom exercise and healthy eating feels like an enormous burden. Taking a complete break from these behaviors feels like some well-deserved respite from the difficult to manage world of health.

 

Find the middle ground.

 

Unless you are competing in a bodybuilding competition in February, eating one of grandma’s secret recipe chocolate swirl cookies (or a few) is not going to ruin your physique. Skipping one workout to spend time with your mother who you haven’t seen in 3 months will not ruin all your progress.

 

But eating those same cookies for breakfast and dinner for 7 weeks straight sure will. Immobilizing yourself on the couch until January 7th sure will (that’s the first Monday in January this upcoming year and everyone seems to be under the impression that fitness begins on Monday).

 

So let’s look at some strategies so we don’t:

 

  • Throw an anxiety tantrum when we find out the eggnog was made with full-fat milk instead of skim

 

Or

 

  • Start to see our bodies begin to decompose into the rocking chair

 

Find physical activities to do with your family and friends

 

This is a tired line. Everyone always gets the same advice to move more (and eat less). I’ve found that the desire to sit in the living room with cookies and wine is not so much about laziness but more about not putting in the effort to create fun activities. Go ice skating. Take a hike around the lake. Gather the family and take a yoga class. Try to find fun family/friends activities that don’t center around food and drinks.

 

Eat nutritious meals on ‘non-special meal’ occasions

 

No one wants to eat chicken breast and steamed broccoli for holiday dinner. Holiday meals are filled with sauces, gravies, chocolate, and cheese. And that’s fantastic. Eat the delicious meal. Drink the wine. But instead of stopping at Subway on the 3 hour drive to grandma’s, have a nutritious meal beforehand. Just because certain meals are going to be inevitably unhealthy doesn’t mean you have to get away from normal, healthy eating the rest of the time.

 

Become comfortable with ‘good enough’

 

‘Tis the season for imperfection. You’re going to miss your regimented 7am workout. Maybe for a few days in a row (gasp). That doesn’t mean you have failed. It certainly doesn’t mean you have to make up for it by killing yourself in the gym for days after. Just do your genuine best to get back on track as soon as you can.

 

Eat mindfully and enjoy the treats

 

You know what’s better than eating grandma’s secret recipe chocolate swirl cookies? Enjoying them. Try to avoid feeling guilty. You’re not ‘bad’. It’s a cookie. You didn’t burn down an orphanage. Appreciate every bite. If nothing else, it will keep grandma happy.

 

Recognize that your fitness life just one important part of your total life

 

Are you getting paid to be in shape? Yeah, me neither. Is fitness important? You betchya. Remember that you have other important areas in your life as well. Like sharing ice cream with your kids. Unless someone is paying you an income to be in shape, this should not be your sole focus.

 

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What Making Pig Soap Taught Me About Meal Prep

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Several months ago, I came into 15 lbs of pig fat. I bought half of a pig from farmer John in West Virginia; an Appalachia-style man with a long beard and way too many ‘back in my day’ stories. Aside from the beautiful pork chops, ribs, and ground meat, I found myself staring at 3, 5lb bags of pig fat. After a quick ‘what can I do with 15 lbs of pig fat’ Google search, I realized my options were:

A. Deep fry everything in my house
B. Make candles
C. Make soap

After ruling out option A (for fear of a swift and immediate heart attack), and option B because meh, I just can’t get all that excited about candles, I decided to begin a soap-making adventure.

After putting in due diligence to find a reputable soap-making recipe , I realized this would be quite the endeavor. I had the lard, that part was given. But this recipe seemed very specific and I was certain that any mistake in this recipe would result in a reenactment of this scene from Fight Club. The process roughly went as follows:

1. Go to Lowe’s and buy lye (Lowe’s was actually the third store I went to after spending the better part of an afternoon going to Home Depot and a local hardware store and realizing neither carried it. $13.
2. Go to Target and buy essential oil. $20.
3. Reach out to my client who I let borrow my kitchen scale to ask for it back. Go pick it up from said client.
4. Start thawing out fat and realize I won’t be able to start cooking it for a couple days.
5. Cook the fat and figure out that cooking pig fat for 24 hours stinks up your kitchen and may be considered a hate crime against your Muslim roommate.
6. Skim the solids off the oil and throw them out (if I’m feeling more ambitious next time I’ll make pork cracklins).
7. Let the oil cool to exactly 37-51 degrees Celsius (be sure to check the temperature neurotically out of fear you may miss this temperature window).
8. Pull up a calculator and figure out the exact ratios of fat to lye to oil.
9. Cover up your entire body like a stormtrooper to make sure you aren’t going to burn your skin off.
10. Mix the precise amount of lye with the precise amount of water.
11. Saponify the lard with the lye by stirring the crap out of it until your arm wants to fall off.’
12. Add in 10 drops of essential oil.
13. Realize that it still smells exclusively like bacon and dump in the entire bottle of essential oil.
14. Pour into moulds and let sit for a week.

Total cost: too much money when I could have just bought the 8/$1 bars at the grocery store.
Total time: roughly two weeks.
Totally soap quality: Meh, it turned out ok.

I gave this thorough list of the soap-making process because I want to highlight a common misperception that people make when they think about meal prepping. When people aren’t familiar with a process, they follow a very specific set of instructions. They conflate the small details with the big picture. And they tend to make a lot of mistakes. This is good. This is part of the learning process.

The first time I made this soap, I found a specific recipe and followed it to the letter. This ensured that I would have a final product that at least resembled what I was trying to make. I made sure I was as diligent with every ingredient and every step as all the others. And I made a lot of mistakes that ended up costing me a lot of time.

This will happen the first (couple) times you do batch-cooking/meal-prep. You’re going to find some beautiful recipe from Pinterest and think you need to follow it to the letter. You’re not going to know where to get half the ingredients. You’re going to add the ingredients in the incorrect order. ¾ of the way through the recipe, you’re going to think ‘Oh shoot, I forgot to add the Nepalese smoked nutmeg 11 steps back’. On top of all that, it’s probably not going to come out exactly as Pinterest advertised. It will probably be ‘good enough’. But not great.

And that’s a good thing. In this process, you’re going to learn which grocery stores have which ingredients. You’ll find out which section of the grocery store you find your Nepalese smoked nutmeg (no idea if this is a thing but it sounds delicious). Most importantly you’ll discover which parts of the recipe are critical (if you want to make vegetarian chili, it would be good to make sure you have beans). You’ll also figure out which parts of the recipe are the ‘supporting characters’ (Like, it’s ok if you don’t soak the beans beforehand overnight like the recipe says).

And very quickly, this full day of meal prep which effectively takes over your Sunday, will become more efficient and productive. No longer will you have to search the back of every single cabinet for soy sauce. It’s right where you left it from last week! And now you know those potatoes you’re roasting don’t need to be checked every 5 minutes out of fear you’ll ruin them. They might just turn out slightly more/less crispy than last week.

Batch 2 of pig soap adventure looked a little more like this:

1. Take out fat and melt it.
2. Skim out oil.
3. Let oil sit outside in the cold for awhile.
4. Measure out lye and water (ok this part’s actually super important to get exact).
5. Mix lye and water.
6. Add to fat.
7. Stir for awhile.
8. Add in some essential oil until it smells like how you want your body to smell.
9. Pour into moulds and let it sit overnight.

Total cost: Already had all the ingredients.
Total time: About 90 minutes.
Total soap quality: About 1000x better.

The same principle can be applied to your workouts. Should you do 8 reps or 10? Should you rest for 30 seconds or 45? 90 degree hand position or 60 degree hand position on chest presses? Elliptical machine or bouncy-jumpy elliptical machine thing? It really doesn’t matter. Some angles and hand/foot positions are certainly going to feel better for certain people’s bodies than others. But take a 500 mile perspective on your workout and look at the big picture. Did you cover most of your major movements? Did you work at least sort-of hard (at least enough to give your body a reason to change/adapt)?

Recipes and prescribed workout templates are a safe bet when you’re just starting out and have no idea what you’re doing (and don’t want to make soap that will burn your skin off). But it’s important to become intuitive into which exercises are going to give you the most bang-for-your-buck. Figure out which exercises are starting to feel pretty easy and modify them to make them harder. Figure out which exercises are still as challenging as day 1 and practice the crap out of them. In the same way, figure out which parts of your meal prep are the big players and which parts you can neglect or at least not pay as much attention. Focus on the big players. Soon you’ll tease out which steps of the meal-prepping/soap-making/workout writing process are fluff. Do less fluff.

From what I understand, these principles 100% do not apply to baking. Always follow a baking recipe.

 

 

Beating the ‘Go Big Or Go Home’ Approach to Fitness

The way fitness is portrayed nowadays, it is easy to believe that a workout that doesn’t leave you sweaty and dying on the gym floor is a waste of time. Every workout needs to beat you up, to make you stumble out the door. Every workout needs to push to and through your limits. And if you haven’t worked to these limits, you’re weak. It’s not that you can’t do the work, it’s that you won’t do the work. It’s a lack of toughness; a lack of desire. You don’t want it bad enough. You’re complacent. You’re lazy. These ideas make fitness a zero-sum game. Either you’re going hard or you’re going home.

And this mentality works for people for a little while. Until it doesn’t. If you workout at a high intensity 7 days/week, you will get results. Most likely your body composition will improve. But if there is one thing you won’t see plastered on a Reebok billboard, it’s that the body has limits. We are not limited simply by our mentality. We are limited by the brick and mortar of our physical selves. We are limited by our abilities to recover.

Recovery doesn’t mean drinking a protein shake and hitting it just as hard tomorrow. Recovery means restful sleep. Recovery means nourishing food. Recovery means taking physical care of our bodies between hard bouts of training. Stretching, rolling, and massage are the obvious choices. But going for a walk, playing with the dog, dancing to Janet Jackson in the kitchen; these things allow us to use our bodies in ways they were meant to be used and can be incredibly therapeutic. Recovery also means (and this can be terrifying for the more Type-A folks) skipping a workout. Or at the very least listening to your body and knowing when it’s not a good day for a high volume of deadlifts.

Often, when I meet with a prospective client, they’ll tell me how they need to be pushed. How, with the perfect workout, and the right amount of someone breathing down their necks, they’ll finally stop being lazy and be able to grind themselves into the ground ”ya know, like they do in the Nike commercials”.

Typically, these are people with modest goals. I want to lose this *poking themselves in whatever squish they’re dissatisfied with*. I want to feel a little stronger. I mean, I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder or anything. I really just need someone to kick my ass.

But professional ass-kicking is usually a recipe for disaster. We need only to look at Crossfit or the latest HIITBOOTCAMPSEALTEAM6XTREME workout on the market to see what this is doing to an overwhelming percentage of attendees. My shoulder really started bothering me during those burpees. I was getting shin splints. My left ear kept falling off every time I did a power clean.

Here’s some industry insight. If your personal trainer consistently leaves you wanting to puke, run away (hopefully without puking). Making people tired is the easiest thing in the world. Stand up and jump in the air 500 times. Are you exhausted? Good. That’ll be $75 please. Making people stronger takes work. Growing muscle takes work. Helping you move without pain takes work. But please hold your trainer (and yourself) to a higher standard than just leaving you out of breath.

And beyond leaving you broken in 22 different ways, this go big or go home mentality is wildly inconsistent. Because life happens. You’ll have to stay late at work. Your kid will get sick. You will get the odd crappy night of sleep. And your 5000mph workout will suffer because of it. And you’ll probably get discouraged and think Oh well, I guess this fitness thing isn’t for me after all. And it’s not because you’re weak or lazy or don’t want it bad enough… despite all the fitspiration posts on Instagram. And just because you missed today doesn’t mean you need to go thrice as hard tomorrow as penance. This approach towards fitness makes it a zero sum game. One where anything less than extreme training is a waste of time. One where we praise those who push themselves to the edges of their physical limits (regardless of the consequences).

So where does this leave you, person who just wants to be a little healthier/leaner/stronger? If you’re not going balls to the wall, is there even a purpose to working out? Well turns out there is because

Consistency. Beats. Intensity. Every. Damn. Time.

Show up and do something.

It doesn’t have to be the perfectly organized workout meant to grind you into a fine powder. Come in and pick up some heavy-ish things. Hop on the bike until you feel like you’ve been decently challenged. Not until you feel your heart beating out of your ears or like you are starring in The Biggest Loser. Just sort of hard. Then come back and do it again tomorrow.

Those who are able to master this idea are the ones who achieve long-term, sustainable success in the gym. As the new year approaches, aim to be one of those people who is still working out moderately but consistently in July rather than going BEASTMODE on January 1st and winding up injured and exhausted six weeks later.

Picking Up Rocks and Other Ways of Staying Fit While You Travel

Healthy living while you travel always comes with its fair share of difficulties. Living out of a van for 6 months of travel comes with quite a few more. For the last several months my partner (now fiancé, yay!) Marisa and I have been touring New Zealand in this lovely ‘motorhome’.

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While we enjoy the freedom of traveling, getting to decide on a day to day basis where to go next, we have had to get creative with the ways we exercise, eat, and generally maintain our fitness. Due to budget constraints, limited cooking facilities, and infrequent access to laundry and showers, taking care of our health and fitness on this trip has required more focus and planning than other periods in our lives. Below are some strategies that have worked relatively well for us for staying fit while we travel and enjoy this beautiful country. Some of these strategies may only be relevant to traveling New Zealand.  Many more, only relevant to living in a van. But doing our best to implement these behaviors has lead us towards a healthy and fun trip where we have been ready for any adventure.

While planning and preparing healthy meals certainly isn’t the sexiest part of traveling, focusing on this everyday activity will reap great benefits upon your wallet and your health. If you’re traveling without refrigeration like us, get used to a far greater frequency of trips to the grocery store. As Marisa and I like to eat meat daily, and since most fruits and veggies spoil after a few days without refrigeration, most days involve planning a route that takes us past a shop. At the grocery store do your best to shop around the perimeter of the store where you will find the produce, meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs. Keep foods from the aisles to a minimum with the exception being canned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel), spices, quality oils (coconut oil or cold-pressed olive oil) and dried starches (rice, chickpeas, lentils, beans, and oats).

But isn’t getting all this quality food going to cost a fortune? Well, we recently discovered that one pumpkin cost $2.99, and made 16 servings that were as nourishing as they were delicious. Some things will end up being pretty pricey (I’m looking at you baby spinach). But consider it an investment in your health and it will make the price easier to swallow. Trying to avoid junk food that you can get anywhere will substantially cut down your grocery bill. Instead of getting Doritos that you can buy at home, maybe invest in a nice pint of hokey pokey ice cream (cause when else will you get to try that??)  Shopping this way will not only keep your body happy, but will allow you to better stick to your budget so you can do fun things like go fishing on a salmon farm.

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I know, I know, trying local restaurants is half the fun of traveling. But especially here in New Zealand, eating out is expensive. That doesn’t mean you should forego that fish n’ chips place that is supposed to be the best one in the country (I swear I’ve heard that sentiment about every fish n’ chips place). Budget your money and less-than-healthy eating for the raved about restaurants by avoiding an overpriced Subway sandwich when you could just as easily make for yourself.

For us, this vacation has involved a lot of driving. At least the way I was raised, it’s not a proper road trip without lots of yummy snacks. If you’re also someone who always wants to be munching something when you drive, be sure to buy some easily accessible and healthy hand-to-mouth foods like carrots, apples, nuts, and grapes. Keep the junk food for when you’re paying more attention and can be better aware of what you’re eating.

Keeping your body active while you’re traveling will go a long way towards helping you enjoy yourself. As a result of this activity, you’ll sleep better and have more energy during the day for fun adventures.  Whether it’s a hike, bike ride, kayak excursion, or good old fashioned workout, aim to build some physical activity into every day. If you’re traveling in a van like us, flexibility and being able to painlessly move in cramped quarters will be especially important. Focusing on at least a little bit of flexibility training or myofascial massage (think foam rolling) each day will go a long way towards keeping away nagging low back/hip/knee/shoulder pain.

Not sure of what to do for a workout without all that nice, shiny gym equipment around? Workouts are only limited by your imagination. See that big rock over there? Go pick it up a bunch of times. How about that log? Why not press it overhead until you can’t anymore? Playgrounds were designed to give kids exercise in a fun way. Go ahead and incorporate them into your workouts. I can promise you that monkey bars are no longer as easy as they once were. That knee-height platform – go jump on it until you’re exhausted. If you want to make an investment in your workouts, a TRX strap or similar suspension trainer can offer you hundreds of different exercises of varying difficulty and can be used just about anywhere.

One concern you may have is the effect working out will have on the necessity of showers and laundry, i.e. lots more frequency for both. In our case we have a solar shower, but often use free cold public showers. At least in a New Zealand winter, this can be a truly freezing experience. Luckily an additional benefit of exercise is that is raises your body temperature, making those cold showers much more tolerable. If you don’t always have access to laundry, aim to have one or two pairs of clothes you can workout/be active in and then use those a few times. Who cares if you smell a little bad when you’re working out?

You’re going to be meeting loads of wonderful people on your overseas adventure. Marisa and I were lucky enough to meet up and travel around with two American physiotherapists who are experts in therapeutic needling. They treated us on many occasions, helping to alleviate many of our physical ailments. Nowadays, loads of people have at least some expertise in healthy living. Use this to your advantage and make friends with a yoga instructor/nutritionist/physio/trainer/massage therapist or anyone like this who may be willing to swap skills with you. You never know what the life story is of the person in the van next to you, so just go out and introduce yourself.

Most people nowadays are overworked, underslept, and stressed. Maybe you’re taking this trip to get away from all that. Camping can be a great opportunity to get your sleep more regular and help yourself fall into a Circadian rhythm. Since you are outdoors so much and your electricity is likely limited, this should help you sleep and wake with the sun. If you’re someone who is used to falling asleep and waking up late, you’ll be amazed at how your body will feel on a slightly earlier clock. Also, think of all those sunrise pictures you’re going to be able to take…

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Being on a vacation/overseas experience/’soul-searching trip’ is no reason to abandon healthy habits you have at home and start living life as one big binge. Especially if the trip you are taking is longer than a week. Consider the healthy decisions you’re making as all contributing to your experience and you’ll have a better trip than you can imagine. As with almost every situation in life there will be obstacles that make healthy living difficult. You’ll get stuck in traffic and be starving with only a Burger King in sight. Some days will be so cold/hot that having a workout outside seems unimaginable. But encountering these obstacles does not mean you have failed at your fitness plan. Aim to roll with this resistance and constantly be seeking out different ways you can make your trip just a little bit healthier.

 

 

How To Take a Balanced Approach to Fitness Gospel

 

There is a new diagnosis buzzing around the world of food and mental health called orthorexia. Orthorexia can be understood as set of awarenesses, behaviours, beliefs, and/or rituals around food characterized by the attitude that a food must meet a preconceived standard of purity, ‘cleanliness’, and/or healthfulness. Put simply, it is a difficult relationship with food and exercise where a person feels they have to follow an unmanageable amount of food rules. Often, people will try to follow seemingly contradictory food rules at the same time, leading to a constant feeling of insufficiency.  While someone may go down this road with the intention of becoming more healthy, they often begin to moralize food habits and types to the extent of developing an antagonistic relationship with eating. The development of this relationship often leads to nutritional deficiencies, difficult and awkward social situations, and a detached relationship from how food actually makes someone feel. Continue reading

No Curls In The Squat Rack: 11 Gym Etiquette Recommendations

As I addressed in my previous blog post ‘The Gym Is Terrifying’, fitness clubs can be a weird, scary, smelly, awkward place rife with opportunities to embarrass yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. It can seem like everyone there speaks another language consisting of words like ‘sets’, ‘HIIT’, and ‘pumped’. While it may seem like everyone in the gym is whipped into angry, pre-workout induced frenzy, throwing weights and grunting as they stare themselves down in the mirror, gym-goers will overwhelmingly be friendly and helpful if you follow a few pieces of gym etiquette. Unfortunately these are relatively unspoken ‘rules’ that the eager salesperson touring you through the gym likely will not teach you. Follow these 11 basic rules and you’ll be free from annoyed sideways glances and passive-aggressive comments. Continue reading