It's no lie that healthy food is bland. Not loaded with sodium and preservatives, it just doesn't have the "it" that junk food has. And yet, we're expected to eat these things to stay healthy. But there has to be a way to make these foods taste good, right?
Must Love Fat
The reason virtually all of these healthy foods - from chicken to brown rice - taste so bland to us is because they lack the fat content other foods have. American diets are very high in fat. Because it's so calorically dense, our bodies reward us with happy tastebuds and a feel good sensation. To suddenly change this means a body that is less than pleased.
Other things missing include high amounts of sugar and low to no salt. Put this together with almost no fat and you're left with foods that have far more muted flavors than our beloved junk food. And so we have to adapt.
Absence Makes the Taste Buds Fonder
Luckily, the longer you go without junk food, the more these individual flavors stand out. Veggies soon share with your their distinct flavors, with most of them actually being kind of sweet. Eventually, junk food becomes too intense, leading you to turn back to fruits and whole grains.
The Spice of Life
Yet even with the individual flavors, it's still not enough. This is why it's important to rediscover the ancient practice of adding spices and herbs. Depending on what you add and how much you add, you could turn your chicken and rice dinner into and Indian feast or a Japanese medley without needing to alter how you cook your food.
Spices you need
Spices that are optional
Where to get them
Bulk bins. Unless you want to buy spices in containers so you have containers for later, bulk spices are unbeatable in terms of price. For mere cents you can have months worth of garlic or rosemary. Whole Foods and Fred Meyer do this for sure. If your local grocery store doesn't do this, stop by the ethnic food section. In many of the Spanish sections, there will be baggies of spices for only $0.99.
How to use them
Step one: Add a bit of salt. Taste. Not enough? Add a bit more. Taste. Repeat until it's at a quantity you like.
Step two: Do step one with the rest of your spices.
If you're not sure what spices work well together, there are numerous cheat sheets out there that group spices by region so you know the flavor type you'll end up with.
Where to Start
Spices are scary. There are a lot of them, many with names that you're not quite sure how to pronounce. However, now's not the time to be scared. Now's the time to reward your taste buds for switching over to healthier foods. For that, I suggest starting with a mix of:
With as crazy as "diet" plans can be, it's no wonder why so many of us fall off the wagon time and again. I hear tales of 1200 calorie liquid diets or diets that cut fats or carbs completely because of supposed vices. Then we start to feel pains in our guts, happily that this feeling is hunger, and the longer we ignore it, the more weight we drop. But this pain is not hunger. It's starvation.
So how do you tell the difference when you cut calories?
Starvation is painful. Your stomach will feel like it's cramping. You might even feel sharp pains through the gut. It interferes with your ability to work at max efficiency. After a while, you'll begin to feel extremely lethargic.
Hunger, on the other hand, is more like a little nagging voice in your head. You may have some rumbles, but it's not painful and you can easily focus on other activities.
And hunger is what diets should cause. It's a natural response to dropping weight. Suddenly, your excess energy stores are being depleted. Clearly there's a famine. Better make you crave everything edible you come across so you can outlast these lean times. Our minds overreact as they are prone to do. But if you cut in small steps, the body has time to adjust, making the desires manageable.
Unfortunately, many aim to lose 2-5 pounds per week. But this is just too much to handle mentally. If you think the brain overreacts to 0.5 to 1 pounds lost weekly, just think of how crazy it will go dropping more than double. It's like expecting yourself to be able to run a triathlon even though you've never once run a mile. You can't consume 3000+ calories per day and then expect to be able to drop down to 1800 without some serious blow back. On top of this, there's a good chance you'll be dropping a serious amount of food without taking nutrition into account, resulting in legitimate starvation.
Weight loss, like all other things in life, is slow and steady. You have to learn how to identify hunger and you have to learn how to control this very basic urge. That's why it's best to take weight loss in 0.5 to 1 pound weekly increments. There's no threat of starvation therefore you can learn what healthy hunger is. It also keeps you from associating the pain of starvation with eating less. And with all things, this takes practice and time -- two things "diet" plans will try to convince you aren't necessary.
Fitness apps are an incredible way to track what you eat when you eat it. They're also phenomenal at marking the progress of your workouts. However, not all apps work for all people. Instead of getting caught up in using the "cool" apps that don't do anything for you, find one that works best with your goals.
Things to look for
Food Barcode Scanner
Entering food is an arduous task -- one that often turns people away before they ever get started. With a scanner that runs through your phone's camera, you can immediately enter what you're having when you have it. Because of this, it helps train you away from eating out since fast food and sit down meals lack barcodes.
Adjustable Macro Goals
It's true that when you start the only number you want to concern yourself with is your total daily calories. That being said, you also want an app that will progress with you as you become more invested. Apps that don't allow for macro changes will eventually have to be switched out for apps that do, meaning losing all of the data you've collected about yourself thus far.
Even if it's just weight progress, knowing if you're succeeding is essential, and a quick look at a graph relays this information immediately. Ideally, you'll want progress charts that will track the data as far back as you've been recording your information so that you can see your overall progress and not just snapshots of a tiny moment in time.
Things to watch out for
Additional Calories After Working Out
This is a bad, bad habit among apps out on the market today. They tack on the calories you burned working out to your daily total calories, giving you a much larger daily total to eat. However, this logic is severely flawed. You work out to lose weight by burning calories. If you then eat all those calories you just burned, you won't lose any weight. In addition, their calorie burn estimations for the exercises are severely flawed. My advice is to find a completely different app to track your workouts in.
I know all fitness apps have their own blogs, however, you want a fitness app where the blog is hidden. Instead of being a source of inspiration, these blogs tend to be nothing but a laundry list of people complaining and/or trying to rouse pity. These negative voices will only encourage your own negativity to weigh you down. Be proactive and avoid fitness app blogs altogether.
We all do it. It's the New Year, so that means time to finally exercise and eat right! And while most of it usually falls to the wayside by February, there are things you can do now to give yourself a fighting chance when the newness of the resolution finally wears off.
Don't hurt yourself.
Start slow and start easy. The longer you've gone without working out, the higher the hurt you're going to feel following your first day back. Instead of going balls to the wall, do light cardio or light weights. It's going to hurt tomorrow no matter what you do, but what you do will determine how much it hurts.
Don't starve yourself.
Start slow and start easy. The longer you've gone without eating healthy, the hungrier you're going to feel following your first day of clean eating. Instead of going balls to the wall, eat a little less each day and be honest about tracking your food. It's going to be challenging no matter what you do, but what you do will determine how challenging it is.
You are more likely to stick with your resolution if you get enjoyment out of it. It's that simple. Don't choose an exercise just because it's popular. Choose an exercise because it teaches you something you've always wanted to learn.
Take responsibility for yourself.
Do not EVER blame others for your inability to succeed. You are the captain of your life. Take responsibility for how you live it. And while there will always be things that happen outside of your control, success comes from learning how to adapt to your current circumstances so you can push forward and push upward.
Remember to rest.
Getting fit is equal parts working out, eating right and resting. That's right. Resting. Many people (myself included) fall into the trap of thinking that only working hard every single day will result in a great look. However, your body can only build this great look during your rest periods. Get enough sleep and take those rest days seriously.
CALORIES are how big or small you want to be.
Eat more, gain weight. Eat less, lose weight. Just be careful to never eat too little. For women, never go below 1200. For men, never go below 1500.
MACROS and EXERCISE are how you want your calories to look.
Macros are the nutrients you need a lot of - protein, fats and carbs. Exercise determines how these nutrients are used within the body. Think of the nutrients as building materials and exercise as an architect.
MICROS are how healthy you want your diet to be.
Micros are the nutrients you need in small amounts - vitamins and minerals. These keep your body running at peak efficiency.
Where do you start?
Step 1: Find a calorie total that leaves you with a look you're happy with.
Before you can do any of the specifics, you have to understand the general concepts. For calories, this means finding a general daily calorie count you like. Should you aim for a goal weight? I would argue for you to aim for a weight range based on your height and gender. This is a pretty nifty tool. Once you find a place within that range you're happy with, you've found your calorie total. And never be afraid to adjust this. Your calorie total is not set in stone nor should it be.
Step 2: Research athletic body types.
If you want a certain body type, then you need to do the exercise regimes that corresponds to getting said body. Swimming and lifting produce very different results. Running will never result in Mr. Olympia. This series of photos is a great place to start. See a body you like? Research their routine. If you can't do that routine specifically, look for alternatives.
Step two: Mess around with your macro totals.
Now that you've got the general stuff down and you're using exercise to distribute your calories, it's time to get a bit more specific with your macros. Ideally, keep protein around 25-30% since any higher is wasted by the body. For carbs and fats, that's up to you. For simplicity's sake, assume that the percentage of fat you eat will be the percentage of fat you have on your body. This is why bodybuilders only eat about 10-20% fat in their diet. During each change, give yourself about two months so you can note any differences.
Does it matter what you eat?
Are sugars/fats/carbs/sodium evil?
No. In moderation, they are necessary and enjoyable.
Does it matter when you eat?
The holidays have long been used as the last fling before the ring. You gorge yourself with the knowledge that come 2016, all the sweets and treats are out the door. This mindset, though, is incredibly detrimental to not only your body but your mind.
Be healthy and enjoy the holidays this year!
All or Nothing
You've started your New Year's diet. It goes great for a little bit but then the cravings set in. You start losing your mind because you can't have one cookie. Eventually you snap and have a cookie. But it's not just a cookie. It's a cookie that comes with the belief that you are a failure. You can't stay with this diet. Who are you even kidding? Might as well bring in a few more treats and a few more and a few more until, by February, you're back to square one.
This is extremely unfair to yourself and your potential. The reality of the situation is that you have spent that last two months (counting down from Halloween) shoving your body full of decadent sweets and rich foods. Your body has adapted to expect these foods. Suddenly, you rip away them away, replacing them with veggies and lean protein. The body overreacts, wrongly assuming you're going to starve. How do you survive this starvation? Seek out calorie-rich foods, thus triggering the cravings.
The biggest problem this time of year is the mindset of all or nothing. You stuff your face with all because, come New Year's, you'll be going on the nothing diet. This is horrible for you. For one, it's an outright lie. You know damn well you'll be sneaking treats in the new year. Two, it allows you to excuse overeating.
The secret is moderation.
Instead of finishing off an entire half pint of eggnog in one sitting, space it out over the course of the week. Don't eat that entire tin of Danish Butter Cookies in two days, eat it in two weeks.
What if you already understand moderation? What if you're trying to keep relatively healthy at company holiday parties? What do you choose from the buffet?
Instead of CHOCOLATE, choose GUMMIES.
Gummies typically don't have high fat content because they aren't made with any kind of fatty products (whole milk, whipping cream, buttermilk, butter, egg yolk, etc.). Therefore if you want to have something sweet, gumdrops are your best option.
Instead of cookies, choose PRETZELS.
Cookies, again, have a lot of fat.
Drink more WATER than ALCOHOL.
No one is saying you shouldn't drink when you need to deal with those in-laws, but to avoid extra calories, water is your best friend.
For the birds, always eat BREAST MEAT.
Breast meat is white meat and therefore the lowest in fat. Now, no matter how well the bird is cooked, the white meat will be dry. To make it juicier, it's okay to use gravy, but keep this amount relatively small.
Instead of SWEETS, choose FRUITS.
Unlike gummies, fruits actually have good things for your body, ranging from antioxidants to vitamins.
Though nuts are healthy, they are extremely fatty and do not make the best snack choice despite what other sites will tell you.
Why limit fats and not carbs?
When you eat food, you consume fuel points.
1g of carbs = 4 points
1g of protein = 4 points
1g of fat = 9 points
That's a lot of calories for just a smidgen of fat. If you really want to eat a lot during the holidays without packing on too much weight, limiting fats means you get to eat more than twice as many carbs or more than twice as much protein before you even hit fat level points.
Red Bull. Rock Star. Amp. Nos.
These are only a few of the myriad of energy drink populating grocery store aisles and gas station refrigerators the world over. However, these energy drinks are far from energizing, leading, instead, to a laundry list of negative effects.
That being said, it's impossible to ban such a practice. In fact, imbibing some form of stimulant is simply a part of human nature. South Americans chewed coca leaves, Asians drank tea and coffee reigned supreme in the Middle East.
Though you shouldn't swear off stimulants entirely, here are the safer options to turn to for a quick buzz.
For thousands of years, tea has been heralded for its health benefits, however the best part is the variety. You can get Lipton or you can head on down to the local hippie store and buy mixtures of dried leaves and fruit. To sweeten, honey is your best option as honey also comes with health benefits in the form of antibacterial properties. Some also believe eating local honey helps with allergies because it gets you to ingest weaker versions of local pollen thus acting in a way similar to a vaccination. How truthful is this? I really couldn't tell you.
When I say coffee, I'm not referring to Pumpkin Spice Lattes or double whipped cream, whole milk dessert creations passed off as coffee. I'm also not referring to drinking only coffee throughout the day. I'm talking about the straight up black drink. While this one is a bit more debated currently in terms of health benefits, there's still reason to believe it does stave off certain negative health concerns. Again, like tea, there are many variations (though, to be honest, the flavor differences are not that dramatic). Instead of sugar, use honey. If you want, a bit of milk goes a long way to really take away the bitterness.
Your body needs water to run correctly. The less it has, the more gummed up everything gets. Think of it like oil in your car. This liquid collects debris while lubricating the engine for a smooth performance. If this doesn't get changed out, performance declines because more shit gets lodged in places it shouldn't. Keep it that way long enough and eventually you'll kill your engine. As for your internal engine, the less water you have, the more energy your body spends keeping you going. Therefore, if you drink enough water, your body will need less energy thus feeling more energized.
As water cleans out the body, sleep cleans out the brain. It's the same idea.
If you have more weight to carry around, your body is going to overexert itself. While you don't have to become an Olympic athlete, you should at least fall within a healthy weight category for you age and height.
A Note on Alertness
Never forget that you will always feel a little tired, especially as you get older. No matter how many coffees you have and no matter how much water you drink, there will always be a sleepy feeling, and this is okay. If you had your body and mind going at 100% all the time every day, you'd wear yourself down and not be able to outrun a predator. It's merely a part of your body's natural inclination to save energy for moments when you actually need it.
A huge thank you to Azax for prompting this topic!
Vacations are expensive. To save money, we all cut where we can. If, for instance, you're off to an event like BlizzCon, one of the first things to go is the rental car. With buses and taxis running to the area from the airport and the event only happening in one location, there's really no need to shell out the extra cash when you can walk.
Therein lies the rub.
While fast food places surround you, it's not exactly an ideal situation for clean eating. And while you could cheat, you have worked damn hard to stay clean. This trip is not going to mess you up. However, every choice comes with a sacrifice, and for clean eating in this situation, that means traversing the unknown to find good food.
Here's how to stay clean.
Rule 1: 30 Minutes Max
To keep the journey sane, do not look further than a 30 minute walk. There's no telling what the weather will be like, and you want to give yourself time to enjoy the vacation outside of food shopping.
Rule 2: Only Chains
Specialty stores are not guaranteed to have meal staples. Targets, Wal-Marts, QFCs and other big name brands are. Because you want to minimize your time hunting for clean food, it's safer to go with locations that have a layout you're familiar with.
If you will not have a smart phone, do research before leaving.
Head to Google Maps, find your hotel location and search for "grocery stores". Once you find a store that looks good to you, write down the directions.
Let's assume you're lodged right around the Anaheim Convention Center. In 30 minutes from this point, you can walk about two Anaheim blocks. This means you can reach a:
Rule 3: Be Flexible
The season and region will directly influence the food that's available, especially when we're talking about veggies. If they don't have exactly what you're looking for, it's totally okay to compromise.
Rule 4: Ready-to-Eat
You won't have a kitchen. You won't have utensils. You won't have plates. You won't have bowls. Basically, there will be no way to cook save for the microwave. Because of this, get pre-packaged and ready-to-eat veggies, meats and grains. Should you have a can opener, you can extend into the canned aisle.
Rule 5: Know What You Need
If you've been eating clean for a while now, you can guesstimate how much of each macro you'll need to get through however many days you'll be in your hotel room. If you can't, do the math before you go shopping. This will make sure you either buy enough or don't buy too much. It will also get you thinking about what you want to buy - something you'll get to plan fully on that 30 minute walk.
A huge thank you to Lee for prompting this topic!
In short, BlizzCon was fantastic! The weather was perfect (as usual) and the atmosphere indescribable. It's always so exhilarating being surrounded by thousands of others that share a love of video games.
As the first post since the event, I'm going to write down a summary of where I was able to get to before having to take off.
30 minutes steady state cardio
Delts: 12/10/8/8 reps - 60 sec active recovery
Military Press - 20 lbs
Barbell upright row - 30 lbs
Barbell rear delt raise - 30 lbs
Front lat raise - 5 lbs
Back : 12/10/8/8 reps - 60 sec active recovery
Barbell shrug - 38.8 lbs
Straight leg deadlift - 38.8 lbs
Bent over row - 38.8 lbs
30 minutes HIIT
Chest: 12/10/8/8 reps - 60 sec active recovery
Bench press - 35 lbs
Incline bench press - 35 lbs
Decline bench press - 35 lbs
Triceps: 12/10/8/8 reps - 60 sec active recovery
Close grip bench press - 18.8 lbs
Triceps extension bar - 15 lbs
Hamstrings: 12/10/8/8 reps - 60 sec active recovery
Self-assisted inverse leg curl
Lying leg curls - 33 lbs
Deadlift - 60 lbs
Biceps: 2 Exercises - 4 sets - 12/10/8/8 reps - 60 sec active recovery
Barbell curl - 16 lbs
Drag curl - 16 lbs
30 minutes steady state cardio
Quads: 12/10/8/8 reps - 60 sec active recovery
Squat - 55 lbs
Leg Extensions - 55 lbs
Front squat - 38.8 lbs
Glutes: 3 - 4 Exercises - 4 sets - 12/10/8/8 reps - 60 sec active recovery
Hip bridge - 58.8 lbs
Bent knee good mornings - 38.8 lbs
All fours kickback
30 minutes HIIT
Repeat Day 1 weight routine
30 minutes steady state cardio
Daily Calories: 1700
Average weight: 113 lbs
What I Learned
Don't eat too little. I started freaking myself out 4 weeks before BlizzCon, dropped my calories to 1500 and was tempted to drop them further. Do NOT do this. Because I was depriving my body of energy, I began losing some serious muscle progress. I then bumped myself up to 1700 and started to gain muscle while still losing fat. Rule of thumb: if you feel like you're starving yourself on a cut, you probably are.
Change isn't fast. This is both for positive and negative change. I stopped working out about five days prior to the Con and will start working out again on Tuesday. That's two weeks of not working out and shoving my face with fabulously fatty foods I hadn't tasted in two months. Currently, I weigh 115 and still have that bitchin' leg definition I was so proud of before leaving. The point is to not get too upset with yourself if you can't stick to a schedule for brief stints of time. Just get back to it as soon as you can, and it's all good.
Take more pictures. I have a severe lack of progress pictures, and for that, I am sad. But it's never too late to start! Every month I will start posting progress pictures here as I get ready to take on some seriously buff Sonya cosplay next BlizzCon.
This blog is definitely going to continue, but I'm going to slow down the posts to about one each Sunday. And, as always, feel free to send me any topics you'd like to see or any success stories you have. It's great to hear!
As for next week: where to shop for food in Anaheim during BlizzCon - a great question I was asked while down there.
Until then! :D
Do you want to lose or gain weight?
Set a goal weight.
Count calories, workout and achieve that goal weight.
Are you as fit as you want to look?
If yes, then keep doing what you're doing.
If weight keeps dropping, add more calories to your daily diet until you steady out at where you were.
If weight keeps adding, drop more calories from your daily diet until you steady out at where you were.
If no, it's macro time.
Start with a diet that's 60% carbs, 20% fat, 20% protein.
Give yourself up to about six months so see how this affects your body composition.
Are you as cut as you want to be?
If yes, keep doing what you're doing.
If not, reduce your calories little by little until you get the cut you want. Again, give this up to about six months.
A Note on Macro Cuts
It's during Phase 6 that you can start experimenting with different macro ratios to see how it affects you personally. Maybe you work better with lower carbs and higher fats. Maybe you need a bit more protein. No one can tell you your ultimate ratio except you -- and that means a lot of trial and error.
Co-host of HeroesForge, founder of Battle to Be Better, gamer, singer and all around happy person.