Abs are Made in the Kitchen

Like most people, for the longest time I thought all I needed to do to lose fat was to exercise my little heart out. I can’t even begin to tell you the countless, unstructured machine exercise days I’ve done in addition to hours spent on the “Fat Loss” setting of the elliptical. The truth is you can’t outwork a bad diet. Even if your training is optimal (my example was not) if you eat like crap your body will feel like crap and you will be unlikely to shed those extra pounds.

Does this mean you should go on a diet? Maybe if you cleanse out your intestines you can “jump-start” your way to fat loss success? (Hey, I’ve tried it.) You’re friend lost 15 pound on Whole30/ South Beach/Keto/Whatever. Maybe you should try it? I’m here to tell you that “Abs are made in the kitchen” does not mean “jump on the newest fad diet trend.” Believe it or not, you can have abs without ever dieting again. You just have to change your life.

If you want to maintain a healthy weight, you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. While that includes exercise, eating nutrient dense foods will better fuel your workouts and leave you feeling more energized and the ever elusive “healthy.” It is not an 8 week plan. It is not an “eat this food and drop 10 lbs.” kind of thing. It is a complete and total lifestyle change. Sound scary? It shouldn’t be.

Especially if you are already working out, amping up your nutrition game is just a piece of the puzzle. You don’t have to eat salads for every meal or even count your calories. The best nutrition plan is one you will stick to. If that means you prefer to count your calories or your macros then so be it. Conversely, you could just reduce your portion sizes, be mindful about your eating (am I hungry or bored?), and pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. Again, this is a change for the rest of your life. Make sure it’s something you can stick with.

Another disclaimer: everyone deserves treats. A good rule of thumb is to follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of diet should consist of nutrient dense, filling meals and 20% you eat ice cream and beer (or whatever your weakness is). If that doesn’t work for you, set aside one meal a week/two weeks to treat yo’ self. Don’t deprive yourself or you will be more likely to slump back into your McDonald’s eating ways.

If this still sounds difficult, ASK FOR HELP. It is almost impossible to live a completely healthy lifestyle without a support system. Ask your significant other, friends, or family to join you in your quest to eat better and live well. It is so much easier to have one person you can hang with who also isn’t down to drink overpriced cocktails every Friday night.

You can make the changes in your life you need to reach your goals. It may sound hard, but once you begin the lifestyle, it will be hard to quit.

Four Common Fitness Myths, and the truth

You should exercise for weight loss – when I tell people I’ve lost 20 lbs and 5% body fat in the past year, the reaction is usually “wow you must spend a lot of time in the gym!” And, don’t get me wrong, I do spend a lot of time in the gym. My workouts are more for my sanity than weight loss though, and they have even raised the number on the scale slightly. Fat loss will ultimately come from your diet. You cannot eat like crap and then “run it off.” That’s just not how it works. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is the key to fat loss. Plus, if you look at exercise as a punishment for enjoying food you’re looking at both food and exercise wrong.

You need to “cleanse” your body of “toxins” – you were (most likely) born with this handy thing called a liver. As long as you treat it right, it cleanses for you. “Cleanses” and “fat flushes” are baloney, and that’s the nicest way to describe them.

Crunches will give you visible abs – This is right up there with exercising for weight loss. Abs are made in the kitchen. A healthy (for some people unhealthy) diet is the only way to get to a low enough body fat percentage to see abs. Additionally, some people are more naturally disposed to have visible abs than others. There are some people who could do core work for days, have 9% body fat (as a male) and still not have as defined a set of abs as another male with the same stats. Genetics and connective tissue y’all.

You can’t enjoy any foods you love while trying to lose weight – two things: overall health is a marathon, not a sprint and overall health means a balanced diet and allowing yourself foods that make you happy on occasion. Too often I see girls say things like “oh man, that looks good but I can’t eat it EVER AGAIN,” and I’m like OMG YES YOU CAN. Extreme restrictions set yourself up for failure. Balance is key to weight loss and key to creating a healthy lifestyle you can maintain for years to come. 

You say you want a resolution

It’s that time again: resolution season! A new year brings a fresh start and a chance to become the you you would like to be. (Of course, you can start at any time, but it’s nice to have a fresh year) The thing about resolutions, though, is most people fail. But not you and not this year! Here are some tips to ensure you end 2017 saying “I did it!”
  • Be Specific: Most people resolve to “eat right and exercise” and just vaguely go into the resolutioning abyss without any sort of plan. This year, be specific with your resolution. “This year I will walk 2 miles every day” or “This year I will eat home cooked meals every week day – no fast food lunches!” or “This year I will limit my smoking to 2 cigarettes per day” are great places to start your healthy resolutions
  • Make your goal measurable: This goes hand-in-hand with specificity. You cannot measure “eating healthier” but you can measure “not having McDonald’s for lunch every day.” Make your resolution something for which you can track your progress.
  • Make your goal attainable and realistic: you may want to lose 40 lbs in a month, or quit smoking right this second, but oftentimes neither of those are attainable goals. Change takes time, and you need to give the time some time. A goal of 5 lbs a month (60 lbs over the course of 2017) is much more realistic and attainable. Setting the bar too high can lead to you being let down and backsliding.
  • Set a time limit: obviously you want to make a great change over the course of a year for your resolution but giving yourself a time to hit your goals by is a great motivator. Maybe you want to lose a realistic amount of weight by swimsuit season, or maybe you want to take your daily walking to running and be able to run a 5K by next fall. Set a realistic time for your goals.
Now that you’re prepped and ready, here are some examples of resolutions you could stick to:
I resolve to walk three miles every morning before work all year.
I resolve to plan healthy, home cooked meals for my work week and eat out only on weekends and special occasions.
I resolve to lose 20 pounds through daily walking and eating smaller portions of whole foods at 80% of my meals by August 2017
What will you resolve to do this year?

Ladies, weights are for you, too

There are a lot of women in the world who believe that strength training will make them appear “bulky” or “manly,” and I’m here to tell you that’s just not true! Picking up a barbell will not suddenly make you have the body of a competition bodybuilder, and, honestly, several years of picking up a barbell most likely will not either (unless you’re  actively trying to make that happen). Here are some benefits of weight training, especially for women.

  • Increased metabolism – when you increase your muscle mass, you increase the amount of energy needed to maintain that mass when your body is at rest. You know what your body uses for energy? Food. It’s not an “eat whatever you want and not get fat” scenario, but it is definitely a “you can eat more” scenario.
  • Increased curves – I am a pretty straight up-and-down, boyish figured person. Weight lifting allows me to create the illusion of a waist (by building a v-tapered back) and the illusion of hips (lots of glute work).
  • Decreased risk of disease – effective strength training can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes. It can also aid in lowering blood pressure and decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • Reduced PMS symptoms – if that time of the month is absolutely killer for you emotionally, regular weight training can make it more manageable.

I personally see a decrease in my stress, anxiety, and depression levels when I am actively participating in a weight training regimen.

If you’re not into the whole barbells, grunting, and overall atmosphere of a gym, a pair of 5 lb. (or even 2 lb. – no judgments, everyone starts somewhere) dumbbells can do wonders at home. Even a bodyweight routine can be incredibly effective.

Additional warning: do not be alarmed if you start a strength training routine and see the scale stall, or even move upward. You may have heard “muscle weighs more than fat” which is not actually true. What people mean is “muscle is denser than fat.” Five pounds of muscle takes up a lot less space in your body than 5 lbs of fat. While your scale weight may stay the same, your body fat may go down as you build muscle.

If you need help pulling together a strength training routine, I got your back!

Gobble Gobble

The holidays are upon us, and you may be wondering how you’re going to make it through without raising your blood pressure or your blood sugar. 

Here are some holiday food and destressing tips:

Take time for you –

  • The holidays are a time when you get to see family and friends who you haven’t seen in awhile. Sometimes that’s great, and sometimes your mother or father-in-law is driving you completely insane. 
  • During this time, it is important to get some “me time” in. Take 20 minutes if you can get it (and 5-10 if you can’t) and just be by yourself and unwind. Read a chapter of a book, play a game on your phone, or just stare at a wall blankly-whatever you’re into, no judgments.  
  • Taking time to yourself will allow you to recharge and greet Grandma’s green bean casserole (that everyone would rather feed to the dog) with a smile. 

Moderation is key –

  • First things first: if you try to stick to a restrictive diet over food heavy events you will likely fail and feel guilty. No one should feel guilty about eating mashed potatoes! Don’t restrict yourself, be ready to enjoy your holiday, and remember – everything in moderation. Eat one piece of pumpkin pie instead of three. 
  • If you loaded your plate the first round through, get minimal seconds. Because let’s be real, we’re all getting seconds. It’s okay to indulge during special events as long as you are mindful of what you are putting into your body and don’t overindulge. 

 Healthy holiday foods – 

  • 1/3 of your plate should consist of your protein options – whether that is turkey or ham or beef. These foods will help keep you full and satisfied for longer than they would if you loaded up on dinner rolls. 
  • The remaining 2/3 should be filled with your veggies and carbohydrate options. Sweet potatoes are a great health food… the marshmallows and brown sugar on top, not so much. If plain mashed sweet potatoes are an option, they are a Thanksgiving “do.” Plain ol’ butter and mashed white potatoes are not too terrible for you, in moderation. 
  • Stick to smaller helpings of green bean casserole, stuffing, and, especially, cranberry sauce. 

What are calories?

I never thought about what calories were until I gained weight. Then I became obsessed. I checked every nutrition label and berated myself constantly if I went over my calories for the day. This is not a healthy lifestyle. 

My lifestyle changed when I remembered that calories are simply energy. You need a certain amount of energy to exist (your BMR), and you need more energy to fuel your physical activity. That energy can come from food or from a breakdown of fat in your body. Depending on your body composition and goals, a combination of the two is generally what you should look for. 

What are calories made of, though? Glad you asked. Calories come from the 4 macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, protein, and alcohol. 

Carbs provide 4 calories per gram. This energy is easily broken down by the body and is used first. If you do not use this energy, it is stored as fat for later use. We all know how easy it is to eat a ton of carbs. Because they process so quickly, you feel hungrier, faster. 

Protein also provides 4 calories per gram; however, it takes longer for your body to process. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are essential to life. They build muscles, transport nutrients, and form your organs and bones. 

Fat provides the most energy coming in at 9 calories per gram. This is part of the reason so many foods are listed as “low fat.” When you’re eating the correct amount of the right types of fat, fat does not make you “fat.” In fact, “low fat” foods are often filled with sugar for filler. You are better off eating full fat than excess sugar. Plus, fat keeps you fuller, longer. 

Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. It is processed differently than the other macronutrients and is not generally considered part of a healthy diet. 

From here you should be able to look at a nutrition label and determine what the total calories are made of. Eating the proper amount of carbs, fat, and protein is vital to weight loss, muscle growth, and overall health. It’s not just how many calories, but what they are made of that counts. 

You are not your weight

Very few things about me are a secret. I spend way too much time on social media, and my preferred method of talking about myself is through self deprication. Which is really just narcissism in a different form. 

I’m as obsessed with my physical appearance as a person who has no real interest in putting in any effort can be. My hair is constantly up in a bun, rarely will you find me in makeup, and I would be lying if I said I had washed these pants recently. I’m just too exhausted and, honestly, depressed to put in much effort beyond waking up and showing up. 

This combination of narcissism and apathy has made the 20 pound weight fluctuation I’ve had in the past two years of my life an even harder pill to swallow. I absolutely detest how I look. I avoid mirrors and photos and should by chance either one pop up I stare at myself in gross fascination. I am disgusting. I imagine the girls I attended high school and college with looking at my photos and laughing – taking screen shots and sending them to their friends “Look how fat she got! She whaled!” Really, I doubt anyone cares about me enough to do those things, but my brain sometimes has other ideas. 

I told you I’m a narcissist. 

And God forbid I step on a scale and see that number first hand. Right now, it reads at the high end of the numbers I slide between. I’m not happy. I’ll probably send a text to one of my best friends later, asking her to commiserate with me and confirm the worst. I am atrocious on the outside and even worse on the inside, because who cares this much about their physical self honestly?

This is what I did last night in a haze of self loathing and way too much cheese. I explained to this friend (who is in incredible shape, like the next Paige Hathaway shape) that I cannot even begin to work on my outside because my inside is such a mess. I can’t begin to do something beneficial for myself, because I’m too busy hating everything about myself. 

She could’ve said a lot of things. She could’ve said “omg you’re being ridiculous” the way that girls do to each other that doesn’t really mean anything. She could’ve told me my constant meltdowns about my physical appearance of all things are annoying (true) and could I please stop so she could enjoy her life without me dragging her down. 

She did neither of these things. She sent me a long, LONG text explaining the good things she sees in me. The things I always secretly hope everyone sees about me. (I will not list them; that’s not what this post is about) She sent me a stream of things to focus on that have nothing to do with my appearance and enough encouragement to get me through one more dark day. Which is sometimes all I need. She also sent me a lesson. 

I am not a number on a scale. I’m not my saddle bags, my double chin, or my cellulite. I’m not defined by whether or not I have cheek bones. I am many things: some light and some dark, and not a one has anything to do with the amount of fat on my body. 

And neither are you. You’re a mother, or a teacher, or a nurse. You’re the woman who gives your last $5 to the man standing on the corner asking for change on Christmas Eve. You’re the girl who woke up at midnight to pick your friend up in the middle of the road because she had way too much to drink even though she was being a giant bag of turds. You’re the woman who pours every ounce of happiness you can muster into making your kids feel better about their life problems, though you are running on empty yourself. 

You’re someone’s friend, their lifeline, their shoulder to cry on. You’re a dreamer, an old soul, a bonafide hippie. You’re hardworking and smart and driven and determined. You’re everything but 3 digits. Don’t ever forget it.