Top 5 things to look for in food tracking apps

food tracking app / image source: damnripped.com
food tracking app / image source: damnripped.com

Top 5 things to look for in a food-tracking app

There are countless fitness apps that promise to make tracking your diet and exercise fast and easy. Some boast five star reviews and testimonials while others appear with nothing less than a brief description. Like many of you, I’ve downloaded an app or two (or twelve…) only to find it unsuited to my needs. Lack of instructions, a small food database, unintuitive interfaces, and ads can all turn your new fitness companion into something that is quickly uploaded to the cloud and forgotten.

The goal of any fitness app should be that it is something you want to actually use. Tracking a meal should take no more than five minutes. Otherwise, it’s a hindrance and not a help.

Here are five things to look for when deciding which app is right for you:

  1. It is has scanning functionality. This is probably the most important element you want in your tracking app. By allowing the app to connect with your camera, it can quickly scan and input nutritional information directly from labels. You won’t have to complete the fields of calories, fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Scanning makes it simple to enter your meal.
  2. It’s been around for a while. A more established app will have a greater database of food to choose from. Many popular apps allow users to add new items to an aggregated database so there’s more chance a barcode or restaurant item is recognized in the future.
  3. It remembers your favourite and previous meals. When we start making more conscious diet choices, there’s a strong chance we are going to be eating the same things more frequently. Apps that allow you to save your favourite foods, recognize previous meals, or allow you group commonly used items will save you time.
  4. It fits your goals. Whether you’re calories counting or just tracking to figure out what food gives you heartburn, there’s an app for that. With so many specific dietary choices, you want to find the right app for you. This means there’s no point downloading a keto-specific app if you are practicing intuitive eating. If you like to share and get support from a community, many apps highlight this. Others will never prompt you to share with virtual friends. Do your research about the features of different apps to understand what makes them special.
  5. It is clear about its payment structure. It may say “free” in the little bubble next to the download button but does that mean you’ll be bombarded with ads that will prevent you from getting to the next screen? Some apps will give you initial access to a full version of the app for a limited time before it locks you into a monthly payment plan or a lite free version. There are plenty of free apps that may fit your needs but there are also paid upgrades that are more aligned with your goals. This decision is yours to make so don’t be fooled into paying for automatic fees or subscriptions if it’s not valuable.

It may take a while to sift through the many food tracking apps out there but there is one out there that’s perfect for you.

What food tracking apps have you benefited from—and which ones would you recommend against? Let us know so we can compile a list and get others on the right tracking track!

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas
Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Thinking of joining a gym?

Last week, we talked about how to make New Year’s resolutions that last longer than February 1st. If you’ve taken my advice, you’ve focused on a single resolution with small, realistic changes. We’ve also discussed setting SMART goals and how having a measurable goal makes it easier to keep track of your progress.

If your resolution is to train for that 5K, lose 20 pounds, or take a new fitness class, you might be thinking of joining one of the big box gyms that are found on almost every main intersection. They are convenient and provide you with both cardio and weight machines. They also offer a range of classes from boxing to dance. For some people, the gym is a one-stop-shop for everything fitness. For most, they are a terrible investment.

While membership fees vary, the industry-wide average falls in at $58 per month, or $696 per year. On top of the monthly fee, some gyms often tack on an “annual fee” (paid at the start of each new membership cycle), and an “initiation fee” (a one-time fee that can run as high as $250, due upon signing).

If you were to use the gym seven times a week, every week, you would be getting a great deal. However, a study run by UC Berkeley economists found that while members anticipate visiting a gym 9.5 times per month, they only end up going 4.17 times per month. That works out to 50 visits per year.

If you are serious about achieving your goals but don’t want to pay for something that you don’t use, think about the role the gym will play in your workout schedule. What does it offer that you currently need? Will you be joining just for a place to run while the weather is cold, or do you want the guided instruction of classes?

If it’s to take a specialized class, are there other studios dedicated to this activities that can fill the gap (e.g., spin, crossfit box, or yoga studio)? These places don’t have monthly maintenance fees and work on different payment schedules. You can find group fitness classes to fit your budget and figure out which studio or activity best fits your goals.

If you are looking for a place to run and lift weights on your own, there are several contract-free gyms in Toronto. With low monthly fees and no perks, you might miss your scented towels, but you will have a basic gym with well-maintained equipment.

Finally, consider building your own home gym. If you have the space, you can turn that spare room — or even spare corner — into your perfect gym. Investing in durable pieces of gym equipment may feel like an initial expense, but once you add up the payments, it’s a great investment. And if you don’t want to commit to purchasing a cardio machine, free weights from Winners or Canadian Tire are a good starting point. There are many apps (free and paid) that can take you through heart-pounding workouts and require minimal equipment. Buy a wall-mount bracket for your tablet so you don’t have to keep checking your phone during a workout. You can also use this during your cardio sessions to replace those gym televisions which always have poor reception or shows you can’t change.

Joining a gym gives you a place to work out, but is it your best fitness investment? The truth is that it may be. You might like the convenience, classes, and services. However, for many people, being stuck in a contract will result in overall frustration. Figure out what role the gym will play before you give them access to your bank account.

Hello 2019: a realistic approach to New Year’s resolutions

Best take a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions. / Image credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
Best take a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions. / Image credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Hello 2019: a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions

New year … new you! Do you plan a complete life overhaul the moment the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve? In 2019, you are going to lose weight, read more, eat healthier, be more present, take up a new hobby, learn a musical instrument, enrol in a cooking class, stop online shopping … and the list of self-improvement measures that click into place as of January 1st goes on and on.

But the truth is that few of us are still keeping our resolutions by February 1st. We start off strong out but quickly bad habits and life get in the way. Shame and fear take over and we become disappointed that we’ve failed to keep yet another resolution.

So how can you make a new year’s resolution stick? How can you emerge triumphant and build a new sustainable habit?

  1. Focus on one thing at a time. Changing a lot of things at once is difficult. Focus on what you really want and the one goal you believe you can accomplish. What is the one thing you can do for yourself this year that will improve your life? Pick this as your resolution and go for it.
  2. Start small. Starting off small will help you stay on track. Instead of revamping your entire life, find a small change that you can make every day to work towards a larger goal. Add in a high protein breakfast or cut one teaspoon of sugar out of your coffee. Add one cardio day to your schedule instead of going in for five.
  3. Be realistic. 2019 might be the year that you run that marathon. Or it might be the year you complete a 5K without walking. Both are good resolutions but which one sounds more like you? In fact, running that 5K or 10K might be the perfect stepping stone to 2020’s run a marathon resolution. Being realistic will help you achieve your resolutions.
  4. Be patient. Experts say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit…and six months of it to be become part of your lifestyle. If you are committing to something, you have to know that you will need to be patient and persistent. Nothing happens overnight— and not automatically when the date immediately switches to 2019.
  5. Chart your progress and reward yourself along the way. Break down your resolution into smaller pieces and set deadlines. These deadlines are for motivation and not to discourage you. If you want to lose 40 pounds this year, start by losing five and keeping it off for three weeks. Then move on to another five. And once you’ve accomplished it… celebrate!
  6. Work in small time increments. Recommit to yourself for 24 hours. You can do anything for 24 hours. The 24-hour increments will build on each other and help you focus on your resolution.

Keeping your resolution is about prioritization and planning. It’s up to you to make the change and stick to it. These achievements are under your control but it’s your actions which need to change to see the results you want.

Avoiding Stress-mas: self-care for the holidays

Avoiding Stress-mas: self-care over the holidays / Image source: medicalnewstoday.com
Avoiding Stress-mas: self-care over the holidays / Image source: medicalnewstoday.com

Avoiding Stress-mas: self-care for the holidays

December is a busy month. Whether you’re wrapping up projects or wrapping up gifts, the end of the year boasts the shortest days crammed full of activities and obligations. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with responsibilities and commitments. Throw in complicated friend and family dynamics and you can forget yourself in all the commotion.

While we know that complete hibernation is impossible, you need to take some time for yourself over the holidays. Here are six tips to keep you healthy as we draw to a close of 2018.

  1.  Stay on schedule. If you have a schedule that works for you, try best to maintain it. Just because the world may be on holiday hours doesn’t mean you have to be.
  2.  Work at your own pace. And if you are on holiday hours, take advantage of the freedom. Sure, you need to get work done but you may now be able to get that massage in that you’ve been promising yourself since October. Having flexible hours means you can take advantage of working out in the middle of the day, seeing a matinee, trying out a new afternoon class, or spending that extra ten minutes over your coffee.
  3.  Book time just for you. Give yourself a break from the hectic holidays and de-stress by planning a quiet activity. Whether it’s an hour in a sensory deprivation tank, booking a cooking class, taking a walk at a nearby park with that podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to, or spending thirty minutes of quiet browsing in a bookstore, spending time by yourself will help you from feeling overwhelmed. These little self-care dates are your chance to reset.
  4.  Ignore Boxing Day. It’s chaotic and crowded—and just not worth it. Heading to the mall to fight with crowds over recent markdowns will do little for your mental health. Those deals will be there in the New Year. You’ll end up pressured into buying things you don’t want at a price point that isn’t that cheap.
  5.  Limit social engagements. Whether you are heading out of town for the holidays or staying in one pace, there will be an influx of gatherings and social activities. Make sure that you aren’t overextending yourself and never be afraid to be the first one to leave. Keep catch-up coffees from taking over your afternoon by scheduling an appointment nearby. This way you aren’t being rude, you just need to be somewhere else at a specific time.
  6.  Politely decline. You don’t need to be at every party, every event, spend time with every out-of-town relative, or visit those relatives that you never see. It’s always hard to say no but if you’re saying yes to everything, you’re focusing on quantity and not quality. Exhaustion is no vacation so don’t be afraid to skip out on a coupe of events or activities.

The holidays can be a difficult time for many of us. Just remember to put yourself at the top of your gift list and try to do one thing you enjoy every day.

We wish you a merry Fit-mas: TrainingSpaces’ holiday gift guide

Image source: bengreenfieldfitness.com
Image source: bengreenfieldfitness.com

We wish you a merry Fit-mas: TrainingSpaces' holiday gift guide

Giving gifts can be difficult. With a list that extends to include everyone from that secret Santa person you never met to your closest friends, the holidays can be overwhelming — not to mention expensive.

And what about those fit people in your life? Whether they are a five-times-a-week yogi or an occasional walker, here’s a gift guide to help the people you love stay healthy into 2019.

 

Here are just a few suggestions. Did we miss anything you’ve gifted recently to an active friend? Let us know and we’ll put together a part 2 of this list.

Indulgences and regrets: avoiding the holiday-party pitfalls

Holiday party hijinks / Image source: firmex.com
Holiday party hijinks / Image source: firmex.com

Indulgences and regrets: avoiding the holiday-party pitfalls

Whether it’s a large-scale work event or just a few friends gathering to celebrate the end of the year, it’s holiday party season. While most of us look forward to getting dressed up and spending time with friends and family, there is also a quiet dread that those of us working towards a goal must face. Will the holiday party send me off-course?

Instead of designating the weeks leading up to Christmas to New Year’s Eve as a complete fitness wasteland, here are ways to stay on track.

  • Eat before you go: Buffets, food stations, even sit-down meals can be full of foods that you would never consider. However, once they are brought to you on silver trays, these highly caloric treats can be too hard to ignore. If you’ve arrived on an empty stomach, it will be even harder to say “no thanks.” Make sure you eat at least an hour before your party so you aren’t attacking the buffet like there’s no tomorrow.  

The open bar is not your friend

  • Make choices: Whether it’s sweets or savoury options, restraint will only take you so far. So indulge in only the foods you know you love. This is not the time to try everything, but instead find one or two of your favourites and help yourself.
  • Beware the open bar: The open bar is not your friend. To help navigate the open bar, make sure that every other drink is water. Keeping hydrated will ensure that alcohol won’t go to your head. If you do end up drinking more than you expected, have a Gatorade or other electrolyte drink before bed to fight off a hangover.
  • Burn some calories on the dance floor: Dancing is a great way to get your heart rate up. Don’t worry about being self-conscious — once you get out there, the dance floor is a judgement-free zone.
  • Don’t be the last one there: You might have serious FOMO if you leave before last call — but you don’t need to shut down the party. The longer you are there, the more you are likely to overindulge. We also know how critical sleep is to a healthy lifestyle, so extending your party stay may interfere with your precious sleeptime. 
  • Work in your workouts: Use the time you have wisely. If you can only spare 20 minutes, take advantage of the circumstances. Instead of writing off exercise until the new year when things slow down, opt for a quickly 20-minute HIIT routine. Do a yoga routine at home from an app instead of taking a class.

Don’t let December become a dead zone for diet and exercise. There’s no need to start the new year overcoming two weeks of indulgences. Instead, do what you can and be mindful when attending gatherings. There’s no need to derail your progress while enjoying yourself.

Your gut’s connection to your emotional state makes it your second brain

Gut outline on chalkboard / image source: healthbeat.spectrum.org

Your gut is your second brain

Have you ever heard of the gut-brain connection? If not, you’ve definitely experienced it. It’s that nervous feeling in your stomach when you’re in an unfamiliar situation or that full feeling when you’ve received unexpected sad news. Emotions such as happiness, anger, anxiety, and sadness can all cause a physical reaction in your gut.

The gut includes every organ involved in digesting food and processing it into waste. The gut or “second brain” can operate on its own and communicates back and forth with your actual brain. The vagus nerve controls messages to the gut and runs all the way from the brain stem to part of the colon. Hormones and neurotransmitters also connect your gut chemically to your brain.

Many contributing factors affect how your body digested and eliminates what you eat and drink. They include diet, food intolerances, lifestyle, hormones, sleep, and medications.

To maintain or restore gut health and support good overall health, it is important to maintain a strong balance of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Eating a diet that includes foods with probiotic or prebiotic ingredients support a microbial health by restoring balance.

What are Probiotic Foods?

Probiotics contain live beneficial bacteria grown during carefully-controlled fermentation processes. You may already have probiotics in your diet: plain yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, fresh sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, and miso.

What are Prebiotic Foods?

Prebiotics do not contain bacteria. They contain indigestible fibers that ferment in the GI tract. There, they are consumed by probiotic bacteria and converted into other healthful substances. Prebiotic foods include artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic, chicory, cabbage, asparagus, legumes, and oats.

Are There Other Foods that Benefit the Gut-Brain relationship?

The following foods have also been shown to balance and improve the gut:

  • Omega-3 fats
  • High-fiber foods
  • Polyphenol-rich foods
  • Tryptophan-rich foods

If you’re experiencing indigestion or even if you are prone to depression or anxiety, you may want to look at your diet. By incorporating gut-healthy foods, you can begin to nurture your second brain.  

Image: healthbeat.spectrum.org

Video: Ghulam Ali

Feeling the connection, extending the range: the benefits of Fascial Stretching Therapy

Fascial stretching therapy / Image source: camelbacksportstherapy.com

Feeling the connection, extending the range: the benefits of Fascial Stretching Therapy

Last week we talked about the importance of incorporating stretching into your workout and outlined its many benefits. Today, we’re going to focus on Fascial Stretch Therapy — a type of stretching that targets not only muscles but fascia.

Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, bones, and joints. It wraps and supports muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, organs, nerves. Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST) is an assisted stretching body treatment that is performed on a treatment table. Because FST targets the entire joint and joint capsule by gently pulling and moving your arms, legs, spine, and neck in a smooth motion through varying planes of movement, the experience is both stimulating and relaxing at the same time. In a session, your body will be moved and stretched in ways that you just can not do on your own.

Traction is very important to the treatment. Gentle traction is applied to the joint being targeted, opening up the joint and creating space for increased range of motion before taking the limb through the movement pattern — paying attention to the fascia restrictions that may need to be addressed.

FST is not a painful practice. However, you might find the stretching sensation uncomfortable if a joint is really restricted. As we always advise, it’s very important that you speak up if you are in pain or feeling intense stretches beyond your comfort zone.

Following your treatment, you may experience a sense of lightness or of being more open. Like most types of body work, the effects are cumulative. Long-term benefits of FST can include an increased range of motion and muscular balance. While FST can reduce risk or injury and improve muscle function, this type of stretching will decrease compression and impingement in joints.

A number of our trainers at TrainingSpaces offer FST — so don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.


For more information about FST, check out these links:

Video: activekinetix.com, Burnaby / Vancouver

Improve flexibility, reduce stress, boost circulation: don’t forget stretching after working out

athlete exercise fitness stretching / image credit: pixabay.com

Improve flexibility, reduce stress, boost circulation: don't forget stretching after a workout

So you’ve finished a workout. You’ve taken an hour for yourself and pounded it out on the treadmill, kept up pace in spin class, or sweated it out lifting weights. It’s time to move on with your day. You take a moment before heading out the studio door. Should you spend time stretching? Do you really need to lie down and pull yourself into a deflated pretzel before removing your sweaty clothes? Is stretching that important?

The answer is yes. Stretching is essential. If you haven’t stretched, you haven’t completed your workout. It’s easy to ignore stretching — especially when you’re in a rush. However, if you aren’t stretching you’re missing the full benefits of your workout.

The most obvious benefit of stretching is improving flexibility and range of motion. This ultimately improves your physical performance and helps reduce risk of injury. In aiding your range of motion, your body requires less energy to make the same movements. This makes future workouts more efficient.

Flexibility isn’t the only benefit from stretching. A 2013 study evaluated how heart attack patients responded to stretching as part of their rehabilitation. Among the findings: regular stretching improves circulation. This increases blood flow to your muscles — which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness. If your muscles are already contracted because you haven’t stretched, they will be less effective during exercise. Regular stretching will relax all of your muscles and enable them to be more available during exercise.

The benefits of stretching aren’t purely physical. There are mental advantages as well. Stretching is a great way to alleviate stress. A buildup of stress causes your muscles to contract, making you feel tense and uneasy. It also encourages the release of endorphins, providing a sense of tranquility and euphoria.

Now that we’ve outlined just some of the benefits of stretching, you need to incorporate it into your routine. There are also a number of apps, like lolo fit’s Performance Stretching, that can guide you through a varied routine that you customize based on your workout. Whether it’s stretching with a foam roller or post-running, these apps target the muscle groups that need attention — relieving you of the guesswork associated with determining the best stretch for your activity.

So it’s time to stop thinking of stretching as a luxury and embrace it as a necessity. You’ll feel stronger, more flexible, and happier.

Is your diet the main saboteur on your journey to wellness?

When your diet is your biggest saboteur. Image credit: The Telegraph

Is your diet the main saboteur on your journey to wellness?

If you took a sample of people who were dedicated to exercising regularly and asked them why they started, most would say they wanted to get “healthy.” But we know that being “healthy” isn’t a real goal. When you dig a little deeper, you learn the truth about what motivates individuals to include exercise in their lives.

I was out of shape.

I had a physical coming up.

I had a family reunion/bar mitzvah/wedding in six months.

I couldn’t fit into my jeans.

Exercise is usually the first step in a healthier lifestyle. It’s easy to add in and you feel great when you’re done. It taps into our endorphins and makes us feel a sense of accomplishment. Exercise is its own reward.

But exercise isn’t everything. It’s just an important part of the bigger picture. So when I ask you what might be standing your way, keeping you from achieving your goals, what do you think it could be? If you exercise six times a week but fail to see progress — what could be sabotaging your success?

It might be your food. In fact, it probably is your food.

Many people who have had food issues for most of their lives don’t look at food as the barrier to success. When we have a relationship with food that goes beyond fuel, it’s difficult to see it as something that stands in our way. For many of us, food represents so much. It’s non-judgemental and been a constant throughout our lives. We socialize over meals with friends and family. We treat ourselves after a particularly difficult day. And we never examine how boredom, routine, and emotions tie into how we eat, what we eat, and when we eat.

It’s funny how quickly people defend their food consumption habits.The number of times that I’ve heard “it’s not my food, I just need to exercise more” is no longer surprising. Food always gets a pass — and it’s because unpacking our relationship with food is more difficult than unpacking our relationship with exercise. But without an examination of how you use food in your life, your goals will continue to slip away.

To start, keep a diary of what you eat and when you eat (more about the importance of food tracking can be found here). Spend some thinking about your relationship with food and figure out what role it has played in your life. Moving forward, what role should it be playing? How will you make this shift? Can you do this alone, or do you need help?

If you have a trainer, take the time to talk about food. Do they have any suggestions on how you can form healthy habits? Can they recommend strategies to help re-contextualize your food relationship? Trainers aren’t just focused on how much you lift. They are your partner in progress towards your goals — so don’t be afraid to admit how food might be your main saboteur on your road to wellness. You might be surprised to learn that they have faced a similar challenge, and can offer you non-judgemental support and solutions.

Related links:

Can You Exercise Off a Bad Diet?

How Bad Diet Could Be Causing You Injury and Illness