Measuring your progress means finding the right way to measure

Don't let the scale be the only measure of your progress. / Image source: Pixabay
The way your clothes fit you can be a great measure of progress. / Image source: pixabay.com

Measuring your progress means finding the right way to measure

You step on the scale … and the results are enough to reinforce all that negative self-talk.

It feels like you will never reach your goals. You don’t see enough progress and get frustrated. Is it time to throw in the towel and give up? Do you need another pep talk about how you aren’t working hard enough, how you don’t have will power, and aren’t committed to achieving what you’ve promised yourself?

But the scale doesn’t tell the whole story.

It’s impossible for those numbers to tell you that you’re losing the right kind of weight in the right kind of places. There are so many other aspects to consider, including how you look, feel, and where the weight loss is coming from — your muscles or your stored fat.  

If you count out the scale, how else can you measure your progress? What are the markers you can use to ensure that you’re moving in the right direction?

  1. Use Measurements

Scales don’t track muscle or fat. Even those body-fat calibration scales aren’t entirely accurate. If you are interested in seeing how your body composition has changed, take measurements over time. Using a tape measure to capture your waist, hips, chest, biceps, thighs, or calves can demonstrate how you are reshaping your body.

  1. Take photos

Everyone loves a good before and after photo. If you don’t mind posing for the camera, get a friend or loved one to take a picture of you in the same outfit over time. You can see how these items of clothing fit differently and how your body composition shifts over time. Being committed to a photo shoot every month can help you see the results that those numbers on the scale gloss over.

  1. Small Activity goals

By gradually increasing your reps, your weights, or your endurance, you will be able to experience your progress. If you were lifting 10 lbs with one arm and your trainer moves you up to 15 lbs, how can you not be getting stronger? If you are using a running app like Couch to 10K and you find yourself running more than walking, how is this not progress? It’s hard when we’re in our own bodies to assess how far we’ve come, so take a moment to realize how much you’ve accomplished … and then set your next goal.  

  1. Know your numbers

At your next physical, get your key markers of heart health like blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and waist circumference. These numbers are key to understanding what your healthy lifestyle is doing in your body. More important than the number of your size tag, these heart health numbers can help you refine how you eat and exercise. This is the real reward for all your hard work — living longer in a body you deserve.

While I don’t necessarily recommend throwing out the scale, it’s essential that it’s not the only way we measure success. If you must weigh yourself, I recommend stepping on the scale only once a week at the most.

Our bodies are complicated machines and always in flux. There are other ways to calibrate success rather than these numbers that may undo all your good work.

Jesus and the Apostles didn’t binge at the Last Supper, and neither should you

Repeat after me: Jesus did not binge. / Image source: glittergraphics.org
Repeat after me: Jesus did not binge. / Image source: glittergraphics.org

Jesus and the Apostles didn't binge at the Last Supper, and neither should you

Have you ever decided to start a diet on a Monday and spent the entire weekend indulging in everything that you will not be able to eat once the diet begins? It’s not surprising that if you are about to embark on a restrictive diet, you want to eat all the foods that will be off limits. From a string of chocolate bars to stuffing ourselves at a family gathering, we promise once the diet begins we will say goodbye to the sugar, fats, carbs, and processed treats that we love so much.

But this sabotages our diets before they begin.

Last Supper Syndrome is part of the vicious dieting cycle. If you are going to experience famine, why wouldn’t you feast? This knowledge drives you to eat as if you will never be able to eat these special treats again. And we begin our new diet with feelings of guilt, punishment, and fear.

We know we shouldn’t feel that eating healthy is something negative. But if we focus on deprivation and dividing food up into positives and negatives, we are stuck in a constant cycle:

  1. Start the diet feeling unhappy and scared, focusing on forbidden foods
  2. Break down and eat something that isn’t permitted by the diet
  3. Feeling guilty about failing
  4. Make a plan to diet even harder the next time.
  5. Go back to step 1.

By falsely associating the foods we love with relaxation and happiness (and associating diet with the hard work and effort), we fool ourselves on a regular basis. If we are going to succeed, we need to create a healthy relationship with food.

Foods aren’t good or bad — those are just the labels that we put on them. By making your special forbidden foods part of your regular diet, they will lose their appeal. After all, how many times do you swear off pasta and find yourself thinking of pasta…all the time? These associations that come with deprivation only build a bigger mystique and entice us to break our commitment to clean eating.

Developing a healthy relationship with food can be a lifelong challenge. From comfort to reward to a signifier of celebration and companionship, detangling nourishment from emotions is a difficult process. By thinking about how we view food and examining its hold on our emotions, we can start one meal (or even one snack) at a time to evaluate this relationship.

Being healthy isn’t about consuming as much as possible before an arbitrary start date. It’s about being kind to your body and your mind and untangling ourselves from the constant diet cycle.

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!

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.

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.

There are no cheat days when it comes to weight loss

wieght loss cheating / image source: tucsonhypnosis.com

There are no cheat days when it comes to weight loss

We don’t gain weight overnight. It happens slowly over time. We know we’re making unhealthy food choices but we tell ourselves that one little chocolate bar won’t matter. We indulge in our trigger foods and have that extra helping. We allow our cheat day to extend to the entire weekend, promising ourselves that tomorrow we’ll be better. We ignore the scale and our clothes expand with us.

And then one day, we try on something for a special occasion and find we can’t zip it up. So, we finally dust off the scale (probably replacing the old, dead batteries) and we see the reality of our weight.

And then one day, we try on something for a special occasion and find we can’t zip it up. So, we finally dust off the scale (probably replacing the old, dead batteries) and we see the reality of our weight.

Before you accuse me of body shaming, I want to make it clear that there is an ideal weight for everyone. But I’m not talking about the laughable BMI calculation. I’m referring to the weight where you feel best. This is the weight where you feel comfortable in your body and are considered medically healthy. This isn’t about aesthetics or being a size 0. It’s about you not looking in the mirror, even being able to look in the mirror, and knowing you are living your best life. A life where you are confident and can move through the world in a positive way.

For many people, myself included, who have struggled with their weight — we know when we’ve gone too far. We not only don’t look our best, but we don’t feel our best. We don’t understand why we’re in this position again. But we also know exactly why we’re in this position again.

You need to reset and commit to taking charge. It’s time to be disciplined about what you eat and how you exercise. This isn’t about calories in/calories out. This is about mindful, healthy decisions that will lead you back to feeling good and taking control of your future.

Most conventional diet and exercise plans introduce different phases. The first stage is the most restrictive and limiting. Over the years, I’ve seen people embark on the first phase excitedly and see quick results. Once they move into maintenance and re-introduce new foods and concepts, they lapse back into bad habits. This is where the half a teaspoon becomes a full teaspoon and then a tablespoon. Instead of thinking of your weight loss in phases and as a diet, think of it as recommitting yourself to you. This is an opportunity for you to listen to your body and really figure out what it needs and what it wants.

Here’s a list of five things you can do today and I share with my clients when they need to reset their diet and exercise.

  1. No sugar. This includes all fruit, except for berries.
  2. No starches. This includes bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and pizza.
  3. Drink water. You should aim to drink at least 2 litres of water a day.
  4. Do 30 minutes of cardio seven days a week.
  5. Your best food choices all start with S. Salads, scrambles, soups, and smoothies will fill you up and provide you with lots of choices.

These are small things to start you on your path and will help guide your choices. This isn’t a quick fix or a diet plan. It’s a solution to get you back to your best self. It’s permission to acknowledge that you need to recommit yourself to yourself.

Whatever interrupted your discipline and dedication, that’s gone now. Whatever went on in your life that made you give up and settled you back into old patterns — that was yesterday. Those choices, they are part of yesterday as well.

So step on that scale or put on those too-tight jeans. However you measure your success, these items will reward you throughout your journey. And you deserve it.

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

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

Canada’s joining the trans fat ban: what does this mean for you and the way you eat?

WHO targets trans fat in policy recommendations / Image source: wotw.com

Canada's joining the trans fat ban: what does this mean for you and the way you eat?

It’s no news that trans fats are dangerous. For years we’ve been hearing how this type of fat, found in some foods, contributes to our risk of heart disease. Trans fat increases bad cholesterol (LDL) and decreases good cholesterol (HDL) — which leads to the buildup of fatty deposits.

This September, Canada joined a number of countries in banning trans fat. Denmark became the first country to eliminate trans fat from its food supply in 2004, and since then, countries across Europe have followed suit.

But what do you need to know about the trans-fat ban?

Why would anyone put trans fat in food?

Do you mean, why would anyone inject a dangerous additive that leads to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes in their bake-at-home croissants? Trans fats enhance the taste and texture of food — making it “richer.”  They also act as a preservative and allow manufacturers to extend the shelf life of products. Trans fats are also cheaper to product than animal fats.

I don’t eat trans fat … do I?

Trans fats can be found in commercially baked and fried foods made with vegetable shortening. These include fries and donuts. They’re also in hard stick margarine, shortening, and some snack and convenience foods.

But I never buy those foods!

Do you like microwave popcorn, crackers, or frozen pizza? All of these may contain trans fats. If a label mentions “partially hydrogenated oils,” it’s probably covering up for trans fats.

If there’s a ban, I don’t need to worry.

You still need to check labels and make sure your favourite foods do not contain trans fat. The Canadian government is allowing a grace period of two years for retailers to remove products from their shelves. If a product was packaged before September 15, 2018, it can still be sold. As previously mentioned, trans fat is a preservative. Even in 2020, you may still find in-date products containing this additive.

But it’s good news?

Definitely. Anything that bans trans fat is good. However, we still need to be diligent and not assume that with this legislation trans fat foods will automatically be banished from our shelves.

Want to know more about the trans-fat ban?

https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/trans-fats-health-heart-disease-canada-1.4824852

https://www.dietitians.ca/Dietitians-Views/Food-Regulation-and-Labelling/Trans-Fats.aspx

http://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/the-facts-on-trans-fats

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/5/14/17346108/trans-fats-food-world-health-organization-bloomberg-gates