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.

Committing to a class — and getting the most out of your commitment

Committing to a class is a big step. Image source: pexels.com
Committing to a class is a big step. Image source: pexels.com

Committing to a class — and getting the most out of your commitment

We talked last week about class fitness. If you are wondering why a primarily one-on-one training studio like TrainingSpaces is promoting class fitness, there are a couple of reasons. As a trainer, I want you to be fit and achieve your goals. For most people, coming to see me once, twice, or three times a week is an amazing way to pay off the commitment you’ve made to yourself. However, what about the rest of the week?

What are you doing when you aren’t here?

In a city like Toronto, there are so many different ways to keep fit and challenge yourself on a weekly basis. Discovering spin or another type of cardio can add to your routine. We even offer classes at TrainingSpaces to supplement your weekly training routine.

But how will you know what class is right for you?

I believe that the future of gyms is in small boutique studios dedicated to a specific type of workout. The big box gyms of the past are being replaced by smaller spaces committed to one activity. At the same time, cheaper functional franchises like Hone Fitness provide no classes and just the basics. There are no instructors but lots of equipment and machines.

The small class studio allows for a specialized experience but there are still franchises. Popular U.S. names like SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp are opening up Toronto locations. F45, an Australian crossfit-inspired workout complete with a specialized heart rate monitor, has franchises popping up on corners throughout the city. If you are interested in a class, expect to pay at least $25/session. Of course, there are bulk discounts with multiple class commitments reducing prices significantly.

But $25/class is a lot to pay — especially if you aren’t sure if you are going to enjoy the experience. Here are three ways to attend classes at a cheaper price point:

First-time deals: Most studios, whether it’s yoga or bootcamp, offer an introductory price. Depending on the studio and the offers, you might have a week of unlimited classes or even a free initial class. It’s worth taking advantage of what the studio has to offer and attending multiple classes. In the first class you will be acquainting yourself with the specifics of the activity and the studio so it can be difficult to really assess if this workout is for you. Try to attend at least two classes before committing to more … or deciding if you even want to continue. Also, it’s best to sign up when you can actually take advantage of the first-time deals so plan your first visit at a time that aligns with your schedule.

Class Pass: If you are a millennial, you’re probably familiar with Class Pass. This monthly subscription provides you with a number of credits which you can trade in for different fitness classes. Depending on your membership—from $15 for 6 credits (one class/month) to $105 (6-10 classes/month)—you can experiment with everything from EMS Training to Hip Hop to CrossFit to Pilates to that mermaid-tail swim class. Individual studios decide how many credits each class is worth and these can range quite significantly from 3 to 9 credits/class. You have a month to use your credits and unused credits roll over. Remember to book early because many studios increase the credit numbers the closer you get to the class time. If you are interested in ClassPass, this link will knock $30 off your initial monthly subscription: http://class.ps/jcliz

Groupon: Yes, everyone’s favourite location for knock-off boots, pet socks, and cheap restaurant deals also offers fitness classes at reduced rates. Some very popular studios, like Joga House popularized by Real Housewives of Toronto’s Jana Webb, offer discounted rates on classes or unlimited monthly memberships.

As fitness becomes more and more specialized … and the rates for individual classes continue to increase … there are ways to make fitness affordable before you commit. Paired with your weekly weight training, classes will help move you one step closer to your fitness goal.

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.

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

Having fitness goals is a great idea, but be smart about it

Smart fitness goals: woman running across a bridge. Image credit: SoPosted.com

Setting fitness goals is a great idea, but you want to be smart about it

For many of us, deciding to start on our health and wellness journey begins with a goal. We may find ourselves winded after climbing the stairs with groceries or receive an invitation to a 25th reunion. Something sparks inside us and says: “it’s time to get healthy” or “it’s time to lose weight.” This will be the motivation we need to take that first step. The idea has been planted in our heads and  it’s time to make positive changes.

But how do you know if you’re setting a realistic goal for yourself? What’s the difference between declaring “I want to get healthy” and “I want do 45 minutes of cardio, three times of week”?  And which approach will be more successful?

No matter if you’re setting a goal for business or fitness, success is most often achieved when goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Reasonable, and Timely. What does this actually mean?

Specific: “I want to get healthy” is not a specific goal. What does “healthy” mean to you? Is it reducing your bad cholesterol numbers? Maybe it means snacking less on unhealthy foods and bringing your lunch from home. Think about the one thing that you want to achieve and make it very specific and personal.

Measurable: How do you measure “healthy?” By having a number as a target, you can achieve your intentions. Quantifying your goals makes your achievement clear. Did you go to the gym four times this week? Did you perform six pull-ups? Were you able to climb three flights of stairs? Either you did it or you didn’t. There’s nothing in between.

Action-Oriented: If you want to “get healthy,” there’s no concrete set of action steps to adopt. How will you get healthy? Whether it’s writing down everything you eat in a journal or not bailing on your interval training class when you would rather crash, your actions have consequences. What actions will you take?

Reasonable: If you said your goal was to run a marathon by October and you had never participated in a 5 KM run before — I would say that your goal would be unreasonable. However, if you wanted to run a marathon in October, 2019, and you were prepared to commit to training five days a week for the next year, I would applaud your dedication and we would work on a plan. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming and imagining ourselves achieving (and even surpassing) our goals. But we all need a shot of reality.

Timely: By setting a time-frame to achieve your goal, you will be more motivated to stay on track. It gives us something to work towards and an actual framework to work within. This isn’t the mindset of “special occasion” weight loss (which we’ve previously discussed), but a logical, measurable length of time.

One of the joys of setting SMART goals is that you can fall in love with the process. It’s not about the quick fix but the longer journey. Instead of focusing on the “when,” it’s a concrete plan for “how.” By breaking down your goal into very specific parts, you can track your success.

Take a look at your goal — and then take it apart. Tweak and adjust it until it’s SMART and you can evaluate your progress every week in a clear way. Did you achieve everything you set out to do? If not, what needs to change? Minor adjustments will keep you focused and increase the probability of attaining what you are setting out to achieve.

Diet tracking and the need to separate why we eat from what we eat

Woman eating fruit and using food tracking app / Image credit: mdslim.com

Diet tracking and the need to separate
why we eat from what we eat

There are many reasons we eat. We eat for pleasure, for boredom, for comfort, or for reward. We eat to be social and connect with our friends and family. We eat to celebrate our achievements and to build family bonds. Food is also our friend. It never rejects us or judges us harshly.

Food is so much more than fuel. If it wasn’t, we would simply ingest a grey, tasteless substance with a minimum required amount of calories.

When clients come to me and want to lose weight, they often defend their food. They refuse to believe their current challenges are because of diet. They cite stress and lack of exercise. But the truth is, food is often the root of our problems.

And it can be tricky untangling the reality from perception. What do I mean by that? People think they eat healthy. They believe they make correct choices. They prepare their meals in advance and describe balancing their plates with greens.

What they don’t remember is the cake wheeled out for a co-workers anniversary. It’s the extra helpings and the fortune cookies they reached for automatically at the end of a meal. It’s the french fries they stole off their partner’s plate during lunch when they were having a salad. All of these little bites add up. So while they think they are eating healthy, the truth is that they are not.

And the only way to break the cycle of mindless eating is to track everything. It’s a thankless task, but it’s essential.

There are many apps, notebooks, and tools designed for food tracking. Some apps allow you to easily scan your food barcode to break down nutrients. Others will allow you to log your meal by photographs. Depending on the app, you may be emailed weekly results or win rewards. Many will give you a calorie target to hit and show you how much water you still need to drink.

No matter how it functions, the best tool is the one that you will use. Every single day. Every single meal — and in between. Track everything — and look for patterns. Consider your emotional state and why you’re eating. This is just as important as what you are eating.

There’s no judgement in capturing what you have been consuming. If you are not completely honest, you will never be able to acknowledge your own eating patterns. Tracking food is the first step. Only through knowledge and self-acceptance can we start making positive changes — so it’s time to be real. To get healthy, you need to arm yourself with your own history and awareness. Once you take judgement out of the equation, you’re ready to evaluate and assess. And only then you can make informed, positive changes that will help you reach your goals.

Strong is beautiful: pumping iron is for women too

Laura Rantin strong woman

Strong is beautiful: pumping iron is for women too

One of the mottos we like to embrace at TrainingSpaces is “Strong is Beautiful.” This means we value mental and physical strength as our overall life goal. It’s about having that confidence to speak your mind and stand up for those around you. It means we aren’t interested in some fake, magazine, size 0 idea of beauty.

We’re invested in real people with real bodies. Being beautiful is carrying yourself in your body, pain-free, and creating a shape that helps you move through the world. We believe in functional fitness — and that can be achieved through weight training.

But so many women are afraid of weight training — a critical path to strength. Despite the benefits of resistance training, of the 12.7 million women who belonged to a commercial health club last year, only about half used weight machines, and only one-third lifted free weights, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)!

The reason? Some women are intimidated by the weight room. Others don’t know where to start and don’t want to hurt themselves. But so many women are convinced that after one session of weights, they are going to bulk up like She-Hulk before going into battle. So they try to avoid weights and the benefits of weight training — instead focusing exclusively on yoga and cardio.

The truth is, women will never bulk up like men, because our hormones are different. If you are training for a bodybuilding competition, that’s a very different routine from your twice-a-week weights workout. Achieving this physique requires a serious commitment to changing your hormones, diet, exercise, and — really your entire life.  

A benefit of weight training we rarely talk about is how it will make you feel. Watching yourself move up from smaller dumbbells to heavier weights is an amazing ego boost. For women who have been told that lifting weights is not good for us because it will make us aggressive or manly, picking up that big weight and holding it above our heads is a sense of pride and accomplishment. It’s about saying “no thanks” when the man next to you at spin class offers to swap your 8 lbs hand weights for his 2 lbs pink weights during the arms routine. And why are those little weights pink anyway? Because they are for girls. Haha … very cute.

Combining cardio, weights, and stretching will only help you to look leaner as you become stronger. Once you start lifting weights, you begin to build muscle, and the more muscles you have the more calories you burn. And the more you lift, the stronger you get.

And well, this goes back to Strong is Beautiful.

Life partner, workout partner: building the relationship by building fitness

Laura Rantin working with a partner.

Life partner, workout partner: building the relationship by building fitness

Working out is frequently seen as a solitary pursuit. If you’re not taking a group class — aerobics, yoga, dancercise — chances are you’re following an individual program, or at least making it up as you go along. If you’re not under the guidance of a trainer, getting all sweaty and out of breath doesn’t seem like the most social thing to do.
 
But what if that’s not always the case? What if you’re comfortable or familiar enough with someone that you’re OK letting them see you as a work in progress — or vice versa? We’ve all heard the stories of gyms as singles cruising grounds, places where you’re just as likely to get hit on as you are to perfect your lifting technique, but what about established couples? What about couples who work out together?
 
There’s plenty of evidence that two partners working together can achieve cumulative results greater than the sum of their parts. Your spouse / partner / significant other can encourage you. They can spur you to better results than you could achieve on your own by holding you accountable and giving you that extra bit of motivation. Whatever the goal — losing weight, building muscle, increasing flexibility, cranking up endurance — working with a partner can help you go harder, longer, and with more dedication.
 
And there’s no shortage of fitness-related activities that couples can enjoy together. You don’t have to tie yourself to the gym. Try: 
  • going for a bike ride
  • taking a dance class 
  • hitting the tennis court
  • renting a canoe
  • rock climbing (if you’re OK with heights)

Not only are you burning calories — you’re getting in some quality time and (hopefully) building intimacy!

Doing things together can be great for relationships. As with most things, of course, a lot depends on clear communication. You want to be sure you’re sharing similar goals and similar approaches to achieving them. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, as long as you’re both on the same page. It’s important to work things out ahead of time, as much as possible, so you can avoid awkward situations or at least know how to deal with them if they arise. Will you be OK critiquing each other’s technique? What if one of you does well and the other doesn’t? Will you discover something that only one of you enjoys, and if so, will the other be supportive? 
 
As long as you and your partner approach these things with open eyes, open hearts, and open minds, there’s nothing but upside. Partners discover things they never knew they had in common. They can try things they never thought they were capable of. Better physical fitness never hurt anyone, and it can take a relationship to new heights. Now grab your partner, get out there, and get active!
 
Further reading:

The Choose Your Own Adventure Cardio Workout

Cardio workout: guys playing basketball. Image credit: Tim Mossholder / Pexels

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Cardio Workout

When you commit to strength training, you are building muscular endurance and strength while keeping your bones and joints healthy and strong. Fat loss is a side effect.

To balance out the good work of strength training, I recommend that my clients participate in some kind of cardio exercise. And cardio is not an exact science. There’s no X times of week + Y speed = Results. Cardio does burn calories but it also helps you keep your heart healthy and prevents disease.

Should I do cardio in the morning or in the evening?

Studies say that you should exercise first thing in the morning. They also say you should exercise in the evening. I say you should exercise when it’s most convenient for you. If this means going for a quick run on your lunch break or waking up at 5 AM — the most important part in finding a place for exercise in your day. Make it part of your schedule and find a time that works for you. You know when’s not a good time to exercise? Never.

What kind of cardio should I do?

The kind of cardio you should do is the kind that you like. Forget about keeping an eye on the calories burned square on the machine. Those numbers are estimates and often exaggerations. This means there’s no point looking for the machine that burns the most calories — instead find something that you enjoy. Some people love spending the focused 30 minutes on an elliptical, catching up or rewatching their favourite TV show. Others would describe this as one of the circles of hell. For others, hiking on the weekend or taking a dance class contribute to their cardio.

Like my advice when it comes to finding exercise time in your schedule, the same goes for cardio equipment and type of cardio. The most important thing about cardio is that you do it.

How Long Should I Spend on Cardio?

If you’re getting started, you should spend 20-60 minutes on cardio, three to five days a week. If you are new to training, three days a week is a good start. If you are more experienced, I would aim closer to the five days a week to increase your heart rate. And this doesn’t mean that you need to run five days a week. You can mix it up with a combination of classes, activities, and cardio machines.

Cardio is one of the few things in life that really is all about you. So be selfish and find that me time. It’s your adventure, so what will you choose?

Take heart: hitting a plateau means you’re getting closer to your goal

woman holding scale and screaming because she's hit a plateau. Image credit: diyhcg.com

Take heart: hitting a plateau means you're getting closer to your goal

We’ve all experienced this: you step on the scale after a week where you rejected the office “it’s Thursdays so let’s have cake” celebration and swapped after work socializing for a killer run…only to find the numbers remain the same. How is this possible, you ask yourself. Why didn’t I indulge? And the whys and the hows just keep on coming.

Plateaus are extremely frustrating when you’ve been focused on your goal and find yourself stuck. But here’s the thing… if you weren’t moving towards your goal, you wouldn’t be stuck. A plateau is not failure. It’s the indication that you are moving towards your healthier life and away from your starting point.

I encourage my clients to start with a measurable goal in mind — whether it’s a number, a size, a rep count, or a weight amount. We make a plan and emphasize small changes along the way. Every week is an opportunity to make small modifications to the journey. Whether it’s logging food in a journal or adding an extra weights session, one change a week is not overwhelming and provides a sense of accomplishment. The following week, we’ll add another small change.

All these little changes add up to eventual results. I always emphasize that slow progress is about changing the behaviours … and making a lasting impact. Like all changes, at first this can be uncomfortable. Shaking up the routine and taking yourself off automatic can be tough. Finding yourself saying “no thanks” and putting yourself first is difficult. But we have to remind ourselves that we are doing this so we can be better and take care of others.

A plateau is when you get comfortable. It’s a signal that your body is getting used to these positive changes. If you want to keep moving towards your goal, you need to feel uncomfortable again.

To get back on track, we need to assess what’s going on with your diet and exercise by ….

Switching up your exercise 

Try a new class, activity, or ask for heavier weights. You need to feel challenged again — even if that’s holding a yin yoga pose for five minutes and just breathing through it.

Checking your food diary

It’s time to take a critical look at your food journal. Are there any trends that you’re noticing? If you thought you would give that food diary a break, it’s time to get back into writing everything/recording everything.

Although it might feel like you’re starting all over again, go back to the one change a week philosophy. What will you do this week to challenge yourself? How will you get yourself out of the plateau rut? Instead of being frustrated, it’s time for a reset and a celebration. A plateau is just a rest that reminds you that you’re on the right track … and you can keep going.  


Laura's question of the week

Have you ever hit a plateau? (Hint: the correct answer is always “yes.”) Was it weight loss? Strength? Flexibility? Aerobic endurance? How did you get past it? Let us know in the comments!

Plateau Point trail sign in the Grand Canyon. Image credit: artoftall.com