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

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.

This way to ketosis: what is the keto diet, and is it right for you?

The keto diet: big on protein and vegetables, low on carbs. Image source: Times Square Chronicles

This way to ketosis: what is the keto diet, and is it right for you?

If you love to learn about new exercise and fitness trends, The Future of Fitness explains it to you in a way you can understand and separate the hype cycle from actual results.

Every year or two, a new diet promises to deliver quick weight loss with minimal effort. We’ve lived through South Beach, the flat belly diet, Atkins, eating right for your blood type, all carbs, no carbs, and even the master cleanse. The new diet that everyone is committing to, talking about, and singing the praises of is the Keto diet.

What is the Keto diet? A keto diet is a very low-carb diet where the body produces small fuel molecules called “ketones.” This is an alternative fuel source that is used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply. Ketones are produced in the liver from fat. On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run almost entirely on fat. This is referred to a ketosis.

What Do I Need to Do?  The most important thing for reaching ketosis is to avoid eating too many carbs. You’ll probably need to keep carb intake under 50 grams per day of net carbs, ideally below 20 grams. The fewer carbs, the more effective. On the keto diet, you should also avoid foods containing a lot of sugar and starch. This includes starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes.

Does it Work? There are many people who claim that the keto diet was instrumental in kick-starting their weight loss. It has also been credited as a treatment for epilepsy and other neurological disorders. Like any restrictive nutrition plan, it may be difficult to to balance keto meal requirements with real life. Additionally, the keto diet relies on caloric reduction.

Should I Try It? As with any change in diet and exercise, we always recommend that you consult with your doctor. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, the keto diet is not for you. As well, if you are taking insulin, sulphonylureas, or glinides, the keto diet should be avoided. These medications are designed to increase insulin in the body. Following a low-carb diet while on these medication can increase the risk of hypoglycemia.

More Information Please! 

Try these links and get educated about the keto diet:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ketogenic-diet-101

https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/no-one-should-be-doing-keto-diet-leading-cardiologist

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/keto-diet-pros-cons_us_5b3ba3b0e4b09e4a8b27ebc4

http://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/the-5-pros-and-5-cons-of-the-ketogenic-diet/

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.

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

Intermittent fasting worked for Hugh Jackman. Is it the Future of Fitness?

Hugh Jackman shirtless all buff as Wolverine.

Intermittent fasting worked for Hugh Jackman. Is it the Future of Fitness?

If you love to learn about new exercise and fitness trends, The Future of Fitness explains it to you in a way you can understand and separate the hype cycle from actual results.

People are talking about Intermittent Fasting. It’s how Hugh Jackman got so pumped for Logan! It’s how you can control your appetite and eat whatever you want! It doesn’t care about carbs or fats! It’s a war on breakfast … and breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent Fasting is eating within a specific timed window. It’s become increasingly popular over the past few years because preliminary studies on mice and observational ones in humans suggest this method of eating might translate to weight loss and, at least in some cases, improved metabolic health. It’s also become increasingly easy with apps like Zero to undertake a fast — as they allow you to set your fast time and alert you when your fast is over.

What Do I Need to Do?

Depending on the fast type, you complete your evening meal and then fast for a designated amount of time. For some, that’s 16 hours. Others may choose the 13-hour circadian-rhythm fast where you start fasting as close to sunset as possible for at least 13 hours.

Does it work?

Yes and No. According to recent studies, nearly all types of intermittent fasting are physically and mentally harmless — and can result in some weight loss. However, there’s no evidence to show that intermittent fasting can result in more weight loss or superior health metrics compared to plain old continuous caloric restriction.

Should I Try It?

Like any new diet or exercise regimen, you always should check with your doctor before diving in. Do your research and don’t be swayed by the promises of miraculous instant weight loss. We’ve been through this before where a magical solution guarantees instant results.

More Information Please!

Try these links and learn more about the pros and cons of intermittent fasting:


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