Progress-weightlossMeet my client Ali. She has been following my online coaching plan for the last two and a half months, and I am so happy to be working with her. She follows my strength and conditioning program to a T, and also eats according to her Macros (I calculate her macro-nutrient intake based on her goals and provide her with a flexible monthly meal plan).  In the past couple of months we have been working on body re-composition and muscle gain. She has experienced some weight loss, even though our focus has been on eating more and putting on muscle. Losing inches and body fat have been nice byproducts of the muscles she has been adding to her frame.

She is looking great, and from her feedback, she is enjoying the process. She definitely eats way more than she used to, and is only doing one day of cardio (I have her doing just 25 minutes) and weight training 3 times a week (she was working out about 6 times a week before working with me).

The nice thing about working with Ali is that she really pays attention to good form and follows the meal plan properly. She has cut out processed sugar and also trusts me enough to not want drastic dieting measures to just lose pounds. I could have had her drop pounds very quickly, but I didn’t want her to be miserable and skinny fat. Muscle definition helps build curves in the right places, and I wanted to give Ali the tools to live a healthier lifestyle in the long run. I wanted her to gain muscle so that she could burn fat even at rest, and I wanted her to be able to eat real food, full of nutrients and vitamins.

I find that a person has to be mentally ready to follow a healthier lifestyle plan. Most often people want to lose weight fast, and don’t actually want to put in the time for preparing healthy meals or don’t want to cut out some of the excess in their lives. They want the process to be easy, and unless they truly come to terms with some of the work that a healthy lifestyle entails, it is hard to see the kind of success that Ali is getting after 2 months. Losing weight and gaining muscle is not complicated, it just depends on how much you are willing to put into it. I can promise you, I give my one hundred percent to make the plan customized to your needs and easy to follow, but you have to be the one who wants it bad enough to put in the work.

Once you decide you want it, the sky is the limit!

If you need some time to get used to the idea of working for a stronger, healthier body, take a little bit of time to digest the following “Ways to maximize health and fitness goals” that I ask from all of my clients:

Read the rest of this entry »

Life-is-a-beachMy life has been pretty hectic lately. It would be so easy to just give up on cooking healthy meals at home, or to push my workouts to the bottom of my list or skip them altogether. But the truth is, eating out every night just to save myself an hour or two of prep does a big disservice to both my body and mind. Skipping that workout might save me another hour, but I will spend triple that amount of time feeling guilty, or lose even more time in the future with pain or injury from lack of strength training. I have a lot of work and studying to do and not being at my optimal best is really not an option for me.

Eating well should not be an afterthought. Making it to the gym for a quick 45 minute workout shouldn’t be a crazy concept and going to bed earlier to ensure you are getting enough sleep is crucial to your daily success. Taking care of your self is not selfish, it is only logical.

Don’t daily work tasks seem like mountains when you are tired? And don’t meetings with colleagues seem so much more stressful when you are hungry? Why set yourself up for failure by not taking the steps do a little prep work? Just remember, don’t create more work for yourself, instead think about working smarter.

5 Easy Ways to “Self-Care” and Prepare for a Stressful Day Ahead

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Sugar-Free-Protein-MuffinssAs you may remember, my last blog post was all about taking the plunge and kicking the sugar habit; as promised, here is part two on the matter. Last time, I spoke about all the many reasons to quit sugar and how to go about getting past the addiction, but in this article, I would like to discuss little tricks that will help you keep up with a sugar-free diet in the long run. I have also included my own recipe for an all natural, sugar-free, protein muffin that I make in lieu of post workout protein shakes or bars that claim to be “sugar-free”.

1st Step: Don’t replace real sugar with artificial sugar

Artificial sweeteners were created by manufacturers to provide us with the sweetness that we carve without all the calories that come with them. Unfortunately, a 2013 study in the Diabetes Care journal found that artificial sweeteners can actually alter the way your body metabolizes sugar. Sweeteners can actually affect the glycemic and insulin responses in our bodies (insulin is also the hormone involved in nutrient breakdown and fat storage in the body). Studies show that replacing regular sugar with artificial sweeteners is almost like switching from cigarettes to cigars. You still get the sweetness you’ve been craving, so you never get your taste-buds and body used to living without the sweet taste and insulin spikes. This means that you will either go back to the real stuff, or will just keep substituting with sweeteners (which are just as bad for you). After three months on a true, no-sugar, no-sweetener plan, your taste-buds and cravings do actually change and you will start craving more nutrient dense foods when you are off sugar and sweeteners. That means that it is actually possible to crave salmon over Skittles, as crazy as that may seem.

2nd Step- Create a sugar-free meal plan

Following a low-sugar meal plan that is hearty and allows you to eat foods you like will help you adhere to a long term, no-sugar lifestyle. Swap breakfast cereal for an omlette and substitute your midday sweet cravings of brownies and cupcakes for almonds, berries and yogurt. Eating often through out the day will help curb those sugar cravings, this means at least three meals and two snacks. If you have trouble figuring out what to eat, just check out my online packages for nutritional meal planning, catered to suit your personal tastes and weight loss needs.

3rd Step- Keep healthy snacks close by
Read the rest of this entry »

Kicking-Sugar-HabitSugar addiction. It’s real and it is scary.

Have you ever tried taking a break from sugar and found that all of a sudden it felt like you were upset or angry all of the time? That waves of headaches or nausea would wash over you and life had become generally unbearable? Well it wasn’t all in your head, what you were experiencing was actual withdrawal symptoms, just like a drug addict would experience were they to be cut off from the substance they abuse.

If you attempt to quit eating sugar all in one go, you’ll probably experience withdrawal symptoms that might show as severe and intense cravings for sugary foods, or more serious conditions such as mood swings, headaches or nausea. Those symptoms probably led you to binge on whatever simple carbs you could get your hands on, and that my dear, is akin to a drug addiction. The criteria for substance dependance or “addiction” is the cycle of binging then withdrawal then cravings and sensitization. In one study, results actually showed that intense sweetness provided greater neurological reward than even cocaine! A different study found that withdrawal from sugar had similar findings indicating that getting off sugar may cause the same neurological symptoms as withdrawing from nicotine, morphine and alcohol.

Can you say “Whoa Nelly?” Though many people know that diets high in sugar are linked to an increased risk for big illnesses like type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, many people don’t know that sugar intake has also been linked to depression, migraines, poor eyesight, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, gout and even osteoporosis. While the occasional sweet treat won’t make or break your weight loss or your health goals, many people have trouble stopping after a sensible portion or saying no to sugar when it’s around them. Think about a time a co-worker brought cupcakes or donuts to the office, it was probably a struggle for many people at the office to not get up and take a treat, even though they were probably full.

Why do you get a rush when you eat candy midday? The sugar in it, called a simple carbohydrate, is quickly turned into glucose in your bloodstream and your blood sugar levels spike. Simple carbs are also found in fruits, veggies, and dairy products, but those foods have fiber and protein that help slow down the process. Juice, soda, candy, chocolate bars and table sugars don’t have any of those fibers, and so when you eat them, your pancreas rapidly makes the hormone insulin, which moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells for energy. You may have a short sugar rush, but then your bloodstream is quickly left depleted and you experience a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, otherwise known as a mid day crash. You may feel shaky and probably wiped out so you start searching for even more sweets to regain that sugar “high.”

Now you may think you don’t have a sweet tooth, but do you have cravings for chips, bread or french fries? These starchy foods are complex carbs that the body breaks down into simple sugars as well, and when eaten without protein and fiber rich foods, these starches can make blood sugar react the same way as regular white sugar. White flour, and potatoes do this too, as do other highly refined starches like white bread, cookies, pretzels and crackers.

Quitting Cold Turkey is Not the Answer

Is all of this information making you want to distance yourself from sugars? Well I hope you start nice and slow, because some sugar detox plans urge you to cut all sweets, which means all fruit, dairy, and refined grains are out too. Unfortunately changes like that are too drastic to keep up in the long run, and you’ll find yourself binging and falling back into the cycle of addiction all over again.

You don’t need sugar as much as you think you do and in fact you can train your taste-buds to dislike sweetness. For example, start putting less sugar in your coffee or cereal. Over time, you will notice that you will lose your need for that sugary taste. Also, you don’t have to give up sweetness, but instead get it from other sources. Instead of sugar, try fresh or dried fruit on your oatmeal or in your yogurt. If you make small, simple changes to your diet, it’s easy to keep them up in the long run. Cut out a little bit of sugar each week and after a few weeks, you’ll be surprised at how little you actually miss it.

How to Kick Sugar to the Curb… In 5 Simple Steps

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Healthy-BreakfastI’ve been pushing the benefits of whole, unprocessed foods for a while now. I’ve been preaching the consumption of healthy Fats and whole, unprocessed foods and pushing everyone to avoid low-fat versions of foods till I’ve become blue in the face. Seriously, just call me Sunny Smurfette…

If you walk down any grocery aisle, you’ll be bombarded with “Healthier Choice Now Fat Free” “Pure Goodness and Low Fat” and “Non-Fat” branding all over every package and box. These are all marketing ploys to get you to buy the over processed, sugar laden junk on the shelves. It makes sense that they are catering to our demands though, since for the last 40 years we have been brain washed about the dangers of saturated fat. It is no mystery that our misguided demand for low fat foods has spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry in low-fat food products touted as “healthy choices”.

New ground breaking research by Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, a director at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, has found that patients with low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets didn’t experience a reduction in heart disease. But patients eating higher levels of saturated fat, found in dairy and unprocessed meat, and less carbohydrates (such as those found in potato chips, refined sugar and pizza) were less likely to suffer heart attacks.

His findings make total sense to me. Think about it, if low fat foods are supposed to keep off the fat, then why have heart disease and obesity rates skyrocketed in North America since they were introduced to our markets in the last 20 years? Wouldn’t all those people suffering from obesity just need to switch to low fat cheese and eat all the pizza they want? That’s a big fat nope!

Eating Fat does not equate to gaining fat. Eating too much cake, fries, pop and candy are what will make you fat, along with anything else that you eat in excess of a normal serving size.

Breakfast of Champions From Around the World:

Of course, This doesn’t’ mean that we should be starting the day with 12 pieces of bacon and 6 eggs for breakfast, but a healthy breakfast of 2 organic eggs, 1 strip of real bacon fried in real lard, half an organic fried tomato and a piece of toast are actually quite good for you. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been a classic English Breakfast for eons.  In fact, you can look at the history of breakfast habits of many nations and you will see that that high fat foods are always included and necessary for starting the day right.

Take the traditional Turkish breakfast that my husband and I ate on a trip to Turkey a while back.  The platter was meant for two, and consisted of nuts, olives, fresh veggies, cheeses, some meat, butter, honey and bread. Served with tea, it provided just the right amount of energy and sustenance to keep us touring the city till well into the late afternoon. turkish-breakfast

Last week while on a business trip in Japan, my husband was complaining to me on the phone that the Japanese Breakfast offered at his hotel consisted of rice, miso soup and broiled salmon (very high in good fats by the way). He was wondering where all the sugary donuts were that he and his American colleagues were used to.traditional-japanese-breakfast-foods-aikido-retreat-japan-spring-2012

Norwegians love their smoked meats and the traditional Norwegian breakfasts doesn’t disappoint. Combine the meats with perfectly aged cheeses, organic eggs and real mayonnaise and you have a yummy and healthy breakfast that packs a punch.norwegian-breakfast-skudeneshavn

To Brazilians, a traditional Brazilian breakfast means simple and delicious. Think strong coffee, milk, bread, butter and jam, cheese, ham and sometimes accompanied with some fresh fruit.Brazilian-Breakfast

We know full well that these countries listed above don’t have issues with obesity like we do in North America. Unfortunately it is nations that have started importing and buying “American” food products labeled “fat free” that are seeing spikes in health problems.

Dietary fat doesn’t make people ‘fat’

Going back to Dr. Krauss and his research, he confirms that fat doesn’t make us fat, sugar does (even though fat has more calories—9 per gram—than carbs or sugars). Yes, saturated fat adds to our caloric intake, but our digestion breaks down food into the simple sugar glucose, which provides energy to our body tissue. This sugar triggers the release of insulin, a hormone that cries “Feed Me!!” to a body’s cells and turns unused energy into fat. Unfortunately during the fat-free craze, we just replaced saturated fat with too many starchy carbohydrates and are now constantly releasing too much insulin into our systems (can you now see why Diabetes is on the rise?)

Saturated fat helps make you feel full

If you take foods with saturated fat out of the diet, your body will hunger for a replacement—and often find it in starchy, processed carbohydrates. Dr. Krauss says that there are actually adverse results in substituting carbohydrates for fat. Recent research moves saturated fat from the “bad” to the “neutral” column because it contains both good and bad elements that appear to cancel one another out. It’s important to remember that different types of fat produce different types of cholesterol, with both good and bad effects. The ratio of “good” cholesterol to “bad” cholesterol in the bloodstream is what has an effect for cardiovascular health risks.

Man-made trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oils like shortening are definitely bad for the body, but fats found in eggs, olive oil and fish are rich in “good” cholesterol. Protein-rich foods like red meat and nuts, which also contain saturated fats, are best at making the stomach feel full. This is why you can eat a bag of pretzels and not feel full, even though you’ve consumed hundreds of calories.

Stick to whole foods

And by that I don’t mean the grocery chain (though it’s a great place to shop). Whole, unprocessed foods, be they beef, grains or vegetables, are always a better option than packaged foods. Try to minimize intake of processed foods, especially processed carbohydrates. Experts say while steak may be healthier than you realized, a diet heavy on vegetables is always best. Carbohydrates such as bread or rice made from whole grains rather than refined white flour like white bread and bagels are much better for you.

So nix the sugary cereals, put down that bagel and slowly back away. Instead, butter that whole-wheat bread, add veggies, cheese, eggs and meat and then you have a real breakfast of champions.

To Eating Positively Well,

Sunny

Losing_WeightOne of the most common phrases I hear is “I want to lose weight”. The answer I want to give back is usually quite long and drawn out, so I thought I would write a short response here and let everyone know that the phrase I’d really like to hear instead is “I want to lose Body Fat”. People new to fitness would presume that those two phrases are one and the same, but today I would like to make a big stink about how losing weight is nothing the same as losing body fat! I’d shout it from rooftops if I could (or in the case of today’s photo, from the high steps of Spain’s ancient forts) but alas shouting it into the blog world will have to suffice.

When someone says that they want to lose weight, it is in actuality a very vague goal. They get so focused on seeing that number on the scale drop that they start cutting calories and loading up on the cardio. They don’t think about the fact that they are probably losing muscle mass, water or stored glycogen and even metabolic waste first before they actually start losing a substantial amount of body fat.

Don’t focus on that Scale

Everyone says it, “Muscle weighs more than fat” but that’s actually not true.

5 lbs of muscle and 5 lbs of fat are both equal in weight, it’s just that fat takes up more room in your body. Fat is all fluffy and gooey and free form, while each muscle comes in a set shape that takes up less space and feels hard to the touch. That is why you can see dimpling below the surface of the skin when there is more fatty tissue present than muscle.

In reality, a 135lb person who has more muscle and a lower body fat percentage can look leaner and thinner than a 135lb person with a higher body fat percentage.

muscle_vs_fat

The Real Answer to Losing Weight Read the rest of this entry »

working_out_body_imageHey you.

Do whatever you want. Really. Be anything you want to be… Anything. You. Want.

Don’t conform to the image that others perceive you as having, unless you have worked hard to project that certain image, but even then the chances are high that what they perceive and what you perceive are two completely different things. That’s just how it is, no two people can truly think alike, it’s not human nature, so again, just do whatever you want.

For instance, doesn’t it seem so silly that people assume if you have blonde hair, that you must somehow not value knowledge and learning? Or if you grew up overweight, and had bad grades in gym class, that you are destined to forever hate all types of physical activity. Maybe you had a bad gym teacher, maybe you were being bullied at that time in that class, or that your life experiences hadn’t shown you the importance of being healthy yet. Whatever the reason, now you can be whomever you choose to be.

Often others can’t handle this and they don’t know what to do with themselves when they realize you have broken out of the mold they had you in. That is not your problem. Your only task is to be happy, to pursue happiness and be happy with yourself. Simple right?

Lesson’s from my Hair Dresser

A few months ago, I was sitting in my hair dresser’s chair and he told me that he had been doing some construction on his home. My hair dresser is a very sweet man that works magic on thick, coarse hair like mine. He spends all day long talking cut and color, perms and highlights, while going home to his wife and raising his two sons, tending to his vegetable garden, using power tools to build a new addition to his home and watching soccer with a cold beer in hand. Read the rest of this entry »

What_to_eat_on_the_road_healthyThe picture I’ve posted here is of recent meals I had while on vacation in the Algarve region of Portugal. Looks simple, healthy and a bit fancy right? Well, actually the large photo was of a meal I had in a British Style Pub right on the harbor and it wasn’t a fancy place at all. When I go to the Pub here in Chicago, the only food I can find is greasy onion rings and ketchup.

Everywhere I went in Europe, I was able to find delicious and healthy meal options right on the menu. I didn’t have to ask them to hold the fries, or to go easy on the sauce, or to substitute the double battered onion rings for a salad, in Europe it always came perfectly paired with veggies or a side of salad.

I find that in North America, we are quick to settle for what is offered by restaurants. In Europe, a restaurant would go out of business if the food wasn’t made with farm fresh ingredients or simply made from scratch. In North America, the restaurants that do offer the fresh, organic and made-from-scratch options are considered fancy and usually come with a hefty price tag. Don’t get me wrong, I know there is so much that we do better here on our side of the pond, but when it comes to food, the Europeans know where it’s at.

Now what to do when traveling around the US and Canada and you can’t find a single thing on the menu that you deem healthy? Here are a few tips based on what I choose to eat when I’m on the road: Read the rest of this entry »

FeelingGoodSometimes it’s easy to let other people’s insecurities get to you. They start making comments like “I hate my thighs”, or “I can’t eat that, I need to lose like 5 pounds!” or even worse, “don’t you just hate how we can’t be as skinny as her?” and you start thinking that there must be something wrong with you and that maybe you too should be thinking twice about eating that last morsel.

I know that I don’t have the thin body you see in the media, but there is no reason for anyone to body shame me for not wanting to aspire to someone else’s ideals. I could turn the tables and start talking about how sick and skinny those models look (and probably feel), but what would that achieve? That is negativity that starts weighing down on your soul and I just want to fill my life with light and positivity, besides, ain’t nobody got time for that!

I am constantly reminding myself that my legs helped me squat 200lbs, or that my shoulders helped me hold my handstand in a strong, stable position. My body is strong, I love nourishing it with nutritious foods, and I love feeling happy and healthy from all the vitamins in what I eat and the endorphins that exercise gives me. Other people will always have their opinions, but how they feel about your body has nothing to do with how you actually feel.

So pssst…the secret to looking good is to feel good. If you feel good about the decisions you are making (like making an effort to cook at home and making time for exercise), if you fill your belly with healthy nutritious foods that gives you the proper vitamins and nutrients to fuel your body, and if you surround yourself with positive people, you are bound to feel and look good.

I guess that’s not really a big secret is it? It just gets easier to do with practice, so let’s start with small steps and get to a point where other people’s opinions are just that… their opinions and not ours.

To Being Positively Strong,

 

Sunny

 

OrangeHappyI just spent the last ten days eating my way through Portugal and Southern Spain. I was blown away by the quality of the food, the abundance of fresh fish and fruit and the wide array of spices and flavors found in all things edible. So much so that I will probably make several different posts with all the different photos I took there (just thought I’d warn you ahead of time).

What I love about a vacation is that it’s a great opportunity for your system to recharge. My mind is fresh and full with new ideas, while my body had a chance to rest from all the protein powders, intense HIIT sessions and heavy weight lifting sessions that I usually subject it to. When I get back into the gym later today, I will probably make a bigger impact as I’ll wake my body back up and give it another much needed change.

I was in no way inactive while I was on vacation. I was walking for 10-12 hours a day, up many hills and uneven surfaces to see all kinds of forts and castles (whew, talk about cobble stones being great for balance training) and I also made it a point to do these exercises in my hotel room every few days. At the same time I didn’t stress about work, blogging, missing a workout or having to cook healthy meals or making sure I met my macro requirements at any time. I just took in the sites, learned about history, ate a lot of freshly picked fruit and chose to eat at restaurants that served good, wholesome foods.

20140514_222858I also had a chance to sit in the sun, catch up on my favorite blogs, and reconnect with my sweet husband. Now that we’re back, I can’t wait to put all of my new ideas to paper, but to also plan our next vacation for next year (I know, I know, I just got back, but looking forward to a new trip let’s me get through long work days :) ). Let me know if you have any upcoming vacations planned or if you have any suggestions for places I should visit that offer really good local food.

To Positively Strong Vacations,

Sunny

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