organic-eating-and-headstandsI always choose organic produce over the conventionally grown variety. Fresh vegetables and fruits are better for you when they are not genetically modified or sprayed with pesticides. The fruit or veggie will have more nutrients and will have played its part in the eco-system, where bees and other insects have a chance to feed and pollinate the way they are supposed to do.

With that said, it has now become very popular for processed foods to carry an “organic” label, where sugar laden fruit bars, cereals and juices advertise that they were made with 100% organic ingredients.  Unfortunately this leads lots of people to think that Organic = Healthy and then they are surprised when they over-indulge in these organic products and see weight gain. These processed foods may be organic, but they still contain a crazy amount of sugar, sodium and other preservatives.

It’s great that people are thinking about where their food is coming from, but to take it a step further, we should all be thinking about taking the extra time to prepare our meals and eat whole foods as much as possible. Think about eating the way people did a hundred years ago… not an easy task I know.  A hundred years ago there was a designated person in the family (usually the mother) whose only role consisted of spending hours to prepare daily meals. That is definitely not the case now. Now women are busy juggling work, families, long commutes, training and fitness, traveling to exotic places, rent and mortgage payments, debt, taking care of aging parents, social lives and the list just goes on. There’s just no time to prepare meals from scratch and eat healthy 100% of the time.

Well, we cant’ aim for 100% all of the time. We have to take small steps and start off small. Just like when I started doing headstands, at first I couldn’t do them at all, but then little by little I started getting better at them. Now I can hold a headstand for upwards of 3 minutes and I am attempting to press into a handstand from the headstand position. Fitting in the time to cook is the same as attempting headstands for the first time, it has to happen slowly. Try scheduling the time to prepare one meal a week for a month and see how that goes. Then try for two meals a week. Slowly switch processed snacks (even those that say organic) to whole foods.

If you are confused about what I mean by “whole foods”, I’m talking about foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. A friend of mine said something super funny a while back and I think it fits really well here. He said, “If it comes from a Plant, eat it. If it’s made in a Plant, don’t”.  This couldn’t be more true and the next time you are out grocery shopping think about filling your cart with only whole foods and switching out some of your usual foods for these: Read the rest of this entry »

FruitsWe’re now a week into the New Year, how exciting! It’s been several weeks of craziness for me, as I just finished a hectic term of grad school with a flurry of lengthy papers, presentations and exhaustion right before the holidays began. I pulled my first all-nighter in seven years… a terrible decision on my part. Not sleeping will do a number on your body, especially if you are used to 7-8 hours of sleep a night like I am. Stress and not sleeping well lowered my usually strong immune system and I ended up getting sick for the first time in three years, talk about not being able to enjoy the fruits of my labor, instead of eating all of my favorite foods and fruits, I spent the whole holiday season trying to figure out what was going on with my body. The lowered immunity caused the candida population in my stomach to increase and I was hit with a bunch of food intolerances and allergies right in the middle of all the holiday dinners and festivities. Dairy, meat, nuts and even fruits and veggies were giving me severe stomach pain and even my skin broke out in acne and hives, all strong signals of inflammation in the body and a push for me to reduce stress and re-balance my life and diet.

The immune system is not just one organ like the liver or the heart, instead it is made up of a collection of different organs and systems that work together to kill pathogens and protect the body. Almost every part of the body contributes something to the immune system, so if one piece starts to function below par, your overall health can be at risk. For me it was clear, not sleeping for 24 hours straight, and getting only 4-5 hours of sleep in the week prior, had caused me adrenal fatigue. Read the rest of this entry »

Winter_Activities_Batting_CageSome people love winter because they can finally take advantage of all the winter sports that cold weather offers. Skiing, skating, snowboarding… all sports that I would LOVE to love, but I’m too busy trying to keep warm. So what’s an active, adult with a probable case of ADHD  to do in the dreaded cold? I’ve decided to create my own “winter” activities.

I’m not just talking about going to the gym or a group fitness class on the daily (those are year-round activities), I’m talking about making the special effort to find an indoor arena to take advantage of a warm spot to play, jump and move around. I’m personally juggling a lot of different things right now, so I don’t have time to join a league or take part in sports that need the time commitment of other people. Instead, I’m always looking for activities that I can drop in on without a lot of planning or too many participants. This is where my need for lists comes into play. I’ve put together a little list of three indoor activities you can find in most major cities that offer a lot of bang for your buck. To make the cut, the activity needs to be fun, keep me fit and burn some calories while I’m at it. So here I present you with my little list of three:

Indoor sports and activities for the non-team player:

  1. Trampolining: Jumping against gravity works the heart muscle. This cardiovascular activity increases heart rate and pulse rate, and can increase bone density as well. Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park, also claims that trampolining tones up your glandular system, especially your thyroid glands, and improves digestion.
    • Approximate Calories Burned: 300-500 calories per hour.
  2. Batting Cages: Swinging the bat means that you get to workout your core (think obliques), butt, back (your lats), chest and forearms.
    • Approximate Calories Burned: 150-300 calories per hour
  3. Driving Range: Like the batting cage, all the twisting, turning and hitting works to sculpt your core muscles, back, chest, arms and shoulders. Basically using all those muscles that you don’t get to workout when slouching in front of the computer at work.
    • Approximate Calories Burned: 100-300 calories per hour

I have a couple other indoor sports in mind that I’ve been dying to try out, but for a bit of suspense and anticipation, I’ll keep you posted on those. Winter is super long in Chicago, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to try out some other indoor sports to report back to you with. Till then, keep warm and try something new, you may just learn to love winter if you don’t already.

To being Positively Strong, all year long,

Sunny

Best_Cold_RemedyI have an amazing cold remedy for you in the form of a hot drink. In fact it is an amazing remedy for any sort of inflammation in the body, as it is abundant in vitamin C and contains inflammation fighting spices like turmeric, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. This drink also contains ginger, honey, garlic (don’t let this little guy scare you off, garlic is the key to keeping away that cold) and fresh juice of the lovely lemon. Everyone that has ever tried this drink, has always commented that they didn’t expect it to taste so good – I promise you, it’s delicious.

Without further adieu, here is my own recipe. You can always adjust a couple of ingredients to your taste, but I recommend you first try it as it is to get a full blast of immunity building nutrients. I always make a large batch so that I can drink it throughout the day.

  • 6 cups of water
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 large, juicy lemon (if your lemon is small or not very juicy, use 2 of them)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (peeled, chopped, and let sit for 5 minutes before adding to water)
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons of fresh minced ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 pinches of turmeric
  • 2 pinches of cayenne pepper

Bring six cups of water to a boil, reduce heat to medium and mix in honey. Next, add all of your ingredients and simmer back to a boil for about 10-15 minutes. Use a ladle and strain into a mason jar or directly into a cup. This recipe should give you about 4-5 servings.

I have previously written about eating well to build a strong immune system, but you can even drink this after a heavy workout, when your muscles are primed for a dose of vitamins. Follow the tea up with a good source of protein and you will have less muscle ache as your tissues rebuild. And remember, I am not a doctor, so if you are on any medication (i.e. some studies have found that blood thinners and garlic don’t mix too well) or have any allergies, please check with your physician first.

To a Positively Strong Winter,

Sunny

White_Rice_vs._Brown_RiceDon’t you just hate it when just as you are about to take a bite of your food, someone decides to tell you about all the dangers lurking in that bite?

If only I had a dollar for every time someone did this to me, I would be able to buy a lifetime worth of white basmati rice! Mmm… fluffy basmati rice, I could eat that everyday, and you know what? My Persian ancestors did eat it every day, as do many people of countries where rice is a dietary staple.

I’m sad to say that before I made a commitment to learn more about the science of nutrition, I too was easily swayed by all of the food propaganda that is out there in the world. New food studies, talk shows, the news, advertisements, blog articles and new food products, they are all constantly contradicting themselves and each other by pushing new food trends and products. They cite a research study and all of a sudden a whole new “healthy” food product is created to replace what you and your ancestors were eating for eons before.

The problem with a lot of studies come down to their methodologies and they sometimes make generalization and associations between factors that aren’t always correlated. Take for example, a 2012 study that claimed white rice consumption is associated with a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. Immediately people take this to mean that White Rice = Diabetes which is absolutely not true nor the case. In reality, the study was making an associates between the “risk” of diabetes and rice consumption, where a significant spike they observed was that 20% of diabetes prevalence in their study was in the United Arab Emirates, a country with high white rice consumption. Yes, they eat a lot of rice in the UAE, but because it is one of the richest countries in the world, people also tend to eat a lot of sugar, processed foods and a lot of everything else in excess. If anything, diabetes incidence goes down as rice consumption increases, which is evident in countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, where they have the highest white rice consumption and have very low rates of diabetes.

Here is a map released by the Wall Street Journal from the International Diabetes Federation that shows the 2013 prevalence of Type 2 diabetes around the world. You can see that a lot of countries who have historically eaten a lot of white rice like basmati or jasmine rice actually see much lower diabetes prevalence.

Diabetes_Map

The other problem is that people don’t realize that there are many different rice varieties (about 40,000 different varieties exist in the world) with different compounds to each one. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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