Thursday, August 27, 2015

Which is Easier?

Someone just posted a picture quote similar to this one on a Facebook group I'm a part of and it got me thinking.  I know it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but my initial reaction was that getting fat is not easy at all! I'm not just talking about the people with super high metabolisms that dread being summed up as skinny fat, I'm talking about all of the psychological self-loathing that often accompanies getting fat.

I'm pretty fit right now, I'm fitter than over 90% of American woman according to a BodyBuilding.com article I read the other day about body fat, but I haven't always been this way, and I certainly haven't always been this way and maintained it.

I am happy to say that after I hit a goal weight last summer I have kept the weight off since, and continued to build muscle while losing body fat, but prior to this (and in some ways still now!) I struggled a great deal with my weight.  Ever since I was in 6th grade I had been unhappy with my body and didn't know much how to change it.  When I would successfully lose weight by being more active and watching what I ate the results would often be short lived and I would watch myself get fatter and fatter.  It wasn't easy.  You might know the feeling: you're unhappy with the way you look naked and unhappy with your body, and you may even want to change it and be actively taking steps to change it but then your friends invite you out for burgers and beers and the idea of being social and chowing down on your favorite Bad Daddy's burger (and tots) while enjoying the latest local brew on tap is actually way more fun.  And then you feel bad about yourself, beat yourself up mentally, emotionally, and maybe even physically the next day at the gym.  It's not a good place to be and not how anyone really wants to live.  Not to vilify burgers and beer, but there's a time and place for everything, and they aren't worth it if you're going to be fat and unhappy afterwards.

It is not easy getting or being fat or unhappy with your body.  Nothing in life worth having truly comes easy anyway.  Set realistic, achievable, time measured goals and you'll find that consistently working towards them is actually a lot easier than continuing to be unhappy because you're not doing anything about your unhappiness.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Cardio

Cardio.  Unless you're one of those crazy distance-loving runners (I don't know how you do it!) we know cardio has a lot of health and fitness benefits but it's just not as much fun as lifting weights, taking a group fitness class, going for a hike, bike ride...basically any other fitness activity!  As I was slugging through a hour long session on the step mill the other morning for my contest prep I had a thought about sharing some of my tips for how to get through a particularly difficult cardio session, or even make it fun!

My first tip is a bit obvious but it is something I find very helpful: stock up on songs, movies, and tv shows you like to listen to while you're on a cardio machine.  I find when I've got a playlist of a few new songs, some uplifting songs, and some upbeat songs, it really keeps me feeling positive and like I can do anything.  It helps that I zone out a little bit sometimes and picture myself being successful on stage.  Movies and tv shows are also something nice to not take your focus entirely off your workout, but shift it enough so you're not stuck there dwelling over how much time you have left.  Spending a little money on some new media goes a long way in flying through your workout.

My second tip is to mix it up! Now, I have been prescribed a lot of steady state cardio for my contest prep and I tend to stick to the step mill because I like it and it's great for my booty.  However, sometimes I go for a hike or run outside, or I set the treadmill on an incline, or occasionally show up for spin class.  Maybe I'm not burning as many calories on an incline treadmill or hitting my glutes as well on a spin bike, but by not doing the same thing 100% of the time I am a little more interested, more focused, and more enthused about a change.

You can also mix it up by doing a HIIT (high intensity interval training) session instead.  HIIT is the big thing in cardio right now so if you haven't heard of it trust me when I say you'll have no problem finding HIIT workout suggestions.  You can do HIIT for either distance or time; I find time is usually easy to measure.  One HIIT workout I like is Tabata where you do 20 seconds of all-out work and then take 10 seconds of rest for a total of 4 minutes.  You can do anything for 4 minutes.  I like to do sprints, jump squats, and step ups on an aerobic step.  Another HIIT favorite of mine is on the step mill.  I'll warm up at a steady state for 2 minutes, and then I will crank up the speed and take the steps 2 at a time for 1 minute, back to steady state for 1 minute, and repeat 1 minute on, 1 minute off for 8-10 rounds.  I'll then take a few minute cool down at the steady state.

A lot of people insist on almost exclusively doing HIIT over steady state cardio, but I find the best solution varies for each person and for me I'm in the middle.  You can't really do HIIT every day if you're truly going all out.  I find it as a nice way to mix it up a couple times a week, but you can burn yourself out or harm your lifting gains if you overdo it.

Finally, have a "10 minute rule." To contradict my second tip a bit, if I'm doing my steady state inside at the gym and not attending a class I tell myself I must start on the step mill and do at least 10 minutes.  If after 10 minutes I'm just not feeling it, I can finish the rest on the incline treadmill which is still work, but much easier.  Usually after 10 minutes I'm not too miserable and tell myself, okay, go for another 10, or even 5.  I find that if I keep reaching for those 5 and 10 minute goals, with a little media stimulation, I can make it through an entire hour workout.  To date the earliest I quit was 45 minutes into a hour workout, and that was because my lower back was a little sore and I decided to finally give it a break and hit the treadmill.  This really has been huge for me in getting through a necessary cardio session to torch major calories, and as a bonus I usually feel accomplished and proud of myself at the end for sticking with it and not quitting, and that puts a pep in my step for getting on with the rest of my day.

So, I know cardio can be a bit of a pain, and a bit controversial, but this is how I do it and it works for me.  I hope my tips can help you find what works for you!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Meal Prep

Meal Prep Sunday! Today I wanted to touch on the importance of meal prep for staying not just on a diet plan, but preparing for a healthy lifestyle.  Although meal prep for the week is absolutely essential in contest prep, and extremely useful in dieting, I think it also just makes sense for people who are looking to maintain their weight as it can be extremely cost effective and support a healthy lifestyle in general.

The first element to a successful meal prep is in planning your meals for the week. What your meal looks like will vary greatly from person to person and will be based on your health goals, but I recommend looking at ways to buy in bulk and using those bulk ingredients in a number of ways; a meal prep can get very boring if you're eating the exact same thing at each snack or meal.  Granted, this may be what you need to do to be successful on your prep diet, or maybe you're like me and you never get tired of eggs and oatmeal for breakfast.  Either way, plan ahead what you will be having.

I think for most people the meal that benefits the most from prepping ahead is lunch.  Even if you're on a strict contest prep it's easier to say no to all your co-workers heading out for pizza when you know you've got food you don't want to waste in the fridge at work.  Easier said than done right? Well, first, if you don't already have your own mini fridge in your office (not the communal fridge that everyone shares, no one cleans, and forces you to see what everyone else brought).  Do what you need to do to fit it under your desk or in a corner so that you can put whatever you need in there just for you.  Secondly, keep lunch interesting.  If you eat the same thing for breakfast, snacks, and even dinner, I think lunch is where you benefit the most from some variety.  Dinner is a close second.  Keep lunch interesting by putting what you're most looking forward to in that meal or doing something special or unique.  This means you'll be far more likely to eat what you brought with you.

Also keep in mind that you might not be able to cook everything you need for the week.  Sometimes I find if you have time to cook it before/during/after breakfast it will be more fresh and more appealing.  Just prep for something you plan to cook in the mornings by portioning it out so it's all ready to go.  Otherwise, cook whatever you can, weigh and measure it out, and make sure you have some quality plastic containers to keep things in.  It takes a bit of a time investment on Sunday, but saves time, stress, and even money by not putting it of until later in the week.

Naymerica's tips for a successful meal prep
1. Plan your meals before you go to the grocery store
2. Be prepared to adapt your meals if something that fits your diet is on sale
3. Weigh and portion your food
4. Cook whatever you can ahead of time, but if something can be cooked in the morning at least follow #3
5. Do whatever is necessary to have your own mini-fridge at your desk (if this is really not an option, and you don't have at least a communal fridge, invest in a quality cooler or 6-pack type bag to carry with you)
6. If you have a mini-fridge bring all your food for the week to work on Monday, that way it's there and it's out of the way at home
7. Keep your own set of utensils that you can reuse in your desk
8. Keep some basic spices, hot sauce, and drink mixes in your desk too to mix things up without adding extra calories

Finally, I encourage you to let your co-workers know that you like to bring your own lunch and you enjoy what you bring. It may be frustrating at first or feel anti-social, but your co-workers won't take it personally, and hopefully they'll respect that you're choosing a healthy lifestyle.  Just don't make them to feel bad for eating out...no one likes a dieter with a superiority complex, even if they are jealous of your hot body and healthy habits!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Emotional Eating

I've been thinking about emotional eating a lot lately; back in May after my last fitness competition I was struggling a great deal with emotional eating.  I had some changes in my life that were causing a great deal of stress and the easiest way for me to cope (as it is for a lot of people) is to stuff those feelings with food.  I would be so overwhelmed that taking a break to eat seemed like the only way I could distract myself and breathe, but then I would of course feel worse for it afterwards.

My emotional eating is more-so under control now as I'm finding more healthy ways to cope, and generally feeling less stress since my vacation, however, it has occurred to me it's never really one of those things that's going to just go away, it's just one of those things we learn to manage better.

The key for me has been to find something you can do to decompress from a stressful situation and practice it before things get too overwhelming.  I really enjoy reading, I find that it helps me mentally escape and unwind even if it's non-fiction, as I invest my attention in a book or sometimes a magazine.  Whenever I feel my stress creeping up and I have a moment to step back and do a little reading it helps me practice that mental transition and unwind, so that the next time something bigger creeps up I reach for my Kindle, not the ice cream.

We all have things we like more than food and that make us feel good, and self care doesn't mean saying "forget it" and allowing yourself to binge or stress eat, self care is knowing what is actually good for you that helps you unwind and cope with the crazy things life throws at us.  It also means being pro-active about what you need so that you're not allowing yourself to be so destructive.
I read a post on a health and fitness based Facebook group I'm a part of recently about emotional eating where the poster said sometimes they don't even realize it until they look down and there's an empty bag of M&Ms.  Although I empathize with this and would be lying if I said I'd never gone to the grocery store just to get something to pig out on I can't help but wonder why the M&Ms were there in the first place? If you struggle with emotional eating don't let that stuff hang around.  Some of my favorite foods are ice cream, corn chips, and peanut butter (not all together!) and although I definitely still incorporate them in my off-season diet I don't keep them in the house.  If I want ice cream I'll buy a pint, not a half gallon, because if it's around the house I know I'll eat it.  The same has to go for M&Ms or whatever you tend to grab for when you emotionally eat.  You've been there before, you know what you reach for so don't leave it lying around.  Yes I realize you could still emotionally binge eat on carrot sticks if you really wanted to stuff your feelings with food badly enough, but we know we don't reach for carrot sticks, we reach for Doritos.