Wednesday, June 4, 2014

So this is what I've been up to...

I've had some people ask me about my physical health routine, so I thought I would share what has been working for me. It's taken two years, but I've gone down six sizes and have lost, and have kept off, 50lbs. I have met and exceeded my original weight loss goal and am now focusing on improving my strength and endurance.

Hint: Dieting on its own doesn't work. Exercise on its own doesn't work. Everyone is different and sometimes you just have to work with what you've got, because genetics suck sometimes.

Take a good look at what you're eating. I thought my diet was ok until I met with a nutritionist. If your health plan covers it or if you can afford it, I highly recommend seeing a nutritionist or a naturopathic doctor who specializes in nutrition, even if just for one or two visits. The one I saw provided me with recipes, recommendations for supplements, exercise suggestions, and meal planning tips. (Tip: keep a food diary for a week – it's much easier to see where changes can be made if it's laid out right in front of you.)

I'm gluten-free due to having celiac's disease, so the first thing I eliminated from my diet was food made to be gluten-free: GF pizza, GF cookies, GF bread… it's full of carbs and sugars, and often lots of other weird stuff to make it taste good. And it's expensive. Gone.

I eat as clean as possible, following a high protein, low carb and low sugar diet. Being mostly vegetarian since a teenager, increasing my protein intake was difficult, but now I eat less because I stay fuller longer and don't get hungry in between meals. I stay away from packaged and prepared sauces and cook most of my food from scratch, relying on herbs and spices to add flavour. (Tip: Read the labels on spice blends – they tend to have a lot of added sugar and salt.)

Here are some typical food stuffs I eat:
Proteins: chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, tofu, almond milk, goat's milk yogurt and goat's milk cheeses, quinoa, protein powder and protein bars (see more on these below)
Beans and legumes (good for protein and fiber): chickpeas, lentils, black beans, soy beans, kidney beans
Fibre: ground flax seed in my smoothie
Lots of veggies – usually raw, steamed or sauteed
Snacks: crackers or raw veggies with hummus, apples with almond butter, almonds, yogurt with some maple syrup and cinnamon and nuts or dried fruit, dark chocolate as a treat

No: white rice, white potatoes, corn products

(Tip: Don't drink your sugars! I don't put fruit (other than half a banana and sometimes blueberries) or fruit juice in my smoothies, and I don't drink fruit juices. And stay away from those fruit on the bottom yogurts.)

Meal planning: Get organized and decide on what you're going to eat during the week. I do a lot of bulk cooking to ensure I have healthy lunches stored in the freezer, ready to go, to avoid having to eat out a lot. I also pre-cook batches of quinoa and chick peas (both of which can be frozen but will last in the fridge for about 5 days) to have on hand to make last-minute salads. I use a lot of ground chicken and sometimes turkey to make meat balls, patties, chili and stirfrys, and use chicken breasts for curries and stews (all of which can be frozen). You can even do this with someone, to reduce the effort or to increase the quantity and variety.

If you're planning on using a gym or having an active physical exercise routine of some sort, consider using a protein powder (whey protein isolate) and protein bars. I resisted using protein powder for a while, thinking that as long as I was eating well, I should haven't to dump a bunch of powder into my smoothie. Wrong. Because it takes me 45 minutes to get to my gym (I usually go in the early morning before work), I drink a protein smoothie before my workout and I eat a Lara bar afterwards. This has helped immensely with maintaining my appetite throughout the day.

If you have any allergies, food sensitivities or restrictions, please carefully read the ingredients for the protein powders and protein bars! There are so many to choose from and it can be overwhelming as to which one to use – some brands have sample packs you can try, or just ask around to see what other people use. I was using Vega Sport but recently switched to Diesel because it's a bit cheaper.

Treats and cheat meals: Don't deny yourself small rewards. I try to eat out only once a week, and allow myself a treat (chocolate, a fancy coffee) at most once a week. I have a sweet tooth and it's taken a lot of discipline but I now no longer get the kind of cravings I used to. Your body will soon learn not to miss sugar.

Exercise and physical activities:
If you're new to using a gym and if you can afford it, I highly recommend hiring a personal trainer for at least 6 months. They will create a plan based on your abilities and goals, and show you how to use the equipment and lift weights properly so you get the most benefit from your workout, and to reduce the risk of injury.

Try not to focus too much on the number on the scale. Measurements are a more accurate reflection of your progress. I do my own check-in once a month (weight and measurements) to see how I'm doing. On average, I've only been losing about 2 lbs a month but have gained a lot of muscle mass (being able to deadlift your own weight = pretty freaking awesome). If your primary goal is weight loss, you can lose more faster, but from what I've learned, gaining muscle mass helps keep the fat off longer, and you'll be more fit and healthy overall in the long run.

My typical week consists of 3-4 visits to the gym: 1-2 medium to high intensity cardio classes (usually Zumba and Step), yoga or pilates, and weights and low cardio. At a minimum, I think it would difficult see any positive changes without going at least twice a week. I'm at the point now where I really enjoy going to the gym so I don't see that time as a burden or a chore. But, I also don't have kids and can afford that kind of time.

I don't have a car, so I do a lot of walking. When the weather is nice I try to get out for walks and bike rides on the weekends. Over the winter I did indoor skating at my local arena. I always take the stairs, not escalators (one of my pet peeves on the TTC: able-bodied people who will wait in a crowd to go up an escalator. Walk. Up. The. Stairs. It's not so bad!). I walk eight flights of stairs to get to the lunch room I use at work.

(Tip: Combine your physical activities with social opportunities – take a yoga class with a friend, go for a walk with a co-worker at lunch, go for a bike ride with your partner.)

Tracking and Accountability: I started using a Fitbit fitness activity tracker about 6 months ago and I love it! For a while, I was also inputting all my food in the website but found it really cumbersome. If you are concerned about your portion sizes, eat out a lot, snack a lot, or are an emotional eater, it may be worthwhile being consistent with entering your food. I found that my caloric intake wasn't too bad, it was my lack of physical activity that needed to improve.

The benefits of an active lifestyle extend beyond physical improvements. I sleep better and my energy is maintained more throughout the day. Being able to run up a flight of stairs or run after the bus without running out of breath feels really good! I have muscles. My confidence and self-esteem has improved. And I'm working towards the prevention of the effects of aging, such as osteoporosis.