What Whole30 Did for Me: ABsolutely eating healthier & feeling better!

Please don’t hate me when I tell you that I’ve never really dieted. What I have done consistently all my life is exercise like a fiend and eat like a banshee (for the most part consuming large quantities of anything and everything I wanted.) My personal training clients and people who have seen me racing (triathlon) or training, all assume that I eat healthy and adhere to a strictly nutritious diet. Only my inner circle know my dirty secret: horrible eating habits. “Do as I say, not as I eat.” I’m embarrassed to admit how much junk and chocolate and sugary items I’ve consumed every day for decades. And I now realize how fortunate I am that it didn’t have a disastrous effect on my health.

Another confession is that I have secretly envied people who eat nutritiously and say they feel great and perform better. I’ve always wanted to make healthier choices and reap the rewards of eating more nutritiously. But as we all know, wanting isn’t doing, is it?

What made me give Whole30 a try? I’d heard about it before (a colleague at work had an incredible post-pregnancy transformation) and my sister happened to mention that she was doing it so I figured, why not give it go? I’ve been feeling a bit sub-optimal and wanted to get rid of the bloating around my abs (that were a 6-pack not so long ago) and reduce my body fat %. (Note: the pics of me in the margins of this website are about a decade old.) I also wanted to defy the stereotype of the 50+ woman complaining that belly bloating and belly fat are inevitable consequences of aging. I’d say belly bloating and belly fat are inevitable consequences of chronic inactivity and poor food choices. For me, it’s the poor food choices.

I also wanted to see if losing some weight and eliminating inflammatory foods (such as dairy, fatty red meats, cheese, margarine, processed meats, alcohol, refined sugar and additives) would help me with my knee pain. (After 35 years of running, I literally ran through the cartilage in my knees and have severe arthritis, which prevents me from running and causes pain when biking, swimming, hiking, and even walking.) They say every pound of body weight equates to about 4 pounds on the knees so that in itself was enough to spur on my dietary experiment. I planned to do Whole30 for ~2 weeks or so to see what would happen. Note: The creators of Whole30 are adamant about sticking with it for 30 days and not weighing yourself until the end. I violated both these rules, and by Day 10, I’d lost 6 pounds and 2% body fat. Wow, I was impressed and hooked. Granted, I was super grumpy the first week and had to put myself on house arrest to avoid temptations of social eating and drinking. Within a week, I noticed my abs were coming back and belly bloating had become a thing of the past.My knee pain had faded too. I put on a pair of shorts that used to be a bit tight and the waist and backside area were loose. On Day 11, I went on a one-week active vaca, managing to stay true to the plan about 85 percent of the time.

It’s Day 40 and I’ve lost 7 pounds & 3% body fatMind you, I still exercise somewhat fiendishly, but am no longer eating like a sugar-crazed banshee. Note: I’ve been genetically blessed with a relatively flat stomach and high rib cage,which helps pop your abs when your body fat percentage is low. (My fat storage area is my butt and legs.) Also, I’ve never had kids so that could be considered another “unfair” advantage.

Here’s my ab progression:

I’ve also been able to run about 3 miles on the beach in the thick sand 3X without knee pain. Most importantly, the plan has led me to a healthier way of eating and living.

Hitting the reset button with Whole 30 was exactly what I needed to change my eating habits for the better. I actually enjoy cooking now and coming up with creative, satisfying pure and simple nutritious meals.

Sure, the strictness of Whole 30 or any diet that eliminates certain food groups in their entirety, may not be sustainable, but “eating clean” / consuming fresh, unprocessed food is. Sure, it takes effort, discipline and determination, but I am here to tell you it works. Look for my updates at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and a year from now and I’ll share how I’m doing.

If you try it and then use it as your general guide or launch pad for your plan to eat healthy for life as I have, it just might work for you too.

What is the Whole30?

The premise of Whole30 is that certain food groups (like sugars, grains, dairy and legumes) are likely having a negative impact on your health and fitness—energy levels, moods, ache and pains, skin, digestion, allergies, sleep, bloating tummy, weight gain, body fat %, etc.

With Whole30, you eliminate these food groups (many of them inflammatory and blood- sugar spiking) and all preservatives and chemicals completely from your diet and focus on eating clean, pure, simple foods. (Recently read an article that your body transforms chemicals, preservatives and other unnatural ingredients into fat. Here’s the scientific study on that one. Another study just came out that diet sodas causes diabetes too. And yet another study linked sugar to Alzheimers. YIKES!)

Thirty days gives your body time to recover from whatever ill effects those foods may be having. It’s like pushing the reset button on your health, habits, and relationship with food while highlighting the physical and psychological impact of the food choices you’ve been making.

The promise

Weight loss and enhanced wellness is the most obvious benefit, but that’s not all they promise:

It will change the way you think about food. Yes, I’ve been aware that I’ve been poisoning my body with sugar / chocolate binges, exacerbating my knee pain, and sabotaging my health. I always wondered what good nutrition could do for me. Finally, I’m on the path to reap the rewards.

 It will change your tastes. Vegetables are tasting sweeter and I am enjoying them more.

It will change your habits and your cravings. Given that I have walked by rows of candy bars and passed them by several times, this must be true. And as I get more results, I become more resolved to stay true to eating well.

It will restore a healthy emotional relationship with food, and with your body. Yes, thinking of sweets as “treats” or “rewards” is a trap that sets up eating nutritiously as a punishment. This is part of why I was so grumpy the first week. You have to find other ways to reward yourself– mani-pedi, massage, chat with a friend, take a walk, play a game, etc.

It has the potential to improve the way you eat for the rest of your life and to improve your life on a larger scale. Yes, I believe and am now an evangelist. Try Whole 30 for a jump start to eating clean for life. Share your healthy eating story and tell us how you did it.

Note: I’m not an advocate of gimmicks or diets per se, nor a paid spokesperson for Whole30. As a personal trainer, I like to share what has worked for me and what may help others on the path to live more vigorous and healthy lives.

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Tips to maximize your trail time: Head for the hills or mountains

Getting outside on the trails for a refreshing workout beats the gym any day. First, the immersion in nature is a feast for the mind, body and spirit. Second, there are too many benefits to count, including the cardio advantages, reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, obesity and lowering your blood pressure. Muscle benefits extend from your calves up to your quads, hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes through your core (especially if you’re trail running) and up to your shoulders. Sold? Ok, now if you want to get the most out of your trail time, head for the hills, or mountains, for that matter. L backside monserate

A 5%-10% incline boosts your calorie burn by as much as 30%-40%. I’m a glutton for the incline. (Check out the Monserate hike here.) Traversing uneven terrain, recruits your core muscles, and helps improve balance and flexibility.

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Using hiking poles will amp your caloric burn up even more as you engage the muscles of your upper body. (Poles will help save your knees on steep downhills as well.) Carrying a stuffed backpack will also boost your caloric burn by another 10-20%, depending on the load. Get the scoop on this amazing hike in Mammoth Lakes.

To top it all off, that magical combo of exercise, nature and fresh air will have you sleeping like a baby.

Like the idea, but not sure you’re ready to “go wild”? Start by walking with a friend in your neighborhood, then head to a park. Before you know it, you’ll want to explore more – farther, longer, wilder. Be safe, use common sense and the buddy system.

Happy Trails!

Go take a hike! And Mother Nature will take care of you.

Big Sky, MT: Beehive Basin Hike

Did you know that nature improves our well-being so much so that studies show that even a fleeting look at a natural object (plant, bird, ant, flower, etc.) can improve our quality of life? Unfortunately, in today’s urban, indoor, sedentary society, most of us are as disconnected from the nature around us as we are from our own physical bodies.

9 reasons to “go wild” and immerse yourself in nature, the gift that keeps on giving

  • Healthy body
    • Reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and boost the immune systems
    • Delivers a scientifically proven anti-inflammatory effect
    • Promotes a healthier microbiome (the beneficial bacteria in our bodies)
  • Healthy brain
    • More robust amygdala, a portion of the brain that helps process stress
    • Enhanced plasticity of the brain, ability to adapt to learn new thing and recover
    • Improved brain development & higher cognitive functioning in children with fewer incidences of behavioral and emotional problems
    • Helps prevent cognitive decline
  • Healthy mind
    • Helps combat depression, anxiety, stress and headaches
    • Boosts creativity and productivity

Scientists found that the “wilder” the setting, the better it is for us. Think forests and coastal areas, but we hardly need scientists to tell us this do we? People have been “taking cures” at the seaside or in the countryside for centuries.

So how do we maximize nature’s positive effects? Yup, you guessed it  – get physical in nature. (You are welcome to translate that any way you want – I’m keeping this post PG.) Formal exercise isn’t the end all.

Hiking or walking in nature is the simple Rx for so many of our 21st century ailments. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise–because it’s what comes naturally to us. We are not built to spend our days sitting at our desks, on our couches, or in cars, buses, planes, or trains. We are genetically wired and built for daily, long walks. Our hunter-gather ancestors’ survival depended on daily movement in the natural world (walking, running, climbing, scrambling, swimming, etc,). And our health and well-being today still does.

So what are you waiting for? Get outside and play!

Additional reading : This Popular Science article sums up a couple of the recent studies.

Get in the moment for mind and body fitness

inthemoment first shortboard ride

I captioned this pic of my first time surfing a short board “In the Moment” for my Instagram feed@onthelooselive. It captures the great thing about so many vigorous, outdoor athletic pursuits and creative pursuits as well. When you are in the moment, aka “the zone”, you are completely absorbed, anchored by your senses and grounded by your physicality and concentration. There’s no room for all that other stuff that can bog you down. Total immersion – it’s the best way to cleanse your mind and renew your spirit of joie de vivre.

There are so many wonderful ways in this life for us to experience those magnificence moments of pure bliss.

I’m not a a very good surfer, but I enjoy it, especially when the water is warm and the waves are friendly. I’ve been surfing an 8 foot board for a while, but have always wanted to try a shorter one. They’re a lot more challenging though… Since I don’t surf  a lot, I’ve been hesitant to try because my skills aren’t up to par and I don’t practice enough…Lots of excuses not to … (Sound familiar?) So the other day, my BF brought a 5 foot foamy to the beach and encouraged me to try it. I had a blast. Sometimes, even self-motivated peeps, need a little extra push to get out of their comfort zone.  Thanks Ken. : )

So back to the fitness bandwagon, there are a couple takeaways here. In order to create and immerse ourselves in these moments of pure joy in our activities of choice, we must be fit enough to participate.

Sadly, I know many women who no longer surf because they didn’t maintain the upper body strength to push themselves up. (Semi-regular push ups would have kept them surfing and most could start strengthening and return to it if they were so inclined…) Unfortunately, there is so much more to lose and at risk when we relinquish our strength and baseline fitness levels.

Being fit for life means preserving our quality of life and health, enjoying the activities we love, and being able to discover new ones.

Cultivating our health and fitness in some way everyday is essential – even it just translates to eating extra vegetables and taking more walks. What we do today determines what we’ll be able to do tomorrow and the day after. No doubt I owe being able to push off of and stand up on the 5 foot board to my regular swim sessions, push-ups, weight training and yoga practice.

What’s your favorite “In the Moment” activity? (Keep it PG please.)  And how do you stay fit for life?

 

Ps. I know the pic is horrible quality, but it does capture the essence of this post and my feat. (Also, it’s probably the worst pic of me – 2 people who know me thought it was my BF. So much for vanity these days anyway…)

Sleep your way to optimal health, fitness & performance: 7 tips for better sleep

 

 

Alfie practicing what he readsSleep is as essential to our health and wellness as breathing, hydrating and getting good nutrition are. In fact, when push comes to shove, your need for sleep overrides hunger. Getting adequate sleep is required for optimal cognitive and physical performance. The quality and length of sleep we get impacts every aspect of our lives. If you short yourself on sleep, you short circuit your athletic performance and so much more.

Aside from feeling and performing sub par, not getting the sleep we need can take a significant toll on our health. Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with serious and life-threatening diseases, including high-blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, diabetes, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Lack of sleep has also been associated with irritability, mood swings and impulsive behavior–a recipe for disastrous interpersonal relations.

According to a 2013 Gallup Poll, 40% of us are sleep-deprived. The consensus of Harvard researchers and the National Sleep Foundation is that 7 to 9 hours is ideal. Making sleep a priority will help regenerate, regulate and replenish your body. Sleep repairs and restores your muscles so you can reap the benefits of your workout and prepare you body to go to a whole new level.

By the way, naps are A-Ok as long as they don’t interfere with logging your 7 to 9 hours. In the book pictured above, Littlehales stipulates that we need to be mindful of our natural 90 minute sleep cycles that alternating between NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement – a deep sleep) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement – dreaming sleep). He maintains that we’ll feel better waking at the end of a full 90 minute cycle versus waking in the middle of cycle even though we may have added on another half hour or hour of sleep…There probably something to this, but I haven’t really experimented enough with my cycles and wake up times. (Admit didn’t want to give up the add on half or hour.) Let me know if you do and I’ll update this blog if I do.

7 Tips for Better Sleep

  1. Exercise in the morning, preferably in the sunlight.
  2. Eliminate alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bed.
  3. Unplug all blue screens 30-90 minutes before bed (tv, phone, tablets, computer).
  4. Practice meditation to calm your mind and lull yourself to sleep. (The American Academy of Sleep Medicine Recommends it as an effective treatment for insomnia.)
  5. Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine / ritual. (Do some gentle stretching combined with deep breathing, listen to soothing music, meditate, soak in a bath-not too hot.)
  6. Try to stay on a consistent sleep schedule.
  7. Make your bedroom your sleep and intimacy sanctuary. (No work, tvs, phones or computers allowed.) Speaking of intimacy, orgasms are a natural sleep aid with many health benefits so there you go.

Sweet dreams and sleep well to fulfill your potential – athletic and otherwise.

Any sleep tricks up your pajama sleeve? Do share.

Just breathe: Why meditation is a must for all of us, especially athletes.

“Recently, I  had the privilege of spending a week at the active paradise of Thanyapura Health and Sports Resort in Phuket, Thailand. It was an amazing immersion in mind and body fitness, including yoga, meditation, triathlon training and more.

My biggest takeaway from the week was how essential meditation and yoga are to optimal mind body health and fitness. (Yoga post to follow.)  I know what many of you hard core endurance athletes are thinking, something along the lines of “Here we go again with that new age mumbo jumbo.” And before my time at Thanyapura, I’d be right there rolling my eyes with you.

What changed?  I encountered and practiced with the mind training meditation guru, Pierre at Thanyapura.  Pierre has a knack for explaining the practice of meditation in a practical way that speaks to athletes and he guides his sessions like training sessions.  This isn’t ethereal stuff, though with dedicated practice, you might find yourself transcending previous limitations, setting new PRs and levitating to new heights. Ok, maybe not the last one (unless you’re a pole vaulter), was just checking to see if you’re still paying attention.

 

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Mind Trainer, Meditation Coach Pierre

 

Without further ado, here’s what I learned about meditation from Coach Pierre:

Meditate on this

  • Meditation is a physical activity. Meditation is anchored in the breath. It doesn’t get more physical than breathing, does it? (Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that before either.)
  • It’s all about being engaged and in the moment. You focus on your immediate experience vs. the ongoing (often negative ) internal narrative. Most physical pain from exertion (not injury)  passes. Once we attach emotional thoughts to physical pain as is the tendency with unfocused thinking, it becomes much more difficult to endure. Also happiness is something that happens only when we are truly engaged in the moment and your senses. Meditation helps us be in the moment more and to be more engaged during and after meditation. Meditation can bring more happiness into your life.
  • Meditation can improve our athletic performance. Unguided thoughts are random and prone to negative spiral, which can sabotage your daily life and your race performance. Ever been in the middle of a triathlon  and felt like giving up? Were you in the moment,  or were you in random thought mode after your rival passed you on the bike? Meditation helps us practice being focused, which keeps us performing well and transcending pain and exertion throughout the race.
  • Just breathe and relaxation will follow. Deep exhalations stimulate the body’s relaxation response. It’s like taking a valium, except it’s good for you. Conversely, if your muscles and body are tense, your mind will look for a reason to be upset and keep you focused on it.
  • Meditation can be undertaken like interval training. (5 minutes intense focus, 5 minutes relaxed focus.) Start with bite size pieces of meditation and soon you’ll be increasing them with ease.
  • Master your mind with meditation. Our mind can be our biggest saboteur, now you’re in control. Now, go, fight, win!

In case you can’t tell, I’m a total convert now. What’s your perspective of meditation? How has it enhanced your life or your sport?

 

Live and travel vigorously: 7 tips to activate your next getaway.

Being fit and healthy for life is to a large extent about exercising (pun intended) an active lifestyle. Having a healthy mindset to a large degree is also about being physical, being outdoors and being open to new experiences, people, ideas and places.

So my advice, plan your next vacation and make it count. It’s an investment in your health and well being that will pay dividends in both the short and long run. I know you’re so worn out from your daily grind that you might think you just want to sink into a hammock with a coconut drink and not move for 7 days, but hear me out. You can have your coconut drink and hammock time, but if you vaca my way, I guarantee you’ll enjoy them more.

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Whether it’s a staycation, a camping trip, or an exotic locale – find your activity bliss (limitless options) – whatever makes you smile while you sweat just a little or a lot.

7 tips to “activate” your next getaway 

  • Say “yes” to opportunity. If an invitation to do something active and outside of your realm lands in your lap, take it.  Adjust your schedule, do what you need to do, but as they say “Just do it.” It’s those serendipitous surprises in life that seem to yield the biggest rewards.
  • Try an activity that’s outside of your comfort zone. (On a recent vaca, I immersed myself in yoga and meditation and it yielded some incredible results, as well as a new respect for both activities. I’m a convert – I’ll tell you why in an upcoming post .)
  • Go somewhere new. Even if it’s just that park around the corner that you’ve never explored, go check it out.
  • Get out of the country if you can. The dollar is strong right now so it’s probably less expensive than you think and it’s such an enriching experience.
  • Book a trek, bike / multi-sport, dive, kayak, [fill in the blank] adventure vacation. There are so many great active adventure tour operators out there and they cater to people of all levels. No planning, just tons of active fun with like-minded people. (My adventures have included a 4 day trek to Machu Pichuu, and more recently, an amazing 3 day multi-sport and a 3 day mt. bike adventure in Northern Thailand. (See my pics,videos and posts on my adventure travel site: onthelooselive.com.)
  • Do what you’ve always wanted to do. Take that tennis, golfing, dancing, diving, karate, fly fishing, or rock climbing class that you’ve always wanted to try. There’s no time like the present so stop putting the good stuff off. Try something new or get back to an old, but not forgotten pastime. With tons of inexpensive and free classes, your local community colleges and yes, even senior centers are great resources.
  • Check out local activity meetups at your destination. You’ll meet new peeps and get the local scoop on bike routes, hiking, running trails, etc…
Longtail Boat Snorkel Trip

Longtail Boat Snorkel Trip, near Railay, Krabi in Thailand

The options are limitless! Tell me, where will you go next and what will you do?

Like this blog? Like active adventure travel? Check out onthelooselive.com for fun explorations near and far.