Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category
I like to do hill sprints occasionally to really get my heart rate up. I consider it power and strength training for my heart. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with how changing the manner in which I breath effects my performance.
What truly inspired me was a study I read about in the book “Body Mind and Sport” by John Doullard.
This study consisted of teaching athletes classic yoga pranayma breathing and having them apply it to their sport. This usually took a few months to teach because the athletes had to learn to exert themselves while only breathing through the nose and with very deep diaphramatic breaths.
This study was inspired by top athletes like Roger Bannister who broke the four minute mile. He described his experience as euphoric and not at all torturous. He didn’t feel as though he was working hard, but as if he had found a perfect flow.
I observed this once while watching Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt competing. His sprint looked effortless. His mouth was closed. There was no sign that he was over exerting himself. When it was over, he had so much joy, he ran more laps, waving to fans and celebrating. There was no sign of exhaustion, and yet he beat a world record. Most people in the world couldn’t run that fast if they killed themselves doing it.
What John Doullard’s studies showed was that those who mastered yoga breathing even while performing a seemingly intense, athletic feat felt less stress. Everyone who participated in the study could still perform with high skill. They just didn’t feel like they were working hard. The recovery rate was faster. In fact, many felt they could keep going and they didn’t feel tired after the training if they applied yoga breathing.
So I tried this for myself. First I did the smaller hill which usually takes me between 27 to 30 seconds to complete. I stood at the bottom of the hill and cleared my mind. I started breathing the way I do in yoga class until I felt I had the long, slow and deep breaths down. Then I bolted up the hill. I found that if I could keep the long breaths going, I brought my time down to 26 seconds which is an amazing improvement for a runner. I also realized that it didn’t feel like I was running fast at all. Perhaps it was because I was breathing slow and not panting. The slowness of my breath made me feel as if I were running at a more even keeled pace.
I tried this on the longer hill as well. This hill usually takes me 50 seconds to 1 minute to complete. When I focused on the yoga breathing, I was able to complete it in 46 seconds!
Another book that inspired me to experiment, not just on how hard I exercise but on what my mindset is when I exercise is “Power vs. Force” by David R. Hawkings M.D. Ph.D. This book is based on thousands of studies using applied kinesthiology to test strength. The book breaks down which mindsets give us the most strength. For example, the mindset of shame makes us weak. If we were to push on a person’s arm who feels shame, their arm would fall right away, but if you were to push on a person’s arm who feels joy, that arm is full of strength and energy. This book concludes that after testing thousands of people, that joy and universal love (that stems from compassion not infatuation) has the greatest energy.
I decided to test this theory on a whim as it was a very stressful week for me and I had so much on my mind. I was running my usual pace when I decided to try clearing my mind and focus on something more expansive than my every day worries.
I managed to quiet all the noise in my head. I don’t remember how I did it. Perhaps my own curiosity motivated me, for I wanted to see if my sprint time would improve if I achieved a higher state. I think I connected with the spirit of the hawks that built a nest in that area to lift me up. Focusing on the beauty of nature, put me in a different state, and I swear my time improved by at least 3 or 5 seconds! Some things came to mind. I recalled that my kung fu instructor who said that everything happens for a reason and I was able to rise above my worries and realize that its all happening the way its supposed to.
I invite all of my readers who have experience with yoga and pranayma to take what you learned inside the yoga studio and start applying it to your workouts and your life. After all, what use is practicing meditation if we can’t use it to improve all aspects of our lives? Instead of seeing exercise as torture, see it as a meditation, an opportunity to tap into your higher power. Then see if you can apply these breathing and focusing strategies to career and relationships. Lately, I’ve been training more clients and teaching more classes than ever but I’m learning to breath through my work, to focus on the moment and to start applying my practice to my life.
To read more about the benefits of meditation, click here:
To read more about the benefits of breath control, click here:
For more on applying a positive mindset to fitness, click here:
There are so many diets out there that the general public is confused as to what they should and shouldn’t eat. What many don’t realize is that some diets are geared to certain types of people. For example, an endurance athlete may have completely different dietary needs as a sedentary person with diabetes. Someone training to gain large amounts of muscle may not have the same nutritional needs as someone who is trying to lose weight. To help clear up this confusion, I’ve listed some popular diets below and showed which diet works best for which type of person. These are not fad diets, but the most researched and recommended diets in the medical literature.
Preventing Hi Blood Pressure- Dash
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet consist of low salt intake, low saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat. The staples are fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products. Fish, lean poultry, nuts, unsaturated fats and whole grains are encouraged. Red meat, sweets and added sugars are discouraged. this eating plan was developed to reduce blood pressure but studies suggest that it may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and bad cholesterol.
Weight Reduction, Reversing Overweight/Obesity- Moderate Energy Restriction /Low Energy-Dense
Moderate energy restriction diets are designed to help people lose weight in the most healthy way possible. They are designed to help people lose weight without sacrificing their metabolism and have been scientifically shown to be more successful in long term weight loss in active individuals than starvation or very low calorie diets. This diet consists of creating an energy deficit through diet and/or exercise. For example, if you burn an extra 300 calories a day and eat 300 calories less each day, this is a deficit of 600 calories a day. Since you must burn 3500 calories to burn a pound of fat, it would take you about 6 days to lose one pound. Since research has shown that losing 1-2 pounds a week on a moderate energy restriction diet is the safest way to lose weight without sacrificing your metabolism, I recommend this method of weight loss. Remember that calories count. If you change what you eat, but you are still consuming the same amount of calories, you will not lose weight. Extremely low calorie or starvation diets are not recommended without the supervision of a doctor or registered dietician due to the risk of lowered metabolism, loss of muscle, bone, organ tissue; and the risk of death.
For more information on why not to ruin your metabolism while dieting, check out this link:
For more information on how to count calories, check out this link:
If the thought of counting calories is daunting for you, low energy-dense diets are recommended for people who want to lose weight without counting calories. Research shows that many have been successful at losing weight by making it a habit to eat foods that have less calories such as getting their carbs from whole grains instead of processed grains or from beans, whole fruits and vegetables. Make it a point to make your meat lean such as eating egg whites, poultry and low or non fat dairy products. Aim to eat foods higher in water and fiber and lower in fat as water and fiber help you feel full and contain no calories. Eating a diet with less fat has been proven to help people lose weight faster. Fruit juice and soda is not recommended for their high calorie content but vegetables, salads, broth based soups and unprocessed foods are encouraged.
For more information on switching to a more energy-dense diet, check out this link:
Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Overall Longevity- Mediterranean/Vegetarian/Vegan/DASH
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Studies have shown that people on this diet tend to live longer lives. This diet is named after the Mediterranean as people in the Greek island of Crete are known for their health and longevity. This diet consist of lots of Vegetables (other than potatoes), 4 or more servings a day of fruits and vegetables, some healthy servings of beans and/or nuts a few times a week, fish at least twice a week and replace red meat with lean poultry. Also, replace butter which is rich in saturated fat with cholesterol lowering vegetable oils such as olive oil.
Vegetarians and vegans tend to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease due to the fact that meat products contain mostly saturated fats. Cutting out meat products can help reduce the risk of high cholesterol or triglycerides in the blood which can lead to heart disease. Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin B 12 supplement as this vitamin is only found in animal products. Vegans need to be aware of how they combine foods to insure they get all essential amino acids which are easily found in meats but in varying amounts in vegetable proteins. Food combinations such as whole grain rice and beans can provide a full spectrum of amino acids. Vegetable sources of protein that contain all essential amino acids are soy, chia seeds and quinoa. Vegetarianism is also better for the environment but do remember that eating nothing but junk food such as pastries, deep fried foods and processed carbs is still unhealthy even though these foods do not contain animal products.
Alzheimers Prevention- The MIND Diet
New research on Alzheimers disease risk has shown that dietary patterns play a large role in preventing the disease. The new MIND diet was developed to educate people on what to eat to keep the mind healthy. This consists of a mix of the DASH diet for hypertension, which I mentioned above and the Mediterranean diet for longevity and healthy heart health, also mentioned above. However, instead of just recommending many fruits and vegetables, the MIND recommends specific fruits and vegetables which have been clinically proven to help keep the brain healthy such as leafy greens and and blueberries. Nuts are encouraged for their brain healthy fats, as is olive oil and fish. Saturated fats and trans fat are discouraged due to their inflammatory effects. As a matter of fact, all of the diets listed in this blog discourage saturated fats and trans fats. There is a common theme, I believe, that what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain.
Athletes-High carbs/High Protein/Nutritional Timing
Athletes metabolize glucose and protein differently from sedentary people. Since glycogen stores are depleted quickly in athletes, they should eat carbs often in order to maximize performance. Also, athletes tend to have as much as or more than twice as many needs for B vitamins and protein than a sedentary person. This is very general as there are many different kinds of athletes. Power athletes and body builders require the most amounts of protein. Endurance athletes require more protein but not as much as body builders. It is estimated that one must consume 1000 to 3500 calories to gain one pound of muscle so body builders need to consume extra calories as well. Also, performance is enhanced when athletes time their nutritional intake. For example, athletes who eat a large amount of carbs and protein as soon after a workout as possible are more likely to be less sore the next day. Athletes also need to re-fuel for their next training session or competition which is also why eating the most right after a workout and often during the day is so important.
Food Sensitivities and Allergens -Gluten Free/Dairy Free/Allergen Free
Its been well known that Celiac disease (a reaction of the gastrointestinal system when exposed to gluten and gliadin which is a component of wheat and other grains) is a good reason to avoid gluten. There has been some mounting evidence that shows that some people may also have sensitivities to digesting gluten. If you suspect a gluten sensitivity, check with your doctor and have him/her test you for celiac disease and other sensitivities. Remember that whole grains are a source of B vitamins and fiber and most grains such as wheat, barley and Rye contain gluten. One Swedish study showed that people who cut out gluten for 10 years had low levels of B-6 and folate. A U.S survey found that half of people on gluten free diets had inadequate fiber, iron and calcium intake. Some natural gluten free foods that contain whole grains include rice, corn, millet and buckwheat. It is recommended that you check with a doctor or registered dietician if you suspect gluten sensitivity. People who have no sensitivities to gluten need not cut it from their diet.
The same thing goes for dairy free diets. Some people suffer dairy sensitivities such as lactose intolerance which makes the digestion of dairy difficult. Others suffer from allergies that cause reactions such as hives, gastrointestinal distress or anaphylactic shock. These people should avoid dairy and can get their calcium requirements from calcium fortified grains or juice. When taking a calcium supplement, keep in mind that taking above 50% of the recommended daily allowance is too much for the body to digest all at once. Try to get a little bit of calcium throughout the day. Avoid soda because the high levels of phosphorus in the soda can interfere with proper calcium absorption and compliment calcium intake with foods rich in magnesium such as nuts, seeds and leafy greens.
If you suspect any kind of food allergy, have yourself tested by a doctor so you know exactly which foods to avoid. While cutting out certain foods may be necessary for someone with allergies or sensitivities, eating a diet rich in variety is encourage in order to satisfy our nutritional intake so I don’t advise people to cut out whole foods unless necessary.
Foods we should all cut down on are processed foods, foods with added sugar, deep fried foods, trans fat and saturated fat.
I once heard of a culture where a preventative medical practitioner is paid a wage by the patient in order to keep the patient healthy. When the patient gets sick, the practitioner doesn’t get paid. So the idea is not to save a patient once they are already ill, but to simply prevent illness. I thought this was an interesting take on health until I realized that this is what I do.
As a fitness/yoga instructor and personal trainer, I am paid to keep my clients and students healthy. When they are too ill to train with me, I am not paid, at least in most cases. While there are medicines and surgical procedures that can cure many illnesses, they don’t always work.
Yet the proper exercise and nutrition regimen has been clinically proven, time and time again to prevent and sometimes cure most of the deadliest illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and certain cancers. Being fit lowers the risk of many diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression, erectile dysfunction, fatigue and chronic pain. This fact is backed by countless of scientific studies. People who exercise have been cited in many studies to have a greater chance of being in a good mood, doing better on the job, and being more intelligent and alert.
It would take pages of citations for me to list all of these studies so here is a reference summarizing many of these studies from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. You can click this link:
Our society is fascinated by the idea of a magic pill, such as the one found in the movie and TV Show “Limitless” that makes us smarter or that cures all things. There is no panacea for all illnesses yet exercise and nutrition has been proven to work for most illnesses without any side effects.
Of course some exercises work better for some ailments than others. For example, I wouldn’t have someone who suffers from herniated discs in their lower back to take up parkour. Still, there are other types of movement that have proven to help ease the pain of people who do suffer from herniated discs. There seems to be a stereotype that fitness specialists are just here to torture you and make you puke. Yet, if you look at my class schedule you’ll see that on top of training, I also teach chair classes for people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease and water arthritis classes which is full of people who not only have arthritis but who also depend on wheelchairs and walkers.
The medical community has stated that exercise is important for general health, as important as brushing your teeth to avoid getting cavities. Yet, why do people not do it? In fact, why do people spend so much money on medication, surgery and the sheer cost of suffering from a disease due to inactivity when they should be devoting their efforts to getting on an exercise program? It is no secret that exercise is the best thing that most of us could possibly do for our health. In fact I’ve helped many clients get healthy enough to stop depending on drugs which has saved them thousands of dollars.
I’d like to end my blog with a question posed by Dr. Mike Evans in the video I cited below, “Can you limit your sitting and sleeping to just 23 and a half hours a day?” Just taking 30 minutes out of each day to move can not only save your life, but increase your standard of living significantly. He also states that of all preventative measures, movement is the one that will give you the biggest return on your investment. Make a commitment to your health with a disease preventing exercise regimen if you haven’t already.
for more motivation on how to make that change check out this post:
Also, click this link to view some motivational posts Motivational posts
I was able to move through my childhood unscathed. Maybe a scratch or bruise here and there, shin splints or a pulled groin muscle that healed eventually. There was that minor concussion after full contact sparring when I used to do kung fu. Actually, maybe I did get injured more than I thought I did but when we’re young, you bounce back and tend to forget. Then we get our first chronic injury, the one that keeps coming back to haunt us. That happened the first time I hurt my lower back. I didn’t even know why or how it happened. These days, I have a good idea but I had to experience chronic pain before I could understand some of the underlying causes that we often overlook. I was barely 21 or 22 when the chronic back pain started and I remember thinking that I had finally gotten old and that it might be down hill from then on. At the age of 22, I thought that I had reached old age. These days, I see teenagers who look like they had already reached the end of their lives, backs hunched over from texting and video games and I now know that injuries have nothing to do with age. It could happen anytime to anyone.
The first thing I learned about injuries and pain is that it doesn’t have to be caused by specific trauma like a car accident. The pain can just start unbeknownst to us. We have no idea where it came from or why its there. It could have been caused by mental or emotional stress, a lack of sleep or recovery, overuse; or it may have been there for months but we were too pent up on adrenaline, caffeine or pain killers to notice. Then one day, we can’t hide from it anymore and the pain makes itself known.
My back pain recurred many times in my life, before I made the choice to commit myself to fitness and keep my core healthy for good. It came back again after I worked in an office. Maybe it was sitting in a chair all day that did it. The lower back would get so swollen and I would need to see a therapist or chiropractor but I had no idea why it would become inflamed and lock up on me. It occurred again after giving birth to my son and that was the worst because it actually took me a few years to recover from that. The pain went away in a few months but my back would still bother me if I sat for too long or witness most forms of stressed. Training myself to be strong and athletic again, despite my weak link was an experimental journey that involved fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of being too weak, fear of resting it and not making it stronger, fear that making it stronger would be too much and finally the faith that came with believing that it will get better. I also hurt my knees and that took about a year or more to recover. This happened when I was teaching over 30 classes a week. My knees became worn down and I finally stopped teaching Zumba.
So I know what its like to be teetering on the edge of wanting to do something and wanting to not do something about our pain. We don’t know when we should be resting or when we should be building. Some people heal up after finally finding the right regimen, some never do and just accept their chronic pain. Some of us rest too much and allow ourselves to atrophy, others pound away at the injury, doing everything they can to strengthen their bodies when they should have just rested that area all along. We all heal at different levels and, unfortunately all the technology we have can’t always detect exactly what we should be doing. A lot of times it has more to do with how we stand, sit, sleep, think and eat.
Despite all the suffering I felt, I have to admit that being injured is one of the best things that has happened to me (knock on wood). I’m grateful because it taught me mindfulness. It made me realize that healing is not as easy as some people make it out to be. I also learned that healing modalities such as yoga, tai chi, pilates etc. may work or may worsen an injury and you have to figure out what is best for you. It also made me realize the true meaning of mind body. It isn’t taking a power yoga class because you want to look like a hot, new age chick in a bikini. The initiation of yoga and pilates into conventional gyms have changed the original mind body approach of these modalities. Yoga is meditation. It’s learning the body’s limits and strengths. We breath and move with awareness so we can learn what works and what doesn’t. Bringing conscious awareness into how we move helps us understand ourselves. It helps us to gauge if we are doing too much or too little, if our soreness is healthy or a sign that we are doing something incorrectly or abusively. This kind of awareness is priceless.
Injuries have taught me to be deeper, to make my work outs an internal art, to meditate, to incorporate mindfulness, mental illumination and emotional reflection into my healthy lifestyle. I have learned to consciously engage smaller muscles that I never knew were there before. My search for a pain free life has opened me up to many ways of thinking and moving and has empowered me to share with others. No one’s body is the same. We all have different sized limbs and muscles but the more we understand, the more empowered we become.
Pain has taught me that I’m not immortal and has driven in me the lesson that I am no better than anyone else. This, I believe, is a good thing because it is the ego that creates judgment, hostility, dictatorships and oppressiveness. Pain has taught me compassion and empathy and these traits are the heart of love.
If you find yourself having to deal with pain, please read my post on the steps you should take in case of an injury:
Do understand that there is no one panacea for pain. The best advice I can give in our quest for a cure is to be mindful. Pain is just a loud message your brain is sending you that something is not right. It may take you a while to understand the message but the search for an answer will help you in all aspects of your life. The pain may be a call to solve a problem you have been ignoring for far too long. Often, its a bad relationship, job or situation. Sometimes its just the way we have been treating body. Pay attention. It may be a call to learn more about your body and mind so you can live a fuller or deeper life. Humble yourself and listen.
Here I am with my son turning 40 years old, and feeling less pain now than I did when I was in my 20s.
Happy New Year everyone!
As I work with people, I realize how difficult it is for some to keep track of how many calories they consume so I have been trying to think of a simpler approach to weight loss. I came up with this method which is actually based on many studies on habit change and what we know about food.
I call this The Switch Trick:
I have always said that calories count and that if weight loss is your goal, you must burn more calories than you consume, but measuring calories can be a chore so here are some mind tricks to help you get around that. I actually use this approach myself and it has helped me lose weight in the past and maintain it every since.
Habit Change: The most comprehensive research on habit change teaches that you can’t just stop doing something that is a long standing habit. You must replace that habit with something else and believe in your ability to change. This can be done with food. For example, you have gained weight this year because you got into the habit of eating cookies around 2pm. Do the switch trick. Replace the jar of cookies with a basket of apples or any other snack that has less calories than the cookies such as low fat string cheese, carrots, celery, non-fat yogurt, non-fat turkey meat, etc. At first, you will crave the cookies but over time, your body will adapt to the new habit. As a result, you will lose weight because you are consuming less calories.
Sometimes we gain weight because we eat when stressed. We have candy bars on our office desk. Replace them with peaches or anything that is healthier and has less calories. Sometimes we get emotional and buy ice cream. Replace it with low fat frozen yogurt. Sometimes we go for a drive and grab a high calorie Frappuccino. Go for a walk instead and get some iced green tea. As hard as it is to lose weight, I’ve seen many people succeed by replacing many unhealthy habits such as drinking alcohol and binge eating with starting an exercise program. After some time, exercise becomes addicting but its a healthy addiction. Find something that suites your personality and that you think is fun and replace unhealthy habits with this new hobby.
Many studies have shown that foods high in fiber, protein and water help us feel fuller. These foods include fruits, vegetables, non-fat lean meats, non-fat greek yogurt (greek yogurt contains more protein than regular yogurt), and whole grains. Studies have shown that only 5% of adults consume the recommended allowance of fiber anyway and this nutrient is vital in helping us feel satiated, keeping down cholesterol levels, aiding in digestion and feeding probiotic bacteria necessary in fighting disease.
Also, replace fruit juice or soda with water or whole fruits. Whole fruits have a lower glycemic index (the sugars in them are burned more gradually because the fiber in the fruit helps to regulate them). The sugar in fruit juice can spike blood sugar levels. Plus, the fiber in whole fruits contains more nutrients and will help you feel fuller than simply drinking juice.
When eating out, order something different. Replace pan fried foods with grilled or roasted foods. Replace creamy sauces with low fat tomato sauces. Replace french fries with a salad, white rice with brown or a bread roll with a bowl of sweet fruit. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate
Now here is the hard part: Write down the new foods on your grocery list and make sure you buy them instead of the old ones.
For more information on nutrition, check out these nutrition blogs:
I’ll be doing a nutrition for weight lost seminar on February 4. For more information, click here:
Our cells consume extra oxygen (and burns extra calories) during a workout. This elevated oxygen consumption can continue after a workout because the cells are busy restoring and building tissue in order to prepare our body for the next workout. This phenomenon is known as excess post exersice oxygen consumption or EPOC. EPOC was first noted in the 1920′s but has been studied extensively since the 1980′s. Though the studies regarding how long EPOC lasts are conflicting due to different measurement methods, types of exercise, duration and mode; we do know that exercise intensity is the strongest factor affecting EPOC. The harder we train, the greater the afterburn
Study on Aerobic training in a metabolic chamber
Since testing in a metabolic chamber is the most accurate way of measuring metabolism, I’d like to site a study, Knab et al, (2011) published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. A metabolic chamber is a small room where subjects can live while scientists measure precisely how they eat, sleep and exercise while also tracking how oxygen is consumed in the vacuum. Since other methods of measuring metabolism are not as accurate and since the subjects can not lie about how they eat, move or sleep, this study has great appeal.
According to this study done on 25 year old men, a 45 minute workout on a cycle ergometer had an average energy cost of 519 kilocalories. EPOC was elevated for 14 hours afterwards–an increase of 190 kcal compared with the control group of those who rested.
Comparing high intensity resistance training to traditional resistance training
Another study on how traditional resistance training compared to high intensity resistance training, Paeli et al, (2012) published in Journal of Translational Medicine, tested men (aged 24-32). The first group used traditional resistance training methods which consisted of 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions to failure (70%-75% of their 1 rep max) with 1 minute rest between sets for single joint exercises and 2 minutes rest for multiple joint exercises. The training lasted 62 minutes including a 10 minute warm up on the treadmill.
The high intensity training group lifted to failure a weight comparable to the subject’s 6-RM (meaning subjects could do 6 reps but not 7 or more). After 20 seconds of rest they lifted the same weight to failure a third time (1-2 reps). They rested for 2.3 minutes then repeated the entire regimen a second and third time. The training session lasted approximately 32 minutes, including a 10 minute warm up on a treadmill.
Ater a 22 hour period, the subjects were tested. The traditional resistance training group had an energy expenditure that was 5% (99 kcal) greater than their resting values. The higher intensity group’s energy expenditure was 23% greater (452 kcal).
According to these studies EPOC is elevated after many types of workouts but mostly for high intensity resistance training, probably because that produces the most wear and tear on the body, thereby requiring more recovery.
Also keep in mind that while intense training increases the metabolism, starving oneself and over exercising can decrease the metabolism. The subjects in the these studies were also given extra food to make up for the extra calories they burned. For more information on how not eating enough while exercising too much can hurt the metabolism, read this article:
For more information on burning calories, read this article:
This month, I will be doing a workshop on nutrition that will cover nutrition and diet recommendations for athletic performance and fat loss. Learn which carbohydrates impact glucose levels, which proteins and fats we should be eating, and how to properly calculate your ideal caloric intake/output. All of the information to be shared are based on the latest studies and most up to date expert advice.
For more information on this workshop, click this link:
I am pleased to announce that I have passed my exams and am now a certified fitness nutritionist specialist! I hope you don’t mind if I start posting more blogs on nutrition as well as exercise and yoga. Proper diet and exercise go together and it is not possible to be truly fit and healthy without a combination of both.
That being said, there is a lot of information about food that is not based on sound scientific principles and they are mostly shared with the intent to sell a particular supplement or diet. Some dietary information is shared because it worked for one particular person but it may not necessarily be the right diet for other types of people. Since I have no other motive than to help people reach their goals in the most healthy way possible, I hope to give you the most unbiased information on nutrition I can.
I’m writing this post on reading labels because nutrition and food labels can be very misleading and if you aren’t an expert on the subject, you are likely to garner the wrong information from them. Also, studies have shown that many people do not reach their goals simply because they don’t know what they’re doing. They might think they are eating something that is good for them when it actually is not. Proper education on what is in the food you buy is integral to success.
For example, the following illustration shows a package of ground beef that is only 20% fat. This may not seem like a lot until you realize that the percentage is not based on calories but on weight. If you look at the part of the label that says “calories that come from fat” you see that 270 of the calories comes from fat while the entire serving has a total of 290 calories. This pound of beef is not lean at all!
I took this picture at the grocery store…..
Here are more facts to consider when reading food labels
Many labels have large print that says they are “heart healthy” or “trans fat free” or “high in calcium” or some other vitamin or nutrient. These labels can be very confusing or misleading, making us believe that an item is very healthy when it may not be. This was brought to to the attention of the food and nutrition board in 2011 when food such as sweetened cereal, macaroni and cheese and ice cream had a smart choice label on it which was supposed to mean that the food was healthy for the heart. More legislation is trying to be passed to make food packaging more honest but it is an on going process. The best way of knowing if what you are eating is healthy is to get educated on proper diet and learn to read the nutrition section of the label and the ingredients. Do not judge a food by the front of its label.
Another example of mislabeling is trans fat. A label might say “free of trans fat” when in fact, it does contain trans fat or hydrogenated oils. The reason the food might claim to be trans fat free is because, by law, they only have to reveal a certain amount of trans fat on the label. If its less than .5 grams, the company can get away with saying that it is trans fat free. It may not show up in the nutrition label but it will be on the ingredients list. Trans fat and hydrogenated fats or oils are the same thing. They are the least healthy form of processed fat and can contribute to coronary heart disease, damaged blood vessels and high cholesterol. Often a label will say trans fat free, when it does contain hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list so watch out for this trick.
Also look out for labels that claim to be “whole grain.” A package may say this on the front of the label but when you look at the nutrition label, you might find that the fiber content is actually quite low. Look at the ingredients list. The most ingredients are always listed first and the minor ingredients are listed last. If the first ingredient is “whole grain” then you are getting just that. However, if the first ingredient is enriched white flour or something else and the whole grain is farther along, listed after white flour and other sugars, then you probably aren’t getting as much whole grain as you think you are.
Amounts Per Serving:
When looking at a nutrition label, look at the “amounts per serving” first. You might choose a box of crackers have very few calories but then you find out that one serving is only 2 crackers when you usually eat 10 crackers for each serving. This changes things. When comparing labels, always keep in mind how much a serving is because one brand might have 10 ounces as a serving while another has 20 ounces.
Another thing to watch is when one unwanted ingredient replaces another. Say, you are on a low calorie diet and you see a package that is “fat free,” you might think that package has less calories. However, when I read labels, I often find that the fat free packages contain more sugar in them. Because of the added sugar, the calorie content does not change. In general, if the food is processed or cooked with many ingredients like a box of pastries, bread, soy milk etc., extra sugar may be added if the fat has been taken out. However, if you are buying whole foods such as meats or milk, the fat is skimmed off without sugar additives. Always read the nutrition label and ingredients list just to be sure.
Rich in Vitamin Claims:
Many times a product might claim to be rich in a certain vitamin. For example, a cereal box might claim to be rich in vitamin D but when you compare nutrition labels, you learn that all products of cereal have the same amount of vitamin D added to their product. Many advertisers will pick out a fact that is true for all products, but make it seem like they are the only product that carries it.
This illustration is taken from the Ace Fitness Nutrition Manual, 2013
One of my favorite English teacher’s in high school once shared that her grandmother was a voodoo witch doctor who apprenticed her in the art but she walked away from it. When we asked her why, my teacher said she couldn’t stand to watch people get sick and die because of a voodoo curse. “Do voodoo curses really work?” we asked and she said that they did through the power of suggestion.
There are many documented cases of people dying of curses from all over the world and a few more studies to back them, which I will site below. These studies have been used to explain the nacebo effect which happens when people are told about the harmful effects of a drug or disease, and this causes them to experience those effects. We know that if we believe that something will make us better, even if it is only water or a sugar pill, there is a much greater chance that it will. This is known as the placebo effect. The nacebo effect is the belief that something that is harmless will harm you and that placebo effect is the belief that something that has no healing properties will help you. Nacebo creates negative consequences and placebo positive ones. Basically, our beliefs are a huge indicator of how well we heal or how ill we become.
Another example of the nacebo effect was an incident at a ball game where someone got horribly ill and everyone believed it was the food. The whole audience started feeling nausea and even vomited, believing that the food had poisoned them. When the news spread that the cause of illness was not the food, everyone felt better.
Clifton Meador, a doctor at Vanerbilt School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, documented many cases of the nacebo effect including the one of Sam Shoeman who was diagnosed with end stage liver cancer in the 1970s and was given only months to live. When he died exactly at his allotted time, an autopsy showed that the tumor never spread. “He didn’t die from cancer, but from believing he was dying of cancer,” Meador stated. “If everyone treats you as if you are dying, you buy into it. Everything in your whole being becomes about dying.”
There was a study published in 2007 in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine by Irving Kirsch and Giuliana Mazzoni of the University of Hull in the UK. They asked a group of students to inhale some air that they were told contained a “suspected environmental toxin,” linked to headache, nausea, itchy skin and drowsiness. Half the students watched a woman inhale the air and supposedly develop the symptoms. The results showed that the students who inhaled the normal air and were told that it was a toxin were more likely to get symptoms. The ones who watched the woman get symptoms were even more likely to get symptoms themselves. This result has been compared to many mass psychogenic illnesses in which word of a virus gets out and people get sick without being exposed to it.
Many studies involving control groups where people are told about the side effects of a particular drug resulted in them getting side effects whether they took the drug or a control.
These studies and many more posed some ethical questions in the medical community. “On the one hand people have the right to be informed about what to expect, but this makes it more likely they will experience side effects,” stated Mazzoni.
Reading about the nacebo effect resonates with me because I see it often in my profession. After personal training and teaching fitness/yoga for over a decade, I’ve observed many patterns of belief. Some people have the strong and unwavering belief that the body is adaptable and that it can heal and get stronger. Others let the fear of exercise lead them to believe that it will hurt them which keeps them from sticking to an effective regimen. Fear of illness or injury can be a self fulfilling prophecy. I’ve also seen people overcome great obstacles and perform skills that were once deemed impossible due to their belief in themselves.
To read my article on beliefs and learn examples on how empowering beliefs can help us accomplish what others deem impossible, you can click here:
I’m tackling this issue again because, at this point in my career, I have been using what I have learned about programming and changing people’s habits to help me change my own beliefs and habits. I’m realizing, it is my job to prop up the people who don’t believe in themselves and so their new belief in success will lead to just that.
Often, people have thanked me for being the only one who believed that they can change. It helps me to look back at my own life and remember the teachers, friends and family members who put me down or destroyed my drive by telling me that what I wanted to accomplish was impossible. Then I think of all the people who believed in me and how they changed my life.
I asked myself, who do I want to be? Do I want to be the teacher who once told one of my students that her belly fat was a part of age and that she couldn’t get rid of it? Yet, after taking my class for a month, the belly fat came right off. Do I want to be like the trainer who told me that a woman can’t do pull ups especially one who only has two fingers? Yet, I just did 30 pull ups unassisted the other day. Do I want to be like the physical therapist who told a few of my clients that it would take them months and months to heal? Yet, after a few weeks of training with me, they regained their range of motion in a much shorter amount of time.
The truth is there are doctors who won’t perform surgery on people because they can sense that the person’s belief in death will make him less likely to survive. There are teachers who have given up on trying because they think that the children just don’t care. There are trainers who turn down clients just because they feel they don’t have the right mind set. Many of us are taught to do this. But one day, I asked myself, “If I only train people who already have the mindset for it, what good am I? What about the people who really need it?”
There have been times when I have had to be honest with someone and tell them that they can change even if they didn’t believe it. I could tell that what I said hurt them greatly. Then, weeks or months later, they came to me and thanked me for changing their mindset and being the catalyst for them to find the path to health.
What touches me most is seeing new comers come to my class, struggling with the learning curve that often comes with starting up a new fitness regimen. Instead of complaining that they are taking up more space in the class or assuming that they are part of the wave of people who only come for the new year and leave after a month, I have seen my students tell them that they have gone through the same learning curves. I’ve seen my students offer support and encouragement to newcomers overcome with fear and apprehension.
This gives me hope that no one is hopeless. A society’s culture is simply a shared system of beliefs. We are fighting a war against obesity and chronic diseases, fueled by a fast food, inactive and stressful culture. Many of us have won the battle and have created new habits of health and well being. It is up to us to create a new culture, one that embraces positive change, healing and support.
So I ask you, do you want to be a voodoo witch doctor and curse people with your doubt? Or do you want to be the healer that motivates them with hope? What can we do to help change the beliefs of a generation?
For a more studies on how our subconscious fuels our beliefs and habits and how we can change that with awareness, click here:
For a list of my blogs in the category of motivation, click here:
The Kinetic chain
The human body and mind is an amazing machine that can move in many directions and achieve amazing tasks. It can climb, run, walk, crawl, swing bats, perform complex martial arts and dance moves, lift heavy loads and perform acrobatic feats. In order to move in this way, our body is like a machine, linked with complex joints, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and fascia. It is moved by bones and muscles and a complex network of nerves. The many tissues have to support, counter, contract and extend in order to perform these tasks successfully and without injury or strain. We call this beautiful harmony of movement that includes all the tissues responsible for it, the kinetic chain. Like a chain in a machine that requires spokes, wheels, breaks, pulleys, belts, wires and energy; our body requires a cooperative link of many types of fibers.
RELEASE NECK AND SHOULDER TENSION
Today, I would like to address the hips because dysfunction in this area can create pain and tension in the lower back and knees. The many muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia and joint tissues in the hips also connect to bones in the spine and legs. When these muscles are out of balance, they can create tension in the knees, back and even the shoulders, neck and feet. Not to mention hip pain. In this blog, I will address some of the more common hip dysfunctions. Many people suffer from these issues without even knowing it.
At some point in history, someone invented the chair and this has been the cause of many muscle imbalances. It stopped people from squatting and using the floor. Our sedentary lifestyle based on mostly chair sitting has put us in a posture that compresses our spine and keeps our hip flexors in a constantly flexed position. Because the hip flexors attach the lower back to the upper thigh bone, a tight network of hip flexors (the illiopsoas group) can compress the lower back and limit movement responsible for walking properly. If it hurts to lie on your back with your legs straight, you mostly likely have tight hip flexors. Stretches where you have one foot behind you such as lunging or warrior I can help lengthen tight hip flexors.
The sciatica nerve is the HUGEST nerve in the body. It travels from the spine and through the back of the leg. When the deep muscles in the hips, particularly the piriformis muscle (a deep muscle under the gluteus group) is tight, this nerve can become compressed. The pain can run through the lower back and down the back of the leg. Massage or myofascial release with a massage ball or roller can plus, outer hip stretches such as pigeon pose or any variation of lotus can help release sciatica pain that stems from tight hips.
The Illiotibial tract or “IT band” is attached to a muscle that sounds like a favorite barista’s drink, Tensor Fasciae Latae. This attaches to tendon and fascae that runs down the side of the leg, from the hip to the knee which is responsible for stabilizing the hip. It gets tight from overuse and causes a pulling in the knee. This pulling can cause the knee to track incorrectly which can wear the cartilage in the knee the wrong way, causing arthritis. Relieving, massaging, resting and releasing the IT band helps release knee pain and imbalances. This imbalance is common in athletes who over exert themselves.
Internal rectus obliquiest
This thin muscle runs from the hip to the knee on the inner side. This muscle stabilizes the knee. If it is weak, it can cause the knees to track incorrectly creating degeneration and arthritis. Lack of strength in this area also stems from our sedentary lifestyle and too much chair sitting. It can be strengthened by performing deep squats or squeezing a ball between the thighs while extending the knee
The mind body connection
Adept yoga practitioners would say that our problems are not physical but spiritual and mental. The energy and impulses that run through our body can be blocked by karma. A real world example of this is to look at what happens when a dog is afraid. It tucks its tail between its legs. We do the same thing. When we sense fear or stress, we tense our hips.
Sigmund Freud coined the term “anal retention” when he described people who’s parent’s were too controlling. My yoga teacher has told me that the tighter a person’s butt, the more they try to control their life.
The hip area represents the first and second chakras. The first chakra represents where we hold our fear, stress and issues regarding survival. The second chakra deals with creativity, sex, shame and guilt. These are the darker areas of our life, the parts of us we hide away. When we finally release blockages in our hips, we are sometimes filled with great emotional waves. As I went deeper into my yoga practice, I started to experience this but it took me a while to finally let go of what I was holding in my hips. Often, we hold our own mental stress in our body and learning to relax the mind can also alleviate and heal pain in the body. This is why yoga and meditation has become so popular.
For more information about the chakras, click this link:
Hip Balancing Workshop
I will be holding a hip balancing workshop in Chatsworth CA, if you are interested, click here:
If you’ve ever dieted properly through the education of a dietitian, a support group such as weight watchers or through an online app that calculates your calories for you such as myfitnesspal.com, you may already understand that there is a certain amount of calories you need to eat everyday in order to maintain your weight. There is also a certain amount of calories you need in order to fuel basic functions other than exercising such as digestion, hormonal activities, brain and neurological activity, blood circulation etc. For the average person, about 70% of the calories we burn goes to just keeping us alive and healthy. The rest we burn by doing everyday activities or exercise. We refer to this base caloric number as the resting metabolic rate (RMR)
You can calculate your RMR by going to this link below and entering your height and weight:
This calculates the amount of calories you need in order to maintain weight. If you cut out 300 to 500 of these calories per day or burn this amount through exercise, you can burn one to two lbs. a week. However, if you eat less than about 1200 calories a day for the average person, you may be taking away calories needed to keep you healthy. Of course, everyone is different and your doctor or dietitian should be able to determine what is best for you.
It’s important to note that the math used to calculate the average RMR for your height and weight is for most healthy people. It is not all together accurate. There are many people who’s RMRs are lower than this which means they have to eat even less and burn more calories in order to lose and maintain weight. These people will say they have “low metabolisms” and will say things like, “why is it some people can eat a sandwich and stay slim but if I so much as eat a slice of bread, I will gain weight?” This phenomenon usually happens to people who have dieted too often or incorrectly. They have restricted their caloric intake so much that their body slows down its use of energy. In order for them to maintain body weight, they have to eat even less than the average person.
A famous study done in 1994 by Donelly and colleagues illustrates this. Sedentary women were given only 520 kcal/day for a 12 week period. They were divided into a control group and different exercise groups. While they all lost weight, all of their RMR went down. The ones who exercised the most had the greatest decrease of RMR (down to 240 kcal/day, which represented a 13.5% decrease) This means that this group of women will now have to eat 240 less calories a day or burn 240 calories more with exercise just to maintain their weight than they did before this extreme diet.
This is the yo-yo dieter’s problem and why some people lose a lot of weight only to gain back more in the long run. This is also why most educated professionals will recommend reducing only 300-500 calories a day and no more than that. This is why we say that one to two pounds a week of weight loss is reasonable and why ethically minded professionals will not ask you to lose more weight or reduce more calories than this. But there is more.
After being starved for so long, the body will hold on to fat as a means of storage so when the starved subject does lose weight, much of it will be in the form of bone and muscle. This can lead to osteoporosis which is common in anorexic women. This also leads to more sports injuries and poor sports and exercise performance. So even though a person might lift weights, lack of enough protein and other nutrients fails to build the kind of muscle that raises our metabolism.
Furthermore, stress caused by over exercise and starvation can lead to amenorrhea or menstrual disorders which is a big problem in teenage athletic females. Without the proper hormonal balance needed from getting adequate nutritional intake, muscle and bone health weakens even more because the hormones are very important in regulating the functions that keep our bones and muscles strong.
Again, there are exceptions. If a person is severely obese, they may be able to lose more weight faster. But there comes a time when a person may keep losing fat, long after they have reached the state of having a healthy BMI. I have been in this situation. When I lost weight as a teen, I continued to do so and suffered from lowered metabolism and amenorrhea. This was partly due to incorrect education and body image. I made up for this later on in life, by getting educated and raising my metabolism by eating more healthy foods at the right times.
You can read more about my personal experiences with this in my blog:
As I study for my sports nutrition certification, I’m a saddened by the statistics of young female athletes who sabotage themselves with self starvation and it makes me wonder what we value as a society when our youth values deprivation over health. Realizing that I was once one of those unreported, malnourished kids makes me realize that these statistics are under reported and that there are more self starved people than that. I just want to say that if you are not menstruating properly, if you are not eating enough and wondering why you aren’t losing weight, if you are getting dizzy and nauseous during your workouts due to lack of nutrition, please get professional help. Beauty is more than just being skinny. Beauty comes from confidence, health and values that go beyond what we think we should look like. For this upcoming New Year, my wish is for people to aim for being stronger, more capable individuals who aren’t malnourished due to lack of education and poor body image.