You’ve Got it All Wrong: Why You Need to Eat to Lose Weight

Most people think you have to stop eating to lose weight, but that’s not the answer at all. In fact, if you try to avoid eating in hopes of losing weight and getting in shape, you’re sadly mistaken.

By not eating the necessary amount of calories each day, you’re not only going to lose most of whatever muscle you do have, but you’re also putting yourself at risk of nutrient deficiencies as well as other serious health problems.

Your Calorie Maintenance Level

Your calorie maintenance level tells you the number of calories you need to eat each day in order to maintain your current weight. You need to eat this many calories in order to keep your body functioning properly and neither gain or lose weight. Even skipping just 100 calories can significantly affect your weight and general health, especially over time, which is why it’s so helpful for most people to monitor weight and track calories and macros. This way you know exactly how many calories you’re burning each day and how many you’re taking in, and ensuring your body is getting the nutrients it needs to strive.

What Happens When You Don’t Eat Enough

Here’s what happens – when you don’t eat enough, your body enters a state of “starvation mode”, which can actually prevent you from losing weight. It won’t end up causing you to gain weight, so long as you’re creating a caloric deficit, you will lose weight.

The issue here is that this starvation response will cause serious problems. That includes slowing down your metabolic rate, which is the last thing you want to do if your goal in the first place is losing weight. It can also result in binge eating, because it causes intense hunger cravings, which means you’ll probably end up taking in more calories overall than you should be, so you end up gaining weight and completely missing your goal on this one.

The Right Way

If your goal is to lose weight, and there are many people out there right now who have that as their goal, don’t clutter your mind with all the different diets, trends and tips out there. There’s just one piece of information you need to know – to create a caloric deficit.

The only way you can lose weight is with a caloric deficit, so you’re taking in fewer calories than you’re burning each day. Just remember not to be drastic and stop eating altogether. You should only eat 500 fewer calories than your calorie maintenance level at the most in order to safely drop those pounds over time. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Even without any exercise at all, you would lose weight so long as you have that caloric deficit. Of course, with regular cardio and strength training exercise fit in, you are not just going to lose weight, but also get in the best shape of your life and eventually build muscle if that’s your goal. (Once you reach your desired weight, you can simply start eating those extra 500 calories a day so you’re fulfilling your daily calorie maintenance needs, and you can more effectively build muscle once you’re out of that deficit.

So in closing, remember that it is absolutely essential that you eat enough. If you don’t, you are wreaking havoc on your body and in particular, destroying your metabolism. You will not achieve your goal of weight loss simply by starving yourself of calories. Your body needs a certain number of calories to stay healthy, so make sure you meet those needs. The only way to safely lose weight is by knowing your calorie maintenance level, and then simply eating 500 or fewer calories than that number.

Even if you have struggled with your weight all your life, or have a lot of weight to lose and you’re worried it will never happen, it’s important to realize that anyone can lose weight and get in shape. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you weigh, what you do for a living; as long as you know what you’re taking in and putting out in terms of energy (calories) each day, you can drop that weight and get in the best shape of your life.

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The Importance of a Proper Fitness Plan

One of the worst things you can do if you’re trying to get fit is go into it blind. Yes, giving up the junk food and couch marathons to start eating nutritious foods and being active is a great idea no matter what, and you will feel and look better almost instantly, but for the best results there’s much more to it than that.

Putting some time into planning is really important, but it’s important because it allows you to do a few things in particular which are going to be detrimental to your success.

Get Educated

Before you can do anything, you should get more educated on the topic you’re dealing with. It’s good to listen to experts you trust, believing in what they say and choosing to let them guide you through the process, but no matter what it is you’re dealing with, it’s always immensely helpful to become more educated yourself, so it’s easier to understand. In this case, the most important issues to familiarize yourself with are food and exercise.

Don’t try to take on everything alone. As a beginner, it’s best to seek the advice of professionals so you can learn the ropes and get started right, so you’re giving yourself the best chances for success. In particular, find a proven beginner’s routine and stick to it, instead of trying to create an over-the-top routine for yourself. You need to learn perfect form for the different exercises before taking on a too advanced plan. Even if you have all the motivation and eagerness in the world, you’re not going to do yourself any favours by trying to take on too much too soon.

Set Your Goals

By taking time to plan, you can set your goals and have a much better chance of actually reaching them. It’s never easy to make progress when everything is cluttered and confusing. So make it simple. Write down what you want, and then work on it. Every single day. Make your goals clear, what it is you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there, and then stick to it. It’s really as easy as that.

Create a Schedule

We all lead busy lives, some busier than others, but no matter who you are you can always find time to do something if you’re willing. By creating a schedule, you not only ensure you can fit in your workouts according to your own timetable, when it’s most convenient for you, but it also makes it easier for you to stick to your plan and not forget about workouts or procrastinate, figuring you’ll just start your workouts next Monday or next month instead. You have your guide, you know when you’re supposed to workout, and it’s pretty simple – either you do or you don’t. Just as with anything else, from your son’s soccer games to your hubby’s band practices, you can organize things around your workouts so you can stay fit and feeling great.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to devote this much time and effort into something, I’m going to make damn sure I do it right. Why guess at everything and just hope for the best when you know you can get guaranteed results? It just doesn’t make any sense. Especially when it’s not even all that much time and effort you need to devote anyway.

Stay on Track

On top of all this, a proper fitness plan will also give you something to stick to, so you can stay focused and stay on track. It’s hard to monitor your fitness progress or know how much you’re eating unless you have it all planned out and you’re actually keeping track of it all. That’s why an app like My Fitness Pal (my personal fave, but there are many other similar apps and programs out there to choose from) is so great, because it allows you to write down all of your food intake and exercise through the day, so you’re accountable for everything you’re doing each day and can’t deny when you skip a workout or pig out and double your needed calories for the day.

 
You don’t need to spend weeks putting planning time in. All it takes is a few minutes a day, or get it all done in one day (I usually use Sunday afternoons to do this, instead of sitting around watching Batman cartoons and chillaxing, I sit around watching Batman cartoons and chillaxing while writing out my meal plans and workouts for the week) if you want so you don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week. When you keep track and know exactly how much calories you’re burning each day and how many you’re taking in, you are GUARANTEED to lose weight, stay at your current weight, or gain weight, depending on your fitness goals and daily calorie consumption.

Of course, if you do stay on track with calories, you’re eating right and getting your exercise in, and you’re still not seeing the results you want, the only answer is that either you’re not tracking properly and there is something you’re not factoring in (maybe you’re forgetting to add in certain foods through the day like the olive oil you’re using to fry your veggies, or the 5 tablespoons of Frank’s hot sauce you add to your everything) or you’re overestimating your calories burned during exercise, or there may be a health condition at play. Certain health issues such as hypothyroidism can affect weight and stall fitness progress. Although this usually isn’t the case, if you think there may be a condition like this at play, it’s always important to talk with your doctor.

Remember, the most important thing is that you’ve finally decided to get started. You’ve taken that first step, and you should feel great about yourself, even if you’re nowhere near the finish line. The first step is always the hardest and you’ve already accomplished that. Now you just need persistence to reach your goals, and consistence to stay there.

Calories: What They Are and Everything You Need to Know About Them

numbersThe amount of calories you eat in a day, along with the amount of calories you burn, directly relates to the shape you’re in.

The word “calories” is one you need to know more about if you want to get in and stay in shape. A calorie is a unit of energy. Calories are consumed by eating, and are used or burned through physical activity. The more you eat, the more calories you take in. The more active you are, the more calories you use up. Pretty simple, right? Well, there are some other important things about calories you need to know.

Why Do I Need Calories?

Many people mistakenly give calories a bad rap as being “bad for you”, because calories are what make you put on weight – but that’s only when you’re taking in excess calories. In fact, your body needs calories in order to survive. Calories give your body energy and without them, you wouldn’t be able to live. So, learn to appreciate calories.

So How Many Calories Am I Supposed to Eat?

Once you understand that the number of calories (along with those burned) account significantly for your weight, your first question is probably “Well, how many calories am I supposed to eat then?” The answer to this is not a simple one, because it can be different for everyone. Each person is different, your fitness goal may be different from someone else’s, and you may be more or less physically active than someone else. These factors mean the number of calories you should be taking in through the day is greatly varied from your brother’s or friend’s. When you don’t track your calories is when you will end up losing or gaining weight, so you can either skip it and keep getting frustrated, or you can track your calories and meet your fitness goals.

The first step to determining your number is figuring out your BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate. In the simplest terms, this is the rate of energy expenditure of your body at rest. In other words, it’s how fast your body burns fat when you’re not working out. Many factors affect this calculation, including your sex, age, height, and weight.

Once you know your BMR, you can determine your calorie maintenance level (how many calories a day you need to consume in order to stay at your current weight) by multiplying your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, which is dependent on how active you are through the week:

    Sedentary (little to no exercise through week) – 1.2

    Lightly Active (1-3 days of exercise through week) – 1.375

    Moderately Active (3-5 days of exercise through week) – 1.55

    Very Active (6-7 days of exercise through week) – 1.725

    Extra Active (2x training 6-7 days of exercise through week) – 1.9

You can also use a TDEE calculator to help you easily determine your calorie maintenance level.

If you want to lose weight (you should aim to lose about 1 pound a week in order to lose weight safely) you need to consume 3500 fewer calories than you burn through the week. So if your daily calorie limit is 2000 calories (just for example), you need to consume no more than 1500 calories each day in order to lose 1 pound per week (500 fewer calories per day x 7 days in the week = 3500). Of course this is only a calculation, but it’s the ONLY surefire way of losing weight.

On the other hand, if you want to gain weight, you need a caloric surplus instead, so you’re taking in more calories than you’re burning each day. The aim of a caloric surplus is to maximize muscle gains and minimize fat gains. You want to take in enough extra calories to build muscle effectively, but not take in so many calories that you’re putting on extra fat as well. Although again, the exact calculation can vary based on your own personal factors, the ideal caloric surplus for men is around 250 calories per day, and for women only 125 per day. With a daily calorie limit of 2000 calories (remember, just for example) you would need to consume 2250 calories per day if you’re a man, and 2125 calories per day if you’re a woman. And if you’re happy with the weight you’re at, you simply consume your daily calorie limit without going under or over. The easiest math you’ve ever done, right?

Just remember that no matter which calculator you use, the only truly accurate way of determining your calorie maintenance level is by figuring it out for yourself. Use this information and a TDEE calculator to give yourself the best guess of what your number is, and then track your weight for the next couple of weeks, following with your fitness goals in mind. So if according to the calculators and your personal information you think your calorie maintenance level (how many calories you need in a day to maintain your current weight) is 2200 (just as an example) and you know you are eating 2200 calories a day, but you monitor your weight and see that you are losing weight each week, you know that your calorie maintenance level is actually higher than 2200. So all you need to do is add 100 calories each day, so you’re now taking in 2300 calories a day, and keep at it for a couple of weeks. If you’re still losing weight, you know to add another 100, and if you’re staying at the same weight, you know you’ve found your true calorie maintenance level. This works the other way around too, if you’re gaining weight, just knock 100 calories off your daily total, and continue until you’re staying at the same weight.

Keep in mind that as you lose or gain weight, your calorie maintenance level may change as well. It may sound a bit tricky, but this is probably the most valuable information you need to know, regardless of whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your current weight.

The Importance of Counting Calories

It’s important to realize just how easy calories add up. When I first started eating healthy, I figured as long as I was eating healthy foods, I could pretty much eat whatever I want. WRONG. Even just two of my favourite whole wheat protein pancakes (even though there are only fabulous, nutritious ingredients in them) have a whopping 440 calories, which is way more than I expected. That’s when I started counting calories and realized how important it was. Calories add up so fast, even when you’re sticking with healthy, wholesome foods like you should be, and especially if you’re trying to lose weight, you’re not going to have much luck if you’re taking in too many calories through the day.

If you don’t want to keep track yourself, I recommend My Fitness Pal. It only takes a couple of seconds to sign up – they just need your basic information including your email, height, weight, etc. – and you’re ready to go. It makes it so simple to keep track of the calories you’re burning each day, as well as your calorie intake, so you can make progress and get the results you want. With one of the largest food databases in the world, it’s easy to find pretty much any food and find out the amount of calories per serving. Instead of trying to do the measurements yourself, My Fitness Pal helps take the work out of counting calories for you, so you always get the most accurate measurements and can spend that extra time you have on planning your meals and keeping up with your workouts. I also like it because it keeps everything really organized for you, and it’s proof of everything you’re doing through the day. Be honest, use it properly, and it will help you get the results you want.Plus, if there are things you eat every day, like me and my trusty protein powder, it’s easy to copy it from one day to the next, saving you even more time and hassle.

Keep track of everything you eat and drink. (Water has no calories, but you can still keep track of it if you want to ensure you’re staying hydrated by drinking enough water each day). That includes any dips, toppings, and sides you eat through the day. Even the smallest, most seemingly harmless foods can pack a real punch in terms of calorie in take, so do it right and track everything if you want results. Don’t cheat, because you’ll only be cheating yourself. It’s amazing how quickly calories add up, and if you want to stay on track and make progress, you need to be aware of how much you’re eating through the day (and not just recording what you feel like recording – just so you know, even if you don’t write it down, if you ate it, you ate it, which means adding on to calorie intake for the day, so no matter how hard you may not want it to be, that’s a fact.

Not only is tracking your macros the best way of ensuring you make the fitness progress you want, but it also helps make you more educated and informed. You learn more about the different types of foods, the macros in them, what they give your body, and how to plan out your days so you’re getting enough of everything you need. You really start to appreciate food more than ever, and understand how amazing and incredible the human body really is. You will likely be amazed at just how much food you can eat when you take time to plan and track everything. It’s not a pain, it’s actually a blessing. Don’t ever think even when you’re on a caloric deficit that you’re going to be stuck eating crumbs through the day because it won’t be like that at all. Also remember the more active you are, the more exercise you get in each day, the higher your calorie maintenance level ends up being, and therefore the more calories you need each day (or in other words, the more you get to eat).

The idea of “counting calories” is one that is certainly nothing new. You don’t have to do this, everyone has their own methods and ideas, but in my opinion it’s one of the most important things to do if you want to get in shape.

The Paleo Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Weight Watchers Diet – there are so many different “diets” out there you could try. The thing is – if you’re taking in too many calories through the day, you WON’T lose weight. It’s as simple as that. Once you realize that, it’s easy to see how pointless following any of these diets really is. Save yourself the money, time and hassle, (not to mention the disappointment you feel when it doesn’t work) and do it the simple way. The right way. Keep track of the calories you’re consuming and using through the day, and adjust your daily calorie intake as needed.

TIPTIME: Snacks are Your Friend, Not Your Enemy

When most people think of snacking, they think it’s something you should avoid at all costs if you want to get fit and healthy. The reality is, snacking is your friend, not your enemy. The key here is what exactly it is you’re snacking on.

Obviously if you’re using fried or sugary foods like donuts or chocolate bars to keep yourself satiated through the day, you’re doing it wrong.

It’s important to snack through the day, to keep your energy levels high and also prevent yourself from gorging on oversized meals later on, out of hunger. Portion control is so important for proper health and for getting in shape, so you don’t ever want to have that “I’m starving” feeling, because then you’ll just end up gorging at your next meal, which leads to an excess of calories, not to mention bloating and over time, makes your body accustomed to eating more than necessary which is going to cause nothing but trouble. Snacking between meals means you will eat less at meal time, helps ensure you get optimum daily nutrition each day, and it also helps keep your metabolism burning at a consistent level. This is really important, because messing up your metabolic rate is definitely not a good thing, especially when you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape.

Just choose healthy snacks. That’s all there is to it. It’s really that simple. A handful of raw almonds, a couple of rice cakes (I like mine with a bit of Frank’s hot sauce drizzled on top; I really do put it on everything), or even a small scoop of some natural peanut butter. Here are just a few other ideas for healthy, well-proportioned snacks you can nosh on through the day:

    1 cup cottage cheese with 1/2 cup blueberries
    1/2 Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup berries
    1 peach
    2 cups plain popcorn
    1 cup chocolate milk with 5 strawberries
    2 stalks celery, chopped, with peanut butter and raisins
    1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
    10 tofu sticks
    20 sweet potato fries
    1 protein bar (some can be just as high in sugar and fat as a regular candy bar, so ALWAYS read over the label and find a quality, high-protein bar that is good for you)

Especially when it comes to snacks, meal planning is a great idea. This helps you plan ahead so you don’t waste valuable time searching through your cupboards for something to eat every day, and also helps you stay on track with your nutrition and fitness goals. It’s also great if you’re someone who counts their macros, because you can plan everything ahead of time and not always feel so stressed out with so much on your plate. You have 15 or 20 minutes to spare on a Sunday afternoon? Or maybe you got off work early one Tuesday? Take a bit of time to do some meal planning and trust me, you’ll be so glad you did.

Once you realize how important snacking is, you can take that next step and start ensuring you are giving your body the fuel it needs, not just 3 times a day for the typical breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, but in between those meals as well.

Nutritional Yeast? Wow, Sounds Delicious…NOT

Nutritional yeast is actually much better than the name implies. The name is certainly a bit of a turnoff, or confusing if nothing else. That’s actually the reason a nickname was coined for this ingredient – nooch. Which, ironically, others find even more distasteful. Call it whatever you want. Bob or Fred even. Who cares, honestly. Whatever you decide to refer to it as, this stuff has a lot to offer, and it’s definitely worth learning more about, especially as a vegetarian or vegan who may be lacking in minerals and vitamins in their diet. This stuff is packed full of nutrition, including B-vitamins, folic acid, and protein, making it an ideal addition to any plant-eater’s cupboard. It contains no MSG or other additives, and it’s also low in fact AND gluten-free. It just keeps getting better, right? The kind I prefer is Bob’s Red Mill Large Flake Nutritional Food Yeast which you should be able to find in the health food section of your local supermarket, as well as in most natural food and health food stores. bobs I wasn’t too interested when I first heard about all this nutritional yeast jazz, but once I took the time to learn more about it, I quickly realized how beneficial it was for me to start adding this into my diet. It’s so easy to use and so incredibly versatile. You can literally sprinkle a bit of it on just about anything you eat, from popcorn to mashed potatoes, or stir some into your oatmeal in the morning.

It’s Not Planking or Twerking: Why Eating Healthy is Not the New, Hipster Thing to Do

vegsThe word hipster gets thrown around a lot lately. I don’t think anyone’s really sure exactly what it means, something about wearing plaid and carrying an axe was the latest I heard.

 Whatever, let’s get back to the point of the matter here. The idea of “eating healthy”, or “eating clean”, however you want to put it, is not a new trend or fad. It seems when most people hear someone talking about the importance of having a complete, balanced diet and eating fresh, whole foods, they think “Oh there’s another one of those vegan people on a health kick”.

OK, no no. It’s not a “health kick”, it’s life. That body you’re walking around in? Yeah…it wasn’t designed to consume soda pop and bags of Doritos. I’m sorry if you thought that way, but no. We’re fortunate enough to have access to the incredible, flavourful, nourishing food that our bodies were actually designed to eat, like fruits and vegetables, things that grow from the GROUND, not made in a manufacturing plant down the street.

Eating healthy means eating properly. Let’s please not put it anywhere near the same category as fads like twerking or doing the duck face to pose for pictures. I’m a firm believer in everyone doing their own thing, rocking their independence and expressing their individuality. Being different rocks! One thing we should all have in common however, is respect for our bodies. Unfortunately, even with plastic surgery available for everything down to your pinky toe, there is no way to completely transplant your spirit into a new body, so you may kinda wanna take care of the one you have.

What is really unfortunate is that our lifespan doesn’t usually go past 100 years or so, because if we all lived thousands of years, we’d be able to see what life was like not too long ago, and how drastically what we know as “food” has changed over time. Once upon a time, sugar was reserved for the few who could afford it, it was thought of as a type of luxury, and was only used in moderate amounts. As the fabulous Mother Nature Network puts it so bluntly and truthfully: “These days, we have it in such abundance that it’s as if food manufacturers are sneaking it into anything they can just to get rid of it”. This, along with the lack of exercise most people get on a regular basis and it’s not too much of a surprise why obesity rates are skyrocketing, along with an array of associated diseases and other health problems. These days, most people can’t even imagine walking anywhere to get what they need instead of driving or taking the bus. These truly are luxuries and we need to remind ourselves of this, and not let our body waste away just because we’re taking advantage of such luxuries.

There is even a ton of sugar and additives in foods you may not expect. Those small packaged yogurts your doctor advised you to eat regularly? Most of them are loaded with sugar, and even different flavors of yogurt from the same brand can have a huge gap in terms of nutritional value. Muffins, which many people turn to for a quick breakfast, typically have more calories than three breakfasts-worth; some with even up to a whopping 800 calories. Those “low-fat” items you think you’re doing yourself a favour by opting for on your grocery run? In most cases, these foods are labelled this way purely for marketing purposes and if you take a second to turn them around and read the list of ingredients, you’ll see they’re actually more fattening and bad for you than the original product.

High fructose corn syrup and MSG. Sodium nitrate, which is used to preserve the shelf life of meats such as hot dogs and bacon, mixes with the stomach acids in your body and forms potent cancer-causing cells associated with oral, brain and bladder cancer. Potassium bromate, an additive used in most supermarket breads to increase their volume (it’s also been banned in every industrialized country other than the United States and Japan). Mmmm, don’t these lab-generated chemicals manufacturers are trying to hide in your food sound yummy? Oh yeah, it’s definitely confusing whether eating healthy is the smart thing to do or not.

Man, it’s frightening, isn’t it? If you’re just starting to realize how poor your diet actually is, maybe even when you thought you were doing really well with eating healthy, it’s OK. It can be so difficult these days to determine what is healthy and what is not. As always, like I say once every 5 minutes or so (my friends and family can vouch for this) fresh and real is what you want when it comes to food. Head into your local supermarket and instead of spending most of your time in the aisles, go around the perimeter of inside of the store. This is where you’ll find all the fresh, whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains; these are the types of food your body needs, not sugar-filled cereals and yogurts, cookies and energy drinks filled with additives and caffeine, or “convenience” foods like packaged instant oatmeal that often have loads of added sugar and artificial coloring (is it really that hard to pour out some oats out of a large bag instead of an individualized packet and cook for 5 minutes instead of 1?)

This is not a mystery. Obesity, diabetes and high blood sugar are not magical health problems that just appeared out of nowhere. We are filling our bodies with junk, lacking in physical activity, sitting on our butts staring at the TV instead of walking outside and getting fresh air – there’s no confusion here. Being healthy is not something that’s difficult to do, it just raises a lot of confusion and frustration with people who are used to what our generation considers “the norm”. Some people don’t want to stray away from what they’re used to. Some people just want to be right and don’t want to realize that what we’re doing is actually not right, and that we have really gone so far down the wrong track in terms of our health that it’s not even funny.

The good news is that people are amazing. We really are. More and more people lately are starting to make the switch, going back to how things are supposed to be. They’re realizing how different you feel when you start treating your body properly, and they don’t want to ever lose that natural high again. We’re starting to change things, we really are, and it makes me hopeful for our children, that we are starting to make things right again and in turn, the issue won’t be this hard for them when they get older. Hopefully it won’t even be an issue at all. Let’s hope they just look back at our generation and wonder “Ew, what were they thinking?”

The whole idea of “eating healthy” is not some new trend or the latest fad. It’s us getting back to basics. We as humans somehow steered off down the wrong road and now the world is full of fast food chains and preservative-filled grocery aisles. Let’s go back to simpler, healthier times when we ate what our bodies actually wanted us to eat. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes; if you’re chowing down on sugar-packed garbage, if it could, your body would definitely give you a good talking to. With some not so nice words.

Decoding Your Diet: Are You on a Sugar High and You Don’t Even Know it?

sugarhighThe amount of sugar the average person consumes on a daily basis is a serious problem. The even bigger problem is that the majority of these people aren’t even aware of what they’re doing. Unless you’re serious about your diet and what you’re putting in your body, these days, you can pretty much guarantee anything you eat is 95% sugar.

 
OK, that may be a bit dramatic, but let’s take a look at things honestly here.

 
What is Sugar?

Right off the bat, it’s important to know that not all sugar is bad for you. As with most things, natural is the way to go, and fortunately, this makes it really easy to know which foods you should be including in your diet and which you shouldn’t even really consider as food at all. Anything fresh and real – fruit, vegetable, anything without a label on it pretty much – is safe. Anything packaged, bagged, frozen, (you get the idea), you need to be careful with. In these types of food, there is often added sugar as one of the main ingredients, which is not at all natural and which is certainly not good for your body. Let’s talk more about the two different types of sugar: naturally occurring sugar, and added or refined sugar.

Naturally occurring sugar is, as the name implies, naturally found in certain foods. Bananas, peaches, prunes, honey; naturally occurring sugar – in moderation, as with anything else, of course – is part of a healthy, balanced diet. This type of sugar is better for your body, and the food its found in also offers other health benefits (whereas foods with refined sugar added typically do not) – benefits such as fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients.

Added sugar is very different. This type of sugar is not natural, and does not offer any sort of value to your diet. Added or refined sugar is full of empty calories, meaning you’re consuming it and it adds on to the amount of calories you’re taking in through the day, offers no nutritional value to your body, and can also result in a number of health problems. It’s bad for your teeth, it can cause damage to your liver, and can even contribute to the development of diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Need another reason to stop downing those donuts and energy drinks each day?

What Products Contain Added Sugar?

There is a ton of added sugar found in foods you may not expect. It’s not just the obvious cookies, cakes and pastries. Soft drinks, cereal, sauces like ketchup and barbecue sauce, flavoured yogurt, vitamin drinks; take a look at the label on these sorts of things before eating them, because you may be surprised at how much sugar you’re taking in.

Even just comparing yogurt from two different brands and you may be amazed at what you find. There can be a huge gap between the amount of sugar, even in identical products, simply from different brands. The same can even be said about the same product, from the same brand, just different flavours. Exhausting, right? Well, this is another perfect time to stress why eating fresh, real food is so much easier. Not more difficult. Easier. Snack on an apple or piece of avocado to get a sweet taste with natural sugar and avoid doing serious damage to your health or racking up a ton of unnecessary calories.

 
When you’re more aware of the different types of sugar out there and how each can affect you, you will notice yourself starting to pay more attention to things. Even if you’re not a calorie counter and you’re on top of your weight, it always pays to do a once-over of any labelled food before buying it. It’s always worth a glance just to know exactly what you’re putting in your body.

Carbs: Why You Shouldn’t Drop Them From Your Diet

carbsMany people associate “carbs” with fat and weight gain. Did you know that carbohydrates are just as essential for the body’s recovery process – particularly in regards to muscle building – as protein? It’s true. In fact, carbs are your body’s primary energy source, and of your body’s total daily nutritional requirements, a whopping 45-65% should come from carbohydrates, and only 10-35% from protein. Think of that when you’re pounding your post-workout protein shake, but not getting enough carbs in. Your body and brain need carbohydrates in order to function properly, and without them, you won’t have the energy to make it through your workout, let alone your day. After your strength training workouts in particular, you need carbs to replace those depleted glycogen stores in the muscle cells of your body, as well as protein to restore amino acids. If you’re not sure about carbs, or you’re one of the many people who think all carbs are the enemy, there are a few important things you should know. Let’s start by separating carbs into two different – and very important – categories: good carbs and bad carbs, shall we?

 
Good Carbs

Good carbs are important to include in your diet, and these good carbohydrates will actually help boost your health. Whole-grain products are especially nutritious. That includes everything from brown rice and whole wheat pasta to whole rye, barley, and buckwheat. These types of carbs are extremely beneficial to your health, by providing your body with fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Fruits and vegetables also have carbs, but definitely fall into the “good carbs” category. These are foods your body craves for fuel, what it needs to strive.

These are the carbs you want to include in your diet. Unfortunately, in the “Americanized” way of living most people have these days, we’re so used to not basing our meals around these types of food and then wondering why we’re having issues with our weight or dealing with health problems. Muffins and bagels, white hamburger buns, white bread for your son’s school lunch – these are not foods you want to be eating, and definitely not providing to your children. For the same cost in most cases and sometimes even less, (and a few cents difference shouldn’t matter when it comes to your health anyway) you can simply opt for “brown” or “whole-grain” in place of white, and the difference it makes is tremendous.

Bad Carbs

These are the carbs that give all carbs a bad name. Donuts, cake, basically any and all white foods you can think of, such as white bread and white rice; these are refined, processed foods that don’t offer your body much in terms of nutritional value. These are the types of foods you should steer clear of, because not only can they cause spikes in your blood sugar levels and fill your body with empty calories, but they can also contribute to serious health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure when consumed over time. Foods like white bread and white rice have all the nutrients stripped away, so they’re pretty useless in terms of offering any value to your health. It’s like pouring a can of beer into your gas tank on your way to work – sure, it’ll fit in there, but it’s not going to do you much good.

 
Once you understand how crucial carbs are, you can start incorporating the right carbs into your diet. Carbs often get a bad rap, but it’s easy to see how different the good carbs are from the bad, and how essential they are to proper body functioning. So don’t kick carbs to the curb – just choose the right ones to put in your body. It’s a lot easier than you may think. Steer clear of most white foods – white bread, white rice, sugar; these are not going to provide your body with any real nutritional value and will cause a spike in your blood sugar and fill your body with empty calories. Instead, stick with the carbohydrates that are full of fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

When it comes to comparing carbs and determining what’s good and what’s not, it’s actually pretty simple. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what should be going in your body and what shouldn’t. Carrots or cake? Fennel or French fries? Cucumber or chips? Pretty easy, right? Make sure you include carbs as part of your balanced diet. Skipping the carbs won’t help you lose weight, it will leave you weak and fatigued with no effort to kick butt come your next workout. Just choose the right ones and it will make all the difference in your diet.

Oh Quinoa, Oh Quinoa, How Do I Cook Thee?

quinoatestWhen I went to make my first batch of quinoa, I will admit I was a bit apprehensive. All I remembered hearing before was how difficult it can be, how you need to use a 1:2 ratio, no, 1:3, no, that’s not the best way…it seemed like everyone had a different opinion on how to do this.

OK, I figured, so this first round will turn out like mush but at least I’ll have some practice. Nothing wrong with that.

I found out a few important things pretty quickly. These tips may help you out, whether you’re a quinoa cooking virgin yourself or not.

 
Know What You’re Cooking

Of course you should always know what you’re cooking before you try to cook it. With quinoa, it’s just a common misconception that it is a type of grain, when it actually is not. Rather, quinoa is a seed that is harvested from the goosefoot species of plant. It is in fact more closely related to the spinach and beet families, with a nutty, almost brown rice-like texture, creamy, crunchy and fluffy all rolled into one.

Get Your Equipment Game On

There aren’t any special gizmos or gadgets you need to prepare quinoa. You even have a couple of options. You can do it the basic way, with a pot of water on the stovetop, or, with most models, you can set a rice cooker to the “white rice” setting and cook for about 15 minutes to get quinoa perfection.

Get the Ratio Right

Although you’re likely to hear lots of different ideas on how much water to use for cooking quinoa, I used about 2 cups of water to each cup of quinoa, cooked it for almost 20 minutes exactly, and it was light, fluffy, and delicious. (Also remember that for each 1 cup dry quinoa you cook, you end up with about 3 cups cooked quinoa). This is how my quinoa turns out every time now, and I’d like to start calling myself the Queen of Quinoa (although I guess my trusty rice cooker deserves a little credit here). Another quick tip: I like to take the lid off the rice cooker about 15 minutes in, fluff the quinoa a couple times with a fork and let it cook for the remaining time uncovered. Quinoa doesn’t absorb as much water as rice, and this helps ensure you have enough water to cook it without ending up with a little puddle of water in with your quinoa at the end.

 
I love quinoa because it’s so versatile – it’s available in white, red and black, can be cooked with broth in place of water, and works well in an array of dishes, everything from chili to salad. Guess what? Quinoa is also gluten-free, and it’s loaded full of essential vitamins and nutrients. About 1 cup of this stuff offers 48% of your Daily Value of fiber and protein, not to mention 43% for iron and 40% for Vitamin B-6.

Quinoa is quite tasty and it’s easier than you probably think to make yourself at home. I stick to buying my quinoa from whole foods markets or the bulk section at the health food store, rather than purchasing the boxed version from the supermarket. Either way, it’s a great staple to keep in the cupboard. Once you know how to make it properly, you can easily incorporate it into your diet.

Deciding on Dessert – Is it Doable When You’re Eating Clean?

dessertWhen you’re trying to eat clean, there are so many rewards for your “sacrifices”. One of these so-called sacrifices in particular is dessert. When your goal is eating healthy, providing your body with the fuel and nourishment it needs to build and maintain muscle and just feel better in general, the last thing you may want to think about is dessert. Most people just assume there is no way to treat themselves without reversing the effects of their clean eating lifestyle.

This is actually not the case. Not necessarily, anyway. There are a few things to think about here. One, is what exactly you consider as “dessert”. For some people a reasonable dessert would be half of a triple-layer chocolate cake. Although if you’re otherwise eating healthy this is certainly not going to kill you, it’s pretty obvious that it’s not the best idea in the world, especially since your goal is to help your body, not to hurt it.

The other thing to consider is that most everything is ok, when done in moderation. The issue here is, if you gorge yourself on an indulgent, fat-packed dessert even just a few days through the week, your body is going to start craving that every day, maybe even after every single meal. You’re basically training your body to want something sweet on a continuous basis, which really isn’t helpful if you’re trying to eat healthy. This is definitely going to be extremely frustrating and most likely detrimental to your success.

Since I started my clean eating and a fitness-driven lifestyle, I literally don’t crave sweets. If anything, the odd time I may want a little something after a healthy dinner, I would enjoy something that satisfies that sweet tooth but without the gross, sluggish feeling of filling up your body with a ton of added sugars and artificial food dyes. (I wasn’t blessed with this gift, unfortunately; just a few months after I made the switch to eating healthy and started really taking care of my body, I didn’t crave the junk food anymore, my body craved the real, nourishing food it was now used to, and which was making it feel so much better – as we talked about before, it’s all a matter of training your tastebuds just as you train your body with cardio and weights). I prefer foods with naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in most fruits, and some veggies, for instance, which contribute to their sweet taste. You still get the sweetness, without the unnecessary calories. Avocado and banana with honey, a cup of fresh berries with some yogurt, or even a simple apple cut into slices with some almond butter for dipping. For a few more tasty ideas, check out the Desserts section on this site and try some out for yourself.

If you’re generally not a junk-craver, well, then you don’t have to worry about any of this. Even if you are, it’s not hard to learn to eat the right things and replace the bad eating habits with wholesome versions that fit into your healthy lifestyle. The more you take care of your body and live a clean, healthy lifestyle, the less you will find yourself attracted to junk food anyway. After all, you work hard all week keeping yourself in shape and eating all the right things, why would you want to then throw all that hard work and that feeling of accomplishment away by getting a sugar fix in the wrong way?