Race Weight & Healthy Body Image

Written By Ironman Certified Coach Becca Kawaoka, Elite Triathlete, Cyclist, and USA Swim Coach

As a coach and competitor, I often hear commentary on weight and size. Endurance sports like swimming, cycling, running, rowing, and triathlon are often associated with words like “lean, light, and skinny.” One of the most commonly asked questions I get from my athletes is “What should my race weight be?” Perhaps you’ve asked yourself or your coach that question, or perhaps you were given misinformation as a child and are still experiencing trauma from that experience as an adult. Let’s talk about it.

The Number One priority for any athlete should be mental, emotion, and physical health as a result of balanced and structured training, eating, and sleep. I could probably end this blog on that statement, but if you know me you know I love to elaborate. A coach holds a lot of power on how an athlete views themselves, and sadly this power can be misused. Its far easier to spit out a random calorie recommendation than sit down with an athlete for an in-depth nutrition analysis. Its far easier to tell an athlete to lose weight then to take personal responsibility for training stimuli or discuss unhealthy sleeping patterns or stress levels.

I understand that its appealing to hear a coach say “let’s get you to X weight in X amount of time and I’ll hold you accountable!” I’ve had coaches say that to me. The truth is that coach isn’t around when key decisions are being made, such as wake up and bed time, meal choice, etc. A more proactive approach is to discuss lifestyle rituals, mental mantras, etc. so the athlete develops autonomy and self-confidence. Remember: it’s not up to your coach, it’s up to you. I want to share the proactive approach I take with myself and my athletes regarding weight and body image.

  • A coach should start by getting the full picture. This means reviewing performance goals, current training intensity and load, current nutrition and fueling strategy, potential resting/active metabolic testing, stress load (work, school, etc), and sleeping patterns. If your coach spits out a competition weight or daily calorie intake for you, or even makes comments on your current size without going over any of these items, please walk away. 
  • After getting the full picture, a coach should discuss 1-3 daily rituals to the athlete could try implementing. This could mean aiming for 8-10 hours of sleep, eating breakfast, fueling properly before and during workouts to prevent overconsumption or bonking, and/or coping strategies to decrease stress from unhealthy or challenging relationships. It may be as simple as positive mental mantra’s to try when experiencing negative self-talk or pre competition/workout anxiety. A good coach will follow up regularly with the athlete and potentially incorporate ways to benchmark progress, such as mood tracking, sleep or nutrition journal, and/or performance benchmarks.
  • From here, an athlete will either make an effort to improve the areas discussed or continue in unhealthy patterns of training, eating, and sleeping. If there is marked improvement in mood, performance, etc., a rapport has been most likely been established between coach and athlete. This is a fantastic platform to continue building and progressing the athlete in a healthy dynamic. If an athlete does not report improvements, its important the coach follows up with WHY. Is there another route to take? Are you barking up the wrong tree? Is this the wrong time for this athlete to have said goals in training and competing? Would another coach or professional of expertise be more impactful? A great coach won’t give up on an athlete, but rather take responsibility for the approach and commit to setting them up for success even if it means parting ways.

From my perspective as a fierce competitor AND proactive coach, an athletes weight and their relationship with their weight is very important. Weight is something almost everyone is aware of, and likely feels either positive or negative about it. Weight, and one’s relationship with weight, can certainly positively or negative affect performance. I may be beating a dead horse here, but a healthy and confident weight is a result of specific training load and intensity, intentional fueling before during and after exercise, healthy consistent sleeping patterns, and stress management. A competitive triathlete will not be successful if he/she completes 20-25 hours of training a week but fuels with bacon double cheeseburgers or only maintains 5-6 hours of sleep at night. A runner won’t PR in a marathon if she is significantly under-weight and experiencing amenorrhea. It’s important to have a good coach to look over the details and patterns in an athlete to promote a healthy self-perception. I truly believe a healthy “race weight” will be a result of those action items.

I often encourage my athletes to ditch the scale for a training cycle, and when they feel at their best on all three platforms (mental, physical, emotion) they can step back on and observe what their body is telling them. Then, we can discuss the result together in a positive and controlled environment. Maybe they went through a huge volume cycle and lost a few pounds, but they have good energy without signs of burn out and training data is headed in the right direction. Perhaps the athlete is in out season training, so peak power and weight training are the focus point, and the athlete gains a few pounds while consuming healthy foods and getting more sleep than usual. The scale may not move at all, but performance metrics point to improvement … or an athlete simply realizes they feel great at that weight. All scenarios mentioned are wins.

In conclusion, please hear me acknowledge that weight does matter, for some people and specific sports (I see you rowing!) than others. The approach is critical, and coaches are responsible for taking a proactive and dynamic approach with their athlete(s). It’s ok to refer an athlete to another coach or professional for help. It’s ok to try one way, backtrack, and try another way. Its ok for you, the athlete, to have highs and lows in training and competing. You are not alone, there is a way to find success with your body and your sport while improving your relationship with yourself. Please don’t carry that burden alone; communicate with your coach, family, and friends. Lastly, it’s ok to ask for help, both as a coach and an athlete! No one has all the answers. Let’s help each other out and move forward together.

Wishing you all the best. Please let me know if you have any questions, I’m here for you!

Love,

Coach Bec


Building a Healthy Body Image

It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, so let’s talk about body image! I think it’s safe to say everyone struggles with the way they look, or feel about themselves, at some point in their lifetime. There are the dreaded middle and high school years, ravaged by puberty, social cliques, and the final years of bending to parental expectations. Then the stressful, roller coaster ride of college, filled with pressure to lay the foundation of adult life on three hours of sleep. Adulthood comes next, with magazines, TV shows, and social media providing a constant reminder someone out there is doing it better, faster, and skinnier or stronger than you are. Comparisons are present in every stage of life and are often a trigger to feelings of “not good enough.” How do we work through that, and why should we try to heal the relationship we have with ourselves?

Let’s start with some introspection:

  • When did you feel the best about yourself? What was your lifestyle like in terms of nutrition, exercise, relationships, sleep, and stress level?
  • On the flip side, when did you feel the worst about yourself? What was your lifestyle like in terms of nutrition, exercise, relationships, sleep, and stress level?
  • What are some things that triggered your positive and negative views of yourself?
  • When was the last time you communicated with someone about those positive or negative triggers?

Appearance assumptions combined with stressful triggers can lead to a negative body image. This often leads to a state of distress. Some behaviors associated with a state of distress and negative body image are:

  • Preoccupation or obsession with appearance
  • Comparison or envy of other’s appearance
  • Regular negative thoughts or disparaging comments about yourself
  • Assurance-seeking tendencies or actions
  • Negative assumptions about how others see you
  • Withdrawn behavior or avoidance; protecting yourself from peer judgement

While these behaviors are intended to reduce distress and hide your perceived flaws as a way to protect yourself from being judged by others, they may actually increase long term distress. These behaviors may fuel negative body image and/or appearance assumptions, which in turn may push you deeper into disordered eating, body dysmorphia, depressive states or anxiety.

Do you find yourself in this vicious cycle when you face one of your triggers?

Let’s move into some helpful coping strategies and self-talk cues that may help you.

  • Adjust appearance expectations. Challenge yourself by building new vision of how you see yourself, both long and short term. Release rigid or absolute values, like certain weight or aesthetic desires, and find ways to embrace, or even highlight, your one-of-a-kind qualities.
  • Utilize breath awareness and meditation to alleviate attention or assurance seeking actions. Work to be in the present moment. Embrace non-judgmental thoughts of yourself. In short, try giving yourself grace and space to be more unique.
  • Acknowledge assurance seeking behaviors and work to find other solutions.
  • Talk through your negative assumptions about how others may or may not “see” you, be it in a journal or with a trusted source. How effective are your predictions and assumptions to begin with?
  • Make intentional space in your week, or day, to work on positive self-talk. Journal, meditate, or openly discuss qualities you enjoy about yourself, or are working to improve.

Moving forward, it may be helpful to write down some warning signs, along with a coping strategy or phrase to avoid cyclical, negative self-talk or disruptive body imagery.

Some examples:

Instead of: “I hate how I feel after eating poorly. Work is so stressful, I don’t have any energy to take care of myself.”

Try: “I know I have to work overtime this week, which often triggers unhealthy eating and negative thoughts about myself. I deserve to fuel my body well, so I’ll plan to pick up some pre-prepped health foods to keep me going. I will try to limit social media/screen time to get ample sleep, and try to get in a short but effective workout so I feel confident and energetic.”

Instead of: “I wish I looked like so and so. He/She has it so easy, I’ll never look or feel as confident as them because I’m not as talented. I should just give up.”

 Try: “I’m inspired by my peers, but acknowledge my path is different and unique. I need  different training stimulus and nutrition/fueling to fit where I’m currently at. I am willing to improve my health and fitness on my terms so that I stick with it long-term.”

Be aware of problem situations that may be a trigger, and work to find productive, healthy solutions. Keep a personal mantra or encouraging phrase in your mind to help you. Arm yourself with a plan, because your best self is worth fighting for!

Sending love and confidence,

BK


Food & Fitness, Sleep & Stress: Balancing it All

The four pillars of a healthy regimen: Food, Fitness, Sleep, Stress. All four pillars must be given equal attention and intentional planning. We’re going to deep dive each pillar with the goal of gaining more energy, more productivity, and (as always) a more sustainable lifestyle.

Food

One cannot think well, sleep well, or love well if one hasn’t dined well.

– Virginia Wolf

The problem: It’s common knowledge that a healthy diet is the foundation for feeling good, performing well, and living long. So why are 40% of American obese? If its common knowledge, why are three-quarters of Americans struggling with a weight issue (obese or overweight)? America has the highest percentage of obese adults. I can tell you why. Bigger portions, a boom in meat consumption, dieting (you heard me) and inactivity. Americans are eating a lot more, especially meat products, and moving less. They’re also confused on what to it and when. Conflicting diet guidelines are everywhere, and Americans want results fast. People are willing to try anything that works, especially if they saw their friend do it. We’re being pumped full of trans fats and artificial sweeteners while jumping on any fad diet we can get our hands on for fast results. Futile, at best.

The solution: Start by determining a specific, realistic long-term goal. Example: “I’d like to lose 10 pounds by November 2021, increase my muscle definition, and feel more energetic.” Introduce 1 daily ritual each month that will help you progress slowly towards this goal. Examples: Drink 2 liters of water each day. Eat 2 fresh fruits and 2 fresh vegetables each day. Eat 25-50% vegan or vegetarian. Refrain from drinking soda, alcohol, or smoking during the week. That’s a solid start if you can commit to it. From there, try cooking more at home. Eating out is expensive and generally unhealthy in terms of how the food is prepared and the portions you’re given. Not to mention, your far more likely to contract Covid-19 if you eat out (even if you pick up curbside). Lastly, do not be afraid of fat or carbohydrates. They have somehow gotten a bad rep in America. 50% of your diet should be carbohydrates. They’re linked to longevity and provide energy. My favorites are sweet potatoes, organic pasta and rice, and fresh fruit.  Fat is also important for several reasons, but my favorite is they’re filling and satisfying. Avocados, olives, and almonds are fantastic foods that provide rich sources of vitamins and minerals. Don’t be duped into thinking protein equals skinny. Protein plays an important role in metabolism, but if you want the most balanced and sustainable nutrition plan, you need carbohydrates and fats too!

Fitness

Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.

– Jim Rohn

The problem: Inactivity, plain and simple. A lot of working Americans are sedentary, and technology has provided us with everything we need to be inactive. We can order online, take a vehicle anywhere, and eat all our meals without raising a finger to grow, prepare, and/or clean up. I’d like to cite a lack of patience, too. As previously stated, Americans want results fast. That just doesn’t happen in reality. Functional, realistic programs take time. There is no end point. Our bodies should constantly be on a path of self-improvement and growth, challenged with new stimuli and tested.

The solution: Start small. If you aren’t training regularly, start with walking for 30 minutes 3 times a week. If you stick to that, and work on your diet/sleep, you will slowly gain energy and lose weight. Try that for a month, and then think about slowly progressing. I have 70+ videos on YouTube for FREE you can try. They’re fantastic for all levels! If you’re already exercising consistently, good on you! I recommend increasing your intensity, or frequency (minutes per week), 10% each week to find improvements. This may mean adding intervals to your cardio or adding a little weight to your strength routines. A coach may be beneficial for this purpose. My training philosophy centers on balance, literally. All my athletes train to improve balance, then mobility, then muscular endurance. It’s essential to have a stable foundation before beginning a periodized overload program or you will just build strength on existing weaknesses and further imbalances. Training deep core muscles starts at the beginning, as I’ve learned to train from the inside out. Stability first! From a stable platform you can launch into a more aggressive program. Starting with stability is not only a wise and sustainable way to begin, it’s also approachable. If you’re overweight and just looking to make a change, beginning with walking a few times a week and some light balance/core training is a lot easier to stick to then getting crushed at bootcamp- which can be embarrassing. You’re far less likely to get injured this way, and far more likely to stick with it to see results.

Sleep

Sleep is the best meditation.

– Dali Lama

The problem: Americans are steadily averaging less sleep, an inverse relationship that directly correlates with a steady increase in weight gain. According to the Sleep Foundation, Americans get about 7.5 hours of sleep/night. Most people go to bed around 11 pm and wake up at 6:30 am during the week, and sleep about 40 minutes longer on the weekend. Ideally, we get between 8-10 hours of sleep each night. (Some people need more than others, mind you) Lack of sleep can lead to cravings and metabolic dysfunction, as hormones like ghrelin and leptin are affected by sleep deprivation. Then there’s the simple notion that staying awake longer presents more opportunities to eat. The more tired you are from missing out on sleep, the less energy you will have for physical fitness, too. Childhood and adolescent obesity are linked with sleep deprivation, the link likely being skipped meals like breakfast and increased sugar / salt consumption. As an athlete, you’re more likely to get injured if you get less than 8 hours of sleep.

The solution: GET. MORE. SLEEP. Make a plan on when to go to bed and wake up so you’re at your best. Keeping a regular sleep schedule is helpful, as big swings in your sleep regimen can reduce your insulin sensitivity (elevating blood sugar) and cause changes in your metabolism. iPhones have a setting in which you can program reminders on when to head to bed and when to wake up. Avoid snacking late, as this is can cause weight gain and instigate sleep issues. Good old-fashioned discipline is required to turn off the TV and stop scrolling on Instagram. Try reading for 30 minutes before your goal bedtime and sleeping in a dark room.

Stress

It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.

– Hans Selye

The problem: According to The American Institute of Stress, 77% of Americans experience stress that affects their physical health, while 73% report experiencing stress that affects their mental health. Those experiencing the most stress are ethnic minorities, women, single parents, and people responsible for their family’s healthcare decisions. Top causes of stress are money, work, and the economy followed closely by family responsibilities, relationships, personal health issues, and housing costs. Side effects of stress are irritability, low energy/fatigue, lack of motivation/interest, anxiety, headaches, feeling sad or depressed, acid reflux, muscle tension, high blood pressure, and appetite changes. Many people also experience sexual problems, weight gain, GI issues like constipation or diarrhea, and forgetfulness. Whew.

The solution: Start by identifying the signs of stress listed above and/or any stress triggers. Getting plenty of sleep (as mentioned before 8-10 hours) and regular exercise (start with 3x 30-minute walks/week and some light stretching!). Practicing relaxation skills like meditation, journaling, or diaphragm breathing (nose inhalation to belly for 4 counts, hold 4 counts, exhale 4 counts). You may try setting 1-2 goals, defining your personal priorities, and forming 1-2 daily habits, like we’ve talked about. Spending time with people you love and doing activities you enjoy, like knitting, baking, painting, and reading, are important to minimize stress.

Putting it all together

  1. Set a long-term goal
  2. Form 1-2 daily rituals to exercise and eat well. Think sustainable and balanced. Progress 10% when you’re ready!
  3. Make sleeping 8-10 hours a priority.
  4. Identify stress and work to relieve it.
  5. Be patient. Nothing happens overnight.

There is probably nothing in this blog that you haven’t heard before. This is a friendly note to get back to the basics and invest in yourself. Fuel yourself well, treat your body like a temple, and rest the amount you deserve.  There is no fad diet, sleeping pill, or hack that will do the work for you. You’re going to have to sacrifice some social media time to cook, set some boundaries in your personal or professional life to decrease your stress and/or make time for exercise. I know you can do it, and I promise you it will be worth it.

Best,

Becca


Simple Ways to Be More Sustainable

Like all of you, my life changed dramatically when COVID-19 hit. I was forced home, my job as a trainer at a fitness resort near Seattle in jeopardy, and all the triathlon races I was training for postponed indefinitely. It would have been easy to let the circumstances bring me down, but I wasn’t ready to give up hope on growth for 2020. I threw myself into revising our lifestyle to be eco-friendlier.

In years past, I had the “if it’s not happening to me, it doesn’t affect me, I don’t really care” mentality. I also used the excuse that I was so busy with work and training that I didn’t have time to deep dive my life and turn it all around. When I was forced to adapt my work life, a positive result was the opportunity to become more sustainable. I can’t wait to share how this has changed me as a person, and how you can implement small rituals to help save our Earth.

Commuting 60-80 miles a day in a Jeep certainly contributed to pollution. Now, I drive one time a week, 10 miles at most, sometimes less! While it’s not possible for everyone to work remote, there are other ways you can be more efficient AND save money as a result. Carpooling is one option or joining the #GoByBike movement started by one of our favorite cycling companies, Trek! Trek makes a cool E-Bike for commuting, as well as several bike options for people who want to be healthier and exercise their way to work or the store. Check it out here!

Perhaps the easiest way for you to have an immediate impact on both the environment and your budget is to do a quick peek around your kitchen and bathroom. Where do you consume a lot of plastic or waste? Is there a way for you to either make it yourself or purchase an eco-friendlier version? For example, I noticed the main source of waste was food packaging, plastic shampoo, soap, and conditioner bottles, air freshener or cleaning bottles, face scrubs/masks, detergents, and lotion bottles. I took a few weekends to try my hand making most of our bathroom and kitchen needs things myself. Yes, it took time. Yes, I messed up a few times. Yes, I kept going and now regularly make all of our bathroom needs from scratch. You may want to try it once for fun- perhaps it will stick like it did for me and perhaps it’s not for you! Below I’ve listed my homemade items I’ve found easy to make myself weekly or monthly,  along with eco-friendly links to products you may consider buying instead to help reduce your waste.

DIY Kitchen:  DIY Bathroom:  DIY Laundry Room/Other:  
Oat MilkBread Pickled seasonal bulk vegetables Mayonnaise Cleaning solutionAir freshenerSoap Shampoo barsConditionerFacial scrubsLotionDetergent Candles Décor  

Eco Friendly Resources:

**If all of this still seems like too much, start by simply using sponges instead of paper towels, reusable plastic bags instead of Ziplocs or single use baggies, reuse your coffee cups from coffee shops, bring refillable water bottles to use instead of buying single use plastic bottles, and avoid buying disposable cutlery, plates, and cups.

I’ve also enjoyed starting indoor and outdoor gardens! I grew up on a farm with a massive garden, and after spending a few years in the Arizona desert I realized how much joy thriving green plants bring me! I’ve started a container garden consisting of herbs, tomatoes, berries, and spinach partially from seed and partially from propagating plants from my existing outdoor garden. My hope is that I can use as much produce as possible from my own plants, so I don’t have to waste packaging material or even fuel to get to the store. I want to be the source as much as possible to save money and reduce my carbon footprint. I enjoy reusing milk containers and bottles to plant new life that will later provide for our meals. Whenever possible, I try to shop at our local farmers market, Carpinito Bros. They offer reduced priced bulk vegetables and fruits, which are great for canning, making sauces, pickles, and juices!

I urge you to locate a farmer’s market near you! Additionally, we use a weekly service that picks up compost (leftover food scraps and yard debris), garbage, and recycling. I wish all states and cities offered this! If you don’t have these resources, look online for a local recycling center to drop off plastics, cardboard, paper, and aluminum recyclables.  If you don’t have a compost option with garbage pick-up, great news: You can start composting TODAY! Start by dumping all food scraps and biodegradable waste into a lined container (I use a large upcycled plant container lined with a re-usable food bag. From there, you may choose to start a compost pile, dump into an area in your garden if you have one, or simply begin a large, open-style compost bin outdoors. Be careful of local animals, as composting is a bit like a buffet for them, and reference different ways to start composting here.

In short, I’ve become a more resilient, self-sufficient, confident individual by taking care of my environment, saving money, and becoming the source of my foods and hygiene products. I enjoy crafting in ways that have a positive impact on Earth, and feel accomplished every time I make bread, soap, jam or repurpose a plastic bottle. I hope you can find a few small ways to make a change, too! Please reach out if you would like to try some of these ideas but are a little intimidated or overwhelmed at how to go about it. I’ve tried all sorts of short cuts, and even some long cuts because I don’t have everything some recipes call for, so holler if I can help you get in touch with your hippie side!

Remember: There is no Planet B.

Cheers,

Becca K

                                 

                                                          


Normalize Carbohydrates

Controversial topic, I know! Carbohydrates have long been the “enemy” to people who associate themselves as healthy. I, too, used to encourage clients to focus on protein and healthy fats to lose weight and limit carbohydrates. Protein and fat play important roles in metabolism and recovery, don’t get me wrong. My mission (today at least) is to decriminalize carbohydrates and help show you how balancing carbs, fats, and proteins in harmony will help you feel and move your best!

I felt lead to discuss this after watching a recent episode of Down to Earth with Zac Efron (swoon). If you have a chance, give Episode 4 a watch. The episode is filmed in Sardinia where there is a notably high population of centenarians (people living over 100). Why does this matter? Doctors studying the envious longevity of the Sardinian people noted they have a diet high in carbohydrates and lower in protein. The healthy senior citizens walked rigorously, drank wine, ate foods grown, harvested and cooked by the community, and lived low stress lives. Sounds great, right?

While living on an Italian hillside sipping wine and eating pasta isn’t realistic for 99% of us, I think we can learn something from this community. It proves carbohydrates aren’t bad. In fact, they’re clearly associated with living long lives. We can also assume how foods are prepared is important. Taking the time to prepare food with love and intention, ideally growing what we can ourselves, is a healthy practice. Harvesting is great exercise (my dad is a farmer, so I can speak to this from years spent in our family garden and corn fields!) and food preparation is mentally stimulating as well. Cooking and eating nutritious carbohydrates should not be taboo!

As a competitive athlete, I rely on carbohydrates for fuel and recovery. If you’re not a competitive athlete, you still need fuel to survive. Metabolism is a word that gets thrown around a lot by fitness guru’s and coaches. To put it simply, your body needs calories to operate even when you’re at rest. There’s important stuff happening inside of you that requires energy, even when you’re sitting down and reading a book. That being said, the more fit and active you are the more fuel your body needs, even at rest. In short, everyone needs different amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fats based on their genetics and activity level.

To review, here’s what your needs and why:

  1. Carbohydrates: provide and store energy for your cells, sparing protein and fat for other uses
  2. Protein: grow and maintain tissue, provide structure for cells, regulate PH, acts as a messenger aiding in communication between cells, important for chemical functions
  3. Fat: provide energy, support cell growth, aids in protecting vital organs and keeping them warm!

I choose different ratios based on my activity level that day. Example: on days I’m very busy and active, I eat a lot of healthy carbohydrates like fruit, brown rice, and organic or rice pasta to keep my energy up during the day. In the evening, I focus on lean protein, fibrous vegetables and fats once my activity is done. On days my activity level is low, say a recovery day where I sit a lot and write these great blogs, I eat more protein, fiber, and fat throughout the day and fewer carbohydrates in general. I also NEVER train without fuel.

Perhaps this leaves you thinking: what are some healthy sources of carbohydrates and ways to prepare them? I’m happy to provide some suggestions! Ultimately, you need to eat things you enjoy and taste good. Life is just too short. The good news is there are MILLIONS of healthy, tasty, balanced foods that provide all the key nutrients I just outlined. While the purpose of this blog is to get America comfortable with carbs again, I’m not encouraging you binge on Wonder Bread and Little Debbie products. Instead, I hope you look into what healthy combinations of foods and food groups that you enjoy, including carbohydrates. As a free resource, most of the recipes I post on my website include carbs, fats, and protein because I enjoy the way I feel when I eat all three.

Here are my favorite go-to combinations:

  • Apples and cheese or nut butter
  • Banana with raw nuts or nut butter
  • Brown rice with avocado
  • Oatmeal with an egg, avocado and feta OR almond milk, blueberries & honey
  • Quinoa with fresh fruit, almond or oat milk and a drizzle of honey
  • Rice or organic pasta with sautéed vegetables and roasted or grilled chicken
  • Homemade banana or zucchini bread with nut butter
  • Granola with fruit and oat or almond milk, OR yogurt

The takeaway is this: Carbohydrates are not bad. We should fuel wisely with wholesome, intentionally prepared foods. We should choose foods based on our taste and activity level while having the intuition to adjust. All things in moderation.

Be well.

Becca’s Favorite Homemade Bread

A simple and delicious way to reduce plastic packaging while investing in producing the foods you eat. Kids may enjoy helping knead the dough as part of a fun kitchen experiment!

*Whole wheat flour can be used in place of flour, too!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water (should be warm to the touch, not boiling)
  • ½ cup sugar (I use white sugar but plan to try with brown raw sugar soon!)
  • 1 ½ T. active dry yeast
  • ½ – 1 T. salt (I like Himalayan salt, and prefer more salt)
  • 5-6 cups flour

Directions:

In a medium mixing bowl, combine water with sugar until dissolved. Add yeast and stir continuously for about 5 minutes. The mixture should look combined and froth a little. Add salt and stir for another minute. Add flour one cup at a time. (I usually add about five cups, and then beginning lightly kneading, adding pinches of flour as a go until the dough isn’t sticky to the touch). Knead for 7-8 minutes. Place in a well-greased bowl and let rise for 1 hour in a warm place. I usually Once the dough is double in size, punch down (the fun part!) and divide into two greased 9 x 5 loaf pans. Let the dough rise again for about 30 minutes. Be patient, the bread will turn out at about the height you put it in at! Bake at 350* for about 25 minutes, or until a cooking thermometer reads 190-200*. Brush with butter, let cool, and slice with a serrated knife. E N J O Y!


Emotional, Mental and Physical Balance

This write up will come as no surprise to many of you. In fact, I’m sure you’ve told yourself and others close to you that you need to work on balance. How do you incorporate balance training into EACH day, and why? How do you train to be mentally, physically, and emotionally balanced? Read on.

            It would be hypocritical for anyone to claim to be a master of balance, so let me start off by transparently admitting this article is as much for me as it is for you. My primary goal in writing and publishing this is to tangibly simplify balance so that we may find it each day. I’ll start with my thoughts, tips, tricks, and personal goals regarding internal balance and end with the same point regarding physical balance.

Emotional & Mental Balance 

            Do you consider yourself functioning at a satisfactory mental and behavioral level?

If you answered YES, skip this section and jump to physical balance. Namaste to you, my friend. If you answered NO, then carefully review the following three questions and responses! 

            How do I improve my emotional/spiritual/mental balance?

  1. Talk to someone. Communicating about your feelings is essential, especially if you feel isolated during these trying times. Deep conversations will not only bring value to your relationships, but also provide stimulating brain activity. According to a fascinating article in Psychology Today, communication impacts hormone release! If you are living in state of stress, with chronic high levels of cortisol, it’s a natural response to shut down. Opening up, sharing, listening, and engaging are effective ways to combat chronic stress. (Nicklas Balboa, Richard D. Glaser, Ph.D.)

Link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conversational-intelligence/201905/the-neuroscience-conversations

  • Eat and hydrate well; exercise (more details in physical section)
  • Journal, Mediate, and/or Pray. Self-reflection may be intimidating, and that’s ok. You don’t have to do it each day, perhaps make it a habit on Fridays (more on that, too). Yoga is an excellent form of both physical and emotional balance training. If you are religious, spending time reading the history of your religion, following key leaders within your religion, and prayer are all things you may try to find both inner peace and balance.
  • Take a break to do something you are good at. Whether its doodling on a piece of paper for 5 minutes or spending a weekend day immersing yourself in an old hobby you stopped making time for, it’s important to build our self-confidence with things we love and are successful at!
  • Complete an act of kindness. It doesn’t have to be a grand act, or a massive, time-consuming ordeal. For example, I challenged myself to encourage someone new each day for a month by texting, calling, emailing, or writing a letter to someone I haven’t spoken to in a while. It took all of 3 minutes to complete each day, and hopefully started a chain reaction of positivity.

            What realistic, daily practices can I put into place?

You may be rearing back internally with the ever-common excuse “Well all that sounds great, but I just don’t have the time!” You do. Simply put. If you don’t have the time now, it’s because you’re not making the time. Here are simple ways to put the previous segment into action:

  1. Swap out your social media scrolling for 5 minutes of journaling, or an act of kindness.
  2. Wake up 3 minutes earlier to do a simple yoga flow before heading to work so you feel centered, awake, and BALANCED.
  3. Drink at least 2 bottles of water throughout your day, and eat fresh, colorful meals. For more tips on this, visit my Meal Prep 101 blog, a streamlined guide to quick meal prepping for beginners.
  4. When looking at your day, insert moments for you to pray or meditate or stretch.
  5.  On your lunch break, do something you’re good at! Choose one day a week, or a month, to journal.
  6. Commit to calling a friend or relative once a week to emotionally connect and decompress.

            Why should I sacrifice time and energy on improving internal balance?

If you answered “No” to my opening question (Do you consider yourself functioning at a satisfactory mental and behavioral level) then its apparent something is missing in your life. I’m guessing you’re “doing ok, but not great” or “really struggling, but afraid to admit it / show weakness.” You’re not alone. Take the steps listed in the previous segment. Do not settle for anything less than real happiness. It may not be easy to pursue internal, personal growth, but the alternative is staying stuck.

Physical Balance

            How do I improve my physical balance?

As a movement specialist for over a decade, this is my favorite question to answer! The answer is to start at the bottom (your feet and ankles) and from the inside (deep core stability). From there, we work up and out. This means we train each joint, starting at the toes and ankles up to the knees and hips, spine and shoulders, to be stable. This will allow the joints to move more effectively.

            What realistic, daily practices can I put into place?

Balance training is rewarding. If you spend just 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times a week focused on it, you will improve. Plus, the exercises aren’t strenuous. I challenge you to stand on one leg while brushing your teeth each day. Too easy? Try 10 single leg balance reaches on each leg, 10 single leg calf raises each day for a week, and 10 kneeling or full plank shoulder taps.(hold a plank, and touch the opposite shoulder with one hand before switching) That’s 3 exercises, 10 reps of each, every day for a week. It should take less than 5 minutes! If you would like more help with balance sequences, check out my YouTube page. I have several beginner sessions you can try! 

            Why should I sacrifice time and energy into improving external/physical balance?

Why, I’m so glad you asked! If you don’t’ take time to build your core and joint stability, your body adapts in a negative way. Movement will be limited, as your brain subconsciously knows a joint isn’t stable enough to allow a full range of motion. Eventually, these adapted and limited movements lead to an injury, typically one that seems like a silly, everyday type of movement. In order to move at your best, and feel your best, spending 5 minutes a few times a week to build your stability from the bottom to the top, and the inside out, will reap lasting physical benefits, both in injury prevention and athletic performance.

I hope this article inspires you to move with intention, reflect, communicate, and treat your body with kindness. You deserve to be happy, healthy, and balanced. ❤


Eating Out At Home – Creating Your Favorite Restaurant Eats Without Going Out!

We eat out for convenience, the experience, and to eat great tasting food. With COVID-19 rearing its ugly head, it may be awhile before we get our traditional restaurant experience. That shouldn’t stop you from being creative in the kitchen! I’ve recreated some classic favorites for you to make at home, along with tips and tricks to create a positive dining experience. Eating out at home is cheaper, healthier, and often times more memorable!

Each themed night will require a few special ingredients, so be sure to check the special grocery list I’ve included when doing your weekly shopping.

1. Bar Food

  • Jalapeno poppers
  • Wings
  • Baked Nachos

2. Wine Night

  • Cheese Board
  • Easy apps to pair with wine

3. Italian

  • Pasta Carbonara
  • Simple Salad w/ homemade vinaigrette

4. Surf N Turf

  • Steak & Shrimp
  • Grilled Corn

1. Bar Food

Grilling the wings instead of deep frying saves a ton of calories and mess! While the nachos and poppers may still pack some delicious calories in, using the best quality ingredients and portion control is your advantage for cooking at home! Use the best quality ingredients you feel comfortable buying at the store (quality cheese vs. pasteurized American or nacho cheese sauce for example).

Ingredients needed:

For the poppers:

  • 8-10 large jalapenos
  • 1 brick Cream cheese
  • 3 eggs, beaten with 1 T. water
  • 1 ½ cups Dried Bread crumbs, OR 1 cup flour seasoned with salt/pepper for dredging
  • ½ cup olive or vegetable oil
  • For the wings:
  • Party wings (flats and drumsticks, skin on)
  • Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 T. – ¼ cup butter
  • 1 large bottle of Franks Hot sauce

For the nachos:

  • 1 bag of Tortilla chips
  • 2 cups Shredded cheese
  • ½ Onion, diced 
  • 1 cup Salsa

Optional additional toppings: olives, sour cream, avocado, black beans, sliced jalapeno

Serving suggestions: Ranch, carrot and celery slices, additional salsa and/or hot sauce.

The first step in getting this meal to the table quickly and efficiently is to prepare the wings. Preheat your oven to 375, or smoker/grill if you have one (preferred method) Arrange you wings on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a sauce pan or large microwavable bowl. Combine with 1-2 cups Franks Hot Sauce. Tip: If you like your wings spicy, use less butter and more hot sauce. If you prefer mild, use more butter and less hot sauce. Regardless of your ratios, I promise you can’t mess them up! Brush the seasoned wings with the sauce. Whatever you have leftover can be used to baste the wings at the 10 minute mark. If grilling or smoking, baste when you turn them once, about 10-15 minutes in. Baste once more once finished grilling or baking. Can serve with additional Franks sauce (do not use the sauce you basted the wings in, its likely touched raw chicken!)

While the wings are grilling, prepare the nachos. Layer a sheet of tortilla chips on a baking sheet. Top with cheese and onions. If you’re serving a bigger group, add another layer of chips and cheese. Bake at 375* until cheese is melted. Top with salsa, and any additional toppings. Serve with more salsa if desired. Once you throw the nachos into the oven, check the wings!

While nachos are baking, and wings are grilling, fry up the poppers! Heat a deep frying pan filled with olive or vegetable oil. There should be no “dry” spots, so be liberal with the oil! Set the heat to medium high. Cut each pepper in half. Remove seeds. Use a knife to fill each half with a heaping tablespoon of cream cheese. Dip into egg/water mixture and roll in bread crumbs or seasoned flour. Place in oil. Fry until golden brown, turning once. I use tongs to careful turn the poppers so the filling stays in! When cooked, transfer to a plate with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Serve nachos on baking sheet you cooked them on OR transfer to a fun platter, drizzled with your choice of yummy  toppings. Serve poppers on a plate with ranch to dip in if desired. Arrange wings on a platter with bonus sauce, sliced carrot and/or celery sticks, and ranch, if desired! Serve outdoors on the patio with appetizer plates or enjoy as a buffet while enjoy a sports game, re run, or movie!

2. Wine Night

A romantic meal on the patio is minutes away! . Get creative! Try different cheeses, wines, crackers, meats, and fruits each time you make this! Enjoy your favorite wine house playlist to complete the ambiance

Cheese Board:

  • 1 lb brick white cheese (I prefer Gouda or Havarti)
  • 1lb  brick yellow cheese (I prefer sharp cheddar)
  • 1 large cluster of grapes (you won’t need an entire pound)
  • 2 red apples (I like jazz, pink lady, Honeycrisp, and/or fuji)
  • 1 lb assorted antipasto (salami, prosciutto, etc.)
  • 1 jar olives (can be stuffed, as fancy /non fancy as you prefer)
  • 1 package crackers (can be gluten free if desired, just be sure to choose something sturdy!)

Serves: 2-3

To prepare: Slice cheeses into several small slices. Rinse grapes. Core and slice apples thinly. Drain olives. Arrange cheese, fruit, olives, and antipasto meat on a large wooden cutting board. Place crackers in a decorative dish next to board. Serve with your favorite red or white wine and small appetizer plates. For a decorative touch, you may consider leaving part of the brick of cheese unsliced and placing on board with a cheese knife.

Other wine-friendly appetizers:

Stuffed Dates:

Slice 20 Medjool dates in half, removing pit. Fill with room temperature goat cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and a dash of paprika. Drizzle with honey.

Easy Skillet Quesadilla:

Heat a skillet on medium heat. Place one large flour tortilla (burrito sized) directly into pan. Sprinkle ½ cup shredded cheese on half of the tortilla. Add chopped cooked chicken, salsa, chopped peppers/onions if desired, or just keep cheese only! Fold the unfilled half of tortilla over filling and gently turn, cooking another minute or two. Both sides should be golden brown.

Serve with salsa.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries:

Melt a 4 oz bar of Bakers Semi Sweet or Dark Chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, stirring every 30-60 seconds until smooth. Rinse strawberries and pat dry, leaving stems on. Dip the small end in the melted chocolate and place on wax paper. Chill for at 10-20 minutes before plating on a decorative dish and serving with your favorite red wine!

3. Gourmet Italian

Delicious, decadent, and simple!

Simple Salad:

  • 2 cups spinach, stems removed
  • 2 cups arugula
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 T. balsamic vinegar,  or balsamic vinegar reduction (my preference)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Place spinach and arugula in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, balsamic, olive oil and salt and pepper together (start with 1 tsp of each if you’re unsure.) Taste after whisking and add more salt, pepper, vinegar or oil depending on your preference. Drizzle slowly over greens (you may have leftover dressing). Toss to coat, serve with pasta.

Pasta Carbonara:

  • 1 lb package pasta
  • 8 slices bacon, cut in half
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (+ ¼ for topping, if desired)
  • 3 eggs+1 egg yolk , whisked lightly

Serves: 2-4

Directions: Start by cooking bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Place on paper towels to drain. Cook garlic on medium heat in bacon fat until fragrant and light brown. Remove from heat and pour garlic and pan drippings into a medium sized bowl.

Next, cook pasta (ideally thin spaghetti, but I’ve used all types of noodles) in a large pot of water. Add a dash of salt. Shoot for al dente texture. Reserve 1  cup of the water when draining pasta.  Place pasta in a large bowl.

Add cheese and whisked eggs to garlic. Temper the mixture with ½ cup of pasta water. Add to cooked pasta and toss to coat. Crumble bacon and add to mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Add more of the reserved pasta water if needed to thin the mixture. Top with additional shredded parmesan cheese if desired. Serve immediately with Simple Salad and wine!

4. Surf N Turf with Corn on the Barbie

Who says you can’t have a beach style theme on your back patio? This simple meal comes together quickly, and will be FAR cheaper at home than if you were to order out! Just be sure to get the corn, steak and shrimp when you hit the grocery store, as those are less frequently bought items. Enjoy out on the patio with a beer, glass of wine, or summer cocktail (find cocktail ideas on my website in Becca’s Kitchen tab)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa, pasta, or rice (you can use leftovers or start by preparing as your first step)
  • 2 steaks
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • McCormick’s Steak seasoning
  • 1 lb frozen shrimp, thawed
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. garlic salt
  • 2-4 tsp. pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 ears corn
  • 1 stick of butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Serves: 2

Directions: Preheat grill or smoker to 400.*Place steaks on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and season both sides of steak with McCormick’s as heavily or lightly as desired. Place on grill, along with corn, in husk. Flip steaks and corn after 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté shrimp in a large pan with oil on medium high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Stir frequently to cook evenly. Once shrimp is no longer pink, remove from heat and pour the lemon juice over shrimp. Steak and corn should just be getting done!

Check steak with a sharp knife to check done-ness. Remove corn from husks.

If using leftover rice, quinoa, or pasta, place 1 cup on a plate and reheat, or if prepared first it should be cool. Place 1 cup on each plate. Soften butter in an appropriate microwave safe serving container and heat for :15-:20 seconds. Plate steak, shrimp and corn over rice. Serve with softened butter, salt and pepper.

I hope these options will help enhance your dining-at-home experience! Cheers!


Meal Prep 101: Keeping it SIMPLE

The trick in maintaining a healthy lifestyle is consistency. The first step is outlined in my last blog, Go-To Grocery List, which includes a checklist shopping guide to use when heading out for your weekly grocery trip. The second step is using those foods to make delicious, healthy meals! I’m going to keep it simple and provide you with a meal prep guide that will save you time and effort during busy weekdays. Even if you’re working from home, prepping foods will help eliminate the “grazing and gaining” trend!

            After you’ve successfully braved the masses at your local Costco or grocery store, follow the steps listed. I usually encourage my athletes and clients to do this on separate days to avoid feeling overwhelmed, but the choice is yours! I usually allow 60-90 minutes for grocery shopping and 60-90 minutes for meal prepping.

*If you have small children, add 1-2 hours on to that guesstimate 😉 

1.      Make your carbs ahead of time (30-60 minutes)

  • This is the best one because it’s EASY! Throw 2-3 cups of rice/quinoa into a rice cooker with the prescribed water amount and have it ready to pull out for a quick side dish. You can also boil a large pot of pasta instead for the same purpose. Tip: stir in a drizzle of olive oil and mix before storing.
  • If you’re on a sweet potato kick, now is the time to can slice the potatoes thinly and bake for an hour @ 375. Drizzle with oil, season with salt, pepper, garlic, and chili powder or taco seasoning. Start here as this step takes the longest.

2.      Slice and dice veggies. (10-15 minutes)

  • Dice/ Chop onions, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, etc. for MAIN DISHES
    • Slice carrots and peppers for healthy SNACKS
    • Place diced/chopped veggies in a large container to streamline dinner prep
    • Place sliced carrots and peppers in individual serving containers or snack bags for grab n go convenience.
    • I like to knock this out right after starting the carbohydrates; it’s the most tedious.

3.      Prepare your proteins (20-25 minutes)

  • Marinate your chicken, fish, pork, beef, etc. If you’re grilling or baking your meat, that’s as far as you need to go. When it’s time for dinner, all you have to do is pull the marinated meat out of the freezer.
  • I usually prepare 1-2 lbs. of turkey taco meat as a staple fridge item. You may prefer to do tuna or chicken salad, or beef tacos, or prepare a large container of tofu. Whatever your preference, I strongly recommend a mainstay item that you can build a meal around. Turkey taco meat can make a healthy salad, wrap, or rice bowl into a meal in 5-10 minutes. I prepare and store in a Ziploc container every week. Just throw ground turkey in a pan with taco seasonings and some water.
  • Rinse, slice/chop if needed, label and freeze any protein you won’t cook in the next 3-5 days. This eliminates waste, and the pressure associated with “needing to cook something before it goes bad.” Plus, it’s easy to grab a bag of sliced frozen chicken out of the freezer, thaw, and throw it into a pan to begin cooking.
  • Hard boiled eggs are a lifesaver for those who don’t get enough protein! Place a dozen eggs in a large pot of water, bring to a boil, boil 5-8 minutes, then turn off. Leave the eggs till they cool, then rinse with cold water. Shell, and place into containers or baggies for a high protein snack, or breakfast! I usually do this as my taco meat is cooking.

4.      Smoothies & Shakes (10-15 minutes)

  • Throw some smoothies in the fridge for an easy, healthy post workout snack or breakfast to go! Follow my Easy Recovery Smoothie recipe, or just throw fruit, almond milk, and protein powder into the blender and puree. Store in fridge or freezer.
    • If you’re a protein and milk/water only type, place scoop protein powder in shaker cups or baggies. Now, all you have to do is add liquid and shake. Brainless!

In a perfect world, your carbohydrates are done cooking as your proteins are finishing up so you can place everything in containers and store. I finish it all up with the smoothies or shakes before wiping down the kitchen. It may take a bit of fine-tuning your first try, so don’t hesitate to take notes on what you liked and what you want to different the following week to save time. It has to work for YOU. If you find a rhythm that works, you’ll be more motivated to stick with it each week. There’s room for variety, so have some fun being creative week to week. If you come up with any fun ideas or hacks, please share!


Go-To Grocery List For Consistent, Foolproof Meal Prepping

I’m going to cut right to the chase: in order to be successful with your weight and athletic performance, your diet needs to be sustainable, consistent, and balanced. You can’t expect to hop on a bandwagon plan for a month and then jump off when it gets hard. So, the first step in a healthy lifestyle should be committing to consistency for days, weeks, and months moving forward weekly grocery list is a manageable place to start. Print this off and bring it with you on every shopping trip. Sure, you can add to it or leave an item off if it’s out of stock, but the idea is a consistent base of ingredients that you can easily meal prep and cook from though out the week. The hardest part about cooking new, healthy meals is usually a lack of on-hand ingredients, which is the easiest out for take-out and unhealthy options that happen to be in the pantry. Let’s get shopping!

Pro Tip: Before heading out, use a pencil and check off anything you already have in-stock for the week, so you don’t over-buy.

Weekly Grocery List

  1. Protein Items
    • Tofu (expiration dates are usually 2-4 weeks, so it’s a nice thing to have on hand)
    • Chicken (breast, thighs, rotisserie, or canned- change it up each week!)
    • Pork tenderloin or thin cut pork chops (fine to alternate chicken/pork weekly)
    • Ground Turkey
    • Salmon or tilapia (fresh or frozen)
    • Bacon (I always have some in the freezer or fridge)
    • Canned black beans
  2. Dairy Items
    • Almond milk or lactose free milk
    • Greek yogurt (plain, nonfat. You can always add sweeteners or fat into a recipe later)
    • Eggs
    • Cheese- any kind! (shredded is nice to have on-hand as that saves a step, but block cheese is fine to pick up for variety)
    • Butter (I always keep a stock in the freezer for baking and cooking)
  3. Staple Items
    • Peanut or Almond butter
    • Olive oil
    • Almond flour
    • Oatmeal
    • Pasta (rice/gluten free noodles or regular noodles)
    • Brown Rice
    • Quinoa
    • Coffee
    • Whole grain bread or gluten-free bread
    • Honey
    • Soy Sauce or liquid aminos  
    • Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper
    • Garlic Powder (unless you prefer fresh)
    • Cinnamon
    • Taco Seasoning (unless you have Chili Powder on hand)
  4. Canned Goods
    • Corn
    • Chicken or Vegetable Stock
    • Tomatoes (diced)
    • Pasta or Tomato Sauce
    • Salsa
  5. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
    • Citrus fruit (lime, lemon, or oranges for adding acid to meals and cocktails)
    • Bell Peppers
    • Onions
    • Leafy greens (spinach, romaine, Swiss chard, red leaf, and/or butter)
    • An Orange Item: butternut squash, spaghetti squash, oranges, or sweet potatoes
    • Apples
    • Bananas
    • Avocados
    • Asparagus and/or Brussel sprouts (I prepare them similarly and prefer to alternate every week)
  6. Snack Foods
    • Fig Bars (gluten free if needed)
    • Pretzels (for long training rides. Can omit if not an endurance athlete)
    • Unsalted nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios)
    • Cheese Sticks
  7. Freezer Items
    • Yasso Greek yogurt bars
    • Veggie Burger Patties (for a quick meal that’s not horrendous for you)
    • Frozen fruit (any type)
    • Edamame (for a quick snack or side dish)
    • Frozen, Riced Cauliflower
  8. Beverages
    • Sparkling Water
    • Vodka or Wine (if you’re a cocktail person, or like cooking with wine)

Again, you don’t need every item every week, but you should have a good variety of items stocked in your pantry, fridge, and freezer to make meal prepping and weekly meals a breeze. Stay tuned for next week’s blog (Time-Efficient Meal Prepping) using the items listed!


Why You’re Fat

Lifestyle management is a daily challenge. One slip, two slips, three slips…and a bad habit is formed with consequences that can be ten-fold. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness about lifestyle choices, without any bullsh*t. I’m here to speak truth, and offer a way out. If you need some life changes, this article will help get you on the right track. Let’s get right down to it. 

Main Causes of Obesity (from a trainer’s perspective) :

  1. Stress – 1 out of 75 adults experience panic disorders (National Institute of Mental Health)
  2. Lack of sleep – 1/3 of American adults report getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep/night (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) 
  3. Poor nutrition – The nationwide count for fast food restaurants has doubled since 1970! 

Common sense, right? The prior are three key ingredients to the Obesity Recipe and, quite frankly, get swept under the rug too much. While it may seem easy to “fix” stress, sleep, and nutrition, it’s actually the three topics I’m constantly stuck on with most clients. American lifestyle is high-paced, competitive, and busy. Is that an excuse? No. It is, however, an explanation – a piece to everyone’s individual puzzle.

Let’s look at stress, the causes and consequences, and address how to manage your lifestyle with proper sleep and nutrition to battle the bulge. 

Stress – the start of it all.  

To name a few of many causes: 

– Work – 80% of Americans reported feeling stressed at work, while almost 50% cited they need help managing stress. (American Institute of Stress) Changing careers, pressure to perform and hit deadlines, receiving promotions, and/or working split or night shifts are more specific examples of work related stress

– Fitness Routines – while it’s often a positive stressor, it’s still stress on the body. Training for a specific race, meet, and / or weight loss goals are examples of stressors. Even more specifically, high intensity and specific overload sessions are examples of things that can cause stress. 

– Family-  whether its chasing kids or helping a family member with an addiction or ailment, family can be stressful!

– Future of our country- surprisingly (or maybe not…) this ranked as one of the highest causes of stress in 2017. Some fear the national leader, while others are more stressed about how that specifically translates to things like Medicare. Long story short, Americans are the most concerned and stressed they have EVER been about this topic. (statistically) 

Any of these relate to you? If so, keep reading..

Consequences of short and long – term stress levels

*This is the main takeaway, so if you’re skimming, slow down here.

When we experience immediate stress, our body releases several hormones (you may recognize one in particular known as cortisol). After the removal of a short bout of stress, say a workout, or traffic jam, or busy day at work, some hormones dissipate, some stick around to make sure energy is restored. Here’s where insulin comes in. Elevating blood glucose (aka eating sugar) lowers some of these hormone levels. As we give into sugar cravings more, our bodies adapt. Soon, we need more sugar to relieve these elevated hormones, and after an extended level of stress (unsustainable amounts of high intensity exercises or prolonged lack of sleep, for example), elevated levels of said hormones hinder thyroid-stimulating hormones, the important ones that account for metabolizing 60-75% of our daily calorie expenditure) which in turn reduces quantities of hormones needed to regulate metabolism. Before we know it, we’re insulin-resistant with high levels of fat in our core. (NASM) Slippery slopes… 

Lifestyle Management 

Stress is a part of life. It always has been, it always will be. The reason why we’re more overweight is partly due to chronic stress from busy lifestyles, and the obnoxious amounts of readily available fast food and sugar. You’re allowed to be stressed! However, your reaction to stress has consequences. Do you want them to be positive (balanced diet and exercise) or negative (sugar cravings, insulin-resistance, weight gain)? *Note: discipline required to read further. 

  • Balance you life. Take 5 minutes at the beginning, middle, and/or end of your day to think about the positive aspects of your life. If you can’t fill 5 minutes with positivity, it’s time to make some drastic changes. If you’re one step ahead saying change is stressful, you bet your a** it is, but if short-term stress leads to relief of chronic stress well, that’s a trade I’d take any day. 
  • Incorporate aerobic activity. If all you’re doing is blowing off steam with ground and pound workouts, or avoiding exercise altogether, think about redirecting your time. If you’re not exercising, start with 30 minute walks 3 x’s a week. If you’re already exercising, step back and look at your approach. Do you need some aerobic activity to help reduce those stress hormones? Try doing 2 moderate workouts to 1 high intensity or anaerobic workouts. If you’re training for a specific, competitive event, be sure to include a recovery week every 2-4 weeks. 
  • SLEEP. Everyone is different, but the majority of us need 7-8 hours of sleep. This means exercising and eating at an appropriate time. Sometimes that means skipping an early workout if sleep quality was poor, while sometimes this means working out early to ensure a timely dinner and bedtime. Lastly, this means lights off and devices away by a certain time. If that’s too much to ask, reassess your priorities. 
  • Feed yourself. Under-fueling is an epidemic, in my dramatic opinion. Too many people work hard at demanding job, stress their bodies in training, and (in a futile attempt to lose weight) restrict calories. If give your body less than it needs to function, you only increase those naughty hormones I discussed. The result is fatigue, not weight loss. That’s depressing! If you’re unsure of what you need to ensure a healthy metabolism, consult a fitness professional. Nutrition is not a cookie-cutter plan. It takes time to find the right caloric intake for optimal performance and / or weight loss. 
  • Proper Nutrition. The minute you pull into McDonald’s after a stressful day at work after a poor night’s sleep is the minute you agree to the negative chain of events we discussed. To be clear: treats and rewards are part of a balanced routine, while stress-responses eating is an addictive habit. If you get promoted and celebrate with a milk shake, awesome! If you’re traveling for work, sleep-deprived, and react with a milk shake, not awesome. Set yourself up for success by grocery shopping for 1 hour, and meal prepping for 2 hours. That’s three hours of time on a day you’ve set aside each week to be successful during a busy week. If that’s still not possible, use an online food service to deliver healthy meals in stressful weeks. If you travel, plan your trip ahead to find walkable distance stores and be strong at company dinners. Skip the alcohol, bulk the vegetables. I could make this bullet a separate post, as this barely touches on ways to have proper nutrition. If you still have questions, feel free to reach out to me personally on this matter. 
  • Routine vs. Ritual: I’ve found most people to be creatures of habit. We prefer to have our schedule “normal.” For example: Breakfast at 7. Workout at 8. Shower and head to work at 9, so on and so forth. Bland, but seems to work…or does it? If you look at your schedule and find yourself going through your daily routine effortlessly, then it’s time to ramp it up a little. Rituals are meaningful tasks that specifically lead us closer to our goal. It’s the mentality behind the actions that make an impact. It’s quite possible your routine is holding you back from reaching your potential, merely by lulling you into mediocrity. Look at your day to day and find ways to insert rituals into your routine that will make you just 10% better. 

That’s it for today, folks!  Feel free to email me personally if clarification or personal advice is needed on any of the topics touched on today. 

BK