Posts tagged healthy living
5 Questions to Ask When You're Not Making Progress

Lack of progress is a huge issue for nearly everyone in the health and fitness arena. We often forget that performance and physique changes do not happen in a linear fashion - there are peaks, valleys, steps forward, steps backward, etc. But nevertheless, it’s frustrating to feel like you’re “doing everything right” and not seeing results. I really hate to break it to you, but you may not actually be “doing everything right”. And THAT’S OKAY. It’s unrealistic to expect perfection in all areas of life at the same time - that’s just not how the world works. Super stressed out and not getting enough sleep? Maybe the answer is to try to reduce stress where you can (and that can mean GASP not working out) and focusing on good nutrition. Have medical issues or other issues that make it hard to work out or feel good? The answer could be just focusing on doing what you can, when you can and being consistent with that. Bottom line: It's not helpful to beat yourself up about not having everything be perfect.  But what can be helpful is asking yourself what you can change or what you can be doing better (not perfect) to help make progress on your goals. Identifying areas that may be lacking and coming up with a solution requires two things: honesty with yourself and asking yourself some reflective questions. With that in mind, here are the questions I think are helpful in the "identification" part of this process:  

1. Are you consistent?  We often fall into the trap of all or nothing mentality. We are either “on” the wagon or “off” the wagon; we are either at the gym 6x a week (p.s. you probably don’t need to be there that often) and if we can’t be, then we might as well not go at all. Essentially, perfection becomes the enemy good. Rather than focusing on being perfect, be consistent. Being the person who is in the gym regularly is going to get you further than being the person who goes go the gym 6x a week for two weeks and then doesn’t come in for 3 weeks.

2. Do you stick with it?  If you’re the person who switches programming or diets every 3 weeks because you’re not getting results, it’s going to be very tough to make any real progress. A week or two isn’t enough time to see any significant change, period. Stick with it and give it an honest try - if after 6 weeks (or the length of your program) it isn’t working for you, make a change. Look at your experience and learn from it. *Note: following an actual, intelligently designed program that is suitable for your goals is also a big component of making progress - if you’re not doing that...change that.*

3. Did you actually DO the program? Ask yourself if you were actually compliant - if you program says 5x5 back squats at 75% for 6 weeks and you decided to do 8x3 at 85%  for 6 weeks instead, you didn’t do the program. If you are trying out a new diet protocol and you decide to change it up completely, you didn’t do the program. Maybe that means that program wasn’t for you. But if you don’t do the program, you can’t really blame the program for lack of progress. Stick with it, be honest with yourself, and then make an evaluation. Keep what works, throw out what doesn’t work.

[Here is a video of me deadlifting for the first time since my SI joint injury. Is it heavy? No. It is close to my max? No. BUT it's progress for me, right now.]

4. Consider other factors: This is kind of a nerdy analogy but stick with me. In most social sciences, we examine the relationships between x (the independent variable, or in our case, the “program”) & y (the dependent variable, or in our case, the “outcome”). Few things are as simple as saying THIS caused THAT (or x caused y). For example, I can say that an increase in ice cream consumption (x) is related to an increase in outdoor running (y). The implication could be that consuming ice cream causes more outdoor running. Not only is this a ridiculous statement, but it’s a false statement for a number of reasons. 1.: correlation is not causation - just because two things are related doesn’t mean one caused the other. 2.: I’m missing a critical component that explains the relationship since I'm not getting the whole story - that other factor is the season. Both ice cream consumption and outdoor running increase during the summer. Without summer, these things probably aren’t related. The season, summer, is then our other variable that helps explain the relationship.

Now that I’ve thoroughly nerded out, let’s apply this to a training or diet scenario. If you followed your program, did your squats, ate your veggies and protein, and still didn’t get the outcome you wanted - you might need to look at those "other" factors. Are you sleeping enough? How stressed out are you? Do you drink enough water? Do you take enough rest and recovery time?  All of these factors can explain the relationship between program (x) and lack of results (y). If you’re training hard, eating well, but are a giant ball of stress, don’t take rest days, and only sleep 4 hours a night - you probably aren’t going to reach your physique or training goals until you address those factors.

5. Do you believe in yourself? Having big goals is good. Your goals should scare you a bit and seem hard - because they are. I want to squat 300#+. I want to go to Nationals. I want to do WELL at Nationals. I’m confident I can do all of those things. It is going to take a long time and an insane amount of difficult work, but I can do it because there really isn’t a reason why I CAN'T.  Even if I never actually squat 300#, I’m going to get a hell of a lot further aiming for 300# than aiming for 225#. Why put a limitation on a goal? Sure, it can be scary to think of what happens if we don't reach our goals or if we "fail" but, if I reach for that 300# squat, never attain it, but squat 275#, is that a bad thing? Yes, I "failed" to reach my goal but it's more than likely that I learned a whole lot along the way and I got much further than I would had if I had  let the fear of failure put limitations on what I wanted to achieve.  I don’t think it’s necessary to be unrealistic about your goals but you should believe in your own ability to accomplish big things.

Again, I think one of the biggest components of identifying what is hindering progress is self-honesty. It's easy for us to say that we had a crappy deadlifting session because we didn't sleep much the night before or that our benching session was amazing because we had carbed up the night before. It's harder to extend this type of thinking to habits and behaviors that we engage in over and over again.

What do you all feel is the biggest hurdle that is holding you back from the progress you want?

How to Meal Plan Without Losing Your Mind

Meal planning – some people swear by it, some people hate it but it’s hard to debate the fact that being prepared is better than not being prepared.   One of the biggest issues people have with meal planning (myself included) is that it can feeling overwhelming and confusing.  There are lots of questions and concerns that arise: What if you don’t want to eat what you made because you can’t stand the thought of eating chicken one more time? If you’re tracking your macros, how do you make sure that you’re hitting all of your numbers? And most of all – how do you do all of this while maintaining your sanity? http://photos-e.ak.instagram.com/hphotos-ak-xfp1/10375489_810489755642876_2102971735_n.jpg

[so much tupperware]

A little background before I talk about a few of my favorite tips to help you meal plan without  losing your mind.  I primarily follow a macro counting approach to my food when it comes to how I determine the quantity of food that I eat. When it comes to food quality, I follow a paleo-ish approach. I don’t do any sort of formal “cheat/indulgence day” but instead have 2 or so meals a week that I don’t track and that are whatever I want (the whole “day” format doesn’t work for me so I just divide it up basically).  With that in mind, I’ve discussed approaches that work for people who do track (like myself) and people who don’t. (P.S. If you have issues with food, calorie counting, tracking, etc. where those numbers can cause anxiety or bring up negative feelings, I’d encourage you to talk to someone and avoid anything that brings up those negative feelings, including tracking. )

 

I’m not an expert or nutritionist or dietician or anything like that, but these are few of the tips that I’ve found to be very helpful when trying to plan meals.

 

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[okay this is an actual a picture of study materials for my CSCS and a killer salad, but you get the idea]

Actually PLAN ahead:  Before you plan your meals for the week, a few decisions have to be made:

-       How often do you want to eat?

-       How much do you want to eat?

-       What do you want to eat?

I've covered allll of those things before, so I’ll direct you to this meal planning crash course.

 

 

EXECUTE the plan: It’s one thing to say you’re going to plan ahead and it’s another thing to actually execute the plan.  Putting a plan into action does not have to be some horrible battle of willpower or involve a super restrictive style of eating. Instead, you can use meal templates to help you construct and idea of what you’re going to be eating for the next day or week.  I’ve talked about meal templates a few times but basically, meal templates operate like a modular system that you allows you plan out how much food to buy and allows you to swap in foods based on “categories”. You can build different templates based on your differing needs throughout the week – maybe you have a “workout day” and “rest day” template, or if you carb cycle, you can have a template for your low, medium, and high carb days. Your template could look something like this:

 

Breakfast: protein source + fat + veggies

Snack: protein source + fat + veggies

Lunch: protein source + fat + veggies

Snack: protein source + fruit

Dinner: protein source +  fat + carbs + veggies

 

Based on your typical serving size, you can guesstimate how much food you will need for this day. Let’s say I eat 4-6 ounces of protein as a “serving” – well on this day, I would need to have 20-30 ounces of protein or 5 servings.  I can prep 5 servings of protein and set them aside for this day and add my fat source, fruit, and veggies and voila, all of my meals for the day are done.  You can get as specific or as vague as you want with this, depending on your style of eating.

 

If you are someone who tracks their macros or calories, the planning process can be accomplished pretty easily – simply use whatever program or app you prefer to input a day’s worth of meals ahead of time.  You can do this for several days or different food combinations to get an idea of where your numbers are at each day.  So now my template for the same day make look like this:

 

Breakfast: 3 eggs + tablespoon butter + spinach & peppers

Snack: 1 can tuna + ½ avocado + broccoli Lunch: 6 ounces chicken breast + olive oil + spinach, peppers, mushrooms

Snack: protein shake + apple

Dinner: 4 ounces ground beef + tablespoon coconut oil + 1 cup roasted sweet potato +  green beans

 

Moral of the story is - if I make a few templates according to my nutrition needs throughout the week, I’ll have an idea (either very specifically or vaguely) about what I need to make on my prep day so that no food is wasted and I’m not spending a fortune on food I don’t need!  Over time, this becomes easier – you will have a better idea of how much food you need, what you need to make, and how your eating habits change during the week. Basically, it will be a whole lot less thinking about food.

 

Now, the example meal template above is pretty specific. I’ve basically spelled out exactly what I plan to eat on this day. Which brings me to my next tip….

 

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[On Saturdays, we drink coffee, bench, and eat cookies (gluten-free ones for me!) ]

Be FLEXIBLE: One of the nice things about taking a more “modular” approach to meal planning by using meal templates is that I can swap out different “categories” when I feel like it. Let’s say I’ve planned out my day using the example above and when lunch rolls around, I really don’t want chicken. No problem – maybe I’ll swap in a boneless pork chop instead.

One way to turn this concept into something concrete is to prep your meals in the same modular way that you create your meal templates.  Instead of making a chicken salad, maybe separate the ingredients out into a container with chicken and a container with your salad ingredients. Now, you can just simply grab the salad container and a container with another protein source (like our pork chop example) and be good to go. It seems like a simple thing, and it IS a simple thing, but I’ve found that this “modular” method of meal construction is super helpful and feels a whole lot less restricting than being bound to eating whatever you have already made in your fridge or being left having to think about how to combine something into a meal several times a day.

If I’m someone who tracks my macros, I can just make the swap in whatever tracking program I use, and adjust throughout the day accordingly. If I switch out my chicken for a pork chop -  maybe that means I’ll just have a little less fat with dinner or something.  Also, laying out your day ahead of time allows for more flexibility. Want to go out to lunch? Go ahead! You can always adjust later in the day if needed. Taking a more modular approach allows you to think in categories rather than being tied to ONE specific meal or combination.

I personally like to track all of the next day’s planned eats in an app and then adjust as I actually move throughout my day.  That way, I know where I am throughout the day.  This takes away a lot of the stress and anxiety of trying to find foods to “fit” whatever you need - if I want a mid-bench press set cookie, I’ll eat the cookie and adjust accordingly. No stress, no guilt, and I don’t have to spend time thinking about how I’m going to “fit” that cookie into my day. My day is already laid out for me and I can see, with relative ease, how I need to adjust my day.

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Putting it into practice:  So here is how I actually execute meal planning and prep in two hours - from chopping to cleaning the kitchen - on a Sunday, using these tips:

  1. Make my meal template (I’ve already done this so this saves me a lot of time)
  2. Get ready – grab my cutting board, knife, things I’m going to prep, preheat the oven, etc. I always preheat my oven to something like 375F so I can throw in several different items and can cook them all at once.
  3. Prep proteins: I trim whatever piece of meat is going into the slow cooker and season things like chicken thighs, pork chops, etc. that are going in the oven. I will start cooking things like ground beef on the stovetop.
  4. Prep veggies and carb-dense veggies: I dice potatoes, slice peppers, get sweet potatoes ready for roasting, slice up onions, etc.
  5. Make my oven multitask : I will put veggies, protein sources, and potatoes in the oven. I set a timer for 15 minutes or so to check the items and take them out when they are finished. When one tray goes out, another goes in to start cooking.
  6. Carb sources: I will boil water for rice pasta and put rice in the rice cooker.
  7. Making meal components: I fill a few Tupperware containers with salad ingredients, fill two containers with potatoes & hard boiled eggs (my work breakfast), fill other containers with some of the cooked veggies. I portion out proteins (chicken, pork when it’s finished) and carb sources (rice, pasta) into separate containers. I make any “meals” I will know I will eat (like the same breakfast I take to work every week) and leave the rest.
  8. Clean the kitchen.

And that’s it! Once you have a routine in place, this process becomes so very easy. Now, it’s just something that I know I do on Sundays and it saves me so much time and energy during week.

 

So tell me: do you meal plan/prep?

Airport Meals, Snacks, & Travel Tips

I’m heading off to Arizona for vacation tomorrow morning and since I’m avoiding packing and figuring out to fit 4 days worth of clothes and shoes for two people in a small carry-on, I thought I would share some of my favorite airport meals, travel snacks, and tips. 20130312-095503.jpg

A few of my favorite airport meals include: - Mexican food: This is probably the easiest thing to eat being gluten-free and most airports have at least one Mexican food restaurant. I like to stick with some sort of fajita plate (just meat & veggies) or corn soft tacos. Plus, GUACAMOLE. - Salads: Airport salads are ridiculously expensive but they do work in a pinch. Try to find one where everything is packaged separately (i.e. no croutons please!) or one that is freshly made to order. - Breakfast food: There is usually at least one place that does made to order breakfast or sells some variation on scrambled eggs and bacon. It’s easy, usually a bit cheaper, and filling. - Burger with no bun: When all else fails, there is always the standard “burger-with-no-bun” option!

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A few of my favorite travel snacks include: - DIY trail mix: I like to make my own mix to snack on that usually involves some variation on coconut flakes, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s easy, cheap, and portable! - Hardboiled eggs: You can usually find these in gas stations, convenience shops, etc. and they’re an easy and portable source of protein. - Carrot sticks: I usually buy the little cups that include carrot sticks & ranch and toss the dressing. I like to buy some guacamole and use that instead! - Coconut flakes: I shovel these into my face by the handful all.the.time. Seriously one of the best snacks, ever. - Protein powder & shaker bottle: You can also make your own protein packs (just portion out your powder into a bag) and take a shaker bottle with you. Just add water and you have a quick shake to take the edge off.

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A few of my favorite travel tips include: - BE PREPARED: Pack your own snacks and pack plenty of them. There is nothing worse than being stuck in airport or car when you’re hangry. - Do your research: If you know where you’re going out to eat, do your research ahead of time that way you know if you need to snack before your meal or can find something safe to eat. - Buy some groceries: When you get to your destination, pick up a few things and store them in your fridge in your hotel or wherever you are staying. It really helps cut costs and frustration if you have a few things on hand.

And that’s it! Now, I have to figure out how to fit Olympic weightlifting shoes in my purse...