The Unlikely Yogi: A week on my Balinese Yoga Retreat

One World Retreats, Kumara: Escape the World

The gentle tinkle of a brass bell rouses me from a deep and pleasant sleep. I’m awoken to the scent of burning incense simmering to my room from the open-plan yoga studio below, and upon sleepily opening my heavy-set, wooden sliding doors, I’m greeted pleasantly by a simple porcelain tea-for-one, hand-brewed lemon juice, ginger and honey dwelling inside. This is just one of the many humbling gestures offered unconditionally on a day to day basis by the creators of One World Retreats – whole-heartedly inviting you to Escape the World.

When I saw a tarot reader back in September 2016, in the not-so-luxurious shopping centre complex of Warringah Mall, I hardly expected that my so-called “spiritual awakening” as the psychic described it, would come to fruition on an Indonesian holiday, booked on a whim to coincide with my mandatory annual leave dates. Primarily found at the weights rack, I didn’t consider myself the ideal candidate for a week-long Yoga retreat, particularly given my typical-Cancerian impatience and aversion to 5+ minutes of stationary silence. Despite these qualities, I am a seeker of challenges, regardless of the level of difficulty I might encounter. One World Retreats Kumara had a strongly reviewed, extensive list of programs, the Escape the World retreat intriguing me with its renowned benefits. The psychic’s voice rang in my head as I hesitated on the 6th tab of the 14 open on my desktop – could this be the trigger he was referring to?

As it turns out, it was.

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For myself and 17 others on the retreat, Yoga was a blissful pastime that many of us didn’t have the privilege of getting to as often as we would like. Most considered themselves beginners, one or two intermediate, and one incredibly-talented expert – a 68-year old Washington-reigning sassy lady who had been practicing yoga daily for over ten years. I wasn’t sure what to expect on meeting my fellow participants, but I was relieved at the grounded level of expertise across the group, and relished the fact I was only one of four Australians (Bali tends to attract Aussies like mosquitos to a UV lamp). The group of equally ambivalent Yogi’s reigned from all over the world – America, Africa, Germany, Holland and New Zealand to name a few. And as I learnt further on in our journey, despite the drastic stretch in mileage between the places we each called home – we shared an identical yearning for inner peace. And whilst I asserted to the men and women that it was ‘our group’ that made the retreat the special experience that it was – more pointedly, it was not without the guidance and leadership of Iyan and his team that we could have achieved such an incredible energetic connection.

Three and a half to four hours of yoga are divided into a morning and evening session – combining the methods of Pranayama, meditation, Vinyasa flow, Hatha, Savasana and Asana to improve both our spiritual awareness and physical strength. A challenge for both the beginner and the expert Yogi, Iyan – Yoga Master (my word, not his) and assistant, Wayan – offer movements to suit all levels of experience. It is rare to receive such focused physical attention from an instructor of any class, particularly those found in gyms or designed only for aesthetic improvement. Iyan gently guides his students into understanding and practising the link between calmness of mind and folding into each pose. He and Wayan physically and mentally guide the class to develop patience and balance – and will even indulge the participants by taking a few snaps at the critical moment of heightened shoulder stand. But Iyan’s powerful lesson that the class collectively understood by the close of our retreat, was that the achievement of a head or shoulder-stand was simply a bonus by-product of reaching the timeless reward of inner balance and peace.

The program is well-designed and allows for relevant immersion in cultural experiences, without overloading the participants in hour-by-hour planned agendas. From trekking through long-stretching rice fields to sun-saluting a sunrise emerging over the active Batur Volcano – the integration of Balinese lifestyle and culture adds to the experience’s authenticity. Iyan asserts a representation of yoga in it’s traditional sense – the connection of one’s mind with the body, and its connection to a higher power, offering daily thanks for the simple privilege of life. While my Mum was always one to parrot on and say, “Samantha, some people don’t even have feet”, should I complain about cold toes in Winter – I never truly understood true gratitude until this week-long escape. Perhaps it was the energy of the open room, or the ambiance created by trilling gecko each yoga session. Maybe it was the hot, sticky Balinese air, resting heavily on my chest, creating the need to breathe with slow, deliberate purpose, counting to five the way we’d been instructed. Or perhaps it was the combination of everything, down to the finest detail to ensure we felt loved, nourished, unique – that changed each of us so emphatically. This wasn’t done by accident, these details have been finessed with love and effort – and the appreciation goes beyond any words we could muster at the close of the retreat.

One of the most challenging, yet critical items on our agenda, was the Day of Silence. The ‘Art of Nothing’  is said to aid in the contemplation of self and provide meditative reflection on the things we really want in our lives. Our silence commenced from the waking moment of Day 3 – friendships only barely formed and conversations still bobbing on the surface of small-talk. Confrontingly, we each sat in the privacy of our villas consuming breakfast, lunch and dinner in the deafening quietness of a theoretically pleasant empty space. Suggestions were offered to fill time, like jotting down our goals, fears, and the things we wanted to let go of, to be burnt in a traditional ritualistic ceremony on our final day. While the tropical stormy rain dripped heavily over my patio – every minute seemed to move like an hour; my thoughts overcrowding, each individual consideration fighting for attention to be heard, like seagulls squawking over a plate of fish and chips. I couldn’t tell whether my anxiety (ironically, it seemed, the key catalyst for booking said trip) was throwing only me into a frenzy or whether the experience was affecting others in the same way. It was only as seconds progressed into hours, and hours into evening, the silence became friend over foe. I began to clear the clouds of negativity using Iyan’s method of meditation, breathing and stretching. I sat down to eat my final meal of the day after sunset yoga and picked up my pen for the first time that day. 24 hours with myself in repetitive soliloquies and I was finally, with confidence and authority, able to write.

It wasn’t until 8am we were able to speak again, over breakfast – and the group chattered excitedly about the day’s forthcoming activities. It was clear that the connections made between one another were fuelled by this collective intuition for what each of us had experienced. Without saying anything for 24 hours, the silence spoke for us. We knew each other on a deeper level now, and by default, we knew ourselves in a way we hadn’t been enlightened to before.

No Balinese holiday is complete without ritualistic pampering. Complete with two spa treatments, Escape the World leaves no opportunity of detail untouched. Their signature spa treatment, the Ayurvedic Chakra Dhara Massage is a two and a half hour experience, with hot oil kneaded deeply into the muscles, and the dripping of oil onto key energy points (or chakras) to balance energy flow and purify the body. Aruveya is said to be one of the oldest holistic therapies focusing on health prevention longevity and healing of life, according to Kumara’s Spa description. I can only say that whilst I may not feel ‘healed of life’, the method of massage certainly was enough to make half of the group go back for round two, and leave me fighting in desperation for a second session amidst the other participants. I would have gotten in as well, except Kumara’s Spa is so unbelievably good that the word spreads far and wide, and getting into a treatment last minute is competitive to say the least.

The food provided is fresh, healthy, and artfully constructed. Taking each individual’s dietary requirement very seriously (this is a Yoga retreat after all – Vegans, Vegetarians and Cavemen run far and wild) the skill of the chefs is certainly to be applauded. Integrating the elements of both traditional Indonesian cuisine and Western-inspired favourites, each meal is a buffet of guilt-free delight – even luxurious desserts like decadent chocolate/avocado mouse can’t be faulted. Diabetics needn’t run for the hills with all meals promising fresh, organic ingredients – sugar-free unless specifically noted otherwise. Fresh fruit, tea and coffee are provided at the incredibly prompt attention of staff, or a quick visit to the dining room where Wifi can also be found (not that you’re supposed to be using it). Food is often shared across the length of a Last Supper style-table – brunches and lunch in buffet-style, by default encouraging conversation and lively interaction. The dining room is a place we all associated with positivity and happiness. It wasn’t long after the day of meditative silence that we began to open up about our journeys to Bali – what brought each of us here to this moment together. Time, a western-developed cognition, played no factor in how long we stayed to hear these stories out, yearning for more, learning from each other’s insecurities, vulnerabilities and fears – and reflecting upon our own. We found comfort in each other’s tales – cried, laughed and shared energy and pain. It was a beauty invisible to the naked eye, and indescribable to the impartial observer. But it’s a sacred moment of many that I’ll cherish from this life-changing trip.

The Escape the World Retreat was a once in a lifetime opportunity that genuinely changed me. I am hardly the gullible consumer – I prefer strategy over ideology, I prefer action over words. But for those 6 days, I paused, and took a second to open my eyes for what seemed like the first time in 20 years. These were real world strategies that catered to the most unlikely yogi.

One World made me grateful for life at the very ground-level level, from the earth we walk on to the air we breathe. It made me realise, once stepping away, Western society has implanted a subconscious need to rush through life, often leaving us wondering where each day escaped to. Not just a retreat, but a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment, I truly seized this profound opportunity to Escape the World.

Finally, I invite you to escape too, but advise getting in quick – I know 18 eager and seasoned attendees already signing up for round two.

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– images courtesy of the various participants attending this retreat

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Why do you hate exercise?

Why do you hate exercise?

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Do you hate cardio like Taylor does? Then maybe this article was written especially for you.

If there’s one consistency I’ve found in listening to people’s questions around exercise and health over the past few years, it’s an abundant and over-resounding “How do you have so much motivation?” It’s something I often get asked about and it’s a hard one to answer, because (she says seemingly smugly) I have never had a problem with getting motivated to exercise.

Now, you might be sitting there reading this, thinking, “Well, geez – if I knew this was going to be a preachy article about how easy exercise is for one woman and how it’s hardly applicable to 200,000 others; and why the fuck did I waste my precious mouse clicks on this random girl’s blog?”, but hear me out. I certainly never had a problem becoming motivated to exercise once I became educated about it. And you don’t need a heavy textbook, personal trainer or nutrition coach to teach you a few simple things about pumping blood a little faster around your body.

Why we’re hardwired to hate exercise

Before my 17kg weight loss journey in 2013 – I really, really thought that I hated exercise. I had a pure loathing of the thought of putting myself through torturous programs that left my sweaty, writhing body in a completely deflated state for up to a week after. I had no desire to go out jogging, or to stand in front of a fogged up mirror in a large room full of smelly men grunting viciously as their forehead veins squeezed to pop out of their tight, cling-wrap like skin. I desperately wanted to be thin but truly believed the output of my efforts during exercise were not worth the pain I was certain to go through to reach ultimate goal.

So I had to really reassess why I hated exercise, so I could find a way to love it.

Negative Reinforcement

Hating exercise has been hardwired into our brain. Negative reinforcement has proven through countless scientific studies that its impact is largely ineffectual when it comes to exercise. Let’s take this example of Jillian Michaels, coach on the Biggest Loser US.

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Jillian is known for her army-style, get-down-and-give-me-twenty type training. She yells at her clients and is famous for coining herself as the ‘toughest trainer ever’, pushing some clients to very public breakdowns mid their last set of treadmill sprints.

Exhibit A: 

Jillian

 

“Watching Jillian Michaels be a badass trainer and wiping the floor with her overweight ragdolls really makes me want to go and get me some of that.”

SAID NO ONE EVER.

A study in the American Journal of Health Behaviour depicted just this, with an assessment of those who watched the Biggest Loser and how their motivation to perform exercise either increased or decreased. You might have guessed it, the study revealed that participants who watched The Biggest Loser may result in lower motivation to participate [in exercise] because of the anticipation of an unpleasant experience“.* I don’t blame them. Check out Exhibit B to see this poor soul being dragged through the pool that is negative reinforcement.

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It’s not just the impact of the entertainment industry that’s having a negative correlation with exercise – it’s the type of vigorous, sweat-drenching exercise endorsed by personal trainers everywhere and as a result, perpetuated in mediums we can’t escape. Magazines, radio, gyms and of course, television. These types of exercises (and I’m talking, the hours on a treadmill, jumping, boxing, sweating profusely, etc.) are coined the most effective because of the counteractive effect it has against how much food we consume in regular, 21st century life. It’s ironic considering what we know about health and exercise is that you can’t outrun a bad diet, and if we all just ate a little less and a lot better, our training efforts wouldn’t have to be so ridiculously un-enjoyable.

Realistically, if we ignore the media’s clever play on us gullible, info-hungry humans, the things we know about exercise with absolute certainty are this:

  • Consistency and progressive-overload are the keys to long-term success
  • Enjoyment of exercise leads to consistency with exercise
  • The two points above are equivalent to the chicken and the egg, and the best kind of lists come in threes

 

So when I see Jillian Michaels screaming to her client that “it’s damn-well gonna hurt” in that fist-clenching, cringe-inducing American accent, it is no surprise to me that people hate what they perceive to be the only form of effective exercise, and additionally, why nearly 65 percent of dieters return to their pre-dieting weight within three years**. There’s no enjoyment. And you can only dis-enjoy life for so long without,

  1. Becoming a grumpy old maid with no friends and lots of cats
  2. Reaching an unhealthy point of dissatisfaction with yourself, and only finding love amongst your many cats
  3. Falling off the bandwagon and driving right past the pet store and instead, to McDonalds***

And this accumulation of statistics brings me to my main point (if you thought I was never going to reach it). Exercise needs to be enjoyable to be effective. Ultimately the right kind of exercise for you will be the one that reaps the most positive effects, both physically, and mentally.

At the start of my journey, I assessed the times when I really enjoyed exercise – which was mainly in primary and high school, being involved in every sport known to man. I really enjoyed the competition, the drive, strategy and the feeling of the sun on my back. The exhaustion and satisfaction after a hard soccer game. The positivity I felt in reaching new goals, showing improvement and feeling my body growing stronger with each training session. This is the kind of positive reinforcement I was seeking now.

Lucky for me (and you) the health and fitness industry is one of the fastest growing in Australia, with the sector’s profits spilling into the billions when 2014 ticked around. Come 2016 and Health and Fitness is in the top 5 fastest growing industries worldwide. That means whilst you might not know where to start, you’re at least spoiled for choice when picking which routine you decide to go with, and because you’re reading this – you have the resources to find it. 

Pride

Many people (women, mainly) suffer from being faced with gorgeous people around us all the time. Not in real life, obviously – if that were the case there’d be a whole lot less on-looking and a whole lot more shagging. No, I’m referring to unreachable standards that exist on every single media platform, and the infiltration of these images into our gyms – a horrible, fluorescent room full of mirrors watching your body twist and writhe in the most unflattering of positions. Not only that, but those around you always seem to be well-versed with the bulky machinery and it’s the all-too intimidating combination of these factors that discourage people from exercising. And in complete fairness, how horrible is it watching yourself fail at something (very literally watching – all those damn mirrors) on a regular basis, and knowing you potentially won’t see results for at least another 6-8 weeks? Sounds to me like the equivalent of walking into work in nothing but my laundry-day undies. Which brings me to my next point…

Uneducation

Feeling uneducated about exercise can often lead to a sense of that you dislike the activity – it comes down to the same principle as pride. When we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re being watched by seemingly, hundreds of others performing admirably better than us, it’s an incredibly off-putting feeling. Exercising for the first time, or committing to a new type of exercise can be daunting and make us feel like we hate it, but once you self-educate on the type of exercise you’re in for before you even begin, you can offset this and start to love the effects that exercise brings. Which is really the point of the whole thing in the first place.

Conclusions

Find what works for you, which may not be what works for Sam, Kate, or Claire. It’s your body, and your prerogative. Once you begin to disassociate exercise and weight loss, and begin moving your body for the benefits that it brings in terms of strength, mental clarity and cardiovascular health, then you can begin to enjoy it. 

Nutrition should NOT be a compensation of the calories you’ve just ‘burned’. Eat well to fuel your body – for energy, for micronutrients and brain power. Eat to fuel your exercise and not to reward yourself for performing exercise; the reward is in the exercise.

Educate yourself about the kind of exercise you want to try. If something like barre sounds appealing to you, research the methods before you head into your first class. You want to avoid feeling that sense of negative reinforcement before you it attempts to creep in, so the exercise is a pleasant experience.

Find the things you love, and utilise that in your training. I love the feeling of competition, for example – but I also find that as someone who has been independent for a long time, I like working out alone. I like the feeling of loud music fuelling my workout. I like the feeling of smashing a new PB. I love feeling proud of myself for new accomplishments and I’ve implemented that with a weekly checkpoint system. It’s what works for me, but maybe it won’t work for you.

I have a friend who was paying a hefty weekly gym membership, but she hardly went, and when she did, she walked briskly on the treadmill in sheer lack of motivation to try anything new. Under the influence of her PT boyfriend, she joined F45 – and that high-fiving, teamwork, spirit-fingers kind of workout is exactly the kind of community-based exercise she needed to get her mojo back.

Maybe what you need is a group of supportive new-starters. Maybe you need to download Kayla’s guide and try it in your living room with only your cat watching you**** before you have the confidence to hit the gym. Maybe you can just start by going for a walk around the block, feeling like a king because you’re lapping those suckers on the couch.

So go on, write a list. What do you love doing? What makes you feel good? How can you achieve feeling that with regular exercise?

Take that list and your swift little fingers and do some research and give it a go. Better yet, give me a buzz, and I’ll give it a go with you.

*Source: American Journal of Health Behavior, Volume 37, Number 1, January 2013, pp. 96-103(8) http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/png/ajhb/2013/00000037/00000001/art00011

**Source: Foster, G. http://www.livestrong.com/article/438395-the-percentage-of-people-who-regain-weight-after-rapid-weight-loss-risks/

***Source: Primary evidence. I’d like to point out here that I actually own a cat, so if anyone has valuable insight into latching onto their felines for love, it’s me. Cat owners need not be offended.

****Source: Primary evidence. My cat actually does this.

The Working Week Meal Prep Budget Challenge

The Working Week Meal Prep Budget Challenge

Based on a 5 day working week, 3 days a week strength training and 2 days a week cardio training.

Personal Trainers and Health Coaches collectively assert that the best method of progressive strength gains whilst losing fat is done through moderate carb cycling – that is, lower carbs and higher fats on days when you’re performing cardiovascular training (i.e. HIIT, brisk walking or jogging) and higher carbs, lower fats on days when you’re performing strength training. Protein intake should remain relatively the same throughout the week.

Step 1:

Choose your high carb lunch meal – this will be your meal for 3 days of lunches (ideally Monday, Wednesday, Friday – but it’s up to you and your workout schedule. I find working in alternative low carb days followed by a high carb day keeps me satisfied for longer and doesn’t have me excessively craving food or being super hungry).

High Carb Lunch Options:

  • Stuffed Capsicums with Steamed Veg
  • Coconut Tumeric Curry
  • Chili Con Carne
  • Stuffed Sweet Potato (vegetarian)
  • Open Grill Avocado, Chicken and Cottage Cheese Sandwich

Low Carb Lunch Options:

  • Chicken and Zoodles with Homemade Pesto
  • Tuna Zucchini Fritters
  • Deconstructed Sushi Bowl
  • Asian Chicken Salad
  • Spicy Peanut Tofu with Steamed Veg (Vegetarian)

Step 2:

Choose your high carb dinners – note that on these strength training days you can alternate your lunch or your dinner option depending on what you feel like. I do try and keep it simpler for the dinner front – mostly because dinner is a time for relaxing and spending with family and friends and a lot of people have time in the evenings to make these meals fresh. I personally like to prepare dinner each evening fresh, but if you don’t have the time for this you can certainly do it in advance.

High Carb Dinner Options:

  • Lean Beef Stir Fry with Brown Rice
  • Mexican Rice Salad (vegetarian)
  • Lean White Fish Fillet with Vegetables and Brown rice
  • Kanga Bangas with Sweet Potato Mash and Steamed Green Veg
  • Chicken Quinoa/Rice Burrito Bowl

Low Carb Dinner Options:

  • Poached Chicken with salad
  • Lamb and Beetroot Salad
  • Atlantic Salmon with Brussel Sprouts and Green Veg
  • Chicken Waldorf Salad
  • Portobello Mushroom Bun Burgers (Vegetarian)

Step 3:

Once you’ve picked your combination, you can go shopping! Keep in mind you can actually mix up these meals and purchase more ingredients if you like, but that will obviously cost more accordingly.

Breakfasts will be interchangeable between eggs on low carb days, and oats or toast on high carb days. This is for the purpose of convenience, and ultimately, money saving!

If you happen to not like eggs or are vegan, perhaps consider protein bread by the Protein Bread Co.; it’s a great alternative to toast on low carb days. You can also try some low-carb fruits like berries with Coconut Yogurt or Cottage Cheese. Keep in mind fruit is still a carbohydrate (and berries are expensive unless frozen in Australia!) so stick to eggs unless you’re particularly averse to them.

Snacks are also interchangeable due to convenience and budget. They will alter between Fruit and Rice Cakes on High Carb Days, and Protein Shakes, Berries or Cottage Cheese on low carb days.

Construct your sample meal plan and grocery list:

Sample 1: Meat Eaters

Monday – High Carb Day Tuesday – Low Carb Day Wednesday – High Carb Day Thursday – Low Carb Day Friday – High Carb Day
Breakfast 40g Oats with boiling water and 10g honey 2 whole eggs cooked to your liking (Veggie Omelette Optional) 40g Oats with boiling water and 10g honey 2 eggs cooked to your liking (Veggie Omelette optional) 40g Oats with boiling water and 10g honey
Morning Snack 1 Medium Apple 1 scoop protein shake with 250ml skim milk/low carb protein bar 1 banana 1 scoop protein shake with 250ml skim milk/low carb protein bar 1 Medium Apple
Lunch Stuffed Capsicums with Steamed Veg Tuna Zucchini Fritters Stuffed Capsicums with Steamed Veg Tuna Zucchini Fritters Stuffed Capsicums with Steamed Veg
Afternoon Snack 4 Thin Rice Cakes (25g) with tomato and cucumber 100g cottage cheese with 50g blueberries 4 Thin Rice Cakes (25g) with tomato and cucumber 100g cottage cheese with 50g blueberries 4 Thin Rice Cakes (25g) with tomato and cucumber
Dinner Lean White Fish Fillet with Vegetables and Brown rice Poached Chicken with salad Lean White Fish Fillet with Vegetables and cooked brown rice Poached Chicken with salad Lean White Fish Fillet with Vegetables and Brown rice

Grocery List based on above sample:

Dairy and Eggs:

  • Australian Shredded Light Mozzarella $4.00
  • Cage X Large Eggs 12 pack $2.99
  • Lite Creamed Cottage Cheese $2.90

Frozen Food:

  • Frozen Blueberries $4.00

Fruit & Vegetables:

  • Australian Brocolli Florets x 2 $4.00
  • Banana x 1 $0.27
  • Brown Onion x 1 $0.54
  • Carrot x 1 $0.43
  • Kale x 1 bag $3.00
  • Continental Cucumber x 2 $3.80
  • Coriander x 1 bunch $2.98
  • Apples x 2 $1.50
  • Zuchinni x 3 $4.35
  • Red Capsicum x 3 $7.20
  • Roma Tomatoes x 2 $1.38
  • Sliced Green Beans approx 410g. x 3 $3.30

Meat, Seafood and Deli:

  • Chicken Breast Fillets, approx. 310g $3.72
  • Chicken Mince approx. 500g $5.50
  • Thawed Barramundi Fillets approx. 350g $5.60

Pantry:

  • Chicken Style Stock Cubes $3.30
  • Lo Carb Honey Almond Crunch Protein Bar x 2 $6.14
  • Ground Cumin Seeds $2.10
  • Medium Grain Brown Rice 2kg $5.00
  • Natural Thin Rice Cakes $1.65
  • Pure Australian Honey $4.62
  • Quick Oats $1.45
  • Tomato Paste $1.30
  • Tuna Chunks in Olive Oil 95g Can x 2 $1.60

TOTAL = $88.62

Sample 2: Vegetarian

Monday – High Carb Day Tuesday – Low Carb Day Wednesday – High Carb Day Thursday – Low Carb Day Friday – High Carb Day
Breakfast 40g Oats with boiling water and 10g honey 2 whole eggs cooked to your liking (Veggie Omelette Optional) 40g Oats with boiling water and 10g honey 2 eggs cooked to your liking (Veggie Omelette optional) 40g Oats with boiling water and 10g honey
Morning Snack 1 Medium Apple 1 scoop protein shake with 250ml skim milk/low carb protein bar 1 banana 1 scoop protein shake with 250ml skim milk/low carb protein bar 1 Medium Apple
Lunch Stuffed Sweet Potato Spicy Peanut Tofu with Steamed Veg and Cauliflower Rice Stuffed Sweet Potato Spicy Peanut Tofu with Steamed Veg and Cauliflower Rice Stuffed Sweet Potato
Afternoon Snack 4 Thin Rice Cakes (25g) with tomato and cucumber 100g cottage cheese with 50g blueberries 4 Thin Rice Cakes (25g) with tomato and cucumber 100g cottage cheese with 50g blueberries 4 Thin Rice Cakes (25g) with tomato and cucumber
Dinner Mexican Rice Salad Portobello Mushroom Bun Burgers Mexican Rice Salad Portobello Mushroom Bun Burgers Mexican Rice Salad

Grocery List based on above sample:

Dairy and Eggs:

  • Cage X Large Eggs 12 pack $2.99
  • Lite Creamed Cottage Cheese x 2 $5.80
  • Firm Tofu 300g $3.19
  • Vegetarian Lentil Burger (2 pack) $3.51

Frozen Food:

  • Frozen Blueberries $4.00

Fruit & Vegetables:

  • Asian Pak Choy $2.50
  • Australian Broccoli Florets x 3 $6.00
  • Banana x 1 $0.27
  • Brown Onion x 1 $0.54
  • Portobello Mushrooms approx 200g (enough for two burgers) $2.40
  • Cauliflower Whole x 1 $3.00
  • Continental Cucumber x 1 $1.90
  • Coriander x 1 bunch $2.98
  • Gold Sweet Potatoes x 2 $2.80
  • Garlic x 1 $1.20
  • Apples x 2 $1.50
  • Zuchinni x 2 $2.90
  • Red Capsicum x 1 $2.40
  • Roma Tomatoes x 2 $1.38
  • Hass Avocado x 2 $5.96
  • Lemon x 1 $1.20

Pantry:

  • Lo Carb Honey Almond Crunch Protein Bar x 2 $6.14
  • Ground Cumin Seeds $2.10
  • Medium Grain Brown Rice 2kg $5.00
  • Natural Thin Rice Cakes $1.65
  • Pure Australian Honey $4.62
  • Quick Oats $1.45
  • Olive Oil $3.00
  • Smooth Peanut Butter $2.95

TOTAL = $86.52

Sample 3 – Supersaver:

This meal plan is based on the assumption you’re perhaps at the end of the month, or you just need to save a little extra this month! As a result, you’ll be using primarily the same ingredients for most meals in order to maximize your budget.

Monday – High Carb Day Tuesday – Low Carb Day Wednesday – High Carb Day Thursday – Low Carb Day Friday – High Carb Day
Breakfast 1 egg with 2 slices Rye Toast 2 whole eggs cooked to your liking (Veggie Omelette Optional) 1 egg with 2 slices Rye Toast 2 eggs cooked to your liking (Veggie Omelette optional) 1 egg with 2 slices Rye Toast
Morning Snack 1 Medium Apple 1 scoop protein shake with 250ml skim milk/low carb protein bar 1 Medium Apple 1 scoop protein shake with 250ml skim milk/low carb protein bar 1 Medium Apple
Lunch Open Grill Avocado, Cheese Sandwich Chicken and Zoodles with Pesto Open Grill Avocado, Cheese Sandwich Chicken and Zoodles with Pesto Open Grill Avocado, Cheese Sandwich
Afternoon Snack 4 Rice Cakes w/Peanut Butter 100g cottage cheese with 50g blueberries 4 Rice Cakes w/Peanut Butter 100g cottage cheese with 50g blueberries 4 Rice Cakes w/Peanut Butter
Dinner Chicken Rice Burrito Bowl Poached Chicken with salad Chicken Rice Burrito Bowl Poached Chicken with salad Chicken Rice Burrito Bowl

Grocery List based on above sample:

Breads and Bakery:

  • Light Rye Bread x 1 $3.40

Dairy and Eggs:

  • Cage X Large Eggs 12 pack $2.99
  • Lite Creamed Cottage Cheese x 2 $5.80

Frozen Food:

  • Frozen Blueberries $4.00

Fruit & Vegetables:

  • Australian Broccoli Florets x 2 $4.00
  • Continental Cucumber x 1 $1.90
  • Carrot x 2 $0.85
  • Coriander x 1 bunch $2.98
  • Garlic x 1 $1.20
  • Apples x 3 $2.25
  • Zuchinni x 2 $2.90
  • Red Capsicum x 1 $2.40
  • Roma Tomatoes x 2 $1.38
  • Hass Avocado x 2 $5.96
  • Capsicum x 2 $4.80
  • Kale x 1 bag $3.00

Pantry:

  • Lo Carb Honey Almond Crunch Protein Bar x 2 $6.14
  • Ground Cumin Seeds $2.10
  • Paprika $2.15
  • Medium Grain Brown Rice 2kg $5.00
  • Natural Thin Rice Cakes $1.65
  • Olive Oil $3.00
  • Smooth Peanut Butter $2.95
  • Pine Nuts $2.95

TOTAL = $70.67

These are simply guidelines for the average woman who is seeking to maintain strength but lose bodyfat. Long-term moderate carb cycling in the above fashion means you can enjoy what you love and fight off cravings with the continuous interchange of macronutrients.

Common research shows that the average individual under 35, single and living alone pays up to $104 per week on food drink – not including meals and entertainment eaten outside the house. By eliminating meals eaten out during the week, you can ensure you save at least $20-30/per week and reserve one or two meals out of home on the weekend (note; eating out comes under the recreation tab in moneysmart.gov.au – a hefty $106/week spent on average by the under 35 year old single Aussie.

The above calculations are based on Coles Online Shopping – and whilst I can certainly vouch for the quality of product that emerges from the supermarket chain, Aldi is a fantastic alternative for those concentrating closely on their budget. I have been able to slash nearly $20 from the SuperSaver menu as depicted above when shopping at Aldi as opposed to Coles – which is something to consider when nearing the end of the month grocery crisis!

Good luck with the groceries and as always, comment with your experience and suggestions! 

Time, Struggles, and Other Musings

For those of you who follow me regularly, you’ll notice that I’ve hardly been present lately – both in mind, and on social media. I was lucky enough to land a fantastic job in a project management company, and it’s been keeping me incredibly busy for the past few months since I started at the beginning of May. For a while, I was trying to keep up my blog posts as regularly as I was when I was working part time – several posts a day, always running from room to room to grab the right lighting, spending hours consumed by ideas of what to cook next or how to get the best out of my health and workouts. It was becoming such an intense task to keep up with life, I eventually stopped enjoying it. No matter how much I love fitness and health – I was becoming exhausted. And that’s when I recognised that a change was needed.

It’s been proven that the number one reason most people will refer to as to why they don’t exercise is time. Time is a massive factor for most people, particularly those working a 9-5 day job. And whilst getting up each morning, bracing the cold winter chill at 5:45 every day isn’t the most pleasant time for me, especially of late, I recognised that if I were to get up and spend at least an hour of my time with other miserable, sweaty people each day – I better enjoy my time there.

I really, really didn’t want to become one of those people who stopped enjoying exercise, or felt like it was a chore. There was certainly a time in my life, pre-2014 trip to London, where I was overweight, unhappy and never exercised. I ate what I wanted, drank what I wanted and had no consideration for my health whatsoever. I finally realised I needed to change my lifestyle and the first place I started was taking control with clean, healthy food – cooking my meals, drinking in moderation, and running for a short periods once a day. I took my time, I kept my challenge to myself and genuinely enjoyed waking up each day and feeling the wind whipping through my hair as I ran around Lavender Bay. The weight fell off and eventually, as my love for health and fitness grew, my understanding of how to be my best self through health and exercise rose to a new level.

I had to remind myself of this time in my life to really recognise how to move forward from here.

The Key?

Well let’s dive in.

Making time for yourself

Everyday, without fail, I will leave my office and walk around the area I walk in. It might be cold or unpleasant outside, but finding the time to re-coup in this way is paramount to keeping my head on my shoulders.

I have anxiety, depression and have experienced these problems for nearly 10 years. As a result, I’ve had to learn to control and manage it. Fitness and health should be a reprieve from the symptoms you experience if you’re also suffering from mental health problems (although realistically, anyone will benefit from a smidge of Vitamin D!). For me, this time away from my desk gives me time to enjoy the things I really like – being around nature, or sitting down and reading a book, listening to a podcast (my favourite at the moment being ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’) or just having a good old people-watch! You don’t have to go to the shops and spend money, or achieve something if you go out on these breaks – if anything, feel rewarded with the benefits of your break when you come back and find everyone else having not moved from their chairs.

Just remember, you’re not a hero for staying at your desk when everyone else does. An hour outside a day is something you’re completely entitled to, and if you assert the emphasis on health to your colleagues, you might just find them doing the same thing sometimes!

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Finding the nutrition and lifestyle that works for you

There is certainly something to learn from programs designed by personal trainers, especially for beginners who might not have even an inkling of a starting point. Hell, when I started, my program was as simple as a 20 minute jog and 3 sets of bodyweight exercises that I found on Pinterest entitled ‘Every Day Workout’. I had no concept of split days, macros, rest times, nutrition or energy. All I knew is that when I stopped eating sourdough drenched in olive oil of an evening, I lost weight. Seemed fairly simple. But those Kayla Itsines, Emily Skye, Ashy Bines nutrition guides? They have some legitimate value in offering a starting point to any girl wanting to get in shape.

The key words there being ‘starting point’

I was lucky enough to recently interview the lovely Lyndi Cohen who discussed the value in following a PT, generically-created guide for ‘the average Aussie girl’. She says that the regimented nature of a meal plan restricts its consumer and makes them feel physically deprived of the ‘banned’ foods, and the timing between each meal. Kayla’s plan, for example, only allows 10 almonds for a snack between breakfast and lunch, and I don’t know about you, but I’d hardly feel satisfied with a palmful of measly nuts, no matter how nutritious Women’s Health tells me they are (Lyndi happened to agree, mind you).

“I’d argue at times it’s even harmful to be told when to eat, what to eat. I wouldn’t say for anyone that it’s a good idea to try those programs, that they’re counterintuitive and they do more harm than good. My push is to focus on what we can eat”

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Lyndi managed to lose 25kg through ‘intuitive eating’

What Lyndi’s holistic view here is proving is that we need to get in touch with our own hunger; own that feeling and enjoy consuming the things our bodies physically need. No one program is going to work for you just because it works for another – our bodies are completely different and the range of hormones, our height, weight, likes and dislikes, mood even – dictates the amount of energy we need each day. Listen to those cues and determine your own nutritional needs.

Don’t compare yourself to others

That girl? The one on the gym pounding the treadmill sporting a tight crop top and proudly protruding abs? You’re not her*. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come, even if you’ve just made it to the gym, you are well and truly lapping those people in bed. Congratulate yourself for achieving your own goals and just enjoy the fact you have an extra hour, just to yourself, to smash out some sweat – to feel strong, independent**, knowing you’re feeding what your body needs.

*She also doesn’t care what you’re doing. Neither does anybody else. Stop worrying about it.

**This independence can be encroached on by other fit women, obviously. Preferably in your ears, and preferably Beyonce.

Enjoy your exercise

This is a key point, and it ties in with not comparing yourself to others. Recently I needed to change my exercise program, so I went back to basics. After looking through the old routines my PT gave me, I threw caution to the wind and simply googled ‘Lean Women Body Workouts’. I ended up finding a program encouraging me to perform 20 minutes of treadmill HIIT 4 times a week, after strength training.

I’m not a personal trainer, but I know what my body can and can’t take. And for me, my body certainly couldn’t take it. I didn’t enjoy the gym, I felt so exhausted I couldn’t function at work. I even injured my ankle and knee within two weeks of being on a program that was too hard on my body. And being that exhausted is not the reason we got into this.

In fairness, I imagine a lot of people probably got into fitness and health for vanity, and that’s fine. But there’s feeling good about the way you look and feeling good about yourself. And for me, finding that balance is key.

I decided to find and remember the things I really enjoy about exercise: feeling strong, feeling toned and crushing goals. Occasionally feeling the wind blast my hair back. Enjoying a good sweat session once or twice a week. And that thing I mentioned before, the long-awaited reprieve.

I switched back to the things I love: weights, running, a little HIIT and some damn hot yoga*

Those are the things that work for me, and just like that girl in the gym – what I do for me might not work for you. Even my lady, Lyndi, can back me up on that one:

“Exercise should be something we do to make ourselves feel strong, make ourselves feel happy, something we do to benefit ourselves. Anyway you want to move your body – is the right way to be moving your body. So if you want to dance, go dance. If you want to do yoga, do yoga. If all you want to do is stretch, then stretch. But the research shows that once people enjoy exercise, they do it more consistently – and when it comes to exercise, it’s all about consistency”.

I hear you, Lyndi. We can all learn a little from this lady, in fact in the Burpees and Balance next podcast you can hear from Lyndi direct, with her views on balance, intuitive eating and staying fully clothed despite her self-coined ‘nude nutritionist’ title.

*Not an analogy, actual 42 degree heat yoga.

 

 

Starting from scratch – healthy advice for the average Aussie girl

Open up your nearest health magazine. What do you see?

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The average Aussie woman gracing the cover of Dove’s Choose Beautiful Campaign. Being realistic with who we are, and what we really want to achieve is crucial in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Firstly, the cover is most likely plastered with the latest gorgeous cover girl: fit, feisty and blessed with a rock-hard six-pack. You eagerly flick through to page 56, the feature article about Miranda, Gwyneth or Kate to discover the secrets to their ‘hard-earned’ bodies, facing a different set of circuit recommendation every month. These celebrities spout nutritional wisdom – eating only organic, non-processed food – but careful to mention they also indulge in ice-cream, chocolate and chips if they’re craving something ‘naughty’. I can guarantee the sigh of relief exhaling across the country as Australian women everywhere read this line, excusing their ninth piece of dark chocolate because (and I hear this one too often), “But I’ve been good all day”.

It’s no secret that the media industry preys on its target demographic in order to increase sales. While most people are aware of this fact, it seems to only have relevance when we encounter a biased report in the Daily Telegraph, a clear political swing in a columnist’s current affairs article, or Tracy Grimshaw knocking on the home of an elderly who won’t cut down the tree encroaching on their neighbour’s property on A Current Affair. We name and shame these reporters for their biased word twisting and publicly humiliate them in forums like Media Watch to spread the word of their inconsistency and purporting. In the media-savvy country we live in it’s hard to understand why the same principles aren’t applicable to women and men’s health publications.

The reason why these magazines, bloggers and health professionals aren’t being openly shamed is for one very obvious reason: health is a broad spectrum, with many realms still being discovered. In fact, it’s so broad that with the new knowledge we gain everyday (an obvious example is the ‘superfood’ phenomenon and gut-healing discoveries) individuals have the power to share (ahem, shout) this information to the public – a body of people facing so much choice and conflicting material that it’s near impossible to sustain a healthy lifestyle. And so we give up, and have that ninth piece of chocolate because if Women’s Health says Miranda Kerr can do it, so can we.

Health professionals (and particularly self-proclaimed nutritionists) have the ability to word swindle and encourage with delight the body-reaping benefits of ‘good fats’, chia seeds and kale, because despite the necessity of moderation, it’s the clear cut statistics that are reported and misconstrued by our society: eat chia seeds, get a brain boost – because someone in a study in the University of Sweden discovered after consuming 1kg of chia seeds there was an alteration in his patient’s increased brain activity. Ergo, chia seeds = brain boosting. Now I don’t know about you, but if Tracey Grimshaw only had one secondary source for her evening reports, I certainly wouldn’t be tuning in. How about you?

So with the bombardment of health discoveries thrown our way each day, it’s no surprise women don’t know where to start when embarking on a healthy lifestyle. There are so many negative associations with the word ‘diet’ that many women feel as though they’re not working hard enough if they don’t feel undernourished and deprived; coined with our inherent human desire for immediate change – the ‘diet’ is scrapped altogether when the scales don’t bounce 5kg backwards after a week of unnecessary nutrient exclusion. So this article, at its core, is about advising women with the principles of long-term, health and weight maintenance. Warning: you may have to throw Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar out the window.

Being realistic

According to the latest statistical data taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average height of an Australian woman is 161cm, and her weight is 71.1kg. That means that the woman gracing the cover of this month’s Women’s Health is far from a realistic body shape and size in our society. Not that these statistics reflect what size we should be, it simply states what we are – tipping the BMI chart into the overweight territory. Embarking on a healthy lifestyle means gaining an accurate picture of our starting point – measuring correctly, and recognising that goals, (particularly those big ones) take time and patience. It’s the oldest trick in the book, but practiced by so many successful professionals out there. Patience is the key to achieving a balanced and healthy lifestyle long-term.

Being realistic doesn’t just pertain to our body image view, it means being realistic in what we are capable of long-term. Think about it – would you rather lose 5kg immediately, be deprived, malnourished and unhappy for the 3 weeks in the lead up to that one party – then to put it all back on within a few days of gorging yourself silly, or would you rather have a measured approach – a long-term lifestyle change meaning you could maintain your weight and health for life and treating yourself on a regular basis? Science dictates that our personalities are attracted immediately to the concept of forbidden fruit – those ‘dirty’ desires we’ve been told we’re not allowed to have if we’re dieting. Being realistic means that with long-term dietary balance we’re less likely to binge and consume a whopping 3 days net calories in one sitting, meaning we maintain our weight long-term (not to mention our sanity).

Detracting the negativity of ‘diet’

I’m so hesitant to use this word simply because of its negative connotations, but for the purpose of appealing to the masses, I’ll acquiesce. Moving into the routine of a healthy lifestyle is often used for the purpose of losing fat, with much panic and often immediacy in the lead up to an event. While I mentioned this earlier, I do think it’s necessary to reaffirm the importance of taking on a positive attitude towards an all-round lifestyle change, rather than an immediate fat loss goal. Positive reinforcement is proven to be an effective tool in the road to a healthier lifestyle, and seeing as you are the only companion you can 100% count on being by your side your entire life – you better start by being a good person to yourself. Start by setting small, reachable goals – like exercising 3 times a week, and eating a wholegrain breakfast of the same measured quantity everyday. Or you might choose to swap your afternoon daily Dorito fix for an apple, or a fruit salad. Whatever your first goal is, make it reasonable and reachable for yourself. Four weeks down the track, once you have developed that same habit, congratulate yourself. Just like Neil Armstrong – it’s one small step for man, but one big step for mankind. You’re on your road to success, just take your time. In the following weeks following your first goal, you might take on another small goal, like sticking to a calorie limit of 1800 per day (a vague estimate based on the body measurements above). You might start tracking your calorie intake in My Fitness Pal. Eventually, when you want to take on larger and more significant goals, extra help from a nutrition coach or personal trainer (ensure you find one who is equally qualified and with experience in food coaching) to assist you in making measured goals. But until then, your own assessment of where you are at and your own understanding of self is a great place to start.

Consistency – and ignoring the latest trend

Consistency in diet is absolutely key to achieving your goals, particularly those small ones at the beginning. And whilst it can be incredibly tempting to jump on the bandwagon of the latest health trend that Miranda, Gwyneth or Kate swears by – stick to your own guns, and find your own balance in what works for you. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a combination of eating wholesome unprocessed food in reasonable portions. If you’re having trouble with the concept of this, the best place to start is the government website – where you can find the healthy eating guidelines on serving sizes and macro/micronutrient recommendations intakes per day. Starting with this positive mindset and making smarter choices when eating (rather than complete deprivation) is key in making healthy living a long-term lifestyle choice. If your goal is weight loss, you may need to make some adjustments to these guidelines to fit your personal height and weight statistics – more of that can be read in my ‘Counting Macros for Beginners’ article.

Finding the right sources of information

This factor is absolutely pivotal. Misinformation drives obesity rates in Australia – and it’s hard to believe we’re beating the USA in our fat crisis considering the emphasis on health in our country. The rise of healthy products and trends like gluten-free, paleo, healthy fats, vegan and more have encouraged society to collapse into a subconscious gluttonous state – mainly because the core concept of health is misunderstood – and when we’re told something is ‘healthy’ it seems absurd that we need to take the meal’s portion size into consideration. An Acai Bowl for example – a widely praised superfood (I’m beginning to despise that term!) paleo-favourite breakfast can pack in 916 calories in a single serve. That’s more than a third of the recommended daily intake of calories for a woman of 161cm and 71kg. My point is to remain well-informed and unswayed by the latest health trends, and keep to the basics when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle change. Stick to the simple protein basics, a moderate consumption of carbohydrates, regular (and not overbearing) exercise sessions, and a moderate to low intake of fats. Understanding the principles of what constitutes each of these categories may seem basic, but many people aren’t aware of the different types of carbohydrates, fats and proteins – particularly the differentiation between what’s considered a ‘lean’ protein (that is, minimal fat) as opposed to fatty proteins. That information in detail will be reviewed in detail in next week’s article – ‘How to choose your macronutrients’.

Finding the right source of information can seem daunting when most of us might simply jump on the web and Google with much density ‘ How to lose weight’ (and by the way, save your time) – start by eradicating media bodies with statistics unsupported by research, and seeking proven, science-based reports with specific dietary advice. Particularly for fat loss (or what most would refer to as toning – a vague concept amongst gym goers suffering from misinformation) bodybuilding websites are a great place to start – even if that’s not your ultimate goal. Lyle McDonald of bodyrecomposition.com and Martin Berkhan of http://www.leangains.com offer some incredibly scientific research to support their advice with proven effects in their clients. Without a nutritional diploma it’s surprising how much you can learn from experts over the wonder of the internet.

Finally, for specific dietary goals (when many don’t know where to start) like significant fat loss, plowing through a weight loss plateau or exercise programs – don’t be afraid to contact a professional. Even when you think you might be able to learn it all through the internet, a bodybuilding website or even a nutrition blog like this one, you can never underestimate the importance of gaining a professional perspective and the support an objective person can offer is helping you meet your goals. From my personal experience and battle with weight management and finding a dietary lifestyle that works for me, I can always recommend that both mentally and physically, a professional who has gone through that tumultuous experience themselves will be able to offer the long-term support and specific dietary and fitness advice you seek, to suit your lifestyle. And long-term, you’ll reach your goals, with a smile on your face, and a (moderate) piece of dark chocolate in palm.

Food Anxiety and Macro Counting

Food Anxiety and Macro Counting

Counting your macros can be a life-changing experience for most people – and it generally comes in one of two ways. Category A people may find flexibility and an improvement in their relationship with food when counting macros – particularly people who are inclined to binge when they cut out entire food groups to reach their goal. On the other end of the scale (pardon the pun) counting macros can become obsessive by nature, and result in a lacking social life and almost phobia of being caught in a situation where food might be served. This is particularly prevalent for those who are counting macros on a cut (that is, trying to lose fat) rather than those lucky bulkers out there. But the point of counting macros is actually to achieve a reasonable flexibility with dieting so you don’t have to cart your brown rice and chicken to a dinner party. There are a couple of key things you can do to continue hitting your grams on point whilst enjoying your time out of the house.

Prepare

This is probably the most commonly seen bullet point across health and fitness websites, and for good cause. Preparation is key in maintaining your physique, otherwise circumstances often arise leaving you in a situation where you have ‘no other choice’ but to eat unhealthily. Realistically, if you have a dinner date, you’re likely to know about it a few hours before the outing takes place, and this is where you can consciously prepare your other meals to leave space for the upcoming larger meal at the end of the day.

Firstly, investigate your options. If you’re heading out for dinner, lunch or breakfast, why not scope out the options on the menu in advance? Whenever I head out for a meal, I tend to take a look at the restaurants in the area and contribute to the decision of where we might go; I find that (surprisingly) pub food is often quite good as they will most likely feature at least one salad on the menu, or at least a deconstructed meal where you can easily identify macros. That’s tip number 2, particularly relevant if tip number 1 isn’t possible for you (i.e. surprise location, change of plans etc). Choose meals that are clearly set apart on the plate, like ‘Grilled Chicken with Side salad and Potatoes’ as opposed to ‘Beef and Guinness Pie’. It’s much easier to identify the individual ingredients of what you’re consuming when it’s all laid out individually for you on the plate, rather than thrown together (albeit deliciously) under the lid of a giant puff pastry.

Make Some Room

Realistically, we can’t count the exact macros in each of our consumed meals unless we create them ourselves, with the help of our trusty food scales. So when we go out to eat, it has to be a reasonable estimate. Now most people in the early stages of macro counting will underestimate the content of their food, simply because they’re not used to weighing everything up. But once you get a handle on it, you’ll begin to identify meals with higher fat and carb content. But until then, we need to overestimate the macronutrient content.

Most chefs will be adding hidden oils and butter to their meals because generally, it makes the meal taste better. For that reason alone, even with ‘dressing on the side’ your salad can sometimes still come out doused in olive oil because the chef doesn’t consider that to be part of the regular dressing. Now you can be a real pain, and send the meal back (potentially getting your next dish garnished with spit) or you can prepare for the occasion by leaving out 10-20g or so in fats, so the meal won’t overdo your macros. The same goes for carbohydrates, although these are generally easier to identify in meals, you’re unlikely to get the same wholegrain, sustainable carbs that you might prefer consuming at home. By making the adjustments in your macros earlier in the day (i.e. simply having a lighter, lean protein lunch) you can leave your remaining carbohydrates for the restaurant meal later on.

Speak to the Chefs

My experience with most chefs is that (in Australia) they’re quite happy to accommodate your dietary requirements. Realistically, they have to keep up with the ever-growing health trends if they want to maintain their reputation – just as vegetarianism is a personal lifestyle choice, the decision to eat only gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, or whatever food choice takes your fancy is on the rise. The health industry is one of the fastest growing worldwide and as a result, the world of hospitality has had to make some serious adjustments. Just like you can, if you speak to the guy putting your meal together.

Politely ask to speak to the chef at the restaurant, or ask the waiter about the nature of the food you’re eating. If you wish to specify on the type of meal you’re consuming and the nature of it, you’re completely entitled to it. Most restaurants are actually identifying gluten-free and dairy-free options on their menu’s now for the picky folks, and these types of restaurants are generally on the list of places who are more likely to be health conscious in their concoctions. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for meal adjustments or ‘things on the side’ – at the end of the day, it’s your body and your meal, and you’re entitled to know what’s going into your body.

Hit up a chain

This is probably one of the easier options, however it might not be preferable if you’re on a family birthday outing or seeking some finer dining! Some chain restaurants are required by law to list their nutrition guidelines online, complete with the macronutrient count. There can of course, be discrepancies between restaurants (i.e. the generous staff member of Mad Mex loading you up with an extra helping of guacamole) but you can generally identify that the meal will be in reasonably close range of the listed guidelines. Chipotle and Mad Mex are great examples of food chains with fairly accurate meal macronutrients, and even the new chain ‘Thrive’ only recently launched in Australia is particularly mindful of additional oils – providing macronutrient friendly meals for your lunch break. 

Relax 

Finally, try not to overanalyse on what you’re consuming when you’re heading out to eat. Macros are about setting a general guideline for what you should be aiming for when trying to reach your goal – you don’t need to hit the 0 every single day. And by saying relax I’m clearly not encouraging you to throw caution to the wind and down a double bacon burger (unless of course, your macros allow it) but simply choose wisely and make an educated guess on what your macros are on the plate. And enjoy it!

Counting Macros: A Guide for the Beginner

If you’re reading this article, you will have most likely heard of the dieting phenomenon sweeping across the fitness community – IIFYM, or for those living under a rock, that fancy acronym translates to ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ – the promotion of flexible dieting in the form of eating whatever food you like, as long as if fits your daily macronutrient goals.

Now if you’re not a fitness fanatic and you’re simply looking for the solution (like most of us, in the obesity epidemic we’re currently facing) to lose a bit of flab around your tummy, let me break it down for you.

The Macro Counting movement is a scientific, fact-based approach to dieting that utilises the knowledge we’ve gained from multiple studies over the years that allows people (that’s right, real people – not just bodybuilders) to meet their goals with a flexible approach, with long-term results. And let’s face it, while the majority of people want to drop about 10-15lb almost immediately, putting that weight back on once you ditch your ‘Hot Water, Cayenne Pepper and Lemon’ diet is 1000 times worse than looking in the mirror daily, seeing small results, exercising patience and eventually meeting those goals after months of moderate to hard work.

So What Is Macro Counting?

At the heart of the fat loss fundamentals, there is one rule we can rely on with 100% certainty – and that’s the energy balance equation. I.e. Energy Out > Energy In = Weight Loss. And vice versa – Energy In > Energy Out = Weight Gain. In looser terms, if you eat more than you’re expending in terms of energy on a daily basis (that particular number depends on a variety of factors we’ll get into in a bit) then you will inevitably, gain weight. And that is regardless of your macronutrient count.

Remember those scales your teacher used in primary school to demonstrate the energy balance equation? It’s as simple as it was for you as a 10 year old as it is for your 30 year old self.

However, don’t go and just eat 5 Tim Tams and call it a day because you’ve reached your calorie deficit goal. Sure, you could, and you’d probably still lose weight. But that’s not a long-term effective solution and it certainly doesn’t provide you with the holistic approach to health nor energy for effective, long-term results.

The purpose of counting macros in this equation is ensuring you receive all the nutrients the body needs to survive and perform to it’s optimum level – in training, in cognitive function, and general social situations where you don’t want to be open-mouthed because you can’t stop thinking about carbs. Balancing the three macronutrients that your body counts towards energy intake means you can maintain your lifestyle in the long-term (and you can have pizza – theoretically).

So What Are Macros?

The three macronutrients, proteins, fats and carbohydrates (four, technically, if we include alcohol) are the components that your body takes into account in terms of providing energy. That energy is often simplified into a bulk calorie count, which most of us first look to when starting off with dieting. We tend to overlook the actual components of the food that contribute to our satiation, or energy levels or ultimately, whether we are hindering our progress by over consuming particular macros and under consuming others (i.e. most non-dieters or people who pay no attention to their diet whatsoever would potentially be undercutting on proteins, but over consuming fats).

So let’s briefly take a look at each of the individual macros and chalk up why we need each of them (and why cutting out whole macronutrients – like carbs or fats – for immediate weight loss, isn’t effective).

Proteins

Protein is the first and foremost primary macronutrient required by the body for optimum performance. In terms of your body composition, protein’s main role is the maintenance/growth of muscle, depending on your overall calorie consumption. It is also the most satiating of the macros, so you stay fuller for longer when you consume things like animal meat, eggs, fish and delicious Quest Bars. Not to mention that the thermic effect of this macronutrient on the body is higher than the other macronutrients – in human terms, this means it takes more energy for the body to digest proteins than other macronutrients. Ergo, more energy out > energy in. Win, win.

Fats

Ah, the ultimate question of ‘how much dietary fat’ do we need. The media over time (assisted by supermarkets and the food industry playing into the hands of gullible consumers) have purported the idea that ‘fat is bad’, creating 0% fat products, or low-fat products, loading them with twice as much sugar to compensate for taste. Factually, dietary fat is an essential nutrient our body requires for hormonal regulation, brain function and multiple other biochemical processes.

There’s no argument that fat has been demonized by society since the inception of studies evaluating the difference between saturated fats vs. monosaturated fats. Ultimately fat became the scapegoat for the obesity epidemic – but without going into a great deal of detail, the hormonal necessity of the macro was typically put on the backburner. Don’t skip the healthy fats – count them – and stock up on avocados instead of cheeseburgers and you should do just fine.

Carbohydrates

Primarily necessary for energy levels, carbs are the main source of energy used for walking, talking, and even more so for strenuous activity like exercise. Carbs are converted to a substance called glucose, which is what provides energy to our body. And whilst the body is capable of switching to other sources for energy should glucose be completely depleted (if you were say, on a very low carbohydrate diet), carbs should definitely be a significant player in your macronutrient calculations if you want to a) stave off the inevitable influx of weight gain when you decide to reintroduce sweet potatoes, and b) if you’re known for a case of getting ‘hangry’ when you’re living on nothing but cottage cheese and chicken breast. Do yourself a favour and pack in a decent amount of veggies and whole grains for energy – your workout (and your personality) as a result, won’t suffer.

But you said it simply comes down to calories in over calories out – so why would I bother counting macros at all?

Well I’m going to make the assumption that like the majority of the population looking to lose weight, you’re doing it for vanity. That is, you want to look hella good naked.

While it is factual that you’re able to achieve physical scale weight loss with simple calorie counting, if you’re not paying attention to the content of the food you’re consuming it’s likely you could be doing your body more harm than good, particularly if you’re coining dieting with training (ideally you’ll be doing some exercise if you want to see your waist reduce – duh).

Since you understand the importance and purpose of each nutrient now, you can probably understand why personal trainers and nutritionists want you to get a balance of each of them.  The main purpose of this is not only to regulate your hormones, give yourself enough energy to workout effectively and grow and retain muscle (which is far sexier than the rake of Kate Moss in her early catwalk days), but to enjoy life, give yourself some freedom and ultimately continue living whilst maintaining your health and reaching your goals. No one wants to sit at home picking miserably at a salad on a Saturday night when you could be out indulging in a top-notch meal at your favourite restaurant. It’s not realistic long-term.

How Should I Break Up My Macros?

This part is slightly more tricky, because it is mainly about trial and error, and being honest with yourself, which many rookie dieters find difficult to do.

Start by calculating your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or in fitness jargon, TDEE. This refers to the amount of energy your body is using up daily in terms of calories. This is depending on a multitude of factors – what you do for a living, how hard you’re working out, your gender, height, weight. The list goes on. But we’ll start with the basics.

A couple of formulas have been tested over the past 50-60 years, but with time these formulas have been developed and evaluated and unshockingly, the most recently developed is the one found to be most accurate.

Men

10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5

Women

10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161.

So let’s take an average woman’s measurements and apply the formula =

10 x 60kg + 6.25 x 170cm – 5 x 25 – 161.

= 600 + 1062.5 – 125 – 161 = 1376.5

(If you’re looking for a quick fix and don’t have a calculator handy, I suggest you just go to https://tdeecalculator.net/)

Those are the calories sitting at our basal metabolic rate, that is, the calories you’d burn if you sat around sloth-like doing nothing all day.

Luckily, most of us get out of bed and move – and factors like what kind of job we have, how much sleep and exercise we get, even the thermic effect of food means that if you’re relatively sedentary, we can boost this calorie intake by about 300, meaning our 60kg female example here could eat 1652 calories per day if she wanted to maintain her weight. But she wants to lose some fat on her tummy and thighs, and so we drop her calorie intake, up her exercise, and voila – the scales tip in her favour.

Now setting a calorie deficit can be equally as tricky – seeing as most of us are incredibly impatient beings and want to see results immediately. But due to a bunch of studies being done showing that a large deficit (that is, 25% + below maintenance calories) often results in a large drop in scale weight due to the release of water retention, eradication of glucose storage and the subject becoming almost immediately irritated with the lack of energy supporting their training that they lash out and eat a box of donuts. This can often be seen in bikini body competitions where competitors have to reduce their calories and carb count to a silly-low amount in the final stages of prep and the consume 10,000 calories (that’s a literal figure) post-show. And losing weight, and particularly macro-counting, isn’t meant to be about having an unhealthy relationship with food. For that reason, starting at a moderate deficit of 20% below maintenance for our 60kg female subject is a good place to start, and seeing how her progress goes from there.

This places her daily calorie intake at 1321. Or, since she doesn’t need as many carbs on no workout days, 1380 calories on her workout days, and 1300 on her rest days, with a higher fat count on rest days, and higher carb on workout days. It’s below her maintenance, will keep her relatively satiated (particularly if she’s eating wholesome, natural, unrefined food) and will result in approximately 0.5-0.8 pounds of fat loss a week. In 10 weeks, our subject could lose at least 6 pounds, and reach her goal weight of 57kg.

Splitting her macros should look a little something like this:

Fat = 0.35 – 0.7g per pound of lean body mass

Protein = 0.5 – 2g per pound of lean body mass

Carbs = 0.5 – 2 grams per pound of lean body mass

Calculating Lean Body Mass

Not so difficult, this one – if you’re honest with yourself and/or have the right equipment to assist in the calculations. Grab yourself a buddy, some bodyfat calipers, or a decent pair of eyes and these pictures.

Once you’ve figured out your percentage of bodyfat, take your weight in kg (using our 60kg subject as an example) and her bodyfat (23%), we multiply the percentage by the weight, equaling the body fat mass she has on her body.

= 60kg x 0.23%

= 13.8kg

60kg – 13.8kg = 46kg lean body mass. Or, in accordance with our above equations, 101.48 pounds.

We can now use this figure to calculate how much of each nutrient our body requires for optimal function, staying within our calorie deficit.

On her training days: 1385 Kcal

Fat = 45g (0.45 x LBM) = 405 calories

Protein = 101g (1 x LBM) = 404 calories

Carbs = 144g (1.4 x LBM) = 576 calories

On her rest days: 1300 Kcal

Fat = 60g (0.6 x LBM) = 540

Protein = 101g (1 x LBM) = 404

Carbs = 89g (0.8 x LBM) = 356 calories

Because our subject is already quite lean, we calculate her macros based on the lower scale of values, but with someone of a higher body fat percentage, it might be different. It is largely about trial and error, but as long as protein is kept at a relatively high percentage in comparison to the other macronutrients, muscle should be retained, and progress should be made.

How to Count your Macros

Reading a nutrition label can generally be a pointless task for most beginner dieters – but with your knowledge of the above balance of macros, it doesn’t have to be. Not only seeking low-fat sources of food is certainly a good start – if you read the nutrition label on a lot of these products you’ll often find they’re loaded with additional sugars, turning the product into a fairly high-carbohydrate meal and resulting in an insulin spike, leaving you hungry and ultimately, unsatisfied. So here we’re going to learn about choosing smarter, and how to read a nutrition label and stay on top of your macronutrient consumption.

Let’s take a look at this Lean Cuisine meal:

What to pay attention to:

Serving Size/vs. 100g

As seen above, there are two columns, the ‘Serving Size’ and the ‘Per 100g’. In almost all circumstances, you would be looking at the Serving Size column to review what it is you’ll be consuming, unless you plan on eating only a fourth of the Lean Cuisine meal.

Protein: At 22.4g per serving, this is a reasonably high-protein meal. If you’re training and keeping your protein count on track in accordance with the aforementioned calculations, this is the section you ideally want to be relatively high in contrast to the other macros.

Fat: Total: You want to ignore the percentage section of the fat count (more on that below) and simply look at the grams in the total amount per serving. At 8g per serving this is quite a low-fat meal. And although the Saturated Fat content has physically been enlarged on this label (I imagine this is because it is a smaller number and this is designed to persuade the consumer), the division between saturated, trans, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated is irrelevant. Simplify your task and just look at the total.

Carbohydrate: 60.4g of carbs, whilst high in contrast to the other macronutrients in the Lean Cuisine meal, can be fitted to meet your daily nutrient requirements as long as you have the room left by the time you consume this particular meal. But you can see why “97% Fat-Free” is broadcast across the box as opposed to “70% Carbohydrates”.

What to Ignore:

Fat: Percentages: Ignore the small percentage of 2.0% of the whole meal. While this might seem like a small number, percentages mean nothing in the grand scheme of macronutrient consumption. Lyle McDonald, a bodybuilding and nutrition expert once quoted an incident he had with a college professor, who possessed the philosophy of “Eat less than 30% of fat in each meal, and you’ll be fine”. Lyle approached him with homemade cookies that contained a mere, single gram of fat, at about 20 calories per cookie. Despite the 1 gram of fat in the cookie, if we were to convert that into a percentage, we’d be looking at near 50% of the cookies’ calories being made up of fats. The moral of the story is to ignore the percentage advertisement persuasion brandishing your supermarket purchases and to look directly to the total gram count in the nutrition section.

KCal/Kilojoules: Sticking to your macronutrients and ensuring they meet your daily intakes will add up your calorie intake by default, so don’t bother counting the calories. It will just be another thing for you to take into account and if we know anything about dieting, it’s that simplicity works.

Cholesterol: Unless a physician has specifically instructed you to watch your cholesterol intake, this can be ignored. Like fat and protein, it’s automatically generated to naturally occur within the body, and since this is an article about fat loss, we’ll ignore the scientific intricacies of the role cholesterol plays and simply say, don’t count it.

Sugars: Naturally occurring or refined, sugar is ultimately a carbohydrate, and whilst it is constantly spouted the necessity to exclude it altogether, the carbohydrate count on the box is really what you’re seeking. Like carbs, sugar should be consumed in moderation, but it’s not necessary to count it in your macros.

Sodium: Sodium doesn’t possess any calories, so it won’t affect the overall calorie count of the meal. It can however, in excess, lead to water retention, which is simply something to keep in mind if the scales tip marginally after a high-sodium meal. Bodybuilders are known for cutting sodium entirely when they’re closely reaching competition stage, but for the average Joe, sodium should be consumed in moderation, alike sugars and carbs.

Calcium: Necessary for bone growth, density and maintenance, but unnecessary for fat loss. Another section to ignore if fat loss is your primary goal.

Keeping Track of Macros

The best method for this, in my opinion, is to seek as much simplicity as possible. And because we live in the greatest technological age yet, we have devices that can calculate and add up our macros for us. Introducing, My Fitness Pal. Get acquainted, you two will soon become best friends.

MFP is an app available on both iOS devices and android, and whilst free to download, MFP has recently caught on to the fact their users are getting wiser, and so have started charging for the manual input of individualized macronutrients. But human beings are smart, and if you can ignore silly red negative symbols (MFP seems to think protein intake should sit at the lower end of the food scale – no doubt basing it upon the assumption their users aren’t training) then you can still reach success with the assistance of the app.

Alike the nutrition on a food label, MFP has all the unnecessary (for fat loss that is) nutrients in their nutrition tab, which you can simply exclude. Don’t be deterred by the division of fats, cholesterol, fiber and sugar – stick to fats, proteins and carbs and make your diet infinitely easier to maintain.

Alternatively, if you’re more old school, simply use your mathematical skills and add up your macronutrients over the day, using online nutrition databases like nutritiondata.com and even Google to calculate the content of what you’re consuming. The simplicity of MFP is that most of the food you’re consuming is already prepped and within the database, divided into serving sizes, saving you time and reserving your mental energy.

Conclusions

The important thing is to not be intimidated by the macronutrient counting exercise, even though it may seem daunting and lengthy. The truth is that once you start making a habit of counting macros, you will see results, and the process will become second nature surprisingly quickly. And once you see results, it becomes an addiction.

Feel free to probe me with questions, my email is samantha.howarth91@gmail.com and I’m happy to help in any way I can. You can also take a look at what I eat on a daily basis on my personal My Fitness Pal account – brownpaperbag.

London Health Show 2016

Charlotte Clarke and I headed down on behalf of the Fit Londoners group to the debut London Health Show and checked out the action on some of the biggest health and fitness trends. Take a look at our report and my review of the event below.

The London Health Show 2016

I’m always looking for new opportunities to learn more about health and fitness, so attending London’s Debut Health Exhibition was a definite tick on my list of to-do’s. I attended on behalf of the Fit Londoners Group, an online community only very freshly launched. As their reporter, alongside fellow fitness blogger, Charlotte Clarke, we hit the Show on Day 1 to check out the fuss and speak to some of the best in the business, capturing our activity on Snapchat, Instagram and collating multiple reports for what will eventually hit our YouTube Channel.

Not knowing what to expect, Charlotte and I arrived early so to check out the wide array of exhibitors before the flood of crowds. It’s unsurprising the exhibition amassed over 6500 registrations for the first of the two day event, at least 2000 more than anticipated. Most of the attendees seemed to be a mix of the general public and health industry professionals looking to network – but more of the former was particularly welcoming considering the current climate of our societal approach to health.

The show was split into several sub-sections that lent itself to a variety of interests; a conference section saw multiple (and some quite well-known) health professionals take to the stage – discussing everything from the predicted health trends of 2016 to food allergy awareness. An inspirational opening speech from Embarrassing Bodies’ own Dr. Christian Jessen made for an impactful start, but it was the workshops and live activity that really made for an exciting, full on day.

As a ‘Fit Londoner’, the team and I had an invested interest in the physical aspect of health – and as a result we were bombarded with options when it came to trying new methods of getting the heart rate elevated. Among the many individual exhibitors we spoke to, some of the highlights included the live Jumping Fitness Demo, Zumba, and my personal favorite – HulaFit, the waistline inch-busting class sweeping the nation. I got a personal lesson from Founder, Anna Byrne, who set up the business with her husband in 2013. Slightly puffed from attempting a walking lunge whilst keeping a hoop rotating my middle, I headed over to a less-convincing stall, marketing the Flexicore – which I’m told (with much ambiguity) is equivalent to an hour in the gym with 10 minutes on the shaking platform. Not quite my cup of tea – I think I’ll stick to spin classes, thanks very much!

The fun continued toward the far end of the conference, where hidden away was the internationally-renowned British Military Fitness. With boot camps on the rise, particularly in the warmer seasons, I spoke to the team in detail about what separated them from the ever-growing Bootcamp groups across the globe. Three (particularly) muscular men explained their main difference is the instructors employed across their various locations; with a careful selection criteria, only ex-militants are hired to train others, with seriously tough workouts offering seriously good results. For those keen for a challenge, the boys load you up with weighted saddlebags and medicine balls, daring participants to perform as many reps of a selected exercise within 1 minute. True to my competitive nature, I tackled a 10kg saddlebag and battled my co-presenter Charlotte to perform as many squat-thrusts as possible – and to my dismay collapsed in a heap 5 reps behind her. You got to give it to the girl though, you can see her abs through her parka. And 60 seconds of hard work was certainly enough to to convince me to hit up my first free bootcamp on Tooting Common (not that the attractive instructors had any influence on my decision)!

The gravitational pull toward various protein sources was too much to bear, and with so many generous samples being doled out to myself and the team, it was easy to fill up on multiple concoctions of muscle-retaining powder. Most of the exhibitors in the protein shake industry have proudly turned away from dairy, gluten, refined sugar, or more often than not, all three. Vegan protein powders were a clear stand-out health trend, but the real rising star of the show was obvious from the clamber around Health and Fitness blogger turned entrepreneur, London Paleo Girl, flashing a pearly white smile that matched her gorgeous looking Co-Fro samples. Less of an insta-sensation in person, Tessa was a down-to-earth Londoner clearly flattered by the attention her brand was receiving, albeit well-deserved. Topping my Co-Fro with a healthy dose of Pip and Nut’s Coconut Almond Butter, I downed the sample in one quick spoonful, and had to stop myself from coming back for more!

The London Health Show in their debut event cleverly encourages their attendees to ‘try’ rather than ‘buy’. The event gave both a mix of small businesses and those steadily climbing the entrepreneur ladder an opportunity to network and promote their business in a personal, one-on-one atmosphere. It’s quite rare at an event such as this you get to speak directly to the founder of so many successful businesses and I felt genuinely welcomed by each of them. Unlike other events, London Olympia wasn’t bombarded by reporters thrusting microphones under the noses of so many exhibitors, and having small businesses like Fit Londoners and Burpees and Balance part of the press attendance was key in creating a positive, relaxed atmosphere for all involved.

Charlotte and I were lucky enough to have a seriously good team working with us for the day, a key contributing factor to my overall enjoyment of the event. Hitting up the stalls and consuming 5-10 samples of Cold Press just isn’t all that fun if you’re doing it alone, after all!

Next year, the London Health Show organizers, Oliver Kinross tell us they’ll be looking to expand the event even further with more stalls and more exhibitors. Due to this year’s success it wouldn’t surprise me if the show gathered more press attention and thus had even bigger names in the fitness game attending; and whilst London Olympia was the perfect venue for an exhibition of this size for its first year, perhaps in 2017/18 we’ll see the show head to larger grounds with bigger demo spaces and workshops.

I personally, can’t wait for a repeat.