Sticking To Your Nutrition Plan While Traveling: Chicago Version!

Hello everybody!

IMG_0728I have returned from a short weekend getaway to Chicago (a few hours’ drive from our home in Michigan).  We were celebrating my fiancé Rocko’s birthday! Each year he and I take a short trip together someplace we’ve never explored, and this year turned out great.  Part of the fun was, of course, the food!  I am going to share with you how I stay on track with my nutrition plan and training while on the road.

The first step is, of course, preparation.  We picked our AirBnB in downtown Chicago (which I prefer over a hotel because there’s a full kitchen) and immediately started looking at what was nearby.  We found a couple of gyms within walking distance, as well as a Whole Foods. We planned to lift weights each morning we were there.

IMG_0706One of the most critical things to do before you leave for your trip: pack travel-friendly food!  We brought a Six Pack cooler bag with us stocked with:

  • protein powder packets
  • cut-up veggies (I eat tons of cucumber and bell peppers)
  • already-cooked chicken
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • Kodiak Cakes protein pancake mix
  • condiments like hot sauce and stevia

We knew we would eat out for 1-2 meals per day.  When you go out to eat, you run the highest risk of going over your allotted fat or carbs macros, so I place the biggest focus on bringing protein sources with me.  I always recommend clients pack protein bars with them for trips (some brands I like include Quest Bars, Rx Bars, and B-Up Bars) and/or packets of protein powder (can be found at LifeTime, Whole Foods, or most health food stores).   It’s not fun to come back from a vacation, step on the bathroom scale and see a huge jump – so plan in advance and do yourself a favor 🙂
IMG_0735On our first day in Chicago, we focused on the most important objective: find the BEST Chicago pizza!  Because I knew we would eat pizza, I planned my day of eating in advance:  I kept the carbs and fat low in my breakfast with higher protein (example: egg white omelet with veggies).

We were not disappointed in Lou Malnati’s Pizza, which was in walking distance of our AirBnB (notice the “walking” theme throughout this entire blog – Rocko and I walked a LOT!).  The pizza was amazing. So the question is: how do you track this pizza in MyFitnessPal (MFP)?

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Fortunately, Lou Malnati’s has several of its items in the MFP database!  We ordered a pizza called “The Lou” and I sliced off 1/4 of it.  That serving had 40 g carbs / 28 g fat– and I wanted to save macros for dessert!  So, I chose not have any of the cheesy bread appetizer we ordered.  Later in the afternoon, we stopped by Sprinkles Cupcakes where I had half of a cupcake (and, of course, logged that into MFP too – 31 g carbs / 13.4 g fat).

The next day, we woke up, put on our workout gear and headed to a local LA Fitness for strength training.  (Again, I kept breakfast low-carb and low-fat to save macros!)  I love to strength train on vacation because it makes me feel like I’m putting the food to use!

IMG_0709Next, we explored the city, including a big breakfast at a great place called WildBerry (right next to Millenium Park).  It was delicious and extravagant – S’Mores pancakes, hash browns with gravy, etc.  This was difficult to track because WildBerry was not in the MyFitnessPal database.  So, instead, I found similar entries in MFP from IHop!  IHop and Denny’s are two places which are quite useful for tracking food because their items are relatively simple and the entries are pretty accurate.  I shared all breakfast items with Rocko, cutting off smaller portions for myself and enjoying every bite.

My main point in describing this day of eating & training:  you CAN still hit your macro goals while on vacation IF you plan in advance and watch your portion sizes.  I returned from vacation weighing exactly the same, if not a little less (which is about 141-142 lbs, for those who are wondering – I am 5’7” with lots of muscle!).   If your goals are important to you, it’s worth the planning and preparation I described above 🙂

IMG_0695Hope you enjoyed this blog!  Thanks for reading!

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What Diet Should I Follow? (And Tough Love About Why You’re Not Losing Weight)

You have tried it all. You cut out carbs. You started Weight Watchers (or Atkins, or Whole30, or Paleo, etc.). You joined that workout class and regularly attend three days per week. You lost a few pounds … and then gained it back. You’re starting to lose patience and get frustrated. Bathing suit season is rapidly approaching and you have made zero progress toward the New Year’s goals you set on January 1.  So what now? What’s the problem?

It’s time to be honest with ourselves.

What, exactly, are you eating?

I’m not talking about a list of angelic superfoods that would impress a nutritionist or personal trainer (“I ate a kale smoothie for breakfast with chia seeds and Acai berries!”). I’m talking about real numbers. How many calories are you averaging? How many grams of protein? How many grams of fiber?

… You don’t know?

Then how will we know what’s working, or what isn’t working?

As a nutrition coach, I have seen and heard it ALL. I am not shocked or disappointed if a client confesses that they binged on jelly beans on Easter weekend or stopped at Taco Bell at 3am after a night out with their friends.  We have all been there!  (*Of course I hope that 80-90 percent of your diet consists of whole, unprocessed foods and tons of veggies, but do I really expect you to never touch a cookie again? Of course not!)

Intro to Flexible Dieting: We Like Numbers!

I want real, hard data so we can help you succeed.  I want to know how many calories you are consistently consuming and what makes up those calories – aka, the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates (including fiber), and fat).  I want to help you figure out a nutrition plan – not a diet – that will allow you to reach your goals and keep you sane so you can follow it for the rest of your life.   I want to teach you HOW to eat, not give you a list of “approved” and “non-approved” foods that makes you feel more disappointed in yourself than you already do.

This way of eating is called “flexible dieting” (also called “if it fits your macros”).  This way of eating allows you to choose what you want to eat, as long as you meet your daily calorie/macro requirements.  I love this way of eating because it is science-based (and I am a nerd – I graduated from law school, after all!).  It abides by the basic laws of calories/macros (which say that, put simply, in order to lose body fat, we must be in a caloric deficit – but consuming sufficient protein allows us to maintain our lean body mass (i.e. muscle).  More on this in a future blog).

Good For the Body AND Mind

Studies are emerging which support flexible dieting as a healthy way of eating both for the body and the mind.  How many times have you been on a rigid diet where you eventually quit or lost control and binged because you JUST NEEDED ONE OREO?!  A flexible diet allows us to remain versatile with our diet, which means we can survive the social challenges of modern day life (the snack bins at work, the dinners out with your family, holidays, etc.).  It allows us to enjoy our diet more and not totally restrict ourselves.  This flexibility often allows for a higher rate of long-term success and less yo-yo dieting!

This study found that individuals who engaged in rigid dieting strategies reported symptoms related to an eating disorder, along with poor mood and obsession with body size/shape, while those following a flexible diet did not report the same issues.  I can speak to this directly: starting in 2011, I followed a very strict meal plan outlined by a coach which told me exactly what to eat at every meal (i.e. 4 ounces of tilapia, ½ cup green beans, etc.).  It worked temporarily, but without a rigid meal plan, I was clueless about how to eat – I never learned the “why” behind the meal plan.  On top of that, it definitely exacerbated my disordered eating behaviors – I always ate alone, in secret, and binged weekly so I could eat the foods I actually wanted, leading to feeling ashamed and “fat” and starting the cycle all over again.   I began using a flexible dieting method in 2016 and my food obsessions have dissipated.  My brain is much healthier!

Taking Flexible Dieting Too Far

Of course, people can take the concept of “I can eat anything I want if it fits my macros” to an unhealthy extreme – you may see bodybuilders on Instagram bragging about eating a Pop-Tart and staying lean.  But in reality, in order to meet your fiber and micronutrient requirements, you cannot subsist on “junk foods”.  My fiancé, for example, loves his pancakes and eggs each morning for breakfast – but they’re high-protein Kodiak Power Cakes and cage-free eggs with organic spinach mixed in. And later in the day he eats at least 6-7 cups of green veggies because he needs to get at least 30 grams of fiber daily.  (He has lost 26 pounds so far since beginning to use a flexible dieting method).

In addition, a Pop-Tart is very “expensive” in terms of your macronutrient “budget” – it will use up a lot of your daily allotment of carbs, leaving you hungry!  In order to remain full, you must incorporate high-volume foods … aka, vegetables and fruits!  In this way, I have found flexible dieting to be “self-regulating” – I don’t have to tell people to eat veggies because they do so anyway, in order to get enough fiber and feel full.

How Do I Learn How to Do This?

Learning what a “macro” is and how to track your food in an app like MyFitnessPal isn’t easy in the beginning, but anybody can learn how.  The best approach is to get some personalized help – ask me if you’re a member of LifeTime Fitness. Or start by reading some articles, like this one.  Download MyFitnessPal and start tracking.  Have patience and be honest J

In conclusion, when you’re trying to determine what the best diet is for YOU, ask yourself – what can I stick to long-term?  Maybe that’s Atkins, Paleo, Whole30, Weight Watchers, or flexible dieting – but be honest with yourself about your lifestyle and preferences so you can jump off the weight “roller coaster” forever.

Current Fitness Schedule and Goals

Hey guys! Quick blog post inspired by my awesome friend Alla who asked what my current fitness goals are.  I’m going to share mine and I want to hear about yours!

Current fitness routine and goals:

  • I’m studying for the bar exam but I still go to the gym first thing in the morning (I’ll probably do this for the rest of my life… I’ll be that 95-year-old lady on the treadmill still jamming out to One Direction! And don’t get on my treadmill or I’ll kill you).  
  • I do about 1 hour of cardio and 1 hour of weights 5-6 days per week (following the plan designed by my coach Rob Rosetti).  The cardio is NO JOKE…. Rob comes up with insane routines where I am jumping on and off the treadmill, sprinting, and trying not to drown in my sweat!  
  • I am splitting up my body parts for lifting in approximately this manner: Monday: quads/legs; Tues: shoulders/triceps; Wed: back/biceps, Thurs: hamstrings; and Friday or Saturday: glutes.  It varies a little bit, depending on what Rob put in my plan. 
  • In his last email to me, my coach said: “Push the weights!”  He wants me to lift heavier and add muscle mass.  We actually had a really great conversation where I opened up to him that I hadn’t been eating all the carbs on my plan.  I don’t know why, I was just being overly restrictive and afraid of gaining weight.  Very kindly, he explained that carbs are absolutely necessary for an active woman…. the glycogen from carbs gives women that “tight” and “toned” look, rather than looking loose/jiggly (sorry if this is TMI for anybody, ha).  Runway models, for example, might look good in their clothes… but if you see the backs of their legs and glutes when they walk away from you, it often doesn’t look so good.  This lecture from Rob really helped me get myself back on track and following the plan he designed for me (which includes 7 meals now! Awesome!).  
  • I will probably not compete again until the spring of 2015.  I have no idea which show… I don’t even know what city I will be living in!  But the drive to be an excellent figure competitor is a huge part of me. It’s a never-ending goal. It’s my “art” project (with the benefit of keeping me really healthy for years to come!).  
  • I still have one cheat meal per week… and all I usually want is a burger…. with weird stuff on it… peanut butter? Fried egg? Both? Ha ha. 

How is your summer body comin’ along? Let me know; I love to share fitness tips and motivation with others.  

(Last ridiculous goal: Jillian Michaels (trainer from the Biggest Loser) said her dream is to have the kind of butt that rappers write songs about… I thought that was so funny 🙂 Maybe I will add that to my list of goals too.  Here is a video of one exercise I do to get there….)

A New Chapter

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Somehow, it happened. I graduated law school. Graduation weekend happened so quickly—a blur of the ceremony (which was beautiful), the afterparty, the goodbye-brunches with friends as they embarked on new journeys. And then figuring out what my new schedule would look like as I study for the California bar exam (which, as many people love to point out, is currently considered the most difficult bar exam in the country—thank you for the reminder, everybody! Ha ha).

Of course fitness is part of my daily routine! Doing cardio first thing in the morning is my favorite way to begin the day. With the bar exam in mind, I started saving money last summer to purchase a bar-prep treadmill (complete with nerdy little computer desk), which I am currently walking on as I write this blog. I have high anxiety, and it helps me to be in motion when I’m confronted with a task that I’m afraid to tackle. I am definitely afraid of the bar exam. But after my last competition, in March, I realized that if I am able to remain calm and avoid listening to the frantic, frightened voice inside me (I call it the ego or the pain-body)—if I’m able to feel peaceful and calm, I am capable of anything. I mean anything. And so are you, if you’re reading this. Let me tell you how…

I didn’t write a blog after my competition in March, but I must tell you that it was an incredible, transformative experience, both physically and mentally. I decided in the beginning of contest prep that, this time, I would be kind to myself, always. Example: If the thought of going to the gym made me cry (yes, I’ve been there), then I would not go. If I needed to sleep in and do cardio later than planned, then I would sleep. I decided I would be steadfast in this decision to be kind to myself, every day. It was really challenging for me, and I’m sure many competitors can relate—it’s easy to fall into patterns of being so mean and judgmental toward yourself during competition prep. But I took a leap of faith and just trusted that this new way of treating myself was the right thing to do…

And it worked!

I took fifth place at my figure competition in March 2014. This qualifies me to compete at the national level and seek IFBB professional status (i.e. my “pro card”). It was an amazing experience, and the fact that my sister and brother and friends were there to celebrate was absolutely the best part.

(The picture of me with my sister, below, is actually my favorite photo from the entire event because she has always been a huge supporter of my competitions and helps me in more ways than I can describe.  I love you Googlefritz!)

52325011-1-8 pic of julie and me

I always have the goal of earning my pro card in the back of my mind. It will never go away. But as I prepare to take the bar exam and begin my next chapter, now is not the right time to focus on competing. My body and mind were exhausted after competition prep. I needed a break. Additionally, I have never wanted my life to revolve around competing or fitness—I do not believe that it’s wise to invest your entire existence in a sport where your physical form—your body—counts for everything. This is because—surprise!—we’re all going to die (I mean this in the most positive way, ha ha), we’re all aging, our physical forms will disintegrate and there is no stopping that. I want to contribute to the world in ways beyond fitness, especially because being in good physical shape is, in my opinion, actually a reflection of what’s going on inside you. If you are kind and loving toward yourself, your physical form will reflect that. I can see it in my eyes in photos… when I feel peaceful and have been treating myself with love, my eyes are filled with light. For a couple of years, that light was absent, as I beat myself up constantly inside the gym and in my head with self-critical commentary.

I have big dreams for my life, and for the world, and if I am ever going to achieve them, I know I must stick to the same rule I followed during contest prep—kindness, always. I call it “a mighty kindness” from the poem “Zero Circle” by Rumi. A mighty kindness recognizes that every living thing on earth is connected, and that by being kind toward myself, it’s like dropping a rock in a pool of water… the ripples of love extend toward others and they feel it. I want to be a flame of kindness that can light the candles of others. That’s all I want to do during this lifetime.

Last thought—can we just talk about how much energy women (and some men) spend complaining about and criticizing their bodies? Think about the fact that that energy could be directed somewhere else—like reducing poverty, increasing equality, reducing suffering of all kinds… as I discussed above, you only get a finite amount of time in your body, on this planet. Do you really want to spend it staring sadly in the mirror at your cellulite? I am, of course, totally guilty of wasting so much time being self-critical and judgmental, but I’m working on it, I promise. I hope you are too. It helped me when I saw the photo below of a model for the Lululemon swimsuit line… “She looks like me,” I thought to myself, and I almost cried. Maybe the world is coming around, slowly but surely, to embrace a female figure that radiates health and strength.

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I hope everybody reading this conducts an act of love toward yourself today. That could be eating breakfast when you usually just skip it, or going for a walk outside, or choosing the apple with peanut butter instead of the Doritos. Once you take one step in the direction of kindness, you can take another step, and another step, and your life could change in ways you never imagined. I’m not kidding. I have a J.D. after my name so you have to take me seriously now! (Just kidding)

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26 Days Out: Forcing Things to Happen vs. Letting Them Happen

Today is Sunday, my rest day.  26 days until the NPC Natural Western USA Figure competition.  My body—my nervous system—is very tired.  I am spending the day studying for school …. in bed. Ha. I am so sore, and my bed is the most comfortable place.  But I am also at peace.  Admittedly, I woke up this morning in a state of anxiety (like I do pretty much every morning) thinking, “Maybe I should go do extra cardio?!”  But then I stopped and recognized that the idea of doing extra cardio did not feel good in my body.  In the past, I might have forced myself to go do it anyway. And then it would have been a pathetic cardio session with me feeling frustrated the whole time.  But I told myself at the beginning of this competition prep that I would not force things to happen—I would let them happen.  Let me explain using an analogy:

One of my life role models is named Martha Beck (she’s a Harvard-educated sociologist, life coach and best-selling author).  One of her methods of teaching people to be happier and calmer is to have them work with horses: usually when a horse is behaving badly and violently, humans will attempt to “break” them using physical means—ropes, whips, etc… basically forms of torture.  Sometimes that will work. But in her seminars, Martha teaches people that if you stand in a pen with the horse—just stand there—and offer the horse kindness and compassion, and show it that you’re not going to hurt it, it will eventually calm down and “join up” with you.  (Here’s a video of Martha Beck’s friend, Koelle Simpson, explaining this in more detail in a TED Talk).

So here’s where the analogy comes in: the horse is like your own human body.  You can certainly torture it via starvation diets and excessive exercise, and you can get some results.  This is what I had done for a long time, and it sort of worked—and I also suffered miserably internally (one time in high school I actually ended up in the hospital with severe dehydration because I kept exercising when I was sick with the flu… brilliant, huh?).

There is, I believe, a better way.  I have adopted the approach of being kind and compassionate to my body, and recognizing its limits.  At my gym, the people who work there are so sweet—they call me “The Machine”… but in reality our human bodies are not machines.  They are animals that require sufficient food and physical movement and rest.  All of my ideas in this blog may sound a little strange to many Figure & Bikini competitors who enjoy the (so-called) inspirational/motivational “Fitspo” posts on Facebook and Instagram  (e.g. “push yourself to the limit!” and my least favorite of all time: “do it for the thigh gap!” etc.)  Those concepts no longer resonate with me.  I started training to become a Figure competitor because I love it, and it’s that love that will carry me through these next 26 days until showtime.  Let’s see how it goes … 🙂

Thank you for reading!

Video Blog Update: 5 Weeks Out!

Here is my video blog update as I am 5 weeks out from the NPC Natural Western USA Figure competition on March 22, 2014. I discuss:

  • What my workouts look like right now (spoiler alert… a lot of running!!)
  • How my approach to contest preparation has changed from 2012 to now

Thank you for watching! Your support helps me so much!  Follow me on Instagram; my user name is katiedaysully.