Monday, January 30, 2012

All Natural ? Really?

“Natural” and “organic” are often used interchangeable but they are VERY different. Consumers can be misled and misdirected. There is NO official definition or enforcement of the term “all natural” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On the other hand, they do regulate and enforce “organic" and there are strict rules that must be adhered to in order to gain this designation.

The term “natural” that the FDA uses (but does not enforce) only applies to added color, synthetic substances and flavors. However, those same “natural” foods can contain pesticides, herbicides, MSG, heavy metal toxins, etc. Currently, there are many recent lawsuits for using “all natural” labeling and marketing yet allegedly, it is comprised of synthetic and unnaturally derived ingredients. (Lawsuits include ones against Kashi cereals and Kellogg. However, keep in mind that they are innocent until proven guilty and the cases have not yet concluded.)

Be aware and cautious of any labeling that is not regulated or certified by FDA/USDA. “Low Fat," “Low Carb,” and “All Natural” are all extensively marketed terms that are not regulated or defined. Read the labels...If any ingredient is not recognizable or as I like to say not “something your grandmother would have in her kitchen or pantry,” then it isn’t a “natural” product.

Stay tuned………..

Friday, January 27, 2012

Beef and Mushroom Sloppy Joes

Eating healthy does not mean you have to give up beef or big flavors. Lean beef has so many health benefits as it is not only full of protein but also needed amino acids for the body. Here is my variation to beef and mushroom sloppy joes.

· Cooking Spray
· 12 ounces 94% or leaner ground beef
· 2 (8-ounce) packages sliced mushrooms - I prefer a mixed package
· 1 cup chopped yellow onion
· 3 garlic cloves, minced
· 1/2 cup no-salt-added tomato paste
· 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
· 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
· 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
· 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
· 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce - I prefer Sriracha
· Low fat / low carb bread or buns


1. Spray a large skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add beef; cook for 4 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.

2. While beef cooks, place mushrooms in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Add mushrooms, onion, and garlic to pan; cook for 3 minutes or until onion is tender. Add tomato paste and next 4 ingredients to pan; cook 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates. Stir in the hot sauce. Spoon about 1 cup beef mixture on your favorite low fat / low carb bread or bun.

Serves 3 or 4 depending on how hungry you are

Adapted from the original source Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, Cooking Light JUNE 2011

Stay tuned.....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Muscle Does Not Grow in the Gym- It Grows AFTER

As hard as you are working in the gym, that is not when your muscles grow or strengthen. Your muscles grow and tone as part of a repair process AFTER you have finished lifting.

When we stress our muscles, we create small tears to the fibers. This forces the fibers to "grow" to repair themselves. The keys to this repair process are proper protein intake (the very building blocks of muscle) and sufficient rest. Then the body will respond. Proper sleep and rest will increase anabolic (muscle building/fat burning) hormones and increase your energy levels.

On the other hand, it becomes very difficult to build muscle and burn fat with lack of sleep, rest and/or when overtraining. These will increase catabolic hormones that are opposite to anabolic hormones. They destroy muscle, negatively affect your body's immune system, contribute to fat storage and reduce your body's insulin sensitivity.

Lift hard to challenge the muscles. It is a matter of quality and not quantity. Get in, work out, then rest ……… Let the amazing human body do its repair process.

Stay tuned……….

Monday, January 23, 2012

Carbohydrates - Effects on the Body

An unfortunate combination of fad diets and tremendous marketing has led us to believe that carbohydrates are "bad”. There are even claims of it being the source of the obesity epidemic. This interpretation is an oversimplification just like saying that all "fat is bad." (And we know that is not correct, right?)

The classification of carbohydrates is not as simple as breaking them down into two groups: simple or complex. First, our bodies’ digestive system handles all carbohydrates in the same way. Our body breaks down the digestible carbs into sugar. Sugars in the bloodstream cause a release of insulin (a hormone). Insulin in itself is a double edge sword. It creates energy but it also causes fat to be stored.

Interestingly, fiber is a carbohydrate but it is not digestible. Therefore, fiber cannot be broken down into sugars. It does not nourish the body. However, it has a role in our general health and wellbeing. Forms of fiber bind to fatty substances in the intestines and carry them out which helps lower the LDL or “bad cholesterol.”

The glycemic index was created to classify how high and how quickly a food spikes your blood sugars. However, the index has some weaknesses. Preliminary scientific research claimed that high glycemic foods were linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even some cancers. Recently, other studies state that the glycemic index has little effect on weight or health. One flaw of the glycemic index is that it does not distinguish the digestible carbs from the indigestible ones. The implications of this are the negative impact is overstated. Similarly, portion sizes are not taken into account. Consider this example: the glycemic index has watermelon listed as high (80) and a Snicker’s Bar (41) as much lower. Now does that seem right to you?

Lately the “glycemic load” index was introduced as another formula to try to rectify the glycemic index flaws.

Now we are all scratching our heads... first we thought it was simple versus complex...then we thought it was glycemic index…so what is the answer?

Carbohydrate management can be as simple as breaking down what we eat and when. The “when” is as important as the “what."

There are two optimal windows of opportunity for carbohydrate consumption. The first window is in the morning. This is when the body has been fasting due to a night of sleep (no food intake). The second more effective and important window is when you stress your muscles. Stressing/activating muscle cells triggers the use of blood sugar (glycogen). To control blood sugars, lose fat and gain muscle, the best time to eat carbohydrates would be after a hard-core training session.

In order to choose the best sources of carbohydrates, the first rule is to limit and avoid simple sugars. These carbs will instantly spike blood sugars and thus the release of insulin and storage for fat. Read labels for sugar content. Some are obvious like pastries, sugared sodas, candies and highly processed foods. Instead, choose whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and foods that are less processed (less the better).

We will cover more on carbohydrate choices and timing in following postings. This is an introduction to get you started thinking and making healthy choices.

Stay tuned……..

Friday, January 20, 2012

Protein Cheese Crust/ Bread - Low Carb

Maintaining a healthy low carb, high protein diet can be a challenge but with a bit of culinary creativity almost anything is possible -- even pizza crust or bread. This is one of my favorite adaptations.

2 cups low or no fat shredded cheese
(choose your favorite – I use no fat cheddar and sometimes no fat mozzarella)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.

2. Mix cheese, eggs, coconut flour and baking powder together until a sticky wet dough is formed. Spread with a spatula or with dampened hands to about ¼ inch thickness, if making as a pizza crust. (For bread, shape into a loaf.)

3. Bake for 30 minutes in preheated oven. Halfway through the baking process, flip it over. Return to oven until done baking. (If baking a bread loaf, check for doneness with a toothpick. Pierce the loaf with the pick to the center and if the pick is clean when you take it out, then it is done.)

4. Remove from oven, slide off of parchment paper, and flip over again for cooling.5. Once crust is cooled, top with sauce, pre-cooked veggies, meats and/or cheese. Set crust with toppings under the broiler on high for a minute or two until cheese is melted and bubbly. Slice and serve. (Or you can also allow to cool and use as bread substitute. I have used it to make sandwiches.)

Adapted from the original source

Healthy pizzas and sandwiches are a great addition to your meal plans. Happy eating.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Farmer's Walk - Full Body Exercise

An excellent full body exercise move that is under-utilized is the farmer’s walk. The name comes from the many tasks of farming that require carrying heavy loads over distances. This one exercise uses forearm muscles, biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, legs and especially the core (lower back and abs).

Here is how it is done: Pick up a weight in each hand and walk with it. You can use dumbbells, kettle bells or even buckets filled with water or sand. Pick a weight that you can walk for about 30 seconds before having to set them down. Try 3-5 sets of 30 seconds each with a rest in between. Keep your shoulders back and do not lean forward. Keep increasing the weight at each subsequent session. For a more advanced version, walk in a zig zag pattern for a greater challenge to your core.

This is one of the most functional exercises you can do. "Fitness” should impact beyond what you do in the gym. Ideally, your fitness choices will enhance your everyday living. The Farmer’s Walk does exactly that. Whether you are carrying water buckets for the flower garden or carrying bags of wood pellets for the stove or even carrying groceries, the Farmer’s Walk will help strengthen your entire body for real life and make your load feel a little bit lighter.

Stay tuned……..

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eating / ZigZag Approach

Consider eating at least five meals a day. This method will help you control your blood sugar (and thus your cravings). By doing this, with mindful meal planning, you will also get protein throughout the day to support growth. Additionally, the enzymes that store fat will be produced in far smaller amounts. This one/two punch makes your body far less capable of storing fat.

It is important to also do a calorie shifting technique called the zig zag approach. Zig-zagging is outstanding for dropping fat or adding muscle. Your body is constantly trying to stay as is. You might have heard of the “set point." The typical dieting approach (calories at a set level) will cause metabolism to slow down. Your body is trying to stay the same, not lose or gain weight to match your calorie intake. You need to trick the body.

Shift (zig zag) your daily calories. When you zig zag the calories during the week one day you consume only 1,200 calories but the next you might consume 2,000 calories. This keeps your metabolism up and prevents your body from starting the preparation for the "famine" by storing fat (and possibly eating muscle).

Stay tuned………..

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Crunchy Snack - Kale Chips

Changing eating habits is a struggle for anyone, even for the most dedicated. Seems that snacks are the hardest need to satisfy. For those of you that like chips or crunchy snacks, try Kale Chips. Kale, a leafy green vegetable, is considered one of the greatest “super foods." It has a large amount of vitamin A, vitamin C, B6, manganese, calcium, copper and potassium (just to name a few). Note however that kale, like many other vegetables, will lose some of its nutrient value when cooked but it is still worth eating. So try this recipe I use for Kale Chips. They are a great snack.

Here is how to make them: Preheat the oven to 350. Put foil on a baking sheet (or 2 if you have them). Wash your kale and pat dry it with paper towel. Then place the kale leaves in a single layer on the baking sheets. Spray the kale with a cooking spray (I prefer an organic olive oil cooking spray). Sprinkle some sea salt on top of the kale and bake. Bake until they are dry and crispy (roughly 20 mins). Allow to cool and then put in a container. They will have the crunch of a chip. It is a great healthy snack.

Stay tuned……………….

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Strength Training -Compound Moves (Big Payoffs)

Compound moves are exercises that use multiple muscle groups simultaneously. The more muscles you involve the greater the release of anabolic (muscle building/fat burning) hormones in the body. Consequently, the more muscle engaged the more you will burn fat (you will hear me say this often). As an added benefit, compound moves will also keep your heart rate up much like a cardio workout. Further, ALL compound moves work your core, which will improve your coordination and stability.

Examples of compound moves include: Squats, Dips, Pull Ups, Bench Press, Overhead Press, and Rows, just to name a few.

In contrast, the majority of the fitness world uses isolation moves. This means you train a single muscle group at a time. As a result, there is much less muscle stimulation (which equates to fewer hormones released for muscle building /fat burning). People tend to use isolation moves because they are generally easier and more familiar but not necessarily better. Bodybuilders use them to tweak the appearance of a specific body part. It may work for them but here is the catch -- muscle definition can only happen if you are already lean, lean, lean.

Examples of isolation moves are Bicep Curls, Leg Extensions, Leg Curls, Front Raises, Incline/Decline Flyes, and Ab Crunches.

Whether you are a beginner seeking toning or an advanced lifter…….. try compound moves for a bigger payoff.

Stay tuned…….

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Emails and Feedback

First, thanks for reading. Your emails and feedback provide me with great encouragement. I really appreciate it.

Please know that if you have any specific topics or questions you would like to see addressed on the blog, just email them to me at I will do my best to work them into a post that will resonate with as many readers as possible.

Thanks again and stay tuned...

I Have Been Where You May Be........

I have BEEN there………..

I was a stocky farm girl throughout my childhood and into my late twenties.

At 30, I tried the most common approach to weight loss – simply counting calories without focusing on what to eat or paying attention to the timing of meals. I did not care about working out or even care about muscle retention/building. Nevertheless, I got down to 98 lbs on my 5 foot 3 frame. But I wasn't healthy and it wasn't sustainable. Since I basically had no muscle, my body metabolism shut down. When I started eating a bit more (and more typically) I ballooned up to 160 lbs and 36% body fat. My body was adding FAT but no muscle and thus even when eating fewer calories I continued to gain.

At 38, I joined a gym and instantly recognized that "fitness" was my passion. Through a series of trial and error fitness strategies, I got myself down to a lean mean bodybuilding physique at a mere 7% body fat. However, despite my appearance, I could only bench 65 lbs. I had no real strength or stamina. A bodybuilding body is not necessarily everyone's ideal fitness goal, but I proved to myself that I could do it.

During this time, I was not without health challenges: I was diagnosed with chronic reactive hypoglycemia which basically means that I have an intolerance to most carbohydrates. Then, I had a massive heart attack; the kind that falls into the 1% of heart attacks whose cause cannot be explained. Later, I shattered my wrist that required me to rethink and redesign almost every workout move. In each case, my commitment to fitness and nutrition helped me through.

At 45, I had a new fitness goal at the opposite end of the spectrum when I began powerlifting. I used all the "clean" ways to develop muscle -- emphasizing proteins, heavy weight reps and recovery supplements. With training, I performed “gym lifts” in double ply gear achieving squats of 505 lbs, a bench press 303 lbs and deadlifts at 425 lbs. In competitions, I set world and national records.

Today, my fitness goals represent a more balanced approach to life and I sport a healthier 15-18% body fat but I can still bench-press 225 lbs for three

I continue to read, analyze and/or apply just about every technique and "fitness" principle I come across. Along my “fitness” journey, I have also worked out with or been trained by personal trainers from every certifying organization in the US. I have learned a lot about the myths and realities of fitness.

Now, I want to help you become “empowered” to achieve your personal goals.

Stay tuned…………

Monday, January 9, 2012

Do Not Fear “Healthy” Fats

One craze that has persisted over the past 20 years has been the focus on “low fat”. Doctors, nutritionists, fitness magazines and especially the food industry advocate it. Everyone wants to stick a label of “low fat” on his or her product. Moreover, consumers are convinced that “low fat” will make them healthier, lose fat, reduce cholesterol and prevent heart disease. People consume “low fat” products to feel guilt free. However if you look at the label most “low fat” products are full of sugar, salt and calories. After all, SOMETHING needs to make these foods tolerable.

Alternatively, there are GOOD fats. These healthy fats are essential to the body. They help lower cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease, improve moods, aid joint mobility and protect against memory loss and dementia. They also boost hormones in your body that increase fat burning and promote muscle growth.

Good / healthy fats include nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts and pecans), olive oil, peanut oil, salmon, avocados, olives, flaxseed, pumpkin seed, sesame oil and seeds, and fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines).

However, note: Good fats can become damaged by heat or light. Oils such as flaxseed oil must be refrigerated and kept in a non-clear container. Cooking with these oils also damages the fats. Suggestions for different oils: For baking, try coconut, canola or sunflower oil. For pan-frying due to high heat, consider avocado, peanut or sesame oil. At lower heat for sautéing use avocado, coconut, olive, sesame or sunflower oils. For dipping, dressings and marinades mix it up with flax, olive, peanut, toasted sesame or walnut oil.
Choose “healthy fats” and then enjoy them.

Stay tuned………….

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Motto......

"OBSESSED is just a word the LAZY use to describe the DEDICATED." -- Russell Warren

Friday, January 6, 2012

Training Sessions/Exercise - Less is MORE

You may have made a New Year's Resolution to increase the duration of your workouts, maybe add 30 minutes more to your routine. Consider this -- Less may be MORE when it comes to training.

For those of you who know me, you'll understand when I say that I have to remind myself of this every day (sometimes several times a day).

We often think more is better when it comes to hitting the gym but shorter (less) is more appropriate. Here's why: The body in response to stress releases cortisol. This is the fight or flight survival mechanism I discussed in early post. Exercise is meant to put stress on the body. That is how it grows and changes. However, there is a fine line after which excess will switch the body to storing fat, deteriorating muscle, adversely affecting your blood sugars and thyroid functions. Training sessions (strength and cardio) should be shorter than 45 minutes. Ideally between 30 – 45 minutes.

Hit the workout sessions with quality and not quantity. The trick: Use intensity and efficiency, then walk away.

Stay tuned…………….

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cutting Calories Does NOT Always Result In Fat Loss

You may already know that there are 3500 calories in one pound of fat. So many “gurus” say that by reducing your intake by 500 calories per day, you will lose one pound of fat per week. This is NOT correct. Fact is that most of the weight you'll lose will come from muscle. It will not come from fat. The reason is that our bodies are built for fight or flight. Therefore, the body will use muscle tissue for needed energy before it uses fat deposits. Consequently, you may lose a pound of weight but you've lost valuable muscle instead of the targeted fat.

We live in a “fast” world. We all want answers and solutions now. But the key to achieving long term healthy weight and a healthy muscle to fat ratio is to TAKE YOUR TIME to get to your ideal body composition. Be patient with fat loss. Be sure to preserve or build muscle tissue. It takes time and a combination of weight training, mild cardio and dietary manipulation/changes. If you aren’t patient and try to rush, you might lose according to the scales but you will not obtain your medium and long term goals.

Stay tuned………..

Monday, January 2, 2012

Stairs - Combo Advantages

It is wintertime and some days it may be difficult to get out and get to a gym. Don’t let this stop you from working your way toward your personal goals. One of the most underutilized pieces of "equipment" exists in most homes and offices -- the stairs.

I initially started stair climbing for cardio (raise my heart rate, endurance, breathing). I soon realized that it is an outstanding lower body exercise for strength, power, flexibility and core strengthening.

Your legs are the largest and strongest muscle group in your body. When used in strength training they release the most hormones for building muscle. These are the same hormones that are potent fat burners (more on this later posting).

Simply walk up the stairs without holding on. Do not run. Walking up the stairs will work the quad muscles. Walking down the stairs you should step with control. Do not run down. This works the glutes and hamstrings. Both directions work the calves and your core. Walk looking straight or up but do not look down.

If you are more advanced, pick up some weight and walk carrying it up and down. Do not lean as it gets heavy as this will put stress on your back. Extra weight will help further the workout intensity.

I attempt to do stairs twice a week with a backpack with 45 pounds in it. I go up a big flight of stairs and then back down and then up again. I aim for 20 flights (each direction) and I get an incredible cardio AND an exceptional leg workout.

Try the stairs………….. Stay tuned.