When you’re hungry and you can feel your blood sugar drop, it can seem like an emergency, and sometimes it is. I used to carry a fruit and nut bar for times when I’m hungry, feel dizzy, and won’t be home for awhile. One of my friends used to carry a bag of skittles in her purse. Other people, I’ve spoken to, get chips from 7-11 or a vending machine. Many of my clients, stop at the nearest fast food restaurant for a quick meal when they’re starving.
When you need a small snack to tide you over when your blood sugar dips, all of the options above are not ideal because high-calorie junk food is not what you need. You need fast-acting carbohydrates from whole foods that don’t contain a lot of calories, but just enough to tide you over for about 30 minutes so you have time to get a healthy meal.
That perfect food is figs. What I love about figs is that they don’t need to be refrigerated, I can carry a few in my gym bag or purse in a small sealable plastic sandwich bag, they’re easy to eat, they are low in calories with just enough carbs, and they taste like candy. One fig is just 7 net carbs, not too low and not too high. Sometimes, I’ll need two figs to stabilize by blood sugar, which is imperative for a type 1 diabetic like myself. The reason why I switched from the fruit and nut bars to figs, is that I couldn’t resist eating the entire bar, so I was eating too many carbs and too many calories (bar: 220 calories vs 1 fig 37 calories, 2 figs 74 calories). Figs are also a wonderful snack to satisfy a sugar craving, without the guilt.
Low back pain is miserable and, may, or may not be caused by certain exercises. If you have low back pain, you may want to avoid doing the following exercises for 30 days to see if your back pain goes away.
Leg press. The leg press (photo of me above) is a great machine for building the quads (front of the leg, above the knee), and the glutes (butt). I loved that I could go heavy and feel my muscles working hard, but I also felt pain in my lumbar spine right afterwards, and up to several days after using the leg press. The further apart my legs were, to hit the glutes, the worse the pain was. Even when I put my feet low on the leg press, with my feet fairly close together, to target my quads, my back would scream in pain. To this day, I cannot use the leg press, even with light weight without feeling low back pain. It’s not just me, it’s the movement and exercise itself. Seated, with your feet in front of you, the lower back is rounded, and that added weight just makes matters compounded. If the leg press doesn’t bother you, you’re welcome to keep the leg press in your exercise routine, but if you have any back issues, you may want to skip it.
Deadlifts. The deadlift is a total body exercise that can build crazy strength, but has the capacity to leave you in a world of hurt. It’s an exercise that’s frequently done with incorrect form, and very difficult to perform with perfection continuously. The deadlift uses almost all of your muscles, but targets the low back and hamstrings. There are many deadlift variations, so you don’t have to skip it altogether, but the one that’s most likely to cause injury is the traditional deadlift with feet close together, toes pointed forward, with palms down on the barbell. Safer deadlifts are sumo deadlifts with feet in a wide stance, with toes pointed outwards, with a mixed hand grip (make sure to change the grip every set); and the trap bar deadlift is less taxing on your low back, where your torso is more upright, and your arms are at your sides. Less advanced deadlifts that shouldn’t hurt the low back are single leg deadlifts, but they challenge your balance more, which is not a bad thing.
Back squats. With a barbell on your traps, the back squat is an advanced exercise, and great for loading up with heavy weights since your arms aren’t taking the strain with dumbbells. A lot of people perform back squats with incorrect form or go too low. If you go too low in a squat, likely, what will occur is a “butt wink.” That’s where your lower spine curves under, which, like the leg press, puts you in a vulnerable position with all that load on your back.
In addition, if you don’t come up or down with the barbell evenly, it’s puts a lot of torque on the spine. Since one of my shoulders has less range of motion than the other, when I did performed the back squat, the bar wasn’t even. I didn’t think it through, the fact that the uneven bar, because I couldn’t get one of my hands back enough to match the other, meant that I wasn’t aligned and shouldn’t perform this movement until my full range of motion was regained. What I was doing, inadvertently, was twisting my back on the way up and down. I haven’t done the back squat since, and had to avoid all squats for a few months while my discs healed.
There’s lots of squat variations to play with, like front squats, goblet squats, sumo squats, and box squats. Giving up the back squat doesn’t, and shouldn’t mean you should give up squats altogether.
Crunches. Everyone wants strong, flat abs, but crunches put unnecessary load on the spine. Crunches are, basically, crunching your spine. Crunches are completely unnecessary, and won’t make your abs flat. Crunches only work the upper abs. The abs that typically need strengthening are the obliques (side abs), and the lower abs. Hanging leg raises with your arms in slings are great for targeting the lower abs and obliques, and most people can do them. I also like front and side planks, and the Pallof press to keep the abs and the core strong.
Some exercises are great for some people, and can cause harm for others. Do the ones you like, and avoid the ones that you hate, and cause you pain. I tell my clients that there’s numerous exercises for every major muscle, so we can always change the workout to make it fun without pain. Exercise is meant to be healing, not to cause injury.
You may have seen articles that recommend that weight lifters drink chocolate milk immediately after their workout, but drinking hormones, cholesterol, animal fat, and animal sugar (lactose) is a terrible idea. What you want to consume after exercise is whole foods that contain micronutrients, macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but if you love your chocolate milk, drink this instead.
My version of chocolate milk won’t increase your cholesterol or blood sugar levels, and tastes great. Place 2 cups of refrigerated almond milk (sugar free), 1 scoop creatine, and 1 tablespoon of Truvia chocolate vegan protein powder in a small blender cup and mix for 7 seconds. Optional add-ins are: a dash of cinnamon, a few dashes of fennel powder, frozen banana chunks, peanut butter, and/or additional plain protein powder. Drink immediately.
I love deviled eggs, but all the calories, fat and cholesterol from the yolk and mayonnaise (I use coconut oil mayo), makes it one of those snacks that should be eaten only every now and then. Here is a vegan version of deviled egg filling, that’s not only creamy, cholesterol free, low calorie, low fat, delicious (sometimes I just eat it on a spoon), but is also high in protein. You can use the filling just as you would on deviled eggs, but it’s also scrumptious on seedy crackers and celery sticks.
Here’s the easy-to-make Deviled Egg Filling recipe:
- 1 box medium-firm tofu, drained, and patted dry
- ½ tsp paprika
- ½ tsp mustard powder
- ¼ tsp granulated garlic powder
- ¼ tsp onion powder
- 2 T whole grain mustard
- ¼ cup sweet pickle relish
- 2 T capers, drained
- Salt and pepper to taste
Crumble the tofu with your hands into a large glass bowl. Add all the spices, but don’t add the relish, capers, salt or pepper, yet. Use a hand-held immersion blender, or mix in a food processor, and blend until creamy. Add the relish, salt (a few shakes) and pepper (about ¼ tsp), capers, and mix with a large spoon until fully incorporated. Place into a large glass bowl with a lid and keep in refrigerator. Add filling to halved egg whites, celery, or crackers.
On the photo on the left, taken 2 ½ years ago, I’m about 25% bodyfat, considered to be acceptable, measured per calipers and an bioelectrical impedance machine. I loved my big butt and my full face. I hated my thick waist and my larger arms. On the photo on the right, I’m approximately 16% bodyfat, which is low, but healthy and categorized in the athletic zone. At this lower bodyfat, I like how small my waist is, my arms are more toned looking, and that I can see muscle definition. I don’t love that I lost the youthful fullness of my face, and that I had to get smaller bra’s, or that I had to get new clothes since the old ones, hung on me.
This shows that there’s positives and negatives when it comes down to bodyfat percentages, when it’s in the healthy range. I decided that I prefer a flat stomach over a bubble butt. I bought tighter fitting clothes which make me look much better. I added lots of glute exercises to grow my butt (it’s a work in progress). I’m lifting more weight to get bigger muscles for more definition. Everyone’s genetics are different, and I know that I won’t have the curves I’d prefer without gaining bodyfat, but I’m okay with that because I’ve decided that a tiny waist is my main priority.
I did a survey on social media, and wasn’t surprised that people liked the thicker me and the lean me, fairly evenly, with the lower bodyfat photo winning slightly. What this means is that you should make your image into what you want, not what other people want.
Here’s how I lost the bulk:
- I stopped using the stair master. I was doing a warm-up on the stair master for 15 minutes, on level 7, twice a week, prior to weight lifting, which was increasing my cortisol levels and making me exhausted even before I started lifting. My warm-ups are now only 5 minutes and range from riding a stationary bike, banded glute exercises, or reverse lunges on leg day. On days I work just upper body, my warm-ups are only a few minutes, and are typically 2 sets of 12 reps of Y’s and T’s on a incline bench. On chest day, I’ll add a set of push-ups.
- Instead of 4 days of weight training, I now lift 6 days a week. The two added days are shoulders and arms, so the other two workouts are shorter, but total overall time lifting weights has increased, and the results in increased muscle mass in my arms and shoulders were apparent in just two months.
- I switched from ground turkey to ground turkey breast.
- I used to eat all parts of the chicken, except the skin, but now I only eat the chicken breast.
- I reduced the amount of oil I cooked my food in dramatically.
- I stopped eating chocolate (even though it was just a square or two a day), bars, and tortilla chips (even though it was just one serving size).
- Instead of four meals a day and one snack, I eat four meals each day and some nuts.
You’ll notice that these small changes resulted in big results over time (it took me about 6 months to go from 25% to 16% bodyfat). Be consistent without being overdramatic with adjustments in diet and exercise, and you’ll see amazing results too.
I wanted to make a cookie recipe that I loved, that I used to make and devour all the time, but I didn’t want the flour, butter, or margarine, so I revamped it into a easy-to-make, healthy(ish) apple and raspberry crumble. I served it to my family on Thanksgiving and my guests requested the recipe, so here it is for all:
Vegan, Gluten-Free Apple-Raspberry Crumble
- 1 cup pecans, raw, processed into flour
- 3 medium-sized peeled, cored, pitted, chopped apples of your choice
- 11 oz O Organics raspberry preserves (jam/jelly)
- ½ freshly squeezed lemon
- 1 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
- 3 cups old fashioned toasted oats
- ¼ cup melted coconut oil
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- ½ cup shredded coconut flakes, unsweetened
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the raw pecans in a small food processor until it becomes the consistency of flour. Sprinkle the pecan flour evenly in a round, glass pie dish. Put glass pie dish in the refrigerator to keep fresh.
Put all the granola topping ingredients in a large glass bowl, and mix with a large spoon until incorporated. Sprinkle granola on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, evenly distributed. Bake granola 10 minutes in the oven. After the granola has cooked for 10 minutes, gently flip granola so that the bottom gets cooked too, and toast other side 6-7 minutes. When granola is gently toasted, remove immediately from oven rack and put on hot pad on counter to cool.
While granola is cooking, put chopped apples, raspberry jam, and freshly squeezed lemon juice in a small sauce pan and mix. Heat on medium-high, mixing every so often, until jam melts, and covers the apples. Then, reduce heat to low, cover and cook apples until soft (about 45 more minutes). Remove from heat and let cool.
When apple-raspberry filling is cool, use a spoon to drop filling evenly over pecan crust (base). Discard excess raspberry liquid. Put in refrigerator to cool and set. Right before serving, sprinkle a generous amount of granola on top of the apple-raspberry filling for the topping. You will have a lot of leftover granola to snack on. Using a spoon, place a small portion of the pie (crumble) on a plate. Optional, but highly recommended is to serve, on the side, with a small scoop of SoDelicous vegan vanilla bean coconut ice cream. Put some of the extra granola in a small bowl, and put out in case guests want to add more.
Place any leftover crumble in the refrigerator, but it’s best eaten right away.
Nutritional Information: 430 calories, 45 grams carbs, 23 gms fat, 7 gms protein. Actual amounts vary depending on how much of the jam is discarded. I didn’t use, about 1/4 cup of the jam, after it was cooked down.
We want to see muscles, it’s that “toned” look that everyone wants. It’s no surprise that fat covers muscle, which is one reason why you may not see your beautiful, shapely triceps. Another reason you may not see muscle definition, is that you may not be drinking enough water.
Famous physical therapist and strength coach Jeff Cavaliere, who trains athletes and celebrities, states that you “…can’t create muscle in a dehydrated state…” (1). With sufficient water intake, you’ll feel better (if you’re usually dehydrated), and may even help you lose extra body fat. Filling up with water instead of extra calories, can help with hunger cravings, since some people gravitate towards food instead of water due to mixed signals from the brain. Your brain may tell you that you’re starving, when, in fat, you’re extremely thirsty.
(1). Source: Cavaliere, Jeff. Athlean-X. “5 Red Flags You’re Not Gaining Muscle.” YouTube, 11.42. 22 Dec. 2019
I think I’m all ready for the holidays, when I realize that I forgot to get someone a gift, then panic sets in. We’ve all been there, but this gift that you put aside, or have been meaning to get, but you keep forgetting, is for you! It’s okay to get yourself a gift! This gift keeps on giving because it’s a gift of health; it will not only reduce your chances of getting injured, being put on prescription medication (and feeling worse), and/or getting diagnosed with a disease.
While exercise and clean eating (like lots of veggies, and sufficient protein) won’t guarantee you’ll never get sick, you’ll look and feel better from the inside-out. Sign up for personal training sessions to learn how to lift weights safely to increase strength and mobility, and make it your mission to increase your nutrients with whole foods, and cutting way back on fast food and processed foods.
If you live in San Diego, I offer personal training sessions at Crunch Fitness, so contact me on this blog or through my website TheHighFiveDiet.com Let me know you follow my blog, and I’ll throw in a free training session. (Who doesn’t love free?)
Exercise is amazing (you’ll sweat and feel happier when you’re done), but without proper nutrients and appropriate portions, exercising and weight loss can be challenging, so make sure to order my both my diet book and dessert cookbook from TheHighFiveDiet.com
Give the gift to the most important person: you. Because when you’re happier, everyone else around you is happier too.
We were made to be mobile, but technology has us bound to chairs in front of computers, where we get stiff and battle pain. Weight lifters get tight chests from chest presses, push-ups, and chest flyes, so releasing tension with this simple ball press is good for them too.
In the YouTube video below, I use a yoga therapy ball, but a lacrosse ball, or tennis ball works also. While standing, place the ball on your upper pec, and press your chest into the ball, and the ball into a wall. Hold this pressure for five minutes, and then switch sides. I watch TV while doing this stretch so it doesn’t seem as long, or boring. Ideally, perform this stretch daily, but the first time you try this, your upper pec might be sore, so you may want to take two days off before applying pressure with the ball again.