Eating Healthy Does Not Mean Losing Fat

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“I eat healthy but I still don’t lose weight.”

Does this sound familiar? It does to me. I hear it (or rather, read it) daily. Part of my intake process involves having a potential client log their meals in an app for several days so I can review what exactly we’re working with before I decide where we need to go next. There are people who eat out every day, drink alcohol several times a week, and have a diet comprised mostly of packaged “food like products”, however, there are an astounding number of people who come to me with pristine logs full of whole, nutrient dense foods. Yet, these people remain overweight no matter whether they exercise or not.

What gives?

I’m going to give you the magic secret that health professionals guard so tightly. Many will promote their own style of “dieting” as the next best thing, the greatest, and the easiest – but that’s just the information I’m about to give you in fancy packaging. So, what’s the big secret?


You see, everything you eat has a calorie load and if your weight is steady, that’s how many calories it takes to keep your current body composition. If you like your body composition, congratulations – you can stop reading now (but you shouldn’t because this is good stuff). If you do not like your current body composition, you’ll want to continue reading.

Let’s say you want to lose 1lb per week. This might not seem like a lot but I assure you it is when you look at it over a year. There are 52 weeks in a year and if you lose just one pound per week for a year, you’ve lost over 50lbs. That’s pretty damn good if you ask me. It might not sound aggressive enough for you but read on anyway. Unlike the article you read in the Reader’s Digest on display in the express checkout line at Walmart (to keep you from buying all the candy bars), I know what I’m talking about.

One pound of fat is made up of approximately 3500 calories. Yes, there are variables here but we’re keeping it simple. If you want to lose 1lb of fat in one week, that means you’ll need to cut 500 calories per day for 7 days (7×500 = 3500). Sounds easy enough, right? To do this, you need to know how much you’re currently eating. “Eating healthy” is not a mathematical value. You’ll want to start using an app like My Fitness Pal so you can see exactly what you eat in a day EVEN IF (especially if, actually) you eat “healthy”.

HUH? What do you mean “especially if”?

Do you remember when the Paleo craze hit the airwaves? EAT ALL THE BACON – IT’S GOOD FOR YOU. I remember. Now, let me just take an aside to say, there’s nothing wrong with eating paleo – that’s exactly how I feed my family most of the time – however, I still log my meals so I know I’m not blowing my calorie targets. You see, if you eat 4000 calories in a day, it doesn’t matter if it’s avocado and chicken, or Five Guys. It’s still 4000 calories and outside of competitive athletes, not many people need 4000 calories in a day.

Do you remember the Iowa science teacher John Cisna who lost 37 pounds and saw his cholesterol level drop significantly? He consumed a diet consisting of nothing but McDonald’s for three months, consuming a 2000 calorie per day diet.

The math in this tells us that he lost 12lbs per month. Now, he also reported to have walked 45 minutes per day, so some of his deficit was produced by exercise expenditure but, roughly, that’s 3lbs per week from calorie cutting. This means Mr. Cisna was reducing his caloric intake by approximately 1500 per day.

If a 1500 calorie deficit per day sounds like a lot, I would encourage you to track your food for a few days. Be honest about the weight and volume of the foods you eat and the preparation details. If you fry your battered chicken, you can’t call it “chicken breast” with only 5g of fat for a 4oz portion (this would be the gravest form of denial known to mankind). Weigh your fruit, log your soda, use an actual measuring spoon to portion out your almond butter, and weigh your nuts. If you eat pasta, I wish I could be a fly on the wall when you weigh your usual portion of pasta (I’m literally belly laughing at you as I type this).

In a game of math, there is no perception – there are only numbers. Even if you’re not actively trying to lose fat, logging your meals is a great way to get insight into how your body functions. If you’re often tired and sluggish your logs might show you that your fat intake is too low. If you’re crashing at 2pm every day, you might learn your lunch meal is too dense in carbs.

Knowledge is power – so, go get some.

Winter is Coming (and so is that extra 10lbs)

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Holiday weight gain is practically a given for most. It’s not that anyone sets out to put on 5 to 10 pounds in a few short months but it happens to the best of us. The interesting part about this holiday bulk is that we all know how common it is and most of us say “not this year”, but, here we are – reaching for our stretchy pants.

I don’t know about you, but I have long associated winter with Christmas – and with Christmas comes hot chocolate, egg nog, cookies, and red wine (not all at once, at least). This season also tends to mean more socializing, which means less control over your daily caloric intake as you’re fed in abundance while in the homes of others who also associate the season of giving with the season of eating, and in offices who have a daily spread of treats brought in by clients. There doesn’t seem to be any escape from the abundance of calories. The good news is you don’t have to avoid it if you choose not to. You’re still just as awesome in body 10, or even 50lbs heavier than the one you’re in right now – but, it’s 100% your choice.

“Oh, suuuuuuuuuuuuuure. Easy for you to say – you’re a fat-loss coach!” While that is true, I am a fat-loss coach and it IS easy for me to say – that doesn’t make it any less true – it really IS 100% your choice.

elfl-overeatingFor example: did you know that you can have one slice of pecan pie and not 3? Did you know that you can have a small glass of egg nog and not a carton? Until about 10 years ago, I didn’t know these things either. I was absolutely an all-or-nothing holiday eater. If I was going to go to holiday parties and be presented with all these wonderful holiday treats, I was damn well going to eat them. In theory, this should count as “owning it”, right? Except that I didn’t own it. I would go home feeling bloated and unwell, and say shameful things to myself as I undressed in front of the mirror. Then, the next day, I would put away my dishes after my healthy “on plan” breakfast, and suddenly I would reminisce about my gluttony the night before and shame would lead me right to the cookies in the pantry. Because, apparently eating more reduced the shame of overeating – said no one, ever.

You see, the shame was my reminder that I wasn’t part of the eat-drink-and-be-merry crowd, as I thought I was. I only joined that club a few years ago, and I knew I was there because I learned to understand my limits. I knew that if I had a third glass of wine I was going to reach for a second plate. I also knew that if I didn’t leave by around 9pm I was going to surf that treat table like Pac-Man and there’d be no stopping me and it wouldn’t be a conscious, shame free choice. I knew my limits – and guess what happened when I started to understand my limits? Freedom happened.


Here are some of the changes I made:

  1. I would plan my eating during the day so I had the caloric wiggle room for a bit of indulgence later that evening and that removed the “shame” piece for me. Without the shame, I didn’t enter that “all-or-nothing” stage where I turned into Pac-Man. Shame is a mother-f*#&er.
  1. I made sure I had a glass of water in my hands at all times. I’d take a glass of wine when I arrived and I’d have one with dinner but I had water in between. This helped me feel fuller for longer and it removed the option for mindless eating because my hands were busy. If you have one, you could also bring your baby – then you’d be successful for sure because you’d basically be restricted from any movement outside of keeping him/her from pulling furniture on themselves and eating dog food. This is my plan for this year.
  1. Plan to take one plate of food rather than several smaller plates, fill most of the plate with turkey and vegetables, and eat slowly – talk a LOT. Not only will you be the life of the party, you’ll drastically slow your eating time. Unless you’re one of those people who talk with food in their mouth – then you’ll likely choke on your own food and get a ride home in an ambulance. I guess you’ll still have eaten less, so….
  1. Leave before the party winds down. When parties wind down, more food comes out and more booze appears. Besides, this is when people start to get drunk anyway and drunk people do and say stupid things. Nothing good comes from that.
  1. Every time you avoid falling into a trap of previous events that induced shame, give yourself a mental high-five! Celebrate those little successes! Even if you only ate 2 desserts instead of 3 – HIGH FIVE!
  1. When undressing after your outing, say something awesome about yourself and believe it. You’re still F*%$ing awesome.

Whether you choose to eat-drink-and-be-merry, or enjoy in moderation – it’s 100% your call. So, own it and say NO to shame because, as I mentioned above, shame is a mother-f*#&er.

Postpartum Fitness & Other Fairytales

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“It’s just so hard right now”

“My work load is too heavy; I can’t focus on anything else”

“I’m too tired by the end of the day”

“I don’t have a babysitter”


These are likely the most common phrases I hear from postpartum mamas regarding their self-reported lack of exercise after baby. You’ll notice I didn’t call them excuses – and that is intentional. Being a new mama (again) myself, I can attest to the fact that these are in fact reasons and not excuses – because I have said them.


Prior to my pregnancy I was in the best shape of my life, both physically and athletically. My powerlifting totals were at an all-time high and I was lean while still consuming nearly 3000 calories per day. Though I suffered from morning (more like all-damn-day) sickness for half of my pregnancy and intense heartburn for the rest, I trained 5 days a week until the last week of my pregnancy. It was SO difficult to get out of bed at 430am to train even though I was lethargic and sleep deprived (thanks to my parasitic but beautiful fetus literally sucking the life out of me), but I knew I needed to push through the discomfort to get the prize – and so I did.


The “prize” was the post-training endorphin rush I so loved and the satisfaction of knowing I was doing well by my baby by giving her a strong, healthy place to grow. I was eating well and working hard to avoid falling to things that are at least partially in my control, like gestational diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, and excess weight gain. On a very serious note, I was also determined to avoid postpartum depression, which I developed with my first pregnancy. I know one of the biggest contributors to that experience for me was my inability to exercise and I was determined to take that out of the equation this time. *Please understand that I am not saying we are 100% in control of these issues in pregnancy, only that I was doing everything in my power to prevent them with the information I had*


Also, I LOVE training.  It is so much a part of me that I can’t ever imagine being without it and I was so pleased that I pushed through the discomfort of pregnancy to do so. I assumed because I stayed with the training and healthy eating that I would get right back on the horse once I was all healed up.


Then, I had a baby.


With baby came:

Vaginal stitches (if you’ve never had these, let me assure you, they are the reason I will take birth control for the rest of my reproductive life)

Pelvic floor strain (when I say strain, I really mean DESTRUCTION – like, for 4 weeks I could only poop with my thumb in my vagina because my baby came at the rectal wall at about 100km/hr and it didn’t work, temporarily)

Cracked and bleeding nipples from a tiny badger vacuuming them down her throat 12 times/day after 8 years of them just being for decoration.

Sleeping in fragments of 2 hours at a time (while trying to ignore the discomfort of all the above).

Being unable to prepare meals for my family because, fuck walking (re: vaginal stitches).


Now, this is all settled now that my babe is 7 months old. In fact, by 6 months old she was sleeping through the night, taking reliable naps during the day and my vagina has almost forgotten the trauma of the head-on collision it experienced. So, I can get back to the gym and kick ass, right?


WRONG. Why? Because:

“It’s just so hard right now”

“My work load is too heavy; I can’t focus on anything else”

“I’m too tired by the end of the day”

“I don’t have a babysitter”


Mamas, I hear you. I get it 100%. Before I was a new mom (again) I didn’t get it. But, OHMYFUCKINGGOD, I get it now. You see, I had it in my head that unless I could go back to the gym for an hour or more every day, it wasn’t worth it. I tried to take my daughter to the gym and put her in child minding but by the time I got us there and started exercising it was nearly time to get her home for bed again. Add to that the super fun 6 month separation anxiety stage and it was a doomed endeavor. I started to really feel sorry for myself that I was never going to get my body, mind, and autonomy back.

The problem was, I wasn’t willing to start small and that was preventing me from starting at all.

I scoured Kijiji and found this:


It’s called Ironman Lever Lock Adjustable Dumbbell Set. It ranges from 5 to 55lbs and takes up exactly this much space. It’s totally stable and could never be pulled down on my babe. Even my 10-year-old can’t tip it. I paid $200 for it. Every day, I put my babe in her exersaucer and I spend about 30-40 minutes doing a variety of exercises: shoulder press, rows, chest flyes, rear delt flyes, side lateral raises, front delt raises, chest press, pullovers, skull crushers, tricep extensions, goblet squats, lunges, single leg deadlifts, hip thrusters, glute bridges, and so much more. My daughter watches baby Einstein, me and the cat, and get a mild sweat on. I also take my daughter out for a VERY brisk walk every day (unless it rains – I’m sugar and I will melt) for at least an hour.


I’m not winning any powerlifting meets any time soon but I’m not sitting on my butt watching Netflix either (ok, sometimes I do – damn you, The Good Wife). I’m not the small step type so this is new territory for me but I will tell you that it sure beats the alternative, which for me, was self-pity.


Every small step counts. When we’re teaching our kids to ride a bike, we can see their confidence grow with every tiny success. If they fall once instead of five times during their third attempt, their persistence grows and so does their success. As with most things in life, our children are our best teachers. Take that small step today and that next step will be easier tomorrow.












Pass the Chips

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Here are two things that do not go together: all-or-nothing thinking and fat loss.

I know you’re probably thinking “well, that can’t be true – if I cut out [evil food group here] 100%, I will definitely lose fat”. That may be true – but what is also true is that you likely can’t cut [evil food group here] out forever. Now you’re thinking “Well, I have no choice because I can’t control myself when I eat it so I just have to get rid of it”. Sound familiar?

Part of mindful eating is enjoying food, but doing it in a way that make sense for your goals. So, if you’re looking to lose body fat, you’re going to eat differently than someone who is not. Like any other behaviour we’re trying to change, we have to first explore the current behaviour. Maybe you’re the person who can’t seem to stop when you open a bag of chips. The solution to changing this behaviour isn’t to take away the chips – I mean THEY didn’t do anything wrong – they’re just food. Instead of taking them away, why not look at your approach to those chips. When you buy a whole chicken from the grocery store, you don’t eat the whole thing in one sitting, right? How about then you buy a bag of apples or potatoes? What is it about those chips?

There is a whole science behind why we turn to food and why we turn to specific foods – but we’ll discuss that another day. For now, I want to turn your attention to a liberating concept. I want you to explore the idea that all-or-nothing thinking is destructive and sets you up for failure. Here’s what I mean. When your toddler is learning boundaries, he wants the things he can’t have – the remote, the keys, the mean cat’s tail … why does he want those things? Because we quickly whisk them away from him, often for very good reason (germs, cuts, and having eyeballs scratched out). Babe keeps reaching for them and we keep removing them and it becomes this power struggle. Soon, Babe is obsessed with these things. If you’re a parent, onto child number 2 or 3, I’m sure you have learned that when you control the environment in which your child can access these things, the items lose their allure. This is what I’m proposing for your chips.

doritos-nacho-cheeseChips are not inherently evil. I’m going to share something fascinating with you – I mean, revolutionary. Ready? If you’re anywhere near a large bag of chips, pick up the bag and turn it over. You’ll see a little box in black print with a heading that says “Nutritional Data”. Are you with me so far? Now, read the next line where it says “serving size”. It should say anything from 28g to 45g is a serving, and it will list how many carbs, fat and protein are in that serving. Now, take a little bowl and place it on a food scale and turn the scale on. Then, pour some chips into that bowl and keep pouring until you reach the serving size suggested on that bag. Next, I’d like you to close the bag and put it away. Last, but not least, sit down and enjoy that small bowl of chips, guilt and shame free.

There are of course, alternative options.

Option #1: Eat the entire bag
Consequences: Feeling shame, guilt, physically ill, making fat gain possible.
Consequences of the above consequences: Change in mood, decrease in joy, decrease in patience with spouse, children, coworkers, decrease in self-worth, increase in feelings of hopelessness.

Option #2: Never eat chips again
Consequences: Feeling deprived, feelings of fairness are challenged, feeling shame and guilt.
Consequences of the above consequences: Change in mood, decrease in joy, decrease in patience with spouse, children, coworkers, decrease in self-worth, increase in feelings of hopelessness, increased risk of binge behaviour.

Now, just to be thorough, let’s break down option of eating the chips in moderation.

Option #3: Eating the chips in moderation, according to your goals
Consequences: Increased feelings of satisfaction, reduced feelings of deprivation, feeling of belongingness (in group settings), increased self-worth, feelings of success, reaching body composition goals.
Consequences of the above consequences: N/A

Now, I don’t mean to pick on chips – so feel free to replace chips with your food of choice and see if it just might apply to you. I bet it will. Now, go forth and eat [evil food group here] (in moderation).

How to Fail at Fat-loss in 4 Easy Steps

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imagesI have been blessed to have been invited along on the fat-loss journeys of hundreds of men and women. Some have only wanted to lose 5lbs and some have wanted to lose 50lbs but while their goals were different, their keys to success – and failure, sadly, for some, were the same.

Those who succeeded managed differently from those who did not. They approached the challenge differently, they sought the knowledge and tools differently, and they rallied from disappointment differently. The list of behaviours that lead to success is long – and we’ll cover that another day. For today, I want to show you the top reasons most FAIL to reach their fat-loss goals. If you’ve been losing and regaining the same 10 or more pounds for decades, this list might come in handy.

How to Ensure Fat-loss Failure:

1. Don’t Plan your Meals/Training in Advance

Everyone I know is the busiest person they know. Everyone feels their lives are more hectic than the lives of their peers because they have x# of kids, all in x# of activities, they work x# of hours, their spouse works x# of hours, they have x# of relatives to care for, they have x# of deadlines, they have x# of projects on the go – you get the point. I’ll let you in on a little secret… everyone is busy and yet even those people still go on to compete in bodybuilding competitions, triathlons, marathons, and other events that take months of grueling dieting, training, and sacrificing to accomplish. Some also have kids and some have spouses but some don’t. Some also work and go to school at the same time. Some have kids, no spouse, work, plus volunteer. Is your mind blown yet? Oh, but they just have something that you don’t, right? They’re “freaks” or “obsessed” or “unhealthy”, or “going to work themselves to death”.

Well, the truth is, what they have is the ability to see what they want and plan for it. They know it will be a juggling act and it will require a lot of planning – and instead of brushing the crazy idea aside and shoving their dream under a rock, they PLAN and execute. Have you ever heard of anyone who won the lottery by not buying a ticket? Have you ever heard of anyone who woke up one day 50lbs lighter with rock hard abs? Neither have I. You will never accidentally reach your fat-loss goals. Sure, you could get food poisoning and vomit and diarrhea your way to a 10lb loss, but you’ll gain it all back the moment you start eating again.

I run 60 Day Transformation Challenges where people from all walks of life enter a private forum containing all the tools and resources they need to lose body fat and change their relationship with food. It contains documents explaining the process as well as videos to help them navigate through that process. The success rate of those who plan their every meal the day before, day after day, and stick to the plan – is 100%. The success rate of those who log their food as they eat (or not at all) without any conscious thought into how many grams of each macronutrient they’re eating is 0%. Some will lose initially because just by logging we typically eat less – but once the challenge is over, they go back to doing what they were before (not planning or even logging) and they gain it all back – and often, more. When you plan your meals and log them, you know exactly what you’re eating and when so you’re unlikely to find yourself in the middle of a mall starving and mysteriously drifting to the nearest fast food restaurant in the food court. You’re also less likely to eat more than you should because you planned what and how much you were going to eat.

Fail to plan, plan to fail. Period. It’s quite simple.

2. Be Defensive in the Face of Feedback
If you’re lucky enough to have the guidance of a professional who is giving you the tools you need who offers weekly feedback on your effort, you ought to take that feedback and apply the changes to the following week so you can get closer to your goal. Unless of course, you’d like to not reach your goal. If that’s the case, you should definitely fire them back an email telling them all the reasons you can’t do what they suggested, why what you did was good enough or why you don’t want to do it, and then keep doing exactly what you think is the right thing to do. Obviously, what you think you should do isn’t working because you hired this person in the first place, but sure, go on and keep doing that. Maybe the 382th time is the charm.

3. Blame Others
Successful people look at obstacles as something to get over and get creative about getting over those obstacles. If the obstacles happen to be a child posing a challenge, a spouse unable to support their goal or a job that has demanding hours – they get creative. In the face of the same obstacles, the unsuccessful ones will blame their child, their spouse, or their boss. It will not be an obstacle – it will be the end of their journey. Let me simplify this…. You’re driving down the road and your tire blows – but you don’t have a spare. You could call roadside assistance or a friend to help (this is the path of the successful person), or you can set your car on fire for failing you, and walk away. Logic level: ZERO

4. Complain
If you want to lose body fat you will have to sacrifice and work hard. You will likely have to take your kids to the sugar bush and watch them eat mountains of pancakes while you have one pancake with an eggwhite on the side and fruit instead of syrup. Complaining about it or not even taking your kids because it’s inconvenient for you isn’t an ideal choice – it’s whining. “If I can’t play I’m taking my ball and going home!”. I swear to you, I hear this stuff – often. If you are making a conscious choice to make sacrifices, don’t drag your kids along to suffer with you. Show them instead, what integrity looks like. Let them see you take on a challenge with grace and dignity. Show them that sacrifices are part of life and whining and complaining through them is a WEAK choice and the choice of someone destined to fail. Unless your health is in danger because of your body fat, NO ONE is making you lose that body fat – so don’t whine about your conscious choice. Whining about it doesn’t make it any easier – but being positive about it DOES.

The good news is unless your health is in danger, there really is no reason you MUST lose body fat. The decision to lose fat should be a conscious one that you make for reasons that are meaningful to you. You’re still awesome even though you have some extra body fat. No one who matters will love you less, like you less, or even criticize you for not being lean and fit. The choice is yours – but with that choice comes responsibility. Whether you choose to lose fat or stay a little overweight, OWN THAT CHOICE and stop making excuses and stop blaming others. It is your body and you’re the one who will carry it for the rest of your life – it is no one’s responsibility but yours, no matter what the form. However, If you choose to lose weight – get the hell out of your own way. Close your mouth and open your ears. If you’re defending you’re not listening.

Now, get off the internet and plan your meals!

Meal Replacement or Common Sense Replacement?

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The journey to fat-loss is one with many possible paths. Recently, I have met several people who have decided to select a path that has often peaked my curiosity. As I’m sure you’re aware there is suddenly a flood of “meal replacement shakes” on the market designed to help people lose weight. The premise is that by replacing one meal a day with this product you’ll lose weight and feel great. As I have blogged about before, I have experience with one particular brand with my first bodybuilding coach.

Only a few weeks into my training program with this coach, I was introduced to IsaLean Shakes by Isagenix. Because I was a good client, I signed up, purchased the products and started taking them. I drank one shake per day as part of my daily diet plan. Of course, I lost plenty of body fat because I was in prep and my calories per day were declining by the week, and my energy output was increasing by the week. I eventually reached my goal and competed, then went on to keep the shakes for well over a year before I made a revelation. I was sure it was the shakes that produced the fat loss – because my coach told me so. Well, guess what? It wasn’t.

Part of losing body fat is carefully monitoring your daily intake of calories, but also, your daily intake of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. You see, the body metabolizes each macronutrient a little differently and the speed of that process determines if your body is able to access body fat or the food you’ve just consumed, for fuel. The goal for those attempting to lose body fat is to encourage your body to utilize body fat for fuel, which means keeping those macronutrients balanced. This is what prevents your meals from being stored as body fat, as well. This brings us to the point of this article.

What is so special about that one shake per day? I’m not going to tell you what to think because that’s not really fair. Instead, I’m going to share a few facts and you can decide for yourself. I’m going to compare the macro equivalent of that shake product, once per day, to my personal favourite breakfast meal. I’m going to share the comparison in calories and macronutrients to show you they’re interchangeable, and I’m also going to show you the cost difference.

IsaLean® Shake – Creamy Dutch Chocolate – 14-meal canister = $57.95 (65.48 with tax)
The math tells me that this = $4.68 per meal

Here is my favourite breakfast meal: 1 whole egg + ½ cup egg white (scrambled) + 100g of chopped red bell pepper, served on one slice of Stonemill Sourdough Multigrain bread.
The math tells me this = $1.28 per meal
(seriously, I did the math – bread $.18, pepper $.21, egg $.27, egg white $.62)

As for the nutritional information, here is the comparison:

IsaLean® Shake – Creamy Dutch Chocolate: 240 calories, 24g protein, 25g carbohydrates, 5g fat
My breakfast meal: 260 calories, 25g protein, 20g carbohydrates, 7g fat

So, now you can see that the meals are nutritionally interchangeable and the cost per meal is quite different. Now, for the fun of it, let’s look at the difference in cost over the month – because I have something very interesting to show you….

30 days of IsaLean shakes: $140.40
30 days of actual breakfast food (like, food – not made in a factory): $38.40

If that doesn’t make you slap your forehead, I don’t know what will.

Wait, I do – it’s this:
30 days of IsaLean shakes: $140.40
This comes with no coaching, only your blind faith that changing ONE of your 3-6 meals per day will change your health and life.

30 days of actual breakfast food (like, food – not made in a factory): $38.40
30 days of nutrition coaching (with weekly food log review and feedback to make ALL your daily meals count, and skills you can use for life): $80
Total: $118.40
STILL LESS than changing out that one meal per day with a product.

Hmmmm…. Knowledge really is power. Hopefully, it is more powerful than clever marketing. That part isn’t up to me, though – it’s up to you.

The “Clean Eating” Falacy

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Eat-Clean-1024x642One of the most prominent trends in the wellness industry right now is “Clean Eating”. It isn’t being promoted exclusively by the fitness industry either – it’s everywhere. My social media timelines are flooded with threats of hypertension, diabetes, thyroid disease, as well as obesity – all because people aren’t “eating clean”. I’ll be among the first to tell you that avoiding the medical issues I just listed (metabolic disorders) does require a diet made up largely of whole foods. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would contest that. The best way to prevent illness is to fuel your body well and to eat nutrient dense foods as much as possible. If you are in a stage of managing, decelerating, or ridding your body of one of the metabolic disorders listed above – by all means, ignore this. If, however, you are a healthy individual looking to lose body fat – and you are leaning toward, or are engulfed in the “clean eating” trap, please read on.

As a fitness and nutrition coach, I often see clients who come to me from the binge/restrict cycle. You know the one – you feel a little “fat” so you decide to eat 2 meals a day for a few weeks and those meals are chicken and spinach, then you derail into buckets of fried chicken and ice cream. These clients gain and lose the same 20lbs for decades and end up feeling defeated, flawed, and trapped in their own body – a victim to its whim. I have some great news for those of you who fit this criterion. You’re NOT flawed! The problem with your weight is not your willpower, it’s your diet strategy – the all-or-nothing mindset never works.

Some of you reading right now are rolling your eyes at the screen thinking “Sure, Sophie – what about bodybuilders? They’re always shredded and they are very rigid with their diet”. I have some news for you – they aren’t. Even competitive dieters (yes, I called it that) have “prep” phases and “off-season” phases. Off-season involves a greater variety of foods and a larger daily calorie intake. There are, of course, members of this community who also preach “clean eating” and “no off-season” and there’s a very good chance those ones are trapped in an eating disorder, and often spiral off the deep end into that bucket of fried chicken. Trust me on this – I was once one of those. In fact, it is estimated that 35% of the bodybuilding industry suffers from some form of eating disorder. I’m not picking on bodybuilding – I’m only using the industry as an example because it’s the perfect one. There are extremes in every industry. Sport, education, religion, all see their fair share of extremism.

That being said, let me be very clear about something – extreme attitudes and behaviours surrounding food are DISORDERED, not discipline. There is a difference between discipline and fear-based-control. Disciplined people can have a piece of cake at a birthday party and not fall into a spiral of self-hate that includes an hour of unplanned cardio after the party. They can say YES to a friendly invite to lunch because they know that even if they can’t observe their daily targets, they can be close – and they don’t need to “earn “ their food. They know that living a healthy lifestyle means balance and excludes shame. They don’t buy expensive “cleanse” products to purge their cells of toxins from a goddamn doughnut! They eat the goddamn doughnut and enjoy every bite. [Related: there is no such thing as cleansing a cell] They know that eating whole foods 80-90% of the time gives them the healthy body they want and eating fun foods 10-20% of the time gives them the life balance they want.

The fact is when we restrict ourselves we are sending a message that what we’re avoiding is either bad or that we don’t deserve it and it becomes even more desirable. Go ahead right now and tell yourself not to take a deep breath and see how long you can avoid it. You’ll suddenly need to take a deep breath even though you probably wouldn’t have needed to if you didn’t restrict it. One of the most successful tools my fat-loss clients have is that they’re instructed to work the foods they love into their meal planning. Clients who have a heavy binge history suddenly no longer feel the need to binge. It’s not magic (though if you’re trapped in the deprivation cycle you might feel it is) – it’s common sense.

Here’s the most important piece of information I have to offer you today – the disciplined person who eats this way doesn’t have to fall off the deep end because they know they aren’t restricted to organic, non-gmo, gluten-free, sugar-free whole foods. Please, for the love of all things – EAT the birthday cake at your kid’s party – and enjoy it. The zealots aren’t going anywhere so learn to ignore them. And when you eventually see them in Menchie’s elbow deep in a $22 bowl of bliss (because you will!), give them a high-five.

Holiday Boundaries and Why You Need Them

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Set-Healthy-Boundaries-QuoteEstablishing boundaries is a critical component in any relationship. People often hear “boundaries” and assume it means being less emotionally (or physically) available and that doesn’t fit their definition of what family is. The truth however, is that boundaries help protect and nurture our relationships.

Have you ever felt resentment or discomfort in an interaction with another? This is likely a good indication that you’re reaching the outer edges of your emotional, physical, or spiritual comfort zone. Resentment usually comes from not feeling valued or appreciated, and possibly, taken advantage of. It may not be the intention of another person to make you feel that way, but sometimes our own guilt to be a better wife, mother, sister, friend, is the driving force behind putting us out of our comfort zone to assist another person. If we continuously give (past our comfort zone) we risk neglecting our spouses/children and even ourselves. This leaves us feeling drained and resentful.

Additionally, when interacting with another person and their behaviour makes us feel uncomfortable, it’s an indication that a boundary is being crossed. Maybe an opposite sex friend or colleague is complaining about their spouse, or sharing intimate details, or perhaps your boss is sharing privileged information about a co-worker. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with this information there’s a good chance it’s crossing a boundary. Setting boundaries means we are able to recognize our comfort zone and notice when it’s being infiltrated – but also to put an end to the infiltration by communicating our discomfort or removing ourselves from the situation. When you’re able to do this, you are no longer subject to taking on another person’s emotions.

Blah, blah, blah. How does this relate to fitness, Sophie?

Excellent question – here’s how:

You’re stomping around the house frantically trying to herd your family into their dressy Christmas party outfits while tossing together a miserable excuse for a snack since no one has eaten in 4 hours and they’re HANGRY but rushed. The house is a mess, there are half-wrapped gifts all over the house, 4 baskets of unfolded clean laundry getting more wrinkled by the minute, and you still have to get gas and a bottle of wine on your way to So-and-so’s house for the family’s 4th Christmas party of the season. You and your spouse haven’t had a moment of connection in 2 weeks and given that Christmas is still 4 days away, there’s none in sight.

At the party, you drink too much because it’s a necessary release from the unbearable tension. You eat too much because you’re starving and have no idea if you’re going to get another chance to eat before the next event that night. You feel fat, bloated, and tired – yet a well-meaning relative says, “You haven’t tried my pecan pie yet, here, have a slice” as she abruptly forces a carbohydrate laden plate and fork in your hands as she waits for you to have a bite and offer a full report.

Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone.

Boundaries are an amazing solution to this problem. I’m going to tell you some mind-blowing things that are going to make you angry first, doubtful next, then you’ll slap yourself in the forehead and say “DUH, why didn’t I think of that?”.

1. You don’t have to attend every party you’re invited to
I know we feel special when we get an invitation to someone’s party, but rest assured, your invitation is just that – an invite. It’s not a demand. It’s not a “please attend or I’ll throw myself off my roof at midnight”. There is a very good chance the party will still be a success without you. There is no need to cram a third event in that week just because you were invited. Chances are pretty good that no one will even remember if you were there by next years’ party. Particularly if you have to make your spouse want to push you out of your bed in the middle of night because it makes you edgy and stressed.

2. You don’t have to accept every plate of food or refill of wine offered to you
When a host/hostess offers you food or a top off of your wine, it’s about them being a good host/hostess. It’s not about them needing you to eat all the food or drink all the wine. A good host/hostess also doesn’t want the staggering, slurring drunks blurting out inappropriate things at their party either – so if you’re on the verge of becoming that person, it’s your job to say “no thank you”, rather than get drunk enough to streak down the road screaming “MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!”, then blaming them later. Boundaries. Use them.

3. Grandma probably isn’t going to lose any sleep over it if you’re too full to try her “famous” pecan pie – that she brings to every family event, every year, for the past 20 years.
I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one. Grandma is a big girl – tell her you’re full and let her deal with her own feelings.

4. “Pass the criticism, Aunt Maggie”
You’re likely not new to the fitness world and so you may know that this time of year means it’s VERY easy to put on an extra 10lb quite easily. You might be making conscious, healthy choices at the Christmas party that others notice. My clients are advised to eat what they really want and leave the rest. So, you may skip on the appetizers except for shrimp and fruit to save room for the main course. You may also skip the rolls and butter at dinner so you can save room for stuffing and mashed potatoes. You may also skip the stuffing to have double dessert. Whatever you choose remember that it’s your business and not anyone else’s. The reality is that someone will notice and that someone may lack the boundaries that remind them to keep their comments to themselves. If someone comments on your “bird-like” eating, remember that they’re speaking from the point of their own perspective. There is a large grey area between “bird-like” and “first meal in 2 years”. Try not to get reactive or to explain yourself. It will only open up the ironclad gate to your emotional sanity (ahem, boundaries!) and you may respond emotionally or defensively. This will only show them that there is no boundary around this topic and they’ll keep pressing. Try laughing it off or pushing it back to them with something inoffensive like “just trying to save some for you!”. Remember, their lack of boundaries doesn’t have to mean you abandon yours.

5. Make it short and sweet
If you have a family like most, boundaries are a tough sell. Tough = none in sight. You don’t have an emotional obligation to stay for all 5 hours of the real-life-reality-show “No Filter Family”. Arrive 15 minutes before dinner is served and leave 15 minutes after dessert is over. The problem with boundary-less people is their boundaries don’t get better with more wine – they get worse! No one is timing you and no one will notice. If they do, they are allowed to draw whatever conclusions they like – they will anyway, and those conclusions will be from their own perspective. If they also lack boundaries, they’ll fault you for only staying 5 hours when the party went 6. There’s no winning with boundary-less people.

There you have it. Five simple strategies to keep your sanity, via boundaries, over the holidays. Arrive rested and relaxed, leave feeling full of love and turkey, and pass on the gift-bag of resentment and anxiety.

Ahhhhh, that’s better!

“Rousey Spirals Out of Control” and other crap

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Every now and again I come across a post that infuriates me and today was one of those days. It’s 10am as I write this so by now it’s likely that you’ve seen the post I’m talking about. Let me preempt this by letting you know that I’m NO fan of Ronda Rousey. I find her to lack sportsmanship and class and I literally cringe every time I hear her speak. I will never discount that she’s an incredible athlete, but I dislike that she’s not yet mature enough to realize that’s not all there is to professional sport. But, I digress. So, this post is me ranting about YOU – the reader – if you have shared or supported the following post:

CWZ8cM2VEAAhOFBThis clearly off-season photo was posted of Rousey with captions like:
“Has her loss caused her to spiral out of control?”
“Fighter not taking her epic loss well”
“If I was her coach, I’d have her shredded 24/7”
“It’s a long road to come back from this”
Basically, the message is that she lost, spiralled into a depression and gained weight.

The truth is EVERY off-season looks like this. Another truth is, she’s still leaner than 90% of the population. Rousey fights in Bantamweight which is a 135lb weight class. Fighters quite publically cut weight to make their weight class, whatever that might happen to be. The reasons are many – but the bottom line is in order to train at the intensity they are required to in order to compete at this level, they need a lot of food! Most fighters of her caliber train for 6+ hours a day. If you need 2000 calories per day to function as a parent who works a day job, imagine how many are needed for this amount and intensity of training? This also means that excess body fat will accumulate, of course. It’s better to err on the side of caution and eat too much rather than too little, so performance isn’t compromised. When it’s time to cut to meet her weight class, she does so.

This is true of any athlete in any competitive sport – professional or otherwise. Of course, there will be some who put on more or less fat during their offseason, but you can see this across the sport world. Even in powerlifting this is reality. It’s not unheard of to cut 25+lbs for a powerlifting meet – and even 40lbs for a bodybuilding competition. You can’t put on mass in a caloric deficit and you’re not strong when you’re hungry!

The real question here is why do we care how much weight athletes put on and take off. Most of the clients I work with are everyday people, looking to regain control of their eating habits, lose body fat, and improve their health overall. Most are not competitive athletes but yet, the majority of them come to me with a common mindset – “I should look like x”. When I ask them why they should, they can’t answer. We see images hourly, of women in the public eye who’ve just had babies and look amazing 4 weeks later. We don’t seem to see the rest of the world – those just like us – who do not have that experience. We only want to focus on the perfection. When top athletes like Rousey look a little more like we do, we assume they’ve fallen into a downward spiral – but WHY? When I was competing in bodybuilding I personally felt the pressure to look like a competitive athlete 365 days per year as well, based on my perception of what I saw in the industry – read: MY PERCEPTION. The result was exhausting. I ate too little and limited my growth and performance and I felt highly inadequate. Why couldn’t I be as “good” as the other athletes I saw? Well, because I was only looking at the top 1% of those athletes – and not the rest – and at that, I was only looking at them in their PEAK!

Why not just cut people a break? If someone is putting on weight it could be strategic. It could be intentional. Just because when you do it, it means you’re spiralling, doesn’t mean that’s the case for the rest of the population. We can’t possibly focus on the weight fluctuations of others and wonder why our little boys and girls are succumbing to disordered eating at young ages – WE ARE WHY. Perhaps in cutting others some slack you might just find yourself a little more compassionate about your own weight fluctuations.

Why You Need to Drop the Cardio

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There is no question that the busiest area of a commercial gym is the cardio area. It goes without saying that it’s the least intimidating area of the gym and the equipment requires no special skill or training to operate. Considering the alternatives are the personal training area (which is costly!) and the free-weight area (which is intimidating!) it makes complete sense that the cardio area would be the go-to for most people. Most people who join a gym do so in order to lose fat – and, what’s more synonymous with fat loss than running? It’s just too bad that it’s the least effective way to lose fat in the history of fat loss.

What did she say?

You heard me. Cardio is the least effective way to lose fat. Let me tell you why…

In order to lose body fat one must create a caloric deficit. That is done by lowering caloric intake below your physical expenditure. Some people do not exercise but simply drop their calories and others will continue eating the same calories but increase their physical activity. If you usually eat 2000 calories per day but drop to 1500 calories without exercising, you’ll have a similar outcome if you continued to eat 2000 calories per day but did 500 calories worth of cardio.

Wait. Didn’t she just tell me this isn’t effective?

The problem with this method of fat loss is that it is SHORT term. It will only take you so far. You’ll inevitably hit a plateau. You’ll then have to drop your calories further or do more cardio. BUT – here is the problem. Your metabolism gets slower and slower as you continue down this path. Why? Because when you lower your calories or increase your cardio, and particularly if you do both, you’re literally starving or running off your muscle. Your body will lower your metabolism to prevent it from having to eat your brain so that you can squat to use the toilet (basically – though not literally!). Muscle mass = higher metabolism.

You see, at rest, your body requires a certain amount of energy (calories) for basic function. If you do not supply your muscle, brain, and other organs with the fuel it needs, it doesn’t just stop working – it needs to take the energy from another energy source. The energy source would usually be carbohydrates in your system, but in a deficit it will be muscle. The less muscle you have, the less fuel your body requires to function, which means even if you’re eating 1200 calories per day, you COULD be eating enough to store fat if you do not have the NEED for it (muscle function).

Let me explain further. I have a client who came to me eating 1200 calories per day. She was an endurance athlete, so you can well imagine that she was expending hundreds to thousands of calories per day depending on her run that day. She should be super lean, right? Wrong. She was emaciated in her upper body, but her lower body was flabby, saggy, and she looked TIRED. She WAS tired! We slowly got her away from the running and onto resistance training, allowing us to increase her calories. Since we lowered her cardio and increased her food I’m sure it’s easy to assume she gained fat, right? Well, you’re wrong. She got leaner and leaner the more we fed her. She’s currently nearing 3000 cals per day, training 4 days per week (45-60 mins per day) and doing ZERO cardio – and she’s lean and muscular. The most entertaining part about this client is that though she currently eats around 350g of carbs per day (at 5ft 4in) her hunger is RAVENOUS. We increase her calories every 2 weeks and we barely top off her insatiable hunger. What’s even cooler? She has actually put on 10lbs this year and yet she keeps getting leaner – because her revved up metabolism is much more efficient at using stored fat for fuel.

How does this work? Well, muscle mass is HUNGRY. It needs and wants fuel and the more muscle you have the more fuel you need. If you have the muscle that this client does and you cut your calories in half (which let’s face it, is STILL plenty!), she’ll lose her muscle and her metabolism will slow down after a short time. Now, you don’t have to look like Phil Heath to produce the caloric need in your body I’m talking about. If ONLY muscle mass were that easy to attain! It takes work, but it’s less work than spending an hour a day on a treadmill 6 days per week! It’s about working smarter.

Now, get off the treadmill and get into that free-weight area. Make your body hungry!

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