An Unexpected Journey

"Health is the condition of wisdom, and the sign is cheerfulness — an open and noble temper." – Ralph Waldo Emerson


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Snack: Not a dirty word!

Recently I was talking to a friend who was trying to eat healthier, and she mentioned how she was always starving.  A look at her eating plan showed that she was indeed being very disciplined, but unfortunately she was also denying herself a lot (including solid foods at critical times).  I gave her some advice about upping the fiber and solid intake in her diet, but most of all I advocated something I have some to believe is critical in any eating plan: snacking.

The word “snack” has taken on a very negative connotation in our culture.  In many Western countries, the idea of a snack generally involves stuff that’s delicious but not so great for you.  Cookies, chips, candy or cakes often serve as snacks for people who want that immediate satisfaction of a carb and sugar rush in their bodies.  However, many of these “snacks” leave you feeling just as empty as before you ate them, often leading to over-consumption.

Many people trying to lose weight unfortunately wind up overcompensating once they learn this.  They swear off all snacking and begin to deny themselves entire meals and the next thing you know, after a couple weeks or so a full out binge occurs, wrecking their eating plan.

The key to eating smart is not denying yourself snacks, it’s snacking on the right things. Many of us know what these things are intuitively.  However here’s a list of some handy items that make great snacks:

  • A serving of hummus with celery or carrot sticks
  • Peanut butter with whole wheat crackers or vegetables
  • A piece of fruit (preferably something with a good amount of fiber like an apple)
  • A sports bar (but be careful as some have a very high caloric load)
  • Cottage cheese with fruit
  • Plain yogurt with some honey drizzled on for flavor
  • A handful of nuts (not honey roasted or smothered in sugar)

 

It’s also important not to just eat and eat throughout the day (which is what most people who snack believe they should do).  Rather, schedule your snacks according to your meal times.  There’s no hard and fast rule since everyone’s schedule is a bit different, but in general, try to schedule your snack a couple hours after a meal and at least an hour or so before your next one.  It’s also important to tailor what snack item you choose to your activities.  If you’re going to have a very rigorous workout day, then something like peanut butter or a sports bar will help you get the energy you need to plow through the workout.  On days where you’re not working out at all, the piece of fruit or vegetables may serve you better.

I would also advise strongly against snacking late at night (unless you work the night shift of course).  You want to give your body a couple hours (at least) of digestion time before you go to sleep.

Snacking is a good thing if you do it right.  Indeed, if you love food as I do, it’s crucial as it takes away the feeling of “denial” that many associate with weight loss.   A good eating plan is about balance, not about seeing how long you can withstand hunger pangs!

Disclaimer: I am not a certified Nutritionist.  This advice is purely based on my own experiences and research.  Before starting any nutrition/eating plan, please consult a qualified physician.

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“Operation Look, Perform & Feel Better” October 8, 2012

My normal Boot Camp class was cancelled because of the Columbus Day holiday so I decided to put together my own routine to torture myself, here it goes with explanations (where necessary).  Each exercise was done for two minutes before switching to the next one.

Riser “Sled” (45lbs)
Laying a towel flat on the floor, flip over a wide step and put it on top of the towel.  Put weight in the step (in this case I put in a 45lb plate) and then push across the floor.  I would go from one end of the studio, jump over the riser and go back and repeat.

Dumbbell Punches
With 8lb weights in each hand, punch left, then right, cross, then uppercut.

Front kick to Reverse Lunge

Side Lunges (15lbs)
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lunge to one side, keeping your feet in the same alignment.  Keep your back straight and hang your arms down with the dumbbells on either side of your foot.  I went in each direction for one minute.

Toe Taps
With a wide step set one riser high, toe tap around the edge of the step.  At the one minute mark, switch directions.

Plank / Shoulder Tap / Push up (2x)
Get in a push up position, tap your left shoulder with your right hand, then your right shoulder with your left hand.  Then perform two push ups and repeat.

Inchworm to Push Up to Jump

Surrenders
Using a mat on the floor and 8lb weights in each hand, hold the weights over your shoulders wide. Kneel down one at a time onto the mat, then push the weights up and press them down. With the weights still over your shoulders, stand back up and repeat.

High Knees & Jump on Wide Step
I set up two wide steps five levels high each in a row.  With your legs on either side of the step (set in the narrow direction) perform high knees going forward.  Jump up, then back down and perform high knees backwards.  Jump up, back down and repeat.

One Legged Dumbbell Raises (5lb)
Begin with a dumbbell in each hand, then raise one leg up and allow your arms to hang down.  Keep your back flat.  Raise the weights up to the sides, then swing them forward over your head.  Switch legs at the one minute mark.

Ab Sequence (Perform one minute of each, then repeat for a total of three rounds)
Crunches
Glute Bridge
Leg Raises


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External Resource: Greatist “50 Bodyweight Exercises”

Resource Name: 50 Bodyweight Exercises
Resource URL: http://greatist.com/fitness/50-bodyweight-exercises-you-can-do-anywhere-030612/

We’ve all been there. Something comes up, you can’t make it to the gym or you’re away on a business trip and the hotel gym is something of a disaster area. So that’s it right? No way to get a good, rigorous workout in, nope, no way.

Not true.

For the longest time, my workout routines were divided between two types: cardio (running, treadmills, ellipticals etc.) and weights. It wasn’t until recently that I began to get into a different form of exercise: body weight work. Using nothing but your own body (and maybe the occasional chair) you can get a workout in anywhere from your living room to a hotel room.

There’s a lot of potential body weight exercises you can do. One of my favorites (and most hated, yes, that makes sense) is the “Mountain Climber”. According to the web site linked above, this is how you do one:

“Starting on your hands and knees, bring the left foot forward directly under the chest while straightening the right leg. Keeping the hands on the ground and core tight, jump and switch legs. The left leg should now be extended behind the body with the right knee forward.”

The Greatist list of 50 Bodyweight Exercises is awesome. Broken down by the parts of the body that each exercise focuses on, you can assemble a whole workout without a hassle. I also appreciate the descriptions of each exercise that are nice and concise without using complicated terminology. I recommend checking it out if you need some cool exercise ideas!


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“Operation Look, Perform & Feel Better” October 7, 2012

Weekend workouts are quite freeing in many ways. One of my favorite things to do is take over a studio in a gym, get my music pumping on the speaker system and set up a combination of risers, weights, medicine balls and more. Below I describe today’s cardio set up exercise by exercise. Each one was done for two minutes each before moving to the next. I did two run throughs altogether (which brought the session to about 40 minutes).

Cardio

Heisman on Risers to Squat Jumps
Four risers were set up, three levels high each in a row. Heismans were performed across each followed by a pivot, then a series of three squat jumps.

Jump Squat to Punches
Holding an 8lb weight in each hand, perform a jump squat. While squatting, perform a punch with each arm. Jump back up to a standing position and repeat.

“Tire Flips” with an Exercise Band
Using an exercise band, Stand on the center. Hold each handle to the sides, squat down, stand and lift up both your arms underhand in front of you (simulating the “tire flip” motion).

Vault over Riser
Set up a riser seven levels high. With both hands on the edges of the risers (hands stay on), vault both legs over (keep your legs together) side to side.

Skaters
Using a towel on the floor, put one foot on the towel and the other on the floor. Bend the leg down on the floor, then push your leg with the towel back at about a 45 degree angle and continue pulling that leg in and pushing it out as fast as possible. At the one minute mark, switch legs.

Body Bar Jump with Military Press
Two risers are set up with three levels high each. In between is a body bar (I used a 15lb one). Jump over the body bar once, turn around then jump over it again. Grab the bar, thrust your legs back, then back up, press the body bar up, put it back down and repeat.

Crunches (One Minute)

Leg Raises (One Minute)

Push Up to Elbow Strikes
Perform a push up, then throw one elbow back (holding yourself up with one hand) and then the other, repeat.

Tricep Extensions with Exercise Band

Dumbbell Punches
With 5lb weights in each hand, punch left, then right, cross, then uppercut.

Surrenders
Using a mat on the floor and 8lb weights in each hand, hold the weights over your shoulders wide. Kneel down one at a time onto the mat, then push the weights up and press them down. With the weights still over your shoulders, stand back up and repeat.

One Legged Medicine Ball Drills
Holding a Medicine Ball (12lb in this case) over your head, stand on one leg. Hop around 180 degrees, slam the ball down, catch it and then hold it overhead before turning around again. Switch legs at the one minute mark.

Weights
Leg Press: 320lb x 10 (2 Sets)
Squat (Machine): 320lb x 10 (2 Sets)
Leg Extensions: 110lb x 12 (3 Sets)
Leg Curls: 110lb x 12 (3 Sets)


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Food Focus: The Mighty Peanut Butter

There are certain foods I could eat every day if I was allowed. Pizza, roast pork buns, Chinese egg custards…okay, you get the point. However, there are some foods that I love (and could eat every day) and one of them is: Peanut Butter! Wait, what? Isn’t that stuff full of sugar and totally fatty (and therefore a diet no no?). Not so!

First off, there are many brands of peanut butter on the market now that don’t use sugar (or a natural substitute) as part of their recipe. Some even remove the oily portion, distilling it down to its flavor with less calories. My “go to” brand for peanut butter spread right now is Smuckers Creamy Natural which has two basic ingredients: peanut butter and salt. The powdered peanut butter I use in my workout shakes is Betty Lou’s “Just Great Stuff” Powdered Peanut butter which does have a sweetener, but it’s coconut sugar which has a lower glycemic index than regular ol’ cane sugar. I highly recommend looking for items like these for your peanut butter needs.

But what about that pesky saturated fat? Well, it’s not great for you of course, but according to Harvard Health Publications “Saturated fat isn’t the deadly toxin it is sometimes made out to be. The body’s response to saturated fat in food is to increase the amounts of both harmful LDL and protective HDL in circulation. In moderation, some saturated fat is okay.”

Even better, an article from Brigham and Women’s Hospital talks about the benefits of this food, “The typical supermarket brand of peanut butter, while high in overall fat content, is low in saturated fat—and high in protein and fiber.”

There’s one more awesome benefit for those trying to watch how much they eat. Eating peanut butter (or peanuts in general) may even make you feel fuller longer! One study performed by Professor Richard Mattes from Purdue University showed peanuts and peanut butter have all sorts of features that make them an ideal part of a healthy diet. According to Professor Mattes: “Peanuts have a great mix of features, such as high protein, high fiber, and a crunchy texture, which enhance satiety,”

Add all this up and peanut butter is really a powerful food to add to your diet arsenal. It’s delicious, filling, good for you and it’s quite versatile (just check out Food Network’s search results for ‘peanut butter).  Just don’t go eating an entire jar every day, everything in moderation after all!


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“Operation Look, Perform & Feel Better” October 4, 2012

Wednesday is usually my mid-week break, but Thursdays it’s right back on the wagon!  Today’s workouts were broken up into my lunch time exercises and then after work exercises.

Lunch Time Workout

Cardio
For the past eight months or so I had been taking “Pre Season Sports Conditioning” at NYSC Grand Central every Thursday.  This class consisted of lots of cardio, fast movements, running, squats etc.  However, the instructor who was teaching the class left and the gym rebranded the class as “UXF”, a new program they’re pushing that promises to burn 350-600 calories per session.  This routine is meant to be a combination of cardio and strength in intervals to keep your heart rate going.

Sadly, I’ve tried this class at two different locations with two different instructors and it just doesn’t serve the purpose I need.  I noticed in both classes there was very little focus on cardio.  Instead there were a lot of compound weight and body strength exercises, which is great, but they composed a majority of the class whereas the previous “Pre Season” class was the inverse, with an emphasis on cardio with strength training only complementing it.  It looks like I’ll be on a quest for a new class  to replace this one.

Weights

  • Deadlifts: 90lb x 12 (3 Sets)
  • Lat Pulldowns: 90lb x 12 (2 Sets)
  • One Arm Dumbbell Rows: 45lb x 12 (2 Sets)

 

After Work Exercise

Cardio
The routine below was put together as something I may do with friends so I thought I’d give it a shot and get a feel for it.  It definitely worked up a sweat and got my heart rate going in a way my lunch time class did not!  Each exercise was done for two minutes in a circuit with little to no gap in between exercises.  The weights indicated are the weight of the dumbbells held in each hand.

Warm Up (One Minute Each)

  • Windmills
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Toe Taps
  • Lateral hops
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Stretches`

 

“Martial Arts” themed workout

  • Forward Kick to Back Lunge
  • Standing crunches (alternate sides, opposite elbow to knee)
  • Triple Kick (front, side, back)
  • Squat/Double Punch (8lbs)
  • Switch Kicks/Butt Kicks (30 Seconds each, then switch)
  • Inch Worm to Push up
  • Dumbbell Punches (5 lbs)
  • Four Punch Combination (5 lbs)
  • Plank to back elbow strike
  • High Punch/Low Punch combination

 

Weights & Body Strength
During my “UXF” class and the cardio routine above, I used my biceps quite a bit, so by the time I got to the end of this bicep portion of my routine I was fatiguing sooner than expected!

  • Close Grip Pull Ups: 100lb assist x 12 (2 Sets)
  • Preacher Curls: 60lb x 12 (2 Sets)
  • Dumbbell Curls: 30lb x 10 (2 Sets)
  • Dumbbell Curls: 30lb x 8 (2 Sets)
  • Barbell Curls: 55lb x 8 (2 Sets)
  • Ab Crunch Machine (Nautilus): 80lb x 12 (2 Sets)
  • Crunches: 3 sets of 20
  • Leg Raises: 3 sets of 20


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Restaurant Profile: “Just Salad” rocks my salad world!

Working in Manhattan, going out to lunch is inevitable.  Most of the time I bring my food but every now and then I like to get a big ol’ salad and my restaurant of choice for this is “Just Salad“.  This chain specializes in making healthy salads that are filled to the brim with ingredients.  They’re not just piles of lettuce with one or two bits of meat in them.  My favorite salad the “Turkey Health Cobb” has several ounzes of turkey, a whole soft boiled egg, avocado, low fat swiss cheese and more packed inside.  Then they quickly chop it up for you and put on dressing in amounts you specify.  After a quick toss lunch is served!  The salads are absolutely delicious and healthy.

The best part?  Their calorie counts for all their prefab salads are on prominent display.  Even better?  They break down the calories of their add ons and dressings!  You can even go to the calculator on their web site and assemble your own salad to gauge its impact on your eating plan.  It’s all really quite spectacular.

Recently the chain introduced a “Black Bowl”, a reusable salad bowl that came with a bunch of privileges (including skipping the line!).  These are rare (limited to 100) and they set up a contest to win one.  I submitted my weight loss story and won!  Here’s an excerpt:

“Once an emotional eater, Ben was 5’8″ and 285 lbs in 2006. After a series of life changes (divorce and job loss), he decided it was time to take control of his body. Over the course of 3 years, he lost 100 lbs and has kept it off since! How did he do it?

You can read the entire story on Just Salad’s web site!  The logo above is also borrowed from their site.