New Year's Eve is just around the corner and that means it is time to reflect on the past year for all of it's ups and down, successes and failures, good times and bad times. When I look back at this year I have so much to celebrate. I travelled Europe with my younger sister, graduated college, got a job as a personal trainer, started this website, and have recently signed a lease for a new apartment. This year was also very difficult with the passing of a number of family members, and also having to watch the President of the United States make decisions that will have negative impacts on the environment, the well-being of young women, and the safety of many immigrants in that country. All in all, 2017 was a fickle year. As a relentless optimist, I am inclined to see all that was good this year and spin the negative stories into positive, learning opportunities. But that's not really what this post is about.
One of the greatest changes I made this year was to finally see all of my actions and decisions as a collective of opportunities to make the rest of my life full and happy and healthy. That's why this month the theme for my blog posts will present ways to make this not only a year for "New Year, New Me" but to make this new year the start of many more amazing years to come.
I can confidently say that as soon as I stopped putting due dates on my goals, I was able to see my health and well-being as a much larger picture than the number that showed up on the scale, or the number of calories I consumed. I no longer feel like I have failed because my only measure of failure is when I don't do one thing in the day that is good for my long-term health. It could be as simple as letting myself get those extra few minutes of sleep, or as involved as sacrificing working hours in order to attend to my mental health.
I was looking over the stats on New Year's resolutions and it is crazy to see that of the people who decide to make new year's resolutions - 63% of them fail to achieve their goals. Humans are wired to feed the reward centres in their brains. This is why we eat, enjoy playing sports we are good at, seek love and attention from others, and fear trying new things that we may not succeed at. So to see that 63% of people who take on new year's resolutions are experiencing failure, means that they will either be in poor mental state, or will have sought out "easier" ways to feed that reward centre in their brain. Both options are not ideal when we are already experiencing a decline in societies physical and mental well being.
I am making it my personal mission to help all of my readers to make this year the year where they get the rest of their life on track. To start I will give you a breakdown of my New Year's Resolutions and why I chose them, what I hope to gain from them, and how I will keep those goals in focus for the whole year. Following that post I will delve into the importance of mental health in goal setting, fitness, and life long health. Finally, I will present some research on long term training effects, and how short-term crash dieting and extreme workout regimes can be detrimental to you health.
Last but not least, I want to say thank you to everyone who has been supportive of my little passion project that is Riri's Discoveries. Creating quality content that is authentic to who I am is scary and leaves me feeling very exposed, but you have given me such wonderful feedback and have let me know that my vision of making fitness and health accessible to every one is entirely possible.
Happy New Year to everyone and, as always, do something good for your body today :)
5 Tools that help me stay healthy
I have mentioned a few times on here that I really struggle with food and binge eating. There was a time in college where I finally realized that I needed to approach food differently. I had to seriously repair the relationship with food that I had because I felt like it had complete control over me.
As I mentioned in my 5-day cheat day post, a friend from school did a presentation on intermittent fasting and it changed everything. I had heard about intermittent fasting before but only in the way where you fast for a day or two. I had even tried going without eating for a whole day and proceeded to eat massive quantities of food the following day. After hearing my classmates presentation, I did a little more research into it, figured out a schedule that worked for me and gave it a go.
When I first started, my split was a 16:8 fast to feast ratio. So at 10am I started my feasting window, and at 6 pm I began my fasting window. Not going to lie, waiting for 10am wasn't so bad, but not eating after 6pm was the hardest part. I had grown accustomed to snacking after work and school and snacking had become such a habitual thing that breaking that habit made me feel a little crazy at times. Nevertheless, I stuck with it, giving myself a break when one was necessary, and have never looked back. It was actually really helpful while I was travelling Europe because our eating schedule was never consistent. I had gotten really good at suppressing my feelings of hunger until I was supposed to be eating, and so when I would get hungry at impractical times while travelling, I could suppress that hunger and tell myself I would be eating soon enough.
Now I have been able to modify my feast to fast times around my work schedule. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday when I work into the evening, I feast between 8 and 4pm. On Wednesdays and Fridays when I work super early in the morning, I fast until work is done and usually finish my feasting window anywhere from 6pm to 8pm. On the weekends I usually try and return to the classic 10-6 feasting window, but that changes all the time depending on what's going on.
This probably comes as no surprise but getting a proper education in health and fitness was a huge game changer. Developing a real understanding of the complex mechanisms that control the body and mind has made fitness really fun for me. I am not able to use science to make the most of my workouts and meals.
I am not saying that everyone should go out and get a fitness and health diploma like me! This is actually why I created this website. I want to bring what I learned and share it with the world; making it truly accessible to everyone so that all of you can go out into the world and the gym with a plan for how you can live your healthiest life.
I certainly plan on tackling these in the future on this blog, but if you want to get a head start on educating yourself on health and fitness concepts, start with the basics: anatomy, basic exercise physiology (energy systems*), and macro- & micronutrients.
Having a Program
After education, this has played a huge part in changing my fitness game. When I was growing up I used to write up little programs for myself but with just a basic knowledge of what exercises worked my lower and upper body. Through my education I gained a deeper understanding of how to build a smart program for myself. Last holiday season I decided to create a strength-based program - I wanted to get stronger without putting on too much size. Using what I learned in school, I built a 16 week program with exercises, reps, sets, weight, and rest times and it completely revolutionized my time in the gym. I went in with purpose and was able to track my progress from week to week.
In the new year I am going to be uploading more blogs on program design and will be sharing some of my programs with you so that you too can create your own programs and experience the benefits of smart programming!
The Perfect Pair of Workout Tights
Okay guys... this one is completely unique to me. It may also seem ridiculous but I have always worn the typical workout brands - underarmour, adidas, nike, etc. When I worked at Victoria's Secret last Christmas I fell in love with their sport line because the colours were beautiful, they didn't fall down when I ran, they were super squat proof, and they had been specifically designed for women!
Then one fateful day I received a comment from a sportwear company. They were based out of Norway, and due to my love for the Scandinavian countries, and my innate curiosity for things new and undiscovered - I looked into what they had on offer.
1. International shipping!
It takes 3-4 weeks to be delivered, but at least it doesn't come with duties and taxes like gymshark (: (: (:
2. B-E-A-U-tiful Fabrics
Literally the softest things in the world. So figure-flattering, and breathable, and squat proof (a must).
3. Just a nice company
Every time I give them a shoutout they send me a direct message to show me some love and say thank-you. It is something so simple, yet so effective.
I am not at all affiliated with this company, I actually just love them.
How has this sportswear company been a game-changer? With such beautiful fabrics, and designs that complement women's bodies I feel SO GOOD when I wear them. Part of living a healthy lifestyle is about learning to love your body. I have struggled with that aspect of fitness and health for a long time, but whenever I have my famme sportswear gear on I immediately feel super confident. Some women can feel amazing with a great lipstick or a beautiful pair of shoes, but for me, it is a beautifully designed pair of workout tights.
Last, but certainly not least, mindset.
This really is the biggest game changer of them all. My mindset has had to go through a massive reconfiguration. For a very long time fitness was only achieved by looking like a Victoria's Secret model - or at least being the slimmest girl in the room. Skinny was the goal, not fit. A good diet was one that was perfect all the time and under 1500kcal's. Going to the gym was the only way to achieve optimal fitness and I had to be there for hours to achieve it. Running was the only way to slim down.
Slowly but surely I have been able to change all of these old ideas. Now fitness is a much bigger goal. Is my mind well; are my relationships healthy and supportive; am I happy; can I move well; can squat and bench my own weight; can I deadlift without ever feeling it in my back; do I sleep well at night; do I pee clear; am I pooping at least once a day; how often am I getting sick; etc. etc. The list is massive.
I have also stopped looking beyond myself to measure my fitness. It isn't 'am I as skinny as her? It is am I better than I was yesterday in any of the above mentioned things. My diet is based off of an ever-evolving pool of information and it's application to my individual circumstances.
Going to the gym is certainly a piece of the fitness puzzle, but it isn't the only one, as I am sure I have made very clear by this point. Also running is certainly not the only way to slim down.
My fitness mantra is that fitness is not a phase or a fad, it is what I do every day to live a long and healthy life. Doing something good for yourself every day, whether that is working out, eating well, sleeping well, being with the ones you love, taking care of your mental health - whatever! - will ultimately serve you well in the long run :)
There ya have it folks! The 5 things that have been major game changers in my fitness journey are:
1. Intermittent Fasting
3. Building a workout Program
4. Good workout clothes
5. Healthy mindset
The last thing I will say about these are that they have been amazing tools for me, but what works for you may be different. This is the beauty of health is that it is unique to every person. How you feel great may be very different from how I feel great. Accepting this has been the bonus game changer in my life.
Do something good for your health today :)
One of the biggest issues I hear clients and friends struggling with is binge eating. Many people will come into the gym I work at and when asked about their nutrition, they say "well... I'm trying. But you know, sometimes, I'll be really good, and then sometimes I'll be really bad." It breaks my heart to hear this because I know how hard it is to break that cycle.
When I was in college there was a time where I would eat well all day, I would get my workouts in, have a great shift at work, and on the way home pick up a bag of puffy cheetos, peach rings, and either crackers or chocolate and I would finish that all in one night. Once the body gets used to that amount of calories and sugar it becomes incredibly difficult to cut that out of the diet. These "episodes" are usually linked to an activity as well, which makes it even more difficult. My habit was work, pick up the snacks, get home, hide myself in my room, turn on Netflix, and then wolf all of that food down.
In order for me to break those habits I stopped bringing money with me to work, so I wasn't able to stop at the convenience store on my way home. I also decided to read instead of watch Netflix before bed. It has taken time, and I still feel that draw to consume bite-sized snacks while I watch Netflix, but it certainly does not have the same control over me anymore.
I truly believe that knowledge is power, so this week I am going to break down why we binge eat, what the certain characteristics of Binge Eating Disorder (BED) are, and quickly delve into food addiction. Hopefully with this information and your own self-awareness, you too will be able to help yourself, or those around you, manage their binge eating episodes. :)
So what is BED?
BED is the acronym for Binge Eating Disorder. The National Eating Disorder Association describes BED as :
Binge eating disorder is a severe, life-threatening and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating.
The next sentence from the website then says that BED is the most common eating disorder in the US. . . Just let that sink in.
In an article published in the Current Drug Abuse Review, they included a test that was done on rats where they were given highly-palatable foods. The rats consumed larger-than-normal quantities of the food despite the negative consequence - and not just the regular discomfort. They would actually shock the rats feet when they had consumed large enough amounts, and even then, the rats would not stop eating. The important piece here is the "highly-palatable" foods.
The New York Times published an article in 2013 on "The Extraordinary Science Being Addictive Junk Food". Now I have to say, I am not angry person. I have a hard time getting mad or angry at/with people. But this article really made the steam come out of my ears. I will give you the quick summary.
The article told the story of a meeting of the major food brands in the world - Coca-Cola, Kellogs, Nestle, etc. The CEO's met to discuss the obesity crisis in the US and in this meeting they were presented over 100 slides about the obesity "epidemic" and that many of their products had high concentrations of salt, sugar, fat (ie. highly palatable food), which are the largest contributors to unhealthy weight gain. After the presenter finished explaining how there needs to be industry wide limits set on these products, the CEO of General Mills brought up the "fickle" consumers. His point was basically that we can produce all the healthy versions of things as we want, but people will always buy what they want to eat, so why bother changing the standards. Cue the cartoon-like steam bellowing out of my ears and upside-down smiley faces.
(I promise this has to do with binge-eating, just bare with me.)
So when I was going to the convenience store after work, I could have grabbed the protein drink thing, or just not go to the convenience store, but when I was seeking out comfort and something to "treat" myself, I was walking into a trap. All of those foods we love to eat during these binge eating episodes have literally been designed to be delicious and tempting. Clever marketing schemes, ingredients, and these large companies involvement in "research" studies so the results are favourable to them - have all been used strategically to make us buy more. Now I get to the fun part - a little bit of neuroscience! (simplified - of course).
We now know that these large corporations are using marketing and specific ingredients to make us uncontrollably crave their products more. So why can't we just have it once and be okay? Why do we feel like the pull to McDonald's, the candy store, and Pizza Pizza is impossible to resist?
It is widely understood that the consumption of food is highly related to the reward systems in the brain. Many substances that individuals develop addictions too also feed these reward systems. Endorphins, cannabinoids, and enkephalins (peptides related to endorphins), are released when these substances are consumed and give us that high feeling. When we consume foods that are highly palatable (told you I would tie this all together), we get a greater response from these systems. When the binge-eating episode is done, we are left with a number of receptors in the brain that are waiting to be filled by these neuro-chemicals. The longer you go without filling these receptors, the more agitated you feel.
You brain has created more receptors for these happy "hormones", but you aren't filling them. So if you aren't registering any more happy hormones, you must feel angry then? Agitation, anger and stress all cause the body to move farther from homeostasis into the fight-or-flight system. The brain will try and get your body back to the rest-and-digest by sending you signals to find something to satisfy your cravings - to make you happy again. For some, they reach for harmful drugs, but for most of us who understand the dangerous effects of addictive substances, we reach for comfort foods. All of these mechanisms are really well explained in this article, just have google ready to figure out some of the more technical terms.
So what does this all mean? And what can you do about it?
Basically what this means is that big corporations have exploited the mechanisms in our brains that are supposed to keep us relaxed and happy to put more money in their pockets. What's worse is that society then puts massive pressures on us to eat healthy, and look like supermodels, so when we do give in the pressures of the food industry, we have the fashion and fitness industry making us feel guilty. More sadness = more desire for comfort foods.
So what can you do about it? Here are my tips and tricks to help kick those cravings and take back the control.
1. Take it slow
There are some people out there who can do the cold turkey thing and it actually lasts. They are not the majority. So I always like to suggest to my clients to take it slowly. Ease into changing your ways. Being overwhelmed by a massive change in lifestyle can be more stressful than helpful, and as we know now - stress = comfort food.
2. Treat Yo'Self
This may seem counterintuitive to what we are trying to accomplish, but it is actually really important. Often times when people feel like they are being restricted, they end up over-indulging and then giving up entirely. So the next tip I give my clients is to pick a day where you treat yourself to one thing that you love. I don't suggest they eat an entire tub of ice cream, or a large pizza to themselves, but I do think it is important to allow ourselves enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Just not every day ;)
3. Check in with your mental health
The final piece of advice I give clients is to check in with themselves. As I have mentioned, many binge-eating episodes are related to stress and sadness. So I work with my clients to practice celebrating "little-wins", to evaluate the health of all relationships in their life, and to check-in with their stress levels. Toxic relationships, negativity, and unnecessary stress can make it really difficult to get your mental health in the kind of place where you feel confident enough to change your ways. If people around suck the energy out of you, and your job is making you so stressed that you are letting other aspects of your life fall apart, you will start to believe that you are not worthy of good health. So I really try to help my clients work on their mental health, as well as their physical health.
It is really tough to avoid the temptation to indulge in the foods that have been designed to tempt us, but I hope with the information I have presented today, along with a plan to keep your mind well, that you feel better equipped to beat those cravings and do something really good for you body :)
If you have ever stepped foot into a supplement store you will have certainly seen protein bars, massive bags and barrels of protein powder, pre-workout, and BCAA's. Protein in it's various forms is pretty self-explanatory. Pre-workout has it's function in the name, but what are BCAA's? In this weeks blog I am going to try and breakdown what this aisle of the supplement store is all about, and why you should - or shouldn't - include this in your gym bag must-haves.
BCAA is an acronym for branched-chain amino acids. Amino acids, as some of us may remember from science class, are the building blocks of protein. Proteins in the body serve all kinds of purposes, but the one we are most concerned with here is it's role in muscle tissue repair and recovery.
The 3 branched-chain amino acids are leucine, isoleucine and valine. So if you ever pick up a tub of BCAA's that does not include all 3 of those, then you put that imposter back on the shelf!
A quick google search of BCAA benefits will bring you to a number of health magazine websites, supplement store blogs, and (at least for me) a wikipedia page on BCAA's. Your fitness goals are definitely supported through the supplementation of BCAA's, and I will go deeper into that in a second, but there are also other benefits to using BCAA's that I would like to point out to show you that this isn't just some supplement/fitness-industry science experiment.
BCAA's and DOMS
DOMS is not the name of the super jacked guy at the gym who always seems to have a shaker of some glowing liquid. DOMS is another acronym we use in the fitness world to shorten delayed onset muscle soreness. As you would be able to assume from the title this is what most of us have experienced 24-48 hours after heavy exercise that makes it tough to reach for that cup in the cupboard after chest day, and impossible to climb the stairs after leg day. In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 36 untrained males between the ages of 18 and 26 were split into 4 groups. 1 received the placebo, 1 received BCAA's and the taurine placebo, 1 received the BCAA placebo and taurine, and the final group received both the BCAA's and taurine (an amino acid found largely in the brain, heart, retina, and platelets). The gentlemen in the study received their various placebo, BCAA and taurine supplements before, during and after their exercise regime and then blood markers, as well as subjective tests were used to conclude the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the supplement.
What they discovered was that all of the blood markers for inflammation and muscle soreness were significantly lower in the group that took both taurine and BCAA's. This means that if you find that the post-workout soreness is a hinderance to your daily life, you now have a way to mitigate that without having to sacrifice intensity in your workouts! You can shop this link to find a BCAA supplement that includes taurine and start living a less-sore-life.
BCAA's and Weight Loss
It wouldn't be a fitness post without me mentioning something about weight loss. Many of my clients are nervous about taking supplements like protein powder because they have heard it may make them gain weight. There are certainly supplements out there that are designed to help individuals gain mass, but BCAA's are more about maintenance of muscle tissue, while losing fat mass. So basically it will give you that "toned" look that everyone longs for. Not in a magical potion kind of way, of course, but in a good-supplement kind of way.
In another study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a small group of young, resistance trained males were either given BCAA's or carbohydrates to help them maintain muscle mass on a calorie-restrictive diet. The results showed that both groups lost weight through the diet and exercise regime, but that the BCAA group was able to maintain more muscle mass than the carbohydrate group. Both groups were also able to increase their 1-rep-max squat over the 8 weeks, but the BCAA group was able to improve theirs by more (likely due to the fact that they had more muscle mass to work with).
So if you are at a stage in your training where you are trying to cut weight, but maintain muscle mass so you can keep yourself strong, BCAA's are an excellent way to achieve this. Personally, this is why I use BCAA's right now. I am trying to get my weight down, but I don't want to sacrifice muscle size and strength in order to see the number on the scale drop. If my weight is going to go down, I want it to be from fat, not from muscle.
Not just another fitness fad
I wanted to include this final bit of information in this week's blog post because I have come across so many people who are hesitant to use supplements due to the idea that sports and fitness supplements are all just tricks of some other capitalist scam to make you spend money on things you really don't need. BCAA's are found in nature, of course, and are most easily found in animal products, but the supplement form makes these specific amino-acids readily available to be used optimally by the body. ie. There are fewer hoops that the body has to jump through in order to access and use BCAA's when they are taken in supplement form.
So I just wanted to quickly throw in here that BCAA's are actually a big part of cirrhosis and liver carcinoma (liver cancer) research. In a number of studies (1, 2, 3 and many more), orally ingested BCAA's have been found to reduce oxidative stress and fibrosis, and even suppress tumor growth in patients (both rodent and human) who have cancer in their liver. This power-trio of amino acids is not only your partner in DOMS defense, and a weight lost weapon, but is also improving the lives of individuals who are wrestling with liver disease and cancer. The mechanisms by which BCAA's accomplish are far beyond the scope of this blog, but feel free to explore the number links above to read more about this.
To wrap this up, I just want to mention that BCAA's, like all other supplements, are meant to support your fitness goals. They are not a magic potion that will make you look like that super jacked guy, Dom, at the gym. When used correctly, alongside good nutrition, restful sleep, and a great exercise program, BCAA's can help you reach your fitness goals and help you do something good for your body today and everyday!
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's most recent research, her travel adventures, and her personal fitness journey.