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My uncle thinks Thanksgiving Day is the best day of the year and I am inclined to agree. And although it’s a day often spent bustling in a kitchen or preparing for Black Friday, the principle of the day is not materialistic. There are no presents or money exchanged. You can spend it with family, or friends or strangers and still it’s a fantastic day built on sharing.
As an American living in Ireland, I do miss some things. For example, I can’t find a can of pumpkin anywhere. The grocery stores don’t even have it listed on their inventory ordering systems! And where I live, there are not enough ex-Pats to get a holiday dinner going. Nonetheless, I will spend the day FaceTime-ing and Skype-ing my relatives and friends.
And most importantly, I will spend the day reflecting on all the blessings I have had in the last year and the blessings of today and the gifts that tomorrow will bring. Gratitude and love come in many forms! And for this I am grateful.
And as serving sizes go, aim for each item to be about the size of your palm, excluding the fingers. Obviously, if you’re a six foot tall man, your palm will be larger than mine, a tiny, five-fiver. Thus, the man’s serving will be proportionally larger than mine.
What is a protein? A protein is any meat, poultry, dairy, legume (lentils/beans) and nuts, plus, tofu, seitan and soy.
What is a complex carbohydrate? A CC is a grain that has not had all outer fiber of the sheath of the kernel removed before grinding. It will have a lot more fiber and nutrients than a finely ground white flour. Try this test – put a bite of white bread (w/o crust) in your mouth and count how many chews it takes to dissolve. Now put a bite of whole grain bread on (w/o crust) in your mouth and count how many chews it takes to dissolve. In broad terms, fibrous, nutrient rich foods take longer to chew than highly processed fatty, sugary, low nutrient foods. If you can inhale your meal in a minute chances are it’s not that good for you. But if you find yourself chewing awhile, you probably are eating something your body will like and need. Examples of Complex Carbohydrates are any whole grain including, wheat, corn, bugler, oats, amaranth, quinoa, but also, pasta, bread, potatoes and sweet potatoes.
The act of longer chewing actually aids digestion. Ever eat a meal super fast and then twenty minutes later your stomach feels like it’s going to explode and you wonder, “why did I eat so much?” Well, there is a chemical in your stomach, cholecystokinin that as food digests it is released to the brain to signal feelings of fullness and satiety. If you eat really fast the chemical doesn’t have time to be released, so you end up eating way more than necessary. Nutrient rich foods require you to chew them – thus they slow down your eating process and you regulate more naturally the proper portion size.
Get in the habit of identifying when you’re meal is balanced and when it is not. Often “light options” on menus are deficient. They might be veggies and grain. Classic example is a Portabello mushroom burger. The bun is your starch, the mushroom is the veg…but where is the protein? Combine that with the fact that this dish often comes with sweet potato fries. So we’ve doubled up on the starch carb, (bun + sweet potato) and still no protein in sight. Then we have dishes that are grilled steak with a mix of veggies. Where now is the starchy carb? On the other side of the spectrum are pasta dishes in a meat sauce accompanied by garlic bread. Let’s just assume that the pasta is a real serving and not the serving for eight as it is in so many restaurants. But again pasta + bread = 2 starchy carbs. Meat sauce = protein. Where are the veggies?!
In the photo at the top I made a broccoli salad with apples, dried cherries and seeds tossed in a red wine or cider vinaigrette. If I wanted to make this a main dish, I could add chicken or steak to it and serve it with whole grain flatbreads. If I wanted to keep it vegetarian, I could add an egg or grilled tofu. I also made a butternut squash soup. Starchy carb but by itself it has little protein and no green veg. So if I wanted it be my main course, I could have it with wilted spinach and a serving (12) of chopped nuts on top. As it turns out I got fancy and combined both recipes to create balance:
I added an egg to the broccoli salad and some chopped almonds to the soup for my protein source. I have fruit via the apples and dried cherries and I have veggies via the broccoli. The squash/sweet potato soup was the starchy carb.
Dietary changes do not have to be drastic or dire. Just paying attention to the balance of nutrients at each meal can help you feel better from the inside out!
Apparently a Mom in Canada was fined under the school’s new guidelines for a balanced lunch. She sent her kids with a leftover meal consisting of beef, potatoes, a glass of milk and fruit for dessert. The school then “supplemented” the home cooked meal with Ritz Crackers, that in their view represented a grain! And they fined the mother $5 for each child!
Let’s discuss this from a nutritional viewpoint. Mom made a pretty balanced meal; Protein=Beef, Veg=Carrots, Fruit=Unspecified fruit for dessert, Complex Carb=Potatoes. Now it is true that potatoes are not a grain, but they are a starchy carb that is low in fat, preservatives, salt and low on the gylcemic index (no blood sugar spike.) Plus, they are high in seratonin, which boosts brain activity. The only way it could’ve been better is if it were a sweet potato, which is listed as a top 10 super food. You might not want to make every carb source at every meal be from Potatoes (did I mention I’m living in Ireland;) grains are needed too. And I would like to see some green vegetables in there, but who are we kidding the kids probably won’t eat that without adult supervision. Good job mom – even if some dollar hungry bureaucrat says, “No.”
On the other side is the school’s “supplemental choice.” Ritz Crackers?! While it is true they are made from a grain! It’s made of highly processed, refined wheat flour. That means that the properties that make up whole grain foods/complex carbohydrates are null and void. In processed flours, the exterior fiber and shaft around the kernel have been stripped away and the kernel itself, ground down to fine powder. So the advantages of a complex carbohydrate/grain: 1) when combined with a protein source makes a full branch chain amino acid for your body and 2) fiber for your digestive track are completely absent. Additionally, not to bash Ritz crackers, because they are yummy but they also contain: partially hydrogenated oils – a.k.a. sludge for your heart and arteries – and high fructose corn syrup – another refined, not so good ingredient for your system. Plus they have very little nutritional value. But because they are tasty and small, you can consume a lot of them, way more than a serving size in record time. That means you get “empty calories.” It’s like eating fried cardboard in terms of nutritional value. You are full, but the body is not thanking you.
I am left scratching my head. The idealist in me is excited that a school is trying to take juvenile obesity, juvenile diabetes and child mind/body development seriously; and is trying to engage parents in a productive way. However, the cynic in me believes that it is just a way to make money for the school and to force kids to enroll in the school lunch program, that means more money for the school. The school’s lack of knowledge about what constitutes a “balanced meal” or a “complex carbohydrate” or a true “grain rich diet” makes me think it’s not about the kids at all.
Parents, please get in the habit of recognizing when you’re serving a balanced meal with appropriate portion sizes. Every plate should have a Protein source: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes (beans/lentils) + Complex Carb/Starch source: long grain – “coloured/i.e. black,brown,red rice, cous cous, amaranth, cracked bulged, pasta, potatoes -sweet or otherwise, oats, etc. + Fruit + Veg. As for proper portion sizes – look at the size of your hand. If you’re a mom, your hand is a different size than your husband’s or your child’s – so the amount of food that can fit in a person’s palm is roughly the right portion size!
The trend right now in fitness is for trainers to advocate “Total Body Weight Exercise” as being the magical cure for every person wanting to lean up and get buff. But what’s not being openly talked about is the casualties that line this path. I want more fitness professionals and their clients to be mindful about what “total body weight exercise” really means.
It is true that the more muscles you get working at any given time the more calories you burn. That makes intrinsic sense. It is also true that your body moves on it’s own without you thinking about it, all day, every day in a multiplicity of complex multi-movement patterns. All of that is good stuff.
Now, what most athletes, many turned fitness professionals fail to take in to consideration is the different types of learning and their effect on motor co-ordination and the ability to perform an exercise correctly. There are varied learning types that people can be generally classified under, like visual or auditory. Visual learning style, means you see someone do it and you can then do it. Auditory learning style means you hear a list of directions and you can then sequence them back correctly. Most athletes are kinesthetic learners, that means they learn by physically doing a task. That is not to say that a visual learner cannot learn to perform the same task as a kinesthetic learner, but it means that there will be a higher learning curve for them on a task of physical nature. So trainers, just because you can do 100 picture perfect burpees in a row at speed, does not mean that your client should or can even if they want to.
Full body weight exercise requires a base level of strength. The building block structure should be first: 1) establish stability – the means by which the body can maintain the integrity of its joint structure under most forms of stress. Stress itself can be constituted in training terms by speed (how fast or slow is the pace), load (how much weight you’re lifting) and duration (how long are you lifting each load.)
Everyone has helped a friend move; imagine you lift a heavy box and you have to stand still and hold it until your friend gets his car. It would make a difference to your back and shoulders if that car were right out front or parked two blocks away. Now imagine you and your friend have to lift a really heavy box – but you only have to move it ten steps in a straight line. Chances are – you will both move as quickly as possible. Lastly, imagine you are carrying a heavy box that requires you to move down several flights of stairs – you are under load and the duration will be long and the pace will be slow. All of these scenarios are slightly different from one another in the demands they make on the body. And everyone can relate to feeling stiff and sore after a move. Proper training can get you to where none of those scenarios would be painful. You would be stable in maintaining your joint integrity.
The next phase of training should be symmetry. Is each individual joint and side equal to the tasks demanded on the body? Anyone ever tried to carry a toddler in one arm and lifted a bag of groceries from the back of a car simultaneously?
The last phase is dynamic performance. The ability to do intense, full-body, full-ROM exercises under various forms of stress. Yes, FBW exercises develop dense muscle mass more efficiently and effectively than any other form of exercise. But is it appropriate for everyone to go straight to the hardest, most bad-ass place first? An athlete has been doing crazy compound loaded movements for a lifetime – the brain actually functions differently (this is another topic for a future blog in and of itself!) To expect a client to perform like that before proper foundations are put down is a recipe for disaster. Anyone remember Tae Bo? Yes, great results are achieved but at what cost? My goals are not for people to feel good for the one year they did Cross-Fit. I want people to be equal to the physical challenges in their daily lives and to feel good and look great for the duration of their years!