March 7, 2016
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a sugar junkie. I probably got this trait from my dad, who can make half a pan of brownies disappear in a day. I can devour a pack of sour candies in 30 minutes flat, or pop 10 Hershey’s Kisses into my mouth without batting an eye. I love healthy and nutritious foods and eat a salad almost every day for lunch, but my self-control is non-existent when it comes to baked goods, candy, and ice cream.
Unfortunately, a tendency to over-indulge in sugar can lead to health issues, so at the beginning of the new year, I decided to really embrace a healthy lifestyle and ditch sugar for a week. Hey, anyone can go a week without sugar, right? But Beachbody’s Senior Director of Nutrition Content, Denis Faye, immediately (and, I should point out, enthusiastically) increased my sugar timeout to three weeks. I regretted ever mentioning the idea. Regardless, I let him explain how to rid a life of the joys of sugar and I drafted a set of rules to follow over the course of those three weeks.
Here’s how I, a hopeless sugar addict, gave up added sugar — and how you can do it, too.
No added sugar, no artificial sweeteners, and no alcohol.
First, I had to figure out what in my diet had to go. For three weeks I wouldn’t add honey to my overnight oats, I would make my own salad dressing instead of buying it from the store, and I would drink plain black coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up instead of a handful of chocolate chips. I swapped out my vanilla almond milk for the unsweetened version, and I chose plain Greek yogurt instead of a flavored kind. My options to satisfy my sweet tooth began and ended with fruit. What joy, muttered my inner chocoholic.
In addition to added sugar, artificial sweeteners also went on the no-eat list. “You don’t absorb artificial sweeteners the same as natural sugar, and they don’t have any calories, but they’re weird chemicals and they put your palate off.” explained Faye.
Many experts don’t count Stevia as an artificial sweetener given it comes from a natural source. “That’s sound logic,” Faye added, “but if you’re trying to ‘reboot’ your taste buds, you might as well skip it too.” I was interested to see if my sweet tooth would change by not eating added or artificial sugar, so I opted to remove all forms of sweetener for this experiment.
And finally, alcohol. A moderate amount of red wine is permitted in The Sugar Detoxplan, thanks to the fact it contains the antioxidant resveratrol. But it does contain a lot of sugar and it lowers your inhibitions, which meant it would make it that much harder for me to resist a sugary snack. It looked like I’d have to find another way to consume my grapes.
Of course, just because I was giving up added sugar for a few weeks didn’t mean I had to walk away from it forever. “Sugar can be useful at times, particularly if you’re an endurance athlete trying to manage glycogen,” Faye said. “Also, it can be an ingredient in perfectly healthy recipes. The key is moderation.” Since moderation is clearly what I lack when it comes to sugar, I decided it was best to start from zero — which is exactly what I set out to do.
The first week was incredible. The second week I wanted to quit. And, the third week I questioned everything about life.
After reading The Sugar Detox and the 10-Day Detox Diet, I decided to go cold turkey starting January 1. Unfortunately, I just had baked 40 cupcakes for an eight-person New Year’s Eve party. So, on Day 1 of my three weeks without sugar, I was surrounded with about two dozen cupcakes. Not a great way to start. Since January 1 was a Friday, I adjusted my plan begin on Monday. Because all good diets start at the beginning of the week, right?
Some people claim to gain a heap of energy when they wean themselves off sugar. I was not one of those people. I did experience a more even energy level, void of extreme highs and subsequent crashes, which is the normal rollercoaster I ride when I eat all the sugar I please. This made me feel great during the first week, but after the honeymoon phase, my cravings took over my brain. This was partially due to the fact that I was extremely tired, and it was difficult to fight off my desire for cookies and also the temptation to fall asleep at my desk. I had to make a conscious effort to choose plain black coffee instead of a pack of peach rings. It was harder to plan out all my meals, but I did it anyway. Otherwise, I’d be scrambling to find something without a sugary sauce from the food trucks lurking outside.
Despite my exhausted willpower, I survived the second week, and, surprisingly, entered the homestretch of this treacherous experiment with a new kind of motivation. I had yet to give up, and I had proven to myself that I could actually do this thing! Although my sweet tooth still wouldn’t grant me a reprieve in the final week, I had tamed it. Overnight oats sweetened only by blueberries tasted like a treat. Water infused with watermelon sustained me through a rough afternoon. Was I really turning into one of those people who found fulfillment in eating nature’s candy? I felt good about eating clean food, I was happy with how my body looked, and I was thrilled that I wasn’t experiencing post-candy crashes. Huh.
The Physical Changes
Simply by removing sugar from my diet, I lost three pounds in three weeks. That might not sound remarkable, but my weight has been extremely consistent for the past five years, and I was astonished to see different numbers on the scale. I also had visible absfor three weeks. Three weeks without sugar meant three weeks of a flat, defined stomach. Dare I say I loved that more than a cookie?
One physical effect I was anticipating was a change in my complexion. I had been warned that my face might break out when it was freed from the confines of sugar (the whole, “it has to get worse before it gets better” deal). Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Instead, my skin actually got less oily.
The first weekend after the sugar ban was lifted, I ate everything. Fries smothered in ketchup, greasy Chinese takeout, waffles, mimosas, and more. I loved it…until I experienced a mountainous sugar crash and my face broke out. Within 36 hours of eating sugar again, my face had gone from clear and clean to oily, breakout central.
As I was assessing my complexion, I had an epiphany. What if I could enjoy sweets in moderation? A novel idea, right? As much as I missed eating whatever I pleased, I hated the bloated, groggy feeling that came with over-indulging in sugary foods, not to mention the giant zit that decided to call my chin home. I also realized that I really didn’t enjoy eating every kind of sweet. I didn’t care for cheap chocolate or the processed store-bought cookies anymore. My taste buds really had become more discerning.
After three weeks without sugar, I had lost weight, gained energy, and refined my palate. I also spent significantly less money on food and drinks. I guess that’s what happens when you pass on wine and chocolate-covered candies. Am I going to continue on this sugar-free crusade? Absolutely not. But I am going to continue some of the habits I created. I like my homemade salad dressings, I now prefer a cup of black coffee in the afternoon to chocolate, and fruit for dessert doesn’t sound as blasphemous as it once did. I don’t think I could permanently say goodbye to my beloved chocolate cupcakes, but I’ve gained a much better understanding of moderation and quality.
Want to try to giving up sugar? Here are my tips, inspired by what I learned through the experience.
Purge your kitchen, home, and workspace of sugar before you begin. I learned this the hard way with those cupcakes. But over that weekend, I got rid of anything that could (and would) tempt me during my three sugar-free weeks. This proved to be themost important act of defense. If it wasn’t there, I wasn’t going to eat it.
Get a support system, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s a lot harder to cheat on your diet when your friends throw you shade when you reach for something sweet. A good support system can strengthen your willpower when you feel it dwindling. Even if you think your friends won’t take your commitment seriously, give them a chance before writing them off. By the end of my three weeks, my friends, family, and coworkers were genuinely interested in how I was doing with my no-sugar diet. (Yes, even my brownie-loving dad.) They wanted to know what foods I was and was not eating, and what physical and mental changes I was experiencing. It became an educational experience for everyone.
Set a time frame. Knowing I only had to hold out on eating sugar for three weeks made the task attainable and gave me a definitive finish line.
Learn what sugar is. This seems obvious, but sugar hides under a lot of names. My first trip to the grocery store was twice as long as usual because I looked at every single label, and looked up every single ingredient I didn’t know. This thing called ‘dextrose’ in my favorite hummus? Sugar. The rice that’s used to make sushi? It has sugar in it. Knowing what to look for, and knowing what products tend to have sugar in them can save a lot of time and confusion.
It was also challenging to eat out, since I couldn’t look at an ingredient list for every menu item. Did the hamburger buns have sugar in them? Maybe. What exactly is in that special sauce? No idea. Instead of becoming a hermit for three weeks, I maintained a normal social schedule and challenged myself to find sugar-free items on the menu. My go-to option became a burger or chicken sandwich, minus the bun, and a salad. As for the dressing situation, I asked for balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Most balsamic vinaigrettes don’t have sugar, but I used it sparingly to make the damage as minimal as possible in case it did.
Prep yourself for success. Make sure you always have sugar-free foods on the ready. One weekend, my friends and I went skiing and they brought chips and Pop-Tarts for the trip. I was hungry and irritable for the whole drive because there wasn’t anything I could eat. Had I brought my own snacks, it would have been a non-issue.
Getting enough sleep is also really important. When my energy was drained, so was my willpower. It was exhausting to fight off my cravings when I was also fighting to stay awake. And that’s when I needed to…
Know how to cheat. If I were perfect, I would have gone three weeks without added sugar, artificial sweetener, or alcohol. Shockingly, I am not. I had a few bites of dark chocolate one night and a few glasses of wine another evening. I also indulged in Shakeology a few times, even though it does have some stevia in it. But I chose my cheats carefully. I ate dark chocolate because it was allowed in week three of The Sugar Detox, and studies have shown that dark chocolate can be good for your health. My chocolate craving was satisfied much faster than usual, so I really didn’t eat that much of it. Shakeology tasted amazing, as per usual, but I noticed that it was pretty sweet compared to the other foods I was eating. As for the wine, I did feel quite giddy after just one glass. This indulgence didn’t dramatically change the course of my no-sugar diet, but it definitely could have. No matter how much you drink, alcohol impairs your judgment. And when you’re already craving that chocolate chip cookie, a glass wine might convince you that it’s okay to eat one. Or two. And a scoop of ice cream.
Finally, fruit is your best friend. Really. As a devoted sugar consumer, I laughed when people told me that fruit was satisfying dessert. One year my family gave me a birthday cake with fruit and a cool whip topping instead of a heap of buttercream and I thought it was a joke. I was thankful for the effort and graciously enjoyed it, but I absolutelyfollowed it up with a chocolate bar. So when I had to substitute my desserts for fruit, I thought it would be the end of me…but I was wrong. When fruit is the only sweet thing you eat, it tastes really sweet. I couldn’t believe it. But watermelon and fresh berries became my candy during those three weeks, and I would gladly make them my after-dinner meal again.
March 4, 2016
If you’re not a meal planner, consider adding up how much time you spend each week cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the fly, running to the grocery store for ingredients, or going through the drive-thru when you feel like you don’t have the time or energy to cook. More than likely, that will add up to an hour a day. On the other hand, you could spend 90 minutes (or less) meal prepping one afternoon and save hours during the week. Hours that could be spent working out, playing with your kids, spending time with friends and family, or doing anything else you love to do!
It is entirely possible to meal prep for five days in 90 minute or less, but you do have to be organized. The guide and grocery list below will help. The menu is geared towards those at the 1200-1500 calorie level, but can be adjusted if you’re eating at a higher level. Just double the amount of protein or vegetables in some of the meals, or supplement with ready-to-eat snacks like sliced turkey breast, raw veggies, and whole grain crackers to meet your container requirements.
So, do those dishes (it’s easier to cook quickly in a clean kitchen), purchase all of the ingredients in the grocery list that follows, and set out everything non-perishable on the table or counter. If you stay focused, and move quickly from task to task, you might be able to complete this meal prep in less than 90 minutes. It took me just over an hour.
Psst – looking for the containers below? You can get them here.
This Week’s Meal Prep Menu:
- Breakfast: Spinach, Tomato, and Quinoa Breakfast Casserole with an apple or orange
- Shakeology Snack: Shakeology with 1 cup frozen strawberries or peaches and 1 tsp. nut butter
- Lunch (M/W/F): Tuna and White Bean Salad with Chimichurri Sauce
- Lunch (T/Th): Turkey Salad with Lentils and Bell Pepper
- Dinner (M/W/F): Spaghetti Squash with Turkey, Basil, and Roasted Tomatoes
- Dinner (T/Th): Spiced Ground Turkey with Cauliflower
- Snacks: 20 pistachios or hummus and lettuce
Here’s what your meal prep for the week will look like when you’re done.
Spinach, Tomato, and Quinoa Breakfast Casserole and an apple or orange
(2½ cups quinoa, 4 cups spinach, 1 cup tomatoes, ¾ cup cottage cheese, 8 eggs divided into five servings = 1 red, 1 green, 1 purple, 1 yellow)
Shakeology with 1 cup frozen strawberries or peaches and 1 tsp. nut butter (1 red, 1 purple, 1 tsp.)
M/W/F: ¼ cup hummus with 2 lettuce leaves (1 blue)
T/Th: 20 whole pistachios (1 blue)
M/W/F: Tuna and White Bean Salad with Chimichurri Sauce
(1 can tuna, ½ cup white beans with quick chimichurri sauce over arugula = 1 red, 1 green, 1 yellow, 1 orange)
T/Th: Turkey Salad with Lentils and Bell Pepper
(1 cup spinach, 3 oz. sliced turkey breast, ½ cup lentils, ¼ red bell pepper, and 2 Tbsp. sunflower seeds with balsamic vinegar = 1 red, 1 green, 1 yellow, 1 orange)
M/W/F: Spaghetti Squash with Turkey, Basil and Roasted Tomatoes
(¾ cup spaghetti squash with 4 oz. turkey, garlic, oregano, ½ cup roasted tomatoes, and basil = 1 red, 1 green, 1 tsp.)
T/Th: Spiced Ground Turkey with Cauliflower
(4 oz. spiced ground turkey with garlic, oregano, cumin, chili powder, cilantro, ¼ red bell pepper, 1 cup roasted cauliflower = 1 red, 1 green, 1 tsp.)
Here’s how to make all of this in 90 minutes or less:
1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Spray two baking sheets with nonstick spray.
2. Cut 1 cup of cauliflower into florets. Toss in a bowl with 2 tsp. olive oil to coat. Cut the spaghetti squash in half, rub the flesh of each half with 1 tsp. olive oil. Cut 1 red pepper in half and remove the seeds; set the other half aside.
3. Place cauliflower florets and 1 red pepper half on a baking sheet. Place the spaghetti squash (cut-side up) and 1 cup cherry tomatoes on another baking sheet. Spray red pepper and tomatoes lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Season vegetables on both baking sheets with salt and pepper. Place both sheets in the oven and let them roast.
4. After 15 minutes, remove the baking sheets. Remove the tomatoes from one and the bell pepper from the other. Set the tomatoes and bell pepper aside to cool. Stir the cauliflower and return cauliflower and spaghetti squash to oven. Cook until tender when pierced with a fork, about 15-25 minutes. Remove baking sheets from oven and place on a rack to cool. Leave oven on.
5. While the vegetables are roasting, cook 1 cup dry quinoa with 2 cups water on the stovetop or in a rice cooker. When cooked, set aside. (Need tips on how to make perfect quinoa? Watch this video.)
6. Finely chop 3 garlic cloves. Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add 2 tsp. olive oil and the chopped garlic; cook, stirring constantly for one minute. Add 20 oz. ground turkey, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break into smaller pieces. Cook the turkey until it is no longer pink, approximately 6 minutes. Season with 2 tsp. oregano, and add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
7. Drain the three cans of tuna and place the tuna into a medium bowl. Drain and rinse the white beans. Add the beans to the medium bowl. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, as much cilantro as you want, and crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper to taste. Fill three food containers with 1 cup arugula. Top arugula with tuna mixture, dividing evenly between the containers. Seal containers and place in refrigerator.
8. Fill two food containers with 1 cup spinach. Top each portion of spinach with 3 oz. sliced turkey breast, ¼ chopped raw bell pepper, and 2 Tbsp. sunflower seeds. (Drizzle with good balsamic vinegar just before serving.) Seal containers and place in fridge.
9. Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with nonstick spray; set aside. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add four cups spinach and cook until just wilted, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. In a large bowl, combine spinach, 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, 2½ cups cooked quinoa, 8 eggs, ¾ cup cottage cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour quinoa mixture into baking dish, bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool, then cover with foil and place in fridge. See the full recipe for this dish here.
10. Using a spoon, scrape out the flesh of the spaghetti squash. Divide squash between three food containers, adding about ¾ cup to each. Top each portion of squash with ¾ cup ground turkey mixture, basil, and ⅓ of the roasted tomatoes. Seal containers and place in fridge.
11. Chop the roasted bell pepper. Season remaining ground turkey mixture with 1 tsp. cumin and 1 tsp. chili powder. Add the bell pepper and as much cilantro as you want. Divide mixture evenly between two food containers. Add 1 cup roasted cauliflower to each container. Seal containers and place in fridge.
12. Prepare three small containers with ¼ cup hummus and 2 large lettuce leaves. Count out 2 servings each of 20 pistachios.
13. Sit back and celebrate the fact that you’ve prepped all your food for the week in just 90 minutes or less!
2 cups cherry tomatoes
6 cups spinach
1 medium red bell pepper
1 head romaine or butter lettuce
3 cups arugula
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch fresh basil
1 head garlic
1 spaghetti squash (about 2–3 lbs.)
1 small head cauliflower or 1 bag cauliflower florets
3 small apples
2 medium oranges
1 bag frozen strawberries
1 bag frozen peaches
1 cup quinoa
4 Tbsp. sunflower seeds
Dry and Canned Goods
1 jar all-natural nut butter
1 can white beans
1 can cooked lentils
6 oz. lowfat cottage cheese (or ricotta)
6 oz. nitrate-free, low sodium deli sliced turkey
3 cans light tuna, packed in water, no salt added
4 oz. lowfat Greek yogurt
20 oz. ground turkey
Crushed red pepper
Red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
February 29, 2016
The Short Answer
You’d better sit down because, believe it or not, you can—albeit not in the way you probably want.
If we’re talking spare tires, muffin tops, or that last bit of pooch covering your six-pack, then you’re S.O.L. That sort of chub (i.e., the kind you can see and pinch) is called “subcutaneous” fat, and you can’t “spot-reduce” problem areas. Instead, you need keep exercising hard and eating right to reduce overall body fat. Your genetics will determine how and at what speed the weight comes off, but rest assured that your belly will eventually shrink to more shapely (and firmer) dimensions.
However, if you’re “apple shaped” or if you’re sporting a big ol’ beer belly, that’s likely a different kind of flab called “visceral” fat. Research shows that it is, in fact, targetable, which is fortunate since it’s much more insidious than the subcutaneous variety. Residing deep within your torso, visceral fat wraps itself around your heart, liver, and other major organs, and secretes chemicals that fuel inflammation. Your best strategy for reducing it is to work out hard, stress less, sleep more, and make cleaner food choices.
The Long Answer
Subcutaneous fat is the kind you measure with calipers that flops over your jeans and adds to your chin count. It comes from the Latin for “under the skin,” and it covers most of your body. It builds up in different places in different people, although women often build it up in their thighs and rear ends, much to the appreciation of Sir Mix-A-Lot, Queen, Nicki Minaj, and Spinal Tap.
You can’t spot reduce subcutaneous fat, so if you have a problem area, you have no choice but to burn fat all over until your genes decide to focus on that area. Also keep in mind that subcutaneous fat is found between skin and muscle. Sometimes, especially if you’re new to exercise, your muscles will firm up, pushing this fat out and creating the illusion that you’re gaining more fat. If this happens, just be patient—the illusion will eventually vanish.
Generally speaking, this isn’t the most dangerous kind of fat. That’s not to say that subcutaneous fat isn’t hard on your joints or that it can’t lead to chronic health issues like arthritis. But when you read about fat being linked to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, chances are you’re reading about visceral fat.
Visceral fat is found deep inside your gut, and it builds up primarily around your stomach, intestines, and liver. Unlike subcutaneous fat, you can’t pinch it unless you get all medieval on yourself. Some people call it “deep belly fat” and it’s been linked to all kinds of issues including insulin resistance and cardiovascular issues.
A little visceral fat is normal. We tend to accumulate more of it later in life thanks to a dated bit of evolution that assumes we have less muscle as we age, causing fat to build up to protect our internal organs. The problems start piling up when you have too much of it. The most precise way to measure visceral fat is through an MRI or CT scan, but your waist circumference can also give you an indication of how bad (or good) the situation is. Red flag numbers are more than 35 inches for ladies and more than 40 inches for the guys.
What You Can Do
The obvious answer is to stop eating so much junk and to get some exercise, for Pete’s sake! Beyond that, visceral fat can be targeted through a handful of basic lifestyle tweaks.
One 6-year study on 293 adults ranging in age from 18 on 65 showed that when people increased their sleep from less than 6 hours a night to between 7 or 8 hours, they experienced a significant drop in visceral fat.
A study on middle-aged obese women with metabolic syndrome showed that high intensity exercise did a better job of banishing visceral fat than low intensity exercise or no exercise at all. (Duh.) The women also experienced a reduction in abdominal subcutaneous fat. (Double duh.)
Eat More Soluble Fiber
A five-year study on minorities ranging in age from 18 to 81 showed that if you add soluble fiber to your diet, and combine it with exercise, you can accelerate visceral fat loss. You’ll find soluble fiber in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables, including apples, pears, and Brussels sprouts.
Lean Towards Unsaturated Fats
Researchers in Sweden fed 39 young men 750 extra calories daily for seven weeks. (They were fed muffins—really big ones, apparently.) The group fed muffins with saturated fat in the form of palm oil gained more visceral fat (as well as subcutaneous fat and liver fat) than the group fed muffins with polyunsaturated fat in the form of sunflower oil. Given that there are many types of both saturated and unsaturated fat, it’s unfair to categorically condemn saturated fat, but it’s still worth considering. Regardless, no good has ever come from adding a giant muffin to your daily meal plan—so don’t do that.
Stop Stressing So Much
Stress triggers the production of cortisol, which increases visceral fat. The link is that simple. A little stress, like the kind your body experiences working out, is fine, but chronic stress can be problematic. Studies on both humansand monkeys confirm this. Admittedly, telling someone to stop stressing is a little like telling someone to “be funny” or “don’t look at the giant mole on my forehead” (i.e., it’s easier said than done), but de-stressing your life is possible. You just need to be patient. Look into things like meditation or yoga, or just take a couple minutes each day to stop and breathe deeply. You’ll be thinner—and saner—in no time.
February 9, 2016
If you spend the majority of your waking hours at work, that may mean eating breakfast, lunch, and a couple of snacks there too. Keeping the right foods stashed in your desk or your locker can stop you from getting too hungry—and prevent those visits to the vending machine, coffee shop, and drive-thru—but just because these healthy options are a drawer away doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get up and stretch your legs every thirty minutes—or at least have a good stretch.
Here’s what to keep on hand:
A perfect snack is one that is delicious, filling, and nutritious, which describes nuts, well, in a nutshell. In moderation, a daily nut habit has been found to keep your heart healthyand may even reduce abdominal fat. Reach for the raw, unsalted variety for a filling boost of protein and fiber. For portion control, count out a proper serving (find out how many nuts that is here) rather than reaching into the bag every time you want more. And once you serve yourself, put the bag back away to avoid temptation. Eat them on their own, sprinkle them on salads, or stir a few into yogurt.
If you forgot your lunch, are having a busy day at work and don’t have time to go search for something to eat, pop open a can of tuna for a high-protein meal. To avoid added fat from oil, look for tuna canned in water with no salt. Don’t want to keep a can opener at your desk? Buy cans with pull tabs or single-serving packets that you can tear open and eat. (Just make sure to open it in the kitchen and drain the water off there. Your more olfactory sensitive office mates will thank you.) Enjoy with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on whole grain crackers. (Make sure the ingredient list says 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain flour. Tricky labels can say “whole wheat” on the front of the box, when they’re really made partially from refined flour.)
Jerky has gotten a gourmet makeover. Look for all-natural, nitrate-free versions. and it’s not hard to make your own. Just keep an eye on the sodium.
Whether you’re into chicken noodle, tomato, or lentil, an individual serving box or pull-tab can of soup makes a quick nutritious and calorie-conscious lunch when you need to eat something, stat! Dress it up with the condiments featured below, or pour on top of whole grain noodles or brown rice for a bigger meal. Again, opt for low-sodium versions and read the label to make sure your soup is made from all-natural ingredients.
Fruit is so good for you! It’s rich in vitamins, fiber, and tastes incredible. And, it’s a good snack to reach for when you want something sweet. Many fruits —including apples, oranges, plums, peaches — don’t require a fridge, so keep them on your desk to remind yourself to enjoy them each day.
For a hit of sweetness, fiber, and nutrients, reach for dried fruits without added sugar (consider dehydrating your own if you’re having trouble finding them), and keep your snack portion to about ¼ cup. Combine with nuts and coconut chips for a twist on trail mix, add to salads and oatmeal, or eat plain.
CONDIMENTS & EXTRAS
Red Wine vinegar
Vinegar is almost calorie-free and it’s a tasty way to add flavor. Keep a bottle at your desk to dress salads, drizzle on sandwiches in place of mayo, or add a touch of it to soup.
Whether you fancy whole grain, Dijon, yellow, or spicy, mustard can add a kick to any lunch and as long as you stay away from honey mustard, it’s pretty low in calories. Individual packets have a longer shelf-life. Otherwise, unrefrigerated, opened bottles will keep at peak freshness for about a month.
There’s a reason why everyone’s obsessed with sriracha. This hot chili sauce goes great on everything. Squeeze a few drops on a hardboiled egg, into soup or hummus, on chicken, or wake up a quinoa salad.
Low-sodium soy sauce packets
Soy sauce packets are automatically portion controlled which is great because this is one condiment that’s pretty high in salt already and when pouring from the bottle, it’s easy to pour too much and end up with salt super overload. Use it to season a brown rice and veggie bowl or as a dip for sliced veggie strips like peppers and carrots.
Nut or seed butter
A spoonful of nut butter can stop any snack attack in its tracks. Keep some on hand to spread on whole-grain crackers, add a dollop to oatmeal, or use as a dip for celery and carrots. Look for all-natural nut butters made from only nuts and little or no salt. Avoid brands that list sugar or hydrogenated oils in the ingredients.
January 10, 2016
Transition diets are one of the easiest ways to become a healthier eater.
I’ve been doing them since the ’80s and, in fact, one of the first articles I ever wrote for Beachbody, in January 2001, was a 6-week transition plan. They’re not only great for first-time dieters but are also great for any time you feel like cleaning out your system after a period of slacking off. That’s why I do a variation of this plan almost every year. Here’s my latest creation.
It’s often said that no one diet works for every individual. While this is true, you may have noticed that all Beachbody eating plans target a similar goal: Eat more natural, whole foods and less junk. That’s because there are no secrets to healthy eating. There are strategies that can lead to various performance benefits, but 99% of the goal of eating healthy is to minimize junk and get your diet to consist of real food (you know, the stuff nature makes). With this in mind, our Beachbody nutrition guides use various strategies, all designed to lead you to the same place.
While those nutrition guides tend to be detailed, the 8-Week Transition Diet is for those of you who want simple. Outside of a small list of what you can’t eat, you’re free to chow down on anything. How hard can that be? You should also find that by making your transition gradually, the road to healthy eating is pretty easy.
No junk. Eliminate junk food from your diet. That’s it, just junk. Other than this, you can eat whatever and whenever you like. The definition of junk is obvious stuff, like potato chips, candy, ice cream, cake, etc. You may be stricter if you’d like, but for Week 1, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just stay out of 7-Eleven. For many of you, this step alone will reap huge benefits.
Cheat Days: 2. Since no one’s perfect, you get two days to cheat. That’s right, two days where you can eat anything you want! A trick on cheat days is to listen to your body. At first, it’ll probably tell you it wants whatever you’ve been denying it. However, over time, it’ll start to crave nutrients you’re deficient in. Learn to read your body’s subtle signs. If you’re craving ice cream, you may be short on essential fatty acids. If you crave a hamburger, your diet may lack protein. By listening to your body and learning what it really needs in this way, you can make better food substitutions. It’s a way of getting in tune with yourself that will benefit you for your entire lifetime.
Weekly focus: Water. Not swimming in it, though that’s good too, but staying hydrated with it. “They” say you should drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water per day, but I say you should drink more. Shoot for a gallon (though don’t worry if you fall short). Yeah, that probably seems crazy but almost all of us walk around dehydrated for most of our lives, which not only hurts the way we function but also makes us hungry when we’re actually thirsty. A glass of water when you feel hunger pangs both staves them off and helps you fill up faster when you do eat. As for other drinks, juices and sugary sodas also (obviously) fall into the junk category. And alcohol should be kept to a minimum. We tend to forget (purposely or not) that alcohol has calories. A lot of them: 7 calories per gram. Mixers can be even worse — not only can they add calories, but these sugary calories influence the way alcohol reacts with your body.
Each week’s rules are cumulative, so the “no junk” rule from Week 1 will apply until the end, as will each subsequent week’s rule. Remember that this is a process. Treat it as though you’re in school and the subject is your own body.
Eat small, eat often. Eat every couple of hours while you’re awake and try not to eat anything for about three hours before you go to sleep. Following these rules will keep your blood sugar levels more static and your energy level will stay consistent. Try to keep each snack or meal balanced. Something like a 30% protein, 40% carbohydrate, and 30% fat ratio, though you don’t need to worry too much about it. Just realize that you need a bit from each macronutrient group. Eat based on what you’ll be doing for the next few hours (if you’re working out, eat a little more; sitting at a desk, eat a little less). The three-hours-before-bed rule is important, especially for fats and carbohydrates. By allowing time for all the carbs you eat to get into your bloodstream, your body will sleep in fat-burning mode, rather than in calorie-storing mode. This is important because undigested carbs in your stomach at night are stored as adipose tissue (fat).
Cheat Days: 2
Weekly focus: Carbs are not the enemy. Your body needs them, just like it needs proteins and fats. The trick is to choose the right carbs. As a society, we eat too much refined sugar. Complex carbs, like whole-grain breads, whole-grain rice, sweet potatoes, and legumes are outstanding foods. Even fruits, which have simple carbohydrates wrapped in fiber, are exceptionally healthy. While you don’t want a diet based on nothing but carbs, making the right carb choices will maximize your body’s potential. Try to avoid white rice and flours. Read labels, and try to avoid ones that use the word “enriched,” because this means these products have been stripped of their natural nutrients, overprocessed, and then fortified with a few random nutrients.
Eat some colorful, low-density food at every meal. These are foods that take up a lot of space without a lot of calories. Veggies are the most obvious example. You can eat a salad bowl overflowing with lettuce and veggies and you most likely won’t exceed 100 calories. By eating low-density foods like veggies and fruits, you’ll keep your portions under control naturally, because they have very few calories for their size. Conversely, high-density foods, like chocolate and butter, are loaded with calories in even the smallest amounts. So beware of salad dressings and other things you add to salads and veggies. Only add enough for flavor; don’t fill up on them. When it comes to live foods, the richer the colors, the fresher the products tend to be. Try to eat a variety of colors in your diet. This simple-yet-random-feeling act will help ensure that you’re covering all your nutrient bases.
Cheat Days: 1
Weekly focus: Protein at every meal. This becomes even more important as you eat more low-density food, because protein tends to be high-density. Many veggies have a lot of protein, but the quantity you must consume starts to become prohibitive. Try to get some protein — meat, dairy, legumes, nuts, or seeds each time you eat, especially when you’re working out hard, because you need to repair broken-down muscle tissue. Since your body can only utilize a certain amount of protein at once, do your best to eat small amounts often (starting to see a theme?). Reading labels is a simple way to learn how to estimate your protein intake. You’ll notice natural foods don’t have labels but once your diet is comprised mostly of these you’ll no longer need them. More on this later.
Cook at home. One of the best ways to control your eating is to prepare all your meals yourself. Eliminate all fast food (which hopefully happened in Week 1) and most other restaurant food. You may still eat food from certain restaurants where you can be sure of the ingredients (most will be savvy enough to make a point of how healthy their food is). As you may have seen in the news, restaurants tend to use alarming quantities of salt, among other things. This single step will often bring your body closer to homeostasis (its desired state of balance). This can be hard for many of us because we now have to plan our meals and prepare ahead of time, but try to treat it like vocational school — you don’t learn a new “job” without a little retraining.
Cheat Days: 1
Weekly focus: Fat is essential. Remember that fat is a vital part of your diet, not just something that makes you fat. What is not vital is junk fat in processed foods. Healthy fats come from fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, etc. — natural sources. You need to be careful about the amount of fat you eat because it’s very dense. At 9 calories per gram, it contains more than double the calories of carbs and protein.
Reduce starchy carbohydrates. Starches include rice, bread, potatoes, corn, beans, and other legumes. While many of these are in no way bad foods, most of us eat too much of them. The goal here is to cut way down on them, if not totally out, and then add them back in when your body feels like it needs energy. This will teach you the relationship you have with carbs. They are vital for energy but eating too many of them leaves us lethargic (and eventually fat). Once you figure this out, your entire relationship with food will change.
Cheat Days: 1
Weekly focus: Sugar is only beneficial after a hard workout or during a long one. Your body doesn’t need processed sugar. But if you really enjoy it and can’t avoid letting some sneak into your daily diet, the one-hour period after you exercise is the best time to indulge. During this window, your blood sugar is low, because you’ve used it up to finish your workout (assuming you pushed yourself), and eating sugar during this time will help you recover faster because it speeds into your system and initiates the recovery process. Adding a little protein, but not too much, will enhance your recovery even further.
If man makes it, don’t eat it. This is likely to be the hardest week of your diet. You want to eat only whole foods and eliminate all processed foods, even good ones, for the week. This includes breads, most salad dressings, all cereal, luncheon meats, cheese, dried fruits, anything with preservatives, and alcoholic beverages. What you can eat are whole foods such as fruit, raw or steamed vegetables, meat (sans any type of sauce), natural whole-grain rice, poached eggs, etc. Since your eating habits have been slowly changing, this shouldn’t be that big a shock to your system, but it will still likely be hard. Try and get creative. There are now many raw and whole food “cook” books that can help keep you entertained.
Cheat Days: 1. The “cheat day” mentality is a good one. Decadent desserts, a night at the buffet, drinking with friends, etc., can be good for you as long as they are rewards and not habits. Studies proving this have been steadily appearing for about as long as we’ve been studying things. All work and no play does, indeed, make Jack a dull boy.
Weekly focus: Nuts and seeds make great snacks. A handful of raw almonds or cashews is a quick and easy snack that goes a long way. Don’t be put off by the high fat count of nuts, because this means it takes fewer of them to satiate you. Nuts and seeds are loaded with important phytonutrients, as well as good fats, proteins, and fiber.
Be yourself. No rules — just try and eat as healthily as you can and do it by feel. Trusting yourself might seem like a lot of responsibility, but by now you’ll be up to it. Learning to eat by feeling what your body needs is an important step in your transformation. Consider the way you’ve been eating over the last six weeks, but don’t worry about what you should and shouldn’t do. Just fuel yourself. The point is to take a mental break. Relax and allow yourself to eat in a way that feels normal. You may be surprised to find yourself craving something healthy instead of a candy bar or soda. You’ll be better at listening to your body because it’ll tell you what it needs to eat, as opposed to what you’re used to eating. Your body should feel somewhat transformed.
“Reward for a Life Well Lived” Days: 1
Weekly focus: If you’re so hungry at night that you can’t sleep, try a protein shake. A recent study confirmed what’s been a focus of this diet for two decades; that protein before bed can raise amino acid activity for a full night of rest.
Eat a perfect diet. Let’s get after it. No one is better able to tell you what you should eat than you. Our bodies are all different, and the key to your own perfect diet is learning about how your body reacts to different foods under different circumstances. Your journey over the last seven weeks should have brought you to a new understanding of how food affects your body, both for good and for bad. The time has come to test it. See how well you can eat for a week. In fact, see how well you can eat for the rest of your life. Live and enjoy.
Reward Days: 1, of course!
Weekly Focus: Don’t bonk. Bonking is a state when your body runs out of blood sugar and glycogen for energy. If you feel like your workouts are going backward instead of forward, this is a likely culprit. Use your energy level as your gauge. As soon as it starts to drop, start adding carbs back into your diet until you feel energized all day long. When you feel energized during your workouts and the rest of the day, you’ll know you’ve found the right balance between carbs and other nutrients. Also, remember that as your body puts on more muscle, you will need to eat more. Muscle weighs much more than fat, so as you gain muscle and lose fat, your body shrinks without losing weight. You will also require more calories in order to maintain your muscle. So, when you’re working out hard, don’t be afraid to eat more carbs than you do otherwise.
December 10, 2015
It’s a pain in the butt, but it’s shockingly effective at helping people eat healthier, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The researchers found that people who recorded everything they ate for a week lost six more pounds than people who didn’t. Don’t bother buying a notebook—smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal, Lifesum, and Eatly make recording what you eat easy. All three also sync with third party fitness trackers, helping you gain a more holistic view of your health and daily activity.
How do you keep track of what you eat?
December 9, 2015
Even if you don’t have kids, you’re bound to run into them at some point during the holidays. Watch how they move, and copy them. Why? All of that crawling, rolling, rocking, and deep squatting can dramatically boost your mobility, which is the key to unlocking greater strength, according to strength and conditioning coach Steve Maxwell. No toddler around? Do the following “toddler roll” exercise to instantly open up your chest and shoulders, and release tension throughout your body.
Toddler Roll: Lie on your stomach with your legs straight and your arms extended above your head. Look over your right shoulder, reach back across the midline of your body with your right arm, and roll onto your back (don’t push off with your legs). Continue looking in the same direction as you reach across your body with your left arm and use your core to roll onto your stomach. Roll back to where you started, and repeat in the other direction. Continue rolling from side to side for 3 minutes. Click here for a video demonstration of the exercise (and to see how quickly the mobility benefits kick in).
December 8, 2015
You already know the dangers of grocery shopping on an empty stomach. (And if you don’t, take a look at your receipt the next time you shop hungry.) But Cornell University scientists have added a new twist to the classic advice: Eat a piece of fruit before you hit the supermarket. In their study, people who ate an apple before they shopped bought 28 percent more produce than those who had a cookie. They also bought fewer unhealthy items overall. The reason: After eating a healthy snack, your subconscious continues to steer you in the same direction, say the researchers.
December 7, 2015
If you’re a desk jockey, your best lunch option will always be the one you prepare yourself (it gives you more control over what and how much you eat). But if you have to order it, do so from your office, then walk to pick it up. You’ll eat healthier, and consume an average of 114 fewer calories, according to a recent study in the journalAppetite. The reason: Ordering remotely removes sensory cues, especially smells, like the irresistible aroma of pizza and pastries.
December 6, 2015
Skipping just one workout can initiate a downward spiral, increasing your odds of skipping another one by 61 percent, according to British researchers. The solution: Think smaller. Instead of trying to carve out time for one long workout, do two or three short ones. “In so doing, you’ll boost motivation, eliminate ‘too busy’ as an excuse, and accelerate both muscle building and fat loss,” says Chad Waterbury M.S., a Los Angeles-based exercise physiologist. Click here for mini-workouts you can do anywhere.
December 5, 2015
“A few high-calorie meals during the holidays are not going to sabotage your fitness goals,” says trainer and Look Great Naked author Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, adding that people get too caught up in the minutia of weight loss (e.g., how many calories they burn in a single workout, or how many they consume in a single meal). A better strategy: Focus on how many calories you burn during the course of a week, not each day. “As long as your diet is dialed in 80 percent of the time, you can cut yourself some slack during the other 20 percent,” he says.
December 4, 2015
What do Americans look forward to most during the holidays? Spending time with friends and family, according to a recent Pew Research poll, which found that 69 percent of people put socializing at the top of their holiday wish list. Leverage those social opportunities to stay in shape: Not only does exercising with a buddy boost motivation and exercise adherence, but it can also help you exercise 24 percent longer — especially if your partner is slightly fitter than you are, according to a recent study at Michigan State University.