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The Swing: A Revolutionary Kettlebell Program – A Review

Posted on 07. May, 2012 by .

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I haven’t really personally known a person who has lost a lot of weight besides the transformations I see on The Biggest Loser T.V. show. So, when I was asked if I can review the book, “The Swing,” by Tracy Reifkind, I just had to see just how much of a physical transformation she has accomplished. Her last name may be familiar to you if you’ve read my post, “My RKC Experience.” Yes, she is definitely Mark Reifkind’s wife. I have met Tracy a few times in the past when I was training with Mark and also at one of the Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC) events I attended. I’ve also heard about her losing weight through swings but I didn’t realize just how much weight she lost.

A Background on Tracy Reifkind and “The Swing”

If we just look at the title, “The Swing,” we may think that this book is all about how to perform the kettlebell swing along with some workout programs. The book is about that but much more. It is also a book about Tracy’s journey of losing 120 pounds using kettlebell swings and emerging as a completely new person, both inside and out, at age 41.

During the few times I met Tracy, I didn’t have a clue just how much weight she lost. I wouldn’t have thought that this woman in front of me used to weigh 250 lbs because she is one of the fittest person I’ve met at those kettlebell events. At her heaviest, Tracy talked about reaching a point where she totally disconnected from her body. Instead, she used the false and temporary pleasure of overeating to soothe her even though she felt guilt and shame whenever she overate. She didn’t own a full-length mirror so she could avoid looking at her body.

Tracy’s extra weight was affecting her life so much that there were also when she would avoid talking to people while she’s running errands just so they didn’t see how much weight she’s gained since the last time they saw her. At the same time, she took a lot of effort to avoid getting her pictures taken at all costs.Her transformation began after having been at 250 for nearly ten years and one day, she knew it’s only a matter of time before her body starts to give in and she won’t be able to dodge the bullet anymore. Her first jump start came when six of her co-workers decided to do a weight loss challenge where every person wagered $100 per person for a total of $700 and whoever lost the most weight percentage wins the pot. Three (3) months and 50 lbs later, Tracy won the $700!

The Things I Like the Most About the Book

I won’t go into too many details about everything Tracy went through. You’re better off reading it directly from the book than having me paraphrase everything in this post. However, I do like to tell you about the one thing that surprised me about this book – it was the the kettlebell swing training program Tracy used. Having been a part of the RKC community for quite sometime, I thought I have seen and done many of the kettlebell swing workout programs. Before seeing this workout plan, I thought, “how can a person only use 1 kettlebell exercise when there are several to choose from?” The answer came once I saw the workout plan.

Tracy starts with one of the most detailed how-to kettlebell swing instructions I’ve seen in a book. But, what drew me the most was the simple way she teaches you how to determine your fitness level so you can figure out the level to which you should start your training and customize it. She calls them the On the Minute Workouts. After you’ve determined the right level for you, you can then go into the training phase where all the fun begins. She has created multiple variations of the swing workouts that last anywhere from 20-30 minutes just by combining 2-hand swings with 1 hand-swings in ways that looks like so much fun, it gets me so excited to want to try them myself.

Then…there’s the 2-minute set. Once you’ve gone through the training phase, you can advance your training even more by doing these 2-minute sets. Mark Reifkind explained it as getting the best of both anaerobic and earobic systems where you get just enough intensity to really develop muscles and just enough time to really tap into fat stores as well.

Of course, a book on physical transformation will not be complete without talking about nutrition. Tracy talks about some of the nutrition strategies that helped her with her transformation. She talks about anywhere from simple calories, to food journaling, to learning knife skills, to meal timing, and so on. Looking back to my own personal transformation, it was those things, some of the most basic but essential skills, that really made the difference for me as far as getting results and Tracy talks about all the nutrition skills and strategies necessary so the reader can reach his/her goals faster and more efficiently.

Who is “The Swing” For?

After reading the book, I have become an even stronger believer that the kettlebell can transform our bodies, our workouts, and our lives in a simple yet very effective way when combined with the right nutrition strategies. This book has re-inspired me to start using kettlebell exercises, especially the swing, in my workout routines as more of a required staple instead of just doing whichever kettlebell execise I felt like doing without any kind of plan. This book is more than just a diet book. It is also about developing the right mindset especially when you’ve tried every “diet program” out there only to get temporary results. It is also about inspiring the reader about what is possible when we focus our intentions towards a very important goal, health or otherwise. It does not matter whether you have less than 10 or over 100 pounds to lose, this book will give you all the tools you need in order to break free of whatever weight loss plateau and/or negative self-image you’ve created in your mind. Tracy’s story will inspire you to take action and her strategies will bring you success. Once you’re done reading, “The Swing,” you can also join Tracy’s Facebook community by going here. You may also follow her blog here.

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Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners

Kettlebell Exercises for Beginners

Posted on 06. Mar, 2012 by .

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Kettlebells (KB) have swept the mainstream fitness media and they are gaining popularity more than ever. [If you did not already recognize who the guy is in the picture above, it is Lance Armstrong.] This is most likely because of the convenience, effectiveness, and time-saving it provides to anyone who wishes to get lean and strong in as little as 20 minutes a day. So, the common question I get asked is: what are great kettlebell exercises for beginners? or what is a good kettelbell workout? While Youtube is great for looking up videos to answer these questions, it may not be the best source unless you know what you’re looking for.

Being a Russian Kettlebell Certified (RKC) Instructor, I decided to put together a video demonstrating the most foundational kettlebell exercise which is the swing. In this video, I go over tips on how to protect your hand as well as the biggest mistakes when performing kettlebell swings and how to correct them.

Please watch this video before you read the rest of the article:

You may feel that I talk about too many technical points in the video but each of them matters if you really want to do kettlebell swings properly. Doing them wrong can 1) hurt you and 2) make your workout less efficient which means you will burn less calories. If you want to take your learning even further, you may want to look for a Russian Kettlebell Certified Instructor in your local area to critique your form.

One more thing to think about before you perform any kettlebell exercise are the shoes you are wearing. Typically, running shoes are not ideal when performing kettlebell exercises. The thick cushion which running shoes have will basically hinder your feet from making full contact with the ground which may throw you off balance. For instance, if I were to perform kettlebel swings with a thick heel, the heel will make me lean forward to offset the weight of the kettlebell as it reaches shoulder height. So, if the heels were taken out, having more contact with ground will also help us become more stable and more strong for any kettlebell lift.

I showed you several ways you have more variety in your kettlebell workouts even if you just now the beginner exercises like the swing and goblet squat. Now, I’d like to show you a few different set-ups you can do so you can do this at home.

3 Samples of How to Set-up Beginner Kettlebell Workouts

Workout 1: Ladders Style

20 Kettlebell Swings
10 Goblet Squats

Start at the top of the reps at 20 and 5 reps. For each set, you will do 1 less repetition for the swings and doing 1 less repetition for every other set of goblet squats. Do this until you reach 1 rep for each exercise. This is how it goes:

Set 1: 20 Swings, 10 Goblet Squats
Set 2: 19 Swings, 10 Goblet Squats
Set 3: 18 Swings, 9 Goblet Squats
Set 4: 17 Swings, 9 Goblet Squats
Set 5: 16 Swings, 8 Goblet Squats
Set 6: 15 Swings, 8 Goblet Squats
All the way to 1 repetition for each exercise

Workout 2: Interval Style

30 seconds of Kettlebell Swings plus 30 seconds of Jump Rope equals 1 set.
Do 10 sets for a total of 10 minutes.

Note: If you are completely new to doing swings, you may want to start at 5 minutes and work your way up especially because you may get too sore the next few days.

Workout 3: Mixed Style

One set consists of:

30 seconds Kettlebell Swings
30 seconds Plank
30 seconds Forward Lunges
30 seconds Rest

Perform 5 sets for your first workout and work your way up as your strength and conditioning improves.

Just by looking at the 3 workouts above, you can have an idea of how much variety you can have with your workouts even if you only know 1-2 kettlebell exercises. If you actually go and do any of these workouts, you will find just how intense they can get even for a simple set-up like the one I detailed above.

When you’re ready to learn a new kettlebell exercise, watch this video where I teach the Turkish Get-Up (TGU) which is another fundamental kettlebell exercise:

Turkish Get-ups are different from swings wherein you have to really focus on doing each step slowly and carefully. In the RKC community, we call swings as a grinding movement whereas TGUs are more of a strength exercise. So, if I were to add TGUs to my kettlebell repertoire, I would do this at the beginning of a workout separate from the swings when I am still fresh. Then, I would perform any of the above workouts as a finisher.

I hope this post on kettlebell exercises for beginners has inspired you to start working with kettlebells and add more fun, intensity, and variety to your workouts. If you have any questions about the videos or the workouts or about kettlebells in general, please post them below and I’ll answer them when possible.

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What Can Too Much Working Out Do to Your Body?

What Can Too Much Working Out Do to Your Body?

Posted on 25. Feb, 2012 by .

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A lot of people report feeling really good after a great workout session. In fact, I have a sign at my bootcamp studio which says, “No matter how you feel walking in, you always feel great walking out.” That adrenalin pump people get from exercise sure does a body good. But, there comes a point when too much exercise can actually have negative consequences to our health and fitness. This thought came to me again while taking a certification course with Z-Health. Dr. Eric Cobb, creator and co-owner of Z-Health, said that exercise is a drug which means we have to find its minimum effective dose (MED) in order for us to get the benefit we’re looking for while applying the most minimum effort. In general, MED is defined as the smallest dose that will create THE desired outcome. This leads us to the question, “What can too much working out do to your body?”

Exercise Overload?

While I knew exercise works wonders for the body and our health, I never really stopped and thought about at what point it can start to hurt us. One good example Dr. Cobb mentioned while discussing exercise MED is from a study published in March 2011 in the journal, “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” (1). This study, which was done in Finland, enrolled 172 sedentary adults and put them in an exercise program for 21 weeks. At the end of the study, the researchers found that 30% of the participants improved by 42% whom they called high-responders, 35% improved by 17-18% whom they called average responders, and lastly 35% got worse by -8% whom they called non-responders. The researchers attributed the lack of improvement in the non-responders to genetics.

While the researchers may blame genetics, it could be that the people who did not respond to exercise may have been given the wrong dose of exercise, either too much or too little, to a point where they actually became weaker or less fit. Whether we can blame genetics or not is still up for debate. I suspect the answer is more complex than just blaming genetics.

However, here are some known symptoms of too much exercise:

Injuries

We all have heard of people getting injured due to over-training. Over-training may result from working out too often (frequency) at a higher intensity and longer duration. Sure, we have heard of professional athletes who have done this but it is not uncommon for regular exercisers to experience this as well. Part of the reason this happens is people may do too much, too soon. An example of this would be people who are gung-ho about starting a fitness program as part of their New Year’s resolution. The journal of American Medical Association cited that 85% of people stop exercising in the first six weeks because they get injured. When people start from being sedentary to going to the gym or playing a sport 5-6 times a week because they want to get quick results in less time, there is no doubt that injuries will start to occur. Of course, over-training is only one factor that can affect the probability of injury, another factor is…

Imperfect Exercise Form

Imperfect form can arise from improper posture, previous injuries, and simply not knowing how to perform an exercise with perfect form. Injuries can happen if a person has improper posture due to rounded shoulders because their chest muscles are tight. When this person starts to do military presses, he/she will not be able to perform this exercise efficiently. Then, when this person repeats this movement in the gym week after week in this position, the probability that they will pull or strain muscles in their upper body is high.

A previous injury can also cause people to not practice perfect form. For instance, a person who has limited mobility in their ankles due to a previous sprain or fracture may not be able to perform a squat well. This is because in doing a squat, the ankle joint also has to move in conjunction with the knee joint. If this does not happen during squatting, this person may compensate by using their hips or knees more causing either of the joints to have more problems, pain, or injury.

Here is a video of how not to squat for a little fun :)

Last but not the least, many people may not know how to perform an exercise properly. Some signs of imperfect form is holding your breath during an exercise, bending your neck when you’re not supposed to, and making faces or tensing your facial muscles just to lift the weight up. In other words, if it looks like you’re about to hurt yourself while doing an exercise, you’re most likely doing it wrong. If you need more of a visual, just watch any sporting event where professional athletes seem to make extraordinarily difficult things look like they are easy to do.

In contrast to the squat video above, here is a video of Michael Jordan making extraordinary moves look easy:

There are also effects on our hormones when we work out too much. But, that needs to be an article all by itself because it can be a little complex.

What to Do to Make Sure You are Achieving the Minimum Effective Dose with Your Exercise Regimen

There is no argument to the fact that physical activity and moving well is crucial to maintaining good health. Here is a good guideline to use during a specific workout session to avoid over-training:

#1 Check your posture: Your joints should be stacked right on top of each other. For instance, your ankle should be right under your knees, your knees should be right under your hips, and so on. Your head should also be in what is called as the neutral position where your head is always in line with your spine.

#2 Breathe in synchrony with the movement you are performing. If you feel you have to hold your breath during a lift, your weight is probably too heavy for you or you are doing too many repetitions.

#3 Balance your tension and relaxation. Most of the time, when our muscles get tired or we lift a weight that is too heavy for us, we tend to compensate by tensing our facial muscles or bending joints we are not supposed to bend. If you cannot imagine this, visualize a person who is doing barbell bicep curls who is training to failure. This person will most likely grunt, squeeze their eyes together, and bend backwards (bend their lower back) in an attempt to lift the barbell towards their chest.

The points above happen to be the signs of lifting or moving efficiently. If violated, we can get injured and we can develop bad posture through multiple repetitions of imperfect form. If we approach each exercise session or sporting event applying the above techniques, we should not have to worry about exercising too much because when one of them suffers, we cannot do any more repetitions. At the same time, we can expect to get stronger, faster when training this way because we’re not training our nervous system to fail. Remember, only perfect practice makes perfect. Train smarter, not harder.

1: Karavirta L, Häkkinen K, Kauhanen A, Arija-Blázquez A, Sillanpää E, Rinkinen N, Häkkinen A. Individual responses to combined endurance and strength training in older adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Mar;43(3):484-90. PubMed PMID: 20689460.

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Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living, and Learning

Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living, and Learning

Posted on 31. Jan, 2012 by .

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As I was browsing my Facebook news feed the other day, I saw a post from one of my friends and fellow Russian Kettlebell Instructor, Mark Snow. He caught my attention because his post included a cover of Dan John’s book, “Never Let Go.”

I’ve been wanting to get a hard copy of this book but I had a huge stack of books on my coffee table still awaiting my attention :) Anyway, Mark’s comment was that the book is free on Amazon Kindle so I immediately downloaded it onto my Ipad. You may download you copy here while it’s still free (at least, at the time of this posting) => Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living, and Learning.

Let me just say that since I downloaded it, it was difficult for me to put it down.

A little Background on Dan John

I wanted to give you some of the things I’ve learned from it so far. But first, here is a little background on Dan John which I stole from his web site:

“Dan John has been teaching and coaching for well over thirty years. He is the former Strength Coach and Head Track and Field Coach at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, Utah He remains a full-time on-line religious studies instructor for Columbia College of Missouri and contributing writer to Men’s Health. Originally from South San Francisco, Dan came to Utah to throw the discus for Utah State University and recently returned “home” after 35 years away. He currently lives in Burlingame, California.

Dan has Masters degrees in history and in religious education, as well as intensive work at the American University in Cairo, University of Haifa, and Cornell. Dan has written articles for Catechetical Update and Utah Historical Quarterly, as well as being a columnist for the Intermountain Catholic. Dan was also a Fulbright Scholar in 1985.

In addition, Dan writes articles for a variety of strength magazines and publishes a little newsletter called Get Up, which registers up to a quarter of a million hits a month. You can also read his work at dragondoor.com and tmuscle.com, and magazines like Men’s Health and Outside and his busy forum at davedraper.com . If you sneak over the border into Utah and want to work out, give him a shout. Recently, Pavel Tsatsouline promoted Dan to the rank of Senior RKC Instructor.”

I have been very fortunate to have met Dan several times through my RKC certification and re-certification. I have also heard him speak many times and he has always given his audience great information about training and life in general. Oh yes, I should not forget to mention that I’ve hung out with him at the bar several times as well. This is one of those things you would not want to miss if ever you do get a chance to talk with a guy like Dan because he is such a great storyteller.

A Lesson Learned from “Never Let Go”

Back to “Never Let Go.” I love this book and it resonates with a lot of people so much (as evident from the 5 star Amazon reviews) because Dan breaks down any complex topic into something simple and inspirational. He spurs you into action with his simple philosophies and entertaining but educational stories.

If you do not plan on reading the whole book, here is an important lesson I learned from “Never Let Go”:

Dan says that we all have but one can of free will. Of course he explains this so much better than I can but he basically cited a research study where people were asked to solve a series of complex tests without any chance of success. The researchers timed the people on how long they would solve the test before giving up. In another group during the same study, the researchers offered the participants cookies. People who said no to the cookies quit solving the tests way earlier than those who said, “What the hell, give me a damn cookie.” (his words…lol)

In real life, we deal with a lot of choices that use up our free will. This is the reason choosing to exercise or eating healthy consistently can be difficult for a lot of people. Why? Most people are caught up in the daily grind that is life where we have to take the kids to school while we’re stressed about the deadline at work then we have to go to the PTA meeting or come home late from work. If we did get home early, we have to decide what to cook for dinner, worry about the next day, and so on. You get the idea.

Dan John suggested 3 things that will help you get more free will but you will have to read the book for that as I feel that I would do him a great disservice if I tried to put them into my own words :) Again, you may download you copy here while it’s still free (at least, at the time of this posting) => Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living, and Learning.

Once you’ve read it, please be sure to come back to this post and leave your comments. Would love to know what you got out of Dan’s book.

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Top 3 Foods that Help with Belly Fat

Top 3 Foods that Help with Belly Fat

Posted on 09. Jan, 2012 by .

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The holidays are over and yet,the calories we ate during this time still linger. So, I thought I’d write about some of the foods that help with belly fat because this is usually where our weight gain shows up first. I remember a dear friend used to say, “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips” whenever he ate high calorie, fattening foods. I thought it was funny. Personally, I tend to gain 5 lbs during the holidays or any vacation trip for that matter. I just know my body and this is its typical response. However, the first week I’m back, I usually get back to my pre-vacation (or pre-holiday) weight. In this post I want to share with you some of the strategies I use to do just that. At the same time, I have a feeling this may be a popular post at this time of year.

The Hidden Culprits

Typically, when we gain weight at a rate of 5 lbs a week due to overeating (such as in my case), we tend to increase inflammation in our body. This is the first culprit. Because of this inflammation, we tend to retain water and gain weight. Inflammation may be caused by various factors such as the type of foods we ate, lack of physical activity, the volume of food we ate, and so on. So it only makes sense to make changes in these areas when we are looking to get back to our pre-vacation weight.

Most of our fat cells reside around the waist and hips. They are located here because one of the functions of fat cells is to store toxins and keep them away from our vital organs like the stomach, liver, kidney, and so forth. Another hidden culprit lies in these toxins because our body’s response is to render them harmless to us and our organs by diluting them with water. As a result, we retain unnecessary water when we have toxins in our fat cells. This is also the reason the belly and hips are common problem areas for a lot of people.

Top 3 Foods that Help with Belly Fat

The most important thing we want to address when reducing inflammation and eliminating toxins is nutrition. I get better results when I choose my foods wisely. Here are my top 3 foods:

#1 Fish or Other Omega-3 sources

Omega-3 fatty acids work well with reducing inflammation. We can get them from most seafood or in raw nuts like almonds and pistachios. Most of us should already have the habit of taking omega-3 supplements as I do. But, I tend to increase my fish consumption when I feel I need the extra boost especially during times of overeating like the holidays.

When choosing fish, choosing the wild variety versus farm raised is the way to go. Farm raised fish tend to eat a lot of toxins in a smaller environment such as the container they are bred in. There is still that chance of mercury intake when you choose wild fish but as long as you do not eat it 3 times a day, 7 days a week, you will be okay.

#2 Naturally Diuretic Vegetables

There are vegetables that are naturally diuretic and detoxifying. Diuretics simply increase the amount of urine we excrete. Thus, helping with unnecessary water retention. Normally I would not recommend a diuretic but if it’s part of your diet in moderate amounts, it is fine. Plus the fiber in vegetables will also help eliminate waste from your system much quicker. Some of my favorite naturally diuretic vegetables are cucumbers, asparagus, beets, and celery.

#3 Green Leafy Vegetables

Here is an article I wrote about green leafy vegetables and why it’s good for us: The Benefits of Drinking Wheat Grass Juice. The antioxidants found in them and other fruits and veggies also help reduce inflammation and keeps our cells healthy by fighting free radicals.

If you need new ideas on meals to lose belly fat or need to overhaul your kitchen, you may want to check out this new cook book I found: Real Food Cook Book by Scott Kustes. I especially like the spice mixes towards the end of the cook book. I used the savory spice mix recipe when I roast whole cornish hens or chickens (see main post picture).

As far as nutrition goes, one of my very first go to techniques is still intermittent fasting (IF) like with Eat Stop Eat in the summer or 2 Meal Solution when the weather gets cold. The reason for my different choices with weather changes is I cannot do 24 hour fasts in the winter because I tend to get cold. Besides the fact that fasting helps reduce inflammation, it also helps me get an additional calorie deficit, especially on my non-workout days when I’m not burning extra calories through my workouts.

Eating foods that help with belly fat along with focusing on getting your calorie deficit through IF should easily get you back to your pre-holiday weight as it did for me. The route you choose will depend on your preference and what works best for you in terms of your lifestyle. But, you cannot go wrong when you incorporate the foods I listed above even if you do not practice IF.

Have a comment or question? Join the conversation by posting below.

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Wheat Grass Benefits for Weight Loss and Health

Wheat Grass Benefits for Weight Loss and Health

Posted on 17. Aug, 2011 by .

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I first encountered wheatgrass at Jamba Juice a few years ago. Besides thinking that it was an interesting concept to drink juice from grass that didn’t taste good at all, I really didn’t think much about wheatgrass benefits until I started taking a green food supplement. This curiosity led me to research exactly what is in wheatgrass that could be beneficial to our body. The answers surprised me.

A Little Background on Wheatgrass

I can’t talk about Wheatgrass without mentioning Charles F. Schnabel. Schnabel was an agricultural scientist who popularized the plant in the 1930s when he fed fresh cut grass to his dying hens. After doing this, the hens recovered beautifully and even produced eggs at a much higher rate compared to the healthy hens. Schnabel then started drying the grass to make powder out of it so he can give it to his family and neighbors to supplement their diet. He even got two large corporations to sponsor more research on the plant and by 1940s, wheatgrass powder began appearing in major drug stores across America and Canada.

Wheatgrass can be grown indoors and outdoors. The plant is harvested at the jointing stage which is the time before the grass leaf begins to elongate and form a stem. The nutritional analysis I’ve seen from web sites that sell wheatgrass powder or juice show that this is the moment when the plant’s nutrients are at their peak. Nutrients like chlorophyll, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes are just a few of the nutrients found in wheatgrass.

You can even buy wheatgrass kits and grow them indoors at home. However, mold can grow on seeds that did not germinate when the seeds are planted to close together on indoor trays. Some people have reported getting anaphylactic shock after taking a shot of its juice because of this mold. So, to be safe, either get on outdoor grown plant or make sure that the plant is tested to be mold-free when you decide to supplement with wheatgrass.

Wheatgrass Benefits

There’s still a lot of debate regarding the benefits of wheatgrass to our health. Some say that the nutrient profile is similar to just about any green vegetable you can find at the supermarket. But, my research convinced me that there is more to this plant.

The one component of wheatgrass that captured my attention the most was chlorophyll. You may have heard of chlorophyll when you studied biology in school. It is found in the leaves of green plants and is their main energy source. Chlorophyll’s structure is very similar to hemoglobin which is a material that transports oxygen in our blood.

Research also found that chlorophyll has the ability to remove toxic chemicals from our bloodstream. This makes it excellent for cleansing. Livestrong.com even said that people who regularly drink wheatgrass juice report increased energy. This increase in energy may help you workout longer and harder while burning more calories in the process. One study on rats found that a diet high in chlorophyll from spinach juice can help prevent colon cancer(1). This finding is especially beneficial to people who eat a lot of red meat, instead of white meat, and not a lot of vegetables. But, the research doesn’t stop with rats.

One study was done on children with Thalassemia, a genetic form of anemia, who require regular blood transfusions. After taking 100 ml of wheatgrass juice daily for a year, half of the patients only needed 75% of the amount of blood they used to get in order to stay well (2). Researchers found similar results when 20 adult patients with pre-leukemia started taking 30 mls of the juice daily for 6 months. These patients were able to have longer intervals between their blood transfusions so they didn’t need to have as much blood compared to before they started taking wheatgrass juice (3).

The benefits of taking wheatgrass has also been studied in cancer patients for its cleansing and antioxidant properties. One study showed 60 breast cancer patients who took wheatgrass juice daily during their first 3 cycles of chemotherapy. The patients were able to reduce toxic chemical accumulation in their bone marrow and were able to reduce their dose of the chemicals used during their chemotherapy (4). The juice was able to give all these benefits to cancer patients without affecting the effectiveness of their chemotherapy.

Should You Take Wheat Grass?

We can see from these studies that the nutrients and other components in wheatgrass may provide recovery benefits to people who suffer from some type of illness like cancer, leukemia, anemia, etc. This just means that healthy people who do not have any apparent illness can benefit from drinking wheatgrass juice even more. But, of course, there is no substitute for eating a healthier diet.

If you decide to supplement your diet with wheatgrass juice or powder, consider making these changes as well for optimal benefits:

Eating more green vegetables, non-starchy vegetables and fruits.
Reducing red meat consumption and eating more lean meats.
Eating less starchy carbohydrates and simple sugars like bread, pasta, sugar, etc.
Last but not the least, get more exercise or physical activity.

  • Eating more green vegetables, non-starchy vegetables and fruits.
  • Reducing red meat consumption and eating more lean meats.
  • Eating less starchy carbohydrates and simple sugars like bread, pasta, sugar, etc.
  • Last but not the least, get more exercise or physical activity.

I prefer to supplement with wheatgrass powder because of the convenience it provides during times when I’m not able to eat a lot of veggies. I get my supply from Amazing Grass because they process the plant under low temperatures to preserve its nutrients. They also grow their plants outdoors which assures that there is no mold contamination. I prefer the powder compared to the juice because I get the whole leaf which means I am also getting insoluble fiber along with the other nutrients. I usually either make a green drink and sip it throughout the day or mix it in my smoothies.

(1) De Vogel, Johan; Denise S. M. L. Jonker-Termont, Martijn B. Katan,and Roelof van der Meer (August 2005). “Natural Chlorophyll but Not Chlorophyllin Prevents Heme-Induced Cytotoxic and Hyperproliferative Effects in Rat Colon”. J. Nutr. (The American Society for Nutritional Sciences) 135 (8): 1995–2000. PMID 16046728

(2) Marawaha, RK; Bansal, D; Kaur, S; Trehan, A; Wheatgrass Juice Reduces Transfusion Requirement in Patients with Thalassemia Major: A Pilot Study. Indian Pediatric 2004 Jul;41(7):716-20

(3) S. Mukhopadhyay; J. Basak; M. Kar; S. Mandal; A. Mukhopadhyay; Netaji Subhas; Chandra Bose; Cancer Research Institute, Kolkata, India; NRS Medical College, Kolkata, India; Central Institute for Research (Ayurveda), Kolkata, India. The Role of Iron Chelation Activity of Wheat Grass Juice in Patients with Myelodysplastic Syndrome. Journal of Clinical Oncology 27:15s, 2009 (suppl; abstr 7012) 2009 ASCO Annual Meeting. Presenter: Soma Mukhopadhyay, PhD

(4) Bar-Sela, Gil; Tsalic, Medy; Fried, Getta; Goldberg, Hadassah. Wheat Grass Juice May Improve Hematological Toxicity Related to Chemotherapy in Breast Cancer Patients: A Pilot Study. Nutrition and Cancer 2007, Vol. 58, No. 1, Pages 43-48

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Artificial Sweeteners Side Effects: Real or Imagined?

Artificial Sweeteners Side Effects: Real or Imagined?

Posted on 19. Jul, 2011 by .

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I’ve always wanted to find out the real deal about artificial sweeteners side effects but just never had the time. Lately though, I’ve been trying out different natural sweeteners because of their flavors and ended up researching their nutrient breakdowns and possible health benefits. So, I thought it would be great to compare natural versus artificial sweeteners as a lot of you probably have similar questions as I did.

My research started mainly because I was so intrigued by palm syrup. I encountered palm syrup a few weeks ago when I tried out the master cleanse diet by Stanley Burroughs. If you’d like to find out more about this cleansing program, you go to the distributor’s website at neeranatural.com. But, I will not discuss it in further detail here. I mentioned it because I loved the flavor of palm syrup so much, it made me want to use natural sweeteners now.

Zero to Low Calorie, Artificial Sweeteners Side Effects

The first question I wanted to address is the question about artificial sweeteners and their side effects. I will talk mainly about the two most popular artificial sweeteners, Aspartame, and Sucralose.

Aspartame received its bad reputation after several e-mail hoaxes spread throughout the internet about its alleged disease causing properties like cancer and multiple sclerosis. If you are not familiar with Aspartame, you might know it better by its most recognizable name brands, Nutrasweet and Equal. After reading several scientific studies, I found out that Aspartame is safe unless you have a genetic disease called Phenylketonuria. One of Aspartame’s byproducts in the body is phenylalanine which can cause detrimental effects to those born with this disease. Long story short, if you don’t have this disease, you can take Aspartame. The FDA has also released a statement about it and you can view the statement here: FDA Statement on Aspartame.

Splenda

The next artificial sweetener is Sucralose which goes by the name brand, Splenda. Sucralose is 300 times as sweet as table sugar and is not broken down by the body which is why it is mainly a zero calorie sweetener. The FDA reviewed data from 110 safety studies in humans which looked for possible toxic, carcinogenic, reproductive, and neurological effects. After reviewing these studies, the FDA declared it to be safe for everyday use. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends an average daily intake (ADI) of 9 mg/kg of body weight. This translates to about 24 tablespoons a day for a 125 pound person which is a lot more than what most people would use in a day.

Natural Sweeteners that Make the Grade

While artificial sweeteners have the advantage of being zero to low calorie when it comes to fat loss, I like natural sweeteners for their taste. The added benefit to natural sweeteners is they usually contain vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to our health. What are natural sweeteners? For the purpose of this post, I define natural sweeteners as those that come from nature and are minimally processed. Here is a list of some of the natural sweeteners that I like to use every now and then:

Stevia

Stevia is a type of leaf from the Sunflower family. Like Aspartame and Sucralose, stevia is also non-caloric. Even though it is a plant, it still received controversy and was even banned in the Unites States and other countries. But, Stevia has been used in countries like Japan for decades and in South America for centuries without any side effects. Stevia is made by extracting the sweet compound called Rebaudioside A (or Reb A for short) from the leaf. I mostly use Stevia in my coffee or to add a hint of sweetness to my lemon water.

Pure Maple Syrup
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[Maple Syrup Farm]

Maple syrup is made by collecting the sap from Maple trees and boiling it to make a thicker consistency. This makes the syrup very minimally processed. But, you have to be careful in reading the labels when buying Maple syrup. Most of them can be imitation or contains very little maple syrup like the ones you can find by the pancake mixes at the grocery store. Make sure to read the label and the ingredient list should only contain Maple syrup and nothing else. You can get this syrup in different grades. Grade A is fairly light in color and flavor while Grade B is darker and has a stronger maple flavor. I use Grade B to top pancakes or for cooking.

Maple syrup is a good source of Calcium and potassium and contains traces of vitamins like Thiamin, Riboflavin, and Niacin.

Honey

Honey is probably the most popular natural sweetener because of its great flavor and nutrient content. While still a sugar, it does have traces of antioxidants in it including Vitamin C. This means that it offers more nutrient value compared to table sugar. Like Maple syrup, Honey is minimally processed and can even be eaten in its raw form. Most types of Honey are only filtered to remove wax and pollen. But, there are also highly processed forms of it like the pasteurized kind where the honey is subject to high forms of heat which can destroy its nutrients. I like to put Honey mainly in tea or if I’m making a protein shake after a workout.

Blackstrap Molasses

I am fairly new to using Molasses but before I bought my first bottle, I did my research on it. I chose unsulfured Blackstrap Molasses because it comes from mature sugar cane. Molasses that come from young sugar cane need sulfur during the extraction process and I like my sugars as minimally processed as possible. Not having the sulfur can also result in better flavor. When I first tried it in my cereal, I thought it had a really strong caramel taste. If you’re thinking of using it for the first time, its best to try it with a recipe with the exact amounts or put smaller amounts at first. I mainly use molasses for sweetening my oatmeal but I don’t use a lot of it. I have yet to try it for baking because i don’t do much of it but it can withstand heat which makes it ideal for baking.

Molasses is a great source of iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. One (1) tablespoon of it supposedly contains about 20% of our daily value for these minerals.

Palm Syrup
syrup_palm

The syrup that started my research. I was so surprised how rich Palm Syrup tastes. To me, it has a light caramel flavor. This is probably the lowest calorie syrup amongst all the syrups I’ve mentioned in this post. It has about 40 calories per 1 tablespoon. I found that I don’t need to use a lot of it because I like it mainly for the flavor and not the sweetness. It has a dark brown color and a similar consistency as maple syrup. Like Molasses, Palm Syrup contains potassium and calcium.

Of all the sweeteners I’ve mentioned this is probably the most difficult to find and when you do find it, it is rather pricey. The one I found is left over from the cleanse I mentioned earlier in this post and costs about $47 for a 1 litre bottle. I also put this syrup in my oatmeal and it makes my pancakes tastes amazing. This would have bee the best sugar substitute in my book if not for the difficulty of finding it.

Should You Make the Switch to Natural Sweeteners?

In my opinion, moderation is the key when it comes to carbohydrates and sugars. Carbohydrates are so commonly available in our society nowadays that we have to be more aware of our carbohydrate intake. I love sweets but I’ve learned to moderate my sugar consumption. Natural sweeteners are a great alternative to sugar because you are getting some vitamins and minerals from it but we have to remember that its still sugar and it still affects our insulin and blood sugar levels just the same. Long story short, use them to add more flavor to your meals but use them moderately.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to leave them below.

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The Meal Frequency Conspiracy

The Meal Frequency Conspiracy

Posted on 19. Jun, 2011 by .

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After writing about managing stress in my last post, “The Super Stealth Fat Loss Destroyer,” meal frequency came to mind. What does meal frequency have to do with stress? Since my time is very limited due to my hectic schedule, I found that I do not have time to cook more elaborate, time consuming meals. In addition, my stress makes 2 full 24-hour, Eat Stop Eat (ESE) style fasts a lot more difficult to get through. This is the reason I’ve never really been a fan of eating 5-6 meals a day. First, I don’t have time to stop, prepare, and eat those meals. Second, I’ve tried higher frequency meals before with not-so-great results. Some people, like bodybuilders, may do well in these types of protocols but I guess it’s just not suitable to my metabolism and lifestyle.

My New Favorite Fasting Protocol

So, in an effort to manage my weight and not add stress to my life (by worrying about what I’m going to eat during the day), I looked for a solution that incorporates some type of fast while also keeping my meals on the low frequency side. So, I read my previous article, “,” and figured out what fit my current situation best. While the Lean Gains protocol sounded interesting, it was too complicated for me. So, I kept looking. In that same post, I also talked about IF life by Mike O’Donnell. I was intrigued by his 2 Meal solution program and the coaching that came with it.

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My immediate reaction was to e-mail Mike and asked him how his program is different from Eat Stop Eat. I was expecting some generic answer but Mike really took the time to answer my question and tailored his answer to it. Here is a copy of the response I got from him:

2mealsolution

2mealsoultionreview

After his answer, it was clear that I want to find out more about the 2 Meal Solution and how it was going to help simplify my life. Two meals a day sounded really good to me. So, I signed up for the program and the coaching e-mails.

The Super Simple 2 Meal Solution Protocol

  • Low calorie days with 2 meals condensed in an eating window of your preference
  • Free eating days when you can eat whatever you want within reason

After my first 2 weeks of switching my fasting style to the 2 Meal Solution protocol, I lost 3 pounds without even trying. This means that I didn’t really go out of my way to buy groceries I would not normally buy or create a nutrition plan. I just stuck to mainly eating whole foods on my low calorie, 2 meal days.

The best part for me with this protocol is I set what Mike calls “free eating days” during the weekends. These are days when I was able to eat junk foods or not-so-healthy options at a reasonable amount because my husband and I tend to eat out on these days. Three (3) pounds or 1.5 lbs a week may not sound like a lot to most people but keep in mind that I did this with minimal effort. My workouts included about 40 minutes of interval style strength training, 3 times a week and I was at a plateau for a very long time. Given that situation, my results are quite amazing.

My experience also goes to prove that eating higher frequency or 5-6 meals per day is not necessary to lose fat/weight.

Mike has also switched his coaching e-mails to 5-minute daily videos which are so helpful as he reinforces the most important principles of the 2 Meal Solution E-book in them.

Is the 2 Meal Solution for You?

If you like ESE but haven’t been able to get your 24-hour fasts like I was, this may be a great alternative for you. The people who will do well in this program are the people who don’t like to have snacks or smaller meals throughout the day. One factor that I tend to use when it comes to incorporating new diets into my lifestyle is “compliancy.” If you are able to consistently follow it for long periods of time because it fits your lifestyle, then it will work really well for you. On that same note, if you get your hands on a well designed diet program but are not able to follow it, it will not do you any good.

How I Plan to Use the 2 Meal Solution

I plan to continually use the 2 Meal Solution protocol for as long as it fits my lifestyle at most 5 days a week. But, when I am at my ideal body weight and do not need to lose any more fat, I will practice it 3 days out of the week with more moderate eating days in between. The plan is very flexible. Just make sure that you do not bend the rules too much (which there aren’t a lot of) on your condensed eating days when you get to your goal weight or percent body fat. If you want to find out more about Mike O’Donnel’s protocol, go here: 2 Meal Solution.

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The Super Stealth Fat Loss Destroyer and How to Beat It

The Super Stealth Fat Loss Destroyer and How to Beat It

Posted on 30. May, 2011 by .

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You may not notice this super stealth fat loss destroyer until it has done its damage, you’ve gained several pounds, and you’re left wondering, “what the heck happened?” I’m talking about the transitions we go through in life whether they are big or small, good or bad. This can come in the form of moving in with your significant other, getting married, moving into a different city, losing a job, getting injured, breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, getting a new job, losing a loved one, etc. You get the idea. Most of the time, these transitions throw us off our “game” in many ways but most of the time we are not even aware that it’s happening and what it’s doing to us.

change

I’ve definitely have had this happen to me when I decided to quit my job and start a fitness bootcamp from scratch along with my husband deploying to the middle east. Thinking back now, this was a good change in my life because I was leaving a job I was not happy with and moving towards a career I was truly passionate about. But, the combination of the lack of structure in my day and the stress of starting a business ( which is like taking care of a new born baby) in addition to losing my main support system soon took its toll on me and I started to turn to things that were comforting to me. Ten (10) pounds of weight gain later, I was wondering how I got there.

What Makes Us Gain Weight During Transitions in the First Place?

In life, we learn everything after the fact – usually. Looking back to my behavior during that major transition from employee to business owner, I realized that I was turning to food for comfort. I discovered that a lot of people tend to do the same thing no matter how good or bad the change the’yre experiencing. We can turn to food because you’re really happy and in love with someone or we can also turn to food when we’re feeling really down. Personally, I turned to food for comfort because it was the only thing that was familiar to me in this new situation I found myself in.

For other people, it can be that their routine has been affected by moving in with their significant other or just being in a different place. For instance, if a woman moved in with her boyfriend, she may find that she eats out with her boyfriend more because he’s not used to cooking at home. If she was used to cooking at home and able to control her calorie intake that way and all of a sudden she starts dining out more often, there is no doubt that she will gain weight. Another example would be someone who had a job that requires them to be active and transitioning to a desk job without changing their eating habits.

The Best Thing to Do When in Transition

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We have so many choices available to us nowadays. But, when we are out of our element, we end up choosing the wrong ones and we do not notice how these choices have affected us until the shit hits the fan (not a good situation to be in). Part of this is due to the fact that we get bombarded with useless information sometimes that we forget to pay attention to the things that truly matter – like our health. It is unfortunate because this is how most people tend to “let go” of their healthy lifestyle and their waistline. This is the reason I wanted to write about this here at my blog to bring it to our attention so we can do something about it when it does happen.

The first step to taking action in anything is becoming aware that a change is happening and acknowledge what it can possibly do to our health. Ask yourself a few key questions like will this change affect my workout routine, my activity level, how I prepare meals, or where I get my food from (cooked at home vs. dining out)? Is the new situation so stressful that I will not be able to get at least 7 hours of sleep or get enough time to rest? Most transitions are not simple. There are usually several factors at play that cause a big shift in your lifestyle.

Nip it in the Bud

Once you are aware, you then decide what your course of action will be. Fortunately, it’s easier to get back to your usual workout and nutrition routine once you have established it for a couple of years because you have created some pretty strong positive habits. The problem occurs when the new situation throws you off completely and all of a sudden you feel like you don’t have any control over anything. This is when the problem usually starts. When this happens, you’ll have to find out what exactly is causing you to feel out of control.

When in doubt, I would start with how I feel. There are usually some strong emotional reasons behind our food choices and whether we decide to exercise or not. Going back to my story, the things that threw me off my game the most were stress from the new business and the feeling of sadness when my husband deployed. These are two major transitions I didn’t anticipate and I almost felt like I was in depression. Granted, I still worked out but there were days when my nutrition choices were so poor that it made me feel even worst.

Back then, I was so immersed in my emotions that I could not observe what was happening to me and look at it objectively. I felt like I self-medicated with food just to numb out the stress and sadness I was feeling. I imagine that most people going through any transition would probably feel similar to how I felt and most of the time that it’s difficult to even think straight.

Looking back to those days (almost 1.5 years ago), I would take some time to analyze what I’m feeling and deal with it the best way possible (instead of shoving it deeper and self-medicating with food), set a schedule where I am getting enough time for work, play, and rest; surround myself with supportive, positive people; and follow a nutrition and exercise plan that has more flexibility and will not add stress to my life until I can do my regular schedule. To tell you the truth, this is exactly what I did but it just took me a lot longer to realize what I needed to do to get back on track.

I hope you learned a lesson or two from this post because I feel that this is something everyone will go through at some point in their life. The first step is to be aware (of anything and everything) that goes on around you. Once you do that, all you have to do is to take positive steps until you start to feel better and feel like your normal self again.

negativity-change1

On a lighter note, change can be a really good thing. We’ll just have to make up our minds how it will affect our lives.

Have you experienced a minor or major transition in your life that threw you off your game? If so, what was it and what did you do to over come it?

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