Glad Tidings! Motivation and High Reps

I believe it was back day here, and perhaps bad hair day too! It’s a bugger trying to use your dog’s electric clippers to cut the back of your head, but I am getting better at it! (I wear the mask all the time at the gym by the way, except for this quick selfie, as you can see I am socially distanced, well, alone.)

I imagine many of us have been struggling with various fitness/ wellness related issues––motivation, attitude, concentration, and sanity to name a few––over the past nine months, with more to come. I found motivation my biggest hurdle. I say this because exercise seems to have always come naturally to me. Movement was built into my routine, and when it wasn’t I became fairly grumpy. Of those few nine to five jobs I had, I could never leave exercise to the end of the day. I would be wiped out and the gym would be packed and kind of moist and smelly at the point. For those times I tried to hit the gym early morning or somehow trade lunch hour for gym time.

My mom told me I did a lot of kicking as a fetus, and I was the earliest of my siblings to walk (and talk), so yes movement has been on the agenda. As I’ve gotten older, to be honest, it seems a bit more difficult to get movement into the equation. Time does indeed race by. Seeing clients throughout the day however, I had been able to usually schedule my own gym time into my schedule. Then, at the gym I could be focused, no distractions, and get on with it.

Well with working out at home, and in a rural setting there seem to be a million distractions. I can’t seem to look anywhere without thinking that something needs a paintbrush, some pollyfilla or a spade or trowel or a hose or a pair of clippers. These distractions do not present themselves at the gym. And I’m sure that no matter where you are living, whether it’s a mansion with a pool in the basement or a wee studio tucked into Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, you’ll find some distractions.

Anyway this is not all negative. I bring you good tidings of great joy! Over the year and in time for the home workouts, I read (peer review studies––S&C report Chris Beardsley––not just listcicles) that the sweet spot for reps to enhance hypertrophy (muscle growth), is actually somewhere above the 16 rep mark and can go as high as into the mid 20’s. NOW STOP! That does not mean you breeze through sixteen easy reps and sit around, check your messages and watch swimming puppies videos, waiting to crank out another sixteen easy reps. No. When you do those reps you take it to almost failure. By ‘almost’ I mean “if I do two more I’m gonna die, or I am going to compromise my brilliant technique (and you must have brilliant technique before you continue, lots of guys––AthleanX, Scott Tousignant––on Youtube to show you brilliant technique. Me too if I am training you). You do your reps to that point and allow yourself some good recovery of 60-90 seconds, or superset another body part, then recover. Perform 3-5 sets.

I tried this on myself. At that point I did not have more than dumbbells at home and the gym was closed. My weights were much less than what I use at the gym, and I was doing fewer reps at the gym with heavier weights. What the hell, I thought, I’ll give it a try it.

First of all, having that amount of reps gives you time to make the mind body connection, something so important as we workout. (Your workout should be a time of focus and in-the-moment kind of meditation, not an eye rolling what can I think about or dwell upon to get through this boredom.) It also helps you focus on technique. As well, your muscles are working longer than a rushed set of eight or five or three at a greater weight. These extended reps increase your overall volume of weight lifted, and your muscles’ time under tension.

I tried it, and lo and behold I saw the results, and I felt the results, the next day. Fatigued muscles that had had a good workout, not in the gym, but on the edge of my garden where the plants scream to be watered. Sixty to Ninety seconds for recovery? Hmmm, just enough time to pull some weeds before the next set. (It’s winter now, no weeds.)

So, seeing the results helped with my “why bother” motivation. Some other things did too: sometime I just said to myself, “look, let’s just go through the motions, no expectations, just move,” and invariably I would get caught up in my own little world of striving and soon the workout was over and I’d done something.

I know weights are scarce right now, but if you have some, or bands or anything, the Oxford dictionary (the big one) or some soup tins or a wet towel, taking those reps to almost “failure” will give you results. I wish you well. Be gentle, kind and forgiving to yourself now and always. Yours in continued wellness.

The Vegan Barbados Christmas Rum Cake

A work in progress that has finally hit its stride!

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I had spent some privileged childhood Christmases on the beautiful island of Barbados. During one of those stays a lovely woman, the wife of a Bajan politician, Sir Theodore Brancker, introduced me to Christmas rum cake at their Boxing day party. I’ll never forget her giving me a cake of my own to bring back to Canada, where I very carefully sliced off rations to make it last as long as possible through the Canadian winter. The following recipe is the closest I have been able to come in terms of flavour, of the blessed cake. I will print it here before I lose it to the back of the recipe drawer and it ends up too shredded to read.

I did my research over the years on the internet, so I have augmented where necessary and improvised where there was no information. This is how I do it. No promises. You may have more baking common sense, instincts or talent than I. So use your discretion. Here goes:

Take at least 6, maybe eight cups of various raisins and currents and soak them in a bowl that has enough rum in it to almost cover them. If you run out of rum, add some sherry or port or whatever you have kicking around. Soak for days weeks or months.

Puree the raisin/ booze mixture in a food processor.

Add some spices: allspice, cloves, ginger, cinnamon. Stir it all together.

Here’s where it gets vegan: Instead of ten (yes 10) eggs, use a cup of ground chia seeds and two cups of water. Let sit until they goo-ify. This will have the gooey sticky consistency of ten eggs that you aren’t using.

Mix the chia goo with about 2 1/2 cups of brown sugar.

Another vegan substitute: use two cups of coconut oil semi firm, and mix with the chia sugar mixture. Us a beater for this.

Take four cups of flour with 1 large tbsp of baking power and a teaspoon of baking soda and about half a tsp of salt. Sift that all together (or use 4 cups of self raising flour).

Now mix the dry with the wet and add some vanilla extract, about a teaspoon.

Stir. Don’t want it too dry, if so add some booze, the batter should just fall off the spoon.

At this point you should have the oven heated to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

I have used a large bundt pan some years, this year I am using small loaf tins so that I can gift these or just use as semi individual servings (line your pans). Keep in the oven for 1-2 hours. Keep an eye on it/ them. The smaller containers will likely bake faster. Watch which rack you put these on you don’t want them to burn on the bottom.

Serve with a splash of rum on top, or light the booze if you’ve put enough on. Add some coconut whip cream or vegan ice cream.

Put away the calorie counter, it’s Christmas.

Ingredients: 8 cups mixed raisins; about a bottle of rum; mixed spices; 2 cups brown sugar; 10 chia “eggs”; 2 cups coconut oil; 4 cups flour; 1 tbsp of baking powder; 1 tsp baking soda; 1/2 tsp salt; vanilla extract

The Obstacle Course

(I was going to call this the “minefield” but for obvious reasons I won’t.)

I want to share some recent insights into the “task” of weight-loss since the whole procedure can be pretty difficult if you are someone like me who doesn’t spend much time in his left brain. When people start talking calories or points my tinnitus kicks in, my heart beats hard, and I look for an escape route (this all being said by me, a trainer and nutritionist) and I go into a temporary deaf and panic mode. Ahhggh. Numbers! One term in math in highschool I hit a new low with a 35% average. And that was me, goody two shoes, never skipping a class!

I look to myself and my journey for inspiration as I write this article. I am probably no different than you. We both might want to lose a couple or more pounds but the whole world of books and articles and things you sign up for is really damn daunting. Now if you are a left brainer and thrive on numbers and goals and can see that kind of thing through to eternity you have my utmost respect. But I have to write this for the rest of us.

Okay here goes. When I was a kid my mother used to say what the two word rule for weight loss was: Eat less. Fair enough Mom. However! Here’s the thing. Eat less of what?!

As a nutritionist fitness person who struggles from time to time with motivation (my own and clients’), dedication and the hope that maybe someday again in the future I can walk on a beach and play in the ocean, I think it is my duty to share my journey with you (just recent journey, no memoir writing here).

Now, I have recently seen my day as a kind of walk, you know, on a path from early rising in the morning to lights out, book falling off the bed, fighting for bed space with my dog, lights out. On this journey or path (I need a clever graphic here), you see the path leading from breakfast (a little pile of food), to lunch (another pile of food) to dinner (another pile of food off there on the horizon maybe). Fair enough, that is kind of the way most of us eat, some are eating four meals a day, others graze, others fast. But you’ll see that my little path-struggle-journey thing might help you.

Like my walk with my dog on our country road, on the way to the lookout we occasionally come across litter, someone has emptied their ashtray (WTF!) on the side of the road, someone has tossed a 40 pounder empty Bacardi bottle, sometimes a Tim Horton’s coffee cup, McDonald’s wrapping etc. Anyway litter isn’t my point. My point is that I have realized my little food path from my breakfast lump of food to my lunch then dinner lumps are occasionally littered with high calorie (albeit healthy) snacks, or distractions, kind of like the litter analogy. Aha. Notice how I said “healthy?” Notice how I said “high calorie?”

I realized the other day that while getting dinner for the dog and then me and my partner, I was constantly dipping into the cashew “tub” and more or less eating them by the fistful. Now if you were to tally it up or read the caloric content on the side of said “tub” you might notice that a few fistfuls of cashews represent about, well, a lot of calories. Here I will kind of allude to numbers. Most of us likely eat between 2000-4000 calories a day given our weight, activity level etc give or take. So if I do the math on the cashew tub I see that I have likely consumed a half to a quarter of my calorie requirement, and I haven’t even had dinner yet! (Stir fry with cashews.)

I am not knocking cashews! They are so damn healthy and I use them for many of my vegan cream sauces and they work so well. But I am kind of knocking unmonitored snacking.

My point is, if you can notice these little diversions from your daily eating routine you might see that it is very easy to shave off a pound or more, over time. No weighing your food, or trying to figure out the difference between an ounce and a gram. Just cutting out that “energy bar” “nut fest” or can of pop.

As a result I keep some washed grapes in the fridge and pop one or two in my cake hole whenever I feel the urge. I keep fresh fruit, bananas, and some easy to peel oranges out, so I am definitely getting my fiber and nutrients. I try to stay on top of my water consumption.

And on the weekend I relax around all of this, because the moment I start to tally or question or limit or diet I turn into a miserable, food obsessed, son-of-Sigourney-Weaver’s-Alien. Really. Back off and get me a cinnamon bun!

So there it is. My philosophy once again. Tweak it! Be observant. Most of all be realistic. That’s the healthiest place to start your weight control journey.

Are You Still a Vegan?

IMG_7485Now, one thing to make clear, I am not going to make this into a Vegan diatribe of how you should eat. I am merely ranting here about that tired question I get asked all too frequently. (And I know others get asked much more insensitive questions regarding a number of things from race to sexuality to marital status, but this is my bug bear for today.)

“Are you still vegan. Are you still on that diet?” I get asked this frequently. I haven’t asked the askers if they are still whatever they happen to identify themselves as. One acquaintance made a religious conversion for purposes of marriage. Are you still a (fill in the blank, the mind boggles).

Just as my sexuality is not a whim, yes I am still gay, nor is my way of eating. It is not a diet. I am not depriving myself of anything. I am not on a diet. Veganism is not a diet. You can gain, lose, win, die or thrive as a vegan.

I am a vegan by choice. I made my choice ethically in order to step away from a system that convinces us we need to exploit animal products to survive and makes us dependent on them. I am so happy to be outside of that system. Now there are so many other systems that bind us: money lending, self medicating, media that is and is not social. But stepping out of this one system has been liberating. No one can make me eat what I don’t want!

And I am vegan by ethical choice (though the health benefits are far reaching), and since you can access any number of animals being treated inhumanely on the internet, I won’t spoil your appetite by showing them here.

For my money, it seems to take far too much work and strain on the planet let alone the animal I am supposed to consume, for one bad meal of rubbery chicken or stringy beef at a second rate restaurant. All that suffering so I could spit my chewed meat into a napkin and think about what I want for dessert.

I am also asked if I cheat or have cheated on my “diet”. To which I may answer “have you cheated on your principals recently?” Shoplifted, just a little? Killed someone? Lied? So, no. I don’t see the upside of abandoning my principles. It makes no sense.

So yes, I am still vegan and it is no discipline or struggle, there is a huge amount of fresh whole food to satisfy my needs and cravings. I can even have the vegan version of a Big Mac or a hotdog or ice cream if I want. Just as a carnivore wouldn’t live off of these foods and expect to feel 100%, nor would I, to those of you who think that vegans are busy gobbling up beyond meat burgers 24/7. There is processed vegan food, as there is processed animal based food. You have to do your homework in either case.

There, I hope that answers the question. I am vegan for ethical reasons, which may make you squirm as you examine your own reasons for eating what you eat. It’s easy to pretend we don’t know where our food comes from. I know my answer can be misleading since I am about health and wellness, but can’t that extend beyond my own private celestial body into the wellness and well being of the planet?

Worried About My Vegan Protein?

 

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(photo: drinking my carbs)

Since becoming vegan I’ve continued to be invited to various dinners out and had company to my place. It happens. People take a big breath and ask you for dinner. I usually take a big breath back and quickly say “I’m vegan by the way so why don’t I bring a main dish?” I say this quickly so they don’t feel put upon that I am expecting them to make me something unpalatable like a cold brick of tofu on some raw carrot sticks.

In one instance my hostess, as she prepared dinner and I ate a goodly amount of hummus (made with chickpeas and tahini, both wonderful sources of plant based protein) that I had made, expressed concern that I wasn’t going to get enough protein with the tempeh (fermented soy/ high protein) that I had brought to accompany the vegetables she had made. I didn’t know what to say. It was my first encounter with someone (other than my mother) expressing such a thought. What I should have said was:”Oh really? Do you know what I ate earlier in the day? Have you been keeping tabs on my macros throughout the day and throughout the past twenty four hours? Do you think that even though I am a certified nutritionist that I have no idea what my body needs? Do you know how much protein per pound of body weight a person needs? Do you know the questions surrounding body building and protein requirements that continue to be discussed and put to the test? Do you know I am a nutritionist? How can you see my beautiful form in this tight fitting t-shirt and not notice my fabulous musculature?”

Anyway I didn’t say that, but I do have to say that you likely get enough protein if you eat a well balanced diet throughout the day. You don’t need to combine rice with beans at a meal, you can combine certain food that are incomplete proteins over a twenty four hour period. your body breaks these proteins down into their component amino acids and then reassembles it all for your body to use.

Which reminds me that a well meaning hostess had foisted her hummus on me letting me know it was vegan, then described the contents, which contained yogurt !? I’ve never actually heard of a hummus recipe, vegan or not, with yogurt in it. With the thought of my coming to dinner she seemed to forget how to make a vinaigrette for a salad or cook some vegetables in olive oil, she failed to realize she was already quite planted based (except for the osso bucco she was going to serve).

Anyway you might very well starve to death before you suffer a lack of protein, if you are eating a well rounded diet, since there is protein in so much of the food, including broccoli, that we eat. So the next time someone expresses concern over the amount of protein you’re getting, you can tell them you’ve already met your requirement for the day.

 

 

For My Vegan Friends

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I was at a big city gym the other day, on a pass, just because I like to work out when I am out of town and in a place bigger than here. I love to see what the other places have to offer, especially big hotels and resort gyms that have great new equipment that is deeply underused. But this place was well used and appreciated by the local population I am sure.

I was eaves dropping on two older women sharing recipes and dinner party ideas, when I heard one of them say, “how do you know if a person is a vegan,” to which she quickly gave the answer, “they’ll tell you.” So I piped up, “I’m a vegan!” as a joke. I told them. I hope they took it as a joke, although I am a vegan. Anyway I am offering some hard earned words of wisdom here to my vegan friends, but non-vegans are welcome to read on.

Recently I have been asked to couple of omnivore dinners and cocktail parties, and after the invitation is extended the host/ hostess conveys some panic as to what to serve me, and I then offer to bring something or anything, but I am reassured that no, they have it under control, after all.

I usually appear, hopeful, with a bottle of wine, and am offered a glass of wine and shown to the hors d’oeuvres in the dining room or kitchen island around which everyone is seated or standing. I scope the landscape of cheeses, meats, fried cheese and fried meat, battered cheese and meat, and some bowls of mayo, sour cream and cheesie type dips, to see a lone plate of crudites and beside it a bowl of trail mix. Who in their right mind wants trail mix with their wine? I might love it on a canoe trip under the stars, shivering and thanking the universe I haven’t been eaten by a bear. Am I to crunch my way through the evening, trying to stay sober on carrot sticks and bird seed? Did my host not say they had it under control? What temporary amnesia hit?

What I am trying to say is where is the guacamole? You just mush up some ripe avocados don’t you? Surely they’ve been to Mexico, or failing that, a Mexican restaurant? And where is the hummus? Chick peas and sesame butter (tahini) for heaven’s sake. You don’t need a recipe. You just have to live in Canada. You can even buy this stuff pre-made. (I did have a hostess put yogurt in her hummus once, for some odd reason. Panic had set it, I imagine.)

Anyway when they assure you that they have it under control, don’t believe them. Make some stuff and put it in the car. Make hummus. Make guacamole. I made a lentil and sauteed onion dip the other day, easy. I made a beet and soaked cashew dip. You can make dips out of a whole lot of stuff, artichokes and white beans and whatever is next on my list. Buy some fake cheese too, from The fauxmagerie or Nuts for Cheese both available at major supermarket chains.

Go to the party fully armed with dips, cheese, Mary’s Crackers and have a blast. If you’re worried about a main course, stash a bean salad flavoured with cilantro and red onion and a lemon vinagrette in the back seat. Dessert? A fake Daiya cheese cake–it can’t be any less healthy than a real one, and you don’t eat the damn things every day anyway or you shouldn’t. If they ask how you get your protein (you poor soul), because everyone will because everyone’s mother did, show them what you just brought, there is more than enough protein for everyone there. You won’t die in the next ten minutes, you’re muscles won’t fall off, your hair and nails and organs won’t shut down. You had wine for god sakes!

Go forth, eat, drink, be merry and don’t gamble on the words of your host or hostess that they have everything under control.

A New Year’s Wish

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Since I started my training journey and my little Movablebeast company, I have often found my self describing my clients as my angels, touchstones supporting my journey (literally in my car house to house), throughout my day. Yesterday on the train back from Toronto and an impromptu Christmas treat of seeing the Nutcracker, I reflected on the people who move through my days as a trainer. These are not only people I train, but the whole gamut of familiar gym goers, clients of other trainers, colleagues, facility owners, and those devoted to maintaining good health.

Indeed my clients have been my angels; they have sustained me throughout my years as a trainer, with their laughs, their conversation, their input and also the coffee and snacks they tend to offer (not to mention paying for my services). My clients make my days pass relatively pain free, and though I am tired at the end of a long day, I can say I am happily tired.

But it is the others as well, the ones I see day to day where I train, who support with a glance, a kind (or sarcastic) word, a joke, a bit of flattery, a well earned criticism. It seems we are all there, sustaining one another not just through wellness, but through life.

A glance, nod or wink may seem trivial at the time, but it is the stuff of support and unspoken energy, that contributes to the ease with which we return each day to do one more rep.

I’ve had clients do a spell of training with me, and because of scheduling or finances or any other variables, do not continue. Some rebook later down the road or keep their options open. But just the fact of meeting and getting to know some of these, yes, angels, I have come to realize that I am living some kind of charmed life; I am constantly exposed to a variety of wisdom, intellect and humour that has enriched my life a thousand fold. Some of us have wept together and most of us have giggled uncontrollably at some point.

If you are reading this and you are on my trek, throughout my day, or my life, then you know who you are and you should know how much I value the smiles, the recipes, the unspoken raised eyebrows, the book loans, the shoulders to cry on, the shared confidences, your boundless wisdom and mostly your friendship.

This year, two of my clients passed away, yet their impact has been far reaching and, sad as I have been, I am also baffled that I had the good fortune to ever cross paths. I am still living under the sway of conversations we had so many months ago.

My wish is that we all continue this journey and find support when and where we need it, to continue, in spite of the physical challenges which will present themselves, and the other challenges that we are all familiar with. May your road be filled with the kind of good fortune mine has been blessed with, may the community of angels sustain you throughout.

Sunday Vegan Dinner

Food is far more than sustenance for many of us living in the first world, although there are many of us as well in this “first world” who can’t afford any indulgences other than eating enough calories to stay alive. (I do have a problem when massive generalizations exclude the reality of poverty in our midst.)

Being a person with enough to eat, for most of my life, I can say that I have had my little rituals around food. Friday usually means pasta, not sure why, but it is my TGIF reward for making it through another week. And more recently Sunday dinner had become a day when I would roast an organic chicken and do up a host of roasted veggies–until I became a vegan!

It wasn’t so much the food as the ritual around making the food that caught me by surprise. We REALLY looked forward to those dinners–cranberry and chicken fat dripping down our chins, loads of butter on something, anything. Not to forget the smell of a yummy chicken roasting in the oven. We all, even the dog, were beside ourselves with anticipation.

It was a hard habit to put to rest and there was a bit of transitioning when I became a vegan. I became “one,” overnight, so no gradual indoctrination. I went cold turkey!

Anyway all this to say that Sunday dinner customs have evolved phoenix like out of the embers. Dinner is much cheaper and definitely as much fun, and very very healthy (and like in the movies, no animals were injured in the process).

I now make soup on Sundays! It’s our new yummy comfort food. This week a friend gave me a bag of beets from her garden, which I have very little experience with. too small to peel so I boiled the whole batch and then cooled them and pulled the skins away. (Poor beets.) I cooked up some miso stock with onions and then a big pot of green lentils. I whizzed the whole thing and presto, a high fibre, high protein soup that has the lovely and subtle flavour of borscht! The I whipped up a corn bread to go with it. Millions of recipes online and if you do the chemistry of substitutions it’s too easy.

So there you go, cold outside, warm and very cheap inside. Loads of nutrition, still a mess in the kitchen, not much has changed!

If I Can Make Muffins…

Okay so the picture is the muffins before they baked. As you can see from previous posts I have no qualms about eating carbohydrates. Almost every weekend I make a batch of muffins which are more or less gone by Monday morning. My muffins are healthy and tasty and cheap to make.

But the point is that I am advocating whole food for your engine. You don’t need a diet if you are eating good whole food. If you are eating a diet of cookies and ice cream before you go to bed, then you likely know the outcome or are pretending not to know the outcome.

When I make my muffins I don’t use a recipe but I make sure that the dry ingredients kind of override the wet ones by about hmm, well two cups of dry to one and half liquid. So, I use my whole spelt flour, or oat flour or combination, add some baking soda and baking powder and a bit of salt — that’s it for dry unless you want to throw in some hemp flour, quinoa flour, the possibilities are absolutely endless!

For wet I use any kind of milk type thing, soy, almond, cow if you want. I add some oil and sometimes apple sauce and maybe a handful of frozen berries that I have thawed.

I mix it all together and then into a preheated oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes and voila!

So anyway, muffins are carbs, yes and carbs are fuel. Healthy whole grains are great for your gut health, fibre? Hello. Protein, yes and healthy fat from the oil you used. You will never find me promoting a “diet” per se. If you are on some kind of deprivation way of eating with lots of unrecognizable stuff going into your cake hole, mystery drinks and health bars that plug you up, I would recommend getting some whole foods in there too–a banana instead of a three musketeers? An apple instead of a kit-kat or Mars Bar.

Food is good. Good food is great!

Vanity thy name is…

So here I am in a photo, of me, that I took. An innocent selfie, but I do have to turn the camera phone thing around to make sure I got it just right, camera overhead so the sagging bits seem firm…

Anyway it’s Monday and I am counting on all of you to drag your asses out of that cozy bed and dive into your day. In a few hours you’ll be saying, what was all the fuss about?

To be honest my weekdays and weekends are so different that there is definitely a changing of gears usually happening around now as I write this. The weekdays are spent with clients talking about everything from exercise technique to the latest political disaster to the definitive Mexican bean casserole recipe. My weekdays are far more solitary, and, I believe rejuvenating, so that I have the energy to go back into the world. I eat lots, try to sleep well and get outdoors.

I can’t offer any wisdom for a Monday morning other than to say you are not alone. I am looking forward to that first cuppa’. And I am visualizing that first press or pull or push that I’ll do when I get to the gym. When I have the luxury of time I try to visualize the order of my workout, as well as the look and feel. I carry this into the gym with me to use between sets, when I am resting–a little mini closed eyes visualization of how my next set will go, will feel.

There will be time enough for talk, when I am with my clients, checking form and giving a wee bit of motivation, but for my own workout, it is focus time, on me, the guy in the picture!