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Are Those Calories Worth Eating

Being a former professional cook and now fitness professional, this question is always a subject of debate. 

Let's be honest, healthful food can only taste so good. REALLY TASTY food often contains high calorie ingredients like fats (cheese, oils, butter) salt, sugars and less than optimal cooking techniques (i.e. frying).

I like roasted chicken but you know what's even tastier? Fried chicken. Greek Yogurt parfaits are good but Ice Cream is even more delicious. 

The following is my opinion for you to agree or disagree with: If I'm going to indulge it's got to be worth eating. 

On a day to day basis I eat healthy food. I indulge a bit but 90% of my day is composed of lean proteins, a lot of vegetables, seeds/nuts, black coffee, and water. I rarely stray from this. My only compromise is if I somehow end up at a place I really have been wanting to try or an unexpected lunch meeting where I try to order a healthy item off the menu. On the weekend I make time to go out with Sara. Here we tend to make similar decisions about where to eat opting to support a small business producing a quality product.

I believe most people would benefit by having this mentality. What you decide is worthy of eating is completely up to you. If you're consuming these "worthy" meals in moderation, you'll end up eating more home cooked meals and saving a lot of money too. I would rather eat zero "healthy" pizzas and burgers then eat a really delicious one on the weekend. Skip the diet sodas and have a regular one once a week. All these things are a great way to live life while being mindful about what you're putting into your body. 


  • Opt to savor the foods you want to indulge in by saving them for the weekend. Instead of eating Jersey Mikes or Subway for lunch during the work week, bring food from home and enjoy a really tasty sub on the weekend. 
  • During the week eat more home cooked meal. This allows you to eat more nutrient dense-lower calorie meals. 
  • Support small local businesses, they are often more transparent about the quality of their food and will gladly talk about it if you ask politely. 
  • Have a plan if you veer off your regularly scheduled meals during the week when possible. If I'm going out to a restaurant, I always scope out the menu for a healthy option. 

5 Misunderstood Principles of Eating Healthy

Ate an extra carrot I need to add the calories! Carry the one...

Ate an extra carrot I need to add the calories! Carry the one...

1.  Eating healthy isn't 100% science. Keep things simple by following basic principles and using common sense

I don't count calories, macros or use any sort of fancy complicated formula or equation when preparing my food. 

I did a great job if: I ate real whole foods (especially plants), ate when I was hungry, stopped long before I got stuffed and fit in an hour of movement. 

Nutritional Science is the backbone of proper eating recommendations. You however don't need to actually know or implement all of that fancy-pants science into your dietary protocols.

The healthiest and leanest people I know don’t overthink nutrition science each day. But you know the people who do? Yo-yo dieters. These are the kinds of people who need an app for every single food they consume and freak out at any deviation. 

Take home: Unless you're an elite athlete or a physique competitor, you don't need to worry about the science. Being healthy and lean for life is EASY without a 4 year degree in Nutrition. Principles over plans.

Did you remember to soap and scrub your food? Yeah. No.

Did you remember to soap and scrub your food? Yeah. No.

2. Healthy eating isn’t black & white. It’s doing your best with what you have.

You can have the world's greatest meal plan and guess what? You just ran out of Kale and the store is closed! plan calls for kale. NOW WHAT!!!!!????

Great scrap the whole thing, I'm going to eat that pie I bought?

Instead if you run out of kale, do you have ANY other vegetables in your fridge? Spinach? Romaine lettuce? Even frozen vegetables would suffice. 

Being able to make swaps and not just follow a black and white approach to your meal planning is vital to long term success. 

Take home: Even the best laid out plans can go awry and to make the best of any situation. Often we scrap our plans because we have unrealistic expectations for how we should be eating. 

3. Healthy eating isn't calorie counting. It’s paying attention to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.

This is a tough one for people to understand. They think if only I could eat "x" calories each day, I'd be so friggin hot and ripped. 

Except trying to tabulate your calorie intake and expenditure is a losing proposition. There are so many factors that can change nutrient density of vegetables and your proteins like: Variables during growth, your cook preparation style, and even varietal of vegetable. 

For some, if they are unable to count calories they don't quite know what to do with themselves. But if you were to look around the world, there are many people who are in great shape because they are more in tune with their body's hunger cues. 

Take home: Learning to pay attention and knowing when you're 80-90% (I'm comfortable) versus being stuffed (think after a buffet) is vital to not needing an app for that.

I'd say that Roast beef looks pretty good...I made this =) 

I'd say that Roast beef looks pretty good...I made this =) 

4. Healthy eating isn't always AMAZING. It's good but not that good either

Okay let's be honest steamed vegetables and baked fish isn't nearly as good as a hamburger or pizza.

You can however retrain your tastebuds to enjoy different types of foods, healthier foods. It takes time but it can be done. It's why we eat something from our childhood that we recall as AMAZING, and now it's only okay. 

Take home: Food should always taste good, but not so good that it blasts you out in outer space every time. Again this goes back to expectations about how food is going to taste. If you've only been eating big sugary and salty foods, of course the broccoli is going to taste awful.

5. Healthy eating isn’t easy. But if you get organized with your daily routine it enables living healthily, and you'll find it gets easier and easier

Piggybacking off the last point, yes it's tough to eat 2 cups of roasted cauliflower instead of that basket of fries. 

Remember the hardest part is starting. Decide to have oatmeal instead of cereal. Choose roasted chicken over fried tenders. Great job! Now there will be a bevy of friends, family, co-workers, Dr. Phil, TV, and magazines telling you otherwise. Stay the course! Have a support system that will back you when things get hard and remind you of the goals you need to achieve.

Take home: Luckily the more often you choose being healthy over a late night taco truck run, the easier it will get. I promise you it will. 

Bonus:  Healthy eating isn’t restriction. It's about striking a balance seamlessly into your life so you can make better healthy choices without feeling "deprived"

If I said to a client, starting tomorrow they could no longer have any dessert, I might end up in the poor house. Can't get between a person and their dessert!

But what might also happen is said client going home and inhaling all the ice cream, cake and cookies they can get their hands on. 

There's no such thing as "clean" or "good" foods and bad foods. There's simply food. 

I recommend to all my clients, indulge a bit everyday.

Take home: We don't set restrictions. But we do practice good portion control. Have a few cookies, just don't eat the whole bag!


Food is Not Fuel

"Gotta get you calories in! Food is fuel, gotta keep it up. Your body is like a car, keep it filled with gas and you're good to go!" - Overheard at the gym

When you treat food as simply fuel, calories, or energy you will miss out on a much larger picture about what food really is.

*Food Provides Micronutrients

For example Calcium helps:

  • build bones,
  • clot blood,
  • regulate blood pressure,
  • keep our muscles and heart pumping, and
  • maintain cell communication.

Magnesium plays a role in more than 300 enzyme systems and helps with:

  • protein synthesis,
  • muscle and nerve function,
  • blood sugar control,
  • blood pressure regulation,
  • energy production, and
  • transport of other minerals.

Folate (vitamin B9) helps:

  • convert food into energy,
  • the nervous system (including the brain) function,
  • tissues grow
  • red blood cell production.

None of these aforementioned nutrients provide fuel for the body because if you're missing key nutrients or vitamins in your diet your body won't work the way it's supposed to. 

Food Provides Phytochemicals

These are chemicals found in plants such as flavonoids, phenolic acid and stilbenes/lignans.   Some of the most well known phytochemicals are found in soy, teas, and berries. These nutrients have been known to:

  • offer DNA protection against free radicals,
  • protect against cancer,
  • decrease risk of heart disease, and
  • reduce overall mortality.

All these chemicals do a lot but one thing that it doesn't do is provide the body with only fuel for energy. 

Our bodies have priorities and will extract nutrients by any means necessary to keep you alive, even at the expense of your muscles! I'm sorry does your car catabolize it's own headlights to keep you driving when you're low on gasoline? The human body unlike a machine is a constantly evolving living organism. And as such is infinitely more complicated than a car will ever be. Cars are jealous of humans. 

Food as a Chef

As someone who has cooked professionally and stood for hours to provide customers with quality food I take the idea that food is only fuel with some offense. To some food means so much more than calories, carbs, fats and proteins. Food tells the world a story offering insight about you as a person. A parent cooks because they love being a provider for their children and spouse. For many food can be an outlet for creativity and without it they would wither away in a cubicle. To many on social media food is a status symbol of being "cool" because they had an opportunity to dine at the newest hipster foodie restaurant. Food is an adventure, because you get to try something once when you're traveling. Food is a social magnet for friends and families where you gather together and break bread with people you love. Where you get your food tells the world you care about supporting local small family run farms. 

So tell me again how food is ONLY fuel for your body?


*From Precision Nutrition

Is __________ healthy? How to Read a Food Label

Photo by  on  Unsplash

Photo by on Unsplash

This list was recent published alongside the article "Is Sushi "Healthy"? What About Granola? Where Americans and Nutritionist Disagree by the NY Times.

Occasionally we stand in an aisle at the market and we're wondering, is this healthy? I don't see why technology can't be of some help there, but what's most alarming is that most of the list is  either a raw ingredient or a pre-packed item which usually means it has a food label. 

Of the 50 foods, assuming you aren't cooking from scratch, usually come prepackaged with a label.

  • hummus
  • popcorn
  • peanut butter
  • nutella
  • granola
  • chocolate
  • coconut milk
  • canned tuna
  • feta cheese
  • beef jerky
  • greek yogurt
  • turkey bacon
  • yogurt
  • dried fruit
  • tofu
  • cottage cheese
  • polenta (it's technically cornmeal, but if it's polenta, that means it's now been cooked and seasoned, thus should come with a food label)
  • smoked salmon
  • sparkling water
  • brown sugar
  • rye bread

I left out pizza, as it could or could not be frozen so I didn't add that. 

And of the 50, here are the raw, typically unprocessed ingredients:

  • couscous
  • quinoa
  • shrimp
  • tuna
  • rice
  • honey
  • tilapia
  • watermelon
  • pork
  • chicken
  • salmon
  • basmati rice

My two big take aways from this article:

1. Most people have an extremely vague sense of how to select food for a balanced  nutritious diet. I understand this is a small sample size, but definitely indicative of the fact that we are extremely undereducated when it comes to knowing what is a solid quality source of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Sadly this article only covers the glaring issue of not knowing WHAT to eat and not how much to eat. We should know chicken (not fried) is probably a solid choice and possibly not know the portion sizing, instead the majority of Americans don't know either!

2. We don't know how to read a food label, or interpret a food label. 
(Note: I understand that this has been a problem for years considering all the rumblings about attempting to redesign the label to make it even easier to understand. Sadly I don't think it's that difficult to understand but a'las sigh.... 'Merica.)

Starting from the top: Serving Size

Many manufacturers try to pull one over on consumers by listing 12g of sugar in one serving, not the whole package which contains 8 servings. Whatever imaginary label this comes from (I took this label off the FDA website) it contains a whopping 96g of sugar per package. 

Your daily allowance of sugar should remain below 10% of total calories.

Total Calories

Learn to use percent Daily Values (DV) to help evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily meal plan. The calories and percentages listed are based off an adult consuming 2,000 calories a day. 

A food item with 5% of DV of fat provides 5% of the total fat that this individual should consume a day. Percent daily values are for the entire day not only one meal or snack. 

YOU may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day, so for some of the nutrients you're going to need more or less than the listed 100% DV.

You should also aim for lower amounts of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and sodium. Look for higher amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Most Americans do not consume enough fiber, which should be 35g/day for all adults. 

Goes without saying but if a majority of your diet comes from fruits and vegetables without labels, you'll be better off. 

Other Nutrients

  • Protein
    A percentage Daily Value for protein is not required on the label. Eat moderate portions of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, plus beans and peas, nut butters, seeds and soy products.
  • Carbohydrates
    There are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber. Eat  fruits and vegetables plus whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta.
  • Sugars
    Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, occur naturally in foods such as fruit juice (fructose) or come from refined sources such as table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup.

It stands to repeat again: Added sugars will be included on the Nutrition Facts label in 2018. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming no more than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars.

Ingredients List
Decide what you want (and don't) in your food.

  • Hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils (source of trans fats)
  • High fructose corn syrup (not necessarily because it’s handled much differently than other sugars, but it usually indicates a non-nutritious food)
  • Added sugars (including hidden sources like syrups)
  • Artificial colors (example: FD&C Yellow #5)
  • Canned items not labeled BPA free
  • Atlantic or farmed salmon (instead of wild caught)
  • Products from China (which has recently been busted for many food safety violations, such as melamine in baby formula and heavy metals in various foods and herbal preparations)
  • Animal ingredients
  • Gluten
  • Non-organic
  • Nitrates/nitrites
  • High sodium

When in doubt remember the following

Prioritize Ingredients Over Calories

Why We Start Falling Apart at Age 30+

Relax, you're not Lebron. Now I have to clean up all that chalk!

Relax, you're not Lebron. Now I have to clean up all that chalk!

I'm about a month away from turning 30. There's been a fascinating development in 2016 for all the individuals I grew up with, we're getting old and our bodies no longer rebound as quickly as it used to. Weekend binges with your friends and starvation diets that worked at 20 stop working at 30 and you can't un-do the damage. 

OKAY...Guess I'll start going to the gym you say to yourself.

Most restart training focusing on muscular fatigue (aka "the burn"). There's a huge problem with this type of approach for anyone who hasn't ran a mile since high school.

Muscular tissue regenerates approximately 90 days from end to end. Connective tissue however, takes about 200-210 days to regenerate. There's a HUGE gap there. So when an individual is fairly detrained and decides to go H.A.M at the gym, you're making a big mistake. You cannot cheat time, there's no supplement or happy dance to speed up the adaptation process. You will need to work within those parameters and be patient with your progress.

(Note: Please If it hurts, STOP! It will takes longer to repair an injury than it does to simply avoid it.) 

When we were young we ran around from sun up to sun down. We hit high school and for many it's their first structured athletic program. We believe the body did well based on that structure, instead of the years of activity as a child. If you're good, you continue playing in college. You graduate and get a job. You go to the gym or play basketball every day and get by.

Suddenly you get married and little by little your level of physical activity decreases. Now you have children, and you haven't been hitting the gym. You spend much of the time hunched over at your desk. And your body yearns to be healthy. You join the softball team and blow out your knee rounding first base. I don't know how many children were blowing out their knees rounding first base. When you run around with your kids or join a rec team, an injury is almost always joint related. Very rarely is it an injury to the muscle belly. If a person trains, they often only train one linear motion e.g.- Squats so that injury should come as no surprise.

There's a point where you abuse the body that it will not come back from.  We all see older adults with an extremely hunched forward posture, neck extended hard and chin up to see where they're walking. They can't fix this, the vertebrae are rectangular and years of being hunched over it compresses the front end into a trapezoid. Once it gets to this point, it's game over.

The same thing occurs to our muscle bellies. Individuals who get frozen shoulder or impingement, that's because you stop using the muscle. Lean muscle is metabolically expensive (meaning it requires a lot of energy and calories to maintain it) by not using it the body sees it as non-essential and will begin breaking it down. Of all the processes in the body, endurance is regained the easiest, followed by muscular strength, mobility though once lost takes the longest to regain.

As the muscle begins to lose its' size, but the body will begin to deposit collagen on it and the belly will shorten. For example, the traps start shrinking until a lot of it is connective tissue along the edges and you end up with that silhouette above.

Keep this in mind when you see an adult who's hurting, shuffling their feet and can't pick up their knees with their necks extended; remember they weren't this way when they were 30. This is because of inactivity.

 If it happen to them, it can definitely happen to me too.