Moving to a Plant Based Diet

This year sure has been full of changes for me. First, I started a new job as a wine buyer for a large retail store. Going back to having to be at a place 8 hours a day 5 days a week has taken adjustment, since I’ve worked for myself pretty much for close to a decade now and had freedom to fit in gym, friends and social activities whenever I wanted. Not so much anymore. Secondly, my husband and I moved to a new town.  That change I absolutely love, we have a big backyard now that is fenced in for our children (two boxers) to roam around in and I am now only an 8 minute drive from the gym – no excuses!!

Lastly, the biggest change in my life has been that I’ve decided to finally go meat and dairy free. I have been pondering this decision for months, if not years. My love for animals and passion for animal rights is the only thing that gets me really riled up, and when I see clips of the absolute horrific practices of the meat and dairy industry, I am depressed for days and can’t get the images out of my head.  I also am the mother of two boxer puppies who I love above everything- so why do I then go and eat a pig, a cow or a chicken who has the same feelings and emotions and the right to a quality life as my dogs? I could no longer live with myself or watch myself in the mirror in the morning, and finally decided it was time.  I can’t explain what a relief it is, and how light and free I feel.   I am no longer contributing to another living being’s pain and suffering.

I was never a big meat eater to begin with (I ate mostly chicken if anything) and have always loved vegetables and had limited my intake of dairy anyway since I was prepping for shows the past three years. Today there are so many wonderful alternatives to meat, cow’s milk, yogurt, cheese and butter that I honestly could see no valid reason for continuing to support the macabre actions of people who think the only purpose of animals is to feed them and serve them somehow.

The first question I think every person who is not eating animal products get is “How do you get your protein?”  Protein can be found in many sources, such as nuts and nut butters, legumes, non dairy milk,  quinoa, tofu, even vegetables. I recently switched to a pea and bamboo shoot protein powder that provides just the same macro nutrients of protein, carbohydrates and fat as my old whey protein.  I also make sure to supplement with BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids) before/during/after my workouts as well as a multi vitamin twice daily. Often, people exaggerate their intake of protein – we don’t really need to be overloading on it, in fact when I was eating chicken and eggs I only had about 4 oz or so of chicken and 3 egg whites at a time (and I’m tall/a big girl).  I fill up on vegetables which are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and.. yes, some protein too!  By balancing my macro nutrients I am consuming exactly the same amount of calories as I was before.  I already feel so much lighter knowing I’m not stuffing my body with meat and dairy that has been poisoned with hormones and antibiotics and.. let’s face it, fear, torture and death.

It took a while before it dawned on me why it would be useless to give up meat if I didn’t simultaneously give up dairy. The dairy industry, is in fact – even worse than the meat industry in how they pain and torture the cows. A cow has to remain pregnant and give birth her whole life in order to produce the milk that we humans OH SO DESPERATELY NEED (not), and so she is repeatedly inseminated with semen (i.e. raped) and her off springs are ripped away from her right away, causing her immense grief for days.  Male calves are deemed useless, and kept in cages where they are not allowed to move so the meat gets “tender”, and given minimal food to cause that anemic look to the skin that people love to see when ordering veal in restaurants.  The female calves suffer the same fate as their mothers.   The apparatus that gets suctioned on to their (abnormally LARGE) uterus cause infections (the cows scream in pain when the machines are placed on them) and puss enters into the milk and guess what … YOU.  And the cycle continues.  Want milk still?

There are plenty of muscular, healthy vegan body builders out there… To continue eating meat and dairy just because we are afraid we are going to lose our muscles is just sheer, utter BS, to put it mildly.   A question I have gotten in just the past couple of weeks since I announced my new lifestyle is “You don’t eat meat or dairy? What’s left?” thinking that the vegan diet is limited and boring. Nothing could be further from the truth! While I am not 100% vegan yet as I am transitioning slowly (I still eat some select seafood),  I have no problem finding a great variety of foods that will satisfy me and give me nutrients. Imagine all the legumes out there; black beans, chickpeas, lentils, lima beans, red beans, white beans, pinto, etc.  Then there is quinoa, all kinds of rice, and.. .my secret weapon: Fresh herbs and a huge variety of spices! I have gotten better at using exotic spices to brighten up my food and bring it to life. Today I made a bean soup stuffed with different vegetables, and I added fresh rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and oregano, as well as a Persian Spice Mix I got at my local spice shop as well as toasted cumin, coriander and fennel seeds.  I also toasted in some garlic and sauteed onion, added vegetable broth and… magic was born!

I will be blogging more about my experience switching over to plant based foods and dealing with people’s reactions… they have not to date been very positive, as most people just can’t seem to understand, basically because they don’t have the information or believe in “bro-science” if you will.  People also don’t want to feel uncomfortable with their own choices (i.e. of eating meat) so they feel they have to defend themselves, which I understand to a degree – I did it myself most of my life.  Regardless, I am the happiest I’ve ever been, because I am no longer turning a blind eye to the injustice that goes on to defenseless, loving animals around the globe. I want to make a difference, just like I want to make a difference in my own life of building a strong and healthy body. I hope you will join me !!


Don’t put limits on your imagination!

I watched my favorite sermon on TV this morning, and was struck by this simple message.  Sure, we hear it all the time in many inspirational posts seen on FB, Twitter and elsewhere, but seldom do we give it much thought.  Sometimes it may even come off as irritating, annoyingly positive; fit people who just stepped off the treadmill and the endorphins received may feel like all their problems are gone and they can take on the world.  Well, isn’t that exactly the purpose of working out and being fit?


What does the above statement really mean? Putting limits on your imagination will only limit what you are able to achieve in life.  Many times, what you can imagine is much smaller than what you are actually capable of! The problem? We don’t dare to dream and imagine big things for ourselves!

What is the difference between successful people and people who don’t reach their goals?  We all put in work and try to do our best in life.  But the people who succeed have that one additional advantage: they believe in themselves.  They dare to dream large. They don’t doubt for a second that they can achieve whatever they put their mind to and more, despite many disadvantages they may have.  “If he / she can do it, so can I”,  is so true, but instead of only imagining doing the same as your next door neighbor, dare to think you can do even better. Push yourself, stop making excuses and stop trying to find all the (bogus)  reasons as to why you are not able to.  Instead of using energy to come up with all the things that you don’t have, all the situations that are difficult in your life – focus on all the elements that are in place that you do have, think of everything you have been blessed with and go from there.


If you start a sentence with “I can’t imagine having that body”, “I can’t imagine spending that much time in the gym” or “I can’t even begin to imagine having that much money”, your statement will come true.  Because you have already given up by uttering those words and what you think will become reality.  That lady next to you in the weight room with the banging body, doesn’t have more hours in the day than you. She was also rewarded 24 hours, but she may choose to use them differently than you, and  she may utilize the other 23 hours in her day in other ways than you. Instead of reaching for that bag of potato chips and sitting down by the TV at night after a long day, she goes for a walk or chooses to clean the house or select to eat a cup of yogurt because that will feed her muscles and help her reach her goal.  She may not have the perfect “genetics” either (an excuse you hear a lot of from unfit people looking for reasons as to why they “can’t” or are not working towards their dream physique). Her torso may be too long/ too short, she may have trouble with holding too much weight in her lower body as well, but that doesn’t stop her.  She knows she will get there one day, as long as she puts her work in, day in and day out.


I certainly didn’t think I was going to be standing on a stage in a bikini and high heels in front of a large crowd at nearly 40 years of age.  But I had a vision, and I kept working towards it.  The result? A body better than what I had in my 20s, and a six pack I didn’t even think I could achieve a decade ago, but all of a sudden when I started on my fitness journey and decided I was going to go all out, I changed my mind to “I can’t” to “I can”.   My situation wasn’t different than any others, I had just changed my thinking, switched the “possibility” button to on instead of off.  Despite many people’s initial skeptic reactions and negative comments, I finally realized that I was worth it, that I was just as good as anybody around me and deserved to do this for me.


This translated not only into my fitness life, but into my career and personal life as well.  I saw changes in how I handled my personal relationships, I became more secure in who I was as a person (fitness changes you not only on the outside but on the inside as well!) and consequently I achieved more peace in my life.  At work, I went for opportunities I previously had not dared go for, because I had convinced myself that everybody else was more qualified or talented than I was.  This trait I have to admit, is more of a female than a male trait. I read somewhere that when women apply for a job, they feel they must meet 100% of the requirements in the job ad in order to go for it, while men don’t hesitate to send in their resume even if they only meet 50%. Something to think about.  Dare to believe you are more than qualified.

IMAGINE where you are headed – place a picture of yourself of when you felt like you were healthier or of how you want to be, on the fridge .  Keep a pair of jeans the size you want to be in the closet so you can look at it every day.  Believe that you will get there one day… and you will not only be there, you will go further than you had ever imagined!

Don’t ever think a dream is too big – you were put on this earth to do great things, and to surpass what you thought was possible. Convince yourself that you are more than capable of achieving your big dreams, and when you reach your goal,  set higher ones the next time. You will be AMAZED at yourself, believe me! Keep the faith and keep working hard – fight to be fit in all areas of your life!

Creating food with maximum flavor

If there is anything I can offer to the fitness world it is my relentless quest for flavor in food and a desire to make food more appealing to people who are trying to get fit.  I use the international kitchen for inspiration, meaning I combine spices, herbs, ingredients and recipes from all over the world and tweak them to fit my dietary needs so I can have my tummy and soul satisfied.   Having traveled to and lived in multiple countries, I’ve adapted many culinary tricks I’ve learned along the way and put my own spin on it. I am not a fan of jumping on the latest bandwagon of the latest and the greatest- for the longest time I resisted using any kale, quinoa or gluten free recipes, because I got bored of seeing everyone thinking this was the solution to all their health problems, and mostly I want the food to be organic (meaning natural- from nature!) and also  important;  serve a PURPOSE – for my goals. Some parts of the year I will be in contest prep meaning most of the stuff I post on my Facebook page I will not eat (sad but true) – but most of the time I am all about using fresh, seasonal ingredients combined with wholesome ingredients that transport me to a certain place.

Food for me is fun, food is emotion, good times and pleasant experiences – even as a fitness competitor I refuse to let those pleasures escape me.  Your diet does not have to be torture – quite the opposite, it can be delicious satisfying and rewarding while low in fat and high in nutrients.

Today I decided to make a pot of chicken to last me for a couple of days – because I am in a period where I am tiring of cooking.


2 lbs of chicken thighs

salt, taco seasoning and dried oregano seasoning to season chicken thighs

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

2 tsp red chili flakes (or to taste – less if you don’t like very spicy)

5-6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 knob garlic (2 inches)- peeled and grated

1 whole red pepper, thinly sliced

1 Vidalia onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

6-7 large button mushrooms

1 can (28 oz) whole plum tomatoes

2 cinnamon sticks

4 bay leaves

Season the chicken thighs with salt, taco seasoning and oregano. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium-high heat – place the chicken thighs in the pot (be careful not to overcrowd the pan – they need to be in a single layer, otherwise they will steam), sauteing the chicken thighs about 3 -4 minutes on each side until golden brown.  Remove chicken thighs onto a plate and set aside.


Add onion, paprika and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and saute until translucent/soft, about 10 minutes.


Add the garlic, ginger, cumin seeds and chili flakes and saute for a couple of minutes.


Add in the tomatoes, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves and simmer for about 5 minutes until flavors blend. Add in the chicken thighs, reduce heat to low, place a lid on the pot and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.


Serve with white rice or as is. Delicious!


Diet and food temptations – the mental game

I always find that my clients, friends and people I talk to in general find dieting a much tougher challenge than the actual working out part. Why is that? Probably because training  typically only takes about an hour max (unless you are one of those airheads who do cardio three hours a day, lol) whereas you are left the other 23 hours facing the fridge, the cafeteria, the restaurant, bar, deli on the corner, vending machine at work, etc….. temptations everywhere around you.


We are taught that food is “fun”, food is “social” and it’s something to do when we get together  in groups, whether it’s meeting friends for a glass of wine, or  going to holiday parties, birthday celebrations, weddings… food is everywhere! And the food is never carrots and celery sticks with low fat dips, grilled  fish or chicken (with no  oil)  and salad, but more often fried foods, cakes, desserts,  alcohol… well, you get my drift.  It’s hard to stand up against peer pressure and not  resort  to what everyone else is doing. My favorite is “Oh, come on-have a piece of cake, you deserve it!” (what exactly does that mean?) or “you are so fit – one piece won’t hurt!” No, I’m sure one piece won’t hurt, but what if I have to go to another gathering the next night, and then the next night, that won’t be just “one piece”, and why is everyone so preoccupied with what I’m eating? Why can’t get  togethers be about having great conversations and doing a fun (non food related) activity?


Of course I’m playing devil’s advocate here. As most of you know, I’m a professional chef and a wine educator, so I live  off of people’s desire to eat and drink, in fact I encourage  it.  And I participate in  these events regularly.  Where would I be without parties filled with food and wine?  I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t have  a piece of cake at your daughter’s birthday party, or go out to a lavish dinner with your husband or boy friend for your anniversary or have a bottle of wine to celebrate a promotion,   enjoy with your Saturday evening meal or even just if you feel like it… Life is more than just a treadmill, some weights and looking good in a two piece. Life has to be enjoyed too. But.. there is also finding that balance, that  dreaded, cliche like “B” word…


In my mind, there is nothing admirable in a person who obsesses about her/his workout and diet and isolates him/herself from the rest of the world to avoid temptations  in the real world, just to keep that top  notch figure. Are you really living the life you want? Miserable, constantly thinking about food and being irritable because you can’t have what you really want?  I doubt it.   What  I find is a successful person, is someone who knows how to balance the two – eating healthy 90% of the  time, but will not  freak out at the  sight  of a bowl of ice cream or a slice of pizza and think “thunder thighs!!” but just accept that the choice you make there and then, is quite ok. If you decide to eat it, it’s because it can be a ‘cheat meal’, or a meal you want at that time (sometimes it’s better to have ONE piece of what you crave instead of eating around it – you’ll end up eating more calories in “healthy” food and fool yourself you made the better choice).  If you decide not to, it’s because you want to keep your diet in check and you are on a health kick.   In the end, you may feel better with that choice.  Both options are good, if they make YOU feel good. Don’t feel guilt, shame, regret or anxiousness over food. This is when a problem can occur. Food should be nourishment to your body, yes- but in my opinion, it should also be enjoyable.  Food is amazing, it’s part of our culture and it CAN be a positive addition to your life, not just something you have to deal with.

Assorted healthy food.

Once you practice trying to have a more relaxed relationship to food, your weight will drop. You will no longer have insane cravings, because as we know – cravings are mental, never physical hunger- and you will start wanting real food to feed your body, to feed your muscles.   Cravings are made-up  ‘realities’  of what you THINK you want – but when you let go and tell yourself “hey, I can have it if I want to”, it’s  amazing how quickly you will turn it down because you’ll find you no longer want it 🙂

Today all I wanted was a grilled piece of chicken with some fresh vegetables, that is when I knew I was HUNGRY, not obsessing about some piece of chocolate or loaf of bread.  My body is craving healthy, nourishing foods that contain protein, carbs and fat these days, this is when I feel best;  full of energy, light and fit.  Try to mentally picture yourself how you’ll feel after you eat a big chocolate or a bowl of ice cream.   Will that make you feel better afterwards? Will it help you reach your goal? If the answer is no, turn it down most of the time.   Treats  like these are called treats for a reason- they are not an every day indulgence,  but a  piece of food reserved for a special occasion. Treat it as such, and you will appreciate it even more- and your body will be happy too!



Photo Source:


Know your CPR

While I think it is important for you all to know CPR  (and mandatory for all you trainers out there), I am speaking of another kind of CPR vital to your success when trying to achieve or maintain a fit lifestyle.  These qualities are present in all the people you see out there who have mastered a lean, muscular body. You have to be:




Consistency is probably the most important of all, as it may perhaps be a result of the other two parts. How often don’t we hear our friends, colleagues, family or gym buddies tell us of one diet followed by another that is the ‘next big thing’, while their bodies don’t seem to change at all.   “Oh, I’m on this new diet now, it’s supposed to turn all your fat to energy if you eat before 3” blablabla.. As modern human beings, we’d like to hear that it’s easy and quick, there is some sort of magic formula that will turn our bodies into abs, buns and legs of steel while still being able to eat, drink and do whatever we feel like.  Wouldn’t that be nice!   Meanwhile, if you glance across your gym you might see a number of fit people there among the not so fit ones.  Do you think they all have the same schedule, eat the same thing and do the same exercises? Of course not. But what the fit people have in common is consistency.  They go to the gym every day, they stick to healthy, low fat foods and they constantly set new goals to work towards, not just have one single date they obsess about.  They may not have the most advanced training program or the most high tech equipment, but they are consistently training, whether it’s weight lifting, biking or running or both, and even a  less than optimal training program will produce results after a while.  Which brings me to the next point.


PATIENCE is just as important as consistency. Many people I come across only want to know “how long is it going to take to look like that”, not what they have to change or do or how they need to act in order to achieve their goals.  This is when the mind has not connected with the body, and as we know, the mind is a powerful thing.   Whether it is fitness or weight gain, the mind is the most important part of your body you need to change.  You must learn to love your body whether it is 300 lbs or 120 lbs, and understand that working towards your dream body will take time, just as it took time for you to gain those extra pounds you no longer want to drag around.  Know that if you eat right or as healthy as you possibly can every day, get your workouts in and at the same time be kind and gentle with yourself, you WILL get there.   Gaining a great physique is a life long job, there will always be some parts you want to modify or improve upon; this is what is so motivating and inspiring about fitness.  We can always get better, whether it is esthetics or strength (you may want to keep pushing to lift heavier, and set new PRs, etc)  thus our task is never done. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proud and happy with your body- just that there will always be a new goal and a task you can work on if you are a person who need continuous goals to strive towards.  Don’t just hold your breath for when those 10 lbs are gone – who knows what you will look like? The scale doesn’t tell you anything. Just because you reach a certain weight, doesn’t mean all your problems disappear or you become a brand new person inside. Be patient with yourself in every aspect of your life while simultaneously respecting yourself enough to constantly (and patiently) working towards greater achievements. Because you are capable!!


RESILIENCE is what separates the winners from the losers, the ones who make it and the ones who just can’t seem to collect their minds to get there.  When reading about successful people, I can guarantee that everyone has had a story of failure – a time when they attempted something and did not achieve what they had hoped.  Failures at one point or another is guaranteed, so learn how to recover from them. While some might get so discouraged they stop trying, successful people shrug it off and try even harder the next time.  In fitness, you won’t always jump out of bed in the morning, excited about the day, full of energy, feeling happy and ready to hit the gym. Some days you will feel lethargic or have low energy, be depressed, experience an emergency, have sick kids, and your day will be all messed up.  This is when it is really easy to give yourself an excuse not to keep going.  These are the times that build “character”, and makes you stronger too, if you just decide to go about your day and continue eating right and working out anyway.   Keep thinking of the importance of consistency in our first point and I guarantee your body and mind will thank you.  Embrace your failures because without them, you wouldn’t know how to succeed. You learn more from the times that don’t work, than the times that do. So be grateful for tough times, because they shape you as a person and make you more interesting.

I read somewhere that it takes just as much energy to be miserable as it does to be happy – so why would you choose the former? You have a choice how you look at your life, your day, your opportunities, problems, strengths and weaknesses.  We all have them, just as we all have the same 24 hours in a day.  Choose to be resilient and the feeling of victory is near!!





Reflections and week end thoughts

I’ve had a pretty good week.  After having been in a bit of a “robotic state” at the gym and in life in general for some months, I’m beginning to find my own groove, what works for me and have developed more independence and confidence when it comes to what I want and what works for me. It may come as a surprise to some of you to hear that- after all, I’ve accomplished quite a bit and pretty much do what I say I will do, I finish a goal I set and I don’t get derailed very quickly. But life is also about tough times, feeling “weak” (which is a wrong terminology if you ask me, it’s called being human) and just experiencing ups and downs like everybody else. I have also been a “student” of many schools and successful people and pretty much soaked in as much information as I possibly could during the last few years.  So my reflections are…

What I discovered does NOT work for me, is look to others and what they are doing, and think the same will work for me.  It’s simply not true.  I used to get a bit taken away with what others were doing – oh my god, that girl is doing THREE hours of cardio a day! She must be serious!!  What a joke. Being in the competitive circles, I am surrounded by 20-year old girls who obsess about their bodies, and all they can seem to think or focus on, is the gym, tilapia and protein powder. I’m sorry, but I’ve lived a little longer and in a few more places than most of these individuals, been on my own in foreign countries since I was 18, and I have more interests than just what I need to consume directly after a workout to feed my muscles.  Misunderstand me correctly – I am not saying that fitness is not one of the most important things in my life – it IS. I love the feeling I get from being in shape, completing that last rep I didn’t think I could, and how my body feel when I’m eating healthy and wholesome. BUT… that doesn’t mean it needs to consume my life, and take over and occupy my brain so much that I can’t be open to other interests and viewpoints. I get so sick of that in the fitness business.  I like to have more than ONE interest, you know? So you have a hot smoking body  now- what about when you’re 60, and 70? Sure you can have a great body for your age, but you ultimately have to develop some depth to your character and personality.  The importance of (the oh so overused word) balance and humility has really hit home with me as of late. Sure, while you’re competing for a show, you must focus and be a bit obsessive, but does it define who you are? Will it contribute to hitting long term goals that will define your life?  You’re not even getting PAID for this, quite the opposite – it can cost THOUSANDS of dollars to compete. For 1 minute on stage. Sure, it’s a thrill while you’re up there, especially if you win a trophy, but let’s all put it in perspective here. And be in touch with reality.  I’m at the stage in my life where I need to prioritize making money, but most of all fulfilling my mind and feel like I’m using my most important muscle; THE BRAIN.  I suppose this is why I have selected to distance myself from certain individuals who seem too self-important. It’s only IRON, folks! 🙂

So I have selected to surround myself with people who love fitness, but have a healthy relationship to it and practice balance. They have their daily life with their kids, husbands, eating out, celebrating birthdays and eating the occasional cake here and there without needing to post a piece about how life will now end as they will gain 10 lbs overnight – hey, they even drink wine!!  And guess what: THEY STILL HAVE SMOKING BODIES!! My first trainer is a great example of that. But more importantly, they seem happier. More relaxed. So refreshing.  I like to think I possess the talent of being super serious in the gym (no talking, messing around with my hair, watching my reflection in the mirror every 2 seconds) getting the work done, and then immediately switching to getting business taken care of afterwards, whether it be preparing for a wine tasting, prepping a healthy menu for a client or meeting with business partners.

Today I worked out with a friend who is the epitome of all of the above. A competitive weight lifter, she is the strongest female I know.   She happens to have the world record in bench press for her weight class and is amazingly strong. So humble, easy going and supportive.  Fittingly, we worked out chest today, and as chest is my weakest body part, I found it incredibly inspiring to work out with her.  I even hit a PR !! With my injured shoulder from 2 years ago, it has been somewhat tricky to work out the chest and have been discouraged at times when going in to it this body part. Some days it really hurts, other days it feels stronger. Regardless, I highly recommend you guys work out with a partner (who is compatible or better than you) from time to time, to break up your routine and put some spice into it! You can learn from each other, pick up new routines or little twists here and there that is all a part of growing.

What’s my point of all of this rambling? Nothing really, other than to say it feels good to gain confidence in what I’m doing, both work out and diet wise, to keep on doing research on my own and find a method that I feel comfortable with, something I can live with for the rest of my life. This is not a “stage” I’m going through, it’s an adjustment of how I used to live, and a better one at that. I also feel irritated by all the “wanna be coaches” who jump on the latest bandwagon and just repeat jargon and “broscience” as they call it, but nobody seem to really have any scientific proof or reasoning behind their borrowed theories. That is why I always recommend to my clients that they do their own research, and study up on the body, because in all honesty – in this business very little requirements are placed on trainers and “diet coaches”  when it comes to education and certification and consequently,  a lot of misinformation is being exchanged.

All seriousness aside – the point of fitness, and anything in life in my opinion – is to HAVE FUN!! If it stops being fun, it’s time to reassess what you’re doing! With that – I wish everyone a wonderful weekend doing something fun and rewarding for you and your body, and hope you’ll check back with me soon! xoxoxo

Shopping Smart Series: Making the right food choices part 1

Hope everyone had a great and is enjoying their weekend so far! I get a bit side tracked with my multiple projects sometimes, but I do want to try to blog here every other day at least. So I figured i order to motivate myself to post more often, I’m starting a shopping smart series, where I will identify the better choices of foods when you go to the super market, farmer market or your local convenience store. I realize some of my readers are very food savvy and know their macros to a T, while others (including some of my clients) still have a lot of questions and simply don’t have time to study the nutritional information of every single ingredient. While I always will advocate that you do your own research so you are prepared for every situation, it’s sometimes nice to be able to refer to a quick “chart” of sorts when in doubt.   In my series I will include the best choices for vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains (bread, cereal, pasta, etc.) proteins, snack foods, condiments and fats/oils, not necessarily in this order.

Today I want to focus on protein – most of us center our meals around this food category as it is an important part of our diet, particularly for the ones who lift weights and are active on a daily basis.  When selecting protein, I always choose organic or grass fed /sustainable meat, as I believe in not only watching my calories, but also potential harmful ingredients that could enter my body as a result of antibiotics, hormones,  injections, spraying and other inferior additions to the food product.  Protein can come from meat such as beef, lamb, pork and poultry, fish and seafood, eggs and legumes (dried beans, peas, lentils, etc.).


When buying beef/pork/lamb/veal, look for lean, well trimmed cuts. Today we are lucky and we have up to 96% fat free ground beef for instance, but you can also reduce the fat yourself in ground meat if this option is not available at your local shop. When you saute it in a pan for instance w/a quick spray of Pam, fat will start to secrete from the meat, and you can pour it off as you cook it, and also pat it down with a paper towel after it’s cooked. This will remove a huge portion of the fat content.  See below for the best choices for each category of protein.

Your leanest Beef choices:

When at the store, look for packages that read top round, tenderloin, top loin steak, lean rump, lean flank, extra lean ground beef, round tip, eye of round, sirloin and bottom round.

Meats are graded by the USDA (United Sates Department of Agriculture) according to their fat content and texture. PRIME indicates the highest in fat (and unfortunately, is the juicest, most tender and delicious because of the marbled fat throughout), CHOICE is moderately fatty and SELECT is the leanest.  Lean meats provide a lot of high quality protein, along with iron, B-vitamins, phosphorous and zinc.  Here’s a chart of the different beef cuts:


Your leanest lamb and veal choices:

At the store, look for leg of lamb, foreshank, lean loin chop, veal loin chop, lamb roast, arm chop, veal roast and veal cutlet. Now I will say if you are really looking to slim down, either one of these are the optimal choices, and they typically do run quite high in fat.  Save these for your “cheat meal” or special occasion when you want to treat yourself after having been good for a while!


Your leanest pork choices:

Look for tenderloin, center loin chops, lean ham, sirloin roast, top loin roast, Canadian bacon, Rib chops, shoulder blade steak.  Again, we are not really looking at super lean in this category either, but I will say that I ate pork chops while prepping for a show and I still got very lean! Just eat in moderation – let’s say once a week.

Pork Loin Chops

Otherwise, buffalo, venison, and bison meats are exceptionally lean meat choices and high in protein, so really perfect choices, as is all game.



I’m sure many a competitor has felt like they were growing wings at some point, as chicken tends to be the protein that is most often recommended. And not without reason – poultry can be be of your leanest animal protein sources, as long as you remove the skin of course!  You can still buy the chicken WITH the skin on (sometimes cheaper) and just remove it yourself, to save some money.

Your leanest poultry choices are:

Skinless chicken breast, turkey breast (white meat, no skin), cornish game hen (no skin), ground chicken or turkey, turkey breast (white meat only/no skin added), duck and pheasant (no skin).



In this category, almost anything goes. Make sure that whatever you pick looks fresh and appealing – I always buy my seafood fresh, although I realize that sometimes financially and to save time, it is preferable sometimes to buy things frozen. But when buying seafood fresh, fresh fish an seafood should have bright skin, bulging eyes (for whole fish), firm flesh and NO fishy smell.  While some fish are fattier than others, I would really not worry about that here, as the fat content is still miniscule and the type of fat in fish is polyunsaturated (more specifically – omega-3 fatty acids) which are beneficial and helps fight against heart disease and cancer. Additionally, all types of fish provide excellent sources of protein, along with other vitamins and minerals.

Your leanest fish choices are:

Cod, flounder, sea bass, whiting, halibut, red snapper, haddock, shellfish (crab, crayfish, lobster and shrimp), monkfish, perch, tuna and mullet.

I add in fatty fish sometimes in my diet to meet my fat requirement (instead of  for instance eating nuts, avocado or olive oil – the other great fat sources), and will have fattier fish once or twice a week.

Fattier fish include:

Wild salmon, mackerel,  herring, eel, pompano, albacore tuna, bluefish, shad and catfish



I would definitely add some legumes to your diet. They provide protein, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and B-vitamins.  Just be careful about how much you add in at each meal – they tend to be calorie dense and should be measured carefully. Dried beans, peas and lentils for instance, are the only high-protein foods that provide ample amounts of fiber, so good for digestion as well. Try substituting legumes for animal protein once a week to switch things up!

Good choices for legumes:

Baked beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lima beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), great northern beans, black beans, split peas, lentils, cannellini beans, white beans, hummus.

Arrangement mit Hülsenfrüchten/beans and lentils

So there you go guys – some guidelines to good, healthy sources of protein that will be a great addition to your diet. As always, measure out your food if you are on a mission to diet down/reduce your body fat, and make sure you stay within your daily, allotted calorie range.  In the end, it’s all about calories in minus calories out and you want to stay in a deficit if you want to lose, surplus if you want to gain muscle or, if you want to stay where you are – maintenance! Happy shopping!!

Start the new week off right!

Sunday night is often the time when we prepare our meals (or at least plan for the meals) for the coming week, reflect on the week that passed, hopefully be proud of some of the things we followed through with, while thinking about what we can improve upon. It’s a chance for a new start, or a continuation of good habits we have formed.  I have a love/hate relationship with Mondays as I’m sure many do – while we may feel blue because the weekend is over, it’s also an opportunity for another chance at bettering our lives.


This week I will introduce HIIT workouts to my weekly routine again – I have mostly stayed away from cardio so far this year, because I wanted to focus on cleaning up my diet first.  Sometimes when you change TOO many variables in your life, you can’t tell which one is the reason to why things are happening, this is why I only alter one thing at a time so I can properly track my progress.

That being said, while my diet certainly hasn’t been “competition prep stellar”, it is much better than it has been and I have seen a drop in fat, but I now would like to take it a step further, accelerating my fat loss – so will be doing 2-3 HIIT work outs a week.  Not going to do steady state cardio, I really feel that my weight training workouts are incredibly efficient as they are (I do many more sets and reps than I’ve done in the past and am completely knackered after I’m done, heart rate is way up and I’m sweating like a pig!) so if I can keep my diet in check I’m golden.   I need to focus on keeping all the muscle I’ve gained over the past year, I feel it has been substantial, but right now I’m too “big” to see it. That will change soon! 🙂


I found a great hill in my neighborhood where I will sprint up hill for about 30 seconds, take 1 min rest, and repeat about 10 times (that is the goal. I may have to start a bit lower, this hill is STEEP, lol). Warm up is 10 minute fast power walk, and cool down is 5 min brisk walk uphill. No more than 15 min HIIT, with another 15 min warm up/cool down.  I will try this for two weeks and will report back on my progress.   Outdoors is my favorite place to do cardio (I hate the treadmill or any indoor cardio equipment) – of course it has been tricky living in New York where we’ve had tons of snow lately, but not looking for any excuses anymore, so outdoors it is!

I will leave you with a chicken recipe for all you chicken heads like myself.. tired of the same old chicken breast? I know I am – so here, try this one out!


4 servings

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

pinch of ground nutmeg

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 1 lb), trimmed of fat

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil or Pam Spray

Preheat grill to medium high or oven to 400F.

Combine all the spices in a large sealable bag – place each chicken breast between sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with a meat mallet (or back of a saute pan if you don’t have a mallet) until flattened until an even thickness, about 1/4 inch. Brush the chicken with oil or spray w/Pam.

Oil the grill rack – grill the chicken until cooked through and no longer pink in the middle, 3-4 minutes per side. Alternatively, bake in oven for 20 minutes.


1 cup non fat greek Yogurt

1/2 cup finely chopped cucumber, seeded and peeled

1/2 cup tomato, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup minced red onion

2 tbsp chopped fresh mint

1 tsp ground cumin

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp sal

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes  1 3/4 cup – for 4 servings.

Calories per serving total meal: 209, 7g fat, 8g carbohydrates, 27g protein



Photo Credit: Eating Well magazine



My top 5 exercises part 2: Back

Back is probably my favorite day, next to shoulders. These are areas I need to improve on as well, and I can finally start to see some “wings” forming back there! I have a lot of favorite exercises, but if I have to choose five, these would be it:

1. Pull-ups

OK, they may not be something I look forward to doing, because they are super hard – in fact I get a bit anxious prior to starting these,  almost the same feeling I get before going on stage competing. Strange, but I’ve always felt that way. You can do these assisted of course, if you are not strong enough, and work your way up with less and less weight.   There are two types of pull-ups; the wide grip and the narrow grip (the latter works more the biceps than back in my opinion). The true pull-up is the overhand, wide grip style – and if you master this exercise, you have proven true back strength! I used to do these every single day to practice (just a few) and I got up to 10 with proper form, but then after my shoulder injury I stopped and now I’m ridiculously weak. I will get back up there though- they are one of those “must master” exercises to me.  By proper form, I mean keeping your body straight without swinging (none of this “kipping” Crossfit BS, haha).  When I trained with Pauline Nordin in LA a couple of years ago, she also had me do one-arm assisted pull-ups, which I found helpful to equal out my strength in both arms.


2.  One arm dumbbell row

This is a great exercise for developing thickness in your back (I need this desperately) and it works the entire lat, the upper back and the traps.  If doing these on a weight bench, place one knee up on the bench, and the other on the floor for support. Bend over so your back is parallell with the floor. Keep your back flat while reaching for the dumbbell on the floor, keep your elbows close to your body and pull back. Make sure to get a good stretch on the way back down, reaching forward, this really works the lats! Change sides and repeat. You can also support yourself on the dumbbell rack, keep straight back always and both feet hip width apart. I tend to prefer this exercise to the barbell bent-over row, as you isolate each side and avoid one side dominating the other.  This is the exercise to build really great lats!


3.  Wide grip lat pulldown

Again, a great exercise for lat development- and if you want that great v-shape. Make sure to keep hands wide, outside shoulder width, palms pronated (away from you) and maintain an arch in your back and lean slightly back from your hip, this will help with range of motion. Avoid leaning back too much though, “aiding” the bar with your body weight.  Be sure to pull the bar down only until it reaches the top of your chest, no further. Another mistake I see people doing is using their biceps rather than their back  – be sure to pull your shoulder blades down without bending the elbow.  Focus on the contraction in your back, pretend you are squeezing a penny between your shoulder blades. I usually do drop-sets when doing these, to really get a burn!


4. T-bar row

This is another exercise that will add thickness to your middle back and lats.  How to do it: load one side of a barbell with the desired weight and place the other end on the floor backed into a corner to stabilize it. Many gyms have a t-bar row already secured to the ground/against a corner (I’m lucky to be a member of a gym like that), but it’s easy to do on your own. Straddle the bar, and place your feed shoulder width apart. Loop a close-grip handle over the bar close to the weights, grab the handle with both hands, keep an arched back, and knees slightly bent. Pull the bar towards your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top. I hold for a 2 second count at the top and slowly lower to get a good stretch.


5.  Deadlifts – since I mentioned this on part 1 of this series (legs), I will just briefly mention it as it is a  great exercise for the back as well as arms, core, hamstrings and glutes as well.

As exercise #5 I will add PULLOVERS as an additional good exercise for your back.  Using a dumbbell, you can either lay flat on a bench the same way you would when doing chest presses, or lie across the bench forming a ‘cross’, where your shoulders touch the bench, and the rest of your body is off in a straight line perpendicular to the bench, knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Hold the inside of the dumbell with both hands forming a diamond shape. Keep your arms straight when lowering the dumbbell behind you and pulling it up stopping right on top of your chest. (If you do this exercise for pecks, you can bend your arms slightly). Be careful and always stay focused during this exercise, otherwise it can be easy to injure your shoulders.  You will feel this in both your lats and pecks. Some gyms have a pullover machine, you can substitute that too, but I always like the dumbbells as it forces you to use your core to stabilize the weight.


And there you go – my top 5 exercises for developing that beautiful, broad back that will make your waist smaller and improve your all around symmetry – now, get to work!! 🙂


Mexican muscle breakfast

Some of you may know that I’m married to a Mexican-American, and to top it off, he’s a chef. Recipe for weight gain? In the early days, I would have to say yes, but I’ve adapted a lot of the recipes he made for me in the beginning to fit my healthier lifestyle.  Just because I need to eat lean to STAY lean, doesn’t mean I need to eliminate the flavor!  Mexican happens to be one of my favorite cuisines (good thing I married it, hahaha) so I often experiment with foods from this country. The great thing is that chiles and spices are bursting with flavor, and provides no fat, and really no calories worth speaking of.

hotpeppers eggs

These days, I’m looking to spice up my breakfast, at least once a week/during the weekend, just for a change.  I never really tire of oatmeal and egg whites, but there are days when I just need to mix it up.  Breakfast happens to be my favorite meal because I can be more generous with carbs, as I hit the gym about an hour later. So here you go – my spin on “Huevos Rancheros!”


1 tsp olive oil

1/2 cup chopped Vidalia (sweet) onion

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 can (14.5 oz) mexican-style stewed tomatoes (they come w/jalapenos and spiced)

1/4 can shopped green chiles (like pickled jalapenos)

1/4 tsp chili powder

1/4 tsp chipotle powder

1/4 tsp ground cumin

chili flakes , salt and pepper to taste

cooking spray

2 corn tortillas

1 egg + 4 egg whites

1/2 cup reduced fat cheese or LIFETIME fat free cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. Heat oil in medium nonstick skilled over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic, saute 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in tomatoes, green chiles, chili powders, cumin, and red chili flakes, bring to boil and reduce to simmer, about 10 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently.

Heat tortilla on open gas flame on top of the stove until charred. Arrange tortillas in the bottom of a small baking dish coated with cooking spray. Spread tomato mixture evenly over tortillas.  Whisk egg with egg whites. Make 2 indentations in tomato mix using a wooden spoon. Divide egg mixture between the two indentations. Bake 15 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and bake an additional 5 minutes or until cheese melts and eggs are set.  Add a couple of slices of avocados for healthy fats!

You can also add more eggs/tortillas to this recipe and bake in a larger dish if making for your entire family!  Here’s what it wold look like w/everybody getting one egg: