Health and Wellness Redefined

A lot has changed since my last blog post, which was too long ago!    Firstly, in May of this year I embarked on a year long study to become a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is an online study but located in New York. You can read more about them here.  It is by far the smartest thing I’ve done this decade, and my whole life has already changed as a result of it. To realize you can pretty much solve any health issues through your diet, and to be surrounded by peers who are as passionate about health as you are, is so comforting and eye opening, and the experience so far has been a revelation and inspires me each and every day. I will surely blog more about my experience as an IIN student in the future.

Secondly, this month I mark my FIRST anniversary as a vegan! It’s amazing how time flies and I can’t imagine going back to my old diet. I first and foremost became vegan for the animals, but I am just thrilled to have realized how much healthier a vegan diet is, and how much broader my food repertoire has become as a result.  Being a chef, I am always experimenting with new recipes, and it’s so wonderful to know that everything can be veganized, and most of the time the result is even tastier than the regular animal based recipe. One issue I still have is with cheese – there is just no vegan cheese that can make up for the real thing, but knowing how unhealthy cheese is in general, and how greatly animals have to suffer for us to just get that moment of “satisfaction”, I have no problem living without this item.

For the month of September, my goal is to exclude gluten and alcohol in my diet.  I currently work as a wine buyer for a large retail store, so you can imagine the challenges in not drinking at all. I constantly get offered free samples and bottles to take home to taste, and there are events and dinners to be attended, so naturally, wine and cocktails are flowing everywhere.  The more I’ve cleaned up my diet, the more I can feel the affect of alcohol on my body. I get more sluggish and have less energy in the morning and as a result even after only a glass or two, and as a result I feel my workouts are not optimized.  Needless to add, the empty calories and added sugar in alcohol is something I could definitely eliminate or greatly reduce, even though I do enjoy my glass of wine and most likely won’t stop entirely, but this month I am going for no wine.  How extreme, right? 🙂 Wish me luck!

With regards to gluten, I don’t consume much of this to begin with, as I generally avoid bread and pasta in my diet.  Every so often I will indulge in this amazing olive bread that my local farmer market sells on the weekend, and although it is delicious, my body definitely is not happy afterwards and I tend to become bloated and feel uneasy. So… I am very excited to experiment living a whole month without gluten and alcohol… and if I feel great and see some noticeable results, I will just keep going!

To kick off my month of experimentation, I’m adding in a recipe for gluten free pancakes (and dairy free and eggless too of course) that I made this morning – inspired by  the blog Oh She Glows, one of my favorite vegan blogs!


1 cup ground up buckwheat

1/2 cup brown rice flour

2 tbsp arrowroot

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 3/4 cup almond milk

1/3 cup maple syrup

2 tsp organic vanilla extract

1 heaping cup diced banana

In a bowl combine all the dry ingredients.  Pour in the almond milk, maple syrup and vanilla extract and mix until there are no more lumps in the batter.  Fold in the diced banana and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Heat up a griddle on medium high heat, add a dollop of vegan butter or spray with an organic spray.   Using a ladle, pour the batter on the griddle and bake away! Serve with additional maple syrup and your favorite sliced fruit (I used extra banana and fresh strawberries).  You won’t even miss “regular” pancakes!


“Fit” vs “Healthy”

When I started this blog, I’ll admit my main focus was on looking good on the exterior. I had recently fallen back in love with working out after a period of slacking, eating too many fatty foods and drinking too much alcohol (hence a 30 lb weight gain).  My personality took it a bit further and I developed a big interest in lifting weights, which in turn, led me to enter amateur bodybuilding competitions and in between running half marathons.   This is a blog I have wanted to begin for weeks now, as a result of reading friends and acquaintances FB posts and blogs who are just starting out, or who have been in it for a while but who seem to just blindly follow someone who has either experienced some success or who claim to be a “fitness coach”.

As a newbie in the fitness world, I wanted to do everything that the “pros” did – work out like a fiend, eat from tupper ware (which I still do, but never cold food and not that god awful tilapia and overcooked asparagus), “ban” foods and avoid social gatherings so I could get up at the crack of dawn and start the crazy process all over again.  I convinced myself that this was a lifestyle I could live with, as long as I was happy with my reflection in the mirror.  Never mind that my diet was monotonous, at one point I ate the same meal four or five times a day, something that upon looking back, is quite incredible, being that I am a trained chef, and married to one and my life has always in one way or another has been about enjoying food, creating new recipes and being adventurous in my eating.

Since turning vegan, my focus has turned to eating for health all around; not just for an impressive exterior but also for a healthy interior.   It has really been a spiritual experience!  Now I feel so much freer, no foods are off limits except meat, fish, egg and dairy and that is for both ethical  and health reasons so it’s not hard to give them up.  I used to have a big sweet tooth when I was on a diet, and my weakness were gummy worms, milk chocolate and any other processed candy… now I simply have no desire to eat them because I know they are made from nasty fish bones or milk from tortured cows.  Gone are the days when I thought animal protein was the only good source of protein and that fruit was bad, or any whole foods, for that matter was allowed to be labeled as “bad”.   You see, all these health freaks talk about eating what’s good for you, meanwhile they down energy drinks and other supplements that has God knows what kind of deadly ingredients just because it’s calorie or sugar free, consume artificial sweeteners by the mouthful on a regular basis and brag about being able to eat processed junk food on their “cheat day” and still lose weight. Really??  What is the end goal here? End up looking emaciated on show day just so you can win some plastic medal at a local show nobody has heard of and that the ones who have,  will forget the next day??  Develop health problems in the name of “outer beauty”?  Because let’s face it – I’ve been there, and it’s SUPER important to you while you are prepping: oh my God, that vein is popping, my butt looks tighter, my lats are wider and my abs are insane!!   I am on top of the world, I can do ANYTHING!! I am living the dream!! This is the most important thing in the world to everyone, right? Wrong.  I am all for improving the physique, challenging yourself at the gym, incorporating daily exercise for better health and working out to feel good overall.    But when this takes over your life and you think you can keep a stage physique year round… well, that’s where you are in for a big let down.  Life is not about being anal about meeting your macros day in and day out while ignoring other important factors around you, such as having fun in the sun, being with friends and family, work, travel, enjoying simple things in life like having a home made breakfast,  and even just hanging out watching a movie without counting the minutes until your next meal.  I guess what I’m missing in most bodybuilder’s lifestyle is diversity, spontaneity and just a simple ability to ENJOY life and whatever that brings.  A narrow minded view of what life is is no way to live. If I have to skip the gym one day because I have to take care of something, my world is not ruined. I just pick up where I left the next day, my physique or muscles will not vanish in a day, or a week for that matter. It’s all about PERSPECTIVE.   This is what the vegan lifestyle has given me.

I don’t mean to bash anybody in their midst of prepping for a show by posting this.  I too, thought for a while I had to do cardio on an empty stomach to lose fat and eat my boring ass meal every 2-3 hours to “keep my metabolism going” and avoid carbs after lunch. The truth is, my metabolism suffered after a hard core keto-diet I was put on after my last show,  I noticed lack of energy, my body not recovering as well as it has before, and many other signs that I found worrying.  I lost interest in food (which is amazing considering my background I mentioned earlier as a chef and food enthusiast),  and  while I thought I ate so much (most of the foods were vegetables and low in calories so the “amount” seem larger than real life) I was still feeling I missed out on some things.  When the euphoric feeling of stepping on stage and placing well dissipated, I was still left with me, and wanting more out of life than just obsessing about my next work out.

So… enter my vegan lifestyle in October of 2013, and I found a wonderful new way of living! Imagine, I am lean still – and have tons of energy – and I get to eat a ton of fruit, nuts, dried fruits, maple syrup, beans, rice, potatoes, vegetables in all shapes and forms.. and you guessed it: lots of protein!!!

There is a spiritual awakening involved also with eating plant based… while before, I used to scoff at vegans thinking they all ate “rabbit food” and all drank wheat grass juice every two hours, I am amazed that I now feel my food choices have EXPANDED, not being limited, and I look forward to, and at the same time am overwhelmed, each week when I go shopping, as everything I make as my weekly meals are not only healthy, wholesome and good for me, but low in fat, high in nutrients and most importantly: extremely delicious!!  I feel lighter and happier, because I highly believe that if I consume a living being’s body that was tortured and killed, their energy transfers into my body. I can honestly say that I am smiling both on the inside and outside now, knowing that I don’t have to put myself through nightmarish routines just because I want to look good in a two-piece. Now I eat what I want and look how I want while smiling all the way!!  I win – and so can you! 🙂

I have a mission this year, and that is to show you all, in pictures and in words, that it is possible to be healthy looking, MUSCULAR and fit and fabulous, eating plant based foods only, steering away from the “bro-science” of the traditional bodybuilding diets (which are SO bad for you, both metabolically and spiritually – who the hell wants to eat boiled chicken and broccoli- unseasoned- for the rest of their life- just to look “shredded”??) and to include every food in the universe that is wholesome and organic, natural and flavorful… one meal at a time.

To all of you who still think you need to follow  the recipe of  a super low calorie, monotonous and boring diet followed by 1-2 hours of cardio a day after your regular weight training, I’ve got news for you: You don’t!!   Progress pictures to follow in the spring and summer along with more news, info and motivation!