The switch that happens when you go from plans to planTs!

The switch that happens when you go from plans to planTs!

Ever since I went vegan four years ago, I’ve tried to put into words what happened when I went from continuously attempting to follow the latest diet fad or plan,  to listening to my heart and embracing a whole food, plant based diet.  There was this “holy crap, I’ve found the secret … why isn’t everyone getting it” kind of feeling, coupled with a sense of happiness and contentment that I had finally found a way of eating that could provide the best of both worlds; a healthy system on the inside with a vibrant look on the outside while being able to eat a lot of food (because I’m always hungry) that was varied and delicious and provided me tons of energy and enjoyment.

Every time I survey my community about their biggest struggles when trying to commit to a healthy lifestyle is how to stay consistent.  I mean life happens right? All of a sudden you get invited to a wedding with a six course menu, then there’s that vacation in Mexico where you’re bathing in tequila and tacos, and upon your return a blizzard hits out of nowhere and you’re snowed in… which naturally requires at least three bottles of full bodied red wine, pizza and chocolate cupcakes to keep you nourished for the full 24 hour duration.

Why do we develop such an unnatural, obsessive relationship with food?

The problem is three fold:

  1. what most people are feeding their bodies when they go on a diet or follow a “plan”, is not what the body needs and wants, but is unnatural, restrictive and frankly, not very exciting or tasty.  My own memories from when I was eating bland chicken and broccoli five times a day, to looking “forward” to the day when I could ‘cheat, makes me a bit sad, really.  When they say ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’, they are forgetting that we don’t have to compromise to be healthy, there is in fact ways to be able to eat flavorful food (and enough of it) and still meet your health goals.  This is what happens when you embrace a plant based diet.
  2. Secondly, there is not a deeper reason or why behind the desire to get “healthy”. Because what is healthy to you? And why do you want to be healthy? I’m not talking about a superficial goal of wanting to lose x amount of lbs so you can look hot while you’re at your college reunion event, there has to be a bigger, long lasting acumen.  For instance, to me healthy means I’m healthy not just on a physical level, but also happy, content, relaxed, fulfilled and able to enjoy myself and detaching from other people’s expectations or pressures.  Mental stress so often manifests into physical ailments, but this is also what is being minimized and devalued so often by society and even health professionals.  Another big ‘why’ for me, is that I don’t want to contribute to the suffering of other beings’, mainly animals, or the pollution and destruction of our environment. I  cherish everything that lives on this earth with us, and it motivates me to make better, more compassionate choices. When you find a bigger reason for the way you eat, live and love – you will not struggle with cravings for cheese, steak and ice cream, but revel in all the cruelty free, plant based options we are so lucky to have available to us!
  3. Which brings me to the last point; people often resort to food that will give them a ‘quick fix’ or pleasure, because they are unhappy in other areas of their lives. Food becomes an unconscious addiction.  Maybe they feel unfulfilled and underutilized in their job, or perhaps they have settled into a relationship they deep down know is wrong for them, but are in it because of convenience, or they feel like they are living and doing for everybody else, with no time for themselves. Many women I work with came to me because they felt lost, had forgotten who they really are, what they love to do and what lights them up. So they resorted to the only thing that would cheer them up (at least temporarily) and not disappoint: food.  This is why I emphasize my work on self awareness so much in my coaching; it’s the key that will unlock so many answers, and make life a whole lot easier when navigating the road to achieving a joyful state.

I read somewhere that “dieting” is when you eat foods that make you sad.  Now how depressing is that?  Why do we do this to ourselves?!

The issue I see that happens most frequently when women try to go on a “diet”, is that these plans are a) cookie cutter, which means it does not account for your unique schedule, lifestyle, preferences or overall situation, b) terribly boring where you eat the same three bland foods over and over again, which then leads to vitamin deficiencies and cravings which then leads to c) not being sustainable. You end up under a pile of Cheetos, Oreo cookies and ice cream tubs because your body is screaming “what the hell is going on here?? feed us what we need to thrive!!”

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There is so much pressure and obligation when someone says “I’m going on a diet”. Because the underlying implication is that now, all fun ends, no food is ever going to be enjoyable, only endured, I have to stop being myself because I’m on a mission to reach a state that I am not even  sure I will truly reach or enjoy. But of course, it won’t last forever.  So you see how people trick themselves into thinking that a ‘diet’ is temporary, that when they’ve championed through those tough 12 weeks, they can pat themselves on the shoulder saying “I did it man, let’s go get a beer and some nachos?”  I mean, what’s the point of those past weeks then? Was it for show? For whom?

The idea should be to want to live fully and eat the foods that provide your body with the necessary vitamins and minerals it screams for so you can be in a high vibrational, optimal state of health both physically and mentally.  The goal should be to look forward to every meal, to be grateful for and excited about what’s on your plate, and to feel happiness in your soul that you are not causing any harm to anyone because of what you are eating. That to me, is health.

When I went vegan, one of my biggest concern as a chef and food lover, was that my choices would be severely limited.  And that I could never enjoy the flavors I had grown to love so much in dishes that reminded me of my childhood and fun, social gatherings with friends and family.  I visualized having to eat salads and dry pastas for the rest of my life, but since I went vegan for the animals, I was willing to give it a try.  As I started delving into my new world, meeting vegan chefs, food bloggers, nutritionists and other people passionate about this lifestyle, I began realizing that my fears were unfounded. In fact, the opposite happened; I discovered a whole new world of creative and delicious dishes and ways to prepare foods I had never even thought of before!  I was also ecstatic to learn that the classic dishes I thought I had to give up, could easily be veganized and tasting exactly the same!

As with so many other things, the fears in our heads are much worse than reality.  There is ALWAYS a solution to a problem, as long as you are willing to stay open minded, be flexible and ready for change so you can grow and improve.

For me, food has become so much more fun and rewarding since I embraced a plant based diet which is why I’ve devoted my life to sharing it with others.  My fears held me back for years in making a change, because I had made up a fake reality of what my life would be like if I gave up certain foods.  How silly I now feel, knowing what the real truth it.  That doesn’t mean I beat myself up over it, it has actually helped me not taking so long making “scary” decisions in other parts of my life because I now know that change is good and makes life so much more interesting and rewarding.

I know a lot of my clients have the same fears when considering doing the switch; that they have to say goodbye to their favorite dishes, perhaps one of the few things that really bring them comfort and joy, and that they will not know where to begin or what to eat and that life will stop being fun. I get it. But I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.  I would be happy to talk to you about what your concerns are, what you need support around and help with.  Don’t let fear of the unknown rule your health, happiness and life.  Drop the plans, and say hello to PLANTS! 

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Visit me at sunnygandara.com to learn more about me and how I work!

 

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Celebrating my one year anniversary as a full time entrepreneur!

Celebrating my one year anniversary as a full time entrepreneur!

Last year on this day, November 1st, I had finally taken the plunge and left my full time job. I felt relieved, excited, a little scared and overwhelmed all at the same time. On Halloween I finished my last day as a wine buyer for a large retail store here in New York, where I had been for nearly 2 1/2 years, and while it certainly wasn’t a bad job (come on, many people would die to have a job that requires you to taste hundreds of wines a month), I knew deep in my heart that I was meant for something else. I was simply out of place. Again.

On November 1st, 2015, many thoughts crept in, like “Will I be able to make a living off coaching people to better their lives?”, to “Where do I start?” to “Oh shit… I’m in charge now!!”… But overall, I was in a place where I really didn’t feel like I had a choice anymore. I was tired of telling myself no to opportunities that came up because I always had to be on somebody else’s schedule, I was tired of leaving my puppies for 10 hours a day, when all I really wanted was to work from home and spend more time with them, I was tired of being in a position where I was living below my potential and not able to utilize all my skills and interests and of course… I was desperate to feel passionate about what I was doing, to feel like I was contributing in the world, and like I was making a difference in somebody’s life.

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For years I had been just falling into work that seemed like it could be a good fit me, without really examining whether or not that was true for me. I listened to other people’s opinions, and ignored my own.  It looked good on the outside – and to be honest, I haven’t exactly had any ‘dud’ jobs at any part of my life; I started out in the music industry working as an international marketing and publicity director and traveled the world with rockstars (and a fair share of rappers!), I worked for a luxury vodka company from Scandinavia where I met a ton of fascinating people, had my own catering company where I had a chance to create some fabulous dishes and work with some really nice people and also of course lately, worked in the wine industry where I got to travel to many of the world’s vineyards and taste wine for a living. But what might seem perfect for others, may not be perfect for you. This is where the key lies. Not to get influenced by other people’s opinion, but finding the courage to go against what everyone else wants you to do, or tells you you ‘should’ do, if, at the end of the day, you are not madly in love with what you do.

Fast forward to today, November 1st, 2016, I sit here and think “oh my, what a difference a year makes!” Not only have I been able to make a living off coaching fabulous women all over the world who want the best out of life as well, but I have streamlined my activities to focus on what is important (a miracle for me who is a bit on the artistic side and like to deal with things at the spur of the moment), I get to spend every day with my fur babies and work from the comfort of my own home, and not have to endure a grueling commute every day and waste time being in a car, and I feel like what I do actually helps people and make them feel like they can do whatever they want to do too.  Most importantly – I can finally be ME! Unapologetically, without having to fit into any type of mold, I can do whatever I want to do, say whatever I want to say, and work with whoever I want to work with.  Sure, there might be a couple of things in my business I’m not jumping up and down to do, but because I have a clear sense of WHY I’m doing what I’m doing and what my ultimate goal is, I gladly do them because at the end of the day they allow me to live a life that finally is in alignment with my values and with my personality.  Having a purpose for why you do things in life, is key to everything.

Another miraculous thing happens too when you open yourself up to be the best version of yourself. You start attracting other like minded people into your life like yourself, who inspire you, show you what’s possible and open up a whole new world of opportunities for you.  I am currently finishing up a year long coaching and business certification program where I have gained 250 new girl friends, talented, ambitious and successful women all around the globe who have the same mission as I do: to be of service and to do something meaningful with their lives.  These women are supportive, lift me up and encourage me on a daily basis.  They want the best for me, because they themselves have found happiness so they can genuinely feel happy for me, in return. That’s what happens when you follow your heart and go for what sets your soul on fire.  These women have such a positive influences on me, I sometimes wonder how I got so lucky and how I existed without this support system.  But everything happens in its own time, and it happened to me this year because I was finally READY.

Now, I will not pretend that it all has been a smooth journey and that I haven’t had days where I found things challenging, a little scary and unsettling,  because let’s face it – as a new entrepreneur when you are just starting to set up your systems and get familiar with your new way of life and of doing business, you don’t really know what your next month will look like.  But I decided that certainty was boring, and it was killing my soul because again – I wasn’t allowed to really utilize all that I had to give. So I traded certainty for passion. That, is what living is to me. I will choose passion and happiness any day over certainty, mediocrity and having a “decent” life.  Because I know great is within reach for all of us!

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There is such enormous freedom in knowing that I, and only I, am in charge of my life, and I have the power to change things I don’t like or am not happy with. There is nobody else to blame or complain about, which is probably one of the best things  having chosen this way of life for myself. I hated feeling like I was giving away my power when I was pointing at other people for the problems or tough days I was going through. As if they were in charge of my day or my life, and that I had to just comply, or else… Like being in a prison!!  I now know that the only person I should be pointing at is myself. If something is not working 100% the way I want to, I examine it, put more work in or revise what I’m doing.  This always works, because I never quit, I keep going because I know I will eventually succeed. Having an unwavering belief in yourself is crucial when choosing a passion based life. 

There is so much personal growth that goes on when you choose yourself, whether it is choosing to go into business for yourself, choosing to believe that you deserve that raise, that loving relationship, or even those extra few hours a week where you only focus on yourself and take care of you.  Ultimately, when you have an inner voice that tells you “I deserve more”, it’s there for a reason. Don’t ignore it.  When you start listening to it and respecting that voice, you are respecting yourself, and in turn – other people will start respecting you as well and you will get what you want and need in life.  This is how the Universe works.

Take it from me: it feels SO good to take a chance on yourself and finally make the best out of this one life we’ve been given. If you know what I’m talking about, wonderful, and I’m so happy for you! If not, why not decide to choose to believe that you can do whatever you put your mind to and see what happens?! Most often we end up astounding ourselves. Get in touch with me if you think I could support you – sunny@sunnygandara.com or check out my website for more information at sunnygandara.com.  I believe in you!!

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Shrimp + Avocados = one healthy, delicious summer recipe

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe, and figured it was about time to post one that I think my readers would like. As the weather gets warmer, the nights longer and the clothing lighter, I tend to go for more seafood and shellfish and even just vegetarian options for my meals.  I like to take advantage of all the fresh produce now available at all the local farmer’s markets in my area, and what better way to utilize them than in a tasty salad? Unfortunately where I live in the country, we are not able to get avocados at the farmer’s market, but I added some anyway for your healthy fat.

This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks (I have many) called “Spices of Life – Simple and Delicious Recipes for Great Health” by Nina Simonds.  She has a great way of utilizing herbs and spices and a variety of foods from around the world to create very exciting and delicious recipes.

Shrimp may be small in size but they pack a punch nutrition wise, plus they are really quick and easy to prepare.  Four ounces of cooked shrimp contains about 112 calories,  zero carbs  and 24grams of protein! They are also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, rich in minerals including copper, celenium and zinc, and are very low in fat (1gram per 4 oz).   Select shrimp that have firm bodies and still have their shell on – they should be free of black spots and the shell should not appear yellow or gritty as that could indicate some sort of chemical has been used to bleach the shells (Yes, it does occur).  Purchase displayed shrimp always rather than pre-packaged shrimp, and make sure they have a fresh smell  (should not smell fish but more like seawater).

For the greens in the salad, I like to use a mix of romaine, butter lettuce, arugula and some bitter greens like escarole, to get the different flavors (spicy, sweet, leafy etc) and textures.  Ask your local farmer if they have any special or new kinds of greens – always experiment with ingredients and preparation methods, that is what makes wholesome cooking fun!

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SHRIMP, AVOCADO AND WILD GREENS WITH A CHARRED TOMATO DRESSING

4-6 servings

Charred Tomato Dressing:

3 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into slices about 1 inch thick

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife and peeled

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice or red wine vinegar

2 tsp ground cumin, toasted until fragrant in a dry pan over low heat

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed and drained

For Salad

6 cups mixed greens of your choice, rinsed and spun dry arranged in a serving bowl

1 1/2 lbs cooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I like to grill mine for that extra delicious charred flavor)

1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into thin slices

3 tbsp minced red onion for garnish (optional)

First arrange the tomato slices on a baking sheet. Brush with 1 tbsp the olive oil (you can also spray them a bit with Pam if they seem not coated), broil the tomatoes for about 10 minutes on each side and remove.

Drop the garlic down the feed tube of a food processor fitted with a steel blade with the machine is running. Pulse until finely chopped, then drop in the tomatoes and puree, leaving some chunks. While the motor is running, add the lime juice or vinegar and 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a thin, steady stream. Add the cumin, salt, pepper and chopped cilantro, pulse briefly then taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary.

Arrange the shrimp, then the avocado slices, on top of the greens. Pour some of the dressing over and put rest into a sauce bowl. Sprinkle the minced red onion on top, if using.  And chow down!!

 

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Photo from recipes.com

 

Food choices

When the word “diet” is spoken, why is it that most of us immediately sense restriction, start feeling a bit uncomfortable, get emotions of guilt and in the end, overwhelm ourselves with all kinds of negative thoughts?   “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle”, we hear – and while many of us might mean well, do we really employ this way of thinking?  I believe it took me about three years (up until now) to really believe this and understand the meaning of that sentence. I always thought I had to be “perfect” at everything, better than everyone else.  If not, punishment lay ahead. While I’ve also been on the horrific diet of tilapia and asparagus six times a day and restricted carbs beyond the ridiculous point while I was prepping for a show – I’ve come to realize you don’t have to go to these extremes to achieve, and more importantly, maintain, a great physique. What happens when you look at certain foods a certain way? oooh that food is BAD, oooh no that food is EVIL! that is going to make me fat! The brain sends a signal to your stomach and instantly you are starving, you crave sweets out of nowhere, and you just have to have it. Coincidence? I think not. I’ve had periods where I eat anything I want, and I never get cravings for sweets or candy. Why? Because I know I can have it anytime, anywhere. Where’s the fun in that?? See where I’m going.. like I described in my previous posts, it’s all about the mindset, and the body will follow.

As many of you know, I work as a chef and a wine consultant , and I write about food every day. Not just health food – but fattening, sugary”naughty” foods, paired with wine, beer and vodka, and I have to sometimes attend wine dinners where up to 12-15 courses are served with more wines than a regular person can imagine.  Wine tastings are a weekly part of my job, to stay current on new (and old) releases, and I consult for restaurants and bars who need their cocktail lists updated. So how do I combine my love of fitness for my love of food and wine? I practice restraint, but not restriction. Just because a plate of food is placed in front of me, doesn’t mean I have to finish it, or eat everything that’s on it.  I admit it’s more difficult when I open a bottle of wine – who can drink just one glass?  Seriously… I also want to enjoy myself, so when I hear fitness people trying to teach their audience and clients to “push food around to make people believe they are eating”, that reminds me of someone who’s teaching anorectic behaviors. Life is to be enjoyed, but there are also realistic sacrifices that has to be made in order to achieve a fit body. Can you look get abs like Ava Cowan and Dana Linn Bailey by drinking wine every day and having pizza three times a week? Of course not. What do you want most? What is important to you right at this very minute? If the answer is pizza, there’s nothing wrong with that – I’ve made that many decision many times, but I also made a decision not to feel guilty about it when I did go and get that slice. That’s all!

In daily life, I try to vary my foods a lot, so the feeling of restriction does not occur. Luckily, my profession comes with a certain sense of creativity, access to and knowledge about ingredients and a natural interest in cooking.  Instead of flavoring the food with butter and oil (mmmm….) I add fresh herbs and spices. I urge you all to expand your spice rack!! Beyond the old, boring “Mr. Dash” (oh the horror), garlic powder and lemon pepper. HOW DAMN BORING!! Why are people so afraid of sodium? I never restricted sodium my entire prep, until perhaps two-three days before I got on stage, and I looked like this:

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Do I look bloated? LOL. Anyway, as a chef I use a lot of salt, as seasoned cooks believe (rightfully so) that salt brings out the flavor in food and some salt is also necessary for the body to run properly. It is also more satisfying to eat flavorful foods, rather than bland food, when perhaps you are restricting the amount you can eat, to begin with.  My opinion is that if I can’t be stuffed at the end of a meal, let me at least enjoy it while it lasts, lol! 🙂

Anyway, back to my point about food choices; be inventive, read food magazines and articles, watch cooking shows and adapt regular recipes to fit your diet needs. There is no need to add butter, oil or full fat anything (although sometimes that is fun too) – but include items like exotic spices; Indian spices like garam masala, coriander and turmeric, African spices like berbere and raas al’hanout, Scandianvian spices of dill, caraway and anise seed, as well as any chopped, fresh herbs to add into your salad dressings to make the food “pop”.

There are also other proteins out there than egg whites, chicken and fish, people. How about lean meats like bison, elk, venison, octopus, scallops and squab? If you don’t know how to cook them, just look up an instructional video on Youtube, or ask me right here, and I will be happy to help out with a recipe and fabulous cooking method! It’s easy, you will be so happy you learned to make a new dish, and your palate will expand also. It’s a win win! Believe me, in the end you will feel like you are cheating – and hence, are able to stay on this “diet” for the rest of your life and maintain that fabulous body that you have worked so hard to get. I will post some more pictures in the weeks ahead, but for now, I leave you with a beautiful dish I made with venison, brussels sprouts and rosemary-roasted sweet potato “fries” (in the end I ended up eating a whole lot more vegetables than this –  a food I never restrict or restrain from – but for a photo op this looks better 🙂 Who said “diet” foods are bland, boring and ugly to look at?  While we may have found our “groove” in the gym already, our eating habits are always harder to conquer, because temptations exists around us 24/7… You can’t out train a bad diet – so be sure to pay extra attention to your diet in 2013! Stay tuned for more food tips and recipes!

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