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!!”

dietmonkey

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! 

************

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

 

sunnyfarmermarket5

Advertisements

Healthy thinking versus “healthy eating”

Some of you know I only post here when random thoughts I feel strongly about pop into my head.  I am not the most consistent blogger. There are so many fitness blogs out there, and most of them just repeat themselves or jump on the latest bandwagon of ‘secrets to weight loss or a flat tummy’ (sorry) which is fine because they will always reach somebody who needed to hear exactly that message right then in order to start their fitness journey.   Personally, I guess I just need to write when I need to “talk” to myself and put  my thoughts into written words.

I returned from Norway a couple of weeks ago and just had a revelation when it comes to diets and healthy eating.  The people who seem to be naturally slim and fit, are active individuals and healthy all around, do not obsess about what they eat. They (most often) choose wholesome food:  grilled chicken or fish, some vegetables, a splash of olive oil and they even allow themselves a couple of spoonfuls of dessert. But the key here is they don’t overdo it, but they enjoy life, food and the company around them. There is no “forced” thinking like “oh no, that has too much sugar, fat, carbs” etc.   They have a glass of wine in good company and allow themselves a piece of cake when they are celebrating someone’s birthday, because that makes them happy and that is what they feel like.  How rebellious!

Nobody obsesses about food more than Americans, and nowhere else in the world are there as many obese individuals.  In the supermarket isles, there are now more “low fat”, “non fat”, “no sugar” products than ever before, which also equals PROCESSED foods.   Just because a food has some (healthy) fat, does that mean it’s bad? Of course not, as long as you are not binging on it. And that’s just the problem:  For those that preoccupy themselves with “bad and good” food, think they can eat twice as much non fat ice cream, because after all – it’s got no fat, right? Eating becomes more of an all engrossing activity rather than what it’s supposed to be: nourishment and enjoyment.

topworstprocessedfoods

When I lost 30 lbs some years ago, I ate all the foods I was told later on when I started competing, were labeled BAD. I had pita bread and hummus, beans, fruit, Ezekiel bread, cheese and olive oil. And guess what; I was much thinner than I am now (not that that is a goal of mine), I just ate a certain amount and didn’t obsess about food items I couldn’t have.  My body got all the major food groups, so there were no real cravings at all. I want to stop looking at certain foods as “bad” and just eat wholesome, natural foods.  Have you ever noticed that when someone tells you you can’t have something, that is all you think about?  I noticed that big time when I was prepping for my first show, and as a result I ended up binging after my competition. Did it feel good? Was I satisfied afterwards? Not really.  There was no enjoyment in eating until I couldn’t eat anymore.

As I read status updates and blogs about competitors going through their “on season” diets, none of them sound happy. They are hungry, irritated, frustrated and feel weak, they think about food 24/7 and they cannot WAIT until after the show to… eat! Not good food, but what they want to eat are crappy things like Dorito chips, Oreo cookies, hamburgers and french fries… All this just to achieve washboard abs for about 1 day. Hmm… yes sure it is fulfilling to know you can reach a goal like that and to know that you can actually gain the “discipline” to get down to single digit body fat, but it’s only temporary. I don’t want to live my life holding my breath waiting for a specific date,  I’d rather learn to enjoy life every day, and perhaps when I’m back to my normal self with a more relaxed attitude to eating, then decide on a new competition date.

farmermarket

So my goal for the coming months is to regain a healthy relationship with food. Eat when I’m hungry but not too much. Just allow myself to eat whatever I want as long as I can pronounce the ingredients, and is something I can find at my local farmer market.  Enough already with the “sugar free syrups” and the artificial crap, which doesn’t taste good anyway.  I may not give up my protein powder, but then again I only eat that once a day after my workout anyway.  I think all of this is possible, I think I can have a ripped body and still enjoy life and food. Imagine that!   Food for thought, and if this has made you hungry, I’m leaving you with a balanced, healthy recipe that you should not feel guilty about eating – but not too much of it, remember? !  Makes for a light, delicious dinner this weekend and is super simple to make.   I’ve borrowed this recipe from Jillian Michael’s, as she was partly responsible for my first weight loss (I did her online program years ago). Happy eating!! 🙂

ALMOND ORANGE RAINBOW TROUT WITH CHIPOTLE YOGURT SAUCE

Adapted from “Master Your Metabolism Cookbook” by Jillian Michaels

For Rainbow Trout:

Olive oil spray, for baking sheet

1/3 cup (1 oz) sliced almonds

1 slice whole-wheat bread, torn into pieces

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

grated zest of 1 orange

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

4 (4 oz) rainbow trout fillet, rinsed and patted dry

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 tbsp nonfat plain Greek yogurt

For Chipotle Yogurt Sauce:

1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped, plus 1 tsp adobo sauce

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

2 tbsp fresh orange juice

1/2 cup non fat plain Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 400F. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil.

Begin fish: In the work bowl of a food processor, place the almonds, bread, garlic, orange zest and cayenne pepper. Pulse several times until roughly chopped. Pour mixture onto a shallow plate.

Prepare Chipotle Yogurt Sauce:  In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the chile and adobo sauce, garlic, lemon and orange juice, blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a small bowl, add low fat yogurt and stir until combined. Taste and add more lemon juice or some salt if desired. Set aside.

Season trout with salt and pepper. Brush top of each fillet with the nonfat yogurt. Press the yogurt coated side of each fillet into the almond mixture. Place the fillet nut side up on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake until fish is firm and not translucent in the center, about 10 minutes.

Spoon the sauce onto the plates, place a piece of trout on each and serve with rice or potatoes of your choice.

Calories: 221

Fat: 9.8g

Protein: 25.3g

Carbohydrates: 10.9g

rainbowtroutjillianmichaels

 

Shopping Smart Series: Making the right choices part 2

Last night I was hungry but while I am normally tempted to go for something sweet (make a protein shake w/cocoa powder for instance) I decided to spice up my vegetables and just eat them like a snack. Sure, you must count the calories of vegetables as well, but the beautiful thing about this food group is that you can eat A LOT of them and still consume very few calories! So if you are ever in the mood for a snack, don’t discount vegetables – they don’t have to be just bland and steamed, you can roast them in the oven, which brings out a wonderful sweetness, season liberally with salt and pepper (and yes, I’m not one of those who watch my sodium – in my opinion there are far worse things out there), grill them, puree them, saute them and season them with fresh herbs, and other spices from your pantry.  There are SO many creative ways to cook this food group – if you are willing to do some research and do some experimenting, you will discover a new world! Look at these cool zucchini shoes (ok don’t try this at home! hahaha):

zucchinishoes

Most fresh vegetables can be judged by their freshness and quality by their appearance. You don’t want any bruising or brownish color /spots and they should feel firm, and not limp.   The best place to buy them is at your local farmer market! Not only will you get the freshest produce, but you’ll also support your hard working farmers helping to keep them in business, as well as limit the carbon footprint from vegetables that have been shipped either across the country or the world… I like to buy my vegetables every 2-3 days, but if you don’t have the time, you can also chop them up and freeze them OR buy pre-packaged frozen veggies too as a last resort. They don’t lose their nutrients this way, but as a chef, I just prefer to work with the freshest ingredients possible 🙂

Here are some other guidelines to shopping for vegetables:

1) Try to buy vegetables that are in season, this is because this is when they are the tastiest and also cheapest!

2) Read the labels if you are buying frozen vegetables to make sure there isn’t a lot of added fat and salt or added ‘sauce’

3) You can also buy the pre-washed, pre-cut bags of salad, carrots and celery, broccoli, etc. to save time. This will typically be more expensive however, as someone has already done the job for you of cutting and washing the veggies! (always wash your veggies when taking them out of a bag regardless, however!)

4) Befriend the produce person in your store, and ask about unfamiliar vegetables, you may learn something you didn’t know and want to try something new to spice up your meals!

Here are some of my favorite vegetables:

1) Artichokes – they provide potassium and folic acid. Look for plump and heavy artichokes, the “scales” outside should be thick, green and fresh looking. Avoid any brown discoloration or moldy growth on the scales. You can steam them and dip them in a low calorie dipping, or puree them for a nice flavorful addition to your meal or add them in pretty much every other savory dish, even can them so you can use in your salads throughout the year.

artichokes

2) Asparagus – they provide vitamins A, C, D, potassium, iron and folic acid. Look for closed, dense tips with smooth, deep, green spears. Avoid tips that seem to be limp or discolored.  Asparagus is the ultimate “diet” food as they are a natural diuretic and very high in water content.  I used to eat them by the bucket load a year ago, and is a vegetable I (luckily) never tire of – my favorite way to eat them is just to char grill them and season them with salt and a squirt of lemon juice. YUM!! Best in the spring.

asparagus

3) Broccoli – provides calcium potassium, iron, fiber, vitamins A an C, folic acid and niacin. Look for stalks that are not TOO tough, but firm and dark green in color.  You can also boil the broccoli to make a mash – a great substitute for the otherwise more calorie dense mashed potatoes. I also chop them finely and add into little egg muffins, or saute them with mushrooms in my stir fry.

broccoli

4) Brussels Sprouts – provides vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid and fiber.  They should be bright green with tight-fitting outer leaves. Avoid the wilted ones with blemishes.  I slice them finely and add some onion, leeks and scallions and saute them for a flavorful veggie side.  In a restaurant I worked at they used to serve them raw, mixed with a TON of pecorino cheese, SO good but of course watch the cheese here. They also used to deep fry them  – of course I wouldn’t recommend this but honestly – probably better than potato chips if you are ever so inclined! 🙂  Did you know they grow on stalks? This is how you’ll see them at the farmer market:

brusselssproutstick

5) Cauliflower – provides vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and fiber. Look for compact, firm curds. Avoid blemished/brown spotted ones. Again, you can make a delicious cauliflower mash with a bit of parmesan and nutmeg, and you won’t miss those potatoes..At the farmer market you can get them in different colors too and I like to buy them here, just because I believe we eat with our eyes, and gorgeous colorful food taste best!

cauliflowertriColor

6) Lettuce – they come in different varieties, butter-head, Romaine, leaf lettuce, arugula, chicory, escarole, etc. They provide lots of good vitamin C and folic acid.  Look for bright color and crisp lettuce, or succulent, tender leaves.  In addition to having them in the token salad, try grilling  romaine lettuce it brings out so much flavor and really adds something special.

lettucevarieties

7) Mushrooms – provide potassium, niacin and riboflavin. again, here we have a multitude of varieties, you want to avoid mushrooms with wide-open caps and dark, discolored gills. I usually smell the gills, and they should smell earthy and not “fishy” and also not look mushy (sign of old mushrooms). Some of my favorite mushrooms include maitake, morels and oyster mushrooms. I add them in my pasta sauce, in omelets, I make a mushroom spread to put on grilled bread, or simply just lightly grill or saute them as a nice addition to my meal.  I also like to use dried mushrooms, plump them up in hot water, and I use the broth (strain first), in soups and sauces, they add such a rich flavor, it’s my “secret weapon”! 🙂

MixedMushrooms

mushroomvarieties

8) Peppers – provide vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber. You can pick green, yellow, red, purple, orange colors – they shold be firm and not be punctured on the outside.  You can roast these in the oven and they bring out an incredible sweetness, delicious in rice and beans or in your salad, make a roast pepper dip instead of fatty mayonnaise/sour cream based dips, or you can also puree them to make a soup – delicious!

BellPeppers

9) Spinach – provides vitamin A, C, calcium, folic acid, potassium and fiber. Look for healthy, fresh, firm leaves with a deep green color.  Personally, I prefer raw spinach (in salads) as opposed to sauteed for some reason – one of my weird kinks. Some people insist more nutrition is had from cooking it – so I do use this sometimes, for instance, I sneak it into my soups and frittatas and other egg dishes, and this way it’s tastier.

spinach

10) Squash  – provides vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber and also include several varieties. There are squash like the zucchini and patty pan squash, but also the winter squash like butternut, delicata and acorn squash. The latter are more calorie dense due to their higher carb content, while the summer squash have next to no calories due to their high water content. Add them into your breakfast bread for a low fat zucchini bread for instance (watch the butter/fat). Obviously buy according to the season for best results!

Summer-Squash

11) Lastly, my absolute favorite: Tomatoes – provides vitamins A and C, and potassium. Here you want well-ripened, smooth tomatoes with a rich, red color (or in the summer, look for those “Ugly” heirloom tomatoes in a variety of colors at the farmer’s market – the tastiest, beefiest tomatoes you have ever tasted, and SO incredibly versatile!). Use them to make tomato sauce or a spicy salsa, grill them, stuff them, add them in salads, on sandwiches or dry them for sun-dried tomatoes to use as a flavorful condiment in many dishes.

heirloomtomatoes

I could go on and on – carrots, peas and sweet potatoes are more starchy and I treat them almost like a carb source when I’m prepping for a show, but otherwise I eat them quite liberally.

I hope you have been inspired to go out and get some fresh vegetables this week – search out a new recipe to try out and add them to your favorite protein, for a healthy, well balanced meal! Happy cooking!

eatvegetablescolors1

Don’t believe the hype

As a relative”newbie” in the fitness world, I still take pride in the fact that I’m a maniac when it comes to researching, studying and testing out whatever I take an interest in – whether it’s about food, wine or health and fitness.  Some people call it obsession, I just call it a desire to get to the bottom of things, and a huge passion for life!  I simply don’t just take somebody’s word for anything unless it’s scientifically proven or, perhaps if the person who is explaining his or her theory, is a true testament to what they are arguing.  Am I going to argue with Dana Linn Bailey for instance (she was my coach during my last contest prep) when she tells me that what she does and implements, works for her? Of course not.  The proof is in the pudding. May or may not work for me, but the truth is she works her ass off.  She doesn’t get all high and mighty about it – she just goes and does it.  I completely respect that and to this day she is my biggest inspiration. On the other spectrum, you have all these “experts” who, typically tend to be quite mouthy, and with perhaps not the most ideal physique, will spew out all these “theories” on what you should and should not do to reach your goals. “Work out on an empty stomach in the morning, it’s the only way to burn fat” (lie), “take x, y, z supplement -this brand is superior” (another lie) and “salt is bad for you” (my favorite lie)… or don’t eat fruit, etc. etc.. I could go on for ages. What has been hyped up in the fitness circles, are spread around like “bro-science” as the term goes, and nobody really bothers to go in depth to find out the whys, hows, and whats.  You can still be lazy if you go to the gym…

rationalemotional

Of course, by being in a caloric deficit, you are going to lose weight no matter what (plain science) and by adding in a ton of cardio, things are (often) sped up.  So if somebody believes you shouldn’t have starch at night and looks great, while another says she or he has a ton of carbs at night and also looks fabulous – then what is true??  As a dear friend told me years ago “There’s a million ways to do the dishes”. True that.

believe+in+yourself._large

The problem I have with all these methods and theories out there, is that some people will just blindly follow anything, and start must have been focused and determined and worked really hard to achieve that particular look (that part I admire), but little do we know if it was done in a responsible way, or whether or not that person can maintain an admirable physique year round.  I’m not going to sit here and say that to get a ripped physique like you see most people possess on stage, is close to “healthy”.  Far from it – but I think that prepping for a show can be done in a much less extreme way than most out there have been thought to do.  Being so lean that you can see striations and ab squares versus living a healthy wholesome life with lots of energy are sometimes two hugely different things. Much like the fitness models you see on the cover of magazines – most of them have admitted to go through pure torture those last few days to get that look.

Diet Concept

The most intense I ever got during contest prep was eating little to no carbs for about 5 days (with the exception of a healthy helping of oatmeal for breakfast) prior to my show.  Regardless, I don’t think I ever was below 2,000 calories per day, I did very little cardio and I still got super lean. This time around, I’m going to go easier on myself, include more carbs and be more patient to get the results I want. I don’t want to go to the gym twice a day, and I don’t want to eat cold fish in tupper ware. My body has been very good to me, and I refuse to be mean to it in return. Does it mean that I will be chugging back vodka and eating Frito Lays every weekend? Of course not – I am going to eat wholesome meals of lean protein, lots of fresh vegetables and a good source of healthy carbs at each meal, drink lots of water and be sure to take my vitamins and fish oil and of course, supplement with whey protein and some creatine for my workouts. That’s it. I don’t want to waste money on a ton of supplements -I believe some can definitely assist you (Especially those who are on a strict diet and lift heavy, they can be a great ADDITION – not replacement! to your diet). I  have tried them all, and I didn’t see or feel any significant difference from most of them. I like to CHEW my food, thank you. Of course, athletes who are sponsored by supplement companies or own a store, will tell you a completely different story… 😉

tabletdinner

So what’s my point of this rambling? I just feel a relief in the sense that I am getting more secure in my own choices, what works for my body and what I need to help me get that optimal physique. Despite the million messages and know- it- all personalities out there, it’s all about trial and error in the end.  I am more confident today that I can achieve what I want, the way I want to do it with continuous research on my own, and as long as I stay focused and dedicated.  Luckily I am extremely self motivated as I keep in mind, the only person I’m trying to impress is me.  I am happy that I can combine my love for fitness, food and wine and still look pretty damn good!

And lastly – I did one legged squats today at the gym, supersetted with weighted step ups, and I can tell you the work – that is NO HYPE!  I am going to have the best a** this summer!! 🙂

With that – check out my FB page that I just started, where I’ll post daily and hopefully entertain some of you and sometimes push you to go to the gym or even give you suggestions for a wine worth the calories! And if you can only have one glass, make sure you find the right glass! Just kidding!! 🙂

wineglass