Can I really go 14 days without sugar?

Last week I mentioned a great clean eating blog I found on the web; The Gracious Pantry (wonderful, clean recipes and fabulous food photography). On Saturday, I followed a link from this website to another inspirational site; Fit Fabulous Forever (more wonderful, clean eating recipes and lots of tips about exercise and weight loss).

Not sufficient with being incredible mentors on their own, the authors (Tiffany and Gale, respectively) of these two sites have teamed up to create ‘The 14-day No Sugar Challenge‘. The goal of the challenge is exactly as it sounds; eliminate all forms of processed sugar (including, but not limited to white sugar, brown sugar, glucose-fructose, honey, maple syrup and agave nectar) from your diet for fourteen days.

Always up for a challenge :) , I decided to join in!

Now I knew where my weaknesses would be; Hershey’s chocolate syrup in my morning coffee, a handful of chocolate chips mid-afternoon, dessert on Fridays and Sundays. But it’s only two weeks. I don’t anticipate that I will go completely sugar-free once this challenge is over; I really look forward to and enjoy dessert nights with my family. For me this challenge is more about finding those extras that I can live without.

I started by taking a look in my pantry. Since I don’t tend to buy candy or packaged baked goods (I bake my own, often cleaning up old favourites by subbing in whole wheat flour, bran and flax seed for white flour, applesauce or pumpkin puree for the fat, and brown sugar for white) and make a habit of reading product labels before I buy, I figured that my cupboards wouldn’t reveal too many forbidden items.

Was I ever wrong.

All of my favourite “healthy” products (you know, those ‘low in fat’, ‘high fibre’, ‘good source of protein’ ones?) contained added sugars.

Kashi Go Lean Crunch; evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup and honey; 15 g of sugar per serving
Kashi Seven Whole Grains and Almonds Chewy bars; evaporated cane juice syrup, honey and cane juice molasses; 5 g of sugar per serving
President’s Choice Blue Menu Omega-3 almond vanilla granola; brown sugar, sugar and honey; 10 g of sugar per serving
Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Pancake and Waffle mix; sugar, dextrose, glucose solids; 3 g of sugar per serving
Nature’s Path Organic Instant Oatmeal; granulated organic cane juice; 11 g of sugar per serving

Now I realize that these sugar counts are relatively low (as compared with say, 3 Oreo cookie or a small bag of red Twizzlers; 14 and 28 g, respectively), and in all likelihood, when this no-sugar challenge is over, I will go back to including them in my diet (perhaps less frequently…). But for me, this exercise is more about increasing my awareness of the presence of added, and unnecessary sugar, in my diet. Given the link between sugar consumption and weight gain, this is surely a good thing!

I’ve slipped up a couple of times; hubby made chocolate chip cookies (the un-clean kind) and even though he tucked them away, out of sight, I could still smell them and had to have a taste (but I stopped at just one!); the remainder of my daughter’s after school granola bar; a beer during the hockey game (Go Canucks Go!). But I’ve given up my morning mocha for a non-fat latte and don’t miss the chocolate in my coffee at all.

You can follow my daily progress and updates on Facebook (go ahead, ‘friend’ me, Tamara Grand, I won’t bite!) and what the rest of the challenge participants are up to on the Fit Fabulous Forever forum.

What have you got to lose (other than your sweet tooth?)!

Confessions of a serial project mom

Psst. Wanna know something? I often bite off more than I can chew and I THRIVE on the challenge of getting things done! I’m never happier than when I’m diving into a new project, be it fitness, knitting, new technology know-how, another certification…

Finishing things up, though, that’s where the real work lies. It’s not that I leave projects languishing (I’m much too Type A for that!), it’s just that my excitement for them fades when the prospect of a new project arises. Sound familiar?

Lately, I’ve been pretty good at getting things done. And to celebrate, I thought I’d bring you up to date on my various projects; knitting, more knitting, career advancement and gulp, bikini body.

First, the pretty pictures (with links to Ravelry pattern pages, for the knitterly among you).

A lovely, merino and cashmere shawl; Wandering the Moors, knit in Saffron Dyeworks ‘Tush’ (I love that name! And it is as soft as a baby’s bottom!).

My daughter’s much-begged-for hoodie (which she has yet to wear; apparently it’s being saved for a ‘special occasion’, which better occur before she outgrows it, or else); Camp Hoodie, knit mainly in Cascade ‘Ultra Pima’.

A pair of silk and wool socks, currently making their way across the country in honor of Mother’s Day; my own basic ribbed sock pattern knit in Adirondack ‘Silky Sock’.

A pretty pink extra large beaded wrap; Rose Lace Stole knit in Jojoland Melody Superwash (I love the long, gradual colour changes in this yarn, and it’s incredibly soft given the nylon content).

And two works-in-progress (I actually started a third since beginning this post, but I haven’t had time to photograph it. Next time.).

Wispy Cardigan, a light weight, shrug-style cardi knit in Indigo Moon Merino. I just know that this will be my go-to sweater this summer. Don’t you think it will look great with jeans and a tank? (I know, not a lot of shaping to see here, yet. Patience, my knitters, patience).

And a super-secret project whose details I must protect until it’s recipient unwraps it (May 26th, but no more clues!). The yarn is Saffron Dyeworks ‘Enya’. The colour is called ‘Frog Blancmange’; don’t you just love it? (I know, lace, on the needles, really doesn’t look like much; just wait until it’s finished and blocked!).

Workwise, I’ve just signed up for an on-line course that’s the first pre-requisite for obtaining my ‘Supervisor of Fitness Leaders’ status with BCRPA. This designation will allow me to become a supervisor of group fitness instructors (and will make it so that I don’t have to teach as many classes a week…). I have a month to complete the course work, fitting it in around all of my other obligations. I’ll let you know how it goes!

As for my fitness and nutrition project (The Last 10 Pounds, remember?), I am happy to report a net loss of 3 pounds (4 lost, 1 found it’s way home). As of today my numbers are;

Weight: 144 lbs
Chest: 36″ (whew, don’t have much to lose up there!)
Waist: 28 1/2″
Abdomen: 30″
Hips/butt: 38″

The only thing that’s changed is the last one; I’m down 1 inch about the hips. Everything else remains the same. (No need for a bikini shot; you’re really not going to see that small of a difference!). On track and reasonable (but not stellar) progress over the last three weeks.

I’d love to see the scale hit (and remain at) 140, but am most interested in seeing change in the mirror (and being comfortable, once again, in a certain pair of jeans…).

I’ve found dialling in my nutrition to be very challenging. I still have a sweet tooth. After school is my ‘danger time’. I have to be very conscious of not finishing off the remainders of my children’s lunches! It’s all too easy to convince myself to have a larger portion on days I’ve done a strenuous workout (the “you’ve earned it” trap).

Initially, I was using My Fitness Pal (a free online food tracking website that also has inexpensive iPhone and iPad applications) to log my meals after I’d eaten them, and sometimes, not until the end of the day. Not so helpful to know you’ve gone over your daily calorie allotment when it’s too late to do anything about it (I’m not purging… if you get my drift).

Screen capture of food diary, MyFitnessPal

Also, since I’m trying to retain, and even increase my lean muscle mass, I need to be certain I’m reaching my protein goals each day. That’s one of the neat things about My Fitness Pal; it calculates daily targets for fats, protein and carbohydrates and compares your daily intake of these dietary components to your targets (you can also override their calculations and insert your own values, but I don’t advise doing so unless you have a good understanding of your body’s nutritional needs). Makes it very easy to see where you’ve made nutritional ‘mistakes’.

Why not use it to see those mistakes before you make them? Why not use the ap as a nutrition planner rather than a nutrition tracker?

For the last week I’ve been doing just that. Each evening, I sit down and ‘create’ my meals and snacks for the following day. Using the daily nutrition option, I can get a preview of what the following day will look like and adjust accordingly.

It takes me about 15 minutes to plan a day’s meals; a little less if it’s time to go shopping (less food in the fridge means fewer options for meals…). But what’s 15 minutes a day if it leads to a leaner, healthier you?

And finally, we have a new addition at our house. Kind of a long term project.

Meet Saffron (name after both her coat colour and my favourite yarn!). She was rescued by one of my clients after being abandoned by either her mother or her owner. I couldn’t resist. Could you?

The Last 10 Pounds

So, I have a confession to make. I’ve been cheating. I have strayed from my nutrition plan and have payed the price.

Hanging my head in shame.

Over the last 8 months, I’ve gained about 10 pounds on the scale. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was lifting fairly heavy weights 3 or 4 times a week. I was teaching my usual 3-4 cardio classes as well. My clothes still fit. Nobody was telling me I looked fat (not that my husband would ever dream of making a comment like that; although my 8-year old daughter would, she still has the brutal honesty of the young…).

I had almost convinced myself that I was putting on muscle (but really, 10 pounds of muscle on my frame, come on), when I decided to do a little reality check. I got out the tape measure and camera. Gulp.

Weight; 147 lbs
Height; 5’7″
Chest; 36″
High waist; 28.5″
Abdomen; 30″
Hips/butt; 39″

Using my standard method of estimating per cent body fat (not BMI; BMI only considers height and weight, not body composition or the relative proportion of your total body weight that is fat), I was carrying around 31.3 pounds of fat (21.3% body fat)! That’s a lot for me, personally. I feel best at 18-19% body fat, which corresponds to approximately 136-138 lbs (of course that depends on how much muscle mass I’m carrying).

When I put on my favorite bathing suit and took some quick pics in the mirror (pardon the splatter marks that I forgot to clean off first!), it became immediately obvious to me just where that extra 10 pounds had accumulated. A little bit too much junk hanging out of the bottom of the bathing suit. A small spare tire around the middle. (Note that these photos are not meant to be gratuitous bikini shots, but rather, a tool to motivate myself to do better. Skip them if you’d prefer not to look!).

By my calculation, I’ve got about 10 weeks until summer holidays start. I want to look and feel great at the beach. Taking little bits and pieces from all my favorite fit females (Rachel Cosgrove, Tosca Reno, Jillian Michaels and MizFit, to name a few), I’ve put together a plan. I’m going to share it with you as a means to stay accountable and perhaps, to help any of you who are also on a mission to shed those last 10 pounds. Note that this plan is based on my goals, my body, my schedule and most importantly, my ability to stay focused and on course. If you join me, your results may differ from mine.

My three-pronged approach:

1. Exercise; I’ve been following the NROL for Abs and have been pleased with the results I’m getting. My core strength has improved immensely. I’m lifting heavier and doing more of the metabolic intervals each week. I’m currently half-way through Phase 2 and plan to continue with this program as it’s written. In addition to 3 days of weight training, I also do cardio intervals on the spin bike two times a week.

2. Water; While I’m usually fairly well hydrated, increasing water consumption will help elevate my metabolism and burn more fat. It will also make me feel fuller between meals. I’m aiming for 75-80 ounces a day (1/2 ounce per pound of body weight). I always drink an 8 ounce glass immediately after my morning coffee to help counter-act the diuretic effects of the caffeine and to get my insides moving!

3. Nutrition; This is where I really need to re-tool. I’ve been having way too many splurges (cookies, wine, chips, cake) to look and feel my best. My first week’s goal is to eliminate these from my diet, along with all pre-packaged, processed foods (including bread, pasta and cereals other than oats and low-fat granola). The fewer ingredients on the package, the better. Getting rid of processed foods will also help eliminate sugar.

I’ll be eating 3-4 ounces of lean protein at each meal (5 small meals per day), along with a fruit (no more than 3 per day) or vegetable (as many as I want) and a healthy fat (olive oil, coconut oil, flax or chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews). In addition to choosing the right fats, the key to losing fat while eating fat is to limit serving size (1 tablespoon of oil or seeds, 1/4 cup of nuts).

I’ll be timing my starchy carbohydrates; one serving at breakfast (oats, clean cereal, quinoa, ezekial bread) and one at my post-workout meal (sweet potato, brown rice, barley, quinoa, whole grain couscous). Again, I’ll be watching serving sizes here, even clean carbs have calories that add up quickly.

Limiting my splurges to 3-4 per week. A glass of wine is a splurge. A cookie for dessert is a splurge. A half of a bagel or a muffin is a splurge. I will be planning these so they are not wasted on things that are not an absolute party in my mouth.

So, are you in?

Love to hear how it’s going; comments below, please!

But what do you eat?

Despite the wealth of information out there about eating for health, weight loss and muscle gain, I believe that most people are still confused when it comes to nutrition. That they think there is some magic formula for eating correctly and reaching their health and fitness goals.

The evidence? Almost daily, in the gym, in the grocery store, after teaching a group fitness or indoor cycling class, someone approaches me and asks “but what do you eat?”. I’m assuming that they want my opinion because I teach fitness classes and look strong and lean (feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong).

I don’t follow any specific diet. Not Atkins or Weight Watchers or The Zone. I don’t count calories or points. I have a cookie when I feel like it (but only one). I have a weakness for chocolate. What, then, do I eat?

For the last three years, I have been following the tenets of Clean Eating;

  • eating 5 or 6 small meals per day
  • drinking lots and lots of water
  • consuming whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats at each meal
  • limiting my alcohol consumption (no more than 2 glasses per week)
  • avoiding processed and packaged foods (no crackers or store-bought cookies)
  • attempting (ahem) to eliminate white sugar (this one is really hard for me)

I didn’t always eat this way. My husband is Italian and we used to eat lots of pasta, often with creamy sauces and fresh-from-the-bakery bread. I would happily eat a Starbucks muffin for lunch, thinking that because it was a ‘bran’ muffin, it was good for me. Cheese and crackers were a common evening snack (with a glass of vino, of course!).

After the birth of my third child, I started lifting weights. My body responded quickly to this new (to me) form of exercise (although I went from a size 12 to a size 6-8, I lost virtually no weight on the scales!) and I began to get serious about the nutritional side of fitness.

So, what do I eat?

I always eat breakfast (the best way to lose weight and maintain muscle). Usually it’s the remains of my children’s home-made, whole-grain waffles (I add quinoa flakes and whey powder for extra protein, flax seed, wheat germ and wheat bran for fiber and healthy fat), dressed with a bit of non-fat yogurt and some fruit. I don’t drink juice; water is much better for you!

Mid-morning snack is usually fruit and nuts (and only a few; although they are a great source of healthy fat, nuts are extremely high in calories), although if I’ve had a tough workout, this is when I’ll have my fruit and whey powder shake.

Lunch is always veggies and lean protein; cottage cheese or turkey or left-over chicken mixed with a cup or two of whatever raw veggies are in the fridge (my favorites are red and yellow peppers, cucumbers and spinach). No dressing, but a handful of unsalted sunflower or pumpkin seeds for crunch and healthy fat.

Mid-afternoon snack might be an apple or banana and peanut butter (no salt, no sugar added), or a brown rice cake with almond butter.

Dinner is always lots of greens (I’m loving kale, right now) and lean protein (about 4 oz). If I’m needing a bit more energy (days I teach and train, or when I have to teach in the evening), I’ll add a whole grain (couscous, quinoa, brown rice) or starchy vegetable (sweet potato, squash) to the meal. During the week, I usually make a fruit salad for dessert.

Some evenings I find that I need a snack (whole grain cereal and 1% milk or fruit and yogurt), some evenings I don’t.

My daily splurges? A teaspoon of chocolate syrup in my coffee, a ‘clean’ cookie or muffin that I’ve baked myself.

My weekly splurges? A glass of wine on Friday and maybe Saturday night. A small piece of some decadent dessert on Friday and Sunday evenings (those are ‘dessert nights’ in my house, without which my children would not be so patient with the rest of the healthy foods I present them with during the week).

There’s really nothing magical about eating healthily; eliminating white sugar and white flour is tricky at the start, but with practice and some good recipes, you’ll be eating clean (and losing fat!) before you know it.