You Don't Have to Meal Prep

Prepping food ahead of time is a big topic in the health and fitness industry at the moment. Instagram feeds are filled with perfectly packaged Tupperware containers, and people are eager to jump on the bandwagon.

What my weekly meal prep typically looks like!

What my weekly meal prep typically looks like!

I’m currently an advocate of doing so for me, based on the reasons discussed here, but I’m very open to this changing in the future as my priorities and lifestyle morph and evolve. Meal prep is a practice that currently adds tremendous benefits to my life with very little downside.

It’s worth noting that I don’t measure, weigh, or pre-portion any of my meals. I mix and match the night before and am on my merry way.

I don’t travel often for work, I don’t have children or a family to feed, and I’m not responsible for anyone or any living creature besides myself.  Due to these factors, I have the freedom, flexibility, and time to incorporate meal prepping into my lifestyle in a stress-free manner.

What would happen if I did start traveling often for work? If I started a family? If I needed care of a family member? If my time began to be consumed by other priorities?

Then I would likely find an alternative solution that better suited my lifestyle if I felt that was appropriate. This might include enrolling in a meal delivery service (such as Trifecta or Blue Apron), leveraging healthy takeout restaurants, or outsourcing the cooking to someone else.

I would make the choice that I determine is best for my body, my lifestyle, my finances, and my priorities at that moment in time.

My wish for you is that you do the same for yourself. Meal prep shouldn’t be another item on the to-do list that you feel obligated to do out of comparison to other people. Not doing it doesn’t mean your priorities aren’t in line—it simply means your habits and choices are different than mine right now. And that’s great!

As long as you’re making choices that are in alignment with your goals and desires, then I’m happy. Eat all of your meals out, cook every meal at home, or incorporate a combination of all of these. I truly don’t care about which choice you make; I care about whether you believe it’s the right choice for you.

Whether meal prep is something you’ve been wanting to try or you’re a seasoned veteran of the process, my seasonal meal-prep guide makes the process efficient and painless.

As a heads up, it’s designed to be enjoyed in a mix-and-match or ala carte fashion to ensure sufficient variety throughout the week, and portion sizes are variable depending on your own consumption and the number of mouths you’re feeding.

You can get my latest meal prep guide in time to enjoy Spring and Summer favorites by signing up for my Newsletter here!

I Don't Care About What You're Doing - I Care About Why You're Doing It

It’s common for us to look at ideas, issues, concepts, others, and ourselves through a black and white lens. This makes it easier for us; it makes us feel more secure and in control, as if everything has strictly defined order. However, in my own personal experience and those of my clients and loved ones, the majority of happenings in life fall into the grey category.

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Standing steadfastly in one dogmatic camp is extremely common in the health and fitness industry, and with these extreme views often comes a lot of attention. However, I believe that by removing the nuance of each situation, idea, or circumstance, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice.

Looking at people, events, or concepts through a black and white lens means we’re only looking at the surface, and it dismisses the depth of the issue.

When it comes to aesthetic goals, it’s common for people to fall into one of two categories: those in pursuit of a challenge, a practice in discipline, and who understand the physical outcome is transient and superficial, and those who pursue them out of an attachment of their appearance to their self-worth, value, or in an effort to impress others.

The same goal and actions on the surface, yet two very different sets of intentions.

When it comes to tracking food, weighing ourselves, or utilizing any other metric to monitor and track objective progress, it’s common for people to fall into similar camps. I.e. those who are seeking control or don’t trust themselves or their bodies and those who can look at the results objectively and without any attachment to their worth.

One methodology, yet two different sets of intentions.

When meal-prepping, the two camps are often those who want to exercise control over their food due to a lack of trust or disconnection to their bodies (i.e. the wheels will fall off the bus without the strict system) and those who want to have healthy food available quickly, to save time, and to feel better physically.

One process, yet two different sets of intentions.

Exercise, especially the more intense variety like Crossfit or long-distance races, can be completed out of a desire to be challenged physically and mentally and for the enjoyment, whereas another may pursue this activity in an attempt to punish oneself for food choices or in hopes of achieving external validation and accolades.

One activity, yet two different sets of intentions.

Someone can appear as the perfect image of health on the surface but be wrought with a lack of self-worth, disconnection to their body, or due to the pursuit of perfection or external validation.

Alternatively, someone may be enjoying a diet that includes a decent amount of processed foods, and they’re in the process of overcoming an overly restrictive relationship with food. If someone were to judge their eating behaviors on the surface, they would likely label this person as unhealthy, lazy, or disconnected, when they’re really in a process of healing.

The version of me ten years ago engaged in some of the habits I engage in today, including meal prep, cooking many of my meals at home, and working out regularly, yet my intentions back then were rooted in an obsession with changing my appearance, the pursuit of perfection and external validation, and a means of exercising control.

Today, these habits are driven by a desire to treat my body, mind, and spirit with self-respect and nourishment, in addition to enjoyment and the love of a challenge (Hello, crossfit).

When it comes to making personal choices for your health and fitness, I often don’t care what you’re doing—I care why you’re doing it.  Focus on the intentions behind your actions, and if they’re rooted in a foundation of negativity or hustle for value and worth, you’ve found your work.

The work is always beneath the surface.

Carbohydrates - Do You Need to Eat More?

Oatmeal is now a mainstay in my diet, particularly before workouts!

Oatmeal is now a mainstay in my diet, particularly before workouts!

I fully believe in releasing neurotic behaviors and thought patterns around nutrition and our diets in order to live at ease in our bodies and fulfill our potential in life, and this often includes paying attention to and/or counting macronutrients (fats, carbs, proteins). However, when working to overcome food and body obsessions, it can be incredibly frustrating to still feel physically unwell despite our best efforts to feel otherwise.

Feeling well physically lends itself to so much more ease around food, as we feel synergistic with our bodies. It reinforces the notion that we’re working in tandem, and it’s incredibly empowering too.

As I worked to overcome my own food and body obsessions, I continued to feel physically unwell despite my best efforts to eat a nourishing diet and listen to my body. I didn’t realize that I was still subscribing to the dogmatic, low-carb approach I was exposed to ten years prior, and my body and mind were paying the price.  While I wanted to pay LESS attention to my diet, I realized I had to pay more attention to my carbohydrate intake.

I was exposed the concept of eating a low carb diet in high school when my parents’ personal trainer told us about the latest and greatest way to shed weight quickly. I had zero concept of nutrition at this point, and he was in a position of authority, so I blindly listened to his advice. Per his recommendation, I was to eat no more than 15 grams of carbs per meal and to eat every 3-4 hours, which typically led to 4-5 meals and 60-75 grams of carbs per day.

During this time, I was also attending group fitness classes at his gym with my family and a few family friends, and all classes were high-intensity in nature. Classes typically included sprints on the rower, jump squats and lunges, battle ropes, kettlebell swings, ball slams, etc. We moved quickly from one movement to the next and had minimal rest, so my heartrate was spiked during the majority of the 30-minute classes.

What were the results of this low-carb diet coupled with a high-intensity exercise regimen?

I lost 10-15 pounds over the course of six months, stopped getting my period completely, experienced severe moodiness, dry skin, brittle nails, poor digestion, awful sleep, an inability to sit down to a meal without overanalyzing its carbohydrate content, and an obsession with completing high-intensity exercise every single day. My ease around food vanished the minute I began this low carbohydrate way of eating.

A few things I didn’t know at the time:

  • High-intensity exercise requires glycogen. Our bodies convert the glucose from carbohydrates into glycogen, and this is then stored in the liver or muscles if not immediately utilized.
  • Carbohydrates are important to the development of strength and muscle growth.
  • A diet too low in carbohydrates can disrupt and/or slow digestion.
  • Females tend to be more sensitive to decreased carbohydrate intake, and our hormones often respond in kind. I.e. our periods become irregular or stop completely, as was the case for me.
  • A diet too low in carbohydrates can lead to brittle nails, dry skin, poor sleep, and moodiness. I literally turned into a different (often terrible) human-being with zero patience and a short temper, and I had difficulty falling and staying asleep.
  • Calories in vs. calories out leads to fat loss. Gary Taubes’ book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” had recently been released, and this touted the notion that calories don’t actually matter for fat loss, which I now know to be false. Macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat) do affect our bodies differently due to a variety of factors, but calories reign supreme in the end when it comes to fat loss.
  • Carbohydrates hold water in the body. For every 1g of carbohydrates consumed, the body tends to retain approximately 3g of water. Conversely, reducing carbohydrates in one’s diet leads to a decrease in water retention. As a result, those following a low-carb diet often experience rapid weight loss due to the loss of water.  Which leads me to my next point
  • Weight loss does not equal fat loss. It’s common to see the scale drop 5+ lbs. in one week for those new to a low-carb diet, and this is largely due to losing water. For many, this is the incentive they need to continue pushing forward, as they’re under the false impression that all of it is fat. Losing more than 1% of your body weight per week increases the likelihood of losing muscle, so this wouldn’t be an ideal situation anyways.
  • Greatly reducing or eliminating one macronutrient often leads to demonizing certain foods and a poor relationship comprised of fear, resentment, and guilt.

  

It took hours, days, and months of reflection, researching, and experimentation to discover and finally believe that carbohydrates are not the root of all evil for our body composition or health.

I was finally fed up with my fear of carbs and subsequent guilt after eating them, my poor and declining performance in Crossfit, brain fog, low energy, brittle nails, and a missing period, so I decided to start adding carbohydrates back into my diet. I was TERRIFIED of what the results would be, largely due to my fear of gaining weight, but my declining health, poor quality of life, and my tumultuous relationship with food eventually became more cumbersome than the idea of adding some weight to my frame.

During this time, my diet was based on the popular Paleo templates of vegetables, meat, and additional fats. My breakfast usually consisted of eggs, bacon, and greens; my lunch and dinners included vegetables, fatty cuts of meat, and often additional fats like avocado, butter, or nut butter. I enjoyed the occasional sweet potato with dinner, but that was the extent of my carbohydrate intake.

I started adding a small serving of carbohydrates to each meal, such as a cupped handful of rice, potatoes, or sweet potato. I enjoyed oatmeal before my workouts, and I often had a post-workout smoothie that included fruits. I was eating more carbohydrates than I had been in ten years, and the rest of my diet remained fairly consistent.

The Results

Within a few weeks I had gained 5 pounds, and I stopped stepping on the scale after that point. I began to mull over the potential reasons for the weight gain. Was it water weight? Was I actually gaining fat? Would it stop or would it continue? I didn’t know the answers at the time, but I kept trucking along in hopes that my body and weight would stabilize.

My fear and guilt around carbs had also lessened significantly by this point, and I wasn’t willing to give up my newfound ease around these foods for the sake of the scale. However, I knew in the back of my mind that there would be a tipping point for my weight gain, and I would likely adjust my diet again if my weight crept up to a point where I was no longer comfortable. I didn’t place a number on this, but the sentiment was lurking in the back of my mind. Still, I continued with my experiment.

While I still didn’t step on the scale again until a year later, my weight eventually stabilized around three months later as evidenced by the way my clothes fit. I would estimate a total weight gain of ten pounds. Some of this was water, and some of it was fat.

Six months after my initial increase in carbs, my period returned after being absent for two years. This was a HUGE win for me, and I decided in that moment that I would never return to a low-carb way of eating again (barring health conditions that warrant this protocol).

As a long-time sufferer of digestive issues, I wasn’t surprised by the bloating I experienced when adding in the carbohydrates. However, this subsided within a few months, and I was utterly shocked by the overall improvement in my digestion after the initial adjustment period. I was no longer experiencing nightly bloating and frequent constipation.

In the gym, I started adding weight to my lifts rather quickly, and this came after I had remained stagnant for many months. I was working hard previously, so it wasn’t for lack of effort, but I simply wasn’t providing my body with the fuel it needed to get through high-intensity CrossFit workouts or build strength. I was able to make it through difficult workouts much more easily with the addition of my new friends, and I got my first pull-up within two months of increasing my carbohydrate intake.

I was finally able to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep throughout the night. Today, shitty sleep is an early sign for me that my carbohydrate intake has dipped too low.

My mood became much more consistent, and that means consistently positive, motivated, and patient. My brain fog began to dissipate, and my nails stopped peeling and got stronger.

Some of these improvements may be attributable to an overall increase in calories.  I can’t say with any certainty due to the lack of data I have from these points in time, as I wasn’t tracking my carbohydrate or overall calorie intake. However, with many of my clients, an increase in carbohydrates with a net-neutral effect on calories has resulted in the same improvements.  This is purely anecdotal though.

As always, nuance and context are very important when it comes to nutrition. For some, a decrease in carbohydrates will be beneficial, whereas an increase might be the key to improving someone’s health and well-being, as was the case for me.

Stay tuned for Part II where I discuss how I recommend increasing carbohydrate intake with my clients, nuanced recommendations, and what I would have done differently myself!

Meal Prep - Why I do it & How to Overcome Common Roadblocks

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Meal prep. These words evoke various responses from people, ranging from dedication to disgust. And I get it, as my own responses and opinions have run the gamut too.  Preparing my food ahead of time for the week used to be an integral part of my food and body obsession; it was a sure way to exercise control externally during a time when my internal world was in disarray. Now, however, I use meal prep as part of my self-care regimen, and my motivation comes from a place of love and respect for myself. Additionally, I simply think the food I make tastes better than most takeout options, it’s more budget friendly, and it’s a huge time saver throughout the rest of my week. What’s not to love? 

Well, there are a few things people don’t love about it, at least at first glance:

·      The time and effort it takes to actually cook the food:  If you’re not familiar with cooking and haven’t spent much time in the kitchen, then I understand how the thought of cooking a few days’ worth of food can seem daunting. Using complicated, messy, and time-consuming methods will not only seem daunting, they will be.  That’s why I’m such a big believer in using short cuts whenever and wherever we can.  Some short-cut food items may cost a bit more, but to me, time is more valuable than a slight differential in cost.  What does this look like in action?  Purchase pre-cut vegetables and those you can steam in the bag, roast as many things as possible in the oven to reduce cleanup and save time, and use an Instant Pot or Crockpot. When roasting several items in the oven, I don’t get too caught up in temperature variances for vegetables, potatoes, squash, etc., as they’re more forgiving than meats. For example, it may be more ideal to roast potatoes at a lower temperature than brussel sprouts, but the difference is fairly insignificant. Especially if we can kill two birds with one stone.  It can take time to feel comfortable with this, but with some experience, you’ll get there!

·      Boredom with meals: This is a big one for most people, as it is for me.  I overcome this by prepping individual meal components 90% of the time, and I may throw an actual “meal” into the rotation if I’m craving something in particular (chili, frittata, casserole, etc.).  Individual meal components include proteins, vegetables, and carbohydrates.  They are prepared separately and then mixed and matched throughout the week.

·      Little room for spontaneity: This is true if we’re using meal prep as a method of control. Ideally, we want to use it to facilitate the ease of eating healthy and delicious food throughout the week while also leaving room for spontaneity and meals out if desired. My weeks tend to be rather busy, so I usually make plans ahead of time on weeknights. Therefore, I’ll make less food for the week if I’ll be eating out a few nights.  Conversely, if something pops up last minute, I roll with it and go! Simple as that. Sure, a meal’s worth of food might go bad, but it’s really not a big deal in the long run. I completely understand the willingness to eliminate food waste, as I do myself, but it’s a sunk cost at that point. And we’re doing the best we can with the information we have at the time. This brings me to my next point.

·      Wasting food: I know many people who have a meal plan in hand, purchase a ton of food, and then never get around to actually cooking it. Thus, all of the food spoils.  There are likely several factors at play that are contributing to the resistance to actually cooking the food, including buying and purchasing food you’re not excited about (i.e. someone else is dictating your food choices), feeling as though you need to weigh, measure, and pre-portion everything (you shouldn’t), not carving out the time to cook, or not making the cooking process enjoyable.  First, you should only eat things you enjoy, period. Secondly, if you’re attempting to jump head first in a macro counting plan that requires you to weigh, measure, and pre-portion your food when you don’t have experience cooking, then of course you’re going to feel overwhelmed! You should also ask yourself if you need to be weighing and measuring your food to begin with (let’s talk). Thirdly, you’ll have to move things around in your schedule to carve out 1-2 hours. It may seem like a hassle at first, but it will become part of your routine like everything else after some consistency. Lastly, we need to find a way to make the process of cooking enjoyable for YOU, and that will look different for everyone.

·      I hate cooking: This is an easy out. Many people resort to this response, and I later discover it’s due to their complete lack of experience with cooking. Most things are difficult when we start without experience, and similarly to those challenges, it becomes easier with time and practice. And with ease comes greater enjoyment.  I too experienced the frustration and clumsiness that comes with not knowing one’s way around a kitchen, but it’s now a source of relaxation and a way to clear my head. I throw on some tunes or a podcast, and I’m good to go! Stick with it, and I promise it will become easier.

While I love meal prep during this time in my life, I can’t sit here and claim that it will always be a staple in my life. And I don’t believe it’s for everyone. I’m a huge believer in making your healthy habits suit you and your individual lifestyle, and there are certainly workarounds for those who either have conflicting priorities (I.e. demanding family and/or work obligations) or detest cooking even after giving it a fair shot. However, for those of us who want to save some money, learn how to cook, and want healthy and delicious food available throughout the week, then this might be the golden ticket!  My hope is that everyone discovers their own personalized ways of making this process fit into their lifestyles in an enjoyable and feasible way. You can get started with my seasonal meal prep guide you get for FREE when you sign up for my newsletter here!