By Carolyn Camilleri
If you haven’t changed up your fitness and diet plan in a while, it’s time to refresh your knowledge about what’s healthy and what’s not — and revitalize your approach.
There’s a revolution happening in health and fitness. No, I’m not talking about upside-down yoga or the cabbage diet (which seems to be a comeback from the early 80s). I’m talking about sound, safe and sensible approaches that yield healthy results in healthy ways.
“We need to learn how to be nice to ourselves,” says Michele Shorter of BDHQ Body Dynamics, “and to nourish our beautiful bodies with all kinds of exercise and movement and also lovely food instead of being so mean to ourselves and always having to be on a diet or go on a cleanse.”
To help you find the healthiest approach for your lifestyle, YAM looks at outdated health and fitness approaches to showcase new, healthier concepts.
Then: Extreme Diets
Now: Balance is Back
As a nutritionist, Danielle Van Schaick of Dani Health and Nutrition Services has seen a lot of crazy diets, including diets that limit the kinds of foods you can eat and severely restrict calories, which can deprive you of key nutrients and lead to digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome.
“Any diet that has you taking in low calories will do more harm than good,” she says. “Taking in less than your body needs each day will cause you to lose weight but, at the same time, slows your metabolism and causes you to lose muscle. With a slower metabolism, your body doesn’t need as many calories. So, you’re in a worse position than you were before you started the diet.”
And then there are cleanses. “If one of my clients tells me they are doing a cleanse, I will then restrict their access to the gym,” says Narina Prokosch of Victoria Wellness Professionals. “I don’t want someone trying to exercise with low blood sugar.”
The new thinking about diet is a welcome move toward a comprehensive wellness plan.
“My thinking is that we always need to be eating well and try not to make ourselves suffer through it,” says Shorter. “It is perfectly awesome to nourish our bodies.”
Shorter says a well-balanced diet is one that works not only if you are trying to lose weight or build muscle, but also if you are diabetic or pregnant. Plus, you should be able to follow the same plan for everyone in your family.
Pay attention to things like water, protein, greens and vegetables, says Shorter. “Reduce the sugar and eat closer to the earth and pay attention to your animal proteins and if they have been fed hormones — I think that is far more dangerous than gluten for most people.”
Then: Fat is Evil
Now: Good Fat is Good
After decades, the low-fat nightmare is truly over. “Everything used to be low fat, low fat, low fat but when we actually look at those low fat foods, they’re chock full of sugar,” says Kristal Anderson, a faculty member in the department of exercise science at Camosun College.
But it’s more than just the sugar that has ended the low-fat era. Turns out, fat is actually really good for us.
“It’s still a new trend even though, for a lot of us on this side of things, it’s not a new thing anymore,” says Carmine Sparanese, general manager at Lifestyle Markets. But of key importance, he notes, is that you eat non-GMO and organic fats.
What kind of fat? Avocado, eggs, butter. … Butter?
“Without a doubt,” he says. “It’s the high-quality butter from organically raised cows that have seen lots of grass or mainly grass. That kind of butter.”
But wait a minute — those are saturated fats. And that’s good? Yes, absolutely.
The new thinking around fat is the focus of The Big Fat Surprise, the 2014 book written by journalist Nina Teicholz, which looks at how we have been misled into thinking fats are bad. Another big player on the saturated-fat team is Dr. Joseph Mercola, author of Sweet Deception and Take Control of Your Health, as well as the article “Why I Believe Over Half of Your Diet Should Be Made Up of Saturated Fats.” The Bulletproof Diet, by Dave Asprey, just released in December, also supports the idea that saturated fats are healthy.
One of the benefits of bringing fat back into our diets is that it helps us reduce body fat — yes, you read that right.
“It takes fat to burn fat,” says Sparanese.
And you can stop counting calories. “Eating a high-fat program, calories are one of the last things that you’re thinking about,” says Sparanese. “You’re looking at more satiation and fueling the body and watching it run like a Ferrari rather than restricting calories, watching all the body systems shut down and try to compensate.”
Then: Fitness is Work
Now: Fitness Should be Fun
Shorter is seeing a growth in cross training — changing things up to keep fitness fresh and, most importantly, fun.
At BDHQ, one of the most popular programs is The Drill, which uses ropes, tires, monkey bars and other pieces of equipment in an almost nightclub-like atmosphere with a live DJ.
“Minus the alcohol,” laughs Shorter. “We call it our ‘happy hour.’”
Then: No Tech or Low Tech
Now: There’s a Device / App for That
Garmin Vivosmart, Basis Peak, Microsoft Band, Moov — these are just a few of the higher-rated wearable fitness trackers out there. And if you don’t fancy wearing your tracker, you can download an app into your smartphone instead: Argus, Coach Alba, Cyclemeter, Digifit iCardio and Endomondo Sports Tracker are a few getting good reviews.
What they do is count everything: steps taken, hours slept, food eaten, cups of coffee, and intensity, time and duration of exercise — in order to increase awareness and indicate red flags.
“We may think we are eating enough fruit and vegetables or getting enough exercise, but when we actually start to record it, we may discover we are not doing so well after all,” Anderson says.
Often, these devices do more than count: information can be downloaded, graphed and shared with coaches. Some of the apps are also connected to social media, allowing users to communicate and post tips.
Using trackers and apps is something that Anderson teaches in a class on change psychology and how to help individuals alter behaviours.
“Whether we’re a strength and conditioning coach or we’re working in more of a chronic disease capacity, whatever the capacity, we’re helping them change a behaviour.”
Finding the right tracker or app for you takes some homework.
“They’re coming out all the time,” says Anderson, adding that everyone has individual preferences and that many of the apps have free versions available for pilot testing. She also recommends reading the reviews first.
“Generally, when something comes out, I would even wait a little bit because sometimes it takes a few weeks or even a while longer for some of the kinks to be worked out.”
One of the apps she recommends is called Lift (//www.lift.do), a support system you use with your smartphone that allows you to choose the habit you want to change. Maybe you want to walk every morning, compete in the next Good Life marathon, meditate twice a week or cut back on TV watching.
The idea behind Lift is that you sign up for a challenge and through its coaching, supportive community and tracking results, you are encouraged to reach your goal. You can start free and upgrade if you like it.
Then: The Long, Slow Burn
Now: High Intensity, Shorter Bursts
HIIT — High Intensity Interval Training — has been around for a while but continues to be a very strong trend for a number of reasons.
“I think the busier we get, the more stressful our fast-paced life, the more there will be a need for this short, sharp, intense work out,” says Anderson.
“I think it’s got a lot of benefits. For some people, it’s fun because it can be very social; the time flies by.”
Anderson describes it as “a lot of oxygen-sucking exercises” that are great for weight loss, and because people see results, they see changes in body composition.
Doing too much too soon can cause injury and Anderson stresses the importance of allowing time for recovery and paying attention to progressions — gradually increasing the frequency and time.
The trick, she says, is finding a good instructor, and she thinks the options in Victoria are very good.
Then: Alone or Lost in the Crowd
Now: Small Group Training
“People want to learn how to use muscles and they want to get personal training but they want to be able to afford it,” says Shorter of BDHQ Body Dynamics, who travels the country looking at fitness trends.
With small group training, you get the benefits of close work with a trainer combined with the energy that comes from working with three to six other people, all at a more affordable price. And that makes fitness sustainable.
Then: Blame the Glands
Now: Manage Adrenal and Cortisol Levels
Years ago, people might have blamed weight problems on “glands” and left it at that. Now, we are taking control of our hormonal health by monitoring our cortisol and adrenal levels.
“Those are the main, let’s say, drivers of a lot of hormonal imbalancing, which, of course, leads to mid-section fat which is the worst kind of fat,” says Sparanese.
“If you have a high-cortisol, adrenally challenged lifestyle, then eating a higher fat diet automatically improves things,” he says, referring to his earlier comments about high-quality fats in our diets.
The other key component is getting enough good-quality sleep, says Sparanese. Chronic sleep deprivation messes up your body’s cortisol secretion, causing it to elevate which may increase the likelihood of diabetes and obesity, which can then lead to a host of other problems.
Then: Diet Pills
Now: The Natural Approach
“Diet pills that have stimulants like Ephedra — those are not the way to burn fat,” says Sparanese, explaining that these pills increase the heart rate — exactly what someone with adrenal challenges doesn’t need. “Going back to that poor adrenally challenged person again — when they take these fat loss pills that have Ephedra and other stimulants that may increase heart rate, it’s just a double whammy.”
While there are supplements that address fat that may help some people, there is not a one-size-fits-all remedy — it depends on each body’s unique needs.
Before recommending products, Sparanese says he first looks at some other issues that may be inhibiting fat loss.
Liver health is his first consideration. For efficient weight loss, and especially if you are following a diet higher in fats, the liver needs to be healthy. Sparanese suggests milk thistle or liver health formulas that include milk thistle to help stimulate the liver.
“[The liver] actually regenerates itself — it’s beautiful — it’s quite the organ,” he says. “That alone helps people lose fat.”
Next, he suggests Vitamin D because it helps to balance hormones, which, in turn, helps the body manage fat efficiently.
The third consideration is probiotics.
“We are so misbalanced or unbalanced in our gut microbiota or gut flora, that we have no ability to maintain proper probiotic balance,” he says. “Everything we eat is so processed.”
Then he gets into the fat burners; for example, Fucoidan — a Japanese brown seaweed extract that has a natural thermogenic — which increases the body’s ability to burn fat without raising one’s heart rate.
FucoTHIN, Lean Energy, Ortho-Adapt, Lean Plus and Anti-Stress are a few other products that may help some people.
“But with products like these — I like to call them adaptogens — those are the kinds of things to help build you back up,” says Sparanese, explaining that they are intended to help people as they learn to live their lives in a better way and that they are not intended to be taken forever.
While health and fitness approaches are definitely getting smarter and the options available are clearly more balanced and sensible, there is one thing that remains unchanged: you have to make a change and stick with it.