Men’s Health July 2014 ‘Ask The Trainer’ Q&A Column

mens health julyAn English translation for my monthly column in Men’s Health Thailand.

I want to reduce abdominal fat and have been told I should drop my carbohydrate intake. What’s your view on this?

For years fat was the enemy, but in recent years views have shifted and now it’s commonly thought that carbs should be reduced or avoided to lose weight. This view is largely correct, most people consume far too many carbohydrates for their activity levels and many find it easier to overeat carbs as opposed to foods higher in protein and fat. To put it another way, many people feel more full and satisfied when consuming lower carbohydrate diets. Excessive carb consumption can also promote high levels of a hormone called insulin which often leads to fat gain, especially if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. However, nutrition is a very unique thing – what works for me may not work for you, and you should experiment with your carbohydrate and fat levels to find out what works best for you.

image (2)Diet is crucial in reducing abdominal fat, but rather than focusing too much on the protein, fat and carbohydrate percentages you should first make sure that you’re eating high quality food. This means eating as little processed food as possible, preparing your own meals as opposed to eating in restaurants and consuming whole, natural foods such as organic meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts wherever possible. If you get this right you will often hit your goals, look great and start showing your abdominal and core muscles without the need for tracking calories or macronutrient (carb, protein and fat) amounts.

If you’ve got that right and are still not hitting your goals, you should then try tracking and recording your food intake, make some adjustments, try some new things and monitor the results. If you are unsure how to do this you can seek the help of a personal trainer or nutritionist to guide you.

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Interval training at one of our group classes at BASE is a great way to burn fat. We recommend our signature class for this, BASECAMP.

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A Bangkok Juice Fast + No Caffeine or Alcohol

After eliminating meat and grains and playing around with my meal frequency I was eager for a new food experiment.

Displaying exquisite timing, Codi from Lifestyle Juice Cleanse (I’ll refer to as LJC) contacted me asking if I’d like to try a 3 day juice fast and blog about it.

3 days consuming nothing but juice didn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, which was all the more reason to do it. I signed myself up.

I regularly do 24 hour fasts where I abstain from food and calorie containing beverages from, say, 2pm one day to 2pm the next, so I felt as though I would be well prepared for this experiment.

Why juice fast?

It seems as though the main reasons people juice fast are to lose weight and to detox, presumably after a period of abuse. Juicing can also provide a good way to cram in a load of nutrients in a simple, easy serving.

I didn’t want to lose weight and didn’t feel I was toxic enough to require a detoxification, but I thought it would still be interesting to see how I felt and what the effects on my body would be. Also, if friends or clients asked about it or wanted to try it I would be well placed to give a first-hand opinion.

LJC told me about a movie that demonstrates the power of juice fasting. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead tells the story of a big bloke named Joe, who does a 60 day juice fast during a road trip across America and pretty much saves his life from disease. Unlike Joe I’m not a morbidly obese truck driver dying of self inflicted illness so I’m not sure how relevant his story is to me, but it is an incredible story nonetheless and it’s clear this approach did wonders for his health and waistline.

Release the evil

I was told that feeling terrible during the fast is not only nothing to worry about, but is actually celebrated. Anything negative felt during the 9 day process is simply ‘toxins leaving the body’, which I’m not sure I completely buy. Broken out into spots? Great, that’s the toxins leaving you. Feeling down and moody? That’ll be the toxins entering the bloodstream. Grown a third nipple? Fantastic, that just shows that it’s working.

I think it’s fair to say that your body may be uncomfortable and struggling with the new health kick, but I don’t think it’s necessarily all about the evil toxins being released. Blaming the toxins is a convenient answer, but I think a lot of the negative feelings during the fast are your body generally being under stress and a weakened immune system during this time.

Other possibilities are that your body is struggling with the calorie restriction or perhaps just withdrawal symptoms from stopping smoking or other addictive substances that you’re refraining from during the fast.

Onto the fast

The 3-day juice fast was actually a 9 day process, broken down into the following essential components:

3 day pre-cleanse: preparing the body for the fast – slowly reduce or eliminate processed/’toxic’ food, caffeine and alcohol

The main event: no solid food – just juice and tea for 3 full days

3 day post-cleanse: 3 days of gradually reintroducing food into your system to complete the process from toxic blob to vibrant health hippy.

Added Bonus: The 3 day pre- and post-cleanse are strictly no caffeine and alcohol, so this also offered a few bonus experiments. 9 days without alcohol is pretty normal for me so no test there, but one of my big vices is my daily 2-3 cups of coffee, usually lattes. I’ve had at least a coffee a day for the last 10 years so I was interested to see whether I had my habit under control or if I was a full-blown caffeine junkie.

Pre-cleanse

I got through the pre-cleanse easily – 3 days of healthy eating and natural food to start to rid my body of all those evil toxins and prepare it for the good stuff. Whole, natural meals were also provided by LJC, but as I was concerned about losing too much weight I topped up the provided food with extra fruit and vegetables, ensuring I kept it all healthy for a smooth transition to the juice.

I was advised to drink the 6 juices in order, but I don’t think it matters. My preferred order was close eyes, stick hand in fridge and bring one out ‘lucky dip’ style

Day 1

The first day was pretty normal – I laughed, I played, I drank juice and just generally went about my day. I had an empty feeling in my stomach but my energy levels were fine. No dramas. The juices tasted great and I looked forward to drinking them. My experience with fasting also helped prepare me and it was all pretty easy and fun.

I drifted off to sleep at the end of day 1… and dreamed of food (seriously).

Day 2

Day 2 wasn’t quite as smooth. I started the day with some fruit infused water, which was a bit of an experiment for me but it worked well. It involved leaving lemon, lime, strawberries and cinnamon in water overnight. I topped it up with a little coconut water the next day and it tasted amazing. This set me up for a pretty steady day again, but later on in the day I started to get hungry when I saw food.

Lemon, lime, cinnamon, a couple of strawberries and a splash of coconut water. Top up with water and leave overnight.

Lemon, lime, cinnamon, a couple of strawberries and a splash of coconut water. Top up with water and leave overnight.

I went to the supermarket to get some limes and all the goodies looked very appealing. The street food and fruit stalls made me pine for solid food consumption. This made me consider whether I was truly hungry or if it was the sight of food that had triggered my cravings. I think often we are set off by visual stimulation, food marketing and even cleverly placed indulgent items in food stores. Often we’re not really hungry but something sets off a trigger and we convince ourselves we’re starving or need to eat. However, I think by this stage I really was just goddamn hungry.

Understanding Real Hunger Vs Food Cravings is crucial to success in your healthy eating journey. I think fasting really helps to distinguish and understand the difference.

By the evening I felt pretty moody and was looking forward to eating again.

Day 3

Me goofing around at the park on the last day - I was feeling lively and upbeat

Me goofing around at the park on the last day – I was feeling lively and upbeat

I woke up feeling pretty good and my moodiness had gone. Perhaps the moody toxins had left my body overnight. I had a pretty normal day and I trained hard in the park. I didn’t feel at all affected by not having eaten for 2 full days and I pulled, pushed, ran and jumped around feeling pretty much at my best. This left me feeling positive and enthused, although I was still looking forward to eating again. The rest of the day carried on as normal and I was happy to go to bed safe in the knowledge that sunrise would bring grub.

Fast over and start of post-cleanse

I woke up early pretty excited about bringing food back into my life. I held back for a few hours and then made a peanut butter, coconut, strawberry and banana smoothie. It tasted absolutely incredible. I savoured every mouthful, each one offering a sensual explosion of taste and pleasure. That might sound a bit over the top, but it really was that good.

The heavenly smoothy that broke the fast

The heavenly smoothy that broke the fast

LJC told me to just eat fruit on the first day, I felt fine so I had a salad with a little chicken for lunch, as well as another tasty juice. I reintroduced food over the next few days without any issues.

No Caffeine

I didn’t suffer any caffeine withdrawal symptoms at all, which didn’t surprise me much. I did miss the process of going into a cafe and sipping a latte while planning my day, but t was good to discover I don’t need it.

Conclusions and summary

So that was how it all panned out over the 9 day process. I must say that it was all a bit of an anti-climax really – I didn’t feel all that much during or after, but others I’ve spoken to have had more of a ‘health epiphany’ during their fast and really valued their experience. I’ve been told that perhaps I’m not your typical juice faster, and those who live an unhealthier lifestyle might benefit more from this approach.

Here is a summary of my main thoughts and feelings on juice fasting:

I’d sooner recommend other dietary approaches and solutions before trying juicing. If someone said they wanted to try it I’d say go for it, but I’d recommend other approaches over this one if someone wants to be healthy and strong long-term.

I think it promotes a culture of unhealthy habits followed by a ‘detox’, which is then repeated ad infinitum. This isn’t a progressive approach. If that’s the only way you can live your life then maybe it has a place, but if you’re doing the right things most of the time you shouldn’t need to do this. We all know people who are always talking about ‘needing a detox’ as if that’s the answer to all their health and life problems.

LJC say a lot of great things on their website about healthy, long-term changes which should be commended, but their slogan sums up who their typical target client is: Work Hard. Play Hard. Cleanse. Repeat. That approach to health and life isn’t going to do you many favours.

The best use for a juice fast is as a kickstart into healthy habits. 9 days of healthy food with a 3 day juice fast could help you understand hunger better, could help wean you off processed junk and could be the start of new habits and a new you.

Intermittent Fasting Vs Juice Fasting: I felt as though I was stretching a 24 hour fast (which I occasionally do) over 84 hours, which to me made it a less enjoyable process than intermittent fasting. I prefer eating fruit and vegetables rather than drinking fruit and vegetable juice, so I would sooner do an occasional 24 hour abstinence from food and calorie-containing drinks and just continue eating normally the rest of the time. I would find this easier to do consistently long term. This is just my experience though, and others find juicing a more enjoyable experience.

Weight loss during the fast was a concern as I’ve dropped a bit recently and didn’t want to lose any more. I lost 1.6kg during the fast which stayed off for a few weeks. Whether the weight was water, fat or muscle is hard to say. I would say water. It was commented that I looked a little gaunt after the fast, so this is something to bear in mind if you are of a normal, healthy weight.

Final Word

Some people have felt great, refreshed and revitalized after completing a juice fast. Others have got incredible weight loss results.

It would be very arrogant for me to say that what they did was wrong – Joe the truck driver used this method to save his life – but I personally believe they would have got the same results from making some positive dietary changes or doing something like a strict raw food diet for a set amount of time.

If can only adhere to a diet plan strict, regimented rules, then give it a go. If you wonder how you’ll feel or would like to use it as a boost to a healthier lifestyle then give it a go… but first up I would suggest trying to just eat more real, whole foods most of the time and seeing if that can get you the results you want.

Has anyone tried a juice fast recently? Did you enjoy it? Would you do it again? Please comment or drop me a message.

I would whole-heartedly recommend Lifestyle Juice Cleanse if you decide to try one out. Good quality, great tasting juices coupled with home or work delivery and solid service. Contact them for more info.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, I kindly ask you to ‘like’ our Bangkok Fitness Facebook page, ‘like’ it here and share on social networks if you feel others would benefit. Many thanks!

Big Food Experient Pt.2: A Month With No Grains

My Big Food Experiment started with a month without meat. Eager to move on, next up on the food group cull list was grains.

I’ve eaten and enjoyed grains all my life, mostly in the form of bread, cereal, flour and pasta, and more recently in the form of rice and noodles in Thailand and Asia.

20 years ago giving up ‘heart healthy grains’ would’ve been absurd, but things have changed since then.

Food enemy number one has shifted from fat to carbohydrates, and numerous charges have been filed against grains by the food police – that they promote inflammation, that they contribute to an unhealthy level of carbohydrate intake leading to health issues, that many people react badly or are allergic to them, they make you bloated, their vitamin content is far surpassed by fruits and vegetables, that our bodies have not adjusted to eating them since their introduction to our diets roughly 10,000 years ago and that generally our bodies react badly to the gluten, lectins and phytates that grains contain.

Grains: pasta, bread (includes pita pretzels etc), noodles, flour, wheat, cereal, rice, oats, corn. Many processed foods include grain derived ingredients. Not grains: potato, sweet potato, quinoa

Grains: pasta, bread (includes pita pretzels etc), noodles, flour, cereal, rice, oats, corn. Many processed foods include grain derived ingredients.
Not grains: potato, sweet potato, quinoa

Now I’m not saying all these nasty things that are being said are necessarily true and I’m not particularly interested in debating them for now. All I want to know is how I react to grains, and how dropping them from my diet will impact my mind and body. So the day after my no meat month, I started my no grain month.

The first interesting thing was people’s reaction when I mentioned I was cutting out grains. Many people would just look confused and ask “why?” Not wanting to get into any long-winded conversation or debate (unavoidable, sometimes) I would just say I was trying it out. Some people would just stand there looking puzzled, wondering why anyone would do such a thing. I didn’t get this when discussing meat, something we’ve eaten for far longer throughout our evolution, so it was interesting that grains elicited this response.

So meat was back in and grains were out – I was happy to get my meat back and the changes I felt were immediate and positive. By eliminating grains I was mostly forced to take the healthy choice. No more cereal, bagels or croissants for breakfast, the only thing on the menu in the local cafe that passed the no grain audit was salad. Even the sauces had grain-derived ingredients so my salads went sauce free. At first it tasted a bit bland, but I found that fruit and vegetables for breakfast filled me up nicely until afternoon.

Grains, on the other hand, have me feeling hungry shortly afterwards and sometimes even make me hungrier. I’ve been a bit peckish before, eaten a bagel, and been full on starving afterwards (yes, even wholewheat bagels for those who asked after my last article).

I believe the poor hunger control often caused by grain and processed food consumption is due to blood sugar levels rising quickly and the resulting insulin production causing a crash, resulting in food cravings and more consumption. Repeat this often enough for a long enough amount of time and the blood sugar level rollercoaster will put you on course for weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes.

As much as I’ve always enjoyed bread, pasta et el, they’ve always left me feeling pretty bloated and heavy and certainly not primed for peak performance. By eliminating them I benefited from increased energy levels and felt lighter.

Now, I realise this comes across as flagrant grain-bashing but please understand that I don’t think grains are awful and terrible. My current view is that grains are fine, but it’s excessive consumption that causes problems. ‘Excessive consumption’ is relative to how active you are – a marathon runner or labourer can safely consume more than a sedentary office worker who rarely stands up.

Now I consume grains in moderation and I feel I’ve struck a nice balance in my diet now that suits me. However, some people eat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, a big bowl of pasta for dinner and numerous grainy, high-carb snacks in between and think this is a good, healthy diet and can’t understand why they’re gaining weight and feeling tired.

no-grainMy only rule during this month was no grains. I didn’t diet (other than fasting for 24 hours every 1-2 weeks) and I didn’t monitor or worry about carbohydrate consumption during the month, but I still lost weight, just over 2kg. I didn’t worry about deserts or other ‘naughty’ foods and ate freely, but I discovered that most unhealthy, indulgent food has some form of flour, bread or cereal in it, so that seemed to largely keep my healthy eating in check.

Most highly-processed foods were off the menu, which again contributed to my positive experience with this experiment. I found myself having to check ingredients lists closely and almost all packaged food had something like ‘rice vinegar’, ‘wheat extract’ or some other grain derivative. This checking process made me more aware of what I was consuming and was a valuable education. I don’t think we give enough consideration to what we put in our bodies, but this month I was forced to check to ensure I didn’t inadvertently consume grains. Occasionally there’d be no grains, but the list would contain so many chemicals I couldn’t pronounce that I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. This is one of the biggest things I took from the month – being aware and mindful of what I was consuming.

Overall I felt great, had lots of energy and was losing weight, but I did crave grains at times. Towards the end of the month I started to enviously see people wolfing down sandwiches, pizza or pasta. Perhaps my body was craving the nutrients and energy, or perhaps I missed the taste and flavour of those foods. I introduced grains back into my diet after the month ended and now I eat them in moderation. By ‘moderation’, I mean a lot, lot less than the average person. If bread is served with soup and it looks tasty I’ll eat it. If it looks cheap, very white or full of preservatives, I won’t. If I’m eating out and I want grains, I’ll have them, but my intake has reduced dramatically. I’d estimate that my current grain consumption is about 30-40% of what it was pre-experiment, and I’m especially careful to avoid them earlier on in the day as I feel they set me up for a day of hunger. I’ve continued to see improvements in body composition and health without totally cutting them out and I can still eat the foods I enjoy.

Another way to put this is that I feel I’ve found the carbohydrate and grain consumption level that works for me, and I’m reaping the benefits of that.

My conclusion from this is that different people have different tolerance levels for grains and carbohydrates. Some react terribly, whereas some seem to be able to get away with consuming more. This idea of experimentation and accepting that people react to foods differently sounds so simple, but is so often forgotten with nutritional advice.

I have learned so much about myself and my body over these two months and would wholeheartedly recommend these kind of food experiments to anyone. Not necessarily no meat or no grains, but just play around with your diet, eliminate food groups for a while and see how you feel, try fasting or just keep a food diary and monitor weight, mood and energy level changes. You’ll learn so much about yourself you’ll never again pay attention to the drivel that’s often found in newspapers and magazines regarding nutrition, and that can only be a good thing.

Not wanting to halt my food journey, I had an interesting food experiment in store for part 3. Will fill you in soon…