Beachbody LIIFT 4 Challenge Review

In 2018, I had a goal to lose 18 pounds. It matched the year well, but also with the amount of weight I gained during pregnancy.  While I was nearly back to pre-pregnancy weight almost immediately after delivering my 9.5 lb daughter, I gained it all back with breastfeeding.  I’d always heard from people that you should lose weight while breastfeeding from all the extra calories you burn- it’s not true for everyone!  This article does a great job explaining why if you fall into that group.

I was ravenous while breastfeeding, so it was hard to keep from eating. Even when I did practice self control with portion size or trying to cut carbs, my milk supply would tank so I couldn’t continue. When I weaned, I started trying to eat healthier to lose some weight, but my sugar cravings were huge. I would snack with my toddler and I still felt so hungry that it was difficult to portion-control. I needed a big change and when a friend shared with me about her results from Beachbody, I was ready to try it.

I joined an 8-week challenge and absolutely loved it, so I thought I would share with those of you who need something to get you motivated. Here’s what I loved:

liift4Exercise

Going to a gym or group workouts are not my thing. It doesn’t fit well within my schedule and I don’t feel comfortable. I loved the access to Beachbody on Demand- doing the workouts any time I want from home. For this 8-week challenge, I did the LIIFT 4 program. It is 30-40 minutes 4 times per week, which felt so do-able. The routines were HARD, but every exercise had a modification option too.

I discovered that I really like the mix of weight lifting and cardio and that it works really well for my body. I improved significantly in strength- starting out with 5lbs as my heavy weights and ending up with 15lbs. There is a weight tracker so you can track the weight you use on each move and see how you improve.  I feel so much stronger and have more stamina and better balance. I could barely do a couple of modified push ups at the beginning, and now I can do 30+.

The other thing I liked about this program is that every day is different. Weeks do not repeat, so it keeps things interesting.  Typically, one day would focus on chest/triceps, one on legs, one on shoulders and one on back/biceps, always ending with a couple core exercises. I saw inches lost in each area and toning all over, but especially in my waist (6 inches lost).

Since doing this LIIFT 4 Challenge, I did the 21 Day Fix work outs during December. They were okay but I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much. I love that I have the flexibility to try out different styles and trainers, but I’ll be going back to LIIFT 4 soon.

Nutrition

Weight loss is mostly what you eat. I knew this would be my greatest challenge, but I was motivated to do it right. The program I did was part of the 21 Day Fix meal plan. You get containers mailed to you and based on your weight, you know how many containers of each food group you can eat that day: veggies, protein, fruit, carbs, nuts/seeds, oil.  Essentially, the focus is on veggies and protein.

I liked this model because it gave me some reasonable guidelines to follow. I never actually measured using the containers, but generally eye-balled the amounts and tracked how much I ate each day.  I was extremely strict about following the plan, BUT I did not follow it exactly when it came to healthy fats and fruit. I felt the program allowed more fruit than I really needed (3 servings), so I never ate that much. I also feel that it doesn’t allow for enough healthy fat. I didn’t hesitate to cook with coconut or avocado oil or to eat avocado or drink butter coffee or use as much Primal Kitchen dressing on my salads as I wanted (I didn’t go crazy like eating a stick of butter). Those healthy fats help us feel fuller longer and help us lose fat.

The other thing I like about the meal plan is that it allows for a couple of cheats. 1- three days a week, you can trade a carb container for a glass of red wine. I didn’t do it often, but it was nice to have the option. 2- you get one cheat meal each week, which I usually reserved for football-watching parties on Saturdays or date night. I would drink and eat what I wanted without worrying about it and always make sure I exercised the next day. Having this cheat meal to look forward to was helpful for me to stay motivated.

Ultimately, following the meal plan was most important to getting results- many people in the challenge group admitted to cheating multiple times per week and their lack of results definitely showed it.

The other part of this program is Shakeology. I was most hesitant about this because I am not a shake person. I am a big fan of “real food” and not using meal replacements. However, I looked into the ingredients in Shakeology and was impressed. It includes protein and dense nutrients, with only 7 grams of sugar, and is whole-foods based.  The nutrients include super-fruit antioxidants (to combat free radicals), adaptogens (to combat stress), a blend of super-greens, and pre- and pro-biotics and enzymes to aid digestion.

Beachbody makes the following benefit claims about Shakeology, and from personal experience, I would agree these are definitely true:

  • Lose weight
  • Reduce junk food cravings – to me, this was the most important one and it is what kept me drinking it daily. I simply don’t crave dessert or sugar after drinking it.
  • Provide healthy energy
  • Support your digestion and regularity.

I personally use the Vegan Vanilla Shakeology (I avoid dairy as I’m not very tolerant to it) and like that it is flexible to drink simply with unsweetened coconut milk and ice, but also to mix with berries and/or a half banana for a smoothie.  I add collagen peptides and spirulina powder as well for an extra nutrient punch. I use it as a snack replacement mid afternoon when hunger or cravings kick in.

Motivation

I think we all know- it helps to have a friend hold you accountable. I had my friend as my “coach” personally encouraging me, but also was part of a Facebook group with everyone participating. There was a prize at the end for earning points throughout- points for posting pictures of the shakes, sweaty selfies after exercising and for checking in each Monday with measurements and other results.  It was encouraging to see others posting and know I wasn’t alone.

Results

At the end of the 8 weeks, I had lost 12 pounds and 20.5 inches. The challenge ended just after Thanksgiving.  Through December, I continued to focus on protein and veggies, resisting sugar but indulging when I really wanted to, and kept up a 4-day per week exercise routine. I lost an additional 5 pounds after the challenge, narrowly missing my goal.  While I gained back a few lbs from Christmas and New Year’s champagne + dessert, I quickly lost those and more during a 10-Day Sugar Detox I did starting Jan 2nd. Since October 1 when I started with the Beachbody programs, I’ve lost 20 pounds!!

I’m motivated to continue towards more weight loss and toning this year, so I’ll be starting another challenge later this month. If you are interested in joining me to start off reaching your goals this new year, let me know!

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Magnesium Maybe?

Low energy, fatigue, headaches, stress, muscle tension and spasms, trouble sleeping, PMS, hormonal imbalances, nervousness, anxiety, irritability – any of these symptoms ring a bell? Or maybe a few?

You just might have a magnesium deficiency… and, you certainly wouldn’t be alone – 70% of women and 80% of men don’t get the daily intake they need, which means that most of us are quite lacking in this essential mineral.  Dr. Mark Hyman sums it up perfectly on his website:

Think of magnesium as the relaxation mineral. Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff — whether it is a body part or an even a mood — is a sign of magnesium deficiency.

This critical mineral is actually responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions and is found in all of your tissues — but mainly in your bones, muscles, and brain. You must have it for your cells to make energy, for many different chemical pumps to work, to stabilize membranes, and to help muscles relax.

Doctors are constantly touting that we all need to drink more milk to get more calcium for strong bones.  But, getting too much calcium without enough magnesium creates a dangerous imbalance that can cause numerous health problems. Plus, if your diet consists of a lot of salt, coffee, sodas, alcohol and sugar, you are draining your body of it even further.  Another problem is that only about 30-40% of the amount we eat is absorbed by our bodies (source).  Why? Our bodies require enough vitamin B6 (eat your veggies), vitamin D (hello, sunshine!) and selenium (meat, poultry, fish & eggs) in order to be able to absorb magnesium.

Luckily, increasing your magnesium intake is a super easy fix.  Here’s what I do to get at least 400 mg per day (up to 1,000 mg can be helpful depending on the severity of your symptoms):

  1. Diet – Eat a lot of leafy green vegetables like spinach & collard greens, avocado, nuts – almonds, cashews and peanuts top the list, legumes and seaweed.
  2. Supplement – Magnesium SupplementFind a whole food supplement with magnesium citrate or glycinate taurate (easiest to absorb).  Avoid the cheap supplements with magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, and oxide.  Since I take so many vitamins and minerals each morning, I like to mix it up by taking this one during the day – Natural Vitality Natural Calm Magnesium Supplement.  It’s pure magnesium citrate and comes in lots of flavors; you add it to water and it makes a fizzy Emergen-C type beverage.  This is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up; since magnesium helps the body relax, it diffuses any of the stress I am feeling at work.
  3. Epsom Salt Bath – Epsom Salt BathEpsom Salts are pure magnesium and are recommended for relieving sore muscles. I mix up some lavender essential oil with my epsom salts in a glass jar and keep by the tub to add to my baths.  It’s super relaxing and helps your body absorb magnesium before bed, which leads to falling asleep faster and better rest.

Personally, since realizing that I was deficient in magnesium and increasing my intake, I have seen great results.  My afternoon headaches are gone, my energy has increased, I sleep better and my stress levels are down (though that last one may have a little something to do with this too!).

Are you suffering from any of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency? Think you’ll give any of the tips above a try?  I’d love to hear how it helps you!

Healthy, Fast: Snap Kitchen

One of the best things about being a wellness & food blogger is all the awesome people I get to meet who think and feel the way I do about health.  It is so encouraging and reaffirming to keep on my journey towards true health.  About a month ago, the CEO at Snap Kitchen stumbled upon my blog and was compelled by my story, so I was invited to meet the head chef, see their kitchen and have lunch with their Marketing Director and Chief Dietitian last week!  It was a great experience, getting to enjoy a yummy wild-caught Salmon salad loaded with local veggies & goat cheese, and hear about their philosophy and passion for nutrition.  I got to share how changing my diet changed my body, so drastically improving my health and about why I started this blog.  They are fellow “foodies” who share in a desire for great tasting, good-for-you food.

If you haven’t heard about Snap Kitchen, consider yourself told.  It’s a place where you can stop in and get fresh, pre-packaged meals that are totally healthy and portion controlled.  The ingredients are right on the label of each container, and there’s nothing on there that you have to question; it’s all real food.  As a gal who reads labels constantly, this is such a relief – it’s not full of “modified,” something-“ized,” or other chemically altered ingredients.  I saw their kitchen and there was nothing I wouldn’t have in my own.  There was no freezer and extremely few “pantry” items – mostly spices. Plus, most of their ingredients are organic and local, which makes me confident about the level of nutrition I’m getting and supporting the farms in my community. I had a delicious egg white breakfast bite earlier this week with huge leaves of spinach that were so garden fresh. Their menu is seasonal and based on the freshest ingredients they can get, so you’ll never get bored with all they have to offer.

The meals come packaged in BPA-free plastic containers that can be reused and are quick to warm up in the microwave.  For me, they are the perfect weekday lunch.  I can grab it on my way out the door each morning, rather than leaving it up to how much time I might have to go grab something nearby or sticking with my boring everyday salad.  This week, I enjoyed crispy chicken “breaded” with nuts over veggies, beef stroganoff with greens and butternut squash & turkey macaroni.  Having grown up on comfort food, I crave it constantly and love finding guilt-free versions of those meals that actually taste good.  I can’t wait to try their quinoa “mac & cheese” and vegetable lasagna.

This is what my husband picked when we visited... I wish I had quite his love for kale!
This is what my husband picked when we visited… I wish I had his love for kale!

As I’ve mentioned before, I am paying particular attention to avoiding inflammatory foods, and Snap Kitchen is perfect for that.  They don’t use canola/vegetable oil – only olive oil and grapeseed oil for their cooking (if only I could convince them to use coconut oil!), they use very little sugar, the soy is easy to spot in the few meals it’s in and with lots of paleo and vegan/vegetarian options, I can get the protein and veggies I need while avoiding grains and not sacrificing taste.

If you are a fan of My Fit Foods (or just looking for a better on-the-go option), I highly recommend you try Snap Kitchen.  You will appreciate the real ingredients in their foods, knowing that you are really getting the nutrition you need to be healthy.  Portion control isn’t everything, y’all.. this is all about getting well.  Plus, if I’m being honest (I don’t make any money from this blog, so I can say whatever I want, right?), the food simply tastes better.  

If you’re in Austin or Houston, you’ve got to check it out and let me know what you think!

The Time I Did A Juice Fast

fat-sick-and-nearly-dead

If you’ve ever seen Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, you’ve probably wondered about the benefits that juicing and a raw diet could provide for you.  Joe Cross was overweight and experiencing health issues that doctors could not find answers to (but had no problem prescribing him lots of pills for); finally, he met a natural doctor that told him that eating well was the only way to heal himself of his autoimmune skin disease.  So he decided to go on a 60 day organic juice-only fast, followed by months of only fruits, veggies, nuts and beans. He loses an incredible amount of weight and experiences an amazing health transformation. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching it on Netflix – it’s very inspiring.

Fresh juice is nothing like the high fructose corn syrup sweetened and artificially flavored and dyed stuff you find in the grocery aisle.  When you juice from real fruits and veggies, you are getting tons of  real nutrients.  You can pack pounds of these healthful, fresh items into just one juice. Plus, since you’re juicing out the fiber, your body is able to quickly absorb all those vitamins and nutrients rather than spending energy to digest them. If you believe in eating the hunter-gatherer way, then fasting is especially important as, naturally, there were times when food could be hard to come by. Our bodies are designed to need a break every once in a while.  And raw, fresh foods are part of the Four Pillars of World Cuisine.  The raw fruits and veggies in juice provide our bodies with potent antioxidants essential to combating harmful free-radicals (the molecules that cause every kind of disease, especially cancer).

Bonus: The major ingredients in my juices were 4 of the 5 best alkaline foods – lemons, cayenne pepper, leafy greens and apples.  Why does that matter?  Basically, our bodies are designed to keep a neutral pH level, but with all of the processed foods we eat, we often end up being highly acidic.  Being acidic can majorly affect your health by diminishing your immune system, causing fatigue, pain and even cancer.  The more alkaline and less acidic foods (the list may surprise you) you can eat to balance out your system, the better!

So, I had watched documentaries, read articles about and heard of friends doing juice fasts/cleanses and wanted to try it for myself. Although it was recommended to “pre-cleanse” by weaning off meat, dairy, sugar, wheat, etc., I didn’t.  Let’s be honest, most of us try a cleanse because we’ve been eating junk.. I did the cleanse because I wanted to break my taste for those things and get back on track. I did eat a little healthier and did no alcohol or caffeine as well as only eating fish and veggies for the 48 hours before so it wouldn’t be too bad of a shock.

Fruits and Veggies Pre-JuiceI had looked into buying all the juice for my cleanse from a couple of local companies like JuiceLand and Skinny Limits, but when prices were coming up at $175-200 for an organic cleanse, I looked into the DIY option. I found some recipes online here and here that imitated the well-known BluePrint cleanse, borrowed a Jack LaLanne Pro juicer from a friend and then went shopping. I only spent $68.61 on organic fruits and veggies.  So worth it.  Now, the juicing took about 3 hours total, but considering I usually spend about an hour and a half each day preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner, that’s really not any different.  It was super nice to come home from work and have my “meal” already made and let my husband fend for himself.   I started with all these fresh vibrant fruits and veggies, which was more produce than I usually buy in a whole week.

At the end, I had a little over 2 days worth of juice:

  1. Breakfast: Green Juice – Kale, Spinach, Romaine, Parsley, Apple, Cucumber, Lemon and Celery
  2. Morning Snack: Pineapple-Apple-Mint Juice
  3. Lunch: Green Juice
  4. Afternoon Snack: Agave-sweetened Lemonade with Cayenne Pepper
  5. Dinner: Green Juice
  6. Evening Snack: Cashew-Vanilla-Cinnamon Milk (which is blended, not juiced)

Juice

Biggest surprise?  How much I liked the juices. The green juice was delicious… a little celery-y, but super yummy. The cashew milk that everyone seems to love was the most disgusting thing ever. I only had it the first night and barely kept it down. I had more green juice the second night.

Biggest regret? Not starting an awesome compost pile with all the fruit and veggie pulp that the juicer collected.  Guess I’ll have to do it again!

Was it awful? Overall, I was really hungry the whole time, which is normal, but tough. Watching tv was hard and commercials made me crave donuts and pizza. They say that since your body is being detoxed, you could feel terrible… I really didn’t. In fact, I had more energy than ever. During the fast, I was kind of wondering if it was worth it and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realized it was.  I totally lost my desire for junk food and coffee and alcohol, and felt sick whenever I had those things, which definitely helped my self-control.  I also lost 4 pounds which I have easily kept off since.

Ultimately, I would recommend the experience to anyone, especially those suffering from sickness or trying to break bad food habits. I will absolutely be purchasing a juicer and making juice part of my normal routine so that I get more nutrients into my diet in a delicious way.  But, if I ever do a cleanse again, I’ll want a buddy… it was hard to do it alone!

So, what do you think? Would you ever try a juice cleanse?

…And What To Do About It

Yesterday, I shared part 1 of my review on Gary Taubes’  book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. His arguments really hit home with me, and I’m sure did with a few of you as well.  So, naturally, the next step after realizing why we are getting fat is figuring out what to do about it.  “Not all of us get fat when we eat carbohydrates, but for those of us who do get fat, the carbohydrates are to blame; the fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.”  It’s frustratingly beyond our control if we are predisposed to get fat, but at least there’s a solution.

Not all carbs are the same…  Leafy green veggies have lots of fiber that take a while to digest and therefore the carbs don’t cause blood sugar levels to spike.  But, cheap carbs, like bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, beer, soda, and all processed foods, have highly concentrated amounts of carbohydrates and are easy to digest. That means the glucose quickly enters our bloodstream, causing blood sugar to spike and with that insulin levels to go up.  Fruit, while not as carb-concentrated, is easy to digest and therefore might have a fattening effect on the most insulin resistant people.  The worst effect comes from a diet filled with fructose and highly sweetened food items. Our livers are not designed to handle the sugar overload and respond by turning it directly into fat. So when fructose is consumed with glucose (all those yummy processed foods/cheap carbs), insulin levels rise and start storing all that fat away instantly. It hastens the effect of carbs.  This explains why some carb-heavy cultural diets, like in Asian countries where rice is a staple, don’t have a fattening effect: because they also eat traditionally very little, if any, sugar and have otherwise healthy, lean diets of fish and veggies.

We’re addicts.  The more insulin resistant we become, the more insulin that’s constantly flowing through our bloodstream, craving a quick fix of glucose for fuel; that’s why we constantly crave those carbs even when we try to eat healthy and feel truly full on meat and veggies.  The solution is as radical as breaking an addiction: eliminating those cheap carbs completely to break the habit.  This is why many on the paleo diet are so successful in losing weight over many vegetarians/vegans, who often supplement their plant-based diet with carbohydrates.  Paleos are eating the way our ancestors did as hunter-gatherers – high protein & fat from meat and lots of wild plant foods that are low in carbs and low on the glycemic index.  Ultimately, Taubes suggests consuming fewer than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day and eliminating sugar completely to correct your weight. Beyond the benefits of losing weight, you will also find that your body starts healing itself naturally (the way God designed it to), since sugar actually suppresses your immune system for hours every time you consume it. Order his book here to learn more!

If all of this text has been a little overwhelming for you visual people, here is an awesome infographic that explains most of what I’ve summarized from his book.  Enjoy!

Carbs Are Killing You

[Source: Carbs Are Killing You]

So what do you think of Taubes’ argument?  Will you read his book? Will you go carb & sugar free?