Thursday, December 11, 2014


Unless you've been living under a kettlebell for the last several years you would have heard of CrossFit. Actually, if you have been under a kettlebell then chances are you are already part of the CrossFit CULT movement. 

I was first introduced to CrossFit in 2009 through a good mate of mine who also introduced me to Paleo. Five years later I'm still living the Paleo lifestyle but CrossFit (in the strictest sense) is not a part of it. This article explains why. 

Firstly, let me preface by saying that to my knowledge there isn't any sound science on CrossFit at this time. That means that we have to be skeptical about any claims both for and against CrossFit - ranging from claims that it is either the best form of exercise on earth or the most likely way to tear a rotator cuff or fry your adrenals. Any claims on either side are merely conjecture. 

This also means that everything I am about to say is purely anecdotal and completely biased towards my own personal experience. So before all you CrossFit die-hards out there start bombarding me with ad hominem attacks let me say this: I don't care if you agree with me or not. There are some generalizations here and your own experience will probably differ from mine.

My experience is limited to just a handful of CrossFit affiliates in Melbourne, London, Miami and New York over a couple of years. My knowledge of CrossFit and the institution is by no means extensive. I did, however, learn a lot in my CrossFitting days and I am actually grateful for all I learned. I have continued to explore the foundations of gymnastics, Olympic lifting and mobility that I touched on through CrossFit and my training has benefitted greatly.

I think the original foundations of CrossFit are sound and if done with proper coaching and appropriate intensty it still remains the best form of functional training widely available to the public.

However, I think somewhere along the line of it’s market domination and popularization those solid foundations have been overshadowed by the “sport” of CrossFit and the overzealousness of CrossFit die-hards.

We silly humans have a tendency to take a great new idea or movement and turn it into an uncontrollable monster through our over-enthusiasm and extremism. It’s a mob mentality where people get swept up in the movement and caught up in the dogma. It happens with religion. It happens with politics. It happens with corporations. I believe it is happening with CrossFit.

The concept that more is better is etched into our social fabric. Especially here in the USA where we worship competition and sport, where spectacle is everything, hard work and physical pain are honored and people strive to push themselves beyond their physical limits.

A lot of my issues with CrossFit are to do with my perception that it is too intense and too extreme for the average, non-elite person, and at the dogmatic attitude of CrossFitters in general.

This is my personal issue. If I were a stronger person who could resist the heat of competition and use self-restraint to limit my intensity then I probably wouldn’t have a problem with CrossFit. The problem is, like most humans, I’m very susceptible to getting swept up in the mob mentality and ingesting the dogma. Like an alcoholic at a Christmas party I get a little bit carried away and it seems the best way to avoid a bad outcome is to remove myself from the situation.

I found myself overdoing it in WODs and pushing myself beyond my capacity for work. Fortunately I didn’t get injured but I’m pretty sure I would have given how bad my form became when my heart rate regularly got up over 170bmp in those killer workouts.

In the end I decided it was simply better for me to take on the foundations and tenets of CrossFit and practice them myself – free from hype and competition. 

I am not here to bash CrossFit or claim that it is inherently "bad", only to communicate to people why I personally chose not to do it anymore and why I wouldn't recommend it to most of my friends. For whatever reason people seem to be very interested in my opinion on this particular subject, which is why I’m taking the time to write this post.

Ultimately we have to use a "cost versus benefit" approach to something like CrossFit, running marathons or going vegan. Either you determine that CrossFit is worth it for you, or it isn’t. And this can change over time. After a couple of years I determined that CrossFit, in the traditional sense of training at a box, just wasn’t worth it for me anymore.  


WHAT IS CROSSFIT?

CrossFit defines itself as "a regimen of constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity in a communal environment.” 

The types of movements most often practiced in CrossFit include Olympic lifting (snatch, clean and jerk), rowing (on the Ergometer), running, calisthenics (push ups, lunges, burpees), barbell weight training (deadlift, overhead press, squats), kettlebell training and basic gymnastics (rope climbs, muscle ups, handstands). 

Proper programming attempts to schedule various combinations of the above exercises in seemingly random but planned series so that you can achieve constant improvement. 

CrossFit is about being very good at many modes of fitness, without necessarily specializing in any. 

You are encouraged to train three days on, one day off (i.e. 23 days a month) and a Paleo diet is sometimes suggested as a template for nutrition. In reality many hardcore CrossFitters I know eat like binging pregnant women with fetishes for peanut butter, Ben & Jerry’s and Oreo’s… sometimes all mixed together!

FORMAT

CrossFit generally consists of one-hour group classes typically starting with a brief warm up and then some strength training (e.g. work up to 3-rep-max barbell front squat) and/or skill training (e.g. learning the progression for handstand push ups). 

This is followed by a grueling, high intensity Workout of the Day (WOD) - typically a circuit of two or more exercises done for rounds of multiple sets. Everyone completes the WOD simultaneously in a competitive fashion, typically for time or maximum repetitions. 

WODs can be as short as a couple of minutes or as long as, say, 60 minutes. You are encouraged to scale the exercises to suit your capability. For example, the prescribed weight on deadlifts for a WOD may be 155lb for men and 115lb for women. In that sense a small woman could do better than a big man in certain strength WOD given she finishes first or does more reps. Likewise, an absolute machine of a CrossFitter may finish last if he did the full prescribed weight where others scaled by reducing their weight used.

Either way the underlying goal is to push your limits to the absolute extreme in order to get the best time or most reps on the whiteboard, which is often beyond the realm of reasonable form. It doesn’t have to be this way – proper coaching and self-restraint should come in here to prevent people from pushing themselves into risky territory. The problem is that in my experience, proper coaching and self-restraint are often shrugged aside in the heat of the competition.

Basically, the common perception is that if you don’t collapse on the floor in a panting mess, throw up, or feel shaky for at least 30 minutes after the WOD you probably aren’t doing it right. (I’m only half joking).

At the end of the class your results are written on a whiteboard for all to see and you can compare yourself to other members who have worked out that day or to your past performances on the same WOD. Don’t underestimate the motivational power of the whiteboard.

CROSSFIT’S EXPONENTIAL GROWTH

Sometimes called 'the sport of fitness', CrossFit has exploded in popularity in the last few years. There are over 10,000 affiliates - or Box gyms - across the world now, with over 35,000 accredited (Level 1) trainers. It's growing so fast that I'm sure these statistics are already outdated. If you live in a metropolitan city these days in Australia or America, chances are there is a Box near you. 

When I first heard about CrossFit there were less than five boxes in Melbourne. As of October 2014 there are now this many:


Clearly the movement has caught on Down Under. 

WHY CROSSFIT IS AWESOME

1. CrossFit is immensely effective at getting average, non-elite people to commit to a rigorous, elite training schedule. 

CrossFit has absolutely nailed the motivational aspect of training. The combination of the competitive nature, sense of community and camaraderie, exclusivity (it's expensive) and even the way they leverage military motifs and dedicate certain WODs to fallen soldiers all comes together to form a close-knit web of dedication and commitment. It is very clever really. 

And here is where the cult-like devotion of CrossFitters actually pays dividends. It is difficult to just dip your toes into Crossfit at a box gym. Damn, if you're paying $200 a month or more you better be using it!

But more than that, the rigid structure and accountability make it easy for the undisciplined to get motivated. The often charismatic coaches yelling support while your fellow CrossFitters cheer you on to finish that final set give you so much encouragement that it would simply be rude not to be a committed member of the team. No one wants to let the team down. Maslow's need for belonging is a strong human desire. 

Being a CrossFitter gives you access to an exclusive club of like-minded individuals who share an experience of overcoming physical pain, working together, competing and improving. I have no doubt that the mental toughness gained through physical training can be life-changing for some individuals. 

2. The results are impressive

I was already in reasonably good condition when I joined CrossFit. I've been consistently training in the gym in many different modalities for over 15 years. Back in my Army Reserve days I even won the 'Best at Physical Training' Award in my platoon on graduating recruit training - the real "boot camp". But I have never felt stronger and fitter than when I was really focusing on CrossFit. 

With the level of volume and intensity that CrossFit demands the initial strength, mobility, skill and general conditioning gains are truly remarkable. It is not uncommon to see slight women who walk in to a box not being able to do a three proper push ups being able to clean and jerk their bodyweight in less than a year. It is basically impossible to do CrossFit consistently without seeing vast improvements in CrossFit-specific "skills" and conditioning. 

Most of the CrossFit trainers themselves that I've come across are insanely ripped and strong. Although being ripped does not necessarily mean being healthy, as 10 years in the modeling industry has shown me first hand. 

3. The 'sport of fitness' is a global phenomenon that has some merit

I am a big supporter of anything that gets people motivated to get moving and improve their lives. 

I have many concerns surrounding CrossFit as an individual practice, which I will cover in detail soon, but as a collective movement I must admit that it is a step in the right direction. 

As one who has studied commerce and economics I am a big believer in free markets and have a lot of faith in consumer choice. In this sense CrossFit deserves its stratospheric rise in popularity and success. There was clearly a gap in the market for an exercise movement for average people striving for elite fitness and CrossFit fills that gap as the most accessible form of functional training available today.

The participation in the CrossFit Games has almost doubled year-on-year. Last year 138,000 competed in the CrossFit open. Money continues to flow in from sponsors such as Reebok, who were early to jump on the CF bandwagon. ESPN even picked up the coverage of the Games. This year's winners, Rich Froning and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, took home a cool $275,000 each for their superhuman winning performances. 


WHY CROSSFIT IS NOT SO AWESOME

1. CrossFit acts like a cult

If you’re a CrossFit devotee and this subheading makes you defensive, you are merely proving my point. There is nothing wrong with exclusive clubs, or even employing a sort of ‘us versus them’ ethos in order to increase dedication and loyalty to a certain community. 

What makes CrossFit seem like a cult - and I’m talking here in a relatively benign sense of the word, say, something more cultish than ‘cult' film but less cultish than Scientology - is that there are certain dogmas, attitudes and a defensive manner inherent in CrossFit that stem all the way down to the very core of the institution and possibly to the founder Greg Glassman himself. The CrossFit juggernaut seems to be quite cagey about their methodology, very pugnacious towards any criticism or detractors and it sounds like Glassman has fallen out with many people over the years. But anyway, I’m not here to talk about individual personalities and hearsay.

What I do hear though, is plenty of dogma surrounding CrossFit. Dogma is ‘a set of principles laid down by an authority as an incontrovertible truth’. For example, CrossFit teaches you that efficiency in a movement is crucial to be able to complete a high volume of work, quickly. Using this logic, kipping pull-ups, where you use a type of circular (butterfly kipping) or swinging momentum (kipping) to be able to do far more pull-ups than you could do with strict form, are the taught as the way to do pull-ups. 

And CrossFitters accept this and love it without really questioning whether it is a best practice. Kipping pull-ups are a mainstay of CrossFit. When I started CrossFit I could do around 12 strict pull-ups. After a few months I could do 25 unbroken kipping pull ups. I stopped doing strict pull ups-all together. Kipping pull-ups were the bomb! Look how many pull ups I can do now, I thought. Basically I had ingested the dogma that kipping pull-ups were great and made complete sense and that strict pull ups were for losers.

I should mention here that some coaches will still program strict pull ups into strength training but kipping is the mainstay for most WODs and butterfly kipping is essential to be competitive at the higher levels of the CrossFit games.

The problem is that kipping pull-ups are a terrible idea from a sports physiology standpoint, and only make sense in the realm of CrossFit. The harsh jerking movement at the bottom of the kipping pull-up - where you have the force of roughly three times your bodyweight bearing down on your connective tissue - is a dangerous movement for those who do not have the strength and conditioning on those joints and tendons to be able to get away with that kind of force (Sommers, 2014). 

Sure, gymnasts can safely do movements that place up to ten times their bodyweight on connective tissue but only after years of very specific gymnastic strength work. 

Anecdotally, shoulder injuries are rife in CrossFit and it seems that kipping pull-ups are a major culprit. But even though many CrossFitters realize that kipping is a quirky, initially awkward and often painful way to do pull-ups, they’ve drank the Cool-Aide and ignore these gut feelings. I know, I was one of them! 


2. CrossFit is "extreme" for the average person

I think CrossFit is an extreme level of exercise for the average person. 

What do I mean by extreme? Well I think that if you combine the volume (total work load), frequency (almost daily) and intensity (competition level effort) of fully committing to CrossFit then this is above and beyond the level of exercise that THE AVERAGE human needs in order to thrive. Furthermore, by training beyond their capacity with highly complex motor patterns such as Olympic lifting some people may be putting themselves at risk of overtraining and/or injury. 

Obviously this is relative. Proper coaching and the self-restraint to limit volume, frequency or intensity to your personal capacity are of course the intended means to reduce the risks of overtraining and injury. Yet in my experience the proper coaching and self-restraint were lacking.

The big caveat in claiming that CrossFit is “extreme” is that I'm talking about normal people who just want to get fit, strong and look good naked. If you need to be in superhuman condition for your job, or if being awesome at CrossFit is really that important to you and it is worth the risk then that's great - power to you. 

But for mere mortals like me and most of my friends who do (or did) CrossFit we probably don't need to be doing five to six WODs a week to be fit and healthy.

Some people have the work and recovery capacity to get away with it. Others don't. 

Especially for those who don't have their lifestyle dialed in with adequate sleep, stress management and good nutrition, jumping headlong into CrossFit might not be the best way to achieve your long-term health and happiness goals. 

I think the person who can really delve into CrossFit for the long-term, without overtraining or getting injured is quite rare. Of course there are probably some people who have been doing CrossFit for 10 years, have never been injured and couldn't live without CrossFit... but these are probably the outliers. 

I know far more people who jumped into CrossFit for a couple of years and have since turned away from it, either through injury or just not being able to maintain it with their busy lifestyle. In this sense I just don't think CrossFit is a sustainable form of exercise for most people in its current state. 

3. CrossFit can be risky 

I've been to some fantastic CrossFit boxes around the world and met some incredibly talented and sensible coaches. Unfortunately I've also been to some sub-par affiliates and received some rubbish instruction from people who really aren't qualified to teach any movement - let along the highly technical nuances of Olympic lifting. 

I have since sought out Olympic lifting coaching from proper Olympic lifting coaches and I absolutely love my Oly lifting practice but I don't think it is for everyone.

Traditional weightlifting programs in Eastern Europe and Asia demand years of progression before young athletes are allowed to even pick up a barbell. CrossFit, on the other hand, often throws people into the main lifts within just weeks of starting, and in a largely uncontrolled environment that demands multiple reps for time. It is not uncommon to see classes of 30+ people with just one or two coaches. I think this is madness. Once again, proper coaching and programming should prevent this but in my experience many affiliates are keen to get their clients under the bar as quickly as possible.

If you ask me the risk of completing 30 snatches or 30 clean-and-jerks for time far outweighs any possible benefit of doing so. 

Getting a sedentary adult with no athletic background and just a few weeks of CrossFit training to perform Olympic lifting movements in timed workouts is about as irresponsible as giving a person who has never driven before a Lamborghini and telling them to race five laps of Nürburgring. 

Of course not all affiliates do this and many have excellent coaches and very good "on-ramp" training schedule for novices but as a general rule the intensity of CrossFit combined with the complexity of movements and a competitive environment all feed into a relatively risky endeavor for your average, non-elite person. 

4. CrossFit is probably not optimal for health and longevity

If you've read a lot of my work here on The Paleo Model you'll be familiar with my holistic approach to lifestyle and how I always warn against extremism. When it comes to exercise I think less can be more. I think the minimal effective dose of exercise is actually quite small and going too far beyond that is really not necessary and may even hinder achieving a healthy body composition and overall wellbeing. 

High intensity training is fantastic, but not at high volume and frequency. Intervals, tabatas, sprints and circuits are very effective ways to train but only as a short, sporadic or acute (hormetic) stress. If done too much and too often then there is a risk of your training becoming a chronic stress that may actually do more harm than good. 

Just as I think running marathons is not a great way to get healthy, I don't think doing CrossFit is the best path to choose if overall health and wellbeing are more important to you than performance. 

Athletic performance and health are definitely correlated, and some training is always better than none, but I think focusing too much on performance can potentially hinder your health and longevity if you exceed your capacity to adequately recover and thereby create a state of chronic systemic inflation. 

CrossFit has the potential characteristics – volume, frequency and intensity – to constitute a regimen that may lead to overtraining and chronic inflammation.

Chronic systemic inflammation can result in a host of metabolic issues such as adrenal fatigue, endocrine disfunction, mood disorders, poor sleep, fatigue, irritability, low libido, chronic infections and a host of other ailments. 

CrossFit is a physically demanding regimen that is also addictive and dogmatic. When you're swept up in the CrossFit mindset it is very difficult to take your foot off the gas pedal and take it easy - especially if you are a competitive type-A personality (like me) who thrives on punishment and adrenalin. More often than not CrossFit attracts people such as this and filters out those who can't cut it. 

Now please remember that exercise is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to a "healthy lifestyle". I believe that nutrition is more important exercise, as is sleep and stress-management. 

Exercise is extremely important, but it doesn't need to be extreme. Unless performance is crucial to your job or livelihood then I really don't think your training should be so extreme that it constitutes a chronic stressor to your body that could potentially harm your health in the long term. 

I'm not saying that CrossFit constitutes overtraining or a chronic stress to everyone. As I said some people have the capacity to train like this, others don't. Some people have the self-restraint to limit their volume, frequency and intensity to reasonable levels. It is all relative.

MY CONCLUSION 

As a general rule and erring on the side of caution, I think that the potential for injury and overtraining in CrossFit for the average person merely looking to "get in shape and be healthy" tilts the cost/benefit analysis towards the "probably not worth it" side of the scales. 

This is my opinion. You need to decide for yourself. But if you do try CrossFit just sip the Cool-Aide... don't skull it! Always remind yourself that CrossFit is not a religion so please don't preach to your friends about it incessantly or think less of people who don't CrossFit! 

Conversely, if you're a professional athlete, in the armed forces, a first responder or just really, really want to attain an elite level of fitness and are willing to put up with the risks then CrossFit might be great for you. Interestingly, in 2011, the U.S. military, in conjunction with the American College of Sports Medicine, advised soldiers to avoid CrossFit, citing "disproportionate musculo-skeletal injury risk" (Davis, 2013). 

Ultimately, (like the U.S. military) I decided that CrossFit wasn't worth it for me. But I am very grateful for my time in CrossFit. I met some amazing people, had a lot of fun and learnt a great deal about my physical limitations.

I saw how CrossFit can really help people – motivating them and empowering them to take control of their fitness and physicality. But I still believe that there are other less risky, less dogmatic and more sustainable ways to approach fitness, which I why I still wouldn’t recommend CrossFit to most of my friends.

But I’m not a hater! I really loved CrossFit and I still incorporate many of its methodologies in my training today. My WODs just don't include kipping pull-ups or snatch reps for time! 

---

PS - If you guys liked this post it would really be great if you shared it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter. I do this blog for free because I am passionate about nutrition and fitness and my reward is reaching as many people as possible. Thanks!


References:

Chris Sommers, 2014: The Paleo Solution Podcast - Episode 213. http://robbwolf.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Paleo-Solution-213.pdf

Grant Davis, 2013: 'Is CrossFit Killing Us?' Outside Magazine. http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/strength-and-power-training/Growing-Pains-CrossFit-Injuries-On-the-Rise.html

Image Source 1: http://www.team-andro.com/
Image Source 2: http://imgkid.com/crossfit-camille-leblanc-bazinet.shtml

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


I was sitting next to Mum in Dr Mora's office - a progressive, yet dauntingly fanatical holistic medicine doctor in suburban Melbourne [Not his real name]. What Mora lacked in emotional intelligence he made up for in passion and fear-instilling intensity. 

As a naive, pudgy 12 year old mummy’s boy complaining of mild lethargy, allergies and irritability I wasn’t prepared for his recommendation of the strictest of dietary regimens: no wheat, no yeast, no dairy, no sugar, no fun. Then there was the extensive daily routine of vitamins, supplements and gag-inducing Chinese herb concoctions so awful smelling that I still avoid traditional Chinese markets to this day. 

And the sell? Well apparently if I didn’t stick to this sadistic routine of dietary deprivation and supplemental torture I would succumb to a lifetime of illness, obesity and misery. Talk about using the stick for motivation! (I prefer carrots).

Clearly this is not something a pre-pubescent boy with a penchant for Burger King and Kit Kats wants to hear. 

In hindsight, Dr. Mora was a medical visionary - completely unorthodox. Some of his treatments bordered on quackery but his incredible success rate and devoted following made him somewhat of a cult leader. But at that time I was not willing to drink the Kool Aid. 

As we drove home across the eastern suburbs in our late 1980s Volvo 240 GL I clearly remember sinking into the cheesy sheep-skin seat cover and sobbing. I felt utterly hopeless. There was no way I could abide such a strict routine at that age. I didn’t have the impetus nor the discipline.

So I put this holistic medicine experiment in the 'too hard' basket along with The Australian Boys Choir, club basketball, guitar practice and all the other things my spoilt little highness deemed unpleasant at the time. 

Flash forward three years to Y2K (what an anti-climax that was!) and besides growing a foot taller and getting a pretty decent physique through my new obsession with the gym I was still eating like crap and, therefore, still feeling like crap. 

My symptoms from the years prior had worsened. Generally lethargy had manifest into borderline chronic-fatigue syndrome. I would get colds constantly and always felt like sleeping after eating. My brain fog was severe and I was turning into a bad student for the first time in my life. 

I’m sure raging hormones and the typical “I’m a ninth-grade know-it-all and you can all get stuffed” attitude didn’t help but physically I was not in a good place. I’d had enough. I wanted to feel healthy. 

With my newfound motivation and a dash of teenage recklessness I went back to Dr. Mora. The prescription was the same - a strict anti-candida diet: no wheat, yeast, dairy, or sugar. No processed junk, lots of vegetables, meat, some rice, not too much fruit. Actually it was very similar to a Paleo diet but with more leniency on legumes and some processed carbs like yeast-free rye-sode bread and rice pasta. The Chinese herbs were still wretched. 

This time I embarked on the protocol valiantly. I embraced it 100 per cent. I built it into my teenage life.

At cadet camp my rucksack would be bulging with tins of tuna and loaves of rye-soda-bread so I could avoid the sugar-and-salt laden ration pack junk. At house parties while my friends drank beers and pre-mixed spirits I’d be on the vodka, neat. No yeast, no sugar. 

I stubbornly maintained this staunch discipline throughout the rest of my high school years and it did wonders for my health and performance.

I credit Dr Mora’s diet for my successes at school - both curricular and co-curricular. There is no way I would have been School Captain or made it into a prestigious double degree at Melbourne University if I’d kept eating the rubbish of my early teenage years. 

Looking back, my second visit to Dr Mora was a pivotal point in my life. A game-changer. I am so grateful to be able to reflect now, more than 15 years later, on the following life lessons I learnt from adopting the crazy Dr. Mora diet.

  1. Forget moderation or balance, a healthy lifestyle is about discipline.
I am so sick of hearing the cop-out phrases, “everything in moderation” or eat a “balanced diet.” What the heck does “balance” mean anyway? 

‘Balance’, like ‘moderation’ is an arbitrary term. It doesn't mean anything. Balance is not practical or actionable advice. 

Should a person with celiac disease eat a balanced diet including "healthy whole grains"? Can an alcoholic enjoy a few beers in moderation? What a ridiculous notion. 

Often it is easier to practice total abstinence than moderation. The Mora diet was very restrictive but it was easy to follow. No yeast. Easy. No added sugar. Done. 

It takes discipline and willpower to cut out certain foods, especially addictive ones like sugar and wheat. But it is a lot easier to completely avoid them than try to eat them in moderation. 

And while some dietitians will tell you that cutting out entire food groups is unhealthy, this is simply not true. Wheat, for example, is not serving you at all. Eliminate it completely and you will be healthier, especially if you replace it with nutrient-dense vegetables.

If, like me, you aren’t someone who can just eat one Oreo or drink one beer - you lack the 'moderation’ capability - then don’t even bother with the concept of moderation. Discipline is the only legitimate route to a healthy lifestyle. 

This does not mean you can never have an Oreo or a beer, it just means that you live your life by concrete rules that you set for yourself (e.g. “I choose not to eat wheat”) rather than by some vague notion of “everything in moderation”. Then when you break a rule and eat a pizza at the NFL Fantasy draft last weekend it’s not through lack of discipline but because you chose to let loose one night and you got back to your usual routine the next day.  (That was my first real pizza in about two years). 

  1. You need to find genuine self-motivation to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
At 12 I lacked the impetus to improve my health. It took some eye-opening revelations at the age of 15 - like barely being able to make it up the stairs to class without needing to lie down - to find the internal motivation it would require to turn my health around. 

Fear is often a good motivation when it manifests in your own brain and doesn’t come from someone else’s mouth. Seeing most of my older Italian relatives in Australia suffering from obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and even dementia (i.e. preventable metabolic diseases) is motivation enough for me to continue my health kick. This is far better than a Doctor telling you to eat less saturated fat to prevent heart disease - which is complete bullshit by the way. 

Lifestyle intervention is no easy feat. Going from someone who hates exercise to someone who can’t wait to get to the gym takes years of emotional conditioning. 

Wanting to lose 10 pounds or get a six-pack is not a genuine enough motivation for most people. Getting a gym membership or workout DVDs is certainly not. 

Embarking on a diet or exercise routine without having the genuine, internal motivation to do so is like going on a low-fat, calorie restrictive diet. All the willpower in the world will not enable you to sustain it for any length of time. 

So before you start and fail on yet another weight-loss diet I give you permission to take a break. Take a break and do some soul searching until you find your real motivation - a real impetus to change your life. Without this you’re setting yourself up for failure. 

  1. Action first, questions later. 
To get the most from your iPhone you don’t need to know how it works. In some sense, understanding all the internal machinations of a system will only confuse you and cloud your ability to use the system effectively. 

I didn’t have a clue what Dr Mora was talking about. Why was rice pasta okay but normal pasta wasn’t? I certainly didn’t know what those herbs were all about, except perhaps for making our kitchen pantry as stinky as possible to deter me from the cereal. 

It didn’t matter. I did what I was told and the positive effects were immediate and apparent and real. 

Human health is incredibly complex. We still don’t understand much of it. Cancer is really just a label we slap on illnesses that we don’t fully understand. What we do know is that our mind is incredibly potent at healing our body and that placebo is real. 

Some of those supplements may have been just a means to extract a few more dollars from Mum, but I took them religiously and it helped me form a habit that I perceived to be beneficial. Habits like these helped me form my lifestyle around dietary choices and discipline. A positive feedback loop was set in place. 

So do whatever works and don’t question it too much. Give up wheat and you will feel better. You might choose to read the scientific literature one day to understand the role of gliadin on zonulin production and intestinal permeability but you don’t need to. Just know that it works and that if you stick to it your life will be better. 

Have a little faith in the system and the positive results will enable you to build faith in yourself. In the end that’s all that matters - that you care about yourself enough to strive for constant improvement. 

I am grateful to my Mum for taking me to that crazy quack, not once but twice. After high school I went off the Dr Mora diet. It had served its purpose and I had a lot of beer drinking to catch up on! But I can appreciate now that it was of pivotal importance to my health for the rest of my life. I’m so glad that I got back in that Volvo with Mum and drove across the suburbs to Dr Mora's office. I gave myself a second chance. 

4. Always give yourself a second chance. 

“Form a habit. Forge a lifestyle.” 

The Paleo Model. 

PS - If you liked this story you will probably enjoy this (actionable) guest post I did for an Adelaide gym: ‘Find your it' 


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Low Carb High Fat Paleo Super Smoothie


This is the full, unedited version of a recipe post I wrote for MindBodyGreen:

I am generally not a big fan of drinking my calories with the following three exceptions:
  1. As a post-workout recovery shake after a high intensity workout
  2. As an occasional meal replacement for convenience sake
  3. Drinking some nice wine or even tequila while socializing 
For the first two exceptions, I’ve devised a Paleo-friendly smoothie that is brimming with nutrition from healthy fats, probiotics, omega-3s, complete protein, natural electrolytes, antioxidants, fiber and a minimal amount of low glycemic carbohydrates. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? 

Let me first give you the recipe and then I’ll explain why I’ve selected each of the ingredients and also some vegan alternatives. 

RECIPE:
120mL (1/2 cup) of organic coconut water
120mL (1/2 cup) of goat milk kefir
70g (1/2 cup) of frozen organic blueberries
1 whole pastured raw egg
1 scoop (23g) of grass-fed unflavored natural whey protein
1 tbsp (15g) of Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil
2 tsp (10g) of raw organic cocoa powder
1 scoop (7g) of collagen powder type 1 & 3 (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend for around 10-15 seconds. Add some water if you prefer a thinner consistency.

Nutrition Numbers:
462 calories
30g protein
30g fat
18g carb

270 cal from fat (58%)
120 cal from protein (26%)
72 cal from carbs (16%)

Nutrition rationale:
I believe that healthy fats from whole foods are the optimal source of nutrition for humans. Our requirement for protein is often overstated and our body is incredibly capable at self-regulating protein consumption according to our need for it. Carbohydrates play a role in human nutrition but are generally grossly over-consumed in our modern society and we require far less than conventional wisdom would have you believe.

For this reason almost 60 per cent of the nutrition from this super smoothie consists of healthy fats from kefir, MCT oil, raw egg yolk and cocoa powder. 

Protein is important for satiety and also for post workout recovery, which is why I incorporate a high quality natural grass-fed whey protein. 

Let’s look in detail at each ingredient, and some vegetarian/vegan alternatives. 

COCONUT WATER
Coconut water is an excellent source of five electrolytes - potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium and phosphorus. It is relatively low in fructose and half a cup contains less than six grams of sugar. It also tastes great and adds some sweetness. 

Alternatives - unsweetened almond milk or water

FULL FAT GOAT MILK KEFIR
Kefir is a form of fermented dairy. It is a very rich source of probiotics and live cultures, containing over 20 billion per serve. Goat milk is preferable to cows milk as it tends to be less allergenic, more easily digested and is generally well tolerated. Goat milk is more nutritious than cow milk in many ways - with twice the short chain fatty acids and the highest level of L-glutamine of any dairy.

Alternatives - greek style cow milk kefir, coconut kefir, coconut cream or coconut milk

FROZEN BLUEBERRIES
Blueberries are an excellent source of antioxidants. They are also fibrous and relatively low in fructose and total sugar. Frozen blueberries are more convenient than fresh ones and add a nice chill to the smoothie. Always opt for organic berries if you can. 

Alternatives - fresh blueberries, fresh or frozen raspberries

A RAW EGG
Egg yolks are one of the most nutrient dense foods available. The big caveat to this is that the quality of store bought eggs varies greatly and is often poor. Your best option is to find a local farmer (at a farmers’ market) who raises pastured happy hens or even better, raise your own! Healthy pastured eggs are an excellent source of vitamins A, B, D, and E, omega-3 and iodine. 

Alternative - half a small avocado

UNFLAVORED GRASS-FED WHEY PROTEIN
Whey protein is considered the most complete and most efficient source of supplemental protein. Once again quality is the key here. The whey protein should be grass-fed, ensuring that it is rBGH, antibiotic and pesticide free. It should be 100 per cent whey protein from milk, not cheese bi-products, with no additional ingredients such as sweeteners or flavoring.

Alternatives - hemp protein or another high quality vegan protein alternative

MCT OIL
Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a unique source of fat because they are burned almost immediately for instant energy and are not easily stored as fat. You can think of MCT oil as a more concentrated form of coconut oil, which acts like rocket fuel for your body. Other cited benefits of MCT include improved fat metabolism, blood sugar regulation and brain function, by enhancing ketone production. 

Alternative - organic extra virgin coconut oil

COCOA POWDER
Raw cocoa powder contains healthy fats, polyphenols and magnesium, and has been shown to reduce blood pressure. It also adds a great flavor and texture to the smoothie without adding any sugar.

COLLAGEN (OPTIONAL)
Collagen is a vital nutrient that is lacking in most modern diets. Collagen protein is crucial to tissue repair, bone renewal and recovery after exercise or surgery. It is also vital to our skin and joints and can help to prevent premature aging. If you are vegetarian or vegan feel free to omit this supplement from your smoothie. 

This smoothie is an energy and nutrient dense meal. At just 16 per cent carbohydrate by calories it is very low carb and will provide sustained energy for several hours. It is incredibly satiating. If you find this recipe too “grown up” (not sweet enough) you could potentially add some Stevia, some more coconut water or half a banana if you require additional carbohydrates. 

With a bit of tinkering and substitutions this Power Smoothie can be a valuable addition to any diet from low carb Paleo to raw vegan. I hope you give it a try! 

Related Articles:



References
http://rebootedbody.com/health-benefit-mct-oil/
http://chriskresser.com/three-eggs-a-day-keep-the-doctor-away
http://nutritiondata.self.com

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My Interview on Whole Healthy Glow


My friend and holistic health coach, Dorit Jaffe, interviewed me on her awesome lifestyle and food blog Whole Healthy Glow. In the interview I talk about how modeling led me down the nutrition path, why I don't like cheat days, my current workout routine and why you should eat more fat... 

READ THE INTERVIEW HERE

Friday, August 29, 2014


This week I had the privilege of interviewing the charming and talented Dorit Jaffe - Holistic Health Coach and creator of food and lifestyle blog WholeHealthyGlow.com. Dorit, like me, has a passion for helping people forge a healthier lifestyle through optimal nutrition, exercise and stress management, among other things. She also has an amazing talent for coming up with innovative recipes and presenting them in beautiful ways. Her food blog and Instagram account are incredible. I think you'll enjoy her holistic approach. Let's get to it...

Occupation and location?
I am a holistic health and lifestyle coach based in New York City. I work with clients to achieve their personal health goals and help motivate them through a six-month program and specialize in managing stress and healing digestive issues.

Did you grow up in a healthy family? What was your nutrition like as a kid?
My definition of “healthy” has changed over the years, but in retrospect yes I believe that I grew up in a “healthy” family. My parents didn’t allow me to eat foods with artificial colors/flavors, soda, lots of snacks or candy, and cooked at home a lot. I wasn’t a big fan of vegetables and because all my friends got to eat Fruity Pebbles and fun colored yogurts I would snack on these unhealthy foods whenever I could. For the most part I ate home-cooked meals, ate cereal for breakfast, played all the time outside and participated in sports.

What made you want to become a health coach?
After graduating college with a BA in advertising and marketing communications I realized a corporate desk job wasn’t for me. I learned that my passion for helping and motivating others paired with my love for cooking and fitness could be a career. I love working with people and motivating others to be more healthy in ways that work best for them - because everyone is different and as such requires a different diet with different needs.


What frustrates you the most about our current food system? 
So much! The fact that society has strayed so far from our roots and is now eating food that are harmful to our health. Now food has become marketable poison that contains pesticides, chemical additives, and man-made junk. 

Secondly, society’s addiction to sugar and getting children addicted to it at a young age. In America they allow for baby formula to contain high amounts of sugar. Advertising directed towards children portrays a colorful “happy” experience. What kid wouldn’t want that experience? Or to have candy, cereal, and fast food with cartoon characters all over them? Sugar is more addictive than cocaine. If it’s not acceptable to be addicted to cocaine in our society, why is it ok to allow our children to become addicted to sugar?

Thirdly, that we are allowing mass-production of animals in inhumane and unnatural ways to be consumed in glutinous amounts. I’m not against people eating meat, I just believe that the animals need to eat their natural diet, to be grass-fed and not caged in, fed hormones, grains, GMO corn and injected with antibiotics.

Finally, the overfishing of our oceans, which is wiping out entire species of fish, and ultimately killing precious underwater ecosystems.

You obviously have a healthy glow yourself, your skin is flawless. What does your skincare routine look like?
Why thank you! It’s been a struggle over the years but eliminating dairy, processed sugars and caffeine from my diet definitely have helped. I use all natural vegan beauty products. I wash my face with a Clarisonic brush and use Naturopathica aloe cleansing gel at night and Origins Clean Energy gentle cleansing oil in the morning. To prevent and heal breakouts my favorite product is Eco Modern Essentials Pimple, which is a blend of lavender and tea tree oils. I use this every night after cleaning my face. For eye makeup remover I use pure coconut oil. For details about my beauty regimen, check out my blog post here.


Favorite vegetable?
There’s so many! But if I have to choose one... Sweet potato!

Best fat for cooking?
Organic cold-pressed coconut oil or olive oil.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle holding women back from achieving their optimal body composition?
Stress. Stress is more harmful than a Snickers bar. If you stress and over-analyze everything you eat and aren’t happy you release cortisol. Cortisol can be a very harmful hormone in your body when out of balance, causing you to gain and retain weight in your mid-section while also making it almost impossible to lose weight. Relax and be proud of every step you take towards your new lifestyle. If you eat something “bad” move on and don’t stress about it.

Have you ever had body image issues? What do think is the best way to cultivate a healthy body image?
Yes, and I think society plays a big role in this issue. From a young age now people are exposed to gossip magazines, celebrity news, and the never-ending topic of “that person is too fat or skinny.” I never worried about my body image as a kid but as I grew up and moved to cities like Los Angeles and New York the pressure grew. I think the best way to have a healthy body image is to do things that make you happy and surround yourself with supportive and loving people, who see the beauty in you always and are there to support you no matter what. Also, to just love the imperfections that make you you!

What do you think is the most effective form of exercise for women trying to lose weight?
Exercise does play a role in losing weight but I think diet comprises 70% of reaching your body's natural weight. Exercise makes up the other 30%. I recommend cardio and strength training to tone your muscles. I personally like to try different classes, video workouts and outdoor activities to switch things up.

For the following foods, state whether they should be a) avoided completely, b) consumed only occasionally, or c) can be consumed regularly, for the average otherwise healthy person:

Peanut butter - Can be consumed occasionally. Only eat organic pure peanut butter, not the fake stuff.
Conventional whole milk - Avoid completely.
Pastured Eggs - Can be consumed regularly.
Grass-fed beef - Can be consumed regularly.
Farmed tilapia - Avoid completely.
Ice cream - If dairy, then I would avoid completely.
Canola oil - Avoid completely.
Coconut oil - Can be consumed regularly.
Fresh pineapple - Consumed occasionally.
Grass-fed butter - Can be consumed regularly.
Tofu -  Eat occasionally but only organic.
Margarine – Avoid completely.
85% cacao dark chocolate - eat occasionally, make sure it's good quality.

Finally, your top three pieces of advice for leading a more kick-ass, healthy existence?
1) Set achievable and maintainable goals for yourself. 
2) Enjoy eating and living healthy. Make it fun, not a task. 
3) Don’t stress. Love yourself and know you are capable of anything.

Thanks so much for sharing. What is the best way for people to see what you're up to and get hold of you?
My website: www.wholehealthyglow.com where I post health and lifestyle advice and tips, as well as healthy plant-based vegan and vegetarian recipes.

Follow me on Instagram: @wholehealthyglow and Twitter: @Dorit_Jaffe

Best way to contact me is via email: Dorit@wholehealthyglow.com