Holiday eating strategies: 8 ways to maintain your figure over the holidays

The temperature is dropping and the parties are starting. This might just be why everyone starts to attempt to lose weight in January.

I managed to lose body fat over last fall and kept it off over the holidays. 6 major parties in December didn’t ruin my hard-earned work. Here are 8 holiday eating strategies I discovered that helped me keep it off.

1)   Control your insulin

I lost the weight with a low glycemic impact program, and it naturally stuck with me.

Here’s the catch: low glycemic impact diet is the least hormone-wrecking diet you can follow. If you have issues with insulin (an obvious sign is that you tend to accumulate fat around your tummy), it is wise to follow eat low glycemic impact to get your insulin in check.

It is more forgiving to have that gobble of fat when your insulin isn’t spiking, like when you just have that glass of coke.

One amusing aspect of low glycemic is that the actual glycemic impact of what you are eating depends on the content of your stomach. So, if you wind up eating a high glycemic impact item (e.g. cakes, rice, very ripe fruits, ice cream), it is wise to cut down the impact with some protein, fat and fiber. Never eat desserts or drink anything with sugar (juice included, even 100%) on empty stomach.

Oh, and remember one fact, dairy may spike your insulin at whatever state it is.

2)   Resistance training and high intensity interval training

When you do resistant training, a few things happen in your body that use energy in a not-so-obvious ways. That’s especially the case if you are a beginner.

Firstly, your nervous, structural and respiratory systems have to adapt. For example, you build more neuronal connections with your muscles. Secondly, you create energy deficit from destroying your muscles during your training sessions. Those processes are more energetically costly than those numbers you see on the elliptical machines. Last but not least, when you follow a well-planned, well-periodized program (and that doesn’t mean complicated) with proper recovery, you build and retain muscle mass.

Muscle burns more calories and they make you look smaller at the same weight. You will also be stronger and feel like a superhero.

Muscle makes more room for glycogen, reducing your odds of storing excess energy as fat. The 2 fold effects is that 1) when you eat a lot of food (especially carbs) after your workouts, your muscles look more full as opposed to your belly, or tummy, or thighs.

There are many breeds of resistant training, as I just learned. The best ones for this purpose is perhaps the high volume bodybuilding style training, density training and lactic acid training.

I would define HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) as cardio intervals so hard that you feel like your lungs would explode at the end of each interval. Repeat 10 times. Well, that’s how I do it. But I would warn you that you should not be working out that hard if you have never done it, are de-conditioned or have lots of risk factors for heard diseases.

The thing with HIIT is similar to weight lifting. You burn more calories by 1) creating energy debt by using anaerobic respiration during your exercise and 2) forcing your body to adapt to the torture, so you feel less like a torture next time you do the same thing.

Remember, adaptation takes calories, too.

And you don’t need lots of time, either. I was a cardio queen with extraordinary endurance. I swam 60 laps in the pool with no rest and biked 70 km/day. But boy, just one Tabata workout that took 4 min made my lungs feel like they would explode by the end of the 2nd minute.

3)   You may want to eat what you don’t normally eat, but don’t eat to the point of discomfort.

Your body has a natural barometer for measuring how much you should be eating. Try not to override it.

We evolved to eat natural, unprocessed foods from the wild, not chocolate cakes, stuffing and sausages.

So, it’s best to focus on the least processed foods or what you can recognize in its natural state. The rest of it, eat it only when it’s really worthwhile, make it a real treat.

And don’t eat to the point that makes you suffer. Who likes food coma, anyway?

4)   Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is the practice of stopping eating for a period of time, and then eating again. More and more fitness figures are practicing this.

It might sound kinda crazy, like, “whoa, aren’t you gonna lose your muscles?”

I have seen too many bodybuilders do this to worry about that.

A simple rationale is that, the morning after the party, I would usually not feel like any food if I had my good share of party foods. It feels gross. And the last thing I would feel like doing is to eat.

So when that happens, it’s the body telling you that it has enough foods in the system to last for a while, that you don’t need to eat right then. You may be tired because your body still takes energy to digest the food, deal with new food allergens in the body, or clear out the alcohol. It’s telling you that it has enough work to do with foods.

So what I do is, I skip a day of foods and maybe even workout before I eat again. I make sure the first meal after the fast is full of protein and veggies, with very little carbohydrates. Also, eating less than 3 square meals a day is perfectly fine if you are attending a dinner party that day.

5)   Supplements

I take my CORE supplement before carb-heavy or beer-heavy parties. It’s my security blanket with no side effects. It has the natural carbohydrate absorption inhibitor from white kidney bean, chromium that helps with insulin sensitivity, and leptin support herbs that reduce my appetite. This combination helps blunt the blow and reduce the odds of an endomorphic gal like me storing things as fat.

And if you happen to be eating lots of potatoes, breads, pasta and sweets, definitely supplement with chromium.

There are also things like fat blocker (ever heard of Alli?), which I have tried myself. The problem with these is that they make you run to the bathroom with no mercy, and caused bad abdominal cramps. I’m not sure, but it may be worth it if you are considering inhaling a whole wheel of double cream brie or boatloads of fried foods. While I’m a big fan of good fats, we all know that eating such amount of fats is a recipe to feeling like crap. So you decide.

6)   Find the basis behind your cravings

Cravings often have biological basis. It’s telling you something. Either you have a hormonal imbalance or a real dietary deficiency.

Believe it or not? You are often craving what you are allergic too. When you get hurt, your body secretes endorphins to reduce the pain. When you hurt yourself by eating things you are allergic to, you may become addicted to that endorphins. I know, I know. I crave chocolate, too and I am allergic to it. Do you know anyone who won’t part ways with breads, and pasta or dairy?

A chocolate craving is often a sign of mineral deficiency.

A salt craving is a sign of stress.

Carb cravings usually means that your body doesn’t handle carbs very well, and that you tend to store them as fat. It also means that you tend to get your blood sugar in extreme swings.

7)   Eat clean for the rest of the time

If you know you are going to party hard that day, it is wise to not show up ravenous or pre-stuffed with junk.

Make sure you eat lots of vegetables and lean protein sources consistently for the day, or better yet, for the week.

8)   Find out what your food sensitivities/allergies are and avoid them like plaque

It takes a bit of time, real patience and will power to go on a hypoallergenic diet before experiment with potential food allergens. You can do a lab test for food allergies, if you would like.

If you notice some symptoms such as rash, major changes in energy level, mucus, etc, associated with certain foods, it is a good idea to avoid that item.

Overloading your digestive system with what your body doesn’t like may sensitize your body to become more allergic to other things. It can also compromises the functions of your digestive system. So, if you are allergic to certain things, it’s best to not eat it, even if it’s the holidays.

9)   Know a few recipes of a side, a salad and a dessert that are “safe” for you nutrition-wise and food-sensitivity wise

If you really like some items and would rather have them in your life, it may be possible to invent a healthy version of it. I invented healthy chocolate cakes, mousse pies and cheesecakes that I have no shame in sharing with people or eating the whole thing by myself. Bring that to parties, impress people, and enjoy it!

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s also a good idea to bring a salad or a healthy dish with lots of veggies over so you can ensure that there is something that is consistent with your goals at the party.

10) Don’t get yourself into OCD mode.

Nobody is perfect, really.

Attempting to count foods or calories, or beating yourself up for eating party foods will drive you nuts.

You want to enjoy life. Keep it simple.

Go right back to eating clean and exercising, even if there’s still 1 or 3 next parties. Even if it’s not next year yet.

Move, as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be in the gym.

Lastly, don’t be that annoying person that’s always not easygoing and complaining how fat you get.

Let me know how you think about these tips, or if you have any questions, post below.

How walking Vipassana meditation turned a couch potato into a fitness fanatic

I grew up an obese couch potato. Walking up 4 flights of stairs to my classroom put me out of breath for a full 30 minutes. I was also a Ms. Snotty Nose.

Then how did I become so active?

I have a very unconventional answer here: Vipassana meditation, particulary the walking part. My mom had taken me to the meditation retreat at Ampawan Temple in Singburi, 2 hours away from Bangkok. (I grew up a canonical Buddhist, but I was never a religious person up until that point.)


Students of Luang Por Jarun practicing walking meditation at Ampawan Temple

My meditation master Luang Por Jarun said the walking meditation has 5 benefits according to the Buddhist canon:

  1. It increases endurance while traveling on foot.
  2. It increases persistence and perseverance
  3. It decreases illnesses
  4. It is good for the digestive system.
  5. It improves concentration during the sitting phase of the meditation so that we benefit more from the sitting meditation.

Right after my first session of walking meditation, the immediate change was that I was able to walk very far without getting exhausted.

I was nowhere near athletic at that point. Running still caused me to be out of breath. But I decided I would start running. The first day, I barely made it to 5 minutes, but I kept at it. Once that was easy, I increased it to 10 minutes. And I kept adding 5 minutes at a time until I could run for hours at a time.

While I no longer run as I prefer other forms of exercise, it provided a good endurance base for any other forms of physical activity that I took up later in life. Not only that, my body just likes to move. Staying in shape becomes a joyful practice rather than a chore.

I also experience better digestion, especially after a large lunch, and many of my persistent illnesses disappeared.

I don’t have scientific evidence to support my claims here, just personal experience. But this is also a wisdom that has been known among Buddhists for more than 2,500 years. More and more now, we are starting to understand how these traditional wisdoms are beneficial to our health through scientific studies.

And lastly, I am a prime example that endurance, persistence, perseverance and health can be trained. It’s not something I was born with. As a matter of fact, I still struggle with many aspects of my fitness and understand that fitness is a continuum.

The walking part of my practice is quite well demonstrated by Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu

This can be a faithless practice. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to benefit from the practice.

Buddha says there are 3 levels of learning.

  1. By hearing or reading
  2. By contemplating or thinking
  3. By doing

The fact that level 3 is better than level 2 and level 1 is why the practice seems so simple it’s almost silly. That’s also why my teacher doesn’t teach much theory and details, as he wants us to focus on our practice. If he teaches us all the theories, we won’t get pass level 1. The most important thing is to experience it.

I feel like I am far from qualified to be teaching Buddhism or even this practice, but I know how this can benefit so many people. Also, the purpose of this post is mainly fitness rather than to preach religious teachings. Feel free to ask questions about this practice below.

Sh*ts women say

It is both amusing and disturbing to hear these from women as a strong girl, someone who hope to make women stronger and healthier. If you belong to these categories, feel free to ask me if you want to know what to do.:
– I can’t lift weights because I am too weak. (That’s why you need to lift weights, babe!)
– I can’t do yoga because I am not flexible. (Inflexible people should do yoga.)
– I just don’t know what to do. (enter the internet?)
– My biceps have gotten so big since I started lifting weights. (Hey, what about your belly?)
– I want to lose my belly fat this year so I do cardio every day. (That’s one way to make your belly bigger.)
– I want my arms to tone up so I will use the 3 lb weights. (Does your grocery bag every do anything close to toning your arms?)

Meh, what would I myself be complaining about?
– I shouldn’t try to lose weight because I am too fat. (Trust me, if mentality wasn’t involved, I’m the least likely person in the entire world to get lean.)
– I can’t do chin up because I am too weak. (Hello, it took me 8 months to get my first one.)
Plug into the equation the obese girl at the corner who is covered in sweat and gasped for air after 4 flights of stairs, who was always blowing her noses. That fat, unattractive, anti-social girl in grade school.

Creating a deadline to get things done Part I – what I learned from my first muscle photoshoot

As some of you might know, I had a muscle photoshoot recently. I just got my foot in the fitness industry after achieving a body transformation, so it was time I needed a website. This website was the motivation to eventually reach my goal. Through this journey, I realized that I would never otherwise get this lean without the photoshoot deadline.

What did I learn?

1. Now I understand why I needed a deadline to get this done and why successful people keep preaching this. This applies to everything else in life. I hate deadlines at times, but things only get done when there are deadlines.

2. It makes me a better trainer and wellness professional. When clients come to me, they come for a change. But even more importantly than the route is that they (and I) need to know where the finish line is. It doesn’t matter how good the workouts or the diets are if there are no way of tracking the outcomes, goals and deadlines.

So now when someone comes to me for a change, I first ask them to define their endpoints and priorities.

3. It was much easier to turn down treats and postpone irrelevant things when there was an end point because I could wait to have those after the shoots. Diets are not supposed to last forever, after all.

4. Without the deadline, I was much more likely to cheat on the diet, miss the workouts and go into vicious guilt-self punishment cycles. It is also important to have a maintenance plan to fit in “normal life” after all the hype fade away.

5. I am finally a representative of what I want to provide.

6. It’s life changing. As soon as I uploaded my photos on facebook, they garnered numerous likes within an hour. Friends from as far as back in Bangkok congratulated me and asked me for advice. (Of course there was this glorious feeling.)

7. From these correspondence I also learned the kind of misunderstandings people have about achieving a body transformation, which make for hilarious blog posts [later].


8. I came to terms with things. I have never been leaner and stronger in my entire life but I am still imperfect. That is soul-crushing after all these hard works I am still quite soft and a few parts are still wiggly. The funny thing is that, I am the only person who notices it because I am the only person who looks for it.

“Why be perfect? Perfect is boring.” ~Jillian Micheals 

 Do you notice I am chiseled but not absolutely shredded? My ultimate goal is to change people’s lives, not to compete in a bodybuilding competition. So I thought, I would just be myself and not photoshop a single imperfection out of my photos. I am proud of my body this way.


9. At no other times do I feel happier to move on and work on other things (like this website and school). I am sooo… motivated to work on those after the shoots. The honeymoon phase to a change has its positive effects. Fitness-wise, I also start experimenting with different styles of training and intermittent fasting. Now is time for the fun stuff.


How did I get here? I religiously followed Flavia del Monte‘s Curvalicious workout programs, which also came with diet plans and photoshoot prep protocols. The program was fabulous and fun, although really tough. And, like I keep saying in many posts, I had a hard time believing that my abs is showing. That was the last push that led me to plan this photoshoot.

I also bought the personal email coaching add-on which turned out to be invaluable because I had so many questions. Flavia replied to all of my emails even when she was on vacation (!). I am so so happy and thankful.

Later this week in Part II I’m gonna write a post in details about how SMART goal setting was critical to achieving a body transformation goal, and then Part III about what was involved in my first fitness photoshoot. [PS It was an adventure.] I will also include the pictures taken at different time points just to demonstrate.