8 environmentally conscious choices I am making as a holistic nutritionist

I graduated nutrition school becoming a stronger environmentalist than I ever was. At first, I was intrigued by the sophisticated connections between foods, the environment and health. Then, I get angry learning how the food industry hacks mother nature in order to make more money, with harmful chemicals, food additives and irresponsible agricultural practices. Consequently, I joined my organic food coop and become surrounded by likeminded people.

This makes me a lot more environmentally conscious of my choices, because everyone around me is doing it. Here’s 8 environmentally conscious choices I make. (And they don’t include being a vegan.) It’s all science-based and based on my understanding of ecology and the agricultural systems.

1. Minimize plastic use at all costs – I don’t eat or drink from plastic. I buy all my spices, produces, shampoos and household cleaning products bulk in reused containers. I don’t use plastic produce bags when I buy my produces. I avoid plastic bags when I go shopping. Plastic sucks for everyone’s hormonal health and the environment. Plastics will outlive you, in a bad way.

2. I eat very little grains or soy, if I do at all. I am lucky that I don’t get sick from eating grains, but growing all kinds of grains require tillage, which kills earthworms and destroys the soil ecosystem. Grains are generally high maintenance plants because they are annuals. They also require water diversion grow. If it’s not organic, then odds are high that it’s from factory farms sprayed with pesticides like Roundup and chemical fertilizers that rob our soils of its fertility, and ruin our waterways. I disagree with how this whole thing works, so I avoid grains, as well as animals that are fed conventionally grown grains.

3. I eat local. I am Canadian, and full fledged Ontarian near the Green Belt fertile soil. I don’t understand the whole point of flying my produces all the way from California. California is going through its worst draught ever, due to irresponsible agricultural practices, among other things. Sometimes it’s a few bucks more than the Californian produces.

4. I eat and use the whole animal and I choose animals that have been treated well. Only killing a cow for steaks, or a chicken for its breast, and throwing out everything else is extremely wasteful and disrespectful of the animals. It is also indeed healthier to eat the whole animals because organ meats are extremely nutrient-rich. This way, it only takes me about 1/3 of a cow to feed me for an entire year. Did I also mention I use animal fats to cook and make all my skin products? They are the best for my eczema and acne.

5. I don’t waste food. 50% of food is wasted because our salads typically travel 3000 miles to reach our plates. Some of them wilt and wither away. Eating local and not wasting food is the way to save money and the environment. It also takes some creativity in the kitchen to make sure that I use as many parts of plants and animals as possible before they get thrown out.

6. I clean my house with products that are environmentally responsible. No plastic beads (they get eaten by fish in the lake and never degrade). No hormone disruptors. No ingredients that I can’t pronounce. Mostly it’s just pure diluted vinegar. Also, no phosphates and FD&C colours in my soap-based products.

7. I eat everything organic or biodynamically farmed. Not only has this completely cured my mood problems during that time of the month, it is also a better choice for the environment. I don’t want to contribute to the pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in our soil and waterways. [Not being crazy for the half of my life during the 2 weeks before my period is worth the $200 extra per month of grocery, so that justifies going full on organic.]

8. I don’t consume vegetable oils at all. Canola, corn and soybean oils come from “cash crops” that are grown on factory farms without respect to the environment. Also, most of them are genetically modified to either be Roundup Ready or to contain insecticidal toxins. In addition, these oils require a lot of dangerous solvents and other chemicals to remove the tastes and odor to make them palatable. Lastly, wastes of these oils, especially from deep-fried products, are usually highly reactive and contain dangerous toxins like acrylamides. Vegetable oils are not foods. Nobody should eat them. Oh, did I mention the plastic containers?

My Story: Falling down the hormonal flight of stairs as a gym warrior and climbing back up like a scientist

How to rescue yourself after falling down the hormonal flight of stairs as a gym warrior.

Sign up to be notified when a free hormone balancing webinar is scheduled HERE.

I used to think looking good in a bikini and beasting out were the keys to being healthy, after years of chronic cardio had let me down. I love pumping iron so much that I became a personal trainer to empower other women with strength training.

Exercising, dieting and fasting is good, so more must be better?

Yet, I became constantly fatigued and depressed, my periods became nearly nonexistent, my skin broke out, my stomach went haywire and my cravings were rampant. Falling down this hormonal flight of stairs also led to months off from work and a breakup. I had to pay a steep price for the resulting hormonal imbalances.

Even worse, the fat I had worked so hard to get rid off creeped back up on me on the same “clean” diet and beastmode training.

All the while my bloodwork was spiffy perfect and doctor after doctor gave me a clean bill of health.

Rather than getting on ten medications to take care of all the issues that I had, the scientist in me knew that there was another answer. I knew that something was fundamentally wrong with the way I treated my body, although I was the perfect poster child of the fitness industry.

On my quest to understand what had happened, I discovered functional medicine, the real Health Care, not Sick Care. As a life-long scientist, I find that the more I learn about functional medicine, the more it makes scientific sense to me. Through health detective work (nutrition, supplementation, stress management, functional lab testing, hormone balancing, environmental optimization, manipulating exercise variables, etc) and leaving no stone unturned, I restored my health while getting stronger.

As I heal myself, I encounter countless weightlifting sisters who face similar issues. I just can’t help but sharing what I’ve learned along the way, such as:

1. Women have different physical training needs from men.

2. Stress is cumulative. Dieting and Exercising are ALWAYS  stressors and will be beneficial only if I can recover from it. It is possible to find a hormonal sweet spot to be lean, strong and healthy. This can be done by balancing out stresses from exercise and everything else in life, but unnecessarily stresses must be eliminated.

3. While it is better to prevent catastrophic health situations as described, it is also possible to restore health to feeling like my hottie badass self again.

Being the passionate person that I am, I can’t keep my mouth shut, which is why I do free live trainings for you fellow strong sisters.

Want to learn how to balance find your hormonal sweet spot?

Sign up to be notified when a free hormone balancing webinar is scheduled HERE.

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.

Natcha has gone Paleo

I finally call myself Paleo after a long journey. It was a convergent evolution for me.

I had a long (> 15 years) history of trying to lose weight with all the various diets. They had worked quite well but the results just did not last, as maintaining those diets just weren’t very practical.

The last “diet” I tried was a low glycemic impact program. That was the first time I learned about insulin, body composition, and losing fat rather than weight. Lo and behold, I went from a size 12 to a size 6 within 4 weeks. Interestingly, my acne that plagued me since my teenage years disappeared. I was bursting with energy.

Then, I got into bodybuilding. For the first time, I was the leanest ever, but my hours on cardio machines weren’t adding up. I wanted abs and less flab. I purchased Flavia del Monte’s exercise programs after seeing her ads on Facebook and and followed it.

I was flabbergasted when I saw my abs in the mirror one day. How could that be possible? I wondered. after 25 years of being chubby and 15+ years of chasing the body of my dream.

After hearing a few girlfriends complain about their bodies (like we always do), I couldn’t help but to get my own fitness and nutrition certifications so that I can help them.

Through bodybuilding, I learned that I actually needed a lot less carbs than the Food Pyramid said. In fact, that reduction in carbs was required for me to get lean, based on my endomorphic body type. I was basically already eating very little grains by the time I stumbled upon Paleo. However, I was reluctant to call myself Paleo for a little while as the amount of fats seemed a little too crazy. It just seemed like many recipes that were compliant with my personal nutrition guidelines happened to be Paleo.

Fascinated by how the changes in foods changed so many things in my life, I decided to study Holistic Nutrition at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. Holistic Nutrition is more like the naturopathic version of nutrition, where we look at humans as whole beings, how everything functions together, how to optimize our health rather than at alleviating symptoms or curing diseases.

Few things made more sense to me (a biologist) than the fact that mother nature does her excellent job, and it is far better to support her work than to interfere with it. The beauty of nature was why I decided to become a biologist in the first place. When I study the DNA and how it functions, it’s perfect. When I study a tree and how it functions, it’s perfect. When study an ecosystem – like a forest or the ocean –and see how every component of it exists and function together, it’s perfect. We humans do a lot of things to taint such beautiful things.

Before I was reminded of this, I was a medication junkie. When I finally learned about why many symptoms of illnesses were there to help us heal, and many medications interfere with the processes, I had a change of heart. I learned the difference between suppressing the symptoms, versus identifying the root causes and supporting the body’s own healing processes.

At about the same time, I got the worst eczema outbreak of my life. Supporting my body rather than suppressing the symptoms were rather easier said than done, when I was literally itching and bleeding in hell. As bad as it was, I never picked up the steroid prescriptions. Later, I found out that topical steroids had very bad side effects that can take debilitating years to recover from, and was glad that I never actually used it this time around.

I took the eczema episode as my body was telling me something was wrong, and I chose to remove that something rather than silencing the noise. Working with a naturopathic doctor and implementing what I learned from my courses, I cleared up 99% of my eczema and maintained it without medications.

It ain’t as easy as applying topical steroid cream, but it was worth it. It was simple, though: just removing everything that my body didn’t like. I went 100% organic with foods and all personal care products. I had to eliminate environmental allergens in my house, fix my stress and my sleep problems. I had to do a very strict elimination diet and (being a scientist) tried many healing modalities.

In the process, I learned about great practitioners who support the Paleo lifestyle like Chris Kresser, Yuri Elkaim, Dr. Daniel Kalish, Dr. Sara Gottfried, and Aglaee Jacobs. I was impressed by how intelligent these practitioners are, and how they are able to support their treatment choices with real science, even when it goes completely against what everyone else believes. It just all makes sense. With these people winning me over with their expertise, I became a proud Paleo practitioner.

In all honesty, it’s a lot more than eating a lot of meat and saturated fats. Paleo is being thankful for what mother nature gives us and recognize that there’s a lot more to being healthy and happy. This was a very spiritual process for me.

Here are my primal changes:

–     I make sure that all my animal products come from sustainable sources that respect the animals. I eat a whole chicken rather than only the breasts.

–     I eventually stop going to supermarkets (despite living near 3 major ones), and get my local and organic produces from Karma – my local food coop and farmer’s market.

–     I ban factory-farmed foods from my diet, both plants and animals.

–     When I work out, I make use of the full strength potential rather than letting any cultural or mental messages be my limit.

–     I choose to play outside and be surrounded by nature as much as possible.

–     I maintain close relationships with people and take care of other people.

–     I am spiritual and have life purposes.

–     I respect my circadian rhythms and my sleep.

–     I minimize exposure to toxins in personal care products and my environment by installing water and air filters, and making my own personal care products.

–     I get in touch with how I feel with respect to different environments, foods, exercise protocols.

–     I stop chasing an ideal body and go by optimal health instead.

–     I limit my exposure to electronics and take breaks from them every once in a while.

–     I learn to sense my stress levels (as it is the biggest factor affecting my health) and manage it.

–     I choose healing modalities that support my body’s healing rather over those that interfere with it.

If you have recently gone Paleo, been Paleo for a while or are contemplating it, let me know what you think through your comments below.