3 health truths I brought from Jamaica.

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As proud as I am that the advice I give about healthy living is based on my voracious appetite for reading and reading research, much of it comes from personal experience. Sure, not everything is generalizable but most of it is applicable to many. Here a few that changed my life for the better. Hope they help you too!

  1. ¬†Don’t eat it if it¬†didn’t grow somewhere (a.k.a. eating from the earth)¬†The singular experience that started it all (the advice giving and general know-it-allness) was seeing my body and life change after emigrating to the United States. I blame the newfound love for all foods¬†packaged and deliverable upon my arrival. The first thing I noticed was the¬†extra movement happening in my backside as it grew larger…and larger…and larger. Back in Jamaica I was eating rice, yams, bananas, vegetables, fish and meats from the market and there was no room in the budget for cookies as a dietary staple, only as treats. Clearly factory food was putting the jiggle in my wiggle.
  2. Move it or lose it: Another thing I noticed with my new food choices was how much more I preferred sitting in front of the TV watching American cartoons. This from a girl who loved to climb, chase and unravel things! Suddenly I was a veritable couch potato with no energy. My assessment was that the equation of pizza + hot pockets + pancakes = coma.
  3. Real food is not good or bad, it’s just food:¬†The biggest difference I have noticed between “American” food culture and everywhere else is how obsessed everyone is with eating or not eating. The processed food that is the hallmark of America¬†has so much to say on its labels and usually self congratulatory things like “All Natural!”, ” Whole Grain”, “Gluten Free”, “Good for you”.¬†Meanwhile,¬†real food doesn’t talk, doesn’t need commercials or a spokesperson because it is neutral fuel for the human body. Real food talks to you from the inside out by making you feel energized, satisfied¬†and¬†becomes a part of you, as it should. ¬†

My take is that¬†,¬†faux food HAS to talk¬†on its labels but its real message is in the cravings it creates. Like a drug, fake food compels you to eat it and creates customers why real food propels you forward and¬†doesn’t ask anything of you. If you do nothing else, learn to appreciate the value of real food in your life and try as you might to choose it above all other kinds of “food”. Your body will be more grateful than you will ever know.¬†

Is celebrity culture stealing FitPros’ Thunder?

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Do¬†you know who Jennifer Selter is? She of the curvaceous caboose on an unlikely frame whose instagram popularity is insane based on said backside? Yes, this Jen Selter who has also received editorial space in news-papers ¬†based on her derriere. Can’t blame the girl for having an almost impossible silhouette and enjoying the attention that comes with it.

However, what I can take issue with is Ms. Selter giving fitness advice based solely on being 20 years young with a bubble butt that defies gravity (as it should when one is 20) and some squatting prowess.¬†Kind of like how I don’t take diet & beauty advice from dewy, toweringly tall models barely through puberty OR from coddled celebs who have access to what I don’t.

My point is: how does idolizing anyone who has no experience with your body type and particular issues help YOU? How does merely mimicking what they do for themselves teach you anything in the long term? Finally, how does it even make sense to listen to advice from someone who doesn’t even look like the rest of the population? Take a moment to let this sink in as you flip through profiles of genetically, pharmaceutically and cosmetically boosted bodies online or elsewhere. If you’re just looking for a visual thrill, then go for it – look all you want. However, if you’re looking for real help with your fitness and health you would be better off sticking with an experienced and educated professional.

Changes have been a-foot in the quality of fitness leadership for quite some time and according to some, these changes echo those seen in the entertainment industry.  Gone are the days when personality+ Looks + education + due diligence + connections were the path to professional success in fitness coaching. Fame in modern fitness now mostly requires the first 2,  half of the 3rd with connections being replaced by: a huge social media following.

Is this new formula for fitness fame merely a sign of the times and should current fit pros simply get over it and adapt? Maybe stepping up the game in branding ¬†would help, yes. Still, how does a reputable fitness professional compete with “genetically blessed” models and ¬†enhanced instagram stars touting supposed secrets to their “natural” bodies. I know how: we DON’T. Instead, we stand out by being who we already are: Fitness Professionals, not merely folks simply experienced at exercising.

GF Avocado Rosemary Biscuits

gluten-free avocado biscuits.gluten-free avocado biscuits.
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The best things are born out of necessity. Like this morning when I ran out of fat to bake with ( no butter, coconut butter etc) and decided to use avocado instead. OH. MY. YUMMMMMM!! Yes, all of those exclamation points are necessary.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. & grease 3 cups in muffin tin
1/2 cup GF biscuit mix from Red Mill
1/4 avocado cubed
Pinch of sea salt

Pinch of rosemary, dried or fresh (optional)

1 egg

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

Blend flour mix with avocado and salt until well mixed.
Add egg and milk and blend.
Scoop into muffin tray and bake for 22 mins until golden brown and test knife comes out dry.
Eat them all because they’re delicious. Wait, what?! ;)

Is it okay to hate Quinoa….and chia??

Is quinoa better than brown rice?
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Is quinoa better than brown rice?

Is quinoa better than brown rice?

Is it me or is every other popular blog post recipe about something made out of chia or quinoa? Luckily, I like both… well, quinoa more than chia since I’m allergic to the latter. Still, what if you have never tried either OR if you have and don’t like them? is it even necessary to force yourself to try these so-called super foods? Well, let’s figure out why they’re super, shall we? Foods with that label typically have a higher concentration of antioxidants than on other foods in their category (fruit, vegetable, grain).

Take¬†quinoa¬†for example; can’t you just stick to brown rice and get the same benefits? Well, first: congrats on making the switch from useless, diabetes instigating white rice to it’s browner sister.¬†¬†Off the top of my head I know that brown rice is high in fiber but this handy infographic from the Prevention.com blog spells out why quinoa wins the competition. ¬†Hint: quinoa has more protein , fiber, and folate per cup than the same amount of brown rice.

Verdict: give quinoa a try. You might not like its nutty flavor as a newbie but you can start by mixing it with your brown rice or buying it that way. You can also cook it in low sodium chicken stock to add more flavor if you like.

The chia seed¬†is not only high in antioxidants but this little Mayan powerhouse is also high in protein, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids. Wait, didn’t we JUST fall in love with flax seeds for the same reasons? well, chia has higher amounts of the aforementioned nutrients than flax does AND you can eat the seeds whole ( flaxseeds need to be ground up in order to be absorbed). People that like chia usually sprinkle it on other healthy foods or mix it into liquids to make chia pudding as¬†the seeds turn gelatinous when¬†wet.

Basically, the ideas is that chia seeds can make a healthy meal even healthier by boosting its nutrient content but here is the catch I ¬†found:¬†There IS so much as too much of a good thing when it comes to the fat soluble vitamins ¬†(chia has 15 IUs of Vitamin A), allergy potential ( I got a bad rash) and tummy troubles ( chia with a side of bloating, anyone?). ¬†In short, try it sparingly first before throwing yourself wholeheartedly into it. Actually, this is a good rule of thumb for most “fad” foods!

Final Verdict: as our world gets smaller (AND bigger) new foods that make eating more interesting and beneficial will come and go. Your goal is to enjoy your meals while getting the most out of them nutritionally. Foods like quinoa and chia can boost your nutrient level quicker than their more traditional counterparts so explore your options.

How to make badass gluten free biscuits

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A ¬†favorite part of the ¬†NYU Nutrition program was the time I spent in the kitchen.¬†It was there that it really hit home that cooking and baking especially were scientific reactions. One just had to think about the end goal for taste and texture and combine ingredients to achieve them. Was I always perfect? hardly. Did I often end up with flour in my hair? always. Still, I too kmuch away from that course and whatever my addled brain couldn’t remember I knew ¬†was written in this $3000 collection of textbooks I amassed¬†over the years. Like how to make biscuits: this is really about how to combine your ingredients. Once you get that, it dawns on you that it applies to everything i.e types of cookies etc.¬†

Biscuits (or scones) are rustic lumps of deliciousness in my house. I do like the flaky, buttery versions too but I’m still perfecting those so stay tuned. These savory ones were born of my love for ¬†the taste of cheddar biscuits and my need to only use gluten-free flour. *P.S. I’m not celiac but I know I don’t respond well to regular flour (extreme fatigue, bloat, churlishness). Judge me freely. Here is how I did it:

1/2 cup GF muffin mix from Red Mill

3-4 tbsp unsalted butter (regular or coconut)

6 oz low fat yogurt ( I needed the probiotics but you can use tsp of vinegar mixed with 1/4 -1/2 cup almond milk; the acid is the key)

Pinch of sea salt

Pinch of Rosemary

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and oil your muffin pan for 4 biscuits ( you can just use wax paper too).

Mix flour and butter thoroughly in a high speed mixer or blender ( my Ninja might be the best thing I’ve ever bought).¬†

Add pinch of salt and rosemary to mixture and mix again. Taste to see if you like it.

Now add wet ingredients of yogurt or almond-vinegar mixture and blend all throughly. 

Scoop lumps into your tin and bake for 18-20 mins until golden brown and knife comes out dry when you test.

Let cool for at least 5 minutes and then enjoy!

Did you try them? Please let me know what you thought!

 

Class Wars: the fight for exclusivity in modern gym culture.

How the gym industry is fighting for exclusivity.
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How the gym industry is fighting for exclusivity.

How the gym industry is fighting for exclusivity.

A lay-person ¬†waltzing into a gym class, ¬†has no idea of the back room ¬†wars being waged to earn their attendance.¬†Think the world of fitness is only about making people feel better? ¬†think again! There is a bucket of money being¬†made from each euphoric¬†sweat session and some of the industry’s¬†biggest players are getting ferocious¬†in making sure their golden buckets stay full.¬†But is it worth if the end result is that fitness becomes less inclusive for both staff and member? Let’s see what is at stake. History Joseph Pilates (1883- 1967) :¬†Joe Pilates was first in line to popularize a specific method of fitness in NYC during the early 1900s through the 1960s. ¬†After Pilates and his wife opened their studio, the Contrology method became beloved by dancers¬†and therefore exclusive in its limited access. Once wealthy NYC socialites learned about its benefits, the exclusivity factor rose and they flocked to Pilates for help. The current recognition of the Pilates name is based not just on the effectiveness of his¬†core-centric¬†method but also on his efforts to ¬†preserve his method via instructor training many years ago. Jack Lalanne (1914-2011)A fitness story cannot be told without first mentioning the “GodFather of Fitness” . Back in his heyday, Jack was one of the first proponents of good nutrition and exercise as well as one of the 1st gym owners in the mid 1930s. Although his target market was female, he was also well-respected by men in the body building sphere and so his gyms were egalitarian. It would seem that¬†Jack was more interested in educating and helping the masses to turn their lives around through healthy lifestyle choices as he did. Lotte Berk (1913-2003):¬†Lotte Berk was a contemporary of Lalanne’s and like Joe Pilates, developed her own dance based, core focused method of exercise that shared her name.¬†Berk licensed her method and a Lotte Berk studio opened¬†in NY’s Upper East Side in 1970. The studio closed its doors in 2005 after competition increased namely by¬†CoreFusion, Berk based method and studio opened after an epic “falling out” between Berk and former Lotte Berk students, Fred DeVito and Elizabeth Halfpapp. Fast forward to present day, 11 years in the future since CoreFusion & Exhale Spas began their sprawl, and we now have over 400 different types of boutique gyms in the NY area alone.

Present

Specific methodologies abound among cycling, interval training, dance based classes, and body/sports¬†conditioning just to name a few! To some, this is the simple nature of fitness: an ever evolving beast built upon the imperfections of all who came before it. To others, especially those with the most dollars invested, this rise in competition is a call to batten down the hatches and protect what is theirs. This begs the question: what is “theirs” really? Doesn’t fitness belong to everyone and is it possible to harness its inherently volatile nature of change? That question becomes even more interesting when you consider that all modern fitness styles are derivative of the ones that preceded them or other modes of movement (dance). The human body does have a finite ability for movement and improvement, after all. So if you can’t control the public’s rampant need for change in fitness,¬†their obvious need for a sense of ¬†community or make them bionic through their workouts then what can you change? Well, you can (try to) control ¬†access and your “people” ¬†meaning your public and your staff…maybe. At the time of this post, SoulCycle, Equinox Gyms (SoulCycle’s owner), FlyWheel, and Barry’s Boot Camp¬†have¬†been the leaders in exclusivity¬†marketing. Each cater to the same class of clients: ¬†mostly white,¬†well-heeled, well-connected, energetic and affluent – in short, the type that can afford and have come to expect access. ¬†Since each offers complementary¬†approaches to similar modalities, ¬†it would seem that¬†there would be room for all in the current market. Not all would agree, as the fight to retain the client and mystique of “specialness” ¬†has heated up with this recent exchange¬†proves. It has also become normal practice to expect reciprocal¬†devotion from the instructors that these members are devoted to¬†via non compete clauses.

So, is the answer to keep creating extremely specific workouts that target the fit and affluent few or to¬†become¬†more accessible¬†to everyone else? Well, it depends on the end marketing goal. Community marketing by definition allows expansion and inclusion for all who see themselves reflected in said community. Built on a sense of belonging, it encourages loyalty from all included even through changes. Cults, however, are hyper-focused communities built on the premise that no one is special outside of that community and so emphasize exclusion of the “unspecial”. The danger in cult marketing is not that it happens, this is business after all and it does yield dollars. No, the real danger in cult marketing is its limitations for growth because, well, ¬†if you continue to tell others they aren’t worthy and that you have all of the answers they will resent you.

Lastly, although client retention is the gold standard¬†in the fitness club business so is client conversion, staff satisfaction and the rarely mentioned: word of mouth referral marketing.¬†As such and¬†in¬†a predominantly service based industry like exercise delivery, public perception trumps current client perception. Why? because fitness is both aspirational and inspirational. The potential client becomes the real client based on¬†their current socio-economic identity AND who they want to become;¬†they want a tribe they are¬†proud of and ¬†can refer their loved ones to. In short: they want to belong and feel good about it. Change is inevitable especially¬†now that pristine environments, skilled and beautiful staff, and the buzz of specialness are par for the course in¬†fitness. Since the rate of change is becoming faster and more unpredictable it might be smarter for gyms to go back to the root of the thing, the effectiveness and feeling¬†that fitness inspires. Aren’t those the 2 things that¬†every member and ¬†potential member chases?

Making people feel capable can be far more valuable in the long term than fleeting exclusivity. Love it or hate it, one brand that has done this well is CrossFit whose credo seems to be “yeah, but can you do it?”. CrossFit itself is a perfect example of an amalgamation of training with an open door policy AND cult marketing genius. There is a groundswell coming and I think it will be back to the basics of the overall fitness¬†consumer very soon. “People will forget what you¬†said, people will forget what you did but people will never¬†forget how you made them feel” ` Maya Angelou

References

  1. NYObserver.com ¬†“Lotte Berk in last stretch;¬†http://observer.com/2005/04/lotte-berk-in-last-stretch/; 2005
  2. WellandGoodNyc.com ” SoulCycle bans fitness instructors from its classes”; http://www.wellandgoodnyc.com/2014/05/02/soulcycle-bans-fitness-instructors-from-its-cycling-classes/; 2014

How does Yolanda Sangweni stay healthy? (Interview)

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ImageLast week’s launch of New York African Restaurant Week yielded more than great food, sounds and smiles. It also allowed me to sit down and chat with Yolanda Sangweni, Senior Entertainment Editor for the Essence Magazine and Owner/Editor in Chief of ¬†the online magazine AfriPOP!. Yolanda is every bit of fiercely fabulous in person as she is in the photo but one of the first things I noticed was how kindly calm she was while being patient with her time. After all, she was MCing the launch of ¬†NYARW ¬†and was ¬†undoubtedly being pulled in many directions. When she mentioned being on day 2 of a 3 day juice cleanse I was even more impressed by her serenity as I’m not one to do well with food deprivation. Since we were surrounded by deliciously savory African food, I wondered how she was faring with so much temptation around her. Her cheerful ¬†answer of “fine” led me to¬†investigate further (clearly she was as super as her outfit suggested!)

SG:  So how long have you been a fan of juicing?

YS: The last 2 years, I started with a 3 day cleanse and have been doing them since then.

SG: I have tried juice cleanses but can only last 2-3 days?

YS: Yah, 3 days is my ideal too.

SG: So what do you do to stay healthy?

YS: I walk a LOT with the MapMyWalk app but want be more active.  As far as diet goes, I try to stick to a mostly raw diet, about 70% raw along with occasional juicing &  I make a drink made of ginger beer with anise and boiled lemon.

SG: Just make sure you drink a lot of water with all that raw food to prevent stomach upset! Have you had any struggle with nutrition?

YS: Well, I am just so busy that I find that the busier I get the worse I eat and I will just eat whatever is available!

SG: You’re not alone! Thats one of the number one complaint I hear from busy working women!

So there  you have it: Yolanda is just like all of us which clearly makes her even cooler, no?

It’s New York African Restaurant Week!

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ImageImageImageImageLittle old me had the pleasure of being invited along as press to the Edible Bazaar Benefit,¬†¬†the launch party for NY African Restaurant Week (#NYARW)! I knew I was in the right place when I opened the doors of Suite 36 only to be greeted with the most enticing aromas and music I’d experienced in awhile. Then there was the fashion! The textiles, patterns and bright colors were such a sight for sore eyes after such a hard, gray Winter, my friends! Upon entering I ran into Yolanda Sangweni, Entertainment Editor for Essence¬† Magazine and author of the AfriPop¬†online magazine. ¬†More on our conversation later but of note, she was one of 2 MC’s for the night.¬†

The Edible Bazaar Benefit was the kick-off event for the 2nd annual NYARW which is held in both Spring and Fall. In the spirit of community support, ticket sales benefited Keep A Child Alive and the Alliance of Hope for Lupus and the party was sponsored by Edible Communities, locally known for Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan magazines. While our palates were enticed with South African and West African flavors offered by restaurants Madiba and Accra respectively,  our ears were treated to the soulful sounds of Congolese songstress Rafiya. The owners of these restaurants also received awards for their positive impact in the African and African diaspora community.  

According to the NYARW website, 

“Most restaurants will be offering 3 course Prix Fixe meals at various prices (most restaurants offering at 28.95) visit BeUevents.com to buy tickets. Some restaurants will be offering the full menu at a 10% discount to all African Restaurant Week dinners”¬†