Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sweet Potato Yellow Curry

I went through a phase last year where I was cooking my way through Diana Stobo's Get Naked Fast. Diana is a health nut that espouses a raw vegan diet. While I'm not that extreme, her recipes are super easy, very healthy and down right tasty! So, what's not to like?

It has been a while since I whipped up some of my favorites from Diana's book, so I thought I would introduce you to her sweet potato curry. It is soooo easy! Here's what you do:

Sweet Potato Yellow Curry
Chop into 1-inch chunks 1 large sweet potato, 1 medium onion, 2 celery stalks, 1 large carrot, and 1 red bell pepper. Saute all the veggies in a tablespoon of ghee (super rich, Indian clarified butter...you can get a jar at Whole Foods in the butter section) or a splash of olive oil in a medium sauce pan or pot. After 2 or 3 minutes, add 3 cups fresh coconut milk (I like it best when you crack a coconut with a big knife and blend the coconut water with the scraped out coconut meat...very primal! You can also just buy it in a can, but the canned stuff is WAY sweeter.) Mix in 1 Tbs. turmeric, 2 Tsp. garam masala, 1 Tsp. ground cumin, 1 Tsp. sea salt and 1/2 Tsp. pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes until the veggies are cooked but still have a little crunch to them. I've served this over brown rice (which soaks up the curry nicely) or alone in a bowl like stew. Either way top it with a little diced cilantro and its Thai-licious!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Where's the Beef?!?

OK, it's time that I admit something to myself...and to you, dear reader. Despite all my efforts to eat a vegetarian/vegan diet, I am first and foremost an omnivore (that's a meat-eater for those of you that failed junior high health class). Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy all the vegan recipes I've found in the Skinny Bitch books and other vegetarian/vegan websites, but lately I don't know what it is, I've been craving hamburgers and steaks like nobody's business, yo! Maybe it's my body telling me I need more protein. Maybe it's my caveman genes trying to coax me into scrambling down to the Dino Diner for a stegosaurus burger (didn't Fred Flintstone eat those?). I don't really know the reason, but I can ignore the call or let it go to voicemail.

Meat good. Oooga! Ooga!
So, what to do? Well, I have previously spent months at a time eating a primarily paleolithic diet. If you're not familiar with the "paleo" trend, it basically tries to emulate the foods that our ancestors would have eaten back in the paleolithic times. That means organic, grass-fed meat (when you can catch it and kill it), lots of organic fruits and vegetables (when they are in season), nuts and berries (probably foraged by the lady-folk), and healthy fats (from meats like fish or from seeds like flax or from fruits like avocados...yes, it's a fruit, people!).

You'll notice what's missing here is grains. Cavemen didn't farm and didn't harvest wild grains, so that is not on the strictly paleolithic menu...but that's where I diverge for practical reasons. I consciously try to reduce the total amount of grains I eat. I aim for ancient grains (quinoa, amaranth, spelt, buckwheat, barley or rye) when they are available, like when I'm cooking at home. I will sometimes eat whole grains or brown rice. And I try to avoid white grains, processed grains, and grain derivatives like High Fructose Corn Syrup (yes, corn is a grain not a vegetable...see how much you're learning today!).

I'll write more in future posts about this type of dieting as I make the transition and explore the effects. Who knows, maybe I'll change my mind again and become a fruitarian (those that only eat fruit and nothing else...strange!). In honor of my decision to reintroduce meat, though, I'll leave you with a scrumptious and incredibly simple caveman delicacy.

Grilled Steak w/Blue Cheese, Steamed Broccoli & Cauliflower & Cherry Tomatoes
I found this recipe on one of my favorite cooking blogs: Have Her Over for Dinner. I like Matt Moore's style of simple cooking so much that I own his cookbook and highly recommend it.

I altered Matt's recipe a little, so here's what I did. I bought one big London broil steak. By big I mean enough to serve me, my wife, and my daughter for two meals...BIG, think caveman! I set it out at room temperature in a dish and rubbed it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar while I heated up the broiler. Next, I chopped some broccoli and cauliflower into bite-size florets and got about an inch or two of salted water boiling in my steamer.

The next part happens in a flash, so don't blink. I rubbed some gourmet grey sea salt and cracked black pepper all over the steak, threw it on the broiler tray and popped it in the oven. Then I dumped the broccoli-cauliflower mix into the top of the steamer. I waited about two minutes. Maybe I rinsed my cherry tomatoes. Maybe I opened some Ravenswood Zinfandel...yum! When the two minutes were up, I checked my steak and because the top was browned, I turned it over, sprinkled some crumbled blue cheese on top and back into the oven it went. Then I checked my veggies and found them bright in color, so I dropped the heat to low to keep those puppies warm. When the steak looked done and the blue cheese was just beginning to brown, I pulled it out and let it rest for a few minutes while I tossed the veggies in a bowl with a little butter to melt it and some salt and pepper. Finally, I served up plates with a big scoop of veggies, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and a glorious serving of steak. Oh, and of course, a glass of that zin!

Try it. Your inner caveman will thank you!

Week 6 Measurements

I thought this cartoon was funny. The sign in the background says "Fishing Club," but it could just as easily read "Fitness Club" and that guy standing up could be flexing his limp noodles! Judging by the beers and body types of these guys, they're going to need a lot of imagination to look fit!

Only a few more weeks until I transition to Phase 2! So far, all the numbers are going the right directions so I'm feeling good about my progress.

Here are my measurements for Week 6:

Weight = 192 (down 2 lbs. from last week...I've stayed within the low 190s for most of this phase, which is comfortable. I think if I push in the next few months I could get down to 185. That's that lowest weight I can remember reaching as an adult...and that was a long time ago!)

Neck: 16 (down .5 from last week)

Upper arms: left = 14.5; right 14.5 (no change)

Shoulders: 48 (no change)

Chest at nipples: 40.5 (no change)

Waist at navel: 31.5 (down .5 from last week...This has been a consistent reduction and the one that has always stood between me and the Ryan Reynolds 6-pack. Wait! Does he have an 8-pack?! I've got a lot more work to do!)

Hips at widest point: 40 (back down .5 from last week)

Legs mid-thigh: left = 23; right = 23 (somehow I lost .5 on my left and gained .5 on my right...I guess balance is good.)

Total inches: 251 (down 1.5 from last week)

Anita and some co-workers have started commenting on the fact that my face seems to be slimming down and getting more angular. I've also found that my pants are getting just a little loose. The changes are subtle, but that's the best kind of progress...slow and sustainable. The best part is that I'm eating healthy foods that I like with the occasional splurge and I'm only really putting in 3 hours of gym time each week plus one night of soccer and yoga whenever I feel like it. That's a lifestyle that I think I can continue...even when baby number 2 arrives in May.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sleep...The New Sex

Sleep is the new sex. Think about it. Don't you hear people constantly talking about how they wish they had more of it? It used to be better, but now...not so much. Couples complain about their kids getting in the way of it. Most people agree it's better with someone you love, not quite as satisfying if you do it alone, and often awkward if you do it with a stranger!

I haven't posted in almost a week. During that time both my wife and my daughter got pretty sick with fevers and coughs. The same symptoms wiped out about half of my office and my wife's office. Everyone's feeling better now, thank goodness. The strange thing...I didn't get it. My theory on why...more sleep.

I've been thinking a lot about sleep lately. As I studied my results from all the exercising and dieting I've been doing. I could see small areas where improved effort could yield improved results (less ice cream, more intense cardio, etc.), but I felt like I should look outside the box to see if there were other factors affecting my results. That's when I stumbled onto a bunch of blogs, websites and books about sleep's effects on weight loss.

Cortisol & HGH: The Gatekeepers to Your Fat Storage Cells
You see, your body has this balance between two important hormones: cortisol and human growth hormone (HGH). Cortisol is called "the stress hormone." It tells your body to store sugars in your bloodstream as fat in preparation for a rough road ahead (think famine or a long journey for our caveman ancestors). HGH, on the other hand, tells your body to burn fat to repair muscle and organ tissue. These two hormones function on a sliding scale...when one is up, the other is down.

One way to fine tune your weight loss is to look at the things within your control that will shift your body away from cortisol production and toward HGH production. You shouldn't be surprised to see that these activities are things your good doctor (and your mother) has been telling you to do since you were a kid. Here are a few: relax, reduce your stress, eat your vegetables, reduce the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates you eat, exercise, get a good night's sleep, take a nap.

I looked at a list like that and realized I was doing pretty well on most of them, but I was really shorting myself on sleep in order to keep up all the other practices. Making healthy meals at home often means late nights of shopping and cooking. The only time I can get the gym consistently is at 5 a.m. I realized that I could try to get to bed a little earlier, but the only way I was going to squeeze any more sleep into my schedule (and HGH into my bloodstream) was to nap!

Naps, They're Not Just for Babies
My trip down the rabbit hole of sleep research led me to a great book called Take a Nap! Change Your Life. by Sara C. Mednick, Ph.D. I'm still reading it, but here's what I've learned so far. Our bodies drift through a programmed set of sleep stages while we snooze: Stage 1 (drifting off), Stage 2 (increases alertness & motor skills), Stage 3 & 4 (called "slow-wave sleep" these improve your memory by shuttling short-term memories to long-term memory), and the most famous of all...REM or "Rapid Eye Movement" (the dream state that inspires creativity and heightens perception).

Now, I won't bore you with all the science surrounding how the body cycles through these stages, but suffice it to say that Dr. Mednick offers some very targeted advice on how to time your naps (both when and how long) for the maximum benefits depending on what type of sleep you need most. Personally, I'm aiming for short, 20-minute naps at mid-day that give me a quick dose of Stage 2 for alertness and the occasional 20 to 45 minute nap at the end of the workday that will provide a wash of slow-wave sleep for repairing muscle cells that I've torn down during my workouts. The nice thing is that both types of naps will help to lower cortisol and raise HGH, speeding up weight loss and muscle growth.

If your interested in learning more, check out Dr. Mednick's book or her website: www.saramednick.com.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Week 5 Measurements

I can see the end of Phase 1 looming on the horizon...just a few weeks away!

Here are my measurements for Week 5:

Weight = 194 (up 3 lbs. from last week...maybe it was all that Super Bowl food)
Neck: 16.5 (up 1.5 from last week)
Upper arms: left = 14.5; right 14.5 (both up .5...first growth I've seen here)
Shoulders: 48 (no change)
Chest at nipples: 40.5 (no change)
Waist at navel: 32 (down .5 from last week...slow and steady wins the race!)
Hips at widest point: 40.5 (up .5 from last week)
Legs mid-thigh: left = 23.5; right = 22.5 (no change)
Total inches: 252.5 (up 2.5 from last week)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Getting Strong Like Bull...or at Least Big Like Bull!

I've spent a large amount of my blog real estate talking about diet. Partly, that's because I believe the saying, "You can't out exercise a bad diet!" Also, for me the exercise part is the easy part. It's all worked out ahead of time. I know which days I'm going to be at the gym. I know what I'm going to do when I get there. I consistently push myself physically. I log my results. Diet, on the other hand, encompasses a ton of variables including time, stress, availability of healthy/unhealthy foods, socializing, etc. Diet is definitely harder for me to pre-plan and control. At the gym, I walk in the door, take off my hoodie, slip in my headphones and crank up my iPod...everything after that is a blur of activity like a well-oiled machine. I think I'd get some strange looks if I did the same thing every time I sat down to a meal!

All that being said, I wanted to take some time to give you a glimpse at my gym routine from Visual Impact Muscle Building. The general break down is 3 phases of 2 months each. Phase 1 is mass building with light cardio and dieting. Phase 2 is a hybrid of mass building and strength building with slightly more intense cardio and dieting. Phase 3 is pure strength building with very intense cardio and dieting. The idea is to add muscle early, then tighten and compress it throughout the later phases while trimming excess body fat. The result...the lean, toned, athletic look you see on Hollywood actors and many European models. (Don't laugh at me here! Do I want to be a model? No. Would I rather look like a model than a body builder? Yes. When I was young I thought Arnold was the goal...now I realize that Ryan Reynolds looks better in a suit than the Governator, so my goals have shifted.)

What does Phase 1 look like? Basically, I do two workouts that split the body into sets of complementary muscle groups. So, chest, shoulders and triceps (with abs thrown in) get worked on a day full of pushing movements, then the next day back, biceps and forearms get worked with pulling movements. The overall goal is muscle fatigue. This means I'm working each muscle with high repetition sets (12-6 reps) and I try to finish each set at a point where I can barely, shakily, squeeze out the last repetition. I round out the workout with 15 minutes of intervals on a treadmill walking for 90 seconds then running for 30 seconds. I alternate Workout A and Workout B in a 2 days on, 1 day off, then 2 days on, 2 days off schedule for 4 total days in the gym. Right now, that's Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday from 5 to 6 a.m. (crazy, I know, but that's the only time when my 2-year old daughter is not awake!). On my off days, I try to rest or do yoga.

If you've ever seen someone working to complete muscle fatigue, you'll note that it looks very different than most guys in the gym. Most guys pump for a couple of reps, then sit around zoning out, watching TV, chatting with their buddies or hitting on the cute girl at the leg abductor machine. Guys shooting for muscle fatigue are using baby weights and working against the clock, moving quickly from one set to the next with about 35 seconds of rest, and each set ends with what looks like the weakest, sorriest excuse for a strength exercise ever. The secret is that that final repetition is the golden moment when microscopic muscle fibers are being torn to tiny shreds only to be rebuilt over the next few days into bigger, stronger, shirt-tightening crowd pleasers. If you leave the gym feeling like a quivering mass of jell-o, you can bet that you'll come back in a few days looking more muscular than the guys you see throwing up big weight but always looking soft and puffy.

I'll be transitioning into Phase 2 in just a few weeks and I'll pause then to give you a glimpse at that routine. I'm actually excited about it because it involves a regime that I tried once when I was in college that definitely tested my physical limits. For now, though, I'm really enjoying going in 4 times a week to crank out tons of reps on tiny weights and watch the inches increase at my shoulders, chest and arms while they decrease at my waist and hips.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I think I'm Turning Japanese, I Really Think Soba

Last night I made a healthy Japanese-inspired meal that I think could become a staple. It's so easy, lightly flavored, but sooo filling! Make it at home and you'll see what I mean.

Japanese Soba with Steamed Veggies and Tofu (from Skinny Bitch in the Kitch)

You'll need some Asian flavors to make this meal, so this is a great chance to raid the "international" aisle of your local grocery store.

Start by whisking together 2 Tbs. mirin (Japanese rice wine), 1Tbs. minced fresh ginger (I omitted because my pregnant wife is currently spice-intolerant), 1 Tbs. soy sauce or tamari, and 1 Tbs. sesame oil in a big bowl. You'll toss this with your steamed veggies later, so put it aside for now.

Next, steam 1 eggplant cut into 1/4 in. cubes over some boiling water with 2 Tbs. of rice vinegar for 7 minutes. Throw in a carrot cut into matchsticks for another 7 minutes. Then toss in 8 oz. of extra firm tofu cut into 1/4 in. cubes for 3 minutes. When everything seems hot and tender (I'm talking about the vegetables here!), dump it all in the bowl with the sauce mixture and toss to coat.

At some point while your steaming away at your veggies, you've also got to boil some salted water and throw in an 8 oz. package of buckwheat soba noodles. I know it's multi-tasking, but you can do it...I believe in you! The goal is to have the soba noodles cooked (about 4-6 minutes) and the veggies hot at about the same time. Timing is everything in life...as in soba.

Finally, strain the noodles, rinse them with cold water, and strain again. Then toss them back in the pot with 1 Tbs. of sesame oil so they don't stick together. Now you're ready to lay down a tasty layer of noodles in a pasta bowl and dump some of the veggie/tofu mix on top. As if that wasn't enough, let's get gourmet here by throwing a dash of sliced scallions and a splash of gomasio (seasoned sesame seeds) on top...WAA-TAAAA!!! (You MUST actually say that in your best Bruce Lee impression...even though he wasn't Japanese.)

Now, enjoy with a fine sake. Personally, I like the cold, unfiltered Nigori sakes, but I'm no stranger to the typical, warm Junmai sakes either. Take your pick and eat with a fork...or chopsticks!

Week 4 Measurements & Pics

One month down...five to go! Watch out Ryan Reynolds, here I come!

After a whole month, I'm feeling pretty good about my results so far. Here's the run down of measurements:
Weight = 191 (that's down about 9 lbs. from my starting weight)
Neck: 15
Upper arms: left = 14; right 14
Shoulders: 48 (up 1.5 from last week)
Chest at nipples: 40.5 (up 1 from last week)
Waist at navel: 32.5 (down 1 from last week)
Hips at widest point: 40
Legs mid-thigh: left = 23.5; right = 22.5
Total inches: 250 (up 1.5 from last week)

Measurements are one thing, but let's do a little visual comparison. In the left column are my Day 1 photos and in the right column are my Day 29 photos. It may be wishful thinking, but I think I see a little more definition and a greater contrast between my shoulder width and waist size. Still a long way to go, but I'm on the road.