I recently had a skin fold calipers test to roughly estimate my percentage of body fat - as part of baselining me for my Crossfit box's nutrition challenge. While I predictably had some anxiety about discovering my body fat percentage, I found a strangely uplifting number on the flip side of that data: my lean body weight. It happens to currently be 126.65 lb.
Which is to say, if all of my body fat were to suddenly, spontaneously melt away - beside that being rather unsettling yet decidedly convenient - I'd have 126.65 lb. of muscle and sundry accounting for me.
A healthy body fat bare minimum for women is quoted at around 10-12%. So, even at my extreme leanest while still remaining healthy, I'd weigh roughly 140 lb.
140 lb?! That's essentially what I weighed in high school. I was an athlete in high school, but I never trained at the intensity levels and frequency that I now train in Crossfit.
So, if I continue to eat a paleo-oriented diet, and to train responsibly, I may very well add some more lean muscle mass, even as I continue to lose body fat. My lean muscle mass may increase to the point that a theoretically "healthy" extremely lean 12% body fat me could still weigh over 150 lb. - and I am 5'6"...5'7" on a fluffy hair day.
I could ultimately end up my leanest, strongest, healthiest self without ever coming close to the low prescribed total body weights that I've seen for my height on various tables and formulae. If I'd have to sacrifice what hard-earned strength and muscle mass I already possess to fit some preordained one-size-fits-all metric for a 5'6" woman's body weight, then you can count me out of ever hitting that milestone.
This is my contribution to the health and fitness world today. No, not exhaustively and wittily analyzing the hottest new published study. Not philosophically exploring the benefits and disadvantages between 80/20 paleo and perfect paleo.
I want to talk about the dreaded escapee muffin top.
Because I have one. And you might, too. Ain't no shame - if you have a muffin top and you are working out, you are working on it! That said, feeling a bit drafty because you suddenly feel your midriff exposed while trying to exercise can be at best distracting, at worst, fairly mortifying. It helps to know that you can work on the muffin top while keeping it in its place - which is to say, away from the cruel light of day, or overhead fluorescent lights at 5 a.m. workouts.
By now, four months into Crossfitting, I've managed to hone a very serviceable system that keeps my muffin top fully and reliably covered through overhead weighted walking lunges, scaled handstand pushups, and sledgehammer swings. My method also happens to be exceedingly comfortable!
Here it goes:
Foldover style yoga pants. Get thee some! My favorite pair - of which I have two, in black - are the prAna Amber knickers, which are a foldover yoga capri. Roll up that foldover top up all the way - halfway up your stomach - to give you maximum coverage.
On top of that, pull on a:
Very lightweight, long stretchy tank top or cami. Buy this in one body length longer than you usually do. If you're petite, get a regular. If regular, get a tall. There are a lot of options out there - I've heard very good things about the Reebok long bra tops, though personally, for comfort, I'd still rely on my favorite sports bra, the Moving Comfort Maia, underneath any tank top, even those with built in shelf bras. Pull this long tank all the way down at the bottom - then you should have at least a good 6 inches where your yoga pants and your tank overlap.
Final layer (as colder temps dictate):
A workout shirt that is comfortable and breathable. If you pick something that lets you move comfortably and gives added coverage, you can run, jump, pull up, and do what must be done. Since you have two layers of yoga pants/tank overlapping underneath that shirt - no matter which direction it may pull, you can focus on your workout instead of whether you're going to find yourself overexposed.
What wardrobe tricks do you use to make sure that you're comfortable and able to concentrate on your workouts instead of wardrobe malfunctions?
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This time of year, I start to get nostalgic about my grandfather. He was born in 1930, of a flinty, resourceful generation of Depression era children. When he was a grade schooler, it was routine for him to return from school and head out with a gun in a hunt to shoot that evening's supper.
When my mom was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, a lot of food came from friends and family's farms - indeed my great-grandpa's nearby farm still yielded a good amount of fresh milk and eggs that my grandpa and mom would pick up when visiting.
In my grandpa's eyes, breakfast cereal didn't constitute "breakfast" - that status was reserved for bacon and eggs, while breakfast cereal was usually relegated to the category of "snack". Even in his 70s, his fridge's supermarket fare was routinely supplemented with venison, turtle, and fish his friends and associates had hunted down.
Beside his time spent repairing things in his garage, gardening was his major hobby. It was at my grandpa's house that I'd survey his vast supply of canned produce and hear about less mainstream vegetables like kohlrabi. My grandpa's one indulgence was full fat vanilla ice cream, often topped with fresh or canned fruit from his garden.
My grandfather wasn't the paragon of healthy habits - indeed, he smoked cigarettes throughout his life and drank more than his share of alcohol as well. He died in his mid-70s of cancer in early February a few years ago, living much longer than we'd have predicted, owing to a handful of major health scares in the decade leading up to his death. Many of us marveled that he lived so long, but now I'm inclined to wonder if it wasn't his diet that was rich in animal proteins and fats and a huge variety of homegrown produce that kept him with us for much longer than he would have been otherwise.
Now I find myself trying to slowly cultivate the whole foods wisdom that was so hard-won by his generation, and I'm wondering what my grandfather would be thinking of the modern traditional foods renaissance.
For many of us who've resolved to do better with our eating this new year, the biggest obstacle to conquering that resolution is making packed lunches that we and our loved ones look forward to eating. This is especially true if you have a spouse or kids who are determined that lunchtime means a trip for some fast food, or a sandwich, or a slice of pizza from the cafeteria. Here's a few suggestions on dodging those pitfalls:
Don't be afraid to compromise sensibly, especially in the name of initial buy-in - doing this gracefully can help you to dodge protests. Learn the art of the meatza. Make some paleo bread for a die-hard sandwich fan. Find some good quality coconut wraps to make a wrap. That said, be sure to mingle your compromises with some classically paleo meals over the course of the week, which brings me to the next idea.
Try to do mostly "meat and veggies" lunches each week. A lunch that is predominantly high quality animal protein, with some veggies included and some healthy fat, is the kind of lunch that will satiate and keep you and your loved ones humming on even blood sugar for the whole afternoon. Remember, protein keeps you awake, sugars make you sleepy. Lots of wonderful, nourishing paleo foods are nonetheless higher in carbohydrates, so keep the lunchtime carbs low to moderate (unless you've just worked out or are just about to work out and your muscles could use them right away!). Hurdle that afternoon slump by emphasizing quality protein!
Involve them, if they want to be involved. This one has absolutely been key for our household. My daughter - who is almost 5 - is greatly interested in making suggestions for her lunchbox, and she always wants a sneak peek before it gets zipped up in its case before we go drop her off at preschool. Here's how to involve your kids and spouse:
:: Solicit grocery list and grocery shopping input. Your kids and spouse are likelier to eat lunches made of ingredients they've selected themselves. The bonus here is that - if they are skimming grocery ads for produce deals and accompanying you to local markets or farmers - they become more aware of seasonal crops and prices.
:: Discuss a quick preview before the packing starts. Tell your kids or spouse the night before what you have in mind for the next day's lunches. If they aren't up for what you're planning, you can ask them to survey the fridge and pantry and come up with a healthy plan of their own.
:: Have them do the packing. You can preprep some ingredients or set out some options and help them along the way, but getting your family to put their own effort into packing the lunch helps them to get mentally invested in the process. Keep things age appropriate in the packing process - an adult should slice fruit and veggies ahead for younger kids, for example, but the same younger kids can possibly spoon almond butter into a dip container by themselves.
Mix up a selection of leftovers, fresh foods, and nonperishables. Having a good mix of these three categories means that your packed lunch will come together faster. It also generally provides a good variety and a nice selection of textures for your lunch eaters to explore. Examples:
:: Leftovers. Last night's chili, or slices of the beef roast. Pieces of cubed leftover chicken.
:: Fresh foods. Cut fruit and vegetables. Boiled eggs. Sliced cheese or whole fat unsweetened yoghurt (if you do dairy).
Make fun shapes. If you're looking for buy-in from kids, getting familiar with bento lunchbox art is a great strategy. In one case for us, I learned about a four pack of stainless steel mini bento cutters that was around $5 - and they've been so durable and versatile for us, creating all kinds of adorable flower-shaped fruits, veggies, liverwurst, and cheese pieces in my daughter's lunch.
Make dips and dressings available. Dips are magical in their ability to win over reluctant lunch eaters! Here are a few ideas:
:: Read your labels and try straight mustard or mustard horseradish for dipping steak or chicken pieces.
:: For veggies, try combining coconut cream or sour cream with a bit of tamari (wheat free soy sauce) or coconut aminos and a little onion powder - this makes an onion dip!
:: Almond butter is a great dip for apple slices or celery sticks.
:: Homemade mayo is stunningly simple to make, and could be a nice addition to a BLT salad as well.
:: For a premade option, Wholly Guacamole makes some very handy and (last I checked the ingredient label) paleo-compatible guacamole that comes in a 100 calorie pack option - presealed premade guac that isn't brown by the time your kids get to it? That's convenient.
Finger foods! Who doesn't love a hands-on lunch? Roll quality lunchmeat (additive and preservative free when possible) around a pickle, or a piece of cheese if you do dairy. Serve up fresh snow peas, sliced up sticks of squash, cucumber coins, and baby carrots (don't forget the dip!). Stuff mini peppers with tuna salad (use the homemade mayo!) or another protein filling. Make muffin-size quiches with meat and colorful veggies added in.
Treats can facilitate buy-in. Yes, as mentioned above, conscientious carb consumption can keep you from plotzing mid-afternoon, but it's also true that a small treat can make a surprisingly big difference, especially to family members who are not totally sold on a lunchbox overhaul. Some ideas here:
:: A trail mix with your spouse's favorite nuts, dried fruits, and unsweetened coconut flakes,
Relearning lunch-packing can be challenging - there's no question about that. But be encouraged - it does have a learning curve, and before long the practice of doing it adds up and lets you pull together lunches very efficiently.
How have you changed the lunches that you and your family are eating these days?
This post originally appeared as a January 18, 2012 guest post at Paleo Parents. Big thanks go to Stacy and Matt for giving me the opportunity!
I have a real attachment to red curry. It is so super savory - my favorite comfort food taste in the cold weather. This time, I paired it with beef, rutabaga, and fresh baby spinach and very much enjoyed the collision of midwestern staples with the rich fragrant sauce.
Midwestern Red Beef Rutabaga Curry Serves 6
Ingredients: 1 rutabaga, peeled and diced into 1"x 1/2" chunks
2-3 lb. thinly sliced strips of beef
1/2 onion, diced (optional)
3 cups fresh baby spinach
2+ tablespoons coconut oil, ghee, or butter (or other high heat cooking fat of your choice)
1 can coconut milk
4 tablespoons red curry paste (I used Thai Kitchen)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon ginger powder (optional)
Salt, to taste
In a large pot on medium high heat, combine the cooking fat, the rutabagas, and the onions. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, and ginger powder and stir to combine. Mix in the red curry paste. Allow the rutabagas to cook for at least 15 minutes, adding cooking fat if necessary.
Toss the beef strips into the pot with the rutabaga and stir continuously as it cooks for 3-5 minutes. Just as most of the pink is gone from the beef, pour in the coconut milk and mix well. Taste the broth and salt to taste. Just before serving, throw a handful of baby spinach in each person's bowl, and ladle the curry over the spinach. (The spinach will wilt to "just right" consistency within 2 minutes.) Serve while piping hot.