Diet vs. Exercise


If you had to pick one, diet or exercise, which should you focus on? The answer is that it depends what your goals are.

Living a long, healthy life

Exercise, especially as people age, can stave off illness and muscle deterioration. As a result it is more important than diet to elongating lifespan. In fact, even overweight or obese study participants benefit greatly from regular exercise, more so than from intensive weight-loss efforts that involve other factors like dieting. [1]

Weight Loss

Do they really? If you have any insights please comment/message! For more ab myth debunking see my earlier post: Debunking Abs Workout Myths

Exercise alone will not lead to pure weight loss because muscle weighs more than fat. Yet although exercise will lead to slower weight loss, it targets body fat. For example, a recent study of people coming out of the Biggest Loser competition found that those who maintained just their diets lost 34 kg on average, with 65% of the weight loss coming from body fat. Meanwhile, people who only stuck to the exercise routine lost just 27kg, with 102% from fat (it’s greater than 100% because of the lean muscle mass they gained). [2] However, I could not find any studies that broke down what % of weight loss comes from eating versus exercising if doing both. So I’m not sure where the often pinned adage that “abs are made in the kitchen” comes from.

The kitchen or the gym?

If you’re primary aim is an energy boost or quick weight loss regardless of muscle mass, then dieting is more effective. However, if you want to live longer or have a healthy, strong body, then you should maximize exercise. And keep in mind that you need to be energized with good food to exercise properly. So in my book, eating well goes hand in hand with exercising, and both are essential to staying fit.


Starting with Charles Darwin, scientists have observed that smiling is not only a positive response mechanism, but can also induce positive emotions in and of itself.


Studies indicate that self-conscious people are best at channeling their smile into positivity, but that there is a robust effect across numerous studies that were conducted on this subject!  Not only do studies indicate that a smile is translated into positive feelings, but other associated autonomic responses may also occur.[1]

So next time you’re stressed, or feeling down, summon some energy to lift the corners of your mouth upward and smile! At the very least a genuine smile will put others at ease and hopefully help you find some space to work through your problems.


Alcohol has screwed up countless lives; 40% of Americans have been exposed to alcoholism within their families[1], this figure doesn’t even include friends, coworkers or neighbors! Most of us have sat through classes teaching us the social dangers of getting drunk or driving drunk. We know it’s a potentially addictive drug, and that it reduces our inhibitions, resulting in poor decision-making that could get us into trouble. Most of us also choose to drink alcohol regularly, despite all of this information.

beer is addicted to me

This last point is what fascinates me: I’ve been drinking or not drinking off and on for a few years now, and tend to enjoy life more when I don’t drink. Yet the social awkwardness that comes with not drinking can be uncomfortable. So I sometimes have a drink to avoid the awkwardness, convincing myself that I would like to relax and unwind with an alcoholic beverage once in a while. But then again I don’t let myself drink soda and I could say that it might be nice to have one occasionally. But why isn’t it awkward to stick to water with soda drinkers, while it is at social situations that involve alcohol?

I’ve looked at several studies and come to the conclusion that this awkwardness has not yet been successfully explained away by science. Maybe then it’s just in my mind? A study that caught my eye in particular observed that people reported a better bonding experience in a group setting with alcohol than without it, yet concluded that the results were not robust and recommended further research on the subject. Their other observations included increased coordination between the group members with social cues like smiling and speaking after the group had enjoyed an alcoholic beverage for 30 minutes. It’s important to note, however, that the subjects were all male and didn’t previously know each other.[2] Now I’m not convinced that I’m missing out on anything if I choose not to drink, besides the drink itself.

Despite going for months without drinking and only having one drink most weeks for the past year, I still fall into a higher risk category than most people according to a short survey I took form the National Institute of Health. I’m surprised by the result and am probably going to be drinking even less after having researched alcohol in more depth for this post. Honestly having a drink is not worth the sluggish feeling the next day, or the effects of alcohol on the rest of your body.[3]

As for social awkwardness, I loved what my yoga teacher, Ally, said in class last week; while we were holding a long awkward pose she philosophized about accepting the awkwardness of situations because they’re bound to happen and you will only make it more awkward overall if you attempt to avoid awkwardness.[4] I’ve made her spiel sound awkward, but it makes sense to me! I’m going to continue to go out with people, party and not drink often; that way I’m even more present for the fun and have no regrets afterward.

Debunking Fruity Myths

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, or so the old adage goes. But does it really? It took me a long time to start debunking fruity myths like this.

When I started P90X I was shocked that it only included one serving of fruit a day in my diet. Before that, I had always been under the impression that fruit is all good and that I should eat as much as possible. I was probably eating three or four fruits a day.

Myth #1: Eat lots of fruit because it is full of vitamins and minerals

Fruit is mostly water and sugar. The vitamins and minerals found in a medium apple are minimal, you can look at the vitamin and mineral charts here; you would need to eat 7 apples to get your daily-recommended dose of vitamin C. Eating them would also mean you would ingest about 132 grams or more than ½ a cup of granulated sugar.[1] Even fruits deemed “superfoods” are relatively sugary, including blueberries[2]. Even natural sugar that is found in fruit, known as fructose, is highly likely to be stored by our bodies as fat. Some studies go so far as to conclude that fructose is the cause of the worldwide obesity, hypertension and metabolic syndrome epidemics.[3]

Myth #2: Pre-sliced fruit is just as good as whole fruit

Packaged fruit is actually more likely to be contaminated because nature’s protective seal, the skin, has been broken. Furthermore, bacteria that fruit are exposed to at packaging facilities could be harmful to you. Sliced apples, for example, were recalled as recently as August 2012 as a result of contamination.[4]

These fruits are also often processed to preserve their appearance. If they are not refrigerated with a near-term expiration date or frozen, then pre-sliced fruits must contain some sort of preservatives to maintain freshness.  Some pre-cut apples, for example, are sprayed with a lemon juice solution so that they do not brown.[5]; chemicals are used to treat some fruits, and some producers even add sugar to enhance flavor.

So if you are going to reach for a fruit, think twice about going the pre-sliced route or be extra wary of reading ingredients if you do. And most importantly, remember to be mindful of portion control with this sugary part of your diet.

Cross Training For Life


Cross training is effective for getting your body and mind out of a rut of repetitive workouts. Not only is doing the same thing daily boring mentally, but your muscles also become accustomed to performing limited functions. A varied exercise routine helps you maximize your potential, so go ahead and try something new!

Repeating the same exercise routine over and over affects your body similarly to sitting around all day and you will have more health problems than those who change up their exercises. By limiting yourself to one specific exercise or set of movements, you restrict the true range of your muscles and ligaments so when you need to adapt to new circumstances it is harder for your body to adjust. In other words, to maximize your health you should train with a broad spectrum of movements.

For myself, cross training is critical to maintaining a daily workout schedule. I try to balance out exercises throughout the week to alternate large muscle groups and focus on certain smaller groups in between, and as a result I’m never worried about being too sore for my workout the following day. Above all, the variety enables me to push myself by staying interested in and focused on each workout.

Variety helped me stick to P90X!

More fun facts!…

The first observation of the benefits of cross training was made in 1894 and it has been proven that exercising one set of muscles helps to strengthen other muscles as well.[1](pages 2 & 4).

Even trained athletes benefit from stepping away from their primary sport and doing other routines. Cross training helps to prevent injuries by changing up the magnitude and direction that our bodies move during workouts, thus reducing the force factor on any single body part.[2]

The American Heart Association is among many organizations that have published studies recommending varied exercises from day to day to maximize the health benefits of working out and to keep people interested in exercising daily.  If this can help you stick to your routine in the long term, then it’s definitely worth a shot because only 50% of people who start an exercise program will continue the habit for more than 6 months and, furthermore, exercising more frequently makes it more likely that you will continue doing it![3]

Here’s a great article that goes into more depth than I do:

Post-Workout Protein


Building and maintaining a healthy body requires knowing when it needs nourishment. Besides eating consistently throughout the day and listening to hunger signals, the most important time to eat is within 30 minutes of your exercise routine.  This is the one time you really should not wait until you are hungry because this is when your body is primed to absorb protein nutrients in particular. Remembering to ingest protein soon after workouts will give your body a boost by helping it run efficiently and effectively.[1][2]

The best sources of protein are from lean poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. If you choose plant-based foods like tofu or beans, make sure that your eating something alongside them that will balance out the amino acids that are absent from them.[3][4] As always, if you eat a 40:40:20 ratio of protein:carbs:fats, then you’ll be set.

Another potential protein source is drinking a protein shake. As with any food, be careful reading through the ingredients, particularly avoiding added sugars or chemicals. There are many different types of protein powders with which you can make your own shakes, and such products also need to be scrutinized carefully. Livestrong recommends whey protein and also discusses alternatives like casein, which many bodybuilders prefer.[5]  This form of protein is highly processed so many people choose to avoid it; personally I’ll make a shake if I’m in a rush but generally try to stick to a whole food alternative.

It’s up to you to decide what you want to eat based on how your body feels after eating different things post-workout. Whatever I choose, I plan ahead so that I ingest protein within that narrow window of time when my body is primed for it.

Stay Independent

Im-thankful-to-all-those-who-said-no-its-because-of-them-I-did-it-myself.-Albert-Einstein-quoteMany people need a workout buddy or someone to encourage them to exercise. But what happens when they don’t show up? Don’t let them prevent you from achieving your goals… stay independent!

It’s essential to realize that while others may benefit somewhat from your health, it’s you that benefits most. When you skip out on yourself by not showing up for a workout or abusing your body through eating junk food, you’re the one who will lose the most. Being healthy is about staying committed to a positive lifestyle that will minimize stresses that your body is not designed to handle.

Don’t follow the mainstream lifestyle, because more than 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese! I know I’ve cited this statistic before, but it really is key to remembering that what our society shows us is “normal” for our bodies is actually really bad for them. So bad indeed, that 5 of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States are directly connected to obesity.  Furthermore, obesity has been at the top of the most common preventable diseases list since 2010.

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If you need to work out with people then sign up for fitness classes or a boot camp that you will enjoy. If a friend doesn’t go to a planned workout just go to class instead. Paying for working out is worth it if it will keep you on track and motivated. I love the energy of a roomful of focused people exercising and go to a class two or three times a week. Meanwhile, my husband dislikes the idea of so many people sweating together and chooses to work out by himself those days. Likewise, if going to the grocery store and picking out produce is daunting, then sign up for a weekly produce delivery service to your house.

It’s all about figuring out how to stay on track and motivated for you without relying on others to help you make good decisions.

Push Yourself


During workouts I try to have a goal in mind for each set of exercises. But I’ve found that the more I try to push beyond such soft goals, the better I feel afterward: you are stronger than you think! I have learned this the hard way.  Simply completing workouts wasn’t effective for me so I had to intuitively teach myself how to maximize my own potential; a cookie cutter routine will not benefit everyone in the same way.

Developing strength takes balance and concentration, which you can only master over time. But you can help yourself today by just doing one more of the same exercises that you already feel comfortable doing, and push yourself that extra bit. When you reach your goal, don’t celebrate that you could achieve it, but stay focused on the activity to see if you can exceed your expectations. This method is especially true for exercises that can easily be intensified by adding time or repetitions. By sticking with it to where your body is almost giving out you can literally push yourself to your limits.

I’ve never felt worse off if I decided to push myself, with the exception of being sick or not eating enough. If you are not eating properly or your immune system is fighting off sickness then your body needs energy for other things and you shouldn’t be working out intensely in the first place..  That doesn’t mean bed rest if you’re still going about the rest of your day, but try a simple cardio routine or a relaxing yoga session. Figure out how to prep your body for such intensity with your diet and sleeping habits.

The only times I’ve regretted pushing myself have been the days where I was already sore or had a slight injury and aggravated it. Listen to your body and allow it to regenerate and relax in between intense workout days. Give your body some recovery time and don’t always push it, but if you weren’t sore at the start, or hurt, then you should be able to take your body beyond your initial expectations.

Sit Up to Relax



Set your posture straight to manage stress, avoid injury and boost your health and image. While slouching you may feel more relaxed, but you’re actually compressing your ribcage, with it pressing into your heart, lungs and stomach under the weight of your shoulders. This not only can permanently misshape your spine and ribcage, but also can lead to headaches, jaw aches and gastrointestinal issues. Such issues, in turn, can lead to more serious health complications down the line.[1]

Your back supports weight most easily when it is straight, so you naturally reduce the strain on your body by straightening up. This can help reduce back pain and also can help you improve the quality of your sleep.  So not only are you more likely to smile but you’re also better able to get your zzz’s! Nearly everyone has back pain at some point in their life that affects their work, routine activities or recreation, and many cases of non-traumatic back pain are preventable according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Bad posture can lead to injury because it stresses the ligaments that are along your spine. Not only can you hurt your back, but also other areas of your body that are compensating. For example, lower back issues led me to have serious knee problems and I cannot run much to this day. So be sure to focus on good posture while exercising because otherwise you risk serious injury that will surely make your life more stressful.

Straightening up is an instant way to build confidence. Keeping your back aligned forces you to have your shoulders back and your chin up, which naturally lifts your mood and thus is a quick stress-reducer! I find that I’m much more likely to have a smile on my face when my shoulders are back and I’m standing or sitting tall. Straightening up also works core muscles and reduces the appearance of flab around your waist. Try it in the mirror!

We all sit for a significant part of the day, whether it’s while eating, commuting, working, watching TV or using the computer. Your posture can affect your mood and your long-term health, so it should be a no-brainer to strive to fix it. If you’re likely to revert back to slouching, you can set up reminders that will help you remember to sit up straight throughout the day. Strengthening your core and stretching regularly can help you maintain good posture.

I just followed this instructional video and feel that my shoulders are more open already!

Lastly, I found this video that also has tons of tips on improving your posture.



Salt is a basic mineral and an essential ingredient in many foods, but how do we know when we’re eating enough or too much of it? And what kind of salt is best? Is it the same thing as sodium? I had so many questions when I first started researching this ingredient!


There are so many types of salt so I’ll be focusing on dietary salt. I wasn’t even sure, what’s the difference between salt and sodium? Many manufacturers and most labels use the terms interchangeably. Technically, however, while there are many different kinds of salt, edible salt is mainly composed of sodium chloride. So sodium is just one of the two essential elements that salt contains.

Okay so we’re eating dietary salt, not just sodium. But which kind should I use at home, is sea salt better than table salt? What about iodized salt?

Some people go for sea salt because it’s not processed. We use either at home, depending on if we want the grainier texture in the food. Also, most table salt is iodized and that’s what is used as a food additive at most restaurants and manufacturing facilities. Frankly, most of our salt intake isn’t from the foods make at home, but from restaurants and processed foods. So chances are that you’re not about to have issues with an iodine deficiency anytime soon!


More than 90% of Americans daily consume more than the recommended maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium, and 40% of this comes from just ten basic foods[1].

To cut down on your salt intake you can reduce processed foods in your diet, especially the ones listed above. When consuming such foods, make sure to read labels and choose foods with fewer milligrams of sodium per serving.  As you can see on the left, the amount of salt in packaged and processed foods can vary significantly between brands. For example, the sodium in chicken noodle soup can vary by 840 mg per cup.

Personally, I’ve always had an aversion to salty foods and barely use it in my own cooking. I wanted to figure out if there’s a minimum daily-recommended intake because I’ve been craving salt lately. I’ve stepped it up and have been using more in my cooking; I do want to listen to my body and hardly eat processed foods. Yet if anyone finds a minimum recommended sodium intake, or studies on this subject, please let me know!!

Eating too much salt isn’t just an American problem. Britain’s Food Standards Agency hired a comedian to help them publicize the issue. Here’s the video in case you’re interested in the British humour:

Here’s a starting place if you want to do more reading about sodium: