Monday, September 22, 2008

The Truth About Bad Fats - Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

For those who have perused some of the older articles I've written for this site, you might have come across my piece 'Eat Fat to Lose Fat'. If not, then definitely check it out. Today I want to lead on from that topic .. kind of. Well, actually what I have to say today is more about eating fat to gain fat. No, I'm not contradicting myself! You see, as much as I'm pro-fat when it's the good kind I do still have to admit that some fats are most definitely to be avoided.

So here they are:

*Yes, I've geared most of my explanations here toward weight gain/loss because it's a useful analogy when talking about fat. But, as I'm sure common sense will tell you, these nasty fats will affect not only your weight, but your overall health and wellness, as well as most definitely your energy for Bikram and other activities.

1. Trans Fats.
Why they’re nasty: Otherwise known as hydrogenated fats, these fats start out as vegetable oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil or canola oil. Through a process that includes adding tiny metal particles, mixing with soap-like emulsifiers, and sometimes cleaning with bleach, the oils are changed from a liquid to a solid fat. Trans fats lower HDL (good cholesterol), raise LDL (bad cholesterol), raise blood sugar levels, and cause weight gain through digestive and hormonal upset. So why are they on our shelves?! Trans fats are much firmer than natural baking fats. This means the baker can pack more in without a greasy feel, so you feel full when you eat them. They’re also cheap.

2. Low grade olive oils.
Why they’re nothing like their extra-virgin cousins: Cheap olive oil is basically the leftover of the leftovers. Think of extra-virgin as the cream of the crop, the first batch of oil produced from the olives. Virgin olive oil is what comes next. The olives still have some nutrients remaining. The end of the oil-making process consists of squeezing out every last remaining drop to produce plain olive oil. Yes, it might be cheaper and still have some attractive tuscan-style packaging, but it’s definitely no good. How does this affect your body? You won’t get the nutrients that good fats should give you to aid hormone production, balance blood sugar levels, and get your metabolism and digestive system moving. It’s also not as satisfying as quality fat, so you may eat more throughout the rest of the day.

3. Skin, fat or rind from conventionally farmed animals.
Why you’ll gain weight: It’s simple really. Fat stores toxins. Conventionally farmed animals are kept in close quarters, generally indoors, and fed cheap grain when they should be eating grass. This causes them to get sick. Sickness equals antibiotics and other drugs. The excess of this chemical concoction is stored in the animals fat. Anything stored in fat cells causes them to expand. So what happens when you eat that fat? Well .. fat stores toxins. And not just in animals. Don’t want to expand your existing fat cells? Don’t fill them up with toxins.

4. Low-fat dairy products.
Low fat for weight loss is a huge myth. Why it doesn’t work: Dairy in its full-fat state is a whole food and your body recognises it as such. Low-fat dairy is confusing to your digestive system, slowing digestion and other metabolic functions. This can lead to bloating and fluid retention in the short-term. In the long-term, anything that messes with your digestion contributes to weight gain. Add to this the fact that many low-fat dairy products have substantial amounts of sugar added and you have a recipe for a fat belly. Go with full fat and you’ll notice your belly shrink and your appetite diminish as you give your body what it needs. Ps – when it comes to dairy, I always advocate organic as it is free of nasty antibiotics and the cows have been grass-fed.

5. Excess polyunsaturated or Omega 6 fats.
What do I mean?
Commercial vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn oil, soy oil, safflower oil, canola oil, or products that contain these oils (margerine and basically any baked or processed product!). Why they’re bad for you: This isn’t even the complete list, but here goes. Excess consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been shown to contribute to a large number of disease conditions including increased cancer and heart disease; immune system dysfunction; damage to the liver, reproductive organs and lungs; digestive disorders; depressed learning ability; impaired growth; and weight gain. It’s scarily easy to consume an excess of these fats, so up your chances by steering clear of processed or packaged products.

Questions or comments? Get involved in the comments section - let's build this community!

Not just Food for Yoga. Food for Life.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

What To Eat Before Bikram Class - Part One

This morning I made a big mistake. Huge. In fact, looking back, it was really pretty silly of me. After all, I've been practicing Bikram for 18 months now, and have run a business in the Fitness Industry for nearly a decade. And yet I still thought it was a good idea to eat scrambled cheese and basil eggs for breaky just one hour before class. Okay, I also had toast. And spinach. And bacon. The shame, the shame! The truth is, I knew it wasn’t the best idea, but I just pushed that passing thought away and went for it anyway.

As any of you who have ever gone to class with a full belly will testify, my enjoyment was short lived.

And, needless to say, it was a pretty tough class. Posture by posture I struggled through, gritting my teeth and praying that some kind of super digestion would soon kick in and rid me of my bloated, heavy belly.

Well, that didn’t happen, and my energy remained on a downward droop for the better part of the day. It’s 5pm now, and I’m really only just starting to feel awake again.

I guess I deserved to feel in a slump all day. After all – I know better. And most of the time I do the right thing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t veer off course from time to time. And when I do, it tends to be in a major way. The kind that makes you feel like vomiting while lying face-down in class.

Having said that, there’s a small part of me that realises today’s experience was actually pretty positive. After all - it was certainly a good reminder of why I don’t normally indulge that way prior to entering the sweat centre!

But enough about me. How about you? Do you know what works best in your body before class? What you should eat in order to boost your energy while still feeling nice and light in the belly?

In speaking to students at the Fitzroy Food for Yoga seminar and around the studio, I’ve come to realise that many people really don’t know what – if anything – they should eat before practice. If you fall into this category, ask yourself the following:

Should I Eat At All?

Not everyone needs to eat before class. In fact – for many of us – we’ll get more out of our practice on an empty belly. The question of whether to eat may depend on the time of day. If you’ve been awake for only an hour or so, it’s best to hold off on the food. Food in your belly during class will drain you of energy. This is because you’re body must focus first and foremost on digestion. That pretty much puts a stop to reaching any new limits with your postures, and you may even make yourself feel quite ill. For the same reason, regardless of the time of day, I’d generally cease eating at least 90 minutes before class. There are some exceptions, and I’ll get to that.

If you’ve eaten a large meal on the day in question, I’d leave a good 3 hours before practising and avoid ‘eyes-bigger-than-stomach’ snacking until after class (if at all!) This may be difficult to adapt to initially, but I promise that you will ultimately feel much better for holding out, and your body will thank you for leaving your system free to focus on going the extra mile in class.

But What If I Just Can’t Get By With an Empty Belly?

Those of you who ‘love food and live to eat’ as opposed to ‘eat to live’ may need to eat something small, even if it’s quite close to class. This is mainly for morning classes. Not sure if you fall into this category? If you wake up ravenous most days, seem to digest most foods within an hour or two, and generally have a good idea of what your next few meals will entail, then I’m talking about you.

But even if this is not you, three hours is still a little too long if you haven’t laid a good foundation. For example – if you ate dinner quite early, went to bed hungry, and then didn’t eat more than a light breakfast and a salad for lunch, you may find it pretty tough to hold out through 6pm class until late dinnertime. If you’re not sure whether you need to eat, think back to your last 3 meals. Were they a ‘solid’ meal or just a light snack? If you’ve eaten 3 solid meals within the past 16-24 hours, you should be okay to hold out. If you’ve been skipping meals or grazing, I’d suggest eating something light around 90 minutes before class.

So Which Foods Are Best If I AM Eating Before Class?

We all have different ‘types’ when it comes to which foods work best. To put it very simply, some people function, feel and look their best on a (good quality) high protein/high fat diet while others do better on carbohydrates. I’m definitely a protein person. When I eat predominantly protein and fat, with most of my carbs from vegetables, I’m like a well-oiled machine, and I stay in good shape. If I eat a high-carb diet (even if it’s ‘healthy’) I start feeling and looking awful. But my Mum is exactly the opposite. Long story short – what you should eat before class, and indeed in general, is a very individual matter. The best approach is to eat a light meal with both protein/fat and carbohydrate represented. For example:
  • A soft-boiled egg with a little spinach and fetta
  • Some natural plain yogurt with half a banana
If you choose carbs alone (fruit, cereal, salad) you may find you feel great initially and then you slump. Choose protein without carbs and you it’s likely you’ll experience a heavy feeling in your gut which will slow you down during class. Combine both and you have a recipe for success.

I hope I’ve given you the knowledge to start to figure out what the best approach is for you. Don’t worry – I’m not going to leave it there. In my next post I’ll give you an insight into foods you should definitely avoid before class (and why), as well as some more specific ideas on pre-yoga food combinations for different types of people. In the meantime, why not record what you do or do not eat before your next three classes, and track your response. Pay attention to the way your stomach feels, your physical energy, and your mental focus. A 'tick' in all three areas is usually a sign that you're doing things right. I'd love to hear from you in the comments section - what works best for you before class? Do you have any questions for me? Or maybe just something to share about your practice.

Until next time, remember -

It's not just Food for Yoga. It's Food for Life.


*Oh – just so you know, I didn’t write this all in one go. I actually finished it a couple of days after the big breaky day. In fact, as I write, I’m sitting at a cafĂ© enjoying my post-yoga poached eggs, spinach and avocado. A much better approach than the one this article began with!