Thursday, April 2, 2015


When I was heading to Bangladesh back in February, my mom asked me what I could/couldn't eat as I would have been on the Whole Life Challenge during my visit. I sent her my list and she said to me, oh, you can have gram flour. I had totally forgot about gram flour - which is basically flour made from chick peas. It's actually the main ingredients to one of my favorite dishes that my mom makes for me, which was a total bonus for my trip home.

It's been many, many years since I've used gram flour in any of my cooking/baking. The fact that it's gluten free and vegan added to its appeal. I decided to give it a go. I'm definitely pleased with the outcome.

You can easily make gram flour at home by taking 2 cups of dried chick peas and putting them through a food processor and then running them through a sieve to separate any large chunky bits. You can also pre-roast the dried chick peas in the oven (200 C for 15 min) before putting them in the food processor.

I always associated the use of gram flour with traditional Bangladeshi dishes. However, one of my friends forwarded me an article about Socca which is basically a gram flour based pancake. It's incredibly simple to make.

1 cup of gram flour
1 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil - plus extra for the pan

1. Pour the gram flour and salt in a bowl
2. Gradually whisk in the water and olive oil
3. Heat a pan and add some EVOO, enough to coat the pan. Add some of the socca batter. Cook for 6-7 minutes then flip and cook the other side for around 5 minutes.

I did a couple of variations of this.

My 1st attempt: pouring 3/4 cup of the batter and making a single pancake.

My 2nd attempt: I added some spices to the batter - 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin, garlic, ginger, and turmeric powder. I mixed the batter again to combine all the spices. I then put smaller dollops of the batter in the skillet -- about 2 tablespoons of batter for each. This turned out smaller pancakes.

mini socca pancakes

My 2nd attempt was definitely tastier. I guess it all depends on what you want to garnish the socca with. I added slices of avocado and sweet cherry tomatoes -- it was delicious!

I found the meal to be quite filling and hearty. I'm sure you can experiment with different combinations of ingredients - both to add to the batter as well as for the toppings.

Nutritional info (for the entire batch - makes about 20 small pancakes - based on the original socca basic recipe and not including the extra oil for frying)

475 calories
20.6 g. protein
53.2 g. carbohydrates (9.9 g. fiber)
20.2 g. fat (2.6 g. sat fat)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Back to Basics

I've been getting quite a few emails asking for advice and strategies on how to lose weight. The basic premise of living a healthy lifestyle is something that is commonly addressed nowadays. A single search on the internet will lead you to thousands and thousands of sites talking about how to eat healthy and how to exercise efficiently. Perhaps this is the problem. There's just too much information out there and for someone who wants to get started, it can get overwhelming.

When people ask me what I did to lose weight, they're not happy with my answer. I talk about staying away from refined sugars and starches, not drinking soda, not eating anything with preservatives or artificial ingredients ... and the most common reaction is a look of horror followed by asking 'So, what do you eat?' When I add on my resistance training routine along with my Jiu-Jitsu, they shake their heads and say that it's impossible. That it's too much.

There are a few things I have to say to this:
1) I'm happy with the way I eat and the way I train.
2) The changes I made to my lifestyle did not happen overnight. They took time. They took discipline. They took deliberate thought and action until they became habits.
3) I do these things because they work for me.

While I do believe that the basic premise of living a healthy lifestyle is the same for everyone, the exact details will vary ... after all, it's your lifestyle.

You need to figure out what works for you -- what suits your tastes, what suits your routine. That being said, you also need to accept that changes will probably need to be made. You may need to cut a few things out of your diet, step up the intensity of your exercise, and rearrange your routine. You can't expect to continue to do the same thing and expect different results -- it's going to take some work.

There is no 'one size fits all' outline for how to live a healthy lifestyle. You really do have to sit down and figure out what works for you.

The first thing to do is go back to basics --
1) Set your goal(s)
2) Start eating a bit less
3) Start exercising a bit more

From there, come up with a food and fitness based plan on how to reach your goals. What you eat and how you train will differ depending on what your fitness goals are. Do you want to run a marathon? Enter a strong man/woman competition? Excel in MMA?

What you want to achieve will determine your actual plan.

Once you've figured that out, make changes in a way that you know you will be able to sustain. If you don't think you can cut out sugar, dairy, gluten, and red meat all at once, then don't. Set yourself up for success -- don't choose impossible goals or tasks that you dread. Remember, this is your life. You are in control. You make the choices -- and you have to own up to the consequences.

I really think it's important to start with small, simple changes, and then keep modifying as you go along.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with going all in from the very beginning. I cut everything out all at once and it worked for me -- but I'll be honest, it's not easy to sustain. I'm now trying to come up with a better balance that will suit my lifestyle.

When in doubt, keep it simple. Here are a few basic tips to get you started:

1. Drink more water (cut down/eliminate soda, juice, alcohol)
2. Eat more fresh foods (cut down/eliminate processed foods that are filled with artificial flavors and preservatives)
3. Move more (take the stairs instead of elevator, walk instead of drive, find a fun activity to participate in)
4. Eat less and chew more
5. Get enough sleep

You can do it -- just keep trying.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lifestyle Challenge: Intensity

We're two weeks into our lifestyle challenge. If you're just hearing about it now and want to join, feel free to jump in -- it's never too late to start making little adjustments towards living a healthier lifestyle. You can read about the challenge details here.

For the first 2 weeks the focus has been to increase your water intake and decrease the intake of other beverages, particularly those with sugar (e.g. juices, sodas). Although we're starting a new focus, you should still continue to drink your minimum daily requirement of water.

The focus for the next 2 weeks will be on increasing the intensity of your activity. This doesn't have to be an aggressive increase - just a bit more to challenge yourself.

I've often found that my biggest accomplishments have been when I've made a 'mistake' -- I miscalculated the weight I put on the barbell and ended up lifting more than I thought I was; I got distracted while on the treadmill and ended up running for longer than I thought I could ... so many times it's our own belief that we may not be able to accomplish something that prevents us from trying.

If we don't try, we won't ever know how much we can do.

So, the challenge is to try and push yourself a bit more this week. Some suggestions of how to do this:

1) Add a few extra reps to your sets or even add an extra set to your workout routine
2) Add more resistance to your training -- increase the weight on your lifts, when stretching use a resistance band, hold that plank for a bit longer
3) Workout for longer -- if your step goal is 10,000/day, try to make it 10,500; if you go for a 30 minute walk, try to walk for 35 minutes
4) Speed it up -- if you walk, quicken your pace 30-second stretches; if you're doing walk/run intervals, try and increase your pace during your run

Since I don't think I'll have extra time this week, what I'll be focusing on is adding more resistance weight to my lifts and quickening my pace during both my walks and my jogs. I know that my plank pose holds suck, so I should probably work on increasing my hold time with those too.

Figure out what you can do to increase the intensity of your workouts (if you're not working out at all, use this challenge as a time to start, even if it's just 15 minutes a day). Make a plan and then starting from Monday put it in motion.

Here's a short article on 'The Afterburn Effect' -- describing how the body continues to burn calories following high intensity workouts.

Steps and Stops

I'm usually good at just getting on with things, but I find that I've spent most of this week 'talking to myself' and constantly having to stop, take a moment, evaluate (and reevaluate) my choices and almost scold myself into action. Okay, scold is a bit of a strong word. It's just that things this week just haven't fallen into place naturally like they usually do. It's strange.

I've spent the past 3 years getting into good habits, and for the most part they really are part of my lifestyle, but every once in a while I stumble. Perhaps it's about getting bored with my routine - eating and doing pretty much the same things day in and day out. Still, in the end I'm kinda just being a baby about it. The choice to do things differently and change things up is always in my hands. It basically boils down to two choices -- do something to change your routine or suck it up and just get on with it.

I've done a bit of both.

I've been doing a weekly step challenge through the FitBit app. I have to say it has really motivated me to get up and moving. I get my workouts in daily - whether it's at the gym or on the Jiu-Jitsu mats, but this step challenge has added a new dimension. The bit of friendly competition gets me to go out and take a walk when normally I would have just stuck to my basic workouts. It just goes to show, when you've got the right motivation, you will make time to keep moving! So I'm happy with my step count. I have a relatively low daily step goal (only 5,000 steps), but that's because Jiu-Jitsu doesn't involve any steps, but it sure is a workout! I'm happy that I've hit over 10,000 steps on all days this week except for 1 day. That's more than I've done in a while and I'm happy with that!

I've also been stepping away from the treadmill. The cold has kept me indoors. Yes, I know that compared to other places, it's not that cold in London, but for me it's cold. I chose not to confront the cold this time and just workout indoors. However, now that it's finally warming up (I would have never called single digit weather 'warming up'), I've been going for outdoor walks. The brisk air is refreshing, and the lovely natural scenery around me makes it much more enjoyable.

So my steps have been good this week. Despite craving sweets and bread - I don't normally crave bread so this is strange for me - I haven't given in, and I've been sticking to my veggies and proteins. Overall, the week has been going well -- now it's just about getting rid of that nagging voice in my head that keeps saying - Take a break, stay in bed. Be lazy and order in a pizza.

Will that voice ever disappear? I'm not sure -- in the meantime, I've got to keep my ultimate goals in mind and keep powering through.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Getting Ready for Another Week

The weekend definitely goes by way too quickly. After unwinding a bit and getting a chance to catch up with a friend from back home, I'm ready to tackle this upcoming week!

Now on to some grocery shopping and food prep.

This week's menu: 
Breakfasts: Açai, banana, and red grape smoothie
Lunches: Sautéed sweet potato and broccoli with spinach, avocado, and cucumber
Dinners: Monday & Tuesday - tuna loaf with salad, Wednesday - salmon with baked vegetables, Thursday - chicken and bell peppers, Friday - Stuffed baked sweet potato

This week's general plan:
Eating with a minimum of 4 1/2 hours in between meals.
No snacking.
Drinking 4 L of water/day.
Exercise: 2 strength training sessions, 3 cardio sessions, 3 Jiu-Jitsu sessions

The 'no snacking' will be my biggest challenge, but this is what I want to try to accomplish this week -- I won't know if I can do it unless I try!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Surviving the Weekend

Whenever I'm off a schedule, I find that it becomes harder to stick to my food routine. The pockets of empty time (in other words, the times when I'm procrastinating) leave open the chance to want to eat out of boredom.

The best habit I think I've cultivated is to not buy junk food at all. There are no snacks in the house - no biscuits, no crisps, no chocolates. Even if I really, really wanted to have something, there is nothing that I can easily reach for. Ironically, when I get intense cravings, I somehow still go to the cupboard and desperately look for some chocolate ... I know there's nothing there, but I still look.

My weekends used to be really unstructured, thus leaving open the temptation to just sit on the couch and watch TV ... which inevitably leads to wanting to munch on something.

The good thing is that my weekends have also become routine. For the most part that suits me fine. I know what I'm going to eat, when I'm going to eat, and what I'm going to do. That structure really helps me. It may seem boring to some, but the great things about setting a schedule for yourself is that you can change it up if you want to.

This all relates to points 2 and 3 in the Lifestyle challenge.
- Eat thoughtfully
- Choose your celebrations

Things come up. There are birthdays. There are parties. We have whims.

The thing that I want to work on most is to not let those instances throw me off track.

It all boils down to making decisions that I know will make me happy, both in the moment and in the future.

I went for a long period of time when I was saying 'no' to a lot of things. That actually suited me just fine. Even if others had a problem with it (and many, many people did), I put myself, my health, my happiness first.

I will still do that to this day, but now I'm a bit more relaxed. This doesn't mean I'll eat whatever I want without thinking about it. Instead, I make a thoughtful/conscious decision about my actions. Whatever I decide to do (workout, rest, eat, fast), it will be my choice, for my happiness - whether that means taking my own salad to a dinner party or sitting down and enjoying a piece of carrot cake with a cup of coffee. It's my choice.

Taking responsibility for this choice (and the consequences) is important. It's not about guilting yourself into feeling one way or another. It's about understanding that whatever we choose to do has a consequence.

Making these decisions requires practice and patience. It involves implementing some discipline into your decision making process. Maybe at this very moment, your desire to have a piece of chocolate cake is very strong ... but you've got to take a moment and ask yourself - do I really want it? Is eating this cake really going to make me happy? Does this action help me reach my overall goal? Will doing this action lead to regret in the future (whether it's 1 hour/1 week/1 month later)?

After answering those questions - you make a choice.

The ultimate goal is to work towards optimal health and overall happiness (at least those are my goals).  This doesn't stop just because the weekend is here.

As you gear up for the weekend, don't forget your overall goals. Find ways to create new routines and new habits that you enjoy and that also correspond to you achieving your goals.

When you start off, making such decisions takes time and requires quite a bit of thought and organization. However, if you stick with it, you'll see that it will soon become a habit, and making healthy choices will become second nature.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Five

This week has had its ups and downs. I've been doing well in terms of my food and exercise, but overall have just been feeling a bit down. I'm worried about my brother, and the distance from my family just feels terrible. At the same time, I'm trying not to let my emotions get the best of me. I feel like I spent most of this past week (actually the past 2 weeks) talking to myself - reminding myself that it's ok to feel down but that it doesn't have to control your whole day or lead to unhealthy habits. It's hard to keep having to go through that kind of self-talk. Part of me feels it's necessary because it's true. There's nothing I can do from here, so I might as well make the most of my day. Another part of me, however, just wants to wallow. The emotions are too strong. The helplessness is real. The frustration is undeniable.

That being said, keeping this week's meals simple and my routine consistent has helped me get through the week. I'm hoping that I'll be a bit more of engaged next week and everything I do won't feel like such a chore.

A few highlights from the week:

My breakfast for the week: A smoothie of açai, bananas, and red grapes -- delicious, but cold

My lunch for the week: sautéed butternut squash and broccoli, over raw spinach, with cucumber and avocado -- yummy and very filling! 

Instead of doing my cardio on a treadmill, I headed out to a park just behind my house and went for a lovely walk. Being outdoors was so refreshing. The sounds, sights, and smells were highly therapeutic! 

I had a couple of good weight training sessions this week. As much as I'd like to do more in the weight room, I think I've come up with a routine that I can stick to and maintain. It's better than nothing! 

The launch date for my Women's Self-Defense class has been set. I start on April 10th, and I'm so excited! I'm particularly looking forward to teaching the class with D. I hope that the class will make a difference to other women's lives as it did mine.