The impressive performance of UK's women in the London Olympics has coined an inspiring meme: "Strong is the new skinny."
In the last six weeks, I have lost several pounds, an inch of fat off my belly, and two inches off my hips. I've also gained serious muscle tone in my arms, shoulders, quads, and abs (hello, six-pack!). I did this not with any magical powder, juice fast, Hollywood fad, or crazy supplements, surgeries or ointments, but rather through good old-fashioned exercise and a few minor modifications to my diet recommended to me by a professional fitness coach.
The best part? I've been genuinely inspired and happy the entire time.
When I arrived in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica in late June to surf, do yoga, and write a novel with my husband Kiran, I discovered that my good friend here, Gem Yates, had just completed two International Sports Science Association certifications: fitness nutrition and certified fitness trainer. She is also an International Surfing Association (ISA) certified surf coach, an international beach lifeguard, a Balanced Body Pilates instructor, and a former professional chef.
Admittedly, I was in pretty decent shape when I started Gem's fitness program. But I wanted to push myself to the next level. Who better to help me than Gem?
Gem's plan makes intuitive sense. It has been easy to stick to it. I never feel like I'm depriving myself. I've worked out harder than I have in years, and that feels great. Most of all, I love Gem's positive, can-do approach.
Read on to discover Gem's tips for getting strong and healthy. She works with clients around the world by Skype, so feel free to drop her a line if you're interested!
Photos by and of Gem Yates.
"Feel good first, then look good," Gem advises. “Accepting your body as it is right now is the key to leading a leaner, healthier lifestyle.” Studies show that Gem’s philosophy is right on target. In a clinical trial, women who were given coaching that led to enhanced body image lost “much more weight” than women who were given information only on exercise, diet, and stress management.
“Are you the type of person who has one slip up in their nutrition plan then decides the day is spoiled, so you go out and splurge all day?” Gem asks. It’s time to shift your mentality. Being healthy is not “all or nothing,” but rather about doing the best you can right now. In Gem’s words: “Obsessing over every last thing you eat or do will destroy not only your diet plan but also your happiness.”
Gem encourages her clients to "Be the best you you can be." The key is to stop comparing yourself to others. You are where you are, and that is exactly where you must begin. It’s best to direct your attention to accomplishing your goals—not someone else’s. “I think this is a great way to live in general,” Gem says. “The less preoccupation you have with what other people are doing, the more you can achieve in your own life.”
"To get what your want out of life, you have to get uncomfortable first," Gem advises. "For healthy eating, this means changing your habits. For fitness, it means pushing yourself to run further and faster, lift heavier weights, and increase the frequency of your workouts. For life, in general, it means being vulnerable--opening up and telling the world, 'This is who I want to be and nothing is going to stop me.'" She adds, "You will have many successes and failures along the way. To experience the highs, you have to have the lows. I like to think the path to great achievements starts by allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable."
As Michael Pollan wrote in his seminal book In Defense of Food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Remove all processed foods from your diet. If you cannot determine the source of your food or it has over six ingredients on the label, don't eat it. If you don't want to eat something, don't keep it in your house. Fill yourself up on as much greens and lean protein as you want--you can't consume too much of these staples. Organic is best. Eat only a limited amount of fruit, dairy, and whole grain carbs. Focus on healthy fats from nuts, avocado, olive oil, and fish.
Gem advised me to eat five to six small meals each day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, (snack). Each of these meals is small but packed with nutrients from greens, protein, and healthy fats.
The biggest change to my exercise program came from incorporating high-intensity interval training, or HIT, into my workout plan, whereas previously I had only done rigorous yoga and hiking. I attended Gem's circuit training classes for one hour, three times a week. We did intervals of jumping jacks, pushups, burpees, leaps, uppercuts, and squats to get our heart rates really pumping. This recent video from the New York Times explains how scientists are finding that 20-minute sessions of HIT can prove as effective as much longer endurance training. You can work out with a personal trainer at a gym or online, create your own program, or follow HIT programs like CrossFit, P90X, and many others.
Incorporate an activity that gets you moving outdoors and socializing. Once you have made a commitment to go, you won't want to let your friends down. It's important to have this support network. "For me," Gem says, "it's surfing--not only the sport, but chatting in the line-up and all the cool people I meet doing it." Other ideas include forming a mom's soccer team, having a doubles tennis match after work, and getting the girls together for a walk or hike on the weekends.
"In my experience, the anticipation of doing something is always worse than actually just doing it," Gem says. "I work with my clients to start implementing small changes gradually. When this small change becomes a habit, then we introduce another small change. This way you don't get intimidated by the big picture, and instead have lots of small successes that keep you motivated and reduce the risk of failure." Let's say you have a break at work. Stand up from your desk and do 10 jumping jacks. If you do that 10 times a day, that's 100 jacks. Over a week, that can add up to half a pound of fat loss! If you're trying to get more flexible, take a few minutes every hour to stretch. You don't have to commit to doing a full hour-long exercise session to start making a difference.
Gem says the number one excuse her clients give for not getting fit is: “Now is not a good time to start something new.” On the contrary, now is the time. If you wait until the time is right, you are probably never going to start!
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