Sunday, January 16, 2011



By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2

Let’s face it: working out is hard. Not all of us love it. Some of us plain hate it. Some are vain enough we’ll do it. Some are smart enough to know we’d better do it. Some, as in the Nike commercial, just do it. BUT, most of us would rather do something else if we had a choice. I have always loved the way exercise makes me feel afterwards. I have loved the fact that I can eat a little more or have a treat occasionally. I have loved the results. I have loved the compliments. The process itself though, not so much. At least, not all the time.
So what can you do to make sure that for all the effort you are putting into looking and feeling your best you will actually see results? And how can you make sure that looking better is not just about pure esthetics, but also comes with feeling better and being healthier?
Here are a few things I consider the most important. Some may actually surprise you.
1. Stop aimless fitness. Have a plan. Be consistent and disciplined. Be clear about your motivation.

Know why you are engaging in a particular exercise. Learn about proper form, technique and intensity. Ask a qualified trainer or instructor what the appropriate exercise options for your age and physical condition are and then follow the plan. Don’t just do “whatever” because you’ve heard that a little exercise is good for you. Yes, you CAN get a little healthier just by adding extra physical activity into your life, but don’t expect major results from “cruising” on the treadmill for 20 minutes 3 times/week. Getting fitter and leaner is work.... hard work. And you’d better not have any illusions about that.
2. Strength train. It has been said again and again but a lot of people still don’t get it: cardio is NOT enough.

 You have to include proper strength training exercises, and challenge your muscles on a regular basis, to prevent muscle atrophy (after age 25 we lose between 0.5 and 1% of our muscle mass per year – that’s 10% in a decade - and double that after age 60!) and a resultant slowing of the metabolic rate. Only the combination of strength training AND aerobic exercise can give you lasting weight loss and a toned body.  

3. Stop overdoing cardio.

Many people think that more is better. Hours and hours of cardiovascular exercise are NOT helpful when you’re trying to lose weight. Not only do you increase your chances of overtraining, but you are actually burning precious muscle. Long hours of aerobic training put your body in a catabolic state eating away your muscle tissue instead of building it, which occurs only in an anabolic state. (Endurance athletes are NOT the healthiest examples – they are all catabolic.) The result: less muscle and slower metabolism. The solution: short high intensity interval training (HHIT). One of the biggest benefits of this mode of training is the fact that your body will release Human Growth Hormone as a response to this kind of training, which stimulates muscle growth and increases fat loss. In addition, you won’t have to spend as much time in the gym. HHIT should not be done for much longer than 30 minutes, and usually 20-25 is more than enough. Make sure that you work up to this kind of training if you are sedentary and always get your doctor’s clearance prior to engaging in any high intensity exercise if you are older, on medications, or have any medical conditions. Even older people can do it, but it has to be done gradually. (Interval training is now being used even for cardiac patients in cardiac rehabilitation programs under physician supervision and has been found to be very effective in training the heart muscle). The so called post-exercise oxygen consumption (PEOC) is also higher afterwards than after moderate intensity exercise. This basically means your metabolism is elevated for a few hours after the workout, and you’re burning more calories. There are different ways to do interval training but in a 25 minute session a good plan would be: a 5 minute warm-up, a 30 sec. high intensity interval followed by a 90 sec. rest period (lower intensity), repeated 8 times, and then a 4 minute cool-down. For those who are afraid of not challenging their cardiovascular system enough (because of a shorter length of the workout), I assure you that your heart and muscles will get a much better workout and bigger challenge than if you pedaled on a bike aimlessly for 60 minutes watching TV and trying to read at the same time, as many people do.

4. Take time to plan your post workout meal and try to eat it within 30 (and maximum 60) minutes afterwards.

What you eat after your exercise session will affect what results you get. Your muscles are the most receptive to nutrients within that time window, and they need both carbohydrates and protein to replenish glycogen and stimulate muscle tissue synthesis and recovery respectively. I advocate natural foods whenever possible, but if the time elapsed between the end of your workout and your next meal is more than an hour, have a well balanced protein shake with some high-glycemic carbohydrate in it and a little healthy fat. This is one time during the day when you want the food to reach the muscles as fast as possible so having a liquid option is not a bad idea. (The subject of post-workout protein shakes versus regular meals is beyond the scope of this article. It is a somewhat controversial issue and many aspects need to be considered to weigh the pluses and minuses of both approaches.)

5. Eat small but regular meals and snacks consisting of REAL foods: whole, unprocessed, and without additives in it.

Eat GOOD food. Enjoy it. Relish it.

It should nourish you and make you happy. The quality of food you put in your body is an often neglected aspect of diet. Food is not just calories; it contains specific nutrients that are destroyed to a big degree when foods are processed and their form changed. Synthetic vitamins, additives, preservatives and other chemicals are often not only treated by the body as foreign substances, but also put a tremendous burden on our organs and cells. The more natural and nutritious the food, the more your body will be able to extract from it much needed nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other beneficial substances.
6. Get AT LEAST 8 hours of good quality sleep at night.

Sleep deprivation causes not only fatigue and suppresses the immune system, but has been shown to be a huge contributor to weight gain. Changes in sleep patterns affect two important hormones in your body: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is responsible for sending signals to the brain that you’re full while ghrelin is supposed to inform your brain that you’re hungry. With lack of sufficient sleep the levels of leptin decrease while the levels of ghrelin increase. You brain will be telling you that you’re hungry even though your body may not be and it will fail to tell you that you’re full so you’ll keep on eating. The final result: more calories than your body needs. Another important aspect of sufficient sleep is muscle recovery. If your muscles have no chance to recover properly, your muscle tissue will break down, putting you in a catabolic state. You will also not have the necessary energy to push yourself enough in your workouts to induce any significant training effect.  Lack of sleep can also increase insulin and cortisol levels in your body. High levels of these hormones promote fat storage, especially in the abdominal area.

I can’t say it enough. It is one of the simplest yet most important things you can do for your health AND your weight at the same time. Drink at least half of your body weight in ounces and more if you exercise, live in a hot climate or at higher elevations. Choose the purest, highest quality water you can find with a ph of at least 7.0. Hydration (except for breathing) is your body’s highest priority. It will give you energy. It will speed up your metabolism. It will help you flush metabolic waste products from your body. It will help you detoxify. It will deliver nutrients to your muscles and cells. It will keep your joints and discs hydrated and make your body function optimally. Translation: weight loss.
8. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE as much as you can: anytime, anywhere, anyhow.

Human beings were designed to move. It is only the last few hundred years and the development of technology that have made movement almost obsolete. In Paleolithic times we used to move all day as a way of living, just going about our daily activities and attending to various chores. Then, for short periods, we hunted and ran from danger (short high intensity intervals). Life, as it is now, requires very little exercise and our bodies are paying the price. Being active in some manner and moving all day burns a lot more calories than doing a “long” 1 ½ hour workout in the gym and then sitting at the desk, in the car, in the movies and at the table for the rest of the day.
9. Control stress. Have some QUIET time every day. Make time for relaxation. Rest.

Quiet time is almost a foreign idea nowadays. We cannot “survive” for 5 minutes without being connected to the rest of the world in some way. The truth is: the world will survive, move on and do just fine without us. And WE won’t miss that much either. Most people don’t know how to be by themselves and without external stimulants for more than a few minutes, if that. You need time to be quiet, time to be alone, and time to give yourself, and your mind, a chance to rest. Rest recharges your body AND your mind. Quiet time brings you peace, decreases stress and calms down your soul. Your stress hormone cortisol has a “wonderful” ability to make you pack on access pounds if you keep it elevated from high levels of stress and a clattered mind. You will also find that when your stress is under control, your life AND your weight will be under control as well. Make quiet your weight loss friend. Face it. Don’t run away from it.
10. Decide to be happy. Happiness is one of the biggest clues to being healthy and slim. 

It doesn’t just happen by itself. It requires constant work and a certain state of mind. Emotional issues are one of the biggest contributors to weight gain. Find out what your goals and needs in life are and work to fulfill them. Without them you’re walking through life aimlessly. Most importantly, know what your purpose is. If you don’t have a purpose you will never be happy. Purpose makes it clear for you why you’re here. Knowing this will bring you peace of mind and happiness. Only then can you achieve anything you set yourself to do, including getting AND STAYING fit, slim, lean and healthy.


Sunday, January 9, 2011



By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2

1. Stop dieting and start eating. Diets don’t work and you know it. It’s time to start eating healthy for life. No more deprivation. No more starvation. If you don’t get this basic truth right you will always fail because you will never learn how to maintain a proper way of eating.

2. Start eating REAL food. Stop eating CRAP (conventional, refined, additives, preservatives), junk and other denatured foods as well as sugar. If you haven’t done this yet now is the time to switch to natural foods the way Nature intended them to be: fresh, organic, unprocessed and whole. Your taste buds will thank you. You will be more satisfied therefore less inclined to cheat. Your waistline will thank you – your body will not have to struggle processing and detoxifying all the chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and other foreign substances instead of actually digesting and absorbing the food. You will absorb nutrients better: the better nourished your body is the easier time it has burning body fat. Your body cannot tell you what it’s missing in terms of specific nutrients but it will communicate this by asking you to eat more. Food cravings are most often caused by nutrient deficiencies or extreme blood sugar fluctuations.

3. Eat regular healthy meals and snacks every 3-4 hours. The worst thing you can do is skip meals. After 3 or so hours your body will read lack of food as an anticipation of starvation and start storing fat. There are a lucky few who can eat 2 meals a day and be slim but most people cannot. Eating regular small meals will keep your blood sugar even which is one of the most important factors in preventing you from overeating. It will curb your sugar cravings (or any cravings for that matter) and give you more will power to choose healthy foods instead and not overeat. It will keep your metabolic rate up making sure your body is burning calories instead of storing them.

4. Eat BALANCED meals. Don’t follow other people’s diets. What’s balanced for someone else may not work for you. No meal is healthy if it contains just protein or carbs (just fat would be rather difficult). Too much protein or too many carbs in a meal can cause a variety of reactions: too fast a drop in blood sugar leading to hunger and cravings, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, etc. Ideally, try to find out what your metabolic type is ( and experiment a little to figure out what ratios make you feel and function at your best. It may take some time but if you’re still confused about balanced meals it will be very helpful. In any case, your meal should always have all 3 components: a good source of protein, good whole carbohydrates and some healthy fats.

5. Increase your intake of vegetables and fruits and decrease the intake of starches which are very calorie dense (unless you’re an endurance athlete). You can also substitute starchy vegetables and legumes for grains if you feel better with a little more carbohydrates.

6. Eliminate all sodas, carbonated drinks, highly sweetened sports drinks and fruit juices. They are not only an extremely high and concentrated calorie source (except for carbonated water, of course) and do not offer much in the way of nutrition (except for pure fruit juice) but most of them are highly acidic. The more acidic your body is the harder time it will have shedding weight -it will be hard at work doing everything it can to alkalinize you, including drawing minerals like calcium from your bones, and not having much energy left to burn body fat. Calcium deficiency not only predisposes you to osteoporosis but in itself makes weight loss harder.
7. Drink at least half of your body weight in oz. of good quality pure water with a ph of at least 7.0. It will speed up your metabolism. It will make you fuller and therefore less prone to overeating. It will curb hunger as many times thirst is interpreted by the body as just that: hunger. It will hydrate you so you can feel more energetic and ready to exercise. It will give you more endurance to get through your workouts. It will help your body to detoxify making fat burning easier.

8. Eat smaller meals. Try to decrease your portion sizes just a little bit. If volume is important to you and makes you feel less deprived fill your plate up with veggies instead. You can eat a lot with fairly small amount of calories as vegetables are mostly water. This way you will also get important enzymes that your body needs for many reactions.

9. Make food a mindful occasion. Don’t inhale it! Slow down. Put your fork down in between bites. Relish it. Relax and enjoy every bite. Focus! (This really means: no phone calls, blackberries, TV, reading, computer, etc. Sharing food with friends is fine as long as you’re not fighting!) If you don’t have 30 minutes to eat slowly and digest your food not only will your digestion suffer but your body will scream for more food sooner than it really needs it.

10. Listen to your body. Get in touch with your emotions. Find the real reasons why you’re eating: are you hungry, thirsty, bored, tired, sad or depressed? If you can’t distinguish between emotional and physical hunger you will never be successful. Find ways to fill your soul with something meaningful, something that makes you happy. Don’t use food as a pacifier. As they say: “5 seconds on your lips, 5 years on your hips”. Ask for help and support if you have to.

11. What’s your real motivation for weight loss? If you don’t have enough internal motivation to lose weight and stay slim for your health’s sake but are doing it for someone else or for a future event your motivation will not last and within a short time you will be back to where you started.

12. Get at least 8 hours of good quality sleep at night. Lack of sleep affects many hormones in your body, among them the satiety hormone leptin and the hunger hormone ghrelin. The levels of leptin decrease not letting your brain inform you that you’re full while the levels of ghrelin increase telling you to keep eating.

*Please, see my next post about top ways to get fit, slim, lean AND healthy at the same time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011




By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2

Millions of people started the New Year as they usually do: by promising themselves to eat better, lose weight, exercise more and try to live a healthier life. Most of them, as statistics show, will not reach their goals. Worse yet, they will have already quit by mid February. Are you one of them? Have you ever wondered why? Many people don’t have the right plan, or any plan for that matter, and if they do it is usually not very specific, not well thought through and therefore headed for failure. 
What can you do to make sure you succeed in making healthy changes in your eating habits that will not overwhelm you on a daily basis? The biggest mistake people make is doing too much right away, wanting to be perfect in 10 days flat. Change is slow. Make a few important changes but make sure they stick.
Here are, in my opinion (and I am also speaking from a Holistic Lifestyle Coach’s point of view), 11 most important changes you can make to be healthier (not just thinner!):
1. Drink half of your body weight in oz. of the purest water you can find with a ph of at least 7.0. It will make you feel full, which will decrease your appetite. It will speed up your metabolic rate. It will improve your digestion. It will hydrate your body. It will help you absorb nutrients better. It will give you more energy. It will help your body to detoxify (which often means weight loss). It will improve your complexion.
2. Quit eating, or at least decrease to a minimum, any processed foods: this includes especially white flour products like pasta, breads, cereals, crackers, bakery products: They have almost no nutritional value. They will send your blood sugar soaring. Many are packed with unhealthy oils, preservatives and synthetic vitamins and minerals that your body cannot absorb as well as natural ones. They are calorie, but not nutrient, dense, which means they provide a high amount of calories for a rather small portion compared to other foods. They cause digestive problems in many people with wheat/gluten sensitivity.
3. Switch to whole grains, if you can tolerate them, but be mindful of the amounts. Try grains that do not contain gluten like brown rice, oats, quinoa, teff, millet, amaranth, triticale, buckwheat. Whole grains contain lots of fiber and many important minerals. They also have a much nicer taste by comparison to, what I call, “white fluff”. They are more filling (because of their fiber content) so a little goes a long way. They will provide a steadier source of energy without extreme blood sugar fluctuations.
4. Limit sugar as much as possible. If you must: use other natural sweeteners like Stevia, organic raw honey, raw agave nectar, coconut sugar, organic rapadura sugar (very high in iron). White sugar is an empty-calorie food – lots of calories and no nutritional value. It will age you faster because of the reactions it causes in your cells. It will rob you of important nutrients in order to be digested (chromium is one of them) not giving you any in return. When your body is depleted of chromium it will manifest itself as sugar cravings. As you eat more sugar your chromium gets more and more depleted and your sugar cravings get worse and worse which creates a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. It will cause spikes in your blood sugar making it go up briefly and then bringing it crashing down.  This, in turn, will leave you hungry, grumpy, irritable, unhappy and…..wanting more sugar. It may cause insulin resistance (as too many carbohydrates can) and add more of those dreaded pounds. This can, in the long run, lead to diabetes.
5. Switch to eating organic and natural foods. Support local farmers: Organic foods are not only much safer to eat as they do not contain pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, added hormones and antibiotics, but are also a lot more nutritious providing much needed vitamins and minerals that are usually very depleted in non-organic soil. They also actually really DO taste better especially if you’re buying what’s in season. Make sure to eat a lot of raw vegetables – they have much needed enzymes. If you do cook them, do not overcook so the loss of nutrients is minimized.
6. Resolve to make natural and fresh foods the base of your diet: vegetables, fruit, healthy low mercury fish, natural grass-fed meats, organic dairy (if you can tolerate it) from grass-fed animals and ideally raw, (not pasteurized or homogenized), whole unprocessed grains, legumes, organic free-range eggs, healthy natural fats, nuts and seeds – in other words: foods the way Nature intended them to be.
7. Switch to drinking organic coffee and drink it decaffeinated if you can: Coffee is the most pesticide-treated food commodity in the world. Too much caffeine has the tendency to exhaust your adrenal glands interfering with your sleep-wake cycle, making it harder and harder for you to get up in the morning refreshed and causing you to drink more and more as the day progresses. It causes unnecessary blood sugar fluctuations and insulin resistance. (Good, organic coffee in small amounts can have some beneficial effects but try to look for your antioxidants elsewhere.)
8. Avoid any of these foods: trans fats, artificial sweeteners, too may polyunsaturated vegetable oils, soda and high sugar sports drinks, carbonated drinks, processed commercial meat products, irrigated and genetically modified foods, anything with preservatives, artificial colorings and flavorings, MSG. However ingenious the design of our body it was not intended to deal with the amount of chemicals and toxins we have been subjected to in the last 100 years. Toxins get stored in the adipose (fat) tissue, interfering with your cells’ ability to produce energy and burn body fat. Many of them are neurological toxins and have also been shown to cause cancer.
9. Don’t be afraid of fat, not even saturated fat provided it comes from organic grass-fed animals. Your body needs fat for many of its important functions. It will make your meals more palatable. It will give you satiety. It will help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Saturated fat, much misrepresented by many, is a natural food that humans evolved on. It is much needed for the production of sex hormones and in times of stress. It can, however, be pro-inflammatory if it comes from animals fed grains and other food that’s unnatural to them. Fat from grass-fed animals contains a lot of CLA (a healthy conjugated linoleic acid) which actually helps your body burn fat, which most people don’t know. (Currently, more and more scientists are finally starting to admit that the saturated fats were never a problem. The real problems are the bad and denatured sources of those fats as well as the exorbitant amounts of carbohydrates so advocated by many for years).
10. Eat regular balanced meals and healthy snacks in between. Don’t starve your body. The worst thing you can do is not eat for long periods of time. It will slow down your metabolism, making you store more body fat. It will make you fatigued and feeling drained all day. It will make you irritable, grouchy and miserable and you’ll most likely make up for the saved calories at the end of the day when your body needs them the least. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of the effect of eating at certain times of the day. The truth is: your body needs energy to function during the day more than at night and it has a much higher chance of burning those calories. Eating a huge heavy meal at night is a great way to gain weight (and have a less than restful sleep).
11. Consult a qualified nutritionist, dietician or holistic health practitioner. Try to find out what your nutrient status is and then correct the deficiencies focusing on natural foods (or supplements if you have to). The cost is worth it if you are not sure what your calorie intake should be, how to combine foods to make balanced meals, what proper portion sizes are, what specific foods to eat, or if you are just frustrated with too much confusion about nutrition, etc., etc. It’s really not that complicated.
*For more healthy nutrition tips please, see my article from November 11, 2010: “The Cure is In the Kitchen”.