Meal Planning 101

Eating healthy on regular basis can be quite challenging. In my experience, the best way of avoiding falling into the junk food/take out trap is being prepared. If you arrive home from work and have everything ready to prepare a delicious and nutritious meal, you will be less likely to end up at McDonalds drive thru.

Here are some tips for creating your own meal planning system. This is the method I use to plan my meals and grocery shopping for the week.

  1. Start an recipe library. I collect healthy and easy recipes which I keep in a folder divided into categories (beef, chicken, lamb, pork, eggs, vegetarian). I always get the free magazines from the grocery stores. They usually have seasonal recipes and make shopping much easier. However, I only keep the recipes I know I will be able to do. My criteria is healthy, quick preparation, and delicious😉
  2. Selecting the menu. When I am planning the weekly menu, I pull my recipe folder and choose five to six recipes. I try to include a variety of vegetables, grains, and protein sources to improve nutrient consumption and create some excitement. Also, I distribute the meals according to my schedule. Ex: I usually plan fish dishes for Mondays and Fridays because those are the days I can get fresh fish from the local fishmonger. So you should choose what works for your lifestyle.
  3. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner. Because of my work schedule, I can only cook in the evenings so I prepare a bigger batch for dinner and portion out my lunch servings. It is time effective and a great way to avoid second helpings. That’s portion-control at its best.
  4. Create go-to breakfast options. I usually have two or three breakfast options which I alternate during the week. I start by choosing a protein source, then adding a fruit or veggie, and finishing with a smart carb (oats, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, whole grain bread). Because I leave home really early in the morning (think 5am, folks), I don’t have time to prepare breakfast before work. So, I have everything ready-to-go in advance. This way, there is no excuse to stop for a coffee-shop pastry.
  5. Create go-to snack options. Same as for breakfast: have two to three options and alternate them. Rule of thumb, unless you are trying to gain weight, your snacks should be 200 kcal or less. That means that a giant muffin is out of the question. Ex: boiled egg and small salad, hummus and carrots, yogurt and fruit.
  6. Make you shopping list based on your menu. Once you’ve made your plan, create your shopping list based on the ingredients you need for the week. Number one rule is stick to your plan and avoid buying anything out of your list. Don’t keep high calorie snacks and lollies at home. If you don’t have them at hand, you won’t eat them. And if you are really craving something special, then you will have to make the effort to go to store and get it. You might give up just by thinking of it.

Take away notes: As I said before, this is what works for me. You can use it as a template but I strongly suggest that you make adjustments according to your lifestyle. I usually shop once a week for most items but get fresh produce and meats as I need them during the week. You may choose to plan only three days at a time. Anyways, do whatever works for you.

The Holiday Effect – Part 3

Oh Diet. Isn’t it everybody’s nemesis? How good it would be if we could eat whatever we want, whenever we feel like and not have severe consequences on our waistline.

I came back from my two-week vacation four kilos heavier. Now that I’m back home, I had to do something about it. Besides exercising 6 times per week (read the previous article for more info), I had to get my eating habits back on track.

You’ve probably heard several times that diet is responsible for about 80% of weight-loss (especially if you intend to preserve lean mass in the process). Unfortunately, exercise alone cannot make a significant dent on the energy balance equation in order to lead to considerable fat loss. Therefore, dietary adjustments are adamant.

However, we don’t want to simply skip meals or starve ourselves. That would generate a metabolic disaster since the body would perceive it as a threat and kick into conservation mode, slowing down your precious weight-loss.

Having that in mind, I designed my nutrition plan based on eliminating processed foods, limiting restaurant foods and take-outs, and focusing on eating plenty of fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts and healthy oils, and lean protein sources. Simple enough.

The idea was to fill up the plate with fibre-rich vegetables in order to make me feel satiated. But I wasn’t limiting myself to salads because I knew that wouldn’t work for long. Instead I found recipes that replaced refined carbs with veggies and whole grains.

Another change was to include lean protein in every meal. Keep in mind that protein intake is very important during a weight-loss process because it is used to build and repair muscle. Also, the digestion of protein takes longer and requires more energy which keeps you feeling full for longer and increases your basal metabolic rate (meaning that you burn more calories in the process). Breakfast was the biggest challenge I faced because it’s not as if I could have a full serving of chicken breast at 6 am. Nonetheless, I found ways of sneaking protein everywhere I could.

To improve adherence, and not rely solely on willpower, I looked for recipes that appealed to my taste buds. It is much easier to stick to a diet if you look forward to have your meals. I created a folder with my favourite recipes so I could easily plan a weekly menu.

Preparation is another big step to success. My daily schedule is hectic: I wake up too early (4:30am at times) and arrive home late night (8:30 or 9 pm). If I didn’t have a plan chances were, I would eat whatever I could get my hands at or rely on take-outs. You see, restaurant foods are designed to be yummy (so you become a frequent customer). For that, meals contain way more salt, sugar and fat that you would consume if you were to prepare something similar at home. Mind you, I don’t have anything against enjoying a nice family dinner out. I just believe that it should be left for special occasions.

So, I planned the weekly menu based on recipes I intended to prepare, made a grocery list and went shopping. And no, I didn’t spend my whole Sunday meal prepping. My preparation is usually minimal. It consists of washing and cutting fruits and veggies, maybe preparing a batch of breakfast options and organizing the fridge. That’s it. Every night, I prepare enough food for dinner and next day’s lunch. I take to work my breakfast, lunch and any snacks I may have. The only thing I buy is my daily cup of coffee.

Here is this week’s menu plan. Next time, I’ll be posting some of the recipes. If there is anyone in particular you would like me to post, just write on the comments. Until next time😊








Ricotta and spinach egg muffin

Berry and chia pudding

Ricotta and spinach egg muffin

Berry and chia pudding

Ricotta and spinach egg muffin

Berry and chia pudding

Ricotta and tomato omelette

Mixed berries with yogurt and seeds

Ricotta and tomato omelette

Mixed berries with yogurt and seeds

Post workout

Protein powder


Protein powder


Protein powder


Protein powder


Protein powder



4 salmon sashimi

4 salmon nigiri

(store bought)

Zucchini spaghetti with grilled salmon Carrot and orange salad w/ smoked paprika chicken tenderloin Sweet potato mash with spinach salad and veal/pork patties Crab Nicoise salad
Dinner Zucchini spaghetti with grilled salmon Carrot and orange salad w/ smoked paprika chicken tenderloins Sweet potato mash with spinach salad and veal/pork patties Crab Nicoise salad Broccoli and snow peas with hummus and roast chicken

The Holiday Effect

I just came back from a two-week vacation. Like many people out there, I used the excuse of being on holidays to overeat and under exercise. During those short two weeks, I managed to ignore completely all the health principles I teach and normally follow. I guess that just makes me a human being.

Besides being away from my regular daily routine, I found myself being ridiculously sedentary. Cold weather and lack of a plan contributed to me spending endless hours on the couch in front of the TV. I didn’t even walk much (we drove everywhere we needed to go, mostly restaurants). The result of that impressive lack of physical activity was that I felt sluggish and tired all the time, even though I wasn’t doing much.  

If that wasn’t bad enough, my diet was a complete wreck. Imagine eating no green vegetables for 15 days. My meals consisted of mainly refined carbohydrates (think bread, pasta, pastry, cake, cookies) and fatty protein sources (cold cuts of meat, sausages, juicy steaks, fried chicken). Dessert was a given. I had too much salt, fat and sugar, and not enough nutrients or fibre. I was consuming soda and sugary drinks (which I don’t even like!) just for the sake of having something other than water.

During the whole time, I was eating just for fun because I can’t say I was actually hungry. And I managed to ignore any sign of fullness. You see, many of the restaurants we visited were “all you can eat” which means that in order to be “worthy” I needed to eat a lot, even if I felt completely stuffed after.

You know what is the saddest thing of all? I was completely aware of what I was doing. I just didn’t care. I kept telling myself that I was on holidays so I had the “right” of acting that way. Did this ever happen to you?

Unfortunately, the effect that those sloppy days had on my body were devastating. On the first couple of days, I got sick. A bad cold. I blamed the long flight and lack of sleep but I know that not drinking enough water or getting proper nutrition wasn’t helping my cause. Because I was constantly dehydrated (not enough water, vegetables and fruits), my skin was dry and blotchy. My face became covered in breakouts. My poor eating got me constantly bloated and constipated. I felt worn-out and lethargic. But the reality only sank in when I weighed myself at a drugstore scale. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Four kilos in 15 days.

Now I’m back on track. Since arriving home, I have cleaned up my diet (no more indulgences for a while), loaded my plate with veggies and fruits, reintroduced whole grains, included lean protein sources in every meal, been drinking plenty of water (and water only). I’m also back to the gym (to work and workout). My plan is to exercise 6 days per week. I will be posting my exercise program, diet plan, and progress. Let’s see how long it’s going to take to shed those unwanted kilos.

3 Steps to Success

You probably heard this one before. All you need to do to lose weight is exercise more and eat less. But if it is that simple, why so many people fail miserably?

While the energy equation makes total sense on paper, it is an oversimplification of the process. The truth is that as human beings, we are complex organisms. And each one of us has unique characteristics. That’s why a one-size-fits-all approach cannot possibly work for everyone.

Now, while you will have to discover what works for  you, there is a common denominator in the equation: CONSISTENCY. Doesn’t matter what you do, if you don’t stick to it long enough, chances are you won’t see results.

What’s the secret? Motivation? Willpower?

Motivation is the excitement you feel when you begin a new project. It can definitely help you get started. However, it tends to fade away as time passes and you need to constantly remind yourself why you chose to go through this path.

Ah willpower! Willpower is great but it is a limited resource. When you force yourself to do something you don’t want to, you are using your willpower. The problem is that it won’t last forever.

So how can you make it work?

First of all, you need a plan of action. A plan of action is a step by step guide, a fool-proof system that is easy to follow. When you are writing your plan, break down your big goal into small manageable steps. Focus on behaviours (things you can do on regular basis) that when performed over a period of time will lead you to your ultimate goal. If you don’t know how to do this, look for professional help. An experienced trainer or coach can guide through this process.

The second step is accountability. The goal here is to make sure you are taking the small steps you devised on your plan. You can use your trainer or coach to make yourself accountable. Or find a friend with a similar goal and keep track of each others progress. Another idea is to use your social media as a diary  and post your plan and daily progress. If you prefer something more discreet, create an accountability sheet and stick to your fridge door or bathroom mirror. Fill it out everyday to keep track of your progress.

Need a sample? Download it here.

The final step is support. Surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through. This way you can talk about your frustrations, celebrate your successes, and find solutions to problems.

Keep in mind that results come from performing simple things over a period of time. If you trust the process and work on staying on track, you will see that the work you put in will pay off.

Why Exercise Alone Will NOT Lead to Massive Weight-Loss

You may be exercising for a while but not seeing the results you were expecting. Here is why:

To burn 1 kg of body fat, you must burn 9000 kcal (this is the equivalent of 30 hours on a treadmill!)

A high intensity workout such as a spin class burns on average 500 kcal/hour. How many of those sessions do you perform in a week? Two or three?  Let’s say you are burning about 1500 kcal/week. This means that to lose 500 g of fat in a week, you still need to cut 3000 kcal. This cut should come from your diet.

In order to lose weight, we must create a negative energy balance (burn more calories than we consume).  So, if you want to see faster results you MUST adjust your caloric intake.

Energy Intake < Energy Output → Negative Energy Balance

Don’t know where to start?

A conservative approach to weight-loss is to modestly reduce your daily caloric intake by 250 kcal to 500 kcal, while increasing the energy expenditure by 250 kcal to 500 kcal per day (through exercise). These steps will create a modest energy deficit with which the body can easily deal with. Following this guideline may lead to a weight-loss of one to two pounds per week without putting too much stress in your body.

Keep in mind that exercise will determine the quality of your weight loss. After all, you want to lose just fat not muscle or water. A regular exercise routine will also enable you to  maintain your fat loss for longer.

The 3 Week Diet

Do You Have a Scale Addiction?

Ah, the scale. As a woman seeking to lose weight, it can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

Sadly, though, a lot of women get addicted to that number on the scale. They see it not just as measure of their weight but as a measure of their success, their value, and their worth.

When that number doesn’t say what they want, they know without a doubt they’re going to have a bad day.

Here are a few signs that you have a scale addiction:

  • You weigh yourself multiple times a day. This activity is a big waste of time and gives you no indication of your true weight, since it fluctuates multiple times per day based on what you eat and drink and when you go to the bathroom.
  • You let the number you see upset you greatly. Stop getting so upset! The number doesn’t really tell you much since weight looks different on different people.

Remember, the scale can’t really tell you much at all. It is just one measure of your success, and other indicators, like skin fold (body fat percentage), girth measurements, progress pictures, are much more reliable.

The trick, though, is not to be obsessed with any kind of number or measurement, but, instead, just to focus on being as strong and healthy as possible. In the end, that’s all that matters.

12 Tips for Calorie Control

You don’t need to measure/weight your food in order to control your calories. Calorie counting is not only troublesome but also inaccurate so there is no point in doing it anyway. However, you can take control of your caloric intake by adopting these 12 fool-proof strategies:

  1. Clean your pantry – Some foods are supposed to be eaten in MODERATION, meaning once or twice a month. If you keep those foods at home, chances are you are going to eat them more often than you should. So get a garbage back and throw away (or give it to someone you don’t like) any following items: Sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts, Processed meats and sausages, Ice cream, lollies and chocolate, Meat pies and pastries, Crisps, chips, and other salty snacks, Margarine, Soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sports drinks, Alcoholic drinks.
  2. Home cook most of your meals – Restaurant foods are usually rich in fat, sugar and salt, tending to be  extremely palatable and easy to over eat. Keep in mind that your meals should be tasty, but not so tasty you can’t stop eating! Also, the portions are usually larger than you would normally eat at home.
  3. Surround your close environment with healthy foods – If all you see around you are fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats, you will be more likely to eat them. Those foods are packed with nutrients and fibre and low in calories (when compared to processed foods).
  4. Eat slowly and without distractions – Did you know that it takes at least 20 minutes for the fullness reflex kick in? So if you eat too fast, you will be more likely to overeat.  Pay attention to your fullness level and stop eating when 80% full. Eliminate any distractions, meaning no phone, work or TV during your meals.
  5. Don’t skip meals – You will get overly hungry and be more likely to overeat on the next meal.
  6. Pay attention to your portion sizes – A serving of grain is about the size of one cupped hand (a restaurant portion size of pasta/noodles usually have about 4 servings!).
  7. Don’t turn to food for psychological comfort – Find other ways to cope with stress, boredom, and anxiety.
  8. Eat only when hungry. Before grabbing a muffin, ask yourself “Am I really hungry? Could I have an apple instead?”. If the answer is no, you are not hungry, you just feel like eating.
  9. Plan your cheat meal – This is important to avoid going overboard. Choose what you are going to have in advance. Eat slowly and enjoy it. And remember, it is a cheat meal NOT a cheat day.
  10. Focus on your breakfast – When you start your day with the right foot, you set the mood for the rest of the day. Eat a high protein breakfast to avoid overeating throughout the day. Protein keeps you full for longer.
  11. Avoid high carb meal late in the day. Keep in mind that excess carbohydrates are converted into fat and deposited into your waistline. At night is even worse because most of us are not very active which means there is no time to burn the extra calories.
  12. Don’t drink your calories. It doesn’t matter if it is orange juice or coke, liquid calories are readily absorbed and spikes the blood sugar levels. A big no-no for calorie control.

The 3 Week Diet

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

fat sick and nearly deadThis is not a new movie (from 2010) but I have just watched it and I really recommend it. It is a documentary based on a guy’s quest for the cure of a rare skin condition. After being on medication for years with little results, Joe Cross decides to reboot his life through juicing. He spent 60 days cruising the USA while on a complete juice fast[1] interviewing Americans along the way.

Even though it seems quite a radical approach (well, in fact it is radical) he could restore his health and even help others along the way. However, the real lesson in the movie is hardly about a new fad diet. I believe that his goal was not trying to convince people to engage in his challenge, but to understand what motivates people to eat what they do on regular basis.

I would say that the movie is more about behavior change than it is about diet. Several interviews throughout the movie clearly showed that people know what they are doing wrong. They just don’t see a reason strong enough to change it. All they say is “I know I shouldn’t eat that much fast food but” or “I should eat better but.” There was always a “but.” Not even the threat of debilitating diseases seems to compel people to change. Most call themselves weak or say they have no will-power. Some say that they need the instant gratification they get from food which means that eliminating that little pleasure from their lives is perceived as bad as, if not worse than, a debilitating illness or even death.

Which makes me think: What has to happen in someone’s life to push her/him into a new direction? What do you think?

[1] The only thing he ate for the duration of his self-imposed challenge was fresh fruits and vegetables in the form of juice.

Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

habit loopBehavior change is one of the major components of weight management programs. It is true that exercise and diet play important roles in weight loss, however if the individual cannot build healthier lifestyle habits, the results won’t last. This is because once the person goes back to his/hers old habits chances are that the pounds are going to begin piling up again. Therefore, long-term commitment is a must.

Changing someone’s behaviors is not an easy task. First, the person must be open to change (for more on that read “Increasing the Odds of Successful Change”). Keep in mind that change is only possible if the individual is willing to change. However, once the person is on board, change is possible if habits are addressed.

According to Charles Duhigg author of “The Power of Habit,” a “habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: when I see a CUE, I will do a ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.” This is what he called the habit loop and it is an energy-saving strategy used by our brain in order to become faster and more efficient. This means that habits are instinctive pathways created by our brain in which we don’t have a conscientious participation. Not that we don’t know what we are doing – we do. Actually at some point we made a choice, but after some time the routine became ingrained in our brains and we stopped thinking about it.

The truth is that habits are powerful because they create what it’s called a neurological craving. This means that your brain start waiting for a preset reward whenever you see a particular cue which automatically unfolds a routine. Ok, but what does this mean? Let me break it down for you.

A CUE is a factor that triggers a behavior pattern. It could be something you see, a feeling, a smell, even a specific time of the day. The thing is that when you are exposed to this factor, it will drive you to inevitably perform a predetermined routine.

The ROUTINE is the habit itself. It is a sequence of behaviors performed spontaneously once you experience the cue.

A REWARD is the actual craving. It is the reason that pushes you to perform a routine. This craving appears immediately when you see the cue.

So how can we use this information in our favor? Keep in mind that it is almost impossible to just get rid of an old habit (neurological cravings are too powerful to be simply ignored), but we sure can try manipulating its variables (cue, routine and reward). In his book, Charles Duhigg suggests the following:

Initially, you must identify and understand the variables that compose your habit loop. Therefore, your first step should be recognizing the routine – the behavior you want to change. What exactly have you been doing that you are not happy with – smoking, mindless eating in front of the TV, having too much coffee, alcohol drinking? That’s the easy part. Everybody seems to know what needs to be changed; the hard part is actually doing it.

Then, discover what exactly you have been craving. Is it nicotine, caffeine, social interaction, need to do something fun? This is tricky and to figure this one out you have to experiment with rewards. It may not be that obvious; this step requires a bit of self-awareness. For example, some people may smoke because the act of holding a cigarette provides a sense of self-assurance in socially awkward situations, so in the end the expected reward is not nicotine, but confidence. Charles suggests slightly changing the routine in order to notice how you feel afterwards. This means that once you feel the urge to smoke, you should try doing something else instead, such as playing with your phone, calling a friend or reading a newspaper. Later you analyze your feelings. Did your craving go away or is it still there? I never said it was easy, but once you discover what you are craving, you can redesign your habit. The goal is to create a new routine that will provide de same reward, just in a different way.

The next step is to identify your cue. What is triggering the undesired behavior – boredom, stress, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, food commercials? To isolate possible cues, you should look for patterns. Charles recommends writing down details of what is going on the moment you feel the craving for several days. Then, compare and analyze your notes to find common points.

Now that you’ve identified all components of the habit loop, all you have to do is to set a plan of action. This means that you will actively choose to behave in a certain way whenever you see the cue that triggers the habit. Keep in mind that the reward is still going to be the same; all you are changing is how you are getting it. The goal is to teach your brain a new pathway that will lead to the reward you’ve been craving. Once it is ingrained, it will become a habit and you won’t have to think about it anymore.

Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

Adjust your mindset

As a new year starts, millions of people make resolutions that they don’t believe they can accomplish. In the US, the number one resolution for 2014 was to lose weight (University of Scranton). Unfortunately, only 8% of people are expected to be successful in achieving their goals. Why these statistics are so pessimistic? Well, the truth is that most people want something, but few are willing to work for it.

Keep in mind that just because we write down a simple statement, it doesn’t mean it will magically happen, no effort needed. Therefore, if you really want to achieve your goals this year, it is time you change your approach.

According to Carol Dweck, PH.D., author of “Mindset: the New Psychology of Success,” there are basically two types of mindset: the fixed and the growth. People with a fixed mindset think in a black and white manner (smart or dumb, weak or strong, successful or failure). They believe their attributes are carved in stone, seeing themselves as a finished product.  Because of those beliefs, they tend to be judgmental and have the need to prove themselves all the time. When faced with a challenge, they run away, trying to avoid a possible failure. If they “fail”, they tell themselves that they are not as smart as they thought; they feel sorry for themselves and resign. This means that they lack motivation to keep going through adversities. Consequently they can’t achieve their full potential.

People with the growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that a person’s true potential depends on effort, that everyone can change and growth through practice and experience. They see challenges as an opportunity to learn. When facing an obstacle, they ask themselves: “how can I overcome this?” or “what can I learn from this experience?” Because of this way of thinking, they are highly motivated people and are more likely to succeed in life.

In fact, studies in neuroscience shows that challenges do make you stronger, faster, and smarter because they force your brain to make more neural connections over time. Thus, if you adjust your mindset to be OK with assuming risks, making occasional mistakes, and learning from experiences, you may accomplish whatever you want.

Don’t be afraid of struggles and setbacks. Life doesn’t go in a straight line anyway. More likely than not, obstacles will appear and you can look at them as an opportunity to learn or you can feel sorry for yourself. It is your choice.

However, changing your mindset is not a simple process. There will be times in which willpower won’t be enough; you’ll need strategies. Make concrete plans determining what, where, when, and how you want. It is also important to put effort into your goal. Writing it down and waiting for it to happen, won’t do the cut. Move towards your goal. And when you face setbacks, don’t give up. Analyse what happened and ask what you can learn from it. Oh, and try to enjoy the process.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.