I’ve toyed with the idea of starting this blog for a while and am finally taking the plunge. My goal is simple: to collect and share my favorite recipes, workouts, nutrition and fitness advice, and information about other “wellness” related topics that I come across. I caveat my sharing with the disclaimer that I am an antitrust lawyer–not a doctor or a nutritionist–and I have no formal background in any of the topics of this blog. But, they are my passion. I read as many scholarly (and not-so-scholarly) sources as I can find on these subjects. I follow countless blogs and a few magazines (mainly FitnessRX or Muscle and Fitness), and try to find related peer-reviewed scientific studies before changing my routine. I consult with an endocrinologist (who I think is absolutely top-rate). And I experiment on myself to see what works…
A little more on how I got here…
My fifteen year-plus transition from being anorexic and/or bulimic to being a health, nutrition and fitness fanatic has given me a complicated perspective on how food (or skipping meals), working out (or becoming a gym addict), and sleeping (or not sleeping) affect your overall well-being.
Perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve learned from my experiences is that life is about balance. The human mind and body have an infinite capacity for opposites – for extreme happiness and sadness, hard work and relaxation, complex thought regarding complicated issues and laughter over the most mundane or ridiculous things the internet has to offer. Just this past weekend, my best friend and I went from laughing so hard we were in tears (over–of all things–a buzzfeed link my sister sent me with the best text responses to wrong numbers) to having a deep conversation about Project Unbreakable and sexual assault. The ability to do both (and for me, being lucky enough to have friends with whom I can do both) is a beautiful thing.
The same is true in health, fitness, and wellness. The body has an amazing ability to do more than you think it can do – I know this first hand because my body performed for competitive high school track while I was starving myself and my brain functioned (and well) under a rigorous load of classes (usually in the 20 credits range) without sleep and/or nutrients. It took me a long time to realize that life should not be about discovering your body’s performance capability under suboptimal health conditions. Life sends enough “suboptimal” surprise conditions our way that make things harder. So, over the years, my focus has shifted to optimizing my health and wellness across as many spectrums as possible – to see just what I am capable of. I break these spectrums into 4 main topics:
The first and easiest health optimizer for me has always been nutrition. I live by the philosophy that 80% of how I look and feel depends on what I choose to eat. As a recovering anorexic, my first project was teaching myself what I was supposed to be eating to regain my health. I shifted the energy I had put into my disorder into learning about macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Luckily, as I learned more about the balance that worked for me, my priorities also shifted. I realized that I just felt better eating right, and I began to research how food could continue to help me feel “good.” In a later post, I’ll talk about how my focus has shifted again to prevention – foremost for diseases I know run in my family, but also for all preventable diseases that I can avoid.
My current macronutrient balance is 55-60% fats, 25-35% protein, and 10-15% carbs (about 50-75 g). I aim for about 1650-2000 calories a day. On a super hard day of working out, I often bump up the calories a bit, but the ratio and quality of food stays the same. I might increase my carb intake slightly (to about the 75-90g range), but this is extremely rare for me, as I have found that I do not need it to perform physically in the gym or mentally at work. Most importantly, I never reward myself for working out with food – to me, this sets a bad precedent. If I eat something that is high in sugars and flour, it is not as a reward for good behavior – it is as an exception to my normal routine, with the recognition that sometimes, food is about socializing, special occasions, and taste instead of nutrition. I keep these “cheats” very rare for two reasons. First, I savor these moments much more when they come along and am really satisfied by a smaller amount. 🙂 Second, I totally screwed up my metabolism with years of eating disorders, dieting, and over-exercising, so I don’t like to confuse my system with foods that do not support the new healthy place I’ve reached.
That being said, I think every person’s body has a “set-point” ratio at which it is happy and optimal, and this is the range that I have found works for me after years of tweaking. For others, the ratio is likely to be different. I know the “fat” seems high and the “carb” seems low based on conventional thinking, so I’ll try to provide more information about the why as I go along. For a super quick background, this infographic provides the basics and is pretty spot on.
I’ll also post more on what I eat later (including a sample day of “easy” and delicious food without complicated preparations), but I find the term “diet” constrictive. I don’t eat grains, dairy (for now), or sugars. But I am not “low-carb” per se – I eat fruits and winter squash, sweet potatos, etc, but avoid processed meats and cheeses. I am not exactly paleo either – I don’t eat honey or maple syrup, and I avoid foods that cause an inflammatory response for me (as discovered through the ALCAT test), even though they’re “paleo.” Instead of finding a label, I just try to eat real food and avoid things that cause problems for me. I source most of my food locally at the Union Square Farmers Market. Fruits and Veggies are from all organic vendors (usually spray free – the vendors will tell you if they’ve had to spray crops with substances allowed under organic protocols.) Meat is mainly from Grazin Angus Acres (best meat I’ve ever tasted) or 2 other stands, and is all Certified Humane, grass-fed and finished, and delicious! Basically paleo, with a few extra restrictions based on what I know about my body. All recipes on this blog will comport with those general ideas.
I take a slew of supplements, all geared toward specific, tested deficiencies, or prevention of particular diseases. Of course, its hard to tell what the specific cause of any improved feeling of health is (is it diet? sleep? any one particular vitamin???) – but my philosophy is that if I can afford it and I feel better while taking it, I include it in my repertoire of health. I think food is the ultimate source for all types of nutrients, so I try foremost to increase my consumption of foods that are high in the vitamins/minerals/etc that I think are important. But, getting high concentrations of these sources is often hard and requires a ton of advance planning to maintain on a daily basis. To make up for any gaps, I take supplements from brands with no additives that I trust (Solgar is a good, affordable one, and Onnit makes some amazing products as well). Since this is already getting lengthy, I’ll provide information in upcoming posts (by disease or purpose) on what supplements I take and why, with the science to back up their efficacy.
As with nutrition, my fitness understanding is an ever-evolving philosophy – always moving in the direction of optimization. It was very very very hard for me to realize that less is more. But quality over quantity truly has been key for me.
I used to be in the gym twice a day, 6-7 days a week. Every workout was 100%. And I stopped seeing improvement. So, I recalibrated. The primary shift for me was giving my body 48 hours to recover from a particularly hard workout – so if I lift for legs on Saturday, Sunday is a legs-free day. I can lift for arms, back, do a light, slow recovery run to get blood flowing into my legs, or do yoga to stretch the muscles back out, but I back off immediately if my legs feel heavy or tired. I still give my all in every hard workout, but I do less of them – and I’ve seen a real shift in my strength and muscle tone.
I tend to lift heavy or run/swim/bike in hard intervals when I am working out. I get in 1-2 cycles, 1-2 swims, and 1-2 runs (sometimes in “bricks”, usually in 20-30 min stints), and do no other “cardio.” I lift 2-3 a week – once for legs, once for back and shoulders, and sometimes I throw in an arm day (ironically, my arms are the most cut part of my body…). To avoid a cortisol spike or a really severe depletion of my muscles, I avoid more than 3-4 super-endurance workouts (distances over an hour) a month. The rest of my fitness is about recovery – I include 2-3 yoga classes a week, 2-3 Nalini Method classes to strengthen my smaller muscle groups and improve balance, I use the Trigger Point Performance swath of toys to get rid of myofacial knots, and I take long peaceful walks.
This topic could really be divided into sleep and other relaxation, since both have proven crucial.
I have only recently discovered the benefits of sleep. After years of being told to sleep more, I finally gave in (after getting to the point that I could only sleep 2-3 hours at a time and discovering that I had EXTREMELY elevated cortisol). This is not ideal. There is no benefit to pushing your body to the point of being broken to discover the importance of sleep. Alas, here I am. For the past 2 months, I have gotten between 7.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night, and am almost always in bed between 10-11 pm. The shift is amazing. I am a Lumosity fanatic, and the change in my performance on a good sleep day (as determined by my Sleep Cycle and FitBit tracking) v a crappy sleep day are remarkable.
I have also added meditation, long walks through Central Park, breathing techniques, and a “cocktail” of cortisol-reducing foods and supplements to repair my body. The results have again been nothing short of incredible. I will devote entire posts to this later, but suffice it say that I am now a convert and believe that sleep and relaxation are imperative to optimal health. (Thanks Gregg Cook, for saying this every time I see you, even if it took years for me to listen.)
So now that you’ve stayed with me for a lot of background that set up the basics of Steaks, Squats and Sundresses [3 of my top loves], I’ll provide the recipe to perhaps the best thing I’ve ever made.
Saffron-Shrimp Stew with Seared Monkfish
Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 1 hour
* I normally don’t measure exact specifications, but this is a close estimate of amounts I used.
1/2 T macadamia oil (olive oil for nut free)
1/2 bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 onion (or 1/4 onion and 1 shallot), chopped
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 clove black garlic, thinly sliced (available in NYC at Eataly or online here)
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (I use this one)
1 tsp Hungarian Half-Sharp Paprika (I use this one)
1 tsp fresh rosemary
1.5 c shrimp stock (homemade is best – my version pictured below was made with shrimp shells, langoustine heads, leeks, onions, carrot, celery, and garlic)
2-3 heirloom tomatoes
1/2 tsp saffron threads mixed in 2 T hot water
2 T almond flour (can be omitted for nut-free)
1.5 c shrimp stock
1 lb shrimp, cleaned and deveined (I added 2 langoustine as well)
1 lb filet of monkfish, patted dry and sprinkled generously with salt
(1) Slice vegetables in food processor (or by hand) into 1/8 inch slices. Saute peppers, onions, and garlic in macadamia oil for 5 min, until browned.
(2) Add paprika and rosemary and saute 1 more minute.
(3) Add 1.5 c shrimp stock, tomatoes, saffron and chives, and cook in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes (or on the stove top for about 35-40 minutes).
(4) Uncover and add almond flour and additional stock. Simmer for another 10-20 minutes.
(5) While stock is simmering, heat up second pan on high. Sear monkfish skin side down for 5-7 minutes, then flip and cook an additional 5-10 minutes. Note: monkfish will “curl,” so you may have to use a metal spatula to really press it back down and straight throughout the cooking process.
(6) Add shrimp to broth, cook for one minute, and shut off heat.
(7) Divide broth into four dishes. Cut the monkfish into four sections and place in the center of the bowl.
Serve as is, or with parsley and chives to garnish.
(I promise better photos to come – these were taken without the blog in mind!)