7 healthy ways to use peanut butter

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Growing up in the ’90s, peanut butter was both loved and feared. Reese’s candies – both the candy-coated pieces and the PB-filled cups – were the holy grail of every Halloween basket. But as nut allergy awareness grew, we were prohibited from bringing these top treats to school. The PB&J – a kid-approved classic thanks to its sweet meets savoury flavours – was banned from the cafeteria, causing a crisis for lunch-packing parents throughout North America. Peanut butter was still a household staple, but kids got used to tasting it a lot less frequently.

So maybe it’s no surprise that peanut butter has been dethroned as this generation’s nut butter par excellence. If you’ve been on Instagram lately, you might’ve noticed that almond butter is the new PB – in healthy eating circles, at least. Cashew butter is gaining ground, hazelnut butter is the dark horse of the pack, and peanut butter… well, it’s hanging in there. The fact of the matter is, almond butter and peanut butter are incredibly similar as far as nutritional values are concerned. Each wins a few points, but when it all comes down to it, the differences are pretty negligible.

So today, on what the internet has decided to name “peanut butter day” (I don’t make the rules, I just adapt my content calendar accordingly), here are a few awesome recipes to help you fall back in love with good old fashioned PB.

  1. Livia’s Kitchen – Raw peanut butter and jam slice
  2. Deliciously Ella – Peanut butter and honey flapjacks
  3. Nigella Lawson – Sesame peanut noodles
  4. Emily Farris for Food & Wine – Kale salad with sesame dressing
  5. Minimalist Baker – Crispy peanut tofu and cauliflower rice stir fry
  6. SouthernKissed – Peanut butter banana gluten-free pancakes
  7. Fit Foodie Finds – Healthy peanut butter cup smoothie

I should warn you in advance, a few of these are damn addictive. (See: Nigella noodles.)

Feel free to add your favourite peanut butter recipes in the comments below.

 

 

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You can haz (waistline friendly) cheezburger

Hello cheeseburger!

Cider optional.

To me, this time of year will always be barbecue season. I love those humid Ontario summer evenings, shucking corn on the back porch with my dad while our beers sweat bullets and 60s rock tunes float through the screen door. About 40% of the time, he’ll come in from the grill shaking his head and apologising for overcooking the food (after getting distracted by me and my mom, obviously, but he’d never blame us). But nothing could detract from those dinners. They are the best.

So you can imagine how jazzed I was to receive a “healthy BBQ options” assignment a couple months ago. See, my family has a history of heart issues and “healthy” is all we ever ate. (To this day buying butter feels like an illicit activity – we never kept it in the house.) Recipes? Oh, I’ve got recipes.

Extra lean burgers stuffed with goat cheese.

Extra lean burgers stuffed with goat cheese.

Except, as it turned out, my editor and I hit a bit of a speed bump. If there’s one thing I can’t stand in fitness writing, it’s the term “guilt free.” Because (surprise!) guilt and food should never, ever, ever go together. Often you’ll see it as a buzz word, or a lazy way to avoid repetitive adjectives. Whatever. That term still reinforces a ridiculously unhealthy attitude. If I hear one more woman (sorry ladies) mention cutting out carbs, I’m gonna scream. YOU CANNOT BURN FAT WITHOUT CARBS. That’s why you don’t go to the gym in the morning on an empty stomach. It’s a waste of your effing time. You. Won’t. Burn. Fat. 

Aaaannnyway. As I was saying. Guilt. Even PTs do it – when I was working in a gym earlier this year, the dudes started ragging on me for eating dried fruit. Too much sugar, they protested. Straight into fat. This sort of paranoia goes hand in hand with guilt. Without even taking into account my own training regimen or the fact that as a woman, I need a higher body fat percentage to be healthy, they tried to guilt me out of eating dried cherries with my almonds.

Newsflash: dried cherries are effing delicious. Especially with almonds.

So I kept eating them. And sometimes I eat French cheese with an appallingly high milk fat content. And sometimes I eat cupcakes loaded with buttercream icing. And sometimes I eat sourdough toast with sweet creamy butter. And I never feel guilty about any of it.

Yes, that's brie.

Yes, that’s brie.

Because at the end of the day, a positive attitude is the most important fitness choice you can make. One day of decadent eating is not nearly as bad, IMHO, as playing hooky from the gym. Skipping the gym means you’re not pumped for your workout. It means exercise has become a chore. You might consume a lot more calories on your “cheat day” than you’d burn during that missed gym session, but if you’re still psyched to hit the leg press the next day, then who gives a … well, you know.

So make good choices. Eat burgers, but make them with extra lean ground beef and simple seasoning (worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt and pepper – or dijon mustard and a Moroccan spice mix – play with it and have fun). Make your own pizza, but base it on whole wheat dough and load it with veggies and lean protein. Love your food. Learn about good fats, the benefits of fibre, and what makes a complete protein. Take care of your body.

And never feel guilty about a freaking cupcake.

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Beauty and training like a beast

Have you ever heard the expression “less is more”?

In general, I’m not too fond of it – surely with most good things more is more. More salted caramel chocolates. More Moroccan mint green teas. More reps in your squat challenge. I do not want less (or fewer, technically) of any of those!

But when it comes to your beauty regime, I’m all for “less is more.”

  1. It’s faster
  2. It’s cheaper

And really, those are all the reasons I need. So today I thought I’d share some of my favourite “less is more” beauty tips – specifically, tips for us gals who get sweaty on the regular.

About 8 months ago, I tried venturing into the world of “no-‘poo.” It has nothing to do with constipation and everything to do with not spending thirty-plus quid on hair products every month. The traditional method involves cleansing your tresses with baking soda and conditioning with apple cider vinegar. It’s very cheap, very environmentally friendly, and very sure to leave you smelling like a pickle.

I was not a fan.

Also, my hair felt kind of nasty. Especially because you’re only meant to do this cleansing ritual a couple times a week (and eventually something like once per month – though by then surely you’d be used to smelling pickled?) and I was in the midst of my PT training.

You really do not want to know what my hair smelled like in October. Srsly.

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So I gave in to the convenience of Kerastase and my hair was restored to its (un)natural pretty chemical smell. But this time I tried to stretch the time between washes to three days. This is seriously inadvisable if you train hard daily and work alongside breathing humans.

Then a truly miraculous thing happened. I found “co-washing.” Oh for f’s sake, take your minds out of the gutter. It’s washing your hair with conditioner. Cheap conditioner. And it’s brilliant.

Silicone-free conditioner (this is important; silicones are genius because they detangle your hair, but inadvisable for co-washing because they do so by coating the strands) does some kind of magical thing with ions and cleansing properties. Technically it’s more science than magic but I can’t be arsed to find a decent explanation. Anyway, it works. And it’s gentle enough on your hair to do every couple of days.

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Why is this awesome? Because it means you can strip the sweat layer off your scalp without stripping the good stuff from your hair. And don’t get me wrong, shampoo is not the devil. I still normal wash my hair (and follow with siliconey conditioner!!) every week or two. But personally, I can’t do that every time I train or all of my hair will break off. For reals. They call it a chemical haircut.

But wait, there’s more!! I also spent mad cash on skincare. For years – years!! – despite all the hype about “cleanser is cleanser, just don’t soap your face,” how do you ignore the promise of pretty packaging? That one brightens! That one refreshes!! That one is Dermalogica!!! I am easily bought.

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So it was terribly ironic to discover the cleansing powers of… water. Within a week, the difference in hydration led to so many freaking “glow” comments I nearly flipped out with womb fear. (Not actually. But the glow comments were a thing. I have nice friends and clients.)

Anyway, the moral of this post is that being lazy and not spending money is actually really good for your hair and skin. Tune in for my next crunchy beauty segment, wherein I will extoll the virtues of coconut oil.

How I got here

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. You might say that the most important task of a personal trainer is motivation, and if I’m honest, I’ve had a lot of trouble just motivating myself lately.

Anyone who knew me growing up is probably perplexed to learn that I qualified as a PT. I was the editor of the school paper, not an athlete. In fact, I quit gym class ASAFP to start picking up advanced humanities courses. Back then I figured I’d be making a name for myself with The Economist by now. The reality for my generation is a little more grim.

My situation as an under-employed, over-qualified, MA-holding twenty-something in crisis is not unique or special. Earlier this year, a Macleans article on this subject made examples of two of my old colleagues from undergrad. I know much more talented people in much more dire straits than I.

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I was hit by the fitness craze while waiting for my work visa to come through last year. With a very slow stream of freelance writing and communications work, my days were free to spend two or three hours at the gym. Of course it became a passion: I was an overachiever without anywhere else to achieve. Longing for a chance to get out of the house and pick up some supplementary income, I signed up for a personal training course last fall.

There was a bright, shining moment when it looked as if the fitness thing would all become irrelevant. I was offered a job, a full-time position to be created just for me with a former freelance client. The offer was revoked the very next day. It left me reeling, but I licked my wounds and continued freelancing – though not for that client.

I’ve now held a valid UK work permit for over a year. Ironically, it’s the category for “highly skilled” individuals. I wouldn’t normally dispute that label, but after sending my CV to hundreds – or by now, maybe even thousands – of would-be employers and only getting one interview for a full-time post…

It has been a very humbling experience.

What next? The trickle of freelance work continues, and my casual position managing communications for a small beauty studio gets busy every once in a while. I still send out CVs, still keep myself open to new personal training clients, but making ends meet is a constant struggle.

For now, I’m keeping busy (and motivated) with my own projects. There’s not a lot of money in it, but it’s better than wishing for the glory days of organising charity coffee houses and editing the school paper. After all, literary nerds aren’t supposed to peak in high school. Right?

Nigella’s Black Rice Magic

So, Nigella Lawson is a goddess.

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Photo: Matthew Shave, Stylist, December 2012

And while I tend to turn to her for decadent occasions, one recipe jumped out at me during her recent Nigellissima series. Behold.

I’ve yet to make the recipe exactly as called for. (For one thing, my Tesco never seems to stock fresh marjoram.) But that’s the beauty of it: you can cut back on the oil, substitute limes for lemons, try using coconut oil, serve it over spelt pasta instead of rice – go crazy.

This has been my dinner the last two nights because it’s dead cheap to make. You can pick up a squid and a handful of prawns for under £1 at the fish counter, black wild rice is a personal pantry staple, a package of three red chilli peppers is £0.60 and a lemon or lime will set you back a whopping £0.30.

My latest version combines black lentils with black rice for a quality protein punch. (Remember, you always want to consider protein value – lentils on their own won’t give you the amino acids you need for muscle repair. In this dish, of course, the seafood meets your requirements – but most of us can do with a little more protein!!) I skipped the parsley, salt and marjoram, but doubled the garlic.

Ringing in less than £2 and taking only 7 minutes to prepare and cook (once the rice is ready), this is my new go-to dinner. Give it a go!

Thanks, Nigella!!

On the literary side of things…

Happy Monday, campers!

Just a couple of literary announcements today. First of all, huge good luck wishes going out to anyone submitting to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. If you’ve been back and forth about this one, there’s not much time left – it closes TONIGHT.

Another great opportunity for those on the fence is the Dear Lucky Agent contest found here. This round is open to writers of YA and Sci Fi, so get your submissions in by the end of the month if you want to be considered.

Did anyone out there do National Novel Writing Month? I’ve seen a few mentions of writers starting the editing process recently and phew – I don’t envy that position! It’s hard to stop editing and just leave a manuscript to rest sometimes. I find myself deleting and replacing the same commas repeatedly some days and just know it’s time for a workout break.

After hitting a particularly emotional point in my novel, I’m leaving it for a few days. I wrote several of the later chapters over a year ago and have been editing the whole manuscript as it goes into one document for friends to read. It’s really near the end of that process and keen though I am to get feedback on the denouement, I’m not up to editing the last few chapters at the moment. The next one definitely has to be more comedic…

Good night everyone! And if you’re writing tonight – good luck!!

Take a load off

Hey campers. Just a short one today as I’m EXHAUSTED.

Hands up if you’re aware that hanging heavy bags off your body is a big posture no-no.

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I can feel my left shoulder rising up as I write this – it’s not a good feeling. After carrying a laptop and a massive kit bag around London for two days straight, my upper body feels almost as if I’ve given myself major DOMS.

In future posts, we’ll have a chance to talk about posture correction and all that good stuff. Today I just want to address the pain side of things.

One of the tutors on my PT course liked to joke that as a personal trainer, “I give injuries – I don’t fix them.”

Luckily, we are pretty well versed in preventing them. We’ll wait until I’m more coherent to talk about why and how to strengthen your back and shoulders to withstand the everyday. But to tide you over until then:

  1. Never underestimate the power of a warm-up. If you’ve got something heavy to carry, try to get your arms and shoulders warmed up first. Think shoulder rolls, a few wall press-ups, big arm circles. By pumping warm blood to the muscles and ligaments you need to engage, you’ll lessen your chances of injury.
  2. Know your limits. Simple enough. Carrying stuff is a feat of strength and endurance. That puts a very definite limit on the load you should try to carry.
  3. Stretch out. If you carry a heavy bag to work, try to stretch out your arms, chest and shoulders once you’ve set it down.

And of course, remember that your body needs rest and recovery. In my case, that means some much needed sleep.

Good night!

Even trainers need trainers

I work in a gym with a lot of PTs. Like, a lot. Think 2:1 ratio of us to members at off-peak times.

Lucky off-peak people, eh?

Our looming presence definitely makes some members a little wary, though. Here are some things you need to know about the majority of personal trainers I’ve known or worked with:

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  1. The gym is our happy place. Even the less sociable among us come out of our shells with weights and rowing machines hanging around. So we really like to talk to people during their workouts. Think of it this way: we talk to people during our workouts. We assume y’all are the same.
  2. We consider ourselves fitness professionals. If we see someone doing something that may cause harm, it’s our duty to intervene. If we see someone doing something utterly useless and they’re willing to play with us for 5 minutes or so? When we don’t have clients, that’s why we’re there.
  3. No one offering you a free session expects you to become a client. You’re giving us the chance to try that cool new thing we read about, to hang out with someone who frequents the gym (see point 1), and to help you help yourself (see point 2).
  4. However, we will offer you the option to keep training with us. And since our rent to the gym is substantially more than the rent on our homes, we do have to mention the whole money thing.

Unfortunately, there are times when you approach a member and see their minds go straight to number 4. To which I just want to say, HEY! POINT 1!!!

At the end of the day, it’s usually our least favourite part of the job. And if I could train people for free all day long and still buy groceries, I would. The reality is, we pay to be in the gym – not the other way around. And the reason they’ve stocked the place with so many of us isn’t just because we give them more cash in a month than you do in a year (so feel free to gripe about your membership fees, because we DO totally get where you’re coming from). It’s because you’re simply not getting the most out of yourself or the gym without a trainer.

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We know our stuff. (We paid a lot for that, too.) If we’re doing something that looks like that article in Shape, fair dues. I read Shape. There’s good stuff in there. But we also know why a client needs to do that exercise in week 6 instead of week 1, and we’ve tweaked the reps, and we’ve decided it works better as part of a super set, etc. Are you still gonna get something from that article in Shape? Heck yes! And credit to you for giving so much dedication to your routine. That’s what started us down the path to PTing.

We also work you harder. Any PT worth his or her salt is humble enough to admit this is also true of our kind. Yes, fitness fans: your trainer probably has a trainer. They push our limits and motivate us through plateaus and change our goals every so often. Even though we’ve been training for years and know our stuff inside and out, we need help once, twice, three times per week. 

So when we ask you to keep training with us, it’s not with £ (or $) signs in our eyes. The money talk is business, and it’s an afterthought. We do it because our minds are already buzzing with exercises we think you’ll like. We do it because we can already visualise results you can reach in half the time you ever dreamed of – results that may have stumped you for years. We do it because we like your personality and want to hear (between sets – we will be pushing you, after all) how things resolved with your boss/partner/neighbours.

And the fact that we get paid for it? I guess that’s what they call job satisfaction.

Keep it up!

Phew!

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I just spent two days on a course with about 50 other PTs over in Marble Arch. Probably the longest any of us have tried sitting still in a very long time! 

Of course, I’ve been researching future courses since arriving home. The opportunities for lifelong learning are a huge advantage of the fitness industry. Variety is the spice of life for trainers and for our clients.

How are your goals going, for anyone who’s taken up my 4-week challenge or set fitness-related resolutions for 2013? Are we feeling good about that timeline? I’m getting nervous after having a new photo taken for my trainer profile today. I sat there on a big old Swiss ball, boxing gloves propped against one foot and resting a medicine ball on the opposite knee (as you do) and suddenly had a panicked realisation that I hate being photographed. 

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Oops. But my shoot is part of a project for a cause very close to my heart, and there’s no guarantee at this point of ending up in the publication. I’m just excited to have been chosen for the first round – and for the chance to absolutely kill this challenge!

You might remember that the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest opened yesterday. The deadline for entries is January 27, so aspiring authors, be warned! They really do test you on the hardest part first. Pitches suck. End of.

Whatever you’re trying to achieve this month, keep at it. We’re halfway there. (I’m gonna stop before this turns into a Bon Jovi karaoke situation.)

Good night all!

Push it

Hey guys. Wanna have a dance party with me? Let’s go.

I’ve got some news. It’s really exciting but also really nerve-wracking, so I figured we could all use a bit of a pulse raiser before I spill.

I have a photo shoot in four weeks!!!

Totally unexpected, right? I’ll be revealing more details as the date draws nearer, but it’s my first proper shoot (“fitness modelling” for a PT at my old gym in need of promo shots doesn’t count) and I am so jazzed, you would not even believe.

In the fitness industry, competitions and photo shoots are really great excuses to push yourself. A one-day event provides a great framework for goal-setting because you know exactly how much time you’ll have to achieve a certain set of results. And one-offs lend themselves really nicely to periodisation: your diet and exercise regime in the week – and days – leading up to the event will be drastically different from your regular training habits.

You pretty much have to outsmart nature in the end.

If you want to look like Dita for a day, you pretty much have to outsmart nature in the end.

When I write a new programme for a client, the four week mark is usually the end of “phase one,” or the timeline for achieving a short-term goal. My own timing, you’ll notice, only allows for a short-term plan. So as we proceed through the next month, I’ll be pushing myself in new ways (without taking it to the extreme, of course).

For anyone who wants to see how much they can achieve (safely) in four weeks, this is an invitation to get on board. Are you ready for a challenge?

Let’s go!