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The Shocking Power of Prepping Your Meals

The Shocking Power of Prepping Your Meals

It costs too much. Takes too much time. I don’t eat that poorly. Blah blah blah.

Over the years, I’ve heard these tired excuses over and over again from athletes and non-athletes alike when it comes to getting their nutrition under control. There’s this persistent attitude and belief that our food choices are out of our control, and that we must be resigned to them and the subsequent ill effects (bad skin, poor health outcomes, added medical costs, etc.) that happen as a result.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s possible to eat much, much better while also saving money and time. Not only all that, but you can finally take control of your nutrition once and for all.

How is this possible?

With the unbelievable power of doing meal prep.

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Here are just a few of the things that happen when you start planning and preparing your meals:

You grow confident in your ability to eat well.

The thing you will feel the most won’t necessarily be the cost savings, or the weight loss (or gain, depending on your goals in the kitchen). It will be that burst of pride that comes from eating well, consistently.

Meal prep will show you that you can master your nutrition habits.

Planning and prepping gives us a sense of optimism and a feeling of control that is lacking when we subject our nutritional intake according to our cravings and how we are feeling at the moment that hunger strikes.

Being freed from the constant need to be on alert to eat well is exhausting, and is one of the reasons that we falter when it comes to making good food choices.

Meal prep makes things simpler and gives you the confidence in knowing that you have more power and control over your urges and diet than you ever thought possible.

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You start eating better.

Planning your meals means that you are purposely eating.

Your meals are designed and prepared with a goal in mind, and not just to satiate a ravenous and sometimes ill-tempered hunger. Your meals aren’t prepared according to your cravings, or how you feel, or what kind of day you are having, but in consideration of what you want to achieve with your diet.

After all, when planning your meals you are rational and objective, unlike in the moments where we are starving and we are having a crappy day.

What happens next will show itself in a myriad of ways. For athletes who want to clean up their diet, this means faster recovery and better workouts (and is why it’s one of my top nutrition tips for athletes). For the rest of us, it means having more energy and maintaining a healthier weight.

Whatever our goals are, when we plan to eat well we are much more likely to succeed.

You save money.

As someone who is guilty of ordering pizza or sushi after a big workout, this was especially noticeable. The savings account grew by a stunning and slightly embarrassing amount of money over the course of my first couple weeks of meal prepping.

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Yeah, the first time you go to Costco to buy all the supplies you will need in bulk will be a kick to the wallet, but when you factor in all of the fast food, going out for meals, and last minute trips to the grocery stores the cost savings multiply quickly.

Don’t believe me? Start writing out how much you are spending each day in your workout log and contrast it when you are in full-blown meal prep mode. The difference will stun you.

You save time.

In addition to saving some of that sweet, sweet moola, you will also reap a savings in time. Not only in meal preparation, but from going out for food, and repeated trips to the grocery store.

Yes, there is an upfront time investment. The big trip to the grocery store, and then a couple of hours to bang out a week’s worth of meals.

But the return comes in fast and heavy from there on out. Consider that if you make yourself 21 meals on a Sunday afternoon, you are cutting the meal prep time from every single one of those individual meals. Not only the prep time, but also the standing before the fridge and the texts between you and your partner (“What should we do for dinner?”).

As an added bonus, if you pick up everything you need on your list once a week you’ll save yourself additional trips to the grocery store over the week. Standing in grocery store line-ups is no one’s idea of a good time, so let’s chalk this up as a big win.

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You are less stressed out.

Eating shouldn’t be stressful, and the act itself isn’t necessarily—but deciding what to eat often is. We are regularly pitted in a battle of what we want to eat (Pizza! Burgers!) versus what we should be eating (Salad! Fish!).

Even though it seems like a trivial thing, these types of decisions deplete our willpower levels over the course of the day. It’s why, at the end of the day, when we stumble in after a long day at work and a hard workout that we are so susceptible to making poor food decisions.

Meal prepping removes willpower from the equation altogether, freeing you up to wield it against other the other pressing matters of the day (Should I go to bed early? Should I go workout?).

The Takeaway

As a kid, I swam competitively, and for me this meant two-a-day swim practices bracketing a full day of school. I learned the power of meal prep in those moments out of necessity—if I didn’t pack myself a bunch of meals for the day, I wouldn’t be eating.

Little did I know that this experience would help encourage better nutrition habits later in life.

This Sunday, try planning and preparing a few meals for your week. You certainly don’t need to start out by cooking a week’s worth of meals if you’ve never tried it before, but you should at the very least try cooking for a couple days worth of food.

Your time, your wallet, and your health thank you in advance.

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Last Updated on June 18, 2018

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

Video Summary

Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

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Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

    Sit Properly

    If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

    Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

      Credit: StayWow

      Stand Up More

      Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

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      Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

      Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

      Or get a standing desk.

      One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

      Exercise for Lower Back Pain

      Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

      But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

      The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

      Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

      Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

      This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

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      Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

      Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

      There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

      Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

      I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

      Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

      If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

      Where to Start

      The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

      Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

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      If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

      Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

      Keep a straight back.

      Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

      Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

      I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

      If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

      Stay Away From the Back Pain League

      Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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