Fitness, Wellness

Gym Wear Edit

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This post is long requested by the insta fam, so here it is finally. My workout routine is quite simple, so inevitably my gym wear is too. I do not have separate clothes for running and training. My outfits fit the bill for both. I spend approximately 40-50 minutes in the gym three times a week. More on my full (very simple) routine later. First let me walk you through my workout wear essentials.

NIKE bottle

Credits: https://shop.nordstrom.com

Water Bottle

Before I list my favorite gym wear, let me say that a BPA-free water bottle with a straw is an absolute essential. I prefer straws because they make it easy to drink water on the treadmill and cross trainer. In the past, I have used bottles with caps and such, and I find that with a built-in straw, I don’t have to pause or slowdown my running program. I use this bottle from Nike, which is BPA free and contains a straw for easy drinking.

Adidas Bra

Credits: https://www.zalando.nl

Sports Bra

A well-fitting sports bra is an definite must in my book. It makes a ton of difference in how you perform. Previously I used a bra from Lululemon and experienced back pains due to the lack of support it provided. Also, the material was too thick for my liking. Now I wear the Adidas Performance Techfit bra, and I have never felt better during my workout.

The mesh-jersey material is thin, airy, and sweat-wicking. The fit is snug, which makes running significantly more fun than a bra that is loose fitting. Instead of coming in the generic XS, S, M… sizes, the techfit bra comes in separate band and cup sizes, hence finding the perfect fit is easier. Out of the sports bras I have tried on and bought, this is by far my favourite! If that changes in the future, I will update this post and my insta story.

To find the perfect sports bra, I would suggest looking for a) a snug fit [try doing a few jumps to assess this] b) a band that rests on the same level all the way around your chest and does not ride up in the back c) the presence of any scratchy seams and/or tags that can cause irritation during a workout.

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Trainers

A good quality pair of trainers is as important as a well-fitting sports bra to achieve a great workout. Depending on what type of workout (weight-lifting, running, aerobics, etc) you do, the shoes you opt for may be slightly different. Considering I spend most of my gym time running, I like to wear shoes that are most suited to running.

The pair I have been using for two years now (time for a replacement!) is from Nike’s Free Run Flyknit range. It is foot-hugging, light-weight, breathable, and ideal for short runs. The only aspect I do not like as much is the relatively thin sole of the shoe. When I will purchase a new pair of running shoes, I will look for a style that offers more support than my current one.

Tops & Bottoms

For this category, I am a fan of Nike’s Dri-FIT range. I find the Dri-FIT material a) provides ample support for all types of physical activities b) is stretchy enough to be comfortable c) is sweat-wicking d) is opaque to allow bending without being transparent. I also find that the Dri-FIT range is offered at a great price point and many different colors and designs for anyone looking to have more fun with their gym outfits.

The tights and top that I use are pictured above, and available here and here respectively. The tights come with a drawstring waist, which I initially thought was odd but have grown to love overtime as it prevents the tights from slipping and sliding (people with small waists would know what I mean).

I do not like wearing shorts in the gym because I am a germaphobe. I find the most flattering tights styles to be high-waisted (up to my belly button) and 7/8th in length (slightly above the ankle). The high waisted styles also ensure that you can bend and sit as you please without worrying about the tights riding down. When you try a pair of tights, also look for any excess fabric around the crotch–that would be the reason for a potential camel toe and ain’t nobody got time for that.

Socks

I like ankle socks that are made from synthetic materials. Natural materials like cotton can cause scratchy, irritated skin during movement. The material also has to be sweat-wicking and thin for a lighter feel on the feet. Some people prefer thick socks for more cushioning, so if that is your preference, you do you. My favorite pair of socks is this.

Care for Gym Clothes

Lastly, I thought I would also include a few tips on caring for workout clothes. After every workout session, I throw my clothes in the washer on a gentle, cold cycle that lasts about an hour. In addition to the normal detergent, I also use a small amount of the Dettol Antiseptic Liquid. Fitness centers carry so many germs considering the number of daily visitors. Not everyone practices the best hygiene, so I hope using an antiseptic liquid rids my gym clothes of potential viruses and bacterias.

Bonus tip? Keep a dryer sheet in your gym bag or whichever bag you use to carry your gym essentials and your clothes will always smell fresh. 🙂

I hope this post was helpful! I am planning a full post on my workout routine, so keep a look out for that. Meanwhile if you have any questions, feel to comment below, email me, or send a direct message on my Instagram. Have a great rest of the Sunday and a fabulous week ahead!

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Skincare, Wellness

Why I Discarded My Skincare Products

Not many people do, but I enjoyed my best skin during my teen years. I never got acne and I was too lazy to slather any products on my skin. I washed my face with the same soap that I washed my hands with and that was that.

Fast forward to turning 16 and moving to the US, I discovered a whole new world of skincare: cleansers, moisturizers, oils, wipes, serums, and whatnot. I gaped at drugstore aisles stacked with “promising” products, but was still largely unaffected by the marketing because I had no skin concerns to treat.

That changed in my senior year of undergrad for two reasons. Number one: I got acne for the first time in my life because of the stress of being *potentially* unemployed after graduation (silly me). Number two: I discovered the world of YouTube beauty gurus who made me aware of skincare “problems” I never previously considered, for example “pores”–aren’t we just supposed to have pores?

Top the stress of finding employment with the stress of planning my wedding, which was scheduled six months after my graduation, and you have a manic 22-year-old trying to do it all. In those months of vulnerability, I broke my bank buying every product the YouTube beauty gurus swore by. Nothing changed the state of my skin. I remember sitting with my mom and friends with an egg white mask on my face a day before the wedding. In retrospect, that is hilarious.

After the wedding, I moved to Amsterdam and finally did what I should have in the first place for treating acne. I saw a dermatologist. Within a month of proper treatment, my acne was gone. Phew. At that point I should have stopped using the products I was using, but I did not in hopes to treat hyper-pigmentation left from the acne.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year when I was diagnosed with a rare skin illness. It was clear that the illness was not prompted by the products I was using, nonetheless it made me curious to learn about what makes up the products I slather on my skin day and night. I was startled to find so many questionable chemicals in my everyday skincare products. I asked myself if those chemicals were doing anything significant for my skin, and the answer was a resounding no. So, I decided to throw out nearly all of my skincare products.

A list of all products I have thrown out (and why) is on my Instagram story highlights for anyone interested. In this post, I want to share a more general overview of chemicals that I found in my skincare products and the resources I used to identify those chemicals. There is a ton of conflicting information online, so let’s try and walk through it step by step in this post?

Here are the most common potentially harmful chemicals that I found in all of my skincare (each name is linked to the Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working Group):

1. Sodium laurel sulphate

*most common foaming agent in personal care products *known skin irritant *read more here and here 

2. Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, and more)

*common preservative *strongly evidenced to disrupt the human endocrine system among other concerns *read more here  and here

3. Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs)

*mixture of various compounds *used as an emollient and emulsifier *often contaminated with toxic impurities like Ethylene Oxide and 1.4 Dioxane, which are strongly linked to cancer * read more here

4. Fragrance/Perfume

*mixture of “secret” chemicals used to scent personal care products *linked to allergies, immune toxicity, carrying carcinogens, dermatitis, and more *read more here and here

5. Urea

*used as a preservative *although a natural compound, most urea used in cosmetics is man-made in labs *releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen *read more here

6. Silicones (ending with cone or siloxane)

*not necessarily toxic to the human body, but proven to increase absorption of ingredients that may be toxic *pore-clogging *non-bio degradable, so toxic to the environment

7. Propylene Glycol

*linked to organ system toxicity *proven to increase absorption of ingredients that may be toxic *classified skin irritant *read more here and here

Several studies conclude that chemicals like sulphates, PEGs, parabens, and fragrance are harmful, whereas others declare that those chemicals–as long as used in small amounts–are not harmful.

What are small amounts though? At least, I do not know. And in all honestly, most of the products I discarded had questionable chemicals listed within the first six ingredients. The ingredients of a label are listed according to their concentration in the product, so first listed ingredient is supposed to have the highest quantity and the last ingredient the lowest.

Oftentimes brands hype up the product by one miraculous natural ingredient, making us believe that the ingredient largely makes up the product. For example, one product I discarded is the Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. If you see the picture on the left from Kiehl’s website, the key ingredients  of the cream are Antarcticine and Imperata Cylindrica. Now look at the picture on the right which is the list of full ingredients. The “key ingredients” come much after questionable chemicals. Why do we need a larger amount of chemicals to preserve a smaller amount of natural ingredients?

Similarly, oftentimes the packaging of a product claims it is 100% natural or organic. Considering the packaging in the beauty industry is not regulated, those claims do not have to be true. It is therefore important to check the list of ingredients to validate the claims on the packaging.

One brand that I am conflicted about is Lush. I have loved using their products. They are marketed as if they are “straight from the tree,” an insta follower of mine Sundus aptly puts. That is unfortunately not true. If you look at the ingredients of a Lush product, you will find parabens. For example, this pictures contains the list of ingredients for Lush’s Sympathy for Skin body lotion.

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It contains four questionable ingredients: Triethanolamine, Methyparaben, Fragrance, and Propylparaben. The Skin Deep database of the Environmental Working group classifies these ingredients as toxic both to the environment and the human body. Lush claims that it uses those parabens in quantities that are not harmful. That may or may not be true. I wish I had a definitive answer. I have not thrown out my Lush body lotion because the chemicals appear towards the end of the ingredient list, but I am not sure if I will repurchase my Lush products that contain controversial chemicals.

One reason why I am wary of the “quantity” argument is that one product may contain the quantity suitable for daily use, but let’s be real. How many products do we use on a daily basis? Far too many! The cumulative amount of ingredients from all the products we are feeding our bodies may be far greater than the suitable amount.

What is the bottom line? Personally, I do not think products filled with a long list of chemicals are worth my hard-earned money. The chemicals in our personal care products not only impact our skin, but also our internal organs like respiratory, reproductive, and endocrine. May be it is not a coincidence after all that more than half of my circle of friends is battling PCOS or some other kind of hormonal imbalance?

That said, I strongly believe in the “to each their own” philosophy. That is why the links I have added in this post are balanced not sensational, so all of you can make informed decisions for yourself. I am not 100% toxic-free in my personal care products, but I do want to slowly start taking away chemicals from my lifestyle.

When I threw out everything, I went to using apple cider vinegar as a deodorant, castille soap as my body and face cleanser, and coconut oil as a body and face moisturizer. That may be stretching it too far, but hey, I was afraid and wanted to do my body good. Since then, however, I have been doing research on natural skincare brands and will be sharing my findings in a later post. 🙂

Until then, hope you have found this post helpful. If you have questions or comments, feel free to share them so we all can educate ourselves better.

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Wellness

Weight Loss: Food Edit

I never considered how my food is made until I gained an awful load of kilos in my first year living in the US. The year was 2008. I was sixteen and living with an American host family in mid-west. I knew little about how to cook with the American pantry staples, and missed my mother’s home cooked food. Result? McDonald’s sandwiches, buttery packet popcorn, and frozen pizza as my everyday meals.

When my friends and family criticized my new “appearance,” I was quick to realize this lifestyle couldn’t continue. That realization was my first step towards healthy eating and nutrition. I taught myself how to cook on a student budget and with the ingredients I could find in the local grocery store. Shortly after, I went back to my normal weight.

Fast forward ten years, I am working fulltime in a fast-paced industry, traveling for work (and otherwise), taking a Dutch language course, blogging as a hobby, and trying to grow my social circle as an expat in Amsterdam. Budget is no longer an obstacle, neither is the availability of international food items. But finding the time to grocery shop and cook has become my real struggle.

The last two months of 2017 were pretty hectic work-wise. I was providing cover for a sick colleague and traveling for work more than usual. Being disorganized about my meals and eating out led me to gain 5.5 kilos. I went from weighing 58 kilos to 63.4 kilos. With my 5’6” height, 63.4 kilos is still within the normal BMI, but I do not feel good. There is a lot of bloating, some love handles that were not there before, a general feeling of being tired—honestly, it feels like living in a body that is not mine.

So, after I returned from my holiday to Karachi last week, I started finding ways to be more organized about grocery shopping and cooking. I also decided to track the foods I eat, so that I can assess whether or not I am meeting my daily nutrient requirements. I was recently diagnosed with iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 deficiencies, so the motivation to track my food was not only for losing the excess weight but also for assessing my intake of all critical nutrients. Another motivation factor was to evaluate how super is the nutrition of the “super foods” that are blatantly advertised on social media.

I tested a few apps that would provide me an overview of nutrient goals for my weight & height, as well as allow me to track these goals. I had briefly used MyFitnessPal before, so I tested that and Cronometer more closely. Both are excellent apps but in comparison to Cronometer, MyFitnessPal has an extensive food database (huge benefit for someone who cooks fusion food) and a user-friendly layout in both the mobile app and website. You can input your current weight & height. The app also requires that you add a “Weight Goal.” Taking these three factors into consideration, MyFitnessPal gives you a daily calorie requirement (mine was 1200). You can then maintain a daily food diary, which counts your calories, as well as carbs, protein, fats and other nutrients. The app allows you to enter unlimited recipes and also tracks your steps. Your daily exercise can also be logged into the app.

One thing to keep in mind while using an app like MyFitnessPal is to use the calorie requirement as a guide not divine revelation. Starving yourself is the worst thing you can do to your health, so listen to your body’s needs and make sure you respect them. More than the calories I have consumed, I like to look at whether I met my protein, calcium, and iron goals. One early benefit of tracking nutrients is that I realized I was not meeting my daily calcium requirement, and that’s because I was barely eating any dairy—most common source of calcium. Based on that observation, I have switched from unsweetened almond milk to cow milk (until I find another non-dairy calcium source).

When I shared on my insta story that I will be starting a mini weight loss journey, many of you requested that I share my meal plans. In all honesty, sharing what I am eating every day in this much detail makes me nervous, but at the end of the day if my eating plan helps you improve your nutrition, I am happy ignoring the few negative comments I might receive. 🙂 So, I am adding screenshots of my food diary for every day of last week besides Monday. This should allow you to see the whole foods I have incorporated in my diet for each meal. The foods I am avoiding are full fat dairy, refined sugar and flours, excessive oil, and processed junk items. As for the recipes, the Shrimp & Broccoli one is on my insta profile. The remaining ones will be posted soon on this blog! If you have any questions about the foods mentioned in the screenshots, comment below or send me an email.

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In addition to tracking my eating, I am also recording gym time (more on this in another post). With my one week of exercise and a healthy meal plan, I have already come from 63.2 kilos to 61.4 kilos. The initial drop is usually high, which is great for boosting motivation. I also feel less bloated and tired. Keep in mind that everybody is different, so how this meal & exercise plan impacts me is not necessarily how it will impact you. 🙂 Since this is my first meal plan, it has a ton of room for improvement. So feel free to customize it as per your needs, but please make sure you’re eating at least 1000-1200 calories everyday—that’s the number recommended by the National Health Institutes for women (1200-1500 for men).

I am truly delighted to see the results of tracking my meals and exercise last week, and I cannot wait to do the same this week with new foods and recipes! If you have any ideas for healthy foods and fun exercises, do let me know. And if you would like to get a daily sneak peak of this weight loss project, check out my Instagram page.

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Wellness

Cabbage Soup Diet Review

Let’s begin by me explicitly stating that I am not a fan of diets. My philosophy on food is simple – eat whole, fresh, and home cooked food as often as possible alongside a good exercise plan. Who sticks to their philosophies a 100%? Weirdos.

For me, life always gets in the way of my eating and exercise plan. 😦 Last month, my husband and I were traveling to Seville and we ate to our heart’s content – how can you refuse treats while on vacation? I also had a couple of work trips to London, which disturbed my whole Sunday meal-prep to a large degree, resulting in my ordering in and such.

Consequence? I felt bloated, nauseous, and generally not well. A colleague recommended that I try the “Cabbage Soup Diet,” which eliminates bloating, and promises a weight loss of 10lbs/4.5kgs in 7 days.

How does the cabbage soup diet work? Long story short, The Cabbage Soup Diet restricts salt, carb, and fat intake – allowing you to consume selective food groups each day of the week alongside the infamous cabbage soup.

Before I share my experience and results of following this seven-day diet, below is an overview of the recommended diet plan:

Day 1: Fruits only (no bananas) + cabbage soup

Day 2: Baked potato with light butter for breakfast + vegetables all day (no potatoes) + cabbage soup

Day 3: Vegetables and fruit all day (no bananas or potatoes) + cabbage soup

Day 4: Up to eight bananas + as much skimmed milk + cabbage soup

Day 5: Up to 20 ounces (550 grams) of beef + up to six tomatoes + cabbage soup

Day 6: As much beef and vegetables (no potatoes) + cabbage soup

Day 7: Vegetables + brown rice + cabbage soup

What I ate

I put my own spin on the cabbage soup recipe. Instead of using cabbage, I used a mix of vegetables (carrots, kale, mushrooms, celery, scallions, bell pepper, zucchini, and tomatoes). I also replaced plain water with chicken/vegetable broth to add more flavor.

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The first day was very easy. I had an apple for breakfast, soup for lunch, and a big fruit salad (melon, berries, pear) for dinner. The second day started off well (c’mon, we are talking baked potato), but lunch and dinner were mostly roasted veggies over a bed of greens with the soup. Third day, again, was good because I could eat fruit.

After that, the diet went downhill for me. The day I was supposed to mostly eat bananas was horrible. I felt stuffed and cranky, which disturbed my overall focus. Day 5 was also not great – I couldn’t fathom what to have for breakfast besides a bowl of soup, which by now I detested more than any soup in the world. I also am not a big meat eater, so I felt trapped having to eat meat for both lunch and dinner – that too without grains. Needless to say, I skipped lunch and had a fillet of salmon instead of beef for dinner. Day 6 and 7 were pretty much the same except I cheated and had a pear for breakfast on the 7th day because…I just couldn’t with the soup.

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Weight loss

This is probably the most anticipated part for most readers. Despite the tweaks I made to the diet, I lost 5.5lbs/2.5kgs in seven days. I believe most of this weight was water weight – since salt retains water in the body and this diet has zero salt (I did cheat and had some salt), so you don’t retain water. This also means that when you start consuming salt again, your body retains water, and you are heavier instantly.

A week after I resumed normal eating, I gained 1kg/2.2lbs back.

In conclusion

I cannot dictate whether or not anyone should try this diet because everyone reacts differently to different eating plans. In my experience, the diet made me aware of how often I gravitate towards overdoing salt, sugar, and oil in my meals, which is an awareness I wholeheartedly welcome. At the same time, the diet deprived me too much of critical nutrients, making me grumpy and exhausted. I also completely overturned my progress on cardio and strength training that I had made prior to going on this diet, as I couldn’t exercise for the duration of the diet – going back is always hard, going back with half as less energy is nearly impossible.

In a nutshell, there is no denying that this diet works – you just have to ask yourself if it is worth the compromise.

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Wellness

Beginning Of A Kitchen Garden

One of the many aspects I appreciate about living in Holland is the focus the country puts on nurturing your body and soul, and keeping well-being at the center of its public policy. From larger themes like reducing income disparity and promoting work-life balance, down to small programs like seeds Albert Heijn (largest grocery store chain in the Netherlands) gives out for free during springtime to encourage people to grow their own food, it is all too good to be true sometimes.

Several weeks ago, I stopped to pick up some groceries at Albert Heijn. At the checkout, I was given little cardboard containers carrying soil capsules and tiny paper bags with seeds. At first, I was overwhelmed; while, I had cared for plants before, I had never grown them from seeds.

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I returned home excited to learn how I could grow these seeds into plants. All the instructions were inside the tiny cardboard containers. I dissolved the soil capsules, filled three quarters of of the containers with soil, spread the seeds, and then topped the remaining quarter of the container with soil. At the end of this, I was thrilled but also scared about this whole program being a gimmick.

In about a week of planting the seeds and watering them regularly, little leaves started sprouting — it was not a gimmick! I felt exhilarated to realize how easy it was to grow food in my little apartment. In just one more week, the leaves were big enough that they had to be transferred to 10cm pots.

Soon, I will be transferring the cherry tomato plant to an even bigger pot. I went to the flower market in the center of Amsterdam last week and bought a huge horizontal planter and seeds for five different types of herbs. I also bought some basic tools that can help build a balcony garden — yes that is what these little plant babies of my mine have aspired me to do.

With a full time job that keeps me on my toes during the week, it has been relieving to take some time out everyday to nurture these plants. It might sound cliche, but this project helped me ground myself, and become better at following a routine. For instance, every time I watered the plants, I remembered how often I ignore when I am thirsty. That helped me improve my water intake. Similarly, seeing the plants flourish under my care gave me a confidence boost.

If you find yourself in a personal or professional rut, and your self-confidence seems to be faltering, a small garden DIY project like this one could be a fun, cheap and low maintenance pick me up.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming post on how to start a kitchen/balcony garden with minimal time and effort.

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