"Is vegetarian fast food actually good for you?" Review

While I strongly encourage a plant-based diet for anyone interested in weight loss or optimal health, I will admit that not all are created equal in vegetarian options. In fairness to my endless green banter, CNN author Lisa Drayer shares the other side of the spectrum.

Plant-based diets have been associated with many health benefits, including a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. So it might naturally follow that vegetarian fast food, which is inherently plant-based, would be more nutritionally appealing than its traditional relatives.

The truth is that, although the notion works in many cases, it's not a guiding food principle you can count on.

"Just because a restaurant or fast food menu item says it's vegetarian or vegan, it doesn't mean that it's automatically 'healthy.' It can have just as much, if not more, calories, saturated fat and sodium as non-vegetarian options," said Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and author of "Plant-Powered for Life."

It makes sense. After all, ingredients contribute calories, whether plant-based or not. And while fiber and protein can be higher in vegetarian meals, thanks to plentiful amounts of beans, vegetables and whole grains, so can things such as saturated fat and sodium, depending on how the food is prepared (fried vs. grilled, for example) and the amount of cheese and condiments a meal contains.

"Vegetarian and vegan food options that are deep-fried, covered in cheese or creamy sauces and piled over huge portions of fries, rice, wraps or breads may not be the healthiest option on the menu," Palmer said.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: The final paragraph of this program is typically the way many of my vegetarian and vegan personal training clients get into trouble. Just because you’ve cut out the meat, it doesn’t you should load up on cheese, oil, and simple grains.

For example, Veggie Grill's Fala-Full sandwich -- two pitas filled with falafel, hummus, pepperoncini and schug and tzatziki sauces, with a side of tabbouleh -- has 1,100 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat and more than a day's worth of sodium (2,380 milligrams). That's more than double the calories, 2½ times the sodium and the same amount of saturated fat as a McDonald's Big Mac. (A Big Mac has 540 calories, 950 milligrams of sodium and 10 grams of saturated fat).

On the other hand, the Veggie Grill's grilled "chickin' " sandwich made with soybean, wheat and pea-based protein has only 530 calories, 900 milligrams of sodium and 3 grams of saturated fat.

The takeaway: Menu items can vary widely, depending on the type and amount of ingredients used, and sauces and deep-frying will contribute extra calories, fat and sodium.

Speaking of burgers, the Amy Burger at Amy's Drive Thru -- a meat-free fast food restaurant with ambition to expand to other markets, owned by the company that makes Amy's vegetarian supermarket foods nationwide -- includes two veggie patties with cheese and sauce. The burger has 770 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat, 33 grams of protein, 9 grams of fiber and 1,420 milligrams of sodium. Veggie Grill's Beyond Burger with a single patty has more saturated fat (13 grams) and the same amount of sodium as Amy's.

Surprisingly, the McDonald's Big Mac has fewer calories and less sodium than both veggie burgers, and it has less saturated fat than Veggie Grill's single-patty veggie burger (10 grams).

Still, both veggie burgers have more fiber, and Amy's has more protein than Mickey D's Big Mac, which can keep you feeling full. Plus, Amy's ingredients -- aside from being meat-free -- are locally sourced and organic, all of which may be more important than nutrition numbers, especially for those who don't need to be counting them.

Veggie Grill's Mondo Nachos, for another example, made with "chickin' " and "queso chorizo" sauce, have more than 900 calories, 7 grams of saturated fat and almost 1,600 milligrams of sodium. By comparison, Taco Bell's BellGrande nachos with beef have fewer calories (760), slightly less saturated fat (6 grams) and less sodium (1,290 milligrams). Once again, however, the Grill's has more protein and fiber.

It's important to remember that not all beef tacos are created equal. Del Taco's queso loaded nachos with beef top the list, with more than 1,000 calories, a day's worth of saturated fat and over 2,000 milligrams of sodium.

When it comes to mac and cheese, both Amy's Drive Thru and Veggie Grill's vegan versions have less sodium, more fiber and a lot less saturated fat than Panera's small traditional version, though Panera's packs much more protein.

As with other menu items, the nutritional contributions of salads are a direct reflection of the ingredients used, so it's difficult to make broad generalizations. For example, Veggie Grill's All Hail Kale salad and Amy's Super Salad with tofu, hummus, quinoa and roasted pumpkin seeds are nutritional winners, but a falafel-containing salad at Veggie Grill is going to have a lot more calories, sodium and fat.

Then again, that's really the takeaway message for all menu items, whether they are vegetarian, vegan or neither. That is, a meal is only as healthy as its ingredients.

So just because a food is "vegetarian" or "vegan" doesn't guarantee that it's a nutritionally superior option. French fries may be vegetarian, but that doesn't mean they should fill your plate on a regular basis.

Palmer recommends looking for options that include plenty of vegetables, such as salads, bowls or wraps; whole grains, such as quinoa or whole-grain bread; and simple protein options, like beans or a veggie burger patty. She also advises "going easy on sauces, creams and cheeses," which makes good health sense, whether you choose to eat vegetarian or not.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: The moral of the story is that you still need to dissect the menu anywhere you eat. Often, you may need to ask the right questions: How is the dish prepared? Do you use butter or oil? Is the dish prepared with dairy? Do you sautee the vegetables with butter? Most people fear asking anything when dining with others…afraid of their perception. What perception would you rather have (not that it really matters what they think in this matter)? That you don’t care about your health/body or that your health is a priority? If your “friends” judge you for the latter, you may want to help them begin reflecting on their health as well.

Photo Credit:
serious eats . com – Are vegan nachos as healthy as you think?

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness with the except sourced from https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/09/health/vegetarian-fast-food-drayer/index.html
"Is vegetarian fast food actually good for you?" Review
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.

You’ll Want to Try this At-Home Core and Butt Workout over the Weekend!

Are you looking for a great workout for your core and butt this weekend at home? Try this 30-minute circuit in your living room (minimal equipment required) and then binge on your favorite Netflix show while it’s raining!

Time: 30-35 minutes
Frequency: 1-2x week
Focus: Lower Body/Core
Reps: 15-20 reps
Format: You may choose whatever exercise you want from each category but perform the categories in order (Squats, Planks, Lunges, Planks, Random Legs). You may exchange any of the following based on availability: a dumbbell (DB), medicine ball (MB), a suitcase, or book. You must complete every exercise (25 total).

1. Squats

-Explosive air squats (quick stationary squats while thrusting your arms upward)
-Squat with weight raise (raise the weight from your chest to the overhead position while squatting)
-Squat weight slam motion (start with the weight overhead and swing it downward as you squat) or weight swing squat (like a kettlebell swing)
-Explosive squat with weights at your side (explode upward without leaving your feet, squeeze your glutess at the top of the movement)
-Explosive squat with weight on the chest (explode upward without leaving your feet, squeeze your glutess at the top of the movement)

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Please keep in mind that you need to keep your lower back in a neutral position and straight feet hip width (no wider). Basically, maintain the natural curve with your heels under hips. If you notice a posterior tilt (rounding of lower back) in your hips as you squat, stop just before and squeeze your glutes as you return to the standing position.

2. Planks (30-60 Seconds)

-Different variations using the floor, couch, or chair

Personal Trainer Wisdom: You will maintain the neutral spine no matter the exercise….especially on a plank. Too much flexion (rounding of your lower back) or extension (arching of the lower back) will wreak havoc on your sweet little disks (the impact buffers between the vertebrae of your spine). With this being said, maintain the neutral spine with your elbows planted below your shoulders and your hands placed in the “I’m holding a square box” position (not trademarked yet). Think: Your thumbs up and hands spaced shoulder width. If your hands are any closer, you are transferring the energy from your core to your shoulders (and you don’t want to do this).

3. Lunges

-Walking lunge with light dumbbell twist (slightly rotate the weight two inches past your bent knee, keep your shoulders and hips squared up, and don’t lean while rotating to each side)
-Walking lunge with overhead weight press (press weight overhead as you lunge downward….like a shoulder press)
-Walking lunge with weight on chest (keep the weight in the same position)
-Walking lunge with weight swing (swing weight up as you lunge downward from your hips….like a kettlebell swing)
-Forward and back lunge (only drop knee halfway and return to the starting position as if you’re performing a single leg squat….which means limit the weight on the back foot or your knee will be barking at you)

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Unfortunately, lunges shouldn’t be named lunges. An “alternating stepping kneel” may be more appropriate (less sexy though). Think about it: A lunge insinuates that you’re allowing forward momentum (energy) to push forward at a downward angle while sacrificing your knees and overusing your quads (similar to lunging at a person with a sword in a movie). We’re cutting out other important muscles of the leg and reinforcing a dysfunctional dependence of the quads. Instead, you should step forward into a kneel and then return to a standing position like a single leg squat (isolating your hamstrings and glutes on the leg in front of you). Use the big muscles in the posterior chain and explode from the kneeling position! While the quads are part of the equation, they shouldn’t be the main focus here!

4. Planks (30-60 Seconds)

-Different variations using the floor, couch, or chair

5. Random Legs (30-60 Seconds)

-Mountain climbers, 2x (hold onto a chair with your straight arms and drive your knees toward your chest (alternate) without compromising your neutral spine)
-Stairsteppers or chairsteppers while holding a weight at your chest, 2x (start by standing on a chair against the wall and step down with each foot, return each foot to the top before dropping the other)
-Mountain climbers with a twist (hold onto a chair with your straight arms and slightly drive your knee towards the opposite shoulder to engage the obliques (alternate) without compromising your neutral spine)

Photo Credit:
fitnessmagazine .com–How will you lunge into this weekend?

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness
You’ll Want to Try this At-Home Core and Butt Workout over the Weekend!
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.

5 Easy Ways to Amp Up Your Workouts

Have you hit a plateau of interest and results in your workouts? You may just need to amp them up with these 5 easy changes.

Choose a set number of reps and be certain you perform each set until failure.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Whether a work project or living in a relationship, you never want to “just go through the motions”. It is a status quo approach that rarely enhances your life or helps you achieve your goals. This especially applies to your fitness program. I often see people incorporate the quantity of time in the gym (e.g., 5 days per week, 60 minutes per day) but rarely the quality (e.g., low intensity instead of moderate to high….and sweating isn’t the indicator of this effort). Are you “just going through the motions” for each exercise you perform? Can you barely complete the remaining 2 reps of a given set? If you’re shooting for 12 reps and can perform 15-20 reps, you may be robbing your muscles of the appropriate challenge to rebuild stronger and toner. Instead, do a check-in on the 3rd rep of the set and ask yourself “Can I perform 12 more reps (or whatever number you chose) at this point (for a total of 15 instead of 12)?” If so, you may want to increase the weight and push that muscle to exhaustion.

Perform your fitness routine within a circuit while focusing on more than 2 muscle groups.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Many eager gym rats grew up performing the traditional workout program: Choose a muscle group (e.g., chest) and 3-5 different isolated exercises (e.g., presses, flyes, pushups, etc.) and then perform each for 3-4 sets with a 1-2 minute break in between. While you will certainly build strength and size in this format, you are missing muscular and aerobic endurance development….elements of a workout program necessary for optimal health. To avoid this shortfall, perform consecutive exercises while focusing on more than one muscle group. Performing exercises within a circuit (e.g., 5-10 exercises without a break) will increase your heart rate and improve your aerobic capacity while also increasing your muscular endurance with the constant demand on your muscles. By focusing on several muscle groups, you can give 1 muscle active recovery while you work on the next (e.g., band chest press followed by a step-up with a dumbbell hammer curl). Since there is a aerobic element to this format, you may not achieve a 100% max strength output (e.g., bench press for 1-2 reps) due to this type of fatigue, you can still build your strength with lesser a weight (e.g., bench press for 12 reps at 70% output). Definitely an approach that can achieve many facets of physical health!

Add balance to your program.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Even with an effective routine you might easily lose interest in any particular exercise and consequently approach each exercise with less intensity. Occasionally, you may need to adapt the exercise to bring a new level of stimulation. If you dread your next set, throw it off balance….literally. If you plan to squat, perform a cable row as you stand from the squat. If you plan to perform a dumbbell chest press on the bench, lunge forward as you perform a standing press with a resistance band instead. By adding instability to your exercise, you not only increase your heart rate by firing other muscles, but you also recruit new stabilizers and increase your laser focus to complete the movement. With this being said….

Swap out the piece of equipment for each exercise.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Although you perform relatively the same movement to fire a particular muscle (e.g., Presses and flyes for chest, rows and pulldowns for back, etc.), the type of equipment you choose can completely change how and which muscles are recruited. For example, you swapped your stable, isolated dumbbell chest press on the bench for the standing resistance band press above. Even without an added lunge, you are changing the dynamic of this movement. Both chest exercises involve the press movement but substituting the dumbbells for the resistance bands will force you to fight a counterforce that didn’t exist while lying on the bench. As you press forward with the bands, their rubberband effect throughout the movement will force you to now recruit more back and shoulders muscles to counter the force. Using cables, medicine balls, kettlebells, and other attachments can also add a little spice to your normal routine.

Change your workouts from 60 to 30 minutes.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: How do you effectively and efficiently use the time you allot for fitness? Most people schedule 60 minutes for a fitness session. What are you really doing during that time? I’ve seen people take different lengths of breaks aimlessly walking from one exercise to the next. Why not move with intent and cut out the fluff? If you really intend to only exercise for 30 minutes, why don’t you complete it within 30 minutes? This could be the answer to maintaining a higher level of intensity and interest, too.

Photo Credit:
Fortlelock .com–Could new equipment be the answer to amping up your workout?

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness
5 Easy Ways to Amp Up Your Workouts
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.

How I've Prevented More Lower Back Pain in the Last 12 Years (After 2 Bulging Disks)

Ill never forget the time it took me 30 minutes to stand from a seated position. The spasms debilitated my body over and over as it sent me back to the floor each time in excruciating pain. After 4 nights in the hospital for 2 bulging disks (L4/L5, L5/S1), I quickly changed my approach to fitness and my overall health. The following tips have nearly eliminated my back pain since, and they will help you too (with the help of Kelly Starrett's book Becoming a Supple Leopard)!

The Neutral Spinal Position

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Poor spinal mechanics can lead to a host of biomechanical compromises and increase the potential for injury. Organizing your spine in a braced neutral position means that your ears are aligned over your shoulders, your ribcage is balanced over your pelvis, and you're engaging the musculature of your trunk to stabilize (brace your position). (Starrett)

Keep the natural curves of the lower back and neck! When you maintain this position, the pressure on your disks (the green) is minimized. On the other hand, the flexion spinal fault (rounding your shoulders forward) and overextension spinal fault (tilting your hips forward and downward) seen in Image 2 will increase the pressure on the disks. Translation: Rounding or arching your back can produce a destructive effect on your disks...possibly leading to a bulge or herniation (among other physical problems and imbalances).

Any time a fitness professional asks you to "flatten your back" always adjust your alignment to reflect the neutral position instead. If you literally flatten your back, you are not only using force on your spine to achieve this instructed effect but you are also adding pressure to your disks and compromising the principles of the Neutral Spinal Position. Every time you bend your spine out of this line you risk injuring yourself (even if you're just sitting or standing in a stationary position).

 Image 1: Neutral Spinal Position

Image 1: Neutral Spinal Position

 Image 2: Flexion and Overextension Spinal Faults

Image 2: Flexion and Overextension Spinal Faults

Perfect your Posture: How to Organize Your Spine

Personal Trainer Wisdom: The bracing sequence is the blueprint for organizing your spine in a braced neutral position. You should run through the bracing sequence every time you set up to perform a movement, get ready to sit down, or need to reset your posture (until it becomes automatic/autopilot). Here's the step-by-step setup in a nutshell:

1. Stand with your feet straight and your posture upright. Squeeze your butt and externally rotate from your hips to set your pelvis in a neutral position. 

2. Align your ribcage over your pelvis.

3. Engage your abdomen to lock in the position.

4. Pull your shoulders back into a stable position and align your ears over your shoulders, hips, and ankles. (Starrett)

 Image 3 The Bracing Sequence Step by Step

Image 3 The Bracing Sequence Step by Step

 Image 4 The Bracing Sequence Step by Step Step 3 to Finish

Image 4 The Bracing Sequence Step by Step Step 3 to Finish

Braced Neutral Sitting and Texting Positions

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Sitting and standing are skills that take practice. Use the bracing sequence to set your posture and maintain a neutral position while sitting and standing (even if you are leaning forward or back). Refer to Image 5 for an example.  (Starrett)

 Image 5: Braced Neutral Sitting and Texting Positions

Image 5: Braced Neutral Sitting and Texting Positions

Pelvic Rotation While Sitting

Personal Trainer Wisdom:  I know...all this talk about a neutral spine position makes you want to curl up into a ball. I will assure you that most of your injuries and discomfort are, in one way or another, a result of how you have been compromising your spine. You may want to think twice about curling up. In fact, you may want to think twice about sitting. Not only does this position keep your hips flexed (causing an imbalance), you are likely to lose your neutral spine over the course of your stressful day. Take a look at Image 6. Every time you fall out of the neutral spine position by rounding or arching your back, you are compromising your spine (specifically the disks). Although it doesn't seem like enough force or pressure on the spine, the compression will certainly add up over time. Just ask the 1 in 3 people around you who experience chronic back pain.

 Image 6: Pelvic Rotation While Sitting

Image 6: Pelvic Rotation While Sitting

Standing Up Out of the Bottom (Seated) Position

Personal Trainer Wisdom: While Image 4 demonstrates the proper way to squat or sit with a neutral spine, Image 5 shows you how to stand up out of the bottom (or seated) position. Please keep in mind that Starrett is referring to a neutral spine whenever he mentions a flat back.

1. Sitting is just a squat with a long pause in the bottom position. Even if you remain seated for an extended period, your back stays neutral, shins vertical, and knees out. 

2. When you stand up, reclaim tension by loading your hips and hamstrings by hinging forward at the hips. 

3. Keeping your back in a neutral position, shove your knees out and stand up, just as you would when performing a squat.

 Image 7: Standing Up Out of the Bottom Seated Position

Image 7: Standing Up Out of the Bottom Seated Position

My Specific List of Lower Back Rules

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Here is my specific list of lower back rules:

-          Sleep on my back in a neutral postion. Sleeping on your stomach will put you in extension (arching your back) and sleeping on your sides (rounding your back and internally rotating your precious shoulders) will put you in flexion. No bien for sustained periods of time.

-          Only sit in chairs or stools where my knees fall just below my hips. Most booths and chairs compromise my neutral spine by forcing a posterior pelvic rotation (rounding my back).

-          Use a self-inflating back pillow for the natural curve of my lower back on flights. I adjust the inflation based on whatever is a natural fit for my lumbar curve and allows me to sit comfortably in a neutral spine position.

-          Carry my work gear and computer in a backpack (using both straps over my shoulders). Slinging any bag on a single side will create an imbalance. That includes a purse of any weight and size, my female friends.

-          Don’t run. I train many marathon runners and certainly encourage you to continue if you don’t feel discomfort. If you do, though, accept that running (or jumping) can be quite a bit of compression on your spine. Remove the unnecessary stress and walk on the beloved Stairmaster instead (less impact on the joints).

Photo Credit:
sqactive .com–No matter the cause of your back pain, all of us should take the same preventive approach.

 Article Credit:
Author: Michael Moody Fitness

How I've Prevented More Lower Back Pain in the Last 12 Years (After 2 Bulging Disks)

Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.

09/18/2018 11:30 AM

Michael Moody Fitness


4 Quotes That Steer My Approach to Life Right Now

Although I haven’t attended school in years, Labor Day Weekend still prompts me into a different mindset. The fall is usually the time I review systems, habits, needs, and wants, and these are the inspirational quotes that are steering my approach this year!

”Be the change you want to see in the world.” - Gandhi

Personal Trainer Wisdom: This quote is always at the top of my list. If you want something different in the world, you certainly should be the example of it first. With the current streams of consciousness, it seems like society needs to be more selfless. It needs to think beyond its selfish needs and become more empathic and sympathetic. And so do I. I too succumb to my basic needs of survival and often think of myself first.

Now, though, I ask myself: How will my action affect others? Is it for a greater good? Who will suffer from this decision? How can others benefit from this decision?

From this introspection, I recently have taken more strategic action like starting a neighborhood watch group with my wife, Sammy, to build a community and curb criminal activity. Meanwhile, I continue to guide my personal training clients in their transformation process. All little efforts close to home that, hopefully, spark a fire for greater change.

”Ignore the unfairness – there is no fair. Play the hand that you’re dealt to the best of your ability. People are highly consistent, so you will eventually get what you deserve and so will they. In the end, everyone gets the same judgment: death.” – Naval Ravikant

Personal Trainer Wisdom: I typically don’t look at challenging situations as unfair. Instead, I see them as games with most of the pieces out of my control (and I accept this). While I’m not the gamemaster, I certainly hold a pawn that can produce results, too. There will be times when I will have the advantage and then times when others will. Either way, I put my best foot forward and hope that it’s returned to me over time. And so this is life, and everyone has the same judgment at the end (at least in the physical sense).

”We accept the voice that talks to us in our head all the time as the source of all truth. But all of it is malleable, every day is new, and memory and identity are burdens from the past that prevent us from living freely in the present.” – Naval Ravikant

Personal Trainer Wisdom: I like the thought of the voice in our head as malleable. It insinuates that I have some level of control over who I am and what I choose to do. While my memory and identity are certainly the foundation of who I am, I fully recognize how they can be burdens from my past that affect my present awareness (e.g., fears, insecurities, etc.). I think we should recognize how the chains of our past (whether good or bad) ultimately filter the world in front of us and assess their value in the moment. It might help us make more fruitful decisions that will lead to a more satisfying life.

”Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” - Naval Ravikant

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Desire is a sexy and dangerous word. While it infers a lustful, passionate stream of feeling towards something, it does teeter on obsession and wishful thinking without a strategic effort to achieve a purpose or want. A person might end up fixated and unmoving instead of productively pursuing this goal. Since he or she is leaving this attainment to chance, he or she may consistently feel dissatisfaction, frustration, and/or deprivation instead. Why lust over that “something” when it simply leaves you in an emotional cloud unattached to a specific path? There are trips, products, and experiences that I want but I quickly jump to the question “What do I need to do to obtain or achieve it?” instead of sitting in place wishing passionately for such things.

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness
4 Quotes That Steer My Approach to Life Right Now
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.