Off the Mat, On the Menu: Going with the Food Flow

June 14, 2011

by Frances Sheridan Goulart

Mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body): That was Joseph Pilates’ gold standard standard. Who can argue with that? But it’s easier said than done.

Even mastering just one of those—the mens sana or the corpore sano—would merit three cheers when two out of three Americans (excluding we, Pilate-istas, of course) are tipping the scales these days.

The principles we’ve previously considered in this blog include balance, control, integration, imagination and intuition—both on the mat and on our menus—and how they can work to help us achieve that mens sana in corpore sano goal. But there’s more: Consider flow or fluidity. Can you move easily through your meals and menus? That is, can you flow from the soup to the salad to the dessert the way you flow in your practice? If there’s something missing, can (or should) you create a bridge with food supplements?

In a word (my word), yes. Everyone agrees that our diets need to provide a certain amount of fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for us to flow on the mat and elsewhere. But are you meeting your needs with food alone? Probably not—even if you take the time to record your meals in a food journal. Although not everyone agrees that supplements are essential protection, I think that, if you are like most of us with a bad eating habit or two, you could do worse than supplementing meals with supplements. Just as adding a Magic Circle or Theraband to your workout can make you physically stronger, a little help from that tablet or capsule may make you nutritionally better protected.

Supplements are a good elective for another reason. Some nutrients go out the window even if you are meeting your RDA if you also take OTC or prescribed drugs, drink alcohol or slurp too much caffeine. Oral contraceptives, for example, deplete a number of nutrients, including B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and folic acid, while antacids delete calcium and thyroid medications interfere with iron absorption. Remember, the right balance of vitamins and minerals is essential for digestion, absorption, the metabolism and transport of nutrients throughout your body. Toxins in the water, air and soil (and they number in the thousands) also deplete various levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you need to look good, feel good and flow. Just taking a single aspirin, for example, can interfere with your uptake of iron, potassium and vitamins B5 and C.

So what’s the take-away about supplementing?
At a minimum, you need at a good multivitamin (preferably one formulated for your sex and age that carries the United States Pharmacopeia crest). Additional ascorbic acid (vitamin C), preferably in the optimally absorbed Ester-C form, is also needed to help keep your immune system strong. One or two grams daily taken in spaced doses couldn’t hurt (and if you don’t need it, it’s water soluble and will simply be voided). A bone support supplement that contains calcium, vitamin D and perhaps bone health compounds such as boron and silica and vitamin K is a must for women, too. Wash it all down with a cup of green tea and you’re good to flow!


Off the Mat, On the Menu: Knife, Fork and Intuition

May 10, 2011

by Frances Sheridan Goulart

Are you powering your powerhouse with power foods or is it running on empty? If you are tapping into your innate intuition about your body’s likes, dislikes, limits and challenges (that your Pilates practice has helped you develop), it’s probably the former. “Not mind or body, but mind AND body,” Joseph Pilates once said. That mind-body-in-tandem principle applies to our life at the table as well as our life on the mat or apparatus.

Igniting our intuition (another Pilates principle) can have far-reaching results. It can save us from pain and disease, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that regular consumption of fatty foods triggers dangerous inflammation in the body that sets the stage for type II diabetes. Other studies have pointed to inflammation as the key factor in chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

At the very least, the act of turning off your intuition and indulging in tasty (temporarily) but unhealthy foods will result in a Pilates body that is fat, not fit (sooner or later). It will also ruin your palate (sooner rather than later) for the very power foods that intuitively we know help to balance our moods, give us energy and boost long-term health.

So what are the power foods that a finely tuned intuition tell us should be in our pantries right now? Which foods prevent rather than provoke disease-triggering inflammation?

In the interests of full disclosure, I am biased (I don’t think coffee is the wonder food it has suddenly become in some quarters, and as an ethical vegetarian I admit that grass-fed beef and wild salmon, despite their nutritional virtues, don’t make my list), but my short list does includes plenty of garden variety foods that aren’t eaten nearly enough by most of us, even though intuitively we know they should be on our plates.

If you wouldn’t let a week go by without doing the Hundred a few times, you shouldn’t let a week go by without empowering your body by eating most (if not all) of these powerhouse foods:

  • Apples, berries, oranges and other citrus fruit
  • Walnuts and other nuts and seeds
  • Spinach and other leafy green vegetables
  • Soybean foods (tofu, miso, Tempeh)
  • Whole grains (rice, bulgur, quinoa)
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Broccoli and other cabbage family vegetables
  • Carrots, parsley and other salad bowl herbs
  • Green and black teas
  • Garlic, onions and legumes
  • Tomatoes and yogurt

What makes these specific foods valuable—or, rather, indispensable—to good health? They are all high in an assortment of substances that build and repair health (antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, trace elements) while relatively low in calories, fat and sodium.

For example, don’t turn your nose up at those carrot sticks sitting next to the cottage cheese. Carrots do more for your vision than almost any other vegetable because of their high beta-carotene content. And they deliver hard-to-get vitamin K for strong bones.

Twenty-calorie-a-stick carrots are also effective liver and intestinal tract cleaners and their high fiber helps keep LDL levels in check. Eat them, raw, eat them cooked or try as a salad dressing in the following recipe:

Carrot-Citrus and Ginger Salad Dribble
Yield: about 1 cup

Mix in the blender or food processor:
½ cup freshly juiced carrot or canned carrot juice
2 tablespoons fresh or from concentrate orange juice
2 teaspoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons sesame or flaxseed oil
1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon orange zest
½ teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
Dash black pepper or kelp powder

  1. Toss with raw leafy greens, or spoon over steamed, dark leafy greens like collards, chard or spinach, or fold into cold whole-grain pasta.

See my book SUPER IMMUNITY FOODS for more information on powerhouse foods and the recipes that go with them.

Off the Mat, On the Menu: Integrating our practice and our diets

April 18, 2011

by Frances Sheridan Goulart

Novelist E. M. Forster once observed, “The body says what words cannot.” And that body, when properly trained, often speaks louder than words. As Joseph Pilates promised, “In ten sessions [of Pilates], you will see the difference and in thirty, you will have a whole new body.”

What is the key to this transformation? I believe it is integration. One of Pilates’ nine principles, integration is the ability to see and use the body as a comprehensive whole, engaging all of the body’s network of muscles simultaneously.

Similarly, integrating the ingredients of your diet can gradually (but surely) produce a whole new body from the inside. Just as you can rethink the focus when you perform a movement on the mat, you can rethink the focus when going to the market and when coming to the table. If your goal is to build a long, lean, disease-resistant body to last a lifetime (and whose isn’t?), your focus should be on the creation of a powerhouse diet.

Integration starts with selection. “Don’t put anything in your mouth that doesn’t build health,” counseled ’70s heath guru Adele Davis. Every time we open our mouths we need to ask, “Is this slice of orange, this latté or this buffalo wing making me more or less healthy?

And it continues at the store. Our focus every time we shop (and make sure you shop the store’s outer perimeters, where the healthier foods like fresh produce, dairy and other perishables, can be found) should be on that whole, new body. Load up your shopping basket with fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, limit the frozen and/or prepared, ready-to-eat foods. And let the new Mediterranean Diet–influenced Food Guide Pyramid, which advocates more fruits, vegetables and whole grains with moderate amounts of healthy oils like olive and flaxseed and less meat, be your guide.

What, no bacon? Give the saturated fat, calories and cholesterol a rest and experiment with chewy, high-fiber substitutes like seitan (wheat gluten), which has as much protein as a steak, or tofu and tempeh, which are both bean-based and contain fiber, antioxidants and only a fraction of the calories in a burger or hotdog. It’s easy to integrate meatless meats into your meals by simply substituting them for the animal protein in your favorite entrées.

Read on for a seitan-based recipe that is great as a main course, side dish or even a party snack.

Barbecued Seitan
Makes 4–6 servings

½ cup low sodium soy sauce or Braggs Amino Acids Seasoning
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup sake or other dry wine
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup cold water
Black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 pound seitan strips
6 Portobello mushroom caps
1 large, red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed and sliced into strips

  1. Whisk all marinade ingredients together and pour into small saucepan. Heat for 5–6 minutes until sugar is dissolved. Cool.
  2. Pour over seitan and mushroom caps.
  3. Marinade for 1 hour (or longer).
  4. Drain marinade. Sear seitan over high heat until caramelized around edges.
  5. Top with chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds.
  6. Serve over any steamed whole grain such as brown rice, quinoa or kasha if used as an entrée.

OFF THE MAT, ON THE MENU: Cueing Your Imagination

March 24, 2011

by Frances Sheridan Goulart

One of the most important Pilates principles that (hopefully) guides us as we master our mind/body connection is imagination.

We’ve got to have an imagination to reap the rewards of Pilates and to rear a healthy, well-nourished body. Test: Do you eat the same bowl of oatmeal every morning? Do you do the same 45-minute Pilates workout three times a week? Do you always work out on the mat? Have you never tried working on the Cadillac or the Reformer?

Just as our bodies adjust to an exercise routine (which in turn becomes cozy and no longer challenging), our palates adjust to an unimaginative diet. Your diet may look balanced, but if your repetitious food choices do not challenge your imagination and senses, they may stop nourishing you as well—and even encourage the development of allergies. Indeed, the most allergenic foods in America are not parsnips (which few of us eat, nutritious as they are) or Tempeh (a high-protein, fat- and cholesterol-free meat substitute), but wheat, dairy and corn, three foods Americans eat with far too much regularity. Food allergies resulting from being in a “food rut” can also lead to excess weight.

Conversely, imagining our bodies moving in different ways is the first step toward actually moving in those ways. Imagining our bodies in Jackknife or Boomerang sets the stage for actually performing those exercises one day. As author and Pilates instructor Brooke Siler observes, “We can literally spur on bodies to action through an undercurrent of creative thought.”

Ditto with our diets. When your roll off your mat or hop off that apparatus after an imaginative practice, challenge your senses and honor your metabolism by ordering something new and different when you dine out. When you go grocery shopping, buy something you’ve never eaten or cooked before, something with a new taste, aroma and texture, then find a new recipe and prepare it. Or grow your own windowsill herbs and see how fresh herbs can reinvent (and add antioxidant power to) your favorite dishes.

You may or may not enjoy doing challenging exercises like Jackknife and Boomerang, but at least you’ve used your imagination and stretched your mind.

Liven up your imagination with your next salad. Why toss the same old romaine or mesclun lettuce if you can imaginatively (and deliciously) roast and shred some Brussels sprouts? If you’ve never liked them before, the following recipe may change your mind.

Brussel sprouts help protect the body against cancer, and provide ample amounts of vitamins K, C, A and folate.
Serves 4

1 tablespoon mayonnaise (low-fat or dairy free)
½ teaspoon spicy mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/8 cup olive oil
¾ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and shredded
1 small tart apple, cored, diced and shredded
1 shallot (or 3 green onions), chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
¼ cup micro greens, watercress or fresh mint

1. Make the dressing: Whisk together mayo, mustard, lemon juice and zest. Add the oil.
2. Combine Brussels sprouts, apple, shallot or green onion. Toss with dressing.
3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least 1 hour to soften sprouts and blend the flavors.
4. Serve over greens, mint or watercress. Enjoy!

OFF THE MAT, ON THE MENU: C is for Control

March 8, 2011

by Frances Sheridan Goulart

You’re constantly scooping your abdominals during your workout, but what are you scooping up when you hop off your apparatus or mat and reach for the menu?

The Pilates philosophy is not just about using control at the studio—it’s also about how efficiently you feed your body between those Saws and Spine Twists.

Listen to the master: “Incorrect habits are responsible for most, if not all, of our ailments,” Joseph Pilates said.

This is reminiscent of Buddha’s Middle Way, or the Sutras of Yoga’s Patanjali. Indeed, like yoga, Pilates is more than an exercise path. It is (or can be) an expression of the mind/body/spirit evolving in harmony—and in control. Pilates may not have formulated a set of dos and don’ts like yoga’s yamas and niyamas, but the method’s guiding principles reflect the same holism. And we can take those precepts designed to shape the way we move on the mat to guide the way we eat so that we not only look better, but we emerge as better people—both physically and spiritually.

Applying the concept of control to your diet as well as to your practice will produce a sleek, authentic powerhouse of a body faster than just physical practice alone. Having a salad or a fresh juice after working on that C curve (rather than a coke or a sugary candy bar) imprints the principle of “not too little, not too much” into your muscle and appetite memory.

The shape we are in and the shape our practice takes on are reflective of one another. When we have everything under control in our practice, it will be reflected in the way we carry out our polished Pilates body and, when we have everything under control in our diet, we will see it in the mirror and feel it in our mind and the conscience.

So, yes, Joe never talked about calories, but we know the idea of control was important to him. We know he probably wasn’t eating French fries and banana splits before or after he imprinted his spine on his mat. And you shouldn’t either. When we mindlessly munch on foods that are highly processed or fried to save time or effort, this actually costs you more and doesn’t give back nutritionally, esthetically or often ethically either. Like a sound practice, eating the right amount of nutrient-dense foods has a satisfying rhythm to it. It feeds you without fattening you—and without trashing the planet. Next time you sit down to dinner, imagine you are sharing the table with Joseph Pilates and check out what’s on his plate and then on your own.

Here are a few tips to help you gain control of your eating:

  • Water or soup can help you lose weight or control the weight you’re at because it helps turn stored fat into burnable fat. Take in an extra cup each day for each extra 5 pounds you are carrying.
  • Retrain your sweet tooth. Eating something sweet to end a meal or satisfy a craving leads to extra pounds and diminishes your ability to appreciate healthier foods. Everything will taste better once you get rid of this acquired habit. Switch to whole raw foods instead of sweets when the urge strikes and use water instead of soda or juices to quench thirst.
  • Check your protein intake. Protein maximizes fat loss while minimizing muscle loss. Protein should be 20 percent of your daily calories, more if you are very active.
  • Eating small amounts of fat throughout the day can help normalize or suppress the appetite. Try a pat of omega-3 enriched butter spread on a whole-grain cracker.
  • Choose foods with a better after-meal burn: Plant-based soups and snacks, compared to animal-based products, increase insulin sensitivity and convert calories into energy more rapidly and efficiently.