CFDS Episode 014: From Fast Food to Fabulous!

Fast food to fabulous with food for sport

Alexandra Merisoiu shares her story of how she went from guzzling Coke and eating at all hours to lean, fit and healthy. Plus a tiny food that you’d never guess has more calcium than dairy, and a food for sport that keeps you going all day long!

The food that I’ll share with you is not only an amazing source of protein, energy and healthy fats, but one tiny ounce contains 18% of the recommended daily allowance for calcium. So it’s also an amazing bone food for all you people who don’t eat dairy and might be worried about where you’re getting your calcium. And I bet you don’t know what it is! Or maybe you do…you’ll find out in a bit!

Our guest, Alexandra Merisoiu

I am very excited to be joined here today by Alexandra Merisoiu, also known as The Body Engineer.

Alexandra specialises in working with runners, beginners and advanced, who want to run faster and further, with less effort and fewer injuries. She also has a 3rd Dan Black Belt in Karate Shotokan, and she is a Martial Arts British National Champion, with a host of national and international awards in the sport, including World Cup Champion. And if that weren’t enough, in between helping others with their running, Alexandra still competes at an international level!

Alexandra’s story

So let’s get to the story. Alexandra welcome to the Clean Food, Dirty Stories podcast! I’m really excited to have you here today!

Alexandra: Thank you very much for the invitation. And thank you for the introduction as well.

Me: Oh well you’re welcome! I just find it astounding, everything that you manage to do. And I don’t know how you do it, but I’m sure you’ll share a bit about that in a moment.

I mean, I know when we talked about you coming on the podcast, you mentioned that there was a time when you were drinking like 2 liters of coke a day and definitely with a very different level of health and fitness compared to what you have today.

And I would really love for you to tell everybody how you changed your relationship with food, because there are a lot of things that you’ve overcome that a lot of people still struggle with, you know?

Alexandra: Yeah, well that’s true. 2 liters of Coca-Cola, 2 liters of Sprite, I kind of changed from one to the other.

Me: Variety, yeah…

Training hard in Romania

Alexandra: I mean, back then in my family I didn’t have the education that I have today. When McDonald’s came to my country, I was there a few times a week. But we didn’t really know what and how and why…

Me: Oh sorry, so can you remind people where you grew up, then?

Alexandra: Oh yes, in Romania. In Eastern Europe.

So I was practising martial arts 6 days a week, sometimes 12 sessions a week. Twice a day was in school holidays.

Me: Wow!

Alexandra: A holiday with my family didn’t really exist because I was always training. And yeah, I was just eating, burning calories, eating, burning calories…There was no way I could have put on weight.

But fast forward to today, it’s not actually about being able to burn calories. It’s about what’s going on inside your body, it’s all about calories.

Alexandra’s first turning point

Me: I know you had a turning point at one stage, right? Because you said you had Coke and a sandwich, and…what led you to change?

Alexandra: Oh yes, I remember it. I was actually a little bit scared. I was twelve, thirteen years old, and I was eating a sandwich really quick. And I was drinking Coke while eating a sandwich, right?

Me: As many people do, right?

Alexandra: Yes, and two minutes into eating, I just threw it up. And I think from what I remember, that was the turning point. At that point I just stopped drinking Coca-Cola.

Me: Yes because you weren’t feeling sick, right? It wasn’t like you had an illness and threw up, it was actually the…

Alexandra: No, no, I actually think I was getting ready to go to my karate training. I actually went!

Me: (laughs) That doesn’t surprise me!

Alexandra: (laughs) Yes, my training is a bit like if I’m not in the hospital…

Me: Were you competing at that time too?

Alexandra: Yes, yes, I think my first competition was when I was ten years old, or nine. It was an in-house competition, so small. But yeah, I was competing, and then at fourteen I received my first black belt.

A definite U-turn

Me: Wow! And what were you thinking when, I mean, you’ve eaten the sandwich, you’ve drunk the Coca-Cola, you’ve thrown it up. I mean, what thoughts were in your head when you were like ‘I’ve had enough, I can’t eat this way any more’?

Alexandra: Oh it’s been such a long time, I don’t remember. But the shock of throwing up and of feeling sick…I think it was a U-turn, basically. I don’t think I thought about it too much. I don’t remember thinking ‘Oh this isn’t too good for my health’.

Me: Yeah, a twelve-year-old probably wouldn’t think like that, right?

Alexandra: Yes, probably I thought ‘This made me throw up so I’m not gonna have it anymore’.

From training to clubbing

Me: Cause you were quite heavier at one point, right? You said that you were like ten kilos heavier at one stage, so how did that happen?

Alexandra: Yeah, so when I was eighteen I stopped karate. I did the other martial arts, but I stopped karate because I started travelling. And I kind of…when you are an athlete, you don’t go out much. You don’t have a lot of friends.

So I made some friends and then we started going clubbing and dancing and drinking and all the other stuff. I saw the other side of life and karate all of a sudden didn’t seem so fascinating anymore, you know?

I trained less, but I was eating the same. And when you’re an athlete and you train 6 times a week, maybe 12 times a week, and you eat a certain quality of food and a certain quantity of food, you’re balanced. You don’t put on weight.

Piling on the pounds

But when you stop that, when you take your training to 3 days a week, and you eat the same, you start putting on weight. And you put on weight fast. So that’s what happened. I stopped karate and I went to visit my father who was living in France. With my friend. And basically what we were doing was we were eating McDonald’s and other fast food at midnight, and you know, watching movies…

Me: Whoa! So like the worst time ever to eat the worst kind of food ever!

Alexandra: Exactly! So I think I was there for 2 months during the summer holidays. And when I came back I was 10 kilograms heavier and my mom was like, ‘What happened to you!’

Me: Ohhh!

Alexandra: Of course, going from 49 kilos to 60 kilos doesn’t seem like such a big thing. But for me it was a huge contrast.

Me: Yeah, because you’re not like super tall, right?

Alexandra: Yeah, exactly. And as an athlete I was skinny, as skinny as…

Me: Skinny as a rail, right?

Alexandra: Right! So for me that was a bit of a psychological downfall.

Me: Yeah, of course.

Weightloss: a fast-moving train

Alexandra: No-one was looking at me in any other way, but it was how I saw myself. I mean, I was used to being lean, being fast and strong. And all of a sudden – well not all of a sudden, over a few months – that changed.

Me: But it creeps up on you as well, right? I mean, that’s the difficult bit. You said you put it on fast, but I imagine it wasn’t like all of a sudden you woke up and the 10 kilos were there, right?

Alexandra: No, it wasn’t. It was a few months. I don’t remember exactly because it was a while ago, but probably when I was in France I put a few kilograms on and then…I see weightloss like a fast moving train. It gains momentum. You put on a little bit of weight and then faster and faster until…

Me: Out of control!

Alexandra: Yeah, and with weightloss the same, but you have to stop the train and then go back and build the momentum. So that’s a weightloss lesson, for example.

Me: Yeah, yeah.

Alexandra’s second turning point: in the pool

Alexandra: So one turning point was with Coca-Cola, and the second turning point was with the fast foods when I gained weight and I just didn’t feel good about myself anymore.

Me: So then you made a massive commitment at that point. What did you say to yourself? Were you just like ‘This ends here, I have to just change everything’?

Alexandra: Well I actually remember – I don’t know if this is the first, but I do remember – I went swimming. There’s a 50-meter Olympic swimming pool that I learned to swim in. And I was struggling to do 3 or 4 lengths!

Me: Wow!

Alexandra: In the past I could do 15, 20…I could just do it! So my fitness level was just…And that was the turning point. That scared me and I thought ‘I need to get my fitness back’.

And I think that was in 2007 when I became a runner.

Motivation for change

Me: Did you start both at the same time then?

Alexandra: Yeah, I think from what I remember that I used running to lose the weight. I was also going to the United States, it was the first time that summer and I was going with a working travel program on the shore of the Atlantic. At the beach. So that kind of motivated me more, because my swimming suits weren’t fitting me anymore!

Me: Oh no!

Alexandra: My clothes weren’t fitting anymore! Now I do have to say this, because it’s really, really important. The people you surround yourself with.

I had some very good friends. Very good friends, I learned a lot from them. However from a health and fitness point of view, they weren’t the best people to be around me. So in the personal development world, you know, they say you’re the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with.

And looking back, I didn’t know about personal development then. I know now, but looking back, I was drinking a lot. And I could take the spirits. I wouldn’t have a hangover. It was so easy for me, that I could just drink.

Me: (laughs) I can’t do that!

Alexandra: (laughs) Well, I can’t do that either, it’s been 4 or 5 years since I’ve had a sip of alcohol, so…yeah. The swimming pool, that’s what turned me around and made me start running and made the commitment to give up the fast foods.

And my mom had a very important role in this. She understood that in order for me to lose the weight and get back to normal, I needed to make some drastic but gradual changes.

The plan of attack

Me: So what were those changes? Because I know you said you cut out a lot of foods, right?

Alexandra: Yeah. So first of all, the drinks. My mom always said, ‘Don’t drink Pepsi and Coca-Cola and all this stuff. These are the first things to cut out.’ So we started with that.

And I say ‘we’ because my mom was there all the time. She always said, ‘Have one day a week where you can eat whatever you want. Don’t deprive your body because then you will crave it’.

And she’s right again, right? (laughs) Moms just know!

So one day a week I would have, I don’t know, whatever I wanted. But it’s important to say that I made these decisions. My mom supported and advised. She’s not a nutritionist but she has a very good intuition when it comes to nutrition and weightloss.

The next foods to go were…

The second thing I cut out was pretty much anything that had sugar. So any chocolates, ice creams, anything that tasted sweet.

And then we started taking out the potatoes, oh and bread. Bread was actually together with the drinks. The drinks and the bread were like the first things we started with.

Me: But when you started, you did it gradually, right? First you cut out the bread and the drinks for a little while, but you were still eating ice cream and other sweet things?

Easy does it

Alexandra: Yeah. But I wasn’t replacing. I was still eating the same amount. So it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna drink Pepsi anymore but I’m gonna eat 3 more ice creams!’ (laughs) I wasn’t eating ice cream every day, I was eating ice cream once or twice a week maybe.

Me: But I think that’s a really interesting point though. That you did it really gradually. Because most of us are like, ‘Right! No more ice cream, no more bread, I’m gonna eat super healthy every day’. And then like 3 days later we just fall down, right? Whereas you did it really gradually, right?

So for example, just to give people an idea of the timeline, you know? When you said the drinks and the bread, do you remember how long you went before you decided to cut out the next thing? Was it really like…was there a system behind it? Or did you just go with what you felt?

How you can know when you’re ready to cut out a food

Alexandra: At that point I didn’t know about systems. I just went with what felt comfortable. So if I was still thinking about having Sprite or another fizzy drink, then it meant that I’m not ready for taking out the next food or foods.

Me: Oh, that makes sense! Oh!

Alexandra: Yeah. So once my craving for something or the thought of having something disappeared…Now for example if I think of a sandwich, no matter how good the sandwich looks, I don’t really want it, right?

So I guess we went with how I felt. And I think to give people an idea, I probably would go 4 to 6 weeks of taking out one group of foods. Or one food, not necessarily one group of foods.

Me: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, because they say it takes at least 30 days if not longer to establish a new habit, right?

Here’s how to test yourself

That’s really cool, I just want to really emphasize that point, because it would never have occurred to me to cut out one thing and then wait until the cravings for that one thing disappeared before cutting out the next thing! I think that is amazing! I’ve never heard that before, actually.

Alexandra: Well, it’s just going with what you feel. It’s a test. If you think about having bread, how do you feel? Do you really want it? You know, if you have a slice of bread in front of you, are you gonna take it? Or can you just ignore it?

So I think that’s when the change happens. When you can go to the next phase.

Change for life

Me: Yeah! Plus the other thing that I love about that is…that’s like lifetime change, right? That’s not the kind of thing where you fall down again after a year. I mean you hear about people who deprive themselves for months and months and then they just…they manage to go past the 30 days and yet they still fall down because they haven’t passed the test yet!

Alexandra: Exactly! And no matter, it can be 30 days, it can be…you can do the same habit for 2, 3, 6 months and then go back to it. Seriously. Nothing is guaranteed.

Me: Yeah, of course.

Alexandra: That’s why I don’t go with 30 days or 44 or 60…

Me: Well, we’re all different as well, right? One food isn’t going to have the same effect on everybody, right?

Alexandra: Exactly, yeah.

How to refuse politely…

Me: Wow, that’s really cool. Oh and I wanted to ask you, because you said that in those first 3 to 6 months, that was the worst, right? And that sometimes you had people offering you other foods, foods that you don’t eat and stuff. So how did you manage to a) resist the temptation and b) manage to say no in a nice way? (laughs)

Alexandra: (laughs) Yeah, well I don’t know how to say no in a nice way actually! (laughs) I say “No thank you” and that’s it!

Me: (laughs) Oh! Ok! The truth comes out… (laughs)

Alexandra: Right, well it’s about educating the people around me. It’s about how you educate the people around you, or reeducate.

So they know I like this kind of cheese, it’s like a kind of cottage cheese, a type of cottage cheese pie that we make in the east. And I love it, you know? I always loved it. So all of my family, when you go for Easter, they always have it for me. And it has the right amount of cheese in it… (laughs)

And you know, in the first 6 months it was difficult because I was trying to cut out all these things. But there you have it in front of you on the table! So…

Me: And made by people for you, right? So the guilt thing could come in if you let it, right?

Alexandra: Exactly!

What to say to friends and family

So there were 2 ways, well a few ways, actually, out of this situation that people can use.

First of all, you say “Thank you, but I can’t eat anymore”. You know, after your meal, you are full. “Just leave it for later”, right?

Sometimes it’s good to tell people, “I don’t eat this anymore, but I’ll just have a small piece”. And you just have a small piece! Not a whole slice, you know?

And here’s what you tell yourself

But it’s good to voice it. What you tell yourself, that’s what you’re going to believe. So if you tell yourself, “I can’t eat this” or “I can’t have this” or “I’m not allowed this”, it’s like an interdiction. You tell your brain you can’t have it and it wants more.

Me: And you want it, yeah.

Alexandra: So what I did – unknowingly I did it – I said, “ I don’t have this”. I mean, it’s my choice not to have this any more. And in my head I always said that, it’s my choice to have this or to not have this.

Alexandra: And then, you know, people insist, because, you know, that’s how family is…

Me: Yup!

Get a family member to support you

Alexandra: And they’re right…I love them all. But I have to say that after a few times of insisting, I would start to get a bit bothered or annoyed by it, and that’s when they would leave me alone. (laughs)

But also my mom was a big supporter, to be honest. Because she would say “No, no, she doesn’t eat that”. And when my mom would say it, then everyone would just let me be.

Me: Oh, that’s really nice!

Alexandra: So it’s very important if you can have someone in your family to support you and to, you know, be on your side for the first year or so. That makes a huge difference.

Make the right choice, every single day

And if not, always remember that your mind is the most powerful. So you make the choice, every single day.

Me: I love that. I’m glad you said that again because I love that idea of making the right choice every single day and remembering that it’s always a choice. Because it’s kind of like reminding yourself how powerful you are over your life, right?

Alexandra: Absolutely!

Me: Yeah, that’s really cool!

Alexandra: Many times – even today – when I have pizza…Well, I can have pizza maybe 3 times a year even though it’s one of my favorite foods. I always say I want pizza but I never get it.

How to take charge of your mind

Even if I have a pastry or an ice cream, I always tell myself, “I choose to have this. I don’t need it, and I don’t crave it, but I choose to have it today”. And if I do crave that stuff, I don’t have it in that moment.

This is basically one of the food discipline lessons.

It’s like disciplining my mind to say that if it craves something, it doesn’t mean it’s gonna have it. So there’s no point in craving it. It’s when I decide.

Me: Oh!

Alexandra: There’s this book, The Chimp Paradox. You know it.

Me: Yeah.

Alexandra: It’s talking with your chimp, telling it “You’re gonna have this when I tell you, not when you want!”

Me: Exactly, yeah!

Alexandra: So that’s one of the food discipline lessons: don’t have them when you crave them.

Cravings: what they really mean…

Me: Yeah! That’s really good! And also because some people think that…I think it can be an excuse sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes…especially if it’s something unhealthy. Some people think, ‘Oh well, I have this craving because I’m lacking in iron’ or some other nutrient. I mean, I don’t know what your take is on that?

My take is that if it’s a healthy food you’re craving, yeah then it’s probably true. But if it’s an unhealthy one…

Alexandra: Yeah, absolutely. That’s right. If it’s unhealthy…If you lack iron, get foods that have iron. Or, I don’t know, vitamin E. Get foods that have that. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t say, ‘I want this pastry’ or whatever it is. Or chips, or ice cream, or whatever, because you crave the healthy stuff that’s in the chips.

If you crave salt, that means maybe you’ve trained and you haven’t replaced your salts. But you can do that without eating chips.

Me: Yeah, exactly, yeah. (laughs)

Take your time with the process

Oh I remember what I wanted to ask you. When I read your story on your website, I remember you were saying that it was really important to you to take your time with the whole process. I think you said the whole process took…How long did it take? Like 1 to 2 years or something?

Alexandra: Yes, it took about 2 years to get to a stable point, so I took the 10 kilograms off. Then I would know that I could eat other stuff and not put on weight.

But I have to say that I did not want to deprive myself and restrict myself, right? So in the 2 years my weight went up and down. You know, 2 kilos down then half a kilo up, then 1 kilo down and 2 kilos up. So up and down, up and down. I wasn’t looking to starve myself. I didn’t want to be hungry. That was the last thing.

Me: Oh yeah, yeah.

Alexandra: So I would eat quite a lot of healthy stuff. I would eat quantity and quality. Both. So that’s why my weight went slowly. 1 to 2 years.

But at the end of 2 years I could start eating other stuff as well without worrying about it. Although if I had eaten cakes and stuff in the first 6 months to 1 year, I don’t think I would have actually taken the weight down. Because I would have just fallen back into…

Me: Old habits, right?

Alexandra: I still have that one day a week. That’s really important.

Me: Yeah, that’s really good! And so for the other 6 days a week, what do you eat typically now?

What Alexandra eats now

Alexandra: Well, since then, this is what I eat. I would say 80% of my food is fresh vegetables. I have salads and fresh vegetables in my fridge day in and day out, 80%. Then about 10% is dairy, 10% is meat. Meat I would say…turkey and…turkey, actually. Chicken very little, and the rest is mostly when I go home and my mom says “Have this because it’s healthy”. And I say “Mom even if I don’t have it, I’m not going to be unhealthy”. But yeah, meat’s about 10%.

Me: And fruit? Do you have fruit as well?

Alexandra: Yes, I have berries, but not as much as I used to. Berries I have, but not the other fruit. The reason for that is because fruit is healthy but it still has a lot of sugar. I love fruit! I can eat 2 or 3 kilos of apples a day! Without my stomach having any problems.

Me: Wow! That’s a lot of apples!

Alexandra: Yeah, I can eat that. Or clementines…I like them. They’re fresh, they’re sweet, they have water so they hydrate me, so I like it. So for me fruit is…I need to be in control, because otherwise I could just eat fruit all day!

Me: Oh, OK!

Alexandra: Yes, it’s healthy, but it’s a lot of sugar.

Alexandra’s other food guidelines

Me: And is that something that you suggest to the people that you train? To the people that you work with? To eat very little fruit?

Alexandra: Well, I advise them 5 a day, as a nutritional guideline. But obviously you can have 6 or 7, you can have less. Everyone has to know where they’re at.

Like I don’t need that much fruit. I need vegetables, fresh vegetables. If I don’t have vegetables…Red peppers, I like red peppers because they are very refreshing with all the water. I like baby plum tomatoes because again, they’re slightly sweet, but they have water in them. So for me if I don’t have that, at the end of the day I feel like I’m missing something.

For some people, if they don’t have some fruit they’ll feel like that. So you kind of have to look at it and judge the what and how to have the minerals and vitamins that you need. But again I take, upon my Sensei’s advice, I take a multivitamin. Because I train so much, he said ‘You need to get this, because the foods nowadays are not the ones you grew up with’.

You can still do it, even working full time

Me: And one thing that I read in your story where I almost fell off my chair, I mean I was like amazed. When you started running and eating really healthily and doing all the food and stuff, you were working like 8 hours a day? Is that right? In an office?

Alexandra: Yeah, at some point I was working 8 hours a day, 9 to 5.

Me: Oh wow!

Alexandra: So in the morning I would wake up at 5. And I was a student back then, yes?

Alexandra’s routine (in a full time job)

This was my routine, and I loved it actually. At 5 am I would wake up, by 5:15 I was out the door going for a run, running 1 hour. 1 hour meant 12 k for me. Then I’d come back and cook breakfast and cook lunch, had breakfast and took the lunch to go. I took my bike, because I could cycle about half an hour to my office.

I was working in corporate banking back then. And, you know, I would stay for 8 hours there. And like anyone who works in an office, people would come with chocolates and with biscuits and all the other stuff. My answer was always, “Thank you, but I don’t eat this kind of stuff”. Not like that, but “Thank you, I don’t eat that”.

And from time to time if it was someone’s birthday, I would take a small piece of chocolate. But one – and one every once in a blue moon. Most of the time though I’d say no thank you, even if I was hungry. I would have a tea, I don’t know, I would just…

Me: Yeah, the reason I ask is because there are so many people who are working full time in an office, and they already struggle with just eating healthy, you know? So being able to do that, plus working in the exercise regimen as well, I mean I just find that really incredible.

And evening classes on top of everything else

Alexandra: And after that actually I would cycle to university which was about 1 hour cycling. I would have my master’s degree and most of my classes were in the evening by then. It was full time, but classes were in the evening. I would have my master’s degree classes, and then I would be back at 7 or 8. Then I would eat something, and then go ice skating if it was winter, or go for another run if it was not winter.

Me: Wow! And you were still competing at that stage, right?

Alexandra: No, at that stage I wasn’t competing anymore. That was…I think I was 19 or 20 years old. So I left karate behind for a while and then I started another martial art: Daitoryu, the ancestor of aikido. I don’t remember when I started it, I was doing it at the weekend, 3 hours on Saturday and 3 hours on Sunday I think. It was in the time I was in corporate banking. I think that’s what it was, if I remember well.

Me: So then how did you…You were in corporate banking and then 1 to 2 years later, you lose all the weight, you get really trim again, and then you went back to competing, is that right?

Competing again

Alexandra: I went back to competing when I moved to England. So I moved to England when I was 24, I went to London when I was 25, so about 5 years ago. I joined the SKC – Shotokan Karate England. They invited me in the squad and I’ve been in the squad for 3 and a half years now I think. And now I wear the English flag!

Me: That’s really cool! That’s so cool! I really love your story, I think it’s just absolutely incredible. And I really want people to know where they can find you, because you help other people do the same, right?

Can you say a little bit about what you’re helping people with now, and what you’ve got going on at the moment?

How Alexandra helps others now

Alexandra: Right, so now I specialize in working with runners. I’m very passionate about body mechanics. And that’s because I’ve had a lot of injuries when I was 12 or 13. Structural injuries, damage to joints. So my interest in how the body functions was fueled by that curiosity to understand why that happens.

So now I specialize in working with runners who experience these injuries. Obviously not any injury. Some injuries you need to see a physio, osteopath, chiropractor, it depends on the injury. But a lot of aches and pains come from the way we use…the way we move, particularly if you’re a runner.

I’m also qualified to work with lower back pain…people…so most lower back pain is due to activity – a lack of it, or the wrong type of activity and poor posture, so we work on that. And obviously the nutrition, the food discipline lessons which are part of my system.

How people can get in touch with me is through – or easier – – m like Mike. And should I say something about my event in the summer?

Me: Yes! There’s an event you’re doing that I’ve got to have you talk about, because I just think it’s fantastic! I looked at the description and if I didn’t have events of my own going on, I would be on a plane! I want to hear all about it!

Alexandra’s summer events

Alexandra: It’s called Dracula’s Retreat.

Me: Yay!

Alexandra: As the name goes, it’s at Dracula’s castle. Well, it’s not at Dracula’s castle, it’s like 1 kilometer away.

Me: But still! That’s pretty close!

Alexandra: (laughs) Some people think it’s scary, but it’s not scary.

Me: No, it looks beautiful!

Alexandra: Yes, and in summer because we will be in the mountains, you have the green, you have the forest, you have trails to go up the mountain.

3 aspects to the retreat

So Dracula’s Retreat has 3 components.

One is touristic, so obviously you learn about the culture of Transylvania, you learn about Dracula’s story, you visit the castle, then another fortress which is close by. Then it’s the fitness, so we will go hiking. Now hiking is more like trekking. So we don’t need axes…

Me: (laughs) You’re not gonna be chopping down the jungle and stuff.

Alexandra: (laughs) Not on this occasion, no. And natural movement fitness. Now if we have runners, we go running. And actually we do have runners as well. And natural movement fitness, which has to do with animal movements, balance, logs: carrying, throwing, lifting logs, slack lines…So for people who don’t know, that’s a flat type of rope, you’d call it. But it’s flat and it’s slack, so for upper body exercises. Hanging off of branches…

And it’s all about exploring nature, leveraging nature. And understanding that to get fit and healthy and to experience the joy of training, you don’t really need a gym. So people who are bored with the gym, they come to me, basically. And then there’s the social part because you get to be with a group of people and you do the whole thing…

The food is also a very important part of it.

Me: Yup, I’ll bet!

Alexandra: Trying to keep it as healthy as possible, but it will be traditional. So there will be the odd pleasure for everyone.

Mindfulness and meditation

Me: Yup! And there’s a meditation aspect to it too, right? A mindfulness component to it?

Alexandra: Well, yes. Natural movement and balance exercises first of all, you know, you need that body awareness and mindfulness. But we will go through guided meditations. Guided meditations are a big part of Qigong and Tai chi which are a big part of my personal training.

We will practice breathing exercises, mindfulness meditations, and some Qigong exercises. We’re gonna look at what Chinese medicine says and how the meridians connect to the internal organs. I’m not a Chinese medicine expert, but I read a lot and I practice a lot, so…I’ll be just sharing the knowledge.

Me: Oh, that’s really cool. And so where’s the best place for people to find information about the retreat? I mean, I’ll link to it in the shownotes, but…

Alexandra: Simply

Me: Oh! That’s easy! Alexandra thank you so much, I mean I just love your story, I mean, it’s inspiring and also I learned a lot. I can’t wait to hear how Dracula’s Retreat went, and I’m definitely coming on one of them!

Alexandra: Yes, it’s going to be every year. This is it. I have such a big vision for it, and it’s going to be an amazing adventure, really. I’m taking people on an adventure, not only on a retreat.

Me: No, of course. That’s really cool.

Well thank you so much, I’ll link to everything that you’ve mentioned in the shownotes so that people can find it easily. I’m going to share our food tip now, and thank you so much! Awesome!

Food for sport

Right, so I also mentioned at the beginning of this episode that I’d share with you a tiny but amazing food that is an incredible source of protein, energy, healthy fats and calcium. Not only is it a fantastic food for sport, but it’s a great bone food as well. And that food is…are you ready?

Chia seeds!

Benefits of chia seeds

Chia seeds are one of the best foods ever for everybody to eat in my opinion. I don’t really care if you’re vegan, vegetarian, paleo, junk food addict – you want to be eating these little guys. They have so many benefits it’s ridiculous. I’ll link to a really good article that I found in the show notes if you’d like to read more about the health benefits and the nutritional analysis of chia seeds. And a recipe of my own as well.

Eating chia seeds has been linked to not only bone health, but also gut health, stabilizing your blood sugar and helping reduce inflammation.

Components of chia seeds

One cool thing about chia seeds is that they do contain a good amount of fiber but they’re also gentle on the gut. So this is important for people who have trouble digesting high-fiber foods like broccoli and cauliflower. Chia seeds actually are soothing for your whole digestive tract.

They’re small and hard when you get them in the packet, but when you soak them or when they mix with your digestive juices and things, they puff up and they’re quite viscous which sounds horrible but they’re actually quite delicious!

They also contain minerals like phosphorus, manganese and magnesium, as well as calcium. And for those of you who don’t eat dairy and you get people asking where you get your calcium, you can tell them that ounce per ounce, chia seeds actually contain more calcium than most dairy products.

Chia seeds are also a complete protein, so if you don’t eat meat and you get the ‘where do you get your protein’ question, well you can tell them that one ounce of chia seeds has 4 grams of protein. So you won’t wilt.

Why chia seeds are a great food for sport

On the contrary. Besides providing protein, calcium, minerals and antioxidants, chia seeds also release energy over a long period of time rather than all at once. That’s why they’re such a good food for sport.

Also if you’ve got a long day ahead of you and you know you won’t be able to eat for a while, chia seeds can help keep you going for longer. You can try this out for yourself actually, have yourself a chia seed pudding for breakfast and see how you feel.

How you use chia seeds

Which brings me to how you eat chia seeds. A lot of people just sprinkle the dry seeds over food, like you would any seed. Over salads, for example. Because they absorb liquid, you can also use them to thicken sauces and other dishes.

But my favorite way to eat chia seeds is to soak them in some nut milk for an amazing pudding. It’s a bit like tapioca, so if you like tapioca, you’ll love chia seed pudding.

There’s a lot of them out there on the internet which you can find, but I’ve got a gorgeous recipe for chia seed pudding on my website which I’ll link to in the shownotes, along with other recipes as well.

And as an extra special bonus for you, Alexandra has an extra special recipe that uses chia seeds!

Alexandra’s super food for sport recipe

Alexandra: Right! So I compete a lot. I go to a competition at 8 am and I come back home at 9 or 10 pm, so it’s a very long day. And in 12 hours, I probably compete 10 or 15 minutes throughout the day.

Me: Wow!

Alexandra: Yeah, sometimes I have my fights at like 6 or 7 pm. So it’s like, it did happen, I had one fight at 7 pm. You have one event in the evening. Because it’s senior – senior meaning plus 21 – you have to wait a lot.

So I read in a book this chia seed drink. The first time I had it was the world championships in Bulgaria, and I did not need water, or food, or anything else for the whole day. I was not hungry. And it was really amazing, because by 4 or 5 pm, I would be so dehydrated that nothing – tea, water…No matter how much I would drink, I would be dehydrated. My tissues, my body…my body was just saturated with water.

Having this drink, what it did was it kept my energy levels up. I did not need to eat solid foods because it gives you protein, omega 6 and 3 fats, and in the drink it also has carbohydrates. You also have something that gives you a bit of a zing.

So I was with my energy levels up, nourished, hydrated, focused…pretty awesome. Strong! Everyone else by 7 pm, they were down, you know, they can’t drink anymore…but I was, yeah!

How you make it

For the drink, how I make it, so everyone needs to test and see whatever they like. 500 ml of water, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, the juice of 1 lime…sometimes I put 1 ½ depending on how sour I want it. And 2 or 3 teaspoons of organic honey. You just mix it up, shake it up, and it becomes like a gel to be honest. You just drink it throughout the day.

I have 3 or 4 bottles with me when I go to a competition. And I had 3 competitions already. I tested it – it works!

No drugs, just food for sport

Me: Wow! That is so cool! And I think you said somebody…you were afraid they were gonna think you were on like, you know, performance enhancing drugs!

Alexandra: Yeah! Well, you know, it’s a food. So if they were to test anything, they wouldn’t find anything besides chia seeds! (laughs)

Me: (laughs) They’d find a lot of chia seeds!

Alexandra: A lot of chia seeds! But yeah, people look a bit weird at you because the bottle is see-through, you know? You can see all the bits, and they don’t really know what it is. So you have to say, “It’s chia seeds, it’s a food”.

But you know, it’s not their problem. As long as you don’t have any weird substances. And you don’t need weird substances, you know? You have all these foods…try this! This is good!

And for runners

And if you’re a runner and you do marathons and stuff, see if you can create a thicker gel. You put it in those pouches, and it’s a lot better than the geogels and all that other stuff.

Me: Oh yeah, yeah.

Alexandra: Much, much, much better, so…

Me: That’s fantastic, yay! You guys have to try it! I’m gonna try it! Thank you so much!

Alexandra: My pleasure.

Have YOU got a story to share?

So I hope you’ve enjoyed Alexandra’s amazing story today as well as our food tips. And if you’ve got a crazy, true story to share (and you’d like to know what food could have been helpful, or even saved the day in your situation), I’d love to hear from you!

Got a question, or a comment?

Got a question, or a comment? Pop a note below in the comments, that would be awesome. You can also subscribe to the podcast to listen ‘on the go’ in iTunes.

I hope you have an amazing day. Thank you so much for being here with me to share in my Clean Food, Dirty Stories. Bye for now!


Alexandra’s website:

Alexandra’s retreat: 

Book: The Chimp Paradox

Chia seed pudding recipe:

Other 5-minute recipe ebooks:

Article on benefits of chia seeds:

Alexandra for food for sport episode

Alexandra Merisoiu, The Body Engineer, is the Founder of The Merisoiu Technique Institute and Dracula’s Retreat. She is also a qualified Low Back Pain Prevention Exercise Instructor and REPS registered. She specialises in working with runners, beginners and advanced, who want to run faster and further, with less effort and fewer injuries. This is done through natural movement fitness and running technique and mechanics.

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