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Four Common Nutrition-Related Health Conditions That Can Mimic Depression & Anxiety – and What To Do About Them

How you feel often has a lot to do with what you eat.

How you feel often has a lot to do with what you eat.

Mental health conditions, particularly depression and anxiety, are extremely common today and yet complex to treat because they’re often caused by a combination of psychological, biological and social factors. An estimated one in seven people in Singapore have experienced a mental health disorder. In the US, approximately one in four women are prescribed at least one psychiatric medication to treat anxiety, depression, ADHD and other mental health disorders. This is truly the global public health crisis of our generation. Yet, a significant number of people in treatment are unresponsive to medication-based solutions.

I was one of those individuals, cycling through countless psychiatric drug interventions in my teens and twenties before finally discovering that if I changed the way I ate and moved, my thought processes and energy levels radically shifted. What I did not know at the time was that I had two common health conditions, endometriosis and non-diabetic reactive hypoglycemia, both of which I’d probably been living with for decades. Looking back on my days of bulimia, I’d binge on tubs of Betty Crocker frosting to chase away feelings of anxiety and dread, dousing my fears with sugar until my body could hold no more. In my twenties, I’d nurse on a bottle of wine most nights to keep the heart palpitations, sadness and physical pain from driving me mad.  What I did not know was that I was dealing, in a sense, with a physiological Sisyphus, one that medication or psychotherapy was not meant to fix.

Since getting to the bottom of these health issues, I’ve had to reconsider not only my personal history, but also the entire narrative that currently defines mental illness, one that I had long suspected was off the mark. Yes, millions struggle with psychological conditions which respond well to medication, particularly in tandem with talk therapy. However, there are countless others who would be better served by lifestyle and nutrition interventions rather than by prescriptions for psychiatric drugs.

At a time when suicide rates are rising and increasing numbers of people are incapacitated by symptoms resembling psychiatric illness, it’s critical that mental health professionals, physicians, dietitians, physiologists, personal trainers, and health coaches begin working together as a team rather than approaching behavioral health from opposing and competing camps.

Numerous physical health issues are often misdiagnosed as psychiatric illness — hypothyroidism, diabetes, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, endometriosis, PCOS and arthritis are just a few. People waste years and even decades trying to fix the wrong problem, bouncing from one specialist to the next as they collect misdiagnoses. Compellingly, many nutrition-related conditions can also cause symptoms resembling bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and even psychosis. Here are four of the most common:

Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) impacts an estimated six percent of the population, with higher numbers in women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing, and in people following a vegan, vegetarian or raw food diet. Worldwide, an estimated two billion people are anemic; iron deficiency is a top ten risk factor for chronic disease. Numerous studies show that iron deficiency anemia increases the risk of psychiatric disorders in both children and adults, and researchers have urged the medical community to consider iron intake in assessing the underlying causes and treatments for mental illness. Symptoms of IDA include fatigue, decreased stamina, insomnia, rapid heartbeat and depression. In other words, they are nearly the same as the symptoms listed on some popular pharmaceutical commercials for depression and anxiety.

So, what can you do if you suspect you may have iron-deficiency anemia?  

First, get a complete blood test (CBC) from your doctor and ask to see your results for your red cell count, haemoglobin, hemocrit volumes and mean corpuscular volume (MCV). Compare these numbers to the “normal” range that the blood test includes, and keep in mind that a result which is borderline low but not abnormal may still result in symptoms. Every body is different, and results must be put into context. A subclinical or borderline normal result can still make you feel awful!

Treatment for iron-deficiency anemia is pretty straightforward. An oral iron supplement or IV iron treatment can do wonders, but for long-term relief, changing one’s diet is crucial. Adding foods like red meat and poultry, dark leafy greens, beans, nuts and seeds, seafood and organ meats like liver to your daily diet will boost iron levels over time. Vitamin C and beta-carotene rich foods will also help your body absorb non-heme iron, while substances like caffeine and soy protein can inhibit it. Many people are often shocked by how dramatically their mood and energy levels improve after increasing iron intake over two to three months. One big reason new mothers experience postnatal depression and crippling fatigue during baby’s first year? Iron deficiency!


Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease are two different yet related issues that present with similar symptoms. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune reaction to gluten and can be easily tested and confirmed by a doctor. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is more nebulous and therefore, there are no specific biomarkers to diagnose it. Celiac disease is rare — an estimated one percent of the population has it. Gluten intolerance appears to be more common, and may affect up to thirteen percent of people, although estimates widely differ. Symptoms of both include bloating, gas, fatigue, depression, constipation, iron-deficiency anemia (see above!), delusional thinking, and even psychosis. Some fascinating research on the connection between schizophrenia and gluten has been published recently, although results are not yet consistent enough to conclude a causal relationship.

Researchers at John’s Hopkins University’s School of Public Health found that people with celiac disease are three times more likely to develop schizophrenia than those without it. A literature review of studies published between 1900 and 2014 found that anxiety, depression and fatigue are all common complaints in patients with celiac disease that has been untreated.

So, what can you do? Simple serology tests, the Tissue Transglutaminase IgA antibody and the IgA antibody, will look for antibodies in the blood to determine whether or not you have a negative reaction to gluten. If this test is negative but you still suspect you have celiac disease, you may want to ask your doctor for an IgA Endomysial antibody test, although this is more expensive and less accurate. Genetic testing can be helpful in determining if you might be a candidate for celiac or gluten sensitivity, but only about five percent of people who carry the genes will actually develop Celiac Disease. You may also want to rule out a straightforward wheat allergy, which often presents differently, by taking an allergy panel like RAST or skin prick testing.


Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are treated through dietary shifts— but that doesn’t mean that the process is easy! Many foods in restaurants contain hidden gluten (one-third of gluten free dishes in US restaurants have been found to contain gluten) and package labels in the grocery store are not always accurate. Cross-contamination in manufacturing plants is common, so it’s rarely safe to rely on an ingredient list unless the packaged food is certified “gluten-free.” And, many people who are aware that gluten trashes their health still cannot resist the siren song of pizza and freshly baked bread, which is where enlisting the help of a health coach may be extremely helpful. Going gluten free is definitely a lifestyle shift, but if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it’s the only way to heal. Give your body and mind three months to adjust to the change, and be patient with yourself as you navigate living in a gluten-free world. It’s not easy, but the boost to your wellbeing may be considerable!


Reactive Hypoglycemia, also known as the great mimicker of depression and anxiety, is a little known yet increasingly common condition where blood glucose levels become dangerously low three to four hours after eating a meal. There are a few different types of hypoglycemia and while some are associated with pre-diabetes, non-diabetic reactive hypoglycemia is simply caused by low blood sugar without the highs. Symptoms include weakness, shakiness, dizziness, headache, sweating, anxiety, irritability, heart palpitations, insomnia, a sense of doom, hallucinations, extreme fatigue and loss of consciousness.  Studies conducted on the prison population found that reactive hypoglycemia was linked to violence among inmates, and it is often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue, subclinical hypothyroidism, depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, anxiety, and others.

Hypoglycemia can also drive alcohol use disorders and eating disorders because temporary relief from symptoms is usually dependent on the ingestion of sugar, creating a vicious cycle. This may be why Alcoholics Anonymous often pushes donuts and juice on the newly sober to counteract the terrible effects of decreased glucose in the body!

Testing for reactive hypoglycemia is straightforward, although few doctors look for it. If you suspect you may have reactive hypoglycemia, you will need to ask an experienced endocrinologist for a Mixed Meal Tolerance Test, which involves swallowing a sweet drink containing fat, protein and sugar. This will raise your blood glucose and force your body to pump out more insulin. Then, you’ll be given several blood tests over the five hours following ingestion to see how your body reacts.

If you test positive during this test for reactive hypoglycemia, your endocrinologist will likely implant a blood glucose monitor into your arm and ask you to eat a wide variety of foods over a period of a few weeks, taking note of when your blood glucose drops and symptoms appear. He will then analyze this data and work with you to create a nutrition plan of action, as well as discussing medication options. You can usually treat non-diabetic reactive hypoglycemia through dietary changes alone, but patience and persistence is key. While some do well on a nutrition plan that incorporates moderate complex carbohydrates ingested every few hours, others cannot tolerate any carbs and may find relief on a Paleo approach to eating, the “keto diet” or a “zero carb” meal plan, which stabilizes insulin levels and trains the body to turn fat into ketones for energy production, rather than relying on glucose. Regular exercise and daily glucose monitoring are also important! Nutritional changes and lifestyle adjustments can completely reverse this frustrating condition.

Not Eating Enough is a surprisingly common reason for why people experience symptoms of decreased mental wellness.

The dieting industry and weight loss culture that has predominated over the past thirty years taught millions of women that if they wanted to shed pounds, they’d need to eat somewhere between 900 to 1200 calories per day. This ludicrous suggestion has given rise to an increase in eating disorders, slowed metabolism, suboptimal health and self-loathing.

When we do not eat enough to support bodily functioning, we rob our organs of the macro- and micronutrients they require, which can lead to a host of pretty scary symptoms, including severe depression, anxiety, fatigue, and insomnia. In my coaching practice, about thirty to forty percent of the women I work with are not eating enough, and have been living that way for years and even decades. There is so much confusion over how many calories we actually need to perform at our best. A simple way to figure this out is to use something called the Mifflin St. Jeor equation:

For women, the equation is: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161.

For men, the equation is: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) +5

 Your result will give you the amount of calories you a recommended to ingest in order to support your Basal Metabolic Rate (or BMR, your metabolism at complete rest).

 From there, you’ll want to multiply that number depending on your daily activity level, which is called your basic activity factor, as follows:

1.2 if you are sedentary (little or no exercise = BMR x 1.2

1.375 if you are lightly active (exercise 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375

1.55 if you are moderately active (exercise 3-5 days week) = BMR x 1.55

1.75 if you are very active (hard exercise 6-7 days week) = BMR x 1.725

1.9 if you do very hard exercise on a daily basis and work a physical job BMR = 1.9

Using this formula will give you a pretty good idea of how many calories you need to consume daily in order to keep your body functioning optimally, assuming that you do not wish to lose weight and that there are no serious underlying health problems. If you are trying to shed some body fat, a certified and experienced health coach can help you figure out how to adjust your caloric intake and still keep your body in a happy place.

Behavioral health issues like depression and anxiety can be tricky to treat, and their underlying causes are not always straightforward. I know that if my nutrition is on point and I’m exercising regularly, I generally do not experience any symptoms of depression and anxiety, but if I consume sugar or carbohydrates, skip my workouts, and surround myself with negative people, I’m in for trouble. For many of us who have faced mental health issues, a cure does not exist in a pill, but rather in the way we eat, move and live. If you’re struggling with a drug resistant mental health condition, consider consulting an endocrinologist and a registered dietitian to investigate potential physical underlying causes. A skilled, experienced health coach or nutritionist can also be helpful in crafting a plan of action while providing support and accountability as you move into a more peaceful and contented frame of mind—and body!


As always, thanks for reading! I have not posted in a long while - between mamahood, health coaching, consulting, school, long-form writing and self-care, my priorities have changed. Social media/blogging doesn’t happen often these days! I do, however, continue to work with a small number of health and behavior change coaching clients, so if you’re curious about how coaching may help to improve your energy levels and overall well-being, email me at Please be aware that I am only taking clients in Singapore at this time.



Adrenal Fatigue: What It Is, Why It's Controversial, and How To Recover

Picture this: You begin feeling tired for no apparent reason and your weight mysteriously increases, especially around the midsection. So, you do what many people would do in this situation- you put your energy into a plan that will help you shed the weight and increase your energy. And yet, after a few months on this plan, you still find yourself exhausted and the weight- well, it ain’t budging! So, you change up your fitness plan, only to discover that no matter what you do, you’re still stuck on square one. Of course, you’re frustrated- the weight keeps climbing while your mood and overall outlook starts to plummet.

As a personal trainer & hormonal fat loss nutrition coach, I see this scenario on a regular basis in the many women who come to me struggling with various hormone-related weight issues, including PCOS, pre-insulin diabetes, cortisol irregularities and adrenal fatigue or dysfunction. Many fitness professionals focus on the external, paying minimal attention to the person’s overall well-being. And, the majority of medical professionals tend to focus on treating a person’s symptoms by prescribing medication without actually digging for the root cause of the issue. As adrenal issues become increasingly common in our modern, stressed-out society, changing this dynamic is going to be crucial.

What exactly is Adrenal Fatigue and why haven’t many heard of it?

Before we can understand what adrenal fatigue is, we first have to understand what the adrenal glands are. Our adrenal glands are known as our “fight or flight” control station, and are stimulated whenever we feel excited, threatened or anxious through the release of cortisol and adrenaline/noradrenaline. Our adrenal glands are also vital in maintaining healthy blood pressure through salt regulation via the hormone aldosterone, and help the body deal with change and other stressful life situations.  Abnormal physical issues start to arise when the adrenals are constantly stimulated over a long period of time- often through chronic emotional or physical stress.

Enter Adrenal Fatigue.

This is a state of suboptimal health caused by adrenal glands that are no longer working well. Cortisol levels are also impacted, with too high cortisol levels at night and low cortisol in the morning, leading to a “wired yet tired” feeling. Conventional medicine does not currently accept “adrenal fatigue” as a medical diagnosis, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, and many endocrinologists only test for “adrenal insufficiency,” which is when adrenal functioning has already entered an “emergency” zone. However, looking at adrenal functioning as a black and white issue, rather than on a continuum, does not make much sense when we take into account the way our bodies function naturally. As a parallel, consider the diagnosis of “high blood pressure.” Given that 120/80mmHg is considered a normal and healthy blood pressure, does 121/80 automatically put one into the category of high blood pressure? It is like this with the adrenals- our adrenals work along a spectrum of functioning.

So, what are some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

Understand that this list is not comprehensive and that each of us can show varying degrees of these symptoms. Some of the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue can include:

·      Persistent tiredness in the early morning or mid-afternoon, despite sleeping well;
·      The need for caffeine or other stimulants to get you through the day;
·      Trouble getting up in the morning, even after a good 8 hour sleep;
·      Feeling overwhelmed by the smallest thing;
·      Difficulty in coping with life’s daily demands;
·      Recurrent infections, cough, lung-related diseases;
·      Struggling to bounce back from illnesses;
·      Craving salt in particular, sometimes sugar/ sweet snacks;
·      Feeling energetic after 6pm;
·      Unexplained back or knee or joint pain;
·      Heart Palpitations;
·      Low blood pressure / blood sugar;
·      Pronounced midsection weight gain;
·      Unable to focus and concentrate;
·      Decreased sex drive.

Generally speaking, the less the state of adrenal dysfunction, the fewer the symptoms are and subsequently, the road to recovery can be much faster with a couple of weeks of good restful sleep, eating unprocessed and nutritious food, and getting enough movement and sunlight.

Adrenal fatigue symptoms may seem confusing and contradictory but that is because they reflect the body’s way of working to returning any imbalances back to the norm -- also known as homeostasis.

Since the endocrine system is highly complex and adrenal functions are inter-related to other glands and hormones such as the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, pancreas, ovaries, and testosterone, it makes sense that when the adrenal glands are constantly stimulated, this will cause a cascading effect on the other functions of the body. It is not surprising then that a lot of women with hormonal issues such as PCOS, diabetes, hypothyroidism and auto-immune disease also show signs of adrenal fatigue syndrome. The conventional medicinal approach is to prescribe medicines to mask the symptoms, but this often a temporary solution, causing more damage in the long run. In some cases where the adrenals have not been functioning normally for a long time and are no longer able to produce sufficient cortisol, the person’s mental health will also take a hit in the form of depression and/or anxiety.

If you feel like you might be dealing with adrenal fatigue, don’t be surprised to find that the majority of healthcare professionals will not accept this as a possibility. As I mentioned, there is currently a black and white approach to diagnosing adrenal issues, as well as limitations in adrenal function testing.

The standard method is to perform a blood test, which is not helpful when it comes to diagnosing Adrenal Fatigue. One of the easiest ways to get around this is to get a 24-hour salivary cortisol test (not a singular cortisol test as it does not tell the whole story). Some experienced medical doctors, as well as those trained in functional medicine, may order a series of 24 hour cortisol tests over several days to get a more accurate picture, alongside testing for DHEA levels.

What Options Do I Have For Recovery?

It may seem like a doomsday scenario with adrenal fatigue, but the first steps on the road to lasting recovery are:

·      knowing what your symptoms are telling you;
·      taking ownership of your health;
·      being patient;
·      and, getting well-educated with the right practitioner on how to manage your condition.

Because we are each highly unique individuals, the key solution towards adrenal recovery will be an integrative approach towards a comprehensive lifestyle plan that work optimally for you.

Ideally, the plan will encompass:

·      the right nutrition (carbohydrate to fat amounts);
·      the right supplementation (also in the right amounts);
·      the right form of exercise or movement plan for you (this will be different from the average exercise plan);
·      other lifestyle shifts involving sleep, mindfulness practices and stress-reducing activities.

I urge you to start waking up to the signs your body is telling you and start caring for your adrenal glands through proper nutrition, rest, mind-body practices and other stress relief activities.

Even though adrenal fatigue is not commonly accepted in conventional medicine yet, this will likely to change over the years as the medical community evolves with research and clinical trials. However, there is no need to wait to until the day when “adrenal fatigue” is accepted into the mainstream.  Start tuning into the messages of your body and make a commitment to self-care as you travel on the road toward optimal health.

Integrative Oncology Essentials, "Adrenal Exhaustion and Cancer: Is This Real?"

Dr. Lam, "Top 10 Adrenal Fatigue Facts Made Easy"

Yan Huang is a certified personal trainer and hormonal fat loss specialist who focuses on complementary healing for hormonal imbalance through fitness, nutrition and self-care. If you have questions for Yan or would like to book a complimentary consultation, email her at . If you liked this post, share it! Have a comment? Leave it below- we always love to hear from you. 



Is Your Fitness & Nutrition Plan Working For Your Body? Here's How to Tell.

Still craving cookies? Gotta have those coffees to get through the morning? Hmmm....

Still craving cookies? Gotta have those coffees to get through the morning? Hmmm....

From the feedback I received about my first blog post on hormones and fat loss, I'm gathering that many women out there are frustrated and confused with all the wellness information available to them in terms of what actually works to "lose weight", particularly if one's battling with a hormone imbalance or autoimmune illness.

In the previous post, "Want to Lose Weight? Honor Your Hormones. Here's Why", I explored why we're looking at body transformation from the wrong perspective, as "weight loss" is often what's emphasized in the fitness & wellness community. But, focusing on losing weight is not the most empowering way to think about this journey and scientifically, it's not an accurate framework. 

In this post, I'm going to cover how you'll know if a plan is working for you and go over the general points of a successful approach that takes hormone balance into account. First, it's important to be honest with yourself about the reasons you've signed up for a fitness journey and nutrition overhaul. It's also necessary to shift away from an extreme dieting or "temporary" perspective, which only does the body harm in the long run. So, are you looking to lose 40 pounds in 4 months through extreme dieting and the "exercise more, eat less" approach, or do you want to adopt a sustainable way of healthy living and fat loss that lasts over a lifetime?

A successful "weight loss" plan is one that not only achieves overall fat loss, but that also keeps your hormonal system in check. Without access to high technology instruments on a daily basis, 
we can simply rely on feedback from these following 5 lifestyle factors:

1. Sleep quality: How has your sleep been in the last week, the last few months or even years? 
Your quality of sleep impacts how your body metabolizes glucose, which in turn will also
affect your insulin levels. It also impacts your hunger and appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which means that if you're not getting an adequate amount of sleep, you're more likely to reach for that bag of chips, ice cream or other late night treat. If your current nutrition and exercise plan is not supporting consistently good sleep quality, you've got to adjust the plan. If you aren't sleeping well, your efforts with exercise and balanced nutrition will be compromised. Get your quality sleep in. This means shutting off all blue light emitted from our phones or television sets at least 60 minutes before bed. You may wish to get yourself in the relaxing mood with some low frequency music, a soothing herbal tea, or diffusing relaxing aromas such as lavender essential oil.

2. Mood quality: Be honest with yourself here....

  • Are you truly happy and fulfilled daily? 
  • Does you go through extreme mood swings on a daily basis?
  • Do you feel like one day you are motivated and driven and the next day you are flat out?
  • Is your mood influenced by any type of addiction- food, iPhone, or alcohol, for instance?
  • Do you feel like your brain is not as sharp as you'd like it to be? 
  • Are you depressed for no apparent reason?
  • Are you in scarcity mindset- do you constantly worry that there is not enough?

Your mood can be a good indicator of what's going on with your hormones and brain chemistry, and it's also affected by your current nutrition and lifestyle regime. Easy changes can have a big positive impact on your mood, such as drinking chamomile tea, adding herbs like Lemon Balm and Kava to your diet, or enjoying a bit of cacao. 

3. Energy levels: Do you find that your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day? Do you feel you need your caffeine or sugar fix to get through the morning? Low energy levels will drain your willpower to eat well for your body, especially towards the end of the day. And, that equates to making poor choices in the nutrition and relaxation department, like bingeing on cookies in front of the TV set. If your energy levels are consistently low, it's worth looking into adrenal and thyroid function- important endocrine glands for keeping your metabolism in balance. If you suspect that your current fitness and nutrition program is zapping your energy, take a closer look at your macronutrient intake as well as the frequency and intensity of your workouts.

4. Hunger levels: Are you constantly hungry? Is your stomach always growling? If you're hungry all the time, then your nutrition plan is not sustainable, since your leptin and ghrelin are constantly going through extreme fluctuations, which will eventually lead to a resistance to either one of the hormones. Leptin resistance is now thought to be one of the leading drivers of fat gain in people, so this is important! Here's a little trick- if you find yourself going through the hunger games, eat your protein and fiber first, before consuming anything starchy.

5. Cravings: Whether it's PMS, pregnancy,  or being stressed to the max, we women know that when we have food cravings, all hell tends to break loose- typically at night, when alone, or over the weekends. Most cravings can be managed pretty simply by doing things like adding sugar-free cocoa powder to a healthy snack or by enjoying leucine-rich foods such as parmesan cheese, eggs, spirulina algae, red and white meat, and pumpkin seeds.

You might be reading this and thinking, "wow, I'm already overwhelmed!" Remember, sustainable change does not happen overnight. You've got to start looking at this from a long-term holistic perspective and treating it as a learning journey. 

So, there you have it- these are five indicators that will let you know if your current plan is working for you, and can be used to measure hormone balance and overall fat loss success moving forward. One note, when it comes to endocrine-related illnesses and autoimmune disorders, finding the proper nutrition and exercise approach is a delicate and somewhat experimental process. It's critical to be patient, and to collaborate with someone who is trained and experienced in working successfully with clients who deal with these issues. We're all individuals with our unique needs and challenges, and addressing fat loss from a hormonal perspective means creating a tailored plan and approach.

Thanks for reading this post- I hope you found it helpful! In my next post, I'll be detailing how to get started on a hormonal approach to fat loss. If you have any questions for me, just leave a comment here or email me at I'm always here to help. If you'd like to set up a complimentary consultation with me, email and we'll schedule some time together. 

In Love, Health & Wellness,


Yan - Blog Signature.png



What's In the Fridge at Team Tangram?

Have you ever wondered how so called "health nuts" live? In this series, Team Tangram gives you an uncensored peek into our day-to-day. We hope you'll find it refreshing! If you missed part 1- "What's For Breakfast?"- you can check it out here.

The contents of our fridges can be a window into our general health, and will either support our wellness goals or sabotage them. One exercise we recommend to all health coaching and personal training clients is a thorough cleaning of the fridge and cupboards, removing any foods from the home that aren't doing your body good. As you'll see in this post, every body really is different, and we all have different needs and habits. 

Aimee, Director & Coach

"The contents of my fridge are pretty random, because my husband and I like to eat quite different things and we're always changing it up! I usually follow a Paleo-style way of eating called the Autoimmune Protocol, which helps reduce inflammation in the body. So, my diet is higher in healthy fats and protein, and lower in carbohydrates. 

In my fridge, you'll find lots and lots of leafy green veggies, as well as various fruits and berries. Every evening I have a green juice before bed which helps me sleep, and it usually includes papaya and celery. We're also big on preparing large batches of food for the week, so there's lots of Tupperware filled with antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken, beef, cooked sweet potatoes, and various salads. Some staples are sauerkraut, 90% dark chocolate, ghee or duck fat or grass fed butter, hot sauce, sparkling water and fish oil! I need to learn how to make fresh sauerkraut and kimchi at home- it's on the list of 2016 goals!"

Katheryn, Yoga Instructor 

Decisions, decisions! 

Decisions, decisions! 

"What's in my fridge? Honestly I couldn’t tell you.... because I have no idea.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a foodie. I know, shameful! It’s just not my thing and I’m consistently trying to make time in my busy schedule for nutrition. I see amazing results in my energy levels and overall physique when I focus on increasing my caloric intake - and especially when I eat more protein!

My relationship with food is like my relationship with my car. Some people LOVE cars (like my husband for example) and see them as works of art. Personally I couldn’t care less what car I’m driving as long as it gets me where I need to go and can fit all of my stuff in it. However, if totally neglect my car’s maintenance, it will break down. Similarly, even though I don’t really care about food, if I neglect my nutrition, my body won’t run as efficiently.

I also don’t cook - shocking, yes! Both because I don’t like to cook and because I’m terrible at it. So, the million dollar question, what’s in the fridge? Lots of milk for the babies, yogurt, eggs, bread, cheese, fruit, leftovers... pretty boring stuff!"

Anna, Health & Fitness Specialist

"So, we have lots of cans of soda water, which I just love when I come in from the heat. I try to limit myself to one daily as still water is a lot better for me but soda water is such a treat!

Quest bars, both myself and Nige adore, I prefer the almond vanilla as they're not as sweet as some of the others. I tend to chop a quarter in to my muesli in the morning, have a quarter after lunch as a sweet treat and then the second half in the afternoon if I'm feeling empty...such a good source of whey protein at 20g, with 15g of fibre and only 1g of sugar... Amazing and tasty, too.
I keep my fridge stocked with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, I buy them weekly at Tiong Bahru wet market so they're juicy and fresh. We also buy our meat and fish at the wet market, I find the quality is just so much better than supermarket brought. This week we've enjoyed snapper and salmon, tonight I'll be cooking pork loin (in the yellow bowl!) I marinade it in lemongrass, chilli, soy, ginger and garlic then grill to perfection.
I always keep eggs in my fridge as they're great hard boiled as a quick protein hit if I'm on the go! Similarly peanut butter is perfect as a quick yet satisfying snack; I tend to have a tablespoon of it with apple segments for an afternoon energy boost. I get my peanut butter from the UK when I have people's whole meal, very low in sugar and sodium and extra crunchy!

I use a dash of low fat milk in my morning coffee and soya or almond milk on my muesli. I'm not a huge milk fan though as I don't particularly like the taste.
We always have a tray full of fresh herbs ready for marinades. My husband and I love to cook and experimenting with different flavours is so much fun! Today I have lemongrass ready for my pork dish and mint which I'll use for my salad."

Yan, Metabolic Personal Trainer & Pilates Instructor 

"My fridge is so empty. I need to go to the supermarket! Oh, and I share the fridge with the family. 

The usual things I have in my fridge are Blueberries, Greek Yoghurt, herbs herbs herbs :)) , eggs, 
salmon for later, butter, lemon/lime infused water, unsalted natural peanut butter, butternut pumpkin, leafy greens, and mushrooms."

And, that's a fridge wrap! Remember, every body is different- find what works for you! What do you keep in your fridge? How can you have your fridge help you with your wellness goals? What do YOU want to know about how wellness pros live? As always, we'd love to hear from you. Leave your comments, and if you liked this post, share it! 



Workshop: LIFETIME LEAN, Saturday August 29th

Not a day goes by where my Facebook feed doesn't contain at least one diet post, whether it's a friend trying to lose weight, an advertisement for the next big miracle, or an acquaintance selling some kind of "shrinkage" elixir. Dukan, juice fasting, MLM supplements, 5:2, cabbage soup, Skinny Bitch, Grapefruit diet, Atkins, the Zone... even new trends of drinking clay and ingesting tapeworm eggs just to lose weight- totally gross! Obviously, this all makes my job very tough- my clients point to Susie Q who's on an extreme low calorie diet losing 4 lbs. a week and wonder why they're only losing a quarter of that. They see these 12-week "amazing before and afters" that required 1,000-calorie-a-day meal plans and 2 hours of daily exercise and they get sad. I relate because I used to buy into that crap myself, to the point where I was popping handfuls of (now illegal) fat burners and vomiting up my food. Not cute!

This industry I'm in... a lot of it totally blows.

So, here's the deal- next Saturday afternoon, August 29th, I will be hosting an intensive three hour workshop along with Master Trainer and Nutrition Coach, Roz Alexander, to help people cut through all the stinky diet and fitness B.S. and actually learn how to create a sustainable, long-term plan. Real transformation requires commitment to learning, hunger for change, and a willingness to reprogram both mind and body. There's no quick fix, and you don't just wake up one day a brand new person- it's a daily commitment. Change IS hard work- the diet companies won't tell you that- but if you have a blueprint in place, some useful tools, and a real willingness to turn the corner for good, I know you can get to a place of strength, joy, and peace living in a body that you're friends with. If you're looking for an instant turnaround or you need to squeeze into a dress in two weeks, this workshop is not for you. If you're ready to unravel the diet world mess and do the work to be healthy, strong and confident, please join! If you think this may be useful to someone you know, share it! 

To learn more and secure your seat-->


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Knock out Father Time With Turmeric Tea

Home Brewed Turmeric Tea 

Home Brewed Turmeric Tea 

Maybe you're at a true place of peace with aging gracefully. Or, perhaps you're like me and you already have your boxing gloves on, in the ring with Father Time and fully prepared to knock him out cold. While exercise- and more specifically, strength training- is one of the very best ways to cheat the clock- what you put inside of your body makes a massive difference as well.

Turmeric, a common medicinal "super spice" used in traditional Asian medicine for over four thousand years, is a fantastic natural anti-aging and anti-inflammatory agent due to the natural phenol curcumin, which gives turmeric its beautiful yellow hue. 

A recent review issued by the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University concluded that due to "its demonstrated chemopreventive and therapeutic potential, curcumin, the bioactive extract of turmeric, promises a great future in human clinical studies designed to prevent and/or delay age-related diseases." Three other studies made similar conclusions, and also found that turmeric was shown to be a preventative in post-menopausal breast cancer. 

In Okinawa, Japan, large amounts of turmeric tea are consumed, and it's no wonder that Okinawa is also known to have the most long-lived people in the world! 

Needless to say, I've been adding turmeric to my daily diet. Alzheimer's disease and arthritis both run in my family and turmeric is shown to help prevent or slow both. Being in my mid-thirties, I have the (mis)fortune of battling acne spots and wrinkles simultaneously and, guess what? Turmeric decreases fine lines and wrinkles while acting as an antiseptic. 

Try this simple recipe for turmeric root tea, which I'm sipping as I type this: 

1/4 cup fresh grated turmeric root
2 tbsp. of fresh grated ginger
4 cups of water
lemon and honey to taste

Finely grate the turmeric root and ginger root, and add to 4 cups of water in a pot on the stove. Bring to a boil and strain. Add lemon and honey to taste.

Sip slowly and enjoy! Do you have a natural anti-aging remedy that's working for you? If so, share it in the comments section!

If you missed my post on weightlifting as the Fountain of Youth, you can check it out here:

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Duped By Big Food? Five Tips to Protect Yourself

When you shop at the supermarket, do you know what you're really buying? 

When you shop at the supermarket, do you know what you're really buying? 

These days, it's becoming increasingly challenging to know what's actually healthy to consume anymore. Cold-pressed juices, bottled smoothies, and vitamin-enhanced waters were all the rage, and then we found out that they were loaded with sugars and syrups. Trail mix and granola sounded like a good idea, but upon reading the ingredients list, we're bombarded with sugar, salt, fat and additives that we can't even pronounce. Now, when we go to the grocery store, hundreds of colorful boxes flash enticing buzzwords like, "Healthy," "Fitness," "Gluten-Free," and "Energy." But, does it really mean that those are better choices for us? Too often, the opposite is true.

To make matters more complex, big food companies have teamed up with universities and nutritionists to push their brand of nutrition education, which undoubtedly favors their products, even if those offerings are the ones driving the obesity and chronic disease epidemics. When dietitians are being taught by companies like Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay and nutrition reports are being authored by people who have financial ties to food, beverage and weight loss product makers, it may be time that we take educating ourselves about what we put into our bodies a little more seriously. Thankfully, you don't have to spend hundreds of hours becoming a nutrition expert before your next trip down the grocery aisles. Here are five tips to protect yourself and your family from getting duped by food companies that make the bottom line their top priority: 

EAT WHOLE, UNPROCESSED foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, and lean proteins. Avoid foods that are in boxes and cans, or that you find in the middle aisles of your grocery store. Some examples of processed foods that you want to steer clear of are baked goods, chips, pasta, cakes, biscuits and cookies, canned fruits and jams, frozen meals, soft drinks, confections, and margarine.  A full list of processed foods can be found here.
Stick with foods that come from a farm, not a factory!

Here's a box of cereal I received in a race pack bag that I collected this weekend: Fitnesse Clusters! Sounds nutritious, right? Well, consider this for starters: 100 grams of this cereal contains 22.1 grams of SUGAR. The MAXIMUM recommended daily allowance of sugar for a non-diabetic person is 40 grams.

Here's a box of cereal I received in a race pack bag that I collected this weekend: Fitnesse Clusters! Sounds nutritious, right? Well, consider this for starters: 100 grams of this cereal contains 22.1 grams of SUGAR. The MAXIMUM recommended daily allowance of sugar for a non-diabetic person is 40 grams.

BUY LOCALLY-SOURCED, ORGANIC produce and protein sources whenever possible. Many of the produce in stores today are laced with harmful pesticides that have been linked to cancer, reproductive disorders and autoimmune diseases. The majority of meat sold now is factory farmed, injected with hormones and antibiotics that can cause serious health issues over time. Yes, I realize that organic food is more expensive, but making this kind of investment in your health is priceless. Cultivate relationships with local farmers and food vendors who support the movement toward organic, hormone-free and antibiotic-free foods. I order the bulk of my meats from The Barbie Girls- distributors of hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef, chicken and fish- and there are several companies here in Singapore that specialize in organic fruits and veggies, like Zenxin OrganicSG Organic, and Sabine's Baskets.

KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS and learn how to read food labels. If you happen to buy a food product in a package, box, carton or can, read the food label! Food labels list ingredients in descending order of predominance, so if an ingredient like sugar is first or second on the list, you may want to reconsider. Are you familiar with all of the ingredients listed? If you don’t know what something is or you can’t pronounce it, do your research before buying the product.



THINK CRITICALLY and do your research. Many new products have harnessed the power of marketing to get you to believe that they’re healthy for you, even if the opposite is true. They’ll cleverly use buzzwords on the packaging, like “multigrain,” “all natural,” “no trans fat,” or even “organic,” with the aim to keep you from scrutinizing the actual ingredients. Items like granola, cereal and energy bars, energy drinks, bottled smoothies, banana chips and frozen veggie burgers may be loaded with fat, salt, sugar, and unhealthy oils. If it’s boxed, canned or frozen, you want to make sure that you know exactly what it contains instead of blindly trusting the splashy marketing on the package.

USE YOUR WALLET to influence change. Purchase products from businesses that you know and trust, and educate yourself on who is manufacturing what. Company websites will usually have their full list of brands, and you may find a few unexpected surprises. For instance, did you know that Naked Juice is owned by PepsiCo, Odwalla is owned by Coca-Cola and Kraft has staked a claim on Boca Burgers? You can also effect change by publicly letting companies know how you feel about certain product ingredients and manufacturing practices. You might not think that, as one consumer, you can make any difference, but if enough people feel the same way that you do and express it as well, you can bet that you’ll be heard. After all, without happy customers, where would these companies be? 

How do you ensure that you and your family are eating healthy foods? Would you be willing to switch over to a whole foods diet and scrap the processed stuff altogether? Do you buy organic or look for antibiotic-free produce? Leave your comments- I'd love to hear from you!



Paleo Christmas Treats: Blondies and Macaroons!

paleo blondies.jpg

With the Christmas holiday approaching, sweet treats are inescapable, pestering us from every shop window, party tray, and restaurant. Even if you locked yourself in your home, your soclal media feeds can be counted on to showcase friends gorging on Peppermint Mochas and Cranberry Bliss Bars at their local Starbucks (providing them with well over 100% of their daily value of saturated fat in one go, but I digress...)

That said, just because something is chocolatey, gooey, and divinely delicious doesn't necessarily mean that it's evil. Instead of bringing over a fruitcake or pecan pie to your next family gathering or soiree, why not whip up something a little more health-conscious? With these recipes for Paleo Macaroons and Blondies, no one will even notice the difference. 

Paleo, otherwise known as the "caveman diet," is an approach to eating as nature originally attended- free of grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods. Paleo has been widely adopted not only by athletes, but by the millions living with autoimmune disorders, inflammatory diseases and allergies. I've been eating "clean" for quite a long time (no processed foods), and I decided to take it one step further and adopt the Paleo lifestyle two months ago to support my bodybuilding goals and healing from endometriosis. So far, I've noticed that my energy levels have skyrocketed and I don't fatigue so easily at the gym. 

Paleo Blondies (Vegan and Gluten-free)

Blondies ready for the oven.

Blondies ready for the oven.

4 large ripened bananas
2/3 cup of tahini
2/3 cup maple syrup (the real stuff!) 
1/3 cup of almond butter
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 175 celsius. Line a small baking pan with parchment paper.
2. Mix all of the ingredients except for the dark chocolate in a food processor, until smooth.
3. Pour batter into the lined pan and smooth out the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the finely chopped dark chocolate on the top. 
4. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Set to cool for 1 hour and cut into small squares.

Makes approx. 25 small squares


Chocolate Peppermint Macaroons (Paleo, Grain-Free)

3 cups shredded coconut 
1/2 cup cacao powder
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup coconut cream
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 160 celsius. 
2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl except for the egg white.
3. Beat the egg white with an electric mixer, until peaks form.
4. Fold the egg white into the rest of ingredients and mix well. 
5. Scoop out small balls of dough with a spoon or your hand and pack them together until firm.
6. Place the dough balls onto a large cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 30 minutes. 
7. Cool for an hour on a wire rack.
8. Optional- dip the bottoms of each ball into melted hot chocolate. 

Makes approximately 18 macaroons 

*Chocolate Peppermint Macaroons recipe adapted from Against All Grain.*

Enjoy, and if you're interested in learning more about Paleo, leave a note below or email me and I'll include more information about it on the blog!



Kitchen Detox: Cleansing From the Outside In


When we think about cleaning up our nutrition, we often focus on what’s in the bowl or on the menu without giving much consideration to what may be lurking in our kitchens. In truth, the kitchen can be an avid supporter or a cruel trickster in our plan for a healthier life. If you’re working to combat unhealthy late night snacking, but maintain a pantry filled with cookies, candies and potato chips, how much more difficult are you making it for yourself? Or, if you’re training for a triathlon but only stock boxes of processed junk and containers of takeout leftovers, how much are you compromising your competition day performance? The contents of your kitchen should be in synergy with the contents of your goals and aspirations- after all, we are what we eat! If you’re looking to make a fresh start in 2014, consider setting aside a day of detox by cleansing your pantry and kitchen of toxins and straight up JUNK. Follow these steps for a grateful body and a healthier home:

Take Inventory: Get clear on exactly what’s lurking in the cabinets, cupboards and fridge by removing every single thing from the shelves and placing it all on an easily accessible surface, like your counters or dining room table.
First, check for expiration dates and toss out all items that are past their prime. Dented cans can indicate botulism, a serious paralytic illness caused by the toxin; when in doubt, throw it out. If you find canned or packaged goods that you don’t think you’ll actually consume, consider donating it to a soup kitchen or handing it over to your neighbor.
Second, take a look at the labels of packaged, canned and refrigerated food items that you’re interested in keeping. Is high fructose corn syrup listed, or is sugar one of the first two ingredients? Do you see any words that you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce, like butylated hydroxyanisole (a popular food preservative that is carcinogenic)? If you don’t know what an ingredient is, do some quick computer research to find out. Does the item contain any trans fats? Trans fats are artery clogging “franken-fats” that raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, and increase the risk of heart disease. Do you really want that in your body?

Reflect: While you’re reviewing each label, think about whether or not a particular food is helping you or harming you. Are bags of potato chips sabotaging your efforts to become a healthier snacker? Are you trying to cut down on your alcohol consumption- but still maintaining a surplus of beer and wine in your home? Are you regularly ingesting processed, toxic, and trans-fat laden junk? It’s important to consider the drawbacks and benefits of every item you have stored in your kitchen so you can make wiser purchasing decisions as you move forward and remove whatever is wreaking havoc in your life.

Purge: Create two clear piles. One of those piles is for food that’s headed straight to the garbage, like rotten produce or expired dairy products and canned goods, and the other is designated for items that you will donate or give away, like unopened packaged goods that no longer serve you or foods you’ll never eat in the first place. Pack and toss immediately; don’t second guess yourself and resist the urge to “save” foods you might enjoy in the future. Go with your gut- it will thank you later!

Set Up a System: Keeping your newly cleansed kitchen organized is a key factor to maintaining its health and ease of use. Where possible, get rid of plastic containers and invest in some sturdy glass canisters to store beans, grains, and seeds. Studies show that plastic, even when unheated, can contaminate food with harmful toxins that mimic estrogen and may even contribute to cancer, obesity and diabetes. Whatever you do, never ever microwave or heat food in a plastic container. Designate half of your refrigerator for lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and pick one day per week to review your produce stock, tossing out anything that’s gone bad. Store your oils in a dark, cool place, away from the stove.

Create a List: Now that you have a detoxified kitchen, be sure to rejuvenate it with important items you may be missing, like a variety of spices, healthy whole grains (brown rice and quinoa are two staples), and healthier alternatives to items like full fat milk, white rice, and vegetable oil (almond milk, red rice and coconut oil are examples). Make a weekly grocery list of items you should have available at all times… and be sure to head to the grocery store with a full stomach in order to avoid any purchases that you might regret later!

Have you detoxified your kitchen for the New Year? Are you planning to, but have questions on how? Leave your comments- I'm always grateful to hear from you!



A Sweet, Sugarless Life: A Spoonful of Advice



 Sugar may be the most prevalent addiction on the planet today, delivered and consumed in various forms, be it a candy binge, a super-sized coke or an endless queue at a new cupcake shop. It works just like other drugs, interfering with one of the body's regulation mechanisms- in this case, the hormone leptin, which acts as a weight regulator and possibly, a sweet sensing suppressor- while triggering natural opioid production in the brain, just like heroin. We know that sugar is bad for us- it contributes to obesity, rots our teeth, promotes insulin resistance, causes cancer cell growth, and is thought to be a primary culprit to a host of autoimmune diseases and inflammatory disorders. And yet, we turn a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence, sacrificing our health for a Cronut. If you're a sugar addict- like 99% of the human race- and you wish to cut down or completely banish this drug from your body, the following is a list of what foods to avoid and ten strategies for a sweet but sugar-free life.

What to Avoid...

The obvious: Candies, pastries, nonya kueh, chendol, ice cream, sweetened coffees and teas, soft drinks, packaged fruit juices, alcohol (beer, wine and spirits)
Refined carbohydrates: pastas, noodles, white flour,”wheat flour,” white rice, crackers, cereals, biscuits, cookies, cakes, muffins, white bread
The not so obvious: granola bars, energy and protein bars, dried fruit, flavored yogurt, and trail mix all have high amounts of sugar, yet they're deceptively cloaked under the “healthy” label.  Many condiments like sambal and ketchup, as well as most salad dressings also contain sugar, so be sure to read the labels!







10 Ways to Cut Down on Refined Sugar (or eliminate it altogether)...

1. Ditch the sugary soft drinks and fruit juices! Try green drinks and infused water concoctions instead for a pure energy jolt. I reach for superfood powders like Vitamineral Green and always have a pitcher of “dressy” water nearby, like cucumber mint or raspberry lime.


There's nothing like a green drink first thing in the morning. Try a superfood powder like Vitamineral Green or make your own green juice out of cucumber, kale, cilantro, apple, lime and celery. Get creative! 

There's nothing like a green drink first thing in the morning. Try a superfood powder like Vitamineral Green or make your own green juice out of cucumber, kale, cilantro, apple, lime and celery. Get creative! 

2. Take the natural approach when dealing with cravings.  Reach for fruits that are lower in sugar, like blueberries, strawberries, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, guava, and apples. Limit high sugar fruits like pineapples, pears, mangos, bananas and kiwi fruit, and stay away from dried and packaged fruits.

3. Use Stevia as a sweetener. It’s approximately thirty times sweeter than sugar in its unprocessed form, has no effect on blood sugar, and has been used for many centuries by some cultures in East Asia and South America. Buy Stevia seeds or plants and make your own Stevia powder at home! 

Can you spot the stevia plant in my balcony herb garden?

Can you spot the stevia plant in my balcony herb garden?

4. Munch on some healthy, savory treats. Homemade hummus dip with veggie slices, dehydrated zucchini chips, a handful of almonds, baked sweet potato fries, or unflavored Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of blueberries are excellent choices. Pick one day of the week to make your favorite munchies, and keep these treats pre-prepared in your fridge so that when a craving strikes, you’re ready!

5. Chocolate is still your friend! Reach for dark chocolate- the darker, the better! Stick with bars that have at least 70% cacao. Green & Blacks Organic 85% Dark and Lindt Chili Dark Chocolate Bar are my faves.

6. Learn to drink your coffee unsweetened or better yet, switch to green tea. The catechins and polyphenols in green tea are known to increase the metabolism, reduce bad cholesterol and prevent tooth decay. Beware of those holiday beverages at Starbucks and CBTL- many of them are loaded with sugar!

7. Add sweeter spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to your foods and beverages. Cinnamon may lower blood sugar in people with diabetes, as well as improving glucose and lipid levels. Studies show that cinnamon may also help you lose weight and reduce bloating. Nutmeg can alleviate digestive issues like constipation, bloating and flatulence and also contains antibacterial properties to give you sweeter breath.

Make sure you know what you're eating when you eat out!

Make sure you know what you're eating when you eat out!

  8. Stay educated and alert when eating out. Sugar can be hidden in high amounts in many dressings and sauces that restaurants use. Always ask for sauce on the side and don’t be afraid to quiz the waiter on how your meal is prepared. Beware of candied or dried fruits lurking in your salad, and stick with basic, easily identifiable menu items.

9. Go cold turkey for 21 days. Cut out any and all sources of sugar, including all fruits, alternative natural sweeteners like agave nectar and honey, and of course, all of the items listed under “What to Avoid.” By completely purging your body of sugar, you’ll reduce cravings in the long run.

10. Plan for withdrawal accordingly. It sucks, but it’s only temporary. Whenever you feel a craving coming on, suck on an ice cube, snack on some veggies, or take a run around the block. Do some jumping jacks or push ups in your living room. Take a bath. Write in your journal. Whatever you do, find a strategy that will get sugar off your mind for a bit. Set a sugar-free goal, and don’t forget to reward yourself with something that represents the new you, like a pair of running shoes or a package of fitness classes.

Are you aiming to embrace a sugar-free or reduced sugar life in 2014? Have you already eliminated sugar from your diet? Share your experience in the comments section. I'd love to hear from you!



© Tangram Fitness 2013