March 18, 2014

I Don't Own a Scale

I don't own a scale
and I don't count calories.
..this is probably why I don't have abs either!

In any case, I still wanted to share my 9 year fitness journey with you in hopes to give you more insight on picking an alternative healthy lifestyle with my story.

I am Pescatarian/Vegetarian by choice and have been for over 1.5 years. I can truly say, it was one of the best decisions I've made for myself and it has changed the way I look at food, beauty and fitness.

My fitness journey started in college circa 2006. I have always had weight issues growing up and if you are like me, it is very hard for me to lose weight. My weight fluctuates between 5-10lbs even if I consistently workout and eat clean. This all depends on what workout routine I'm on and how I manage my portion control in calorie intake.  I have always had healthy eating habits - limiting processed foods, no soda, no dairy (lactose intolerance), having a low sodium diet, minimizing sugar & limiting white carbs. I started running and adopting a cleaner diet in college because I was unhappy with my weight and finally decided to do something about it. (Here's my post on how I maintain a clean diet in an Asian household.)

Peak Fitness:
In my recent past life, my daily routine revolved around a pretty active fitness schedule. I was always training for something. In 2012, I counted calories & macros, had protein shakes, ate 6 small meals a day and had two hour gym sessions. At that time, I had to concentrate on eating 95% clean because I was training for a Triathlon and needed optimal nutrition. Even with my super clean eating habits, my weight fluctuated a lot and I was unable to maintain an ideal weight. I struggled with finding a healthy balanced diet that allowed me to stay in shape as well as require minimal effort (no calorie counting + not spending hours at the gym) because I needed the time to concentrate on other creative projects I was working on.

Fast forward to moving to Hong Kong - I realized I have zero time to workout with a 12 hour work shift. The best thing I could do was maintain a healthy, clean diet while squeezing in quick high intensity workouts whenever I had time or energy.

Becoming Pescatarian:
After reading Kimberly Snyder's book - The Beauty Detox Solution and doing my own research about the food industry, I was inspired to try a Pescatarian / Vegetarian diet and test this against my own fitness level. I cut red meat first, then turkey and then chicken (a total timespan of 1 year). To my surprise, as a runner, I ran a lot faster off meat and never felt bloated after a meal. It's been over a year since I went Pescatarian and my skin is clearer + I can run a 10k on demand, doing only 1 long run per week.

And now I present... the evolution of Anna:

2006 (Florence, Italy)
(Ran 2x a week, ate tons of lovely pasta!)

(Bad acne! + I didn't eat enough due to peer pressure from jerks in college)

(Ran about 4x a week, ate 60% clean with no portion control)

(Joined Muay Thai + was running consistently 4x week.  Ate 70% healthy with no portion control)

(Ran my first half marathon training cardio 1.5 - 2 hours a day + eating 85% healthy with portion control)

(Started training for LA Marathon, eating 70% healthy without portion control)

(Ran the LA marathon and finally eating 90% consistently healthy with portion control)

(Eating 70% healthy with limited running and no portion control lol)

(Triathlon Training = counting macros, eating 95% healthy, 6 small meals a day, 2 hour cardio+weight lifting + protein shakes)

(Nov 2012 - Decided to try a Pescatarian/Vegetarian Diet and test my fitness level)

(June 2013 - Ran my first half marathon on a Pescatarian diet eating 90% healthy, 3 meals a day, minimal running, minimal weight training). 

(Sept 2013 - Pescatarian for about 1 year. Happy & healthy - keeping a balanced diet by eating 90% clean with minimal workouts)


(Skin is super clear even with 4 hours of sleep at night)

My Current Diet:
-70/30 - 70% Vegetarian and 30% Seafood
-I don't do dairy, except the occasional yogurt
-85-95% clean diet - no processed foods, no fried food, usually organically grown
-H20, Wine/Champagne, tea, coffee + soy milk
-Portion control -3 meals a day
-Limiting white carbs - I usually substitute quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat noodles and have this at lunch and dinner
-Limiting sugary fruits (melons) - I stick to berries, dragon fruit, citrus fruits (Good article on how to eat fruits for building lean muscle)
-I try to do at least 20 minutes of HIIT cardio daily, but the usual workout I have managed to get out with a long work week is:
-Running 2x a week and 1 moving activity once a week (Yoga, Volleyball, HIIT workout -- totally plan on increasing this)

I have learned so much about how food affects the way you look. Aside from saving money + time on make-up because I no longer need it, adopting a Pescatarian/Vegetarian diet has helped me with automizing my eating habits. I no longer have to think about eating healthy as this diet allows me to eat freely within my range of calorie intake and proper nutrition. Do I miss meat? Not really. I'm all about hacking economies of scale in life :)

1. Learn to understand what your body needs
It's important to always listen to your body - know what it likes, know what it doesn't like, how it responds to various eating habits and fitness lifestyles.  Gaining a conscious eating habit is very important. I no longer count calories because I eat in moderation and can tell when I am 80% full. The relationship I have with food is a great one and I appreciate when I prepare all my meals because I understand where my food comes from.  I've also learned not to starve my cravings. If I am craving a piece of chocolate/cake/macaroon/ice-cream, I eat it. Discipline in moderation is the key to keeping a balanced healthy diet.

2. Fitness is a personal journey of ups and downs
The one thing the fitness community will reiterate over and over is - never give up.  Getting fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires all kinds of patience and daily practice. These habits will have to be built from the ground up and reinforced daily.

3. Create a positive body image 
Accepting who you are and being able to talk to yourself like a best friend is very important. Positive self talk is the best motivator to keep pushing yourself towards the lifestyle you want.

4. Losing weight
Begin by eating a healthy/clean diet for 2 months and see how much your weight fluctuates. Once your weight tapers off to your 'normal weight range', you can either decrease your calories with portion control or increase your workouts to get to your target weight. For a full transformation, this takes time and adopting a proper balanced diet prior to fitness is the foundation of getting fit.

5. Food & Beauty go hand and hand
A solid green diet will give you glowing skin and beautiful hair :)

6. Understanding the food industry and what you are eating
I am not a nutritionist, but I have learned in my own trial and error on how to maintain a balanced diet to enjoy a normal life. I hope this post provides an alternative lifestyle towards adopting a cleaner diet. It isn't for everyone, but if you are interested in learning more, feel free to comment or message me. Here are some TED videos about our current food system + sustainability:

A brief history of the food industry:

How to Live to be 100

Graham Hill (Tree Hugger), talks about how he become a weekday Vegetarian

Short summary of our current food system 

xoxo, Happy Eating!

November 10, 2013

Expat Diaries: The real deal of homesickness

Wikipedia defines homesickness as a "distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home" - I thought it only existed during summer camp for kids. Oh boy, was I wrong. Homesickness hit me the 2nd week I was in Hong Kong, after the excitement of moving to another country had faded. It is real and it is fatal if you don't understand it. Going out and drinking will not solve anything. Some symptoms include:

-frequent crying
-difficulty sleeping
-changes in appetite to nausea
-dizziness and headaches
-mental symptoms include depression, anxiety and lack of concentration

I did not get all the symptoms thankfully, but I did break out in hives for a week and fought depression + anxiety in tsunami waves - my other half can attest to this with daily crying skype calls at 5am from me. Bless his soul.

Apart from the stressful workload of getting accustomed to new projects and HK office life (working 10+ hour days, working through lunch with minimal human interaction except for meetings), you start to feel a bit disconnected from the real world. Everything starts to blur between emails, presentations and deadlines. Hours become days. Days become weeks. Stress level shoots up and being burnt out starts to heighten...

Now freeze for a second. Mix this all in with homesickness and you get me - a big crying ball of mess at night and robot girl with too many cups of coffee to count during the day.

Ok, maybe I over exaggerated, but week 3 marks the end of trying to fight the unfamiliar and start learning to embrace differences in interaction with a new country.

Some things that are still unfamiliarly new:

1. No personal space whatsoever. People will bump into you on the streets even if you shift to the right for them to pass you on the left - they will still run into you. There's a certain pace in walking here - fast, but there are those who will stop right in front of you for no apparent reason. (I hear rainy season is the worst as illustrated amazingly on Hong Kong Expattery tumblr.)

2. Shopping with no car - I did 3 trips to IKEA because I couldn't carry everything by myself. I even hauled my suitcase through the MTR station to help load my things the second trip. With cars, you tend to overbuy. Without cars, you are restricted to what you can carry. On my last trip, I gave up and admitted I was not yet a local and took a cab ride home. Also, coming from LA, taxis are a new thing for me (minus vacationing in NY for a week). Being aggressive is key when waving down that bad boy here. Also in certain areas, you can't be sure what kind of driver you will get - have to know your Canto stops (I write them down on my phone in ping ying just in case they don't understand the English names). 

3. A million people at any shopping mall/center - my head just spins. It is way too overwhelming for me to walk into a mall. First, I thought it was really weird how uncomfortable I felt. When I learned more about homesickness - it turns out, another sign of homesickness. To cure this, you must stay in a unfamiliar/unsettling place for a while to get your senses accustomed. Do not avoid homesickness, it will linger. I haven't been to Mong Kok yet, but have been mentally preparing myself for the busiest district with extremely high population density. I might be a bit agoraphobic. 

4. Accepting complete solitude. This one is pretty tough if you are a social person and need basic human interaction. When it comes to not meeting new friends yet and working late hours, your options are to go home and relax, or to push yourself to go out and find something to do. Coming home and having a different timezone than your loved ones is damn lonely. "Happiness is only real when shared" - Christopher McCandless, 'Into the Wild'.

5. Being alone with yourself. This one is an extension of the last point. When you are alone, you hear your innermost thoughts during your most insecure moments thrown in new situations - you can choose to be your best friend or your worst enemy. You can choose to own a calm mind. I believe those who can travel alone for months/years are the strongest people. People possess the strongest minds when they have no one else to turn to for answers but your own intuition; to get inside your own head and motivate yourself when things become overwhelming has been the hardest journey so far. 

Ok some good news! Pics to share: 

 Some home juicing - good to do familiar things from your home country.

Trying local vegetarian restaurants - 
 The 10 grain rice was amazing at Paramita Vegetarian Restaurant 

Victoria Park at night 

Collapsible bike at the TBWA office!

Cab ride and right hand drive vehicles


 No seat covers. Sanitize or just do the squat.

When restaurants share public bathrooms, total segregation. Felt like I time warped into the Civil Rights Era..

Central (Downtown Area) 

View from my room! I was never a homebody, totally became one. 
Fighting that habit, another sign of homesickness!

I understand why brands become so important for familiarity 
in knowing what kind of food you are eating. 
Best tasting yogurt I found so far - has aloe vera, #winning. 

I'm still not the queen of HKD to USD conversion (divide by ~8)
 but this place has a vegetarian buffet for $65HKD - $8 bucks. Golden.
Food is cheaper in HK, I love it. 

Also, 'Open Rice' is the equivalent of Yelp :)

New Fruit! "Eggfruit" - the pulp is dry like a hard boiled egg yolk. 
It tasted like a cross between a dry avocado and a baked spaghetti squash, not too bad. 

Chirachi Bowl Hack:

View of Central high-rises


Dim sum time with a family friend
Best vegetarian place so far: Kung Tak Lam Shanghai Vegetarian Cuisine 
On the pricey side, but their 'ham' rolls .. mmm mm

Causeway Bay, shopping central

My new favorite hangout spot near work: 
The owner opened this restaurant four months ago and branded their own Konjac noodles.

My morning runs by the Quarry Bay harbor.


PS. You know when you see someone dressing 'different' - they either immigrated recently or visiting from another country? Yup, been there, done that, happens on the daily - I feel like I'm 'fresh off the boat' with my casual clothes on lol. I also live in a very local part of HK and definitely not getting the HK style down yet.

This will probably happen to me ..or this.  

August 11, 2013

A Story About Self-Confidence

If you have never heard J.K. Rowling's speech at Harvard's commencement, I suggest you hear her life story. Aside from being an incredible speaker and writer, she has built her own successes from the ground up. She quotes Plutarch, "What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality."

Here's another one of my favorites from Sarah Kay, a spoken word artist:

There are so many amazing speakers on TED and it just seems like self-confidence flows seamlessly through them. To become a leader, I believe self-confidence is one of the most important traits.

Self-confidence seems to be a characteristic for an extrovert, but how about for an introvert? Hard to believe for some, but I am an introvert by nature and actively work on my communication skills daily. One of my goals in life is to become a better speaker. Channeling Ira Glass -- everyone starts as a beginner, "it is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions."

I received a very touching letter from a good friend yesterday. One who has seen me grow in the past 10 years through my struggles. Though it was a happy occasion that day, I teared up for a bit during the car ride home reading over the sweet note.

My humble beginnings of lacking self-confidence:

I was never as smart as my friends, a bit more overweight among my family members, a little more slow in my conversations with my peers. I am an introvert by nature and have struggled with expressing my loud mind.

1st grade - Kimberly was the most popular girl in our class. She was cute, had the nicest clothes, her mom was a flight attendant who always brought free stuff to our class when she visited. The teachers adored her and everyone else wanted to be her best friend. I was the nice quiet girl who hung out with the boys and played handball during recess. My mom worked 3 jobs to support my entire family and we were lucky enough to get new clothes for the school year. We were a modest family. My mother would always get us cute Sanrio mechanical pencils and they were my most prized possessions. I had stuck purple play-doh in my pencil the day before bringing it to school. Kimberly had asked to borrow my pencil the next day and I was elated to lend it to her. When I asked for it back, she told me it was hers. I told the teacher I knew it was mine because I stuck play-doh in it. I cried to my teacher and the entire class looked at me when the teacher said, "Anna, you are wrong. Please don't lie. The pencil is Kimberly's."

10th grade -  I was put in English Honors the 2nd year of high school and struggled to maintain a C- average. The new young teacher pushed us with oral speech, college level analytical thinking and I was juggling too many activities and AP courses at one time. She consistently tore my work apart essay after essay with red firecracker marks. I proudly maintained a B- average at the end of the year with too many all-nighters to count and in the end, she decided to drop me from the honors course next year. I was bewildered and told her I tried my best. Her next words haunted me for years to come and shattered my self-esteem, "sometimes even with your hardest efforts, it will not take you where you want to be in life."

3rd year of college - I was dating a jerk and fell for him out of loneliness in college. He consistently told me how ugly his friends thought I was and he can never be with me because I was overweight. I stayed with him thinking if I lost weight, I would feel better about myself and he would find me more attractive. After 4 months of emotional abuse, I went from a straight A student to failing all my classes that Spring. It was a black hole I knew I had to get out of.

-Another spoken word video for you :) -

Society will always define what success means for us. You will be judged under societal norms of statistics, statuses and timelines. Media will always tell you a size 0 is beautiful and everyone outside of that is not enough.

In a world full of critics, no wonder self-esteem and confidence is an issue. To build your self-confidence, I have learned you should not define it through society norms, but begin inwardly and build self-confidence through your own personal goals.


Today marks 8 months since I made my goals this past January. You can say it was partly a resolutions list that served as an on-going reminder to measure my life in daily increments of growth and gratitude.

I have crossed a few things off the list this year including running a half marathon on a vegetarian/pescetarian diet, getting a place with my other half and visiting family at least 2x a week. The rest are ongoing goals in my life and others have evolved in ways based on life's circumstances.  No. 14 was the real winner this year.

(Paula and I at SF Wipro starting line - Celebrating her 1st half marathon and end of residency!)

I am moving to Hong Kong in less than 3 months and I have never imagined myself as an expat.

I lied. I wrote a post dedicated to my bucket list and one goal was to live in Australia on a freelance gig. The idea of living in another country had somehow been floating in my mind for a long time and has finally played out with this new opportunity. I can't truly express how freaking amazing and exciting this is. The law of attraction is true if you believe it.

Honestly, I feel blessed everyday working for a great company with genuinely amazing people. It's crazy to think it was only a little over a years ago I was laid off from my full-time job for four months. I had to juggle 3 jobs to help support my family and my confidence was at an all time low. I felt like a failure everyday. It was then I learned to pick myself up and utilize 24 hours to my advantage.

Even through that tough period, I felt my life has always been lucky -- someone upstairs was always watching over me.

I measure luck as an overflow of hard work, paying it forward and good timing. When you give 110% everyday in what you do, that 10% IS the luck that comes back around. Today, as I sit her and reminisce how my life will change in the next couple of months, I meditated on what will challenge me most there and what has challenged me most in the past: building my confidence and becoming a better speaker.

Here are 11 Things I've learned in my journey towards self-confidence as an introvert:

1. Do something that scares you everyday. You will learn something new about yourself, guaranteed. Change only happens when you step outside of your comfort zone.

2. 10,000 Hours - It's a song from Macklemore, but also an idea that if you work on something for 10,000 hours, you can master it.

3. Find your role models and follow them on social media. Great leaders encourage others to be the best versions of themselves and this is a great daily motivation reminder.

4. In achieving any goal, there will always be setbacks and failures. Don't give up. You will see other people achieve your goals faster than you. Don't give up. People will tell you, you can't do it and you will begin to believe them on your bad days. Don't give up and push forward. Be patience with yourself and realize you are on your own path and the only comparison you should be making is comparing your old self to your new self.

5. Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. Some people have it easier than others so don't feel sorry for yourself. Instead, accept things as they are and use it as ground zero to build up.  This only means you are a diamond in the rough and will have to put more effort to get there. Embrace the journey.

6. Discipline: Write down your goals and make a plan to get there. Commit to the plan everyday, every week, every month. In exchange for your goals, you must sacrifice certain habits of feeling momentary satisfaction. Make it a priority to concentrate on what your future self will thank you for.
 "Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you".  

7. Keep a blog, a journal or a social media site to look back on your successes when you need a reminder. You can track your progress and measure yourself daily.

8. Surround yourself with the people who believe in you and your dreams. Those who will continue to support you in your successes and your failures. These are the golden ones who will lift you up on your hard days when you feel drained and have zero confidence.

9. Stay balanced - When things are overwhelming and stressful, be sure to zen it out. Go back to the simplicity of gratitude. Work for compassion, love, patience, humility, honesty, loyalty, mindfulness and meaning in everything you do.

10. Be kind & Stay humble - The line between confidence and cockiness is to stay humble. Remember your struggles, so when someone needs advice from the beginning, you can teach them how to build from the start.

11. Always be a learner of life - If you are wrong, say you are wrong. If you are right, continue in that direction until you know better. Then do better.


Hope this post helps anyone working towards goals, self-confidence and leadership as an introvert. Here are a few people I follow that inspire me daily on social media :)

On Instagram Fitness: 

Marc and Angel  (Daily Life Tips)  (My friend Andrea's blog on motherhood + life)
99U (Advice on enhancing creativity and work efficiency) (Ben Casnocha's Intelligent Thoughts) (Tim Ferris - Life Hacks) (Personal Finance Tips)