Meal Plans Aren’t Magic

When I started competing in jiujitsu, I found very few resources to help myself cut body weight without using extreme measures like severe calorie-restriction and sweating out pounds of water. It seemed that I was always 3-4 pounds away from my target and scrambling to get the weight off any way I could.

Shifting over to a whole-foods based diet with tons of vegetables and cataloging that journey on Instagram over the past few years is tons of fun and highly effective for maintaining my fighting weight all year. Many people messaged me on Instagram with a general interest in a meal plan before I wrote my guidebook. So I listened and created the Yasi Fit Meal Plan. It was exciting to launch, but guess what? It’s nothing new! My meal plan is similar to other whole foods-based meal plans, but in the guidebook I add a few extra psychological tips to get anyone started. Yes, it’s all there in the book but will this actually jumpstart a person towards healthier eating? Um, the answer is no. Let me explain why.

Most people I talk to tell me that they know they should eat healthier. I then ask them, “what should you be eating exactly?” and they respond in kind – less sugar and processed foods and more vegetables and water. My next question addresses the WHY. Why haven’t most people wanting to change follow through with it?

What stops a successful meal plan?

Poorly Planning. Picking the start date of a new meal plan is easy, but what is often overlooked is how much time will be needed to prep for the day or week. Think about this. If you decide to try a different way of eating, you will need to look through your existing food stash, go grocery shopping, then prepare the food. Add extra time if you come across any hick-ups like not finding an ingredient in your usual supermarket, having to learn about a new cooking method (i.e., blanching, poaching) and execute it properly. Give yourself adequate time, weeks even, to increase your familiarity with the new plan.

Hopeless Mindset. Starting off with thoughts of failure and hopelessness before you start eating indicates that you already doubt that you will be successful. If this isn’t your first meal plan rodeo, then there may have been roadblocks in the past. Review what didn’t work in the past and plan around that. Think of your meal plan as a lifestyle change, not as a punishment. Trying a new meal plan is already a positive move on your part! Give it a shot.

Expecting the weight scale to move fast. Unless you are already enacting successful change with your nutrition, it takes approximately 6 to 12 months to see stable results. Day-to-day weight fluctuations are more a reflection of water and food processes than of overall body weight reduction. Do not get hung up on daily weigh-ins unless you are in the final phase of competition prep. The 2-4 pounds variance will drive you crazy! If you like weighing frequently, be sure to set your expectation that the scale will tick up and down slightly.

Self-criticism. Eating according to the meal plan is the goal, but life happens and moods fluctuate which can negatively impact sticking to the plan. The stress from a missed meal or a cheat meal can be overwhelming. Just know that at the end of the day, food is food. And all bodies need food. Criticizing yourself over a meal after it was eaten is an unnecessary use of mental energy. Give yourself some wiggle room for “noncompliance” – that donut is not going to ruin you in the long run! Monitor your thoughts for these sneaky criticisms and challenge their validity.

Seasonal (or cyclical) eating. Typically, competitors eat according to a meal plan until they fight and then they eat whatever they want for days or weeks afterward. We call this offseason eating. For me, it’s donut season. It’s normal to cycle on and off of a meal plan. I don’t see this as a  failure, but rather a food break. In many societies, people are inundated with advertisements of unhealthy, delicious foods like . . . donuts. Then there’s events and holidays that are structured around fun foods – think Easter candy (USA) or pumpkin spice lattes in the winter (Also USA). Allow for times when you might go rogue but also plan for your return to the meal plan.

The meal plan is just a tool to help change eating patterns. It doesn’t magically do the work by itself. What is required, however, is careful planning, setting the right expectations, keeping a positive mindset, and planning for times when you have to practice some flexibility.

Until next post, train smart and eat well.- Dr. Yasi


Are you Gi-Obsessed?

According to WebMD, you might have OBSESSIVE GI DISORDER, or OGD, if you have four or more of the following symptoms. (This is just for fun, okay?? (Wink-wink.)

Diagnostic Criteria for OGD:

  1. Recurrent and persistent thoughts about gis, at times causing fear of negative evaluation from others. 
  2. Often hides behavior associated with buying and selling gis from others. 
  3. Repetitive website checking for available gis. Also may include repetitive checking for new release email announcements.
  4. Has surpassed threshold amount of 14 total gis, calculated at 14 gis (i.e., 2/day x 7 days).
  5. Obsessed with acquiring gis with certain features such as size, limited edition collaboration, or color way. 
  6. Compulsively tracks down others who own gis of interest to negotiate sale, either in person or online. 
  7. May resell gi without gi bag due to particular attachment to gi. 
  8. Living environment may no longer accommodate hoarded collection. 
  9. Gi washing, folding, and storage is prioritized over daily wear clothing. 
  10. Gi collection consists of gradual shifts in sizing, most notably from larger to smaller. Significant distress or inability to get rid of poorly fitting gis is present.
  11. Gi collection broken down into two or more of the following categories: training rotation, competition, special occasion, and NWT. 
  12. Can readily identify subtle differences such as a 350 GSM pearl weave versus gold weave 550 GSM gi top blind-folded. 
  13. Hoarding behavior tends to increase sharply after belt promotion.

To be fair, I’m calling myself out as I’m a little gi-obsessed these days. I’m selling two gis that fit too big, I have a collab gi on the way and just purchased another one from a friend. I decided that my goal is to have a collection of awesome gis that fit great. 

My gi collection lives in the lower left corner of my closet.

Actual Collection: 16 Gis

Moya Brand | Albino & Preto | Fenom Kimonos | Ctrl Industries | Habrok | War Tribe | Fuji Sports

No shame in my game – I’m a proud gi collector! Just gotta let a few go. . . or NOT. Bwahahaha!

Until next post, train smart and eat well.- Dr. Yasi

BJJ, Competition

First Competition at Purple Belt

Eight weeks ago, I embarked on a newly designed training camp for my first tournament as a purple belt. I knew I wanted to be as prepared as possible for my debut so I followed some of my usual routines for mental preparation. Mental preparation is a common topic and everyone does it a little bit differently – which is good! We all have different needs and anxieties. Our routines should reflect our individual differences. 

Mindset Training Starts Early

When you start to train heavily for a tournament (or fight/bout/match, etc.), one thing that’s often left out is specific training for your mind. It’s very common to feel anxious, but these emotions must be dealt with much earlier than the week of or day of the fight. For more on anxiety symptoms read my blog post – click here.

Almost every competition training class, where we live sparring non-stop for up to 75 minutes, I would practice my mindset routine to help get me into the “zone”. Yes, that infamous zone where you go into a tunnel-visioned state of intense focus. Nothing else matters except the target in front of you.  Your mind quiets and your muscle memory takes over. Psychologist, Dr. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi wrote about the concept of getting into the zone, coined as “flow”, in the 1970s. This mental process just like the physical training requires practice and effort. 

Creating My State of Flow 

  1. Read my jiujitsu notes with particular attention to the game plan that I want to use for competition day. 
  2. Listen to a playlist of the music that amps me up. 
  3. Stretch out using yoga movement. Use foam roller as needed. 
  4. Review goals that I set for the competition. (Usually I pick something focused on my own performance, not on the result of the competition.) For the San Antonio Open, my goal was to show up and play my game plan of pulling into closed guard. I had no other expectations for myself. 
  5. With 15-20 minutes before I fight, I stop listening to music. I acclimate to the surrounding environmental noises. 
  6. I review a short list of reminders on my phone. Example: Constant Pressure. I know by reading this quick note, I can keep it fresh in my mind as I step onto the mat. 
  7. Three deep breaths. . . and Go Time. 

I trained the day before the San Antonio Open and was able to practice all of the sequences I had planned to refresh my memory. Pulling to closed guard and three sequences of attacks to submissions. 

I fought in the Master 2 Women’s featherweight division for purple belt rank. Four of us women fought for the top spot. I won my first match exactly how I practiced – pulling with collar and sleeve to closed guard and then attacking the arm, bailed and submitted by triangle by the third minute of a 6-minute match. Step-by-step, each of these movements is exactly what I wrote down for the game plan. These sequences were my focus throughout the training camp. I came and I executed. 

Setting up arm attack.
Transitioning to triangle attack.
Triangle choke for the win.

On the other end of the bracket, my teammate won her match and that result placed us together in the finals. We closed out the finals match by a handshake. 

In the end, I’m very happy with the result of my hard training and rewarded myself with not one, but TWO Krispy Kreme donuts! Hoping to set up a sponsorship with my beloved donut factory. 

For those of you interested, I’ll be opening up a Yasi Fit office in Houston, Texas to work with athletes to help improve their mental game. I hope to get the practice going as soon as possible. More on that when I get the details straightened out!

Until next Monday’s post, train smart and eat well. – Dr. Yasi


Germ Warfare on the Mat

Biological warefare, also known as germ warfare, is the use of infectious agents or toxins with the intent to harm or kill humans, animals or other living creatures. Okay, maybe that is a little extreme for the world of combat sports. We aren’t trying to kill each other with germs, just with our ninja skills (Wink, wink). Perhaps the more applicable definition of Germ Warfare is humans engaging in battle against the GERMS.

Plenty of articles have been written about cleanliness of gyms and how to prevent or reduce exposure to bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Of the top articles available on the world wide web, this one was pretty interesting. Who better than a microbiologist to give us the scientific details of where germs lurk in the gym. What’s rare in these articles is the discussion about seasonal colds running rampant at gyms – especially when there are children taking classes as well. 

Welcome to Germ City!
Even the cleanest gyms will only be as clean as their dirtiest Pig Pen.

So what happens when the germs win and we come down with cold symptoms? The common cold is caused by any one of the hundreds of known virus strains. These viruses are hanging out everywhere – door handles, mats, on people’s skin, and even floating around on microscopic airborne droplets. It takes 1-2 days for the cold virus to take hold and symptoms of mild body aches, stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, cough or sore throat may appear. 

How to treat a cold? 

  1. Stay hydrated . . . and stay away from your BJJ gym.
  2. Rest. . . and stay away from your BJJ gym. 
  3. Use cough drops, nasal sprays, OTC meds, etc. . . and stay away from your BJJ gym.
  4. Conduct a thorough investigation into which teammate may have gotten you sick. . . and stay away from your BJJ gym. 
From an altruistic perspective, you’d be helping everyone else if your cold germ-riddled body stayed at home in quarantine. Why expose others unnecessarily? Think of time off the mat as a restorative break to rest and hydrate. Our bodies’ immune systems are pretty good at fighting cold viruses. If we overburden our bodies by adding intense exercise on top of fighting off virus infections, we might even delay recovery thus prolonging the return to Jiu Jitsu. So just Netflix and chill with your white blood cells next time you’re sick. Please and thank you.
BJJ, Competition

Getting Stronger, Faster.

Now that I’ve received my purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I updated my training camp for my first competition in December 2018 as a new competitor in the purple belt division women’s master division.

I decided to add strength and conditioning training because I didn’t feel I was maximizing my time in the weigh gym. I’d go often but didn’t want to bulk up. For example, the workout regimen was basically the same stuff I was doing years ago. I didn’t have explosiveness – I was never a sprinter. I also  felt that I could be physically stronger. 

This summer I took an invitational class at Studio Fitness in East Downtown Houston and met the gym owner, Layne Chess. I approached him about helping me to increase my strength without putting on additional body weight.

After my initial assessment with Coach Layne, he confirmed my timeline and short-term goals. He sent me an individualized strength and conditioning program. The strength element is a kettlebell-based workout and the conditioning element is a cardiovascular exercise component. 

Strong First Kettlebell Workout

Now, I’ve used kettlebells here and there in the past informally but I’ve long since lost good form. The greater probability was that I had subpar form to start! I did not know very much about how a kettlebell workout could translate into strength on the jiujitsu mat. Coach Layne goes into a good deal of explanation and science during our sessions. 

Dr. Yasi: How does kettlebell translate into functional strength? 

Coach Layn: One of the greatest values of working with a kettlebell is that the load of the ball is in front of the handle, unlike a dumbbell in which the load in in line with the handle.  Even the most basic of kettlebell movements cause you to work through a larger range of motion, increasing the flexibility demands of the exercise, and strength through length is key.

Cardiovascular Interval Exercise 

When I decided to work with Coach Layne, I assumed that I would be doing only strength training. I did not even consider some form of cardio to supplement my training camp. The way I had thought about cardio for jiujitsu was in the form of, um. . . live sparring in my competition classes? This is was I was told from early on. Cardio happens on the mat so why waste time doing cardio if not for weight-cutting? What is the deal with all this H-I-I-T stuff? Cardio is cardio, right? 

Dr. Yasi: What’s the benefit of heart rate-based interval cardiovascular exercise? 

Coach Layn: First it’s important to understand what you’re using the cardio for, and then program for that.  For you, we designed a cardio regimen that gets you into your Zone 5 for a bit to replicate full on intensity on the mat.  Then we allow short rest periods to simulate those moments of recovery you get between rounds.  Over time we’ll shorten your rest periods helping to train you to recover quicker.  It all correlates.  The body knows time and intensity, so the better you can replicate these forces off the mat, the better you’ll handle them on the mat.

Dr. Yasi: Why does intense cardio make you want to vomit? (Asking for a friend.)

Coach Layn: There are several reasons this can happen, from under to over hydration, or merely blood leaving the stomach to supply the body when intensity is super high.

My final point is that I am a data-driven person. I have experienced noticeable gains in strength and cardiac performance already. Plus, I’m just starting week 4 of this program. My lesson learned is to hire an expert, even if time-limited, to help me in my areas of weakness. I don’t know what I don’t know. Please reach out to Coach Layne if you’ve hit a strength and conditioning plateau, feel stuck or lost in the weight gym, or just want get an edge on the competition. I’m not his only competitive athlete at his gym, but probably the most excited!

Reach Coach Layn and his staff at:

Sustainable Lifestyle

Update: #NoWasteNovember Challenge

I decided to challenge myself this month to reduce my waste, particularly of plastics. While No-Waste-At-All is the goal, it’s definitely idealistic and far-reaching. Also, #nowastenovember has a certain ring to it unlike #lesswastenovember. This challenge is the latest in my longer-term goal to manage the amount of stuff I own. I was inspired* to have a minimalist approach to acquiring any new stuff and consider how I dispose of used, unwanted, or old stuff. 

Beginning November 1, 2018, I began toting around reusable cotton bags, glassware, thermos mug, and a metal spoon and fork. By day 2, I realized I needed to establish some guidelines. So I came up with the following list of do’s and don’ts. 

YasiFit Goes Green

  1. Don’t buy plastics or collect free plastics.
  2. If I end up getting plastics, it must be recyclable. 
  3. Reuse any existing plastic items. 
  4. Recycle all possible plastic, paper, metal, and glass.
  5. Compost food scraps.
  6. Biodegradable waste goes into the garbage in a paper bag. 

It’s been two weeks so far and I’ve learned a few things about my consumer behavior. Plastic is everywhere in my life! My favorite pens are mostly plastic. I have bought and eaten food sold in plastic wrappers. Finally, I kept forgetting to ask servers to hold the straw. 

Practice Makes Perfect Progress 

These are the different ways I’ve been sorting my trash. Where I live, we do not have recycling pick up service. I’ve lugged my recycling items to my sister’s house where she has a green waste bin from the city. 

I’ve learned that recycling centers do not accept soiled plastic containers so I hand wash each item. It gets really complicated for toiletries like hand lotion (i.e., cutting the tube open and wiping it clean). There are some weird items like paper boxes that have a plastic coating on the outside. I throw those into this bag too and hope for the best!

Recyclables Bag
Contains paper packaging, plastic containers, aluminum cans and foil.

The next category is really interesting. I hadn’t thought about what I might do with biodegradable stuff like soiled napkins, paper towels, and . . . hair balls. If you’ve got long hair, I’m sure you know all about Hair Art in the shower. I have forced myself to establish the habit of balling that hair up and throwing it into the trash, not down the drain. After paying for a plumber to auger a shower drain clogged with hair clumps, I learned my lesson. Hair goes into the trash and not down the pipe. 

I use a separate paper bag for the biodegradables. I expect to toss it directly into the trash bin as is. 

Biodegradable Bag
Contains dryer lint, soiled napkins and towels, wooden chopsticks, hair strands, and nail clippings.

The last portion of my waste collection is the undesirable plastic and plastic coated trash. After two weeks of this challenge, I realize that going completely no waste is completely impossible. So I used a plastic bag that I couldn’t recycle to hold all the remaining trash. There are some themes here, mostly of plastic wrappers for food and products and those dang drink cups. 

Except for days 12 through 15, this is about 75% – 80% of the trash I’ve created since I began the challenge. All in all, I am pretty sure this trash would have been three times as much. I’ll chalk it up to a Big Green Win!

Legitimate Waste
Contains food wrappers, cups lined with plastic, toiletries wrappers, and mail plastics. 

After several days of travel with my cousin, I am back on track for the rest of the month. I’m enjoying the challenge of grocery shopping for items that aren’t wrapped in plastic or styrofoam and getting creative when eating out. Looking forward to changing my consumer habits in the long term to encourage a more consistent low-waste lifestyle. 

*The goal to minimize my stuff was added to my 2018 vision board. 

BJJ, Coaching, Competition

“Pre-competition jitters are N-O-R-M-A-L!” Managing Sports Performance Anxiety

Anxiety is a completely normal and expected response. It signals us that danger is lurking around the corner. Back in the day (eons ago), humans encountered lions and tigers and bears out in the wilderness. Seeing a dangerous predator like a lion triggers a very natural fear response in the brain. The brain sets off a series of “alarm bells“, also known as fight-or-flight response.

Specifically, fight-or-flight response is a series of physiological changes in the body that prepare for either fighting, fleeing, or sometimes, freezing in the face of danger.

What happens during fight-or-flight activation? I’m generalizing here so as not to go knee-deep into biochemistry.

  • The brain perceives a threat and signals the pituitary glad to release cortisol, the stress hormone, meanwhile the adrenal gland releases adrenaline.
  • Heart rate elevates to pump blood to the major muscle groups, fueling them for action.
  • Breathing rate increases to oxygenate the blood pumping through the heart, now that the heart is pumping blood faster.
  • The digestive system slows down or stops as a result of the blood being redirected through the heart to the major muscle groups.
  • Muscles start to tense getting ready for action, either running away or fighting.
  • Vision narrows to focus on the target, known as tunnel vision. Peripheral hearing loss may also occur.
  • The brain determines the best action based on the situation. The early human either started running towards to protective shelter or attacking the lion for food.

Nowadays, we do not have the same threats (lions lurking in the neighborhood) but we react in the same way to perceived or even imagined danger! Thinking about an upcoming competition can elicit a fight-or-flight response that may feel like anxiety or panic. Learning to identify when your body is activated in this way is the first step in managing that type of physical anxiety.

Feels like this? Below may be helpful for people with a tendency to become very anxious about their sports performance.

Racing heart: Feels like you are going to have a heart attack or your heart is going to pop out of your chest cavity.

Reality is that your mind is reacting to the imagined activity you are planning to do in the near future.  Initially, your mind does not differentiate between visualized activity and actually doing the activity. In actual danger, there’s no time to *think* about the threat, thus this response is automatic. It reacts by saying to the body, “Hey guys, it’s about to go down so everyone get fire up!” If you interpret your racing heart as a negative or dangerous symptom, you will become anxious. Instead, by interpreting your racing heart as a positive symptom, one that helps you prepare for action, you can better appreciate your body’s conditioning and preparation.

Faster breathing: Feels like you are hyperventilating, your chest may feel tight, and feels like you are going to have a panic attack.

Reality is that your heart is designed to pump in the used up blood carrying cell waste and carbon dioxide (darker red, almost bluish) into the heart. In the chambers of the heart, the blood is infused with nutrients, oxygen, and hormones (bright red) to be transported out to organs, tissues, and cells of the body. Yes, this includes those large muscle groups made for action! Again, your body is getting ready for physical sports performance and an elevated breathing rate is a positive symptom. Although, if your breathing is very shallow and rapid, it is not as efficient in bringing in fresh air into the entire lungs. Slower paced, full breaths ensure you maximize the oxygen supply for your heart to use. Deep breathing also slows down the heart rate because it doesn’t have to work as hard (i.e., pump faster) to get more oxygen from smaller, shallow breaths.

Breathing takes practice! One way to practice your breathing is to wear a heart rate monitor and just after your cardio exercise, use deep breathing to slow your heart rate. There are many ways to deepen your breath. I like inhaling for four counts and exhaling for four counts. You can return to your regular breathing rate and see the heart rate climb up a little. Returning to deep, slowed breaths usually can bring the heart rate back down.

Side note: You can measure the amount of oxygen in your arterial blood with an oximeter. Normal range is 95% to 100%. Some devices including smart phones have this ability. Below is my own oxygen saturation reading using my phone.


Slowed digestion: Feels like butterflies in the stomach, stomachaches, feeling like vomiting.

Reality: Since the heart is recruiting extra blood for the major muscle groups. The digestive system, which largely uses blood to digest food, is almost stopped. If you’ve had food in the past few hours, stopping midway may result in feeling queasy as those digestive enzymes and acidic juices may begin to bubble up in the wrong direction. It affects everyone differently. Sensations may include aches, fluttering, tightness, cramps or “knots”, bloating, indigestion, and feeling nauseated.

Depending on the type of stomach symptom, you may consider changing the time you eat, reducing or changing the type of food you eat, incorporating peppermint or ginger in the form of candy/mints/drops, tea, or in essential oil form. Relaxing the abdominal muscles may help with the tightness or pressure on the stomach area.

Muscular tension: Feels like shaking, trembling or very tense muscles throughout the body or localized to a particular body region.

Reality is that your heart and lungs have coordinated to provide energy to the large muscle groups in preparation for action. Your muscular system might also have some adrenaline to further energize the muscles. It can feel uncomfortable to have involuntary flexing of the muscles and by interpreting the sensations as negative can hinder or distract your mind from focusing on your sports performance. Having responsive muscles is definitely a positive symptom, but managing the excess energy is crucial so as not to expend that energy too early. Thinking “My body is ready, let’s go!” is a great interpretation and very motivating. Gentle movement like walking around, shaking off the nervous, as in nervous system, energy and focusing on quality deep breathing can help alleviate the muscular tension.

Inability to hear or see around you: Feels like you cannot focus on your surroundings and it’s hard to track the location of others, i.e., your teammates or coach. Feeling scatter-brained with the influx of external stimuli.

Reality is that narrowed vision and hearing was the body’s way of focusing on the threat of danger, for example, that prehistoric lion’s advancing movements. While one popular strategy is to listen to music or whatever on headphones, just before the event it can be beneficial to reacclimatize your hearing to the environmental noises (the court, arena, or gym) so you can prepare yourself to hear your coach over or through the noise.

In closing, use your natural fight-or-flight response to help your performance instead of fearing the symptoms. Become aware of the way your own body manages these physiological changes. Acknowledge that your body is doing exactly what it needs to for undertaking a large amount of athletic activity. Your mindset determines whether your body is your ally or your enemy.

Author: Dr. Yasi Pujols