Book Review: Food Rules – An Eater’s Manual

Michael Pollan Food Rules

Because I am considering going into the health and fitness field as my career, and because this blog is getting a lot of views, I thought I should try to start really researching more into Health and Nutrition. A friend of mine on the tour recently lent me this book called Food Rules – An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan. Featured at #1 on the New York Times BestSeller list, this book shares basic rules and guidelines for making better choices while eating.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who would like to improve his/her diet. Now I will be completely honest, I am NOT a reader. I have the hardest time focusing while reading, but with this book, it was so easy to get through (Besides, it is only 139 pages, some of which only have a few sentences on the them). Even though this book may be short, it provides 64 general rules that help you make better food choices and help improve your eating habits.

I don’t want to give too much away in my review because I want you to go buy this book and read it yourself, but from what I took away, Michael Pollan suggests many beliefs of those who may follow a Paleo diet (The same diet Tony Grecco, my last Feature Friday Inspirtation, tries to follow). While reading, he frequently points out his golden rule to eating: Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants. It sounds very easy, but he goes into much further detail on what this saying actually means, and how to follow this eating habit. Now from the saying, you may be thinking, “Oh, he is suggesting that I become a Vegetarian or a Vegan,” but fortunately he is not saying that at all! I love the fact that he is pro-omnivore! He tells you to eat meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc. The rules are not aimed toward changing what foods you eat necessarily, but rather toward opening up your mind and observing what you eat. When you observe what you eat, when you are more knowledgable of how the food gets from the farm to your table, and when you are aware of how you are actually consuming your food, that is when you may actually question and consider changing your eating habits.

Heart Healthy

For the three sections of his golden rule, Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants, Michael Pollan gives a set of guidelines in order to help you follow these three steps. He knows that following every rule and guideline he suggests can be hard and a huge change from what you are used to, so he openly suggests picking at least one rule from each section and practicing those in your daily life. For example, the rules I would like to try to follow are:

    Eat Food – It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car AND Avoid foods that have some sort of sugar listed among the top three ingredients
    Mostly Plants – Drink the Spinach Water
    Not too much – The banquet is the first bite

I am not going to explain exactly what these rules mean and how to follow them since I want you to go get the book, but just by reading about how these rules work, and applying them to my diet, I hope to start eating healthier and smarter. I recommend you find which rules you are willing to try out. Some may sound farfetched or too hard to do, but I can guarantee you that you will be able to find some rules that you would like to try. He makes some excellent points and backs up most of his guidelines with reasonings that should hopefully help you better understand the importance and benefit of each rule.

Now go out there and purchase Food Rules – An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan if you would like to start changing some of your eating habits! If you have any questions about this book or my review, please feel free to email me at

Diet Tip #1: How to Set Good Goals

Alec Varcas Diet Tips 1Lets face it… DIETS SUCK! No one really likes going on a diet. We all wish that we can eat whatever we wanted and still maintain amazing bodies. Unfortunately that is not how the world works and we have to watch what we eat, not only to look good, but also to lead a healthy lifestyle.

After doing some research, it is estimated that about 80% of weight loss New Years Resolutions fail. There are many theories as to why, but I have suggestions on how to reach your goals and not be part of that 80%.

My First Suggestion: Don’t say your goal is “To lose weight!”
You are already setting yourself up for failure because you are really not giving yourself a defined goal. Losing a pound and losing 30 pounds is a big difference, but technically in both situations, you have lost weight. You need to give yourself something to really aim for. For example, a good goal to set would be, I want to lose 15 pounds in 90 days. With this you have set a real goal and something to really aim for. This will put your mind in the right place to achieve success.

Alec Varcas Diet Tips 1-2

My Second Suggestion: Don’t set a goal that is too far in the future.
Setting a weight loss goal a year from now is not as affective as setting one two months from now. Why? If you have a goal to reach in ten months, you are more likely going to forget about it and make some bad diet and exercise choices than if you have a goal to reach in 2 weeks. If you would like to set a big goal, such as losing 50 pounds by the end of the year, or being able to bench press 100 more pounds by the end of the year, that is fine, but you must achieve those goals by setting smaller more frequent ones in between (ex: I will lose 5 pounds this month, I will bench press 10 more pounds this month)

My Third Suggestion: Don’t wait until January 1st to start a new goal.
According to an article by John Norcross that was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, approximately 50% of Americans make New Years Resolutions. I hate New Years Resolutions because it gives people an excuse to slack off until January 1st. If you want to be healthy and fit, START NOW! There is no better time to start. You are not getting any younger and you are just wasting time if you are putting it off for a specific date. Being healthy is a lifestyle, not a goal to reach! So start making better decisions now and you will be able to maintain a healthier lifestyle in the future.

Any questions or concerns? Want to know more about this topic? Contact me at

Starbucks Breakfast Food

StarbucksLlogo Black
I will openly admit that I am a huge Starbucks fan. I am guilty of being a Gold Card Rewards Member and whenever I have a chance to stop at a Starbucks, I almost do! Because I may stop in a little too often, I knew I should make one of my first food reviews on Starbucks to not only educate myself about their food, but also help you make some healthier choices when you may need a quick bite to eat. This topic is specifically about the breakfast foods Starbucks has to offer. Another post about their snacks, lunches, and sweets will come in another post very soon… so keep an eye out.

Here are my suggestions for Starbucks Breakfast food:
Yes – Oatmeal with or without toppings, Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich, Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap, Chicken Sausage Breakfast Wrap, Strawberry Blueberry Yogurt Parfait, Peach Raspberry Yogurt Parfait
No – Sausage & Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich, Greek Yogurt with Honey Parfait, Butter Croissant, Chocolate Croissant, Doughnuts, Sweet Rolls, Danishes, Muffins, Scones

Yes – The oatmeal offered at Starbucks is definitely a good choice when you need a little something in your stomach. It probably is not enough to fill you up as a meal, but it is a great quick snack or light breakfast. Starbucks offers a Classic Oatmeal and a Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal, both steel-cut with old-fashioned oats. Both oatmeals are only 150 calories without any additional toppings, 2.5g of unsaturated fat, 0g of sodium, 27g of carbs, 4g of fiber, and 5g of protein. The toppings offered for the Classic Oatmeal are Brown Sugar (+50 calories), Dried Fruit (+100 calories), and a Nut Medley (+100 calories), all of which I would still say are fine to add to your oatmeal. The toppings available for the Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal are Organic Agave Syrup (+40 calories), Fresh Blueberries (+20 calories), Dried Blueberries (+100 calories), and a Fruit, Nut & Seed Medley (+70 calories), all of which I would say are fine to add to your oatmeal as well.


Yes – Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich, Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap, Chicken Sausage Breakfast Wrap
No – Sausage & Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich

Starbucks offers a variety of Breakfast Sandwiches, and many people do not know that at participating locations, some of their breakfast sandwiches can be made with either egg or cage-free egg whites (usually only the Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich, Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap, and Chicken Sausage Breakfast Wrap can be made with egg whites). If possible, I highly recommend getting one of the cage-free egg white sandwiches, not only because they are lower in fat and cholesterol, but they honestly taste really good. The breakfast sandwich I would first suggest getting would be the Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich, followed by the Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap, and then the Chicken Sausage Breakfast Wrap.

    1. Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich – 320 calories, 7g of fat, 2g of saturated fat, 20mg of cholesterol, 43g of carbs, 3g of fiber, 18g of protein
    2. Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap – 290 calories, 10g of fat, 3.5g of saturated fat, 20mg of cholesterol, 33g of carbs, 6g of fiber, 19g of protein
    3. Chicken Sausage Breakfast Wrap – 300 calories, 10g of fat, 3g of saturated fat, 30mg of cholesterol, 33g of carbs, 5g of fiber, 14g of protein

Be aware, just like most other restaurants, these foods have high sodium contents (700-830mg of sodium each), so for those very concerned with sodium consumption I would stay away from all of the breakfast sandwiches.

Although Starbucks offers a number of other breakfast sandwiches, the one to definitely stay away from would be the Sausage & Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich. This sandwich is 500 calories, 28g of fat, 9g of saturated fat, 165mg of cholesterol, 920mg of sodium, 41g of carbs, 1g of fiber, and 19g of protein. Although there is a high protein content, the amount of fat, cholesterol and sodium make this sandwich not worth consuming.

Starbucks Strawberry Blueberry Yogurt Parfait

Yes – Strawberry Blueberry Yogurt Parfait, Peach Raspberry Yogurt Parfait
No – Greek Yogurt with Honey Parfait

In general, the Fruit Yogurt Parfaits make a pretty good snack. These yogurts have between 280-300 calories (not including the Seasonal Harvest Blend which is an additional 90 calories), a fat content of only 3.5g of fat, under 180mg of sodium, 8g of protein, and 3-4g of fiber. The only things I would be cautious of would be the carb content of around 55g and the 31g of sugar which both are not necessarily good when trying to trim down belly fat.
CAUTION: Now usually I am a HUGE advocate of Greek Yogurt because non-fat Greek Yogurt generally has more protein and less sugar than regular yogurt; however the Greek Yogurt at Starbucks is not! This yogurt has 12g of fat, 6g of saturated fat, 30mg of cholesterol, 44g of carbs, 1g of fiber, 32g of sugar, and only 8g of protein (the same amount of protein as the other yogurt parfaits). Because I find this product misleading and it actually has worse nutritional value than the other Yogurts at Starbucks, I do not suggest getting it.

No – Butter Croissant, Chocolate Croissant
Now I would not strongly suggest getting any of the Croissants, Bagels or Rolls; however, there are some smarter choices you can make if you are in need of some fast carbs. Stay away from the Butter Croissant and the Chocolate Croissant because they are high in fat and have hardly any positive nutritional value. If you need to get your carb fix I would suggest going with one of the bagel choices. Starbucks offers the following Bagels:

    Plain Bagel – 280 calories, 1g of fat, 0g of saturated fat, 490mg of sodium, 59g of carbs, 2g of fiber, 9g of protein
    Multigrain Bagel – 300 calories, 3g of fat, 0g of saturated fat, 490mg of sodium, 60g of carbs, 6g of fiber, 15g of protein
    Everything Bagel – 280 calories, 2g of fat, 0.5g of saturated fat, 500mg of sodium, 56g of carbs, 2g of fiber, 10g of protein

Starbucks also offers a Reduced-Fat and a Regular Cream Cheese Spread if you are in need of Cream Cheese, but I would suggest staying away from it all together because Cream Cheese adds between 7-11g of fat (4.5-7g of saturated fat).

No – Doughnuts, Sweet Rolls, Danishes
I do not recommend having any of the Doughnuts, Sweet Rolls, or Danishes because all of the options Starbucks has to offer are high in fat (13-27g), carbs (39-67g), and sugar (12-35g). There are much healthier choices to be had at Starbucks so steer as far away from the Doughnuts, Sweet Rolls, and Danishes as possible.

No – Muffins, Scones
Similar to the Doughnuts, Sweet Rolls, & Danishes, I do not recommend having any of the Muffins or Scones because all of the options are high in fat (12-28g), carbs (55-78g), and sugar (17-43g). Starbucks does offer a Petite Vanilla Scone that does have less fat, carbs, and sugar, but the serving size is so small, that I would still not recommend getting it.

Hope you enjoyed this post and feel a little more informed about what and what not to get at Starbucks! If you have any questions or concerns about this topic, or any of my other topics, please contact me at

Leg Pull-Ins/Leg Tucks (Level 1)

Leg Pull-In: Position 1

Leg Pull-In: Position 1

The Leg Pull-In is an exercise that specifically activates your upper, middle, and lower abs. The reason I really enjoy this workout is because anyone from a beginner to a professional fitness instructor can benefit from this exercise, and it also is a great transition workout to do between exercises.

To perform a Leg Pull-In:

    1. Find an open space on the floor.
    2. Lean slightly backward (about a 45 degree angle).
    3. Place your hands on the floor, behind your hips, with your fingertips facing forward (toward your legs).
    4. Keep your legs straight and raise them a few inches off the floor (You are now in position 1 of the exercise as seen in the picture above).
    5. While exhaling and tightening your abs, bring your knees toward your chest and raise your torso slightly toward your knees(This is position 2 of the exercise as seen in the picture below). Hold this position for about one second.
    6. Extend back out to position 1 and hold for one second.
    7. Repeat switching between Position 1 and 2 for the determined amount of reps (I usually do about 20 reps).

Leg Pull-In: Position 2

Leg Pull-In: Position 2


    1. Exhale while bringing your knees in. When exhaling you will be able to tighten and activate your abs more effectively.
    2. If you are new to this workout, try doing between 5-10 reps, and then increasing the amount of reps you do per set once you become stronger.
    3. This exercise can also be done on a bench or seat. Simply place your hands on the edge of the bench/seat and extend your legs out.
    4. This is one of my favorite transition exercises to do between more intense exercises such as a bench press or shoulder press. This workout will help keep your heart rate up while only exhausting your core muscles and giving the other muscles you may be training some rest between sets.
    5. To increase the intensity of the workout, move your hands next to your hips instead of behind you. This will help activate your entire core more effectively.
    6. For more advanced people, you can add weight to the exercise by using weighted ankle wraps, placing a dumbbell between your feet, or using the cable machine and strapping the cables to your ankles. WARNING: Be very careful when adding weight to any ab workout. Adding too much weight before your body is ready can cause serious injury or hernias.

Hope you enjoy this workout! If you have any questions of concerns, contact me at

Raised Side Plank

This is one of my favorite core strength exercises to perform. The Raised Side Plank is a core strength hold exercise that specifically targets your obliques, but really strengthens your entire core region (obliques, abs, lower back).

To perform this exercise:

    1. Find something to rest your feet on that is about a foot or two off the ground (I usually use a workout bench).
    2. Rest one foot on top of the other and rest your elbow and forearm on the ground.
    3. Lift your hips, core, and upper body off the ground so that they are parallel to the floor. Your upper arm to your shoulder should be perpendicular with the floor.
    4. Hold this position for 1 minute (or for beginners, start with 30 seconds and increase your time once your core becomes stronger).
    5. Repeat this exercise on the other side.



    1. Make sure the side of your body (obliques) is facing the floor and the front of your body is facing forward.
    2. Tighten you core, your obliques specifically, during the entire exercise
    3. Lift your hips up and keep them parallel to the floor. It is very easy to start drooping your hips to the floor. If they start to fall slightly, really squeeze your stomach muscles to try and raise them back up to maintain the straight body position.
    4. Form is more important than time! You will get better results from holding the correct position for 30 seconds than letting your body concave and turn incorrectly, holding the incorrect position for a longer time.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at

Six Pack Abs

AlecModelshot1One of the most common questions I get asked is “What is your ab workout routine?” The answer… I don’t have one. I know it may sound crazy, but I don’t follow any one routine to try and improve my stomach. I have found that if I stick to just one routine, my body may be sore the first few times I do the routine, but then it almost becomes immune to what I am doing and I no longer get sore, tired, and I don’t see continued results.

I have discovered that learning many different core workouts and frequently changing which ones I include in my ‘routine’ confuses my body and lets me see faster and better results (aka: muscle confusion). I have also learned that your core (abs, obliques, lower back) is a large grouping of muscles that should be treated like any other muscle your work out. When building muscle, it is suggested to focus on a muscle group intensely, and then giving that muscle group a few days to relax and recover. With this said, I only do core workouts about 2-3 times a week. I work very hard doing many different ab and core workouts, basically exhausting the muscles and then give them a few days to really recover so I can hit the workouts hard again when they are ready.

How long do I work my core?
I treat my core like any other muscle; therefore I dedicate a full day to just working on my core. A normal day would include about 30 minutes of cardio, followed by about 45 minutes to an hour of of core exercises. I know many people who do core exercises every day for about 10 minutes after their workouts, but at least in my case, I have found that truly focusing hard on my abs, obliques, and lower back and exhausting them only 2-3 days a week gives me the results I would like to see.

Breakfast foods at Denny’s

Dennys Dining out can be hard, especially when your choices are limited. Being on tour, I realized that diner food is sometimes our only option because it is served 24 hours a day. Because of this, my mission was to try and discover which food choices are the best for me to eat while dining out at one of America’s most famous diners, Denny’s. This is what I discovered:

My general Suggestions are:
Yes: Water, Orange Grove Smoothie, Fit Slam, Egg Whites, English Muffin without Margarine, Grits, Oatmeal, Seasonal Fruit, Low Fat Yogurt, Fit Fare Omelette
No: Milkshake, The Grand Slamwich with hash browns, Lumberjack Slam, All American Slam, Cheddar Cheese Hash Browns, Chicken Sausage Patty, Bacon Strips, Everything Hash Browns with Onions, Cheese and Gravy, Pancake Puppies, Sausage Links, Meat Lover’s Omelette with hash browns and bread, Philly Cheesesteak Omelette with hash browns and bread, Ultimate Omelette with hash browns and bread.

Now lets take a more detailed look at the menu and explain why I made some of my suggestions:

Yes: Water
No: Milkshake

When it comes to having beverages at any restaurant, I almost always suggest going with water. It is a safe choice, it is almost always free, its 0 calories, and it is good for you. YOU NEED WATER!!! with that said, Denny’s offers a variety of beverages to choose from. If you need to have something other than water because you have a crazy sweet tooth going or you are just needing to fill a desperate craving, most of the choices are ok, just be aware that they have high sugar contents. Definitely, however, stay away from the milkshakes. Milkshakes can be tasty and delicious, but the milkshakes at Denny’s have between 580-890 calories, 25-45g of fat (16-20g of saturated fat), 68-113g of carbs, and 55-77g of sugar. To put that into perspective, in 7 Pixy Sticks, which are basically pure sugar, there is 15g of sugar. So in one milkshake there is an average of around 30 pixy sticks of sugar, almost as many calories as a stick of butter, and about the same amount of saturated fat as 4 tablespoons of lard.

Yes: Orange Grove Smoothie

The smoothies are actually not too bad, except for the fact that there are high amount of carbs and sugars. None of the smoothies have any fat and are 270 calories or less. The best smoothie choice is the Orange Grove Smoothie. With only 120 calories, 29g of carbs, and 22g of sugar, this smoothie is the healthiest choice among all of their smoothie options.

Yes: Fit Slam
No: The Grand Slamwich with hash browns, Lumberjack Slam, All American Slam

The Fit Slam is your best choice when it comes to picking one of the ‘Slams’. The Fit Slam has 360 calories, 10g of fat, 30g of cholesterol (incredibly lower than all of the other options), 820mg of sodium (lower than all of the other options as well), 46g of carbs, and 24g of protein. Overall it is not a bad choice for a meal. On the other hand some of the other ‘Slam’ options are down right disgusting when examining the nutritional information. Here is what is in some of the more ‘hearty’ Slams Denny’s offers:

  • All-American Slam: 770 calories (590 calories from fat with 65g of fat), 24g of saturated fat, 680mg of cholesterol, 1360mg of sodium, 5g of carbs, and 37g of protein.
  • Lumberjack Slam: 1000 calories (540 calories from fat with 60g of fat), 17g of saturated fat, 460mgof cholesterol, 3010mg of sodium, 73g of carbs, and 42g of protein.
  • The Grand Slamwich with hash browns: 1530 calories (920 calories from fat with 102g of fat), 45g of saturated fat, 545mg of cholesterol, 3690mg of sodium, 97g of carbs, 52g of protein.

To understand how this relates to the FDA suggested 2,000 calorie and 2,500 calorie diets, please refer to the figure above.

Yes: Egg Whites, English Muffin without Margarine, Grits, Oatmeal, Seasonal Fruit, Low Fat Yogurt.
Maybe: Hearty Wheat Pancakes
No: Cheddar Cheese Hash Browns, Chicken Sausage Patty, Bacon Strips, Everything Hash Browns with Onions, Cheese and Gravy, Pancake Puppies, Sausage Links.

The best choices to make for sides are the Egg Whites, English Muffin without Margarine, Grits, Oatmeal, Seasonal Fruit, and Low Fat Yogurt because of their relatively low fat contents and other nutritional benefits such as protein and vitamins. The Hearty Wheat Pancakes I am on the fence about because although 2 pancakes only have 1.5g of fat, 8g of fiber, and 10g of protein, they also have 950mg of sodium and 64g of carbs. If you are not on a low carb diet and are not worried about sodium intake (an athletic person or a body builder for example who may need more sodium than the average person for muscle growth) then I would say they are ok. Definitely stay away from the Cheddar Cheese Hash Browns, Chicken Sausage Patty, Bacon Strips, Everything Hash Browns with Onions, Cheese and Gravy, Pancake Puppies, and Sausage Links, because all of them have relatively high fat contents and bad nutritional value. For instance, 4 sausage links have 30g of fat and 6 pancake puppies have 101g of carbs and 1020mg of sodium.

Yes: Fit Fare Omelette
No: Meat Lover’s Omelette with hash browns and bread, Philly Cheesesteak Omelette with hash browns and bread, Ultimate Omelette with hash browns and bread

The Fit Fare Omelette is pretty decent. Although it may surprise you that an Egg White Omelette has 18g of fat, I still recommend it over all of the other choices because it has the lowest amount of sodium at 870mg, the lowest cholesterol at 65g, and 34g of protein which is a good amount for a meal. Some of the other Omelette choices I would definitely not recommend such as:

    Meat Lover’s Omelette with hash browns and bread: 1090 calories (730 calories from fat with 81g of fat), 840mg of cholesterol, 2550mg of sodium, 39g of carbs, 56g of protein
    Philly Cheesesteak Omelette with hash browns and bread: 970 calories (630 calories from fat with 71g of fat), 705mg of cholesterol, 2640mg of sodium, 38g of carbs, 46g of protein
    Ultimate Omelette with hash browns and bread: 820 calories (550 calories from fat with 61g of fat), 640mg of cholesterol, 1700mg of sodium, 33g of carbs, 33g of protein

I would basically suggest to stay away from most of the breakfast favorites simply because there are problems with most of them in at least one nutritional field. I will admit that I love pancakes and surprisingly the Banana Pecan Pancake Breakfast and the Blueberry Pancake Breakfast only have 15g of fat and 12g of fat respectively which is decent for the portion size you receive; however, they too also have some downfalls. Although of all the breakfast favorites I would suggest these two because they do have good qualities with good amounts of protein, fiber, and relatively low fat content, the Banana Pecan Pancake Breakfast has 130g of carbs and 1610mg of sodium, and the Blueberry Pancake Breakfast has 1410mg of sodium and 390mg of cholesterol. Some other breakfast favorites have bad downfalls too, such as the Bacon Avocado Burrito with hash brown (65g of fat, 425mg of cholesterol, 2400mg of sodium), the Moons over My Hammy (41g of fat, 530mg of cholesterol, 2320mg of sodium), the Texas Prime Rib and Egg Sandwich (47g of fat, 495 mg of cholesterol, and 1750mg of sodium), and the Country-Friend Steak and Eggs (43g of fat, 415mg of cholesterol, and 1850mg of sodium)

In general, you can see that many of the choices at Denny’s may not be as healthy as you think. I hope my suggestions help you make some healthier decisions when going to eat out at some of your favorite restaurants. Please contact me with any questions of concerns at