What I Learned – The Weekend Review

Hi lovelies!

I hope you’re all having an amazing weekend. The weather here is perfect, and I’m…. sitting at my computer in my dark dungeon of a basement cranking out work. But I’m grateful – I have some big things coming for you very soon (how’s that for mystery) and my husband took the boys out for the day so I could have time to focus and make progress. Checking things off lists can feel glorious when you’re a habitual procrastinator.


I’ve been a scattered bundle of nerves lately, which has contributed to my lack of focus on everything else. Next weekend I’ll compete in my first powerlifting meet in Omaha and I’m trying to remind myself that it’s supposed to be for fun. Most of the trepidation is due to having little idea of what to expect, so I’m looking forward to just doing it (insert Nike swoosh). I’m not sure I’d ever feel like I was completely prepared, so I’m going to just go in and do my best. Eeeeek!


Since I’m prepping for my meet, my lifting sessions have been focused on getting me ready. My hip has been bugging me so I’ve been playing with trying conventional deadlift instead of sumo deadlift. It’s been awhile since I’ve pulled that way and it feels strange but good!

Pumpkin Everything

It’s officially fall and I don’t care if it’s been 85 degrees, I’m ready for pumpkin spice everything. Yeah, I’m a basic bitch. I just need some Uggs, right? I found a few great recipes to pumpkinify my life. These protein pumpkin pancakes from Muy Delish are ahhhmaaaazing. You need them in your life. I’ve also been adding a few tablespoons of pumpkin puree to some hot milk and mixing it with pumpkin pie spice + coffee. It’s not quite Starbucks but it’s healthier and satisfying to boot. Yum.

Reading List

I managed to break my web site this week, so I spent most of my time trying to fix it instead of writing new content. However, I did read great thoughts from some other bloggers. Check these:

How to Weight Train Without Getting Hurt – Bryan Krahn
I’ve injured myself way too many times. I wish I’d read these thoughts years ago.

2 Essential Lessons that Dissolve Stress – Kia Khadem
There’s some major wisdom here about the expectations we put on ourselves. A big part of a healthy life is our emotional health.

3 Reasons to Include Cardio in Your Lifting Program – Tanner Baze
Cardio has become the red-headed step child in fitness. It’s still important for your overall health and burns extra calories to boot. If you’re a weightlifting junkie like I am, you may fall into the habit of letting it go entirely. Here are some strong arguments for incorporating it into your weekly routine.

If How You Eat and Work Out Doesn’t Make You Feel Good About Yourself, Read This Now – Nia Shanks. When I first read Nia’s blog, a light bulb clicked on. Her voice is one that helped me find a healthy place in my own fitness journey. Our fitness practice should enhance our lives, not be a ball and chain. She should mic drop at the end of this.

6 Habits of Successful, Long Term Dieters – Eric Bach on Adam Pine’s site. I’ve used all of these strategies for my own fat loss. They’re simple and they work. No hocus pocus needed.

33 Things I Do Almost Every Day That Make My Life So Much Better – Money Saving Mom
There were so many things on this list that spoke to me. Little gestures of self care like lighting candles in the house, getting up early enough to have some quiet moments alone before the kids are up and running around, and learning to create time blocks so that our days are more organized. Life can feel hairy and out of control, but small changes in what we do during our days can lead to better overall feelings. Self care is really important for our overall well being. Read her thoughts and find new ideas to breathe some new life into your own days.

So with that, it’s time to get out of my basement and find some sunlight. It’s a perfect day for a walk! Have a great weekend everyone!

Lightened Up Cincinnati Chili

photo credit: Wally Gobetz

photo credit: Wally Gobetz

I went to grad school in Cincinnati, and Cincinnati chili is a huge thing there. It sounds weird – the city’s version includes chocolate and cinnamon and is even served on top of spaghetti. What?! But it’s delicious so I just go with it. I adapted a healthy version from Cooking Light to fit my budget and my nutrition goals this week. This version has more chili and less cheese and spaghetti than the original version I remember back in Cincy. But it’s still  a yummy treat. I hope you enjoy it too!

Lightened Up Cincinnati Chili
Print Recipe
The original Cincinnati Chili is super yummy but also a calorie bomb. Here's a lightened up version that will taste great too. Adapted from Cooking Light, October 2015. This recipe is for one batch. I often double or triple chili batches for extra freezer meals.
Servings Prep Time
6 people 40 minutes
Cook Time
2.5 hours
Servings Prep Time
6 people 40 minutes
Cook Time
2.5 hours
Lightened Up Cincinnati Chili
Print Recipe
The original Cincinnati Chili is super yummy but also a calorie bomb. Here's a lightened up version that will taste great too. Adapted from Cooking Light, October 2015. This recipe is for one batch. I often double or triple chili batches for extra freezer meals.
Servings Prep Time
6 people 40 minutes
Cook Time
2.5 hours
Servings Prep Time
6 people 40 minutes
Cook Time
2.5 hours
Servings: people
  1. 1. Brown your beef and onion together. Stir in stock, 1 tsp of vinegar, the Worchestershire sauce, and then next 9 ingredients (through tomato sauce). 2. Return to a simmer. Partially cover and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. 3. Stir in beans; cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining 1 tsp vinegar. At this point if you want to freeze your chili, cool off and then prepare to freeze. Combine cooked pasta, 1/4 cup water, and oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Cook until water evaporates and the pasta is a little brown. Stir it occasionally for about 12 minutes total time. Coarsely chop noodles. Serve chili with pasta, cheese, and white onion.
Recipe Notes

Cooking Light's version has a serving size of about 1 and 1/4 cups chili, 2 Tbsp. noodles, 2 Tbsp. cheese, and 2 Tbsp. onions. Make adjustments for what you like for yours.

Instead of using a mix of more expensive 14 ounces of 90% lean ground sirloin and 6 oz. 80% lean ground chuck, I kept it simple with just a pound of 85% lean ground beef.

Calories are around 350 per serving with 27g protein, 15 grams of fat, and 27 grams of carbs in the original recipe. This should be very close.

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One Crazy Trick: What We Can Learn from Fad Diets, Detoxes, and MLM Insanity

magicpillsMy friends who have known me for a while are aware that I know a thing or two about getting fit. Not because I’m a personal trainer. They’ve seen my transformation first hand: I’ve been through the process of adopting fitness as a lifestyle.

I was over 200 pounds and inactive. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being 200 pounds, by the way. But on my frame, I didn’t feel good at this weight. I was clinically obese. I wasn’t very active, I didn’t have much energy, my joints hurt, and I felt bleh.

My friends and family watched me complete my first Olympic triathlon, get my first heavy-ass deadlift, and pack on some sweet looking muscle. They have seen my body completely transform and also have witnessed a big change in my overall mood and self confidence.

So when friends still come to me asking about the latest MLM (that’s multi-level marketing) crash diet plan or other quick fix they heard about on Dr. Oz, it makes me die inside a little bit. Or at least want to bang my head against my desk.


My first instinct has been frustration and maybe a bit of annoyance. After all, I’ve been preaching my interpretation of healthy behavior change. At times I have behaved like a preacher, as if I could be on a street corner with a big book called CONSISTENCY that I’d wave around fervently as I spread the good word of moderation and habit formation.


We’re really talking about fat loss here, first of all. I rarely see MLM schemes marketed to people seeking better cardiovascular health and improved coordination or athletic performance. Most people want to look better naked. There’s nothing wrong with aesthetic goals, though coming to a place where our self worth isn’t defined by our size is a huge step in personal growth. But successful, long-term weight management is something I’ve experienced. My friends know this. So why do some still look for the quick fix or the new promise of a special solution?

As an industry, fit pros are missing out on an opportunity to serve all of the people who are currently doing nothing. We cluck our tongues at people trying out these fad diets yet we aren’t listening to why people throw their money at them. It’s time to consider changing our approach.

Why Fitness Professionals Hate MLMs, Detoxes, and Magic Pills.
I won’t launch into a tirade on MLMs here. Others have explained the fallacy of MLM supplements and predatory practices associated with them. But in short, we dislike all of these products for a few basic reasons:

  • Supplements are often little more than cheap protein powder, which you could buy for much less cost at a number of different places. Often, the quality of protein is inferior to products that cost less.
  • Many of the supplements are “fat burners”, “energy drinks” and so on that are basically expensive pee. They’re vitamins, herbs, or caffeine that do absolutely nothing to actually help you lose fat. But the placebo effect is real, and people believe that the supplements are doing all the work.
  • Most of these products come with the caveat “works with a healthy diet and exercise”.  Often the accompanying program includes a very restrictive diet that people follow.  Basically, you’re losing fat with them because you created a caloric deficit. This drives us bonkers.
  • All of these plans are unsustainable for the long term. I’m looking at you, 21 Day Fix, Whole 30, and (insert most every other program here). Eventually, you are going to start eating bread/potatoes/other calorically dense foods again.
  • These plans don’t teach you anything about how fat loss actually works. Once you end the plan, you’re back to square one again.

What Can We Learn?
Talking to each other about how much we loathe these products does absolutely nothing to help the people who need the most help. These are folks who have often tried “sensible” solutions in the past. Most likely, they needed a little more support and understanding about what realistic changes look and feel like. They weren’t there yet. It takes a lot of time and patience to find sustainable change.

They’re seeking: all of the people who come at them with their stories of their progress and how it comes so effortlessly are pretty damn appealing. They hear it from people who seem to have some kind of authority, like Dr. Oz, and from friends who have recently dropped a ton of weight. And the people selling the programs are so freaking happy and enthusiastic. They are cheerleaders. They also play into people’s insecurities, feed them just a little, and then offer them a neat and tidy package of fixing it. Yuck. But it’s sneaky, and it works. It’s also more specific. The conventional wisdom of “eat less, move more” teaches us nothing about how to accomplish those things.

The tactics of these companies make me a little sick. But they have also addressed factors that fitness professionals often refuse to acknowledge. We don’t all share the same education, outlook, and goals. We need to understand why people look to these sources in the first place.


The Case of the Liquid Diet
One of my best girlfriends knows me well enough to suspect that a new crazy plan was probably a terrible idea. We all still remember Oprah’s disaster from the 1980’s. Still, my friend brought the product to my attention. “Help talk me out of this,” she begged. Her co-worker was raving about a liquid diet that had allowed her to drop 25 lbs in a month. Sure, much of it was probably water weight. No, it wasn’t going to last. I wanted to just shut that shit down. NO! Bad! But instead, I asked her more about it. Even knowing that it’s not a great idea for her health and long term success, why is this tempting?

She shared these thoughts:

I think for me the temptation lies in the fact that it’s a simple solution (meals/supplements planned and thought out for you) AND proven results with people I know. If I’m seeing a photo or seeing someone I know shrinking, I’m totally fascinated with how that’s happening. BUT that’s also how I feel now since I’m not super happy with my body. When I’m at more of my normal/ideal weight, I don’t pay much attention to how others have lost their weight at all. So it’s definitely psychological. And of course, I know it’s not sustainable either. But the lure of weight loss plus energy plus less meal planning plus NO exercise is totally appealing to the lazy bum in me.

And this:

I lost 100 pounds after I had my baby. It was quick though. I started doing yoga and it all just came off (and I also was dealing with a ton of stress and subsequent IBS). For me, I’ve never ever had to work to lose weight; I just find something I like to do and then the weight comes off. Watching my food intake has never been a necessity. I feel like the more I focus on my food, the more i gain (or at least eat). So for me the quick loss is enticing because struggling with my weight is a completely new thing.

It’s like I’m ok with restriction if that means I’ll have guaranteed, fast results. Also, no thinking. No work on my part. Quick fast results! It’s the American way. Forget about the fact that it’s terrible and unhealthy. The only thing right now that makes it appealing is the quick fix… I have an event in 4 weeks!
So out of this we can get a few big takeaways: 
  • Simply knowing that a plan is potentially unhealthy or unsustainable isn’t enough to dissuade people from trying something.
  • Quick results are highly motivating to many people.
  • Having to commit to both exercising and new eating habits can be overwhelming to people just starting out.
  • Having restriction in the form of meal plans or other rules can be attractive because it requires less planning and rewiring of multiple habits initially.
  • People are often driven by tangible results. Even if I believe that your progress of getting stronger, more resilient, and more consistent in your practice is more important than the size of your waistline, that might not motivate you. What’s the MOST motivating marker of progress? How can we track it?
MLMing without the MLM?
Can we create an environment for ourselves that incorporates some of the appeal of these programs without the unneccessary cash expenditure and potentially dangerous practices? It’s possible that acknowledging and reinterpreting some of the insanity actually lead to better long term outcomes.
  • The idea of a challenge is overwhelmingly appealing to people. Can you create your own challenge? However, instead of making it based upon taking pills, what about a consistency challenge? I railed hard against challenges for a long time, but in doing so I ignored a truth: often, more significant early success breeds more success later on. I’m not just making that up, there’s emerging research that backs the theory. Initial greater weight loss can correlate to greater weight loss in the long term. 1
  • Put some skin in the game. Instead of a bogus shake, if you are motivated by a financial commitment, sign up for a fitness class, hire a nutritionist, or purchase sessions with a trainer. My friend believed that committing to the purchase would help her stick to the plan. This may or may not be relevant, but if you believe it will help, give it a go. 
  • Having a little more calorie restriction for an upcoming event isn’t the end of the world. It’s possible that you really don’t care about your long term results. More likely, it’s that the present need is emotionally more important to you. One month of behaving like someone getting ready for a figure competition isn’t always a terrible thing. However, excessively low calorie intake will backfire. Binging happens, shame ensues, and then we abandon ship. A more aggressive calorie range still needs to be healthy for your body.  Working with a dietitian rather than a Beachbody coach would be a good plan if you go this route. FYI: “coach” means they sell products, not that they have nutritional expertise. 
  • Give your plan rules and structure, but keep it simple. People crave structure. For the long term, I still believe that developing habits will breed the best success. Sustainable habits let us live healthy lives without having to measure food, calculate calories, and track data daily. But if you’re a newbie, that doesn’t happen over night. Having fewer things to choose initially may bring comfort and success.Examples of more structure may be having a calorie goal daily; a limit on alcoholic drinks; committing to 3 walks per week; temporarily keeping food out of the house that you can’t moderate (Oreos, holla).
  • Measure progress for a specific time period. For whatever period you choose, you’ll have pictures or measurements or whatever you want to use to chart.
  • Hate exercise? Put it off. At least for the short term. Work on nutrition first. When you’re ready, move a little more – think small, like walks around the neighborhood.  And then choose something new to try. People often become more open to healthy movement when it isn’t prescribed in large, grueling doses.  Then you can build from there.
  • Start reflecting on when and why you hit roadblocks. This is where MLMs fall flat. They know nothing about why you couldn’t stick with something before. They don’t know that every time you feel stressed out about work that you dive into cookies. They simply ban the cookies and don’t encourage the process of untangling your relationship with your body, your food, or your health.  Even if you’re doing a challenge for a month, take note of what’s easy and what’s hard. Why is it hard? This will bring more wisdom for your long term effort.
  • Grab a friend.  Many people doing fixes, cleanses, and challenges are doing them in a group. They have entire forums devoted to going through the process. Part of what attracts us to diets is almost religious – we have a church of diet, with a flock of true believers who will encourage us when we feel frustrated. Sure, it’s often really fucked up advice, but it’s community. Make your own community. Find a friend or 3 who want to commit to a similar change. You can even make your own amazing supplement  if you feel the need to have a special thing that you buy. #lifechanging #notreally #tastesgoodthough.

Here’s the recipe!

1 scoop protein powder (Vanilla burns more fat. Just kidding, it’s only delicious.)
1 cup of milk (only organic milk from happy cows birthed in a nurturing environment- again, kidding – it doesn’t matter for nutrition).
1 handful of spinach (you won’t taste it, promise)
1/2 cup berries (yo, berries are good — and sweet.)
1 cup of ice cubes (frozen unicorn tears)

What’s the magic? It fills up your belly and gives you nutrients. And it doesn’t cost $300 a month. You also don’t have to sell it to your friends for an insanely inflated cost. That’s pretty damn magical to me.


Have you bought into fad diets before? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below.



  1. Jessica L. Unick, Rebecca H. Neiberg, Patricia E. Hogan, Lawrence J. Cheskin, Gareth R. Dutton, Robert Jeffery, Julie A. Nelson, Xavier Pi-Sunyer, Delia Smith West, Rena R. Wing. Weight change in the first 2 months of a lifestyle intervention predicts weight changes 8 years later. Obesity, 2015; 23 (7): 1353 DOI: 10.1002/oby.21112

Gym Class – A Quickie Workout for the Kid in You


Hey guys!

Yesterday I was NOT FEELING the happy feels about working out, but I was already at the gym after training some clients. So I scrapped my plans and looked around. We have scooters sitting on a shelf. You know, the kind kids use in P.E. class.

Remember how freaking awesome scooter day was? HELL YES, SCOOTER DAY. I built a short conditioning workout around a few basic scooter moves and had a blast. Sometimes we forget that screwing around is healthy movement too. Scooter work as a grown up is a hell of a lot harder than it was when I was 8 though. Holy leg burn! If you want to put a little fun into your workouts this week, think about what feels like play to you and go for it. Need some inspiration? Check out my workout here:


You’re Not in Starvation Mode


You’re not in starvation mode. The theory of starvation mode goes something like this: “if you don’t eat enough calories, your body thinks that it’s starving and will shut down your metabolism. So maybe that’s why you’re not losing weight. “ This sounds catastrophic and sciencey, but it’s not happening to you.

Experiments have been done on this- we can look back to the Minnesota starvation experiment conducted on volunteers during World War 2. Researchers starved young men for 6 months to help determine how best to treat victims of mass starvation from the war in Europe. They didn’t look like frustrated folks who can’t seem to lose the last 10 pounds: they looked like they were actually starving.

During the study, men were suddenly given only 50% of their calories and expected to burn in excess of 1000 calories more than they consumed each day.

photo: Time Life

photo: Time Life

So what gives? Why is it that sometimes we feel like we’re eating so little that we surely must be at a big deficit, yet our weight loss stalls? It turns out that there are reasons that we might not be losing weight optimally, but it’s not because we’re starving.

Hungry people eat.
The men in the experiment exhibited behaviors that show how people will go to great lengths to get food when they’re hungry. Even though they were volunteers, the men would occasionally eat food not on plan. They were apathetic, exhausted, and mentally not well by the end of the study. 1

photo: Time Inc.

photo: Time Life

Imagine having that primal urge to eat when food is plentiful. Despite trying to restrict calories, we usually find ways to take in extra nutrition, even without thinking about it. As I talked about in my article about the pitfalls of calorie tracking, people aren’t very accurate about estimating how many calories they consume.

Another behavior is binging – when you starve yourself, you will get to a point where you fantasize about food all the time. At some point, a binge will happen. We don’t always factor in the binges. Nobody wants to remember those.

Changes to our Metabolism
So things don’t come to a grinding halt when we reduce calories. The men in the experiment continued to lose significant amounts of weight until they reached around 5% body fat. That’s extremely low, for what it’s worth.

Another study featured a medically-supervised obese man who fasted for 382 days. He continued to lose weight throughout the study period, though his metabolic rate did slow down. 2

How our Metabolism Slows
When we lose weight we don’t have as much body tissue. Our tissues require energy in order to exist – once we have less tissue, the amount of energy we expend decreases too. 3

This accounts for some slowing of our metabolic rate.  Some also think that when we eat more food, our NEAT goes up. NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This is science-talk for “stuff you do during the day that burns calories outside of exercise”. Some people have a big NEAT, others not so much. Ever see someone who seemed to fidget all the time? That’s NEAT. Washing the dishes, picking up clutter, watering the garden — this is all NEAT.

If we have less fuel in our bodies, we might be less inclined to feel energetic and as a result, may have a decreased NEAT. That results in fewer calories burned each day. With that said, if we’re operating at a very low calorie count, we probably aren’t busting our butts at the gym too. If we don’t work as much or as hard in our workouts because we’re hungry and tired, that results in a lower TEE (thermal effect of exercise).

photo: Dylan Straub

Sleepy dog has a terrible NEAT. photo: Dylan Straub

We also experience a decrease in TEF, or the thermic effect of food when we eat less food. It takes energy to digest what we eat. This accounts for around 10% of our daily intake.

Eating at a big deficit can be stressful. When we eat very few calories, our body produces cortisol as a stress response. Increased cortisol causes us to retain water. Guess what that means? A bigger weight on the scale. When we eat more calories, sometimes we experience the “whoosh” effect, as nutrition expert Lyle McDonald calls it. 4

Adaptive Effect of Weight Loss
The adaptive effect of weight loss describes how our metabolic rate slows more than we would think based on the amount of total weight lost. Hormones are at play here – our amount of leptin and thyroid levels change.

What it all Means
First of all, if you feel like you’re in “starvation mode” you’re most likely eating more than you think you are. It isn’t a fun reality, but overwhelming evidence points this out.

Second, the effects of a metabolic slowdown are there, though I haven’t seen evidence to support it being significant. Research results seem to vary in how much of an impact hormonal changes make.

We also don’t always account for the normal fluctuations that happen in weight – from day to day, we have different scale weights. Some days we hold a lot of water. Or we’re full of poop. Women have bigger swings in scale weight with these factors too due to our menstrual cycle.

What to Do Next

  • Eat the food, but not too much. It takes time and tinkering to figure out how much we need to create a deficit. Meet with a qualified nutrition coach or registered dietitian if you are having a hard time figuring out specifics.
  • Keep your calorie deficit moderate – there are indications that deeper deficits (>500kcal) have a bigger impact on metabolic slowdown.
  • Some people find it helpful to take “diet breaks” when they’ve been stuck and are certain that they are eating at a low calorie range. This can decrease the amount of cortisol we produce, both from the physiological effect of eating at a deficit and then mental relief from restricting calories.
  • Lift weights. Eat protein (“brotein”). Both help preserve muscle mass, which in turn increases energy expenditure. However, it isn’t by as much as you’d think. You won’t magically turn into a fat blaster. However, you might gain some sweet looking biceps to flex. Rawr.
  • Realize that calories in/calories out matters most, but how we make that happen can be frustrating and a bit of an experiment with our bodies. Ease in and have patience.

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment is fascinating – if you want to read more about it, check out these links:

BBC Magazine
Mad Science Museum 

Thanks for reading!


  1. Ball, J. (2014, January 20). The Minnesota starvation experiment – BBC News. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  2. Stewart, W., & Fleming, L. (1973). Features of a successful therapeutic fast of 382 days’ duration. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 203-209.
  3. Schwartz, A., & Doucet, É. (2009). Relative changes in resting energy expenditure during weight loss: A systematic review. Obesity Reviews,531-547.
  4. McDonald, L. (n.d.). Of Whooshes and Squishy Fat. Retrieved September 1, 2015, from http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/of-whooshes-and-squishy-fat.html/