The Beauty of A Work in Progress

Being active has made a big difference for Kimberly Whittaker.

Being active has made a big difference for Kimberly Whittaker.

“Before and after” is the classic set-up of weight loss success stories, love in fairytales and a significantly more stylish wardrobe following a makeover. But the truth of it is that most of us are works in progress, striving to improve ourselves, overcome obstacles or make dreams come true. Because it is about the journey as much as the final outcome, I will be spotlighting great people periodically who are doing what it takes to claim a better, happier or healthier life for themselves. Like Kimberly Whittaker, the Founder and Editor at Manifest Yourself.

Back in April 2011, Kimberly was worried about gaining extra pounds and during a visit to her godmother in Florida, stepped on a scale for a reality check. It read 185 lbs for her 5’3″ frame, an all-time high. Stress was a constant companion at the time, as she juggled a full-time job, graduate school and a required internship while planning her wedding. While she bounced from diet to diet, Kimberly didn’t make much progress until after her wedding last year.  Changing her approach, she hired a personal trainer to discuss her wellness goals and made a serious commitment to exercise. In the past year, she has lost 20 pounds of fat while gaining more muscle, tremendous confidence and self-esteem. Here’s a quick Q&A about her experience:

Q: How has celebrating success and milestones helped your journey?

A: When it comes to getting in shape, it’s hard to appreciate the non physical changes that happen along the way,” says Kimberly. “I was never one to even notice until my trainer pointed them out from time to time. These small accomplishments helped motivate me along the way, propelling me to work harder in the gym and reward myself with things that wouldn’t set me back on my journey. Instead of driving to my favorite restaurant to eat a three course meal, I would splurge on a form-fitting outfit for work or pick up a new pair of yoga pants for the gym.

Q: Where do things stand for you now?

A: I am still a work in progress. As for weight loss, I still have another 20 lbs to go, but it seems much more attainable than it ever did in 2011. However, what excites me most is that I went from hiding in the corner of the gym where no one would see me to having the confidence to try new and harder exercises in the middle of the gym floor. Even though my body does not look exactly the way that I would like it to yet, I have another layer of self confidence because I know that I can work hard and master new things on the gym floor. Even without my trainer there, I can create my own challenging workouts and see changes in my body.

Q; What advice do you have for others who are looking to make lifestyle changes?

A: Seek help! If you find yourself spinning the wheels in your life, then maybe you need someone to help teach you a new way to ride your old bike. It’s easy to reject help and keep trying to affect change on your own. It takes strength to seek help to find a way out of a situation you are uncomfortable in. This help can be a professional who is trained to help in the area you want to change, or it can be a candid, yet supportive, friend or family member who will motivate, encourage, and tell you the truth.

I always tell my readers that I am constantly manifesting myself. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I have goals that I haven’t reached. But, the important message about getting unstuck is to keep trying. Don’t give up because it feels hard, you are defeated, or you don’t know what to do. Like the character of Olivia Pope said in the season premiere of Scandal, “I always have options!”

To learn more about Kimberly’s stories and opinions, visit

In what areas of your life are you currently a work in progress? What milestones or successes have you celebrated recently?

Can a nutrition “cleanse” help clean up your mind?

While many people wouldn’t blink at the thought of using a dry-cleaner for their clothes or a housekeeper for their residence, getting help to clean up their digestion and eating habits is another story.  Personally, I thought detox/cleanses were at best too extreme for my tastes or at worst, in the case of crazy fad diets, harmful to your body. But I just gained a big dose of enlightenment over the past week and now see how a cleanse can help clean up your mind.

The impetus was a conversation with my friend Ginger earlier this month, a beautiful redhead with a slender frame who spent most of her life as a total sugar addict.  Hearing her rave about the 21 day cleanse she completed with a holistic health coach was like witnessing a non-believer get religion. Yes, her very minor “muffin top”was gone, but more importantly, Ginger broke her craving for sugar, experienced an incredible amount of energy, had a level of clarity at work those bolstered productivity and just felt better overall. Color me impressed, but not enough to check it out further at the time.

That all changed eight days ago. You know that moment in Gone with the Wind, where a frustrated, post-Civil War Scarlett O’Hara dramatically hoists a turnip in the air and declares with God as her witness that she will never go hungry again? That’s the place I was – minus the ruined plantation and hoop skirt dress. I woke up tired of beating myself up about the eight to 10 pounds I regained several years ago, constantly counting calories and letting the number on a scale determine my level of self-esteem. Determined to get rid of this baggage and look and feel my best by my wedding next month, I knew it was time to take action.

So I opened my mind and investigated the cleanse, which is administered byCertified Nutrition Coach Linda Citron. I was surprised to see the 21 day plan let me eat proteins like fish and chicken, favorite foods such as avocados, steel cut oats and almond butter, whole grains and lots of veggies. Recognizing that support is essential, the process includes a 30 minute upfront planning consultation from Linda, a printed how-to manual with lots of recipes, thought-provoking questions to journal about and daily supportive emails.

I signed up for the experience and now, on day seven, I’m feeling wonderful. My clothes are fitting better and the sugar cravings are gone. What has also been great is how this cleanse has impacted my thinking. I’m happier, feel more balanced and have greater clarity about my career and passions.  After the cleanse ends in several weeks, I plan to share before and after shots and insight about how the cleanse helped clean up my life overall.

Have you made major changes in your nutrition or other areas of your life that lead to sustainable positive change?  Ever try a cleanse or detox effort and if so, what was the result?


Three ways to quell your rebellion against healthy habits

Rebellions take place in many forms, from repressed populations toppling governments to teenage girls getting a “tramp stamp” tattoo after mom vetoed a belly ring. Sometimes the most incendiary ones take place internally, like when your brain is eager to adopt healthier habits and your subconscious sabotages it along the way. Read further for some tips on how to quell that inner rebellion and fully embrace wellness.

Sound familiar? It does for me. When I was 50 pounds overweight, I certainly wanted to take off the pounds but official diet plans never worked. If a book said don’t eat sweets, guess what I craved non-stop? Tell me to turn my back on bread and I’d sneak rolls or bagels as often as possible. The rebellion didn’t taper off until I decided to get healthier for me on my own terms – you know, that whole “start with your mind” theme that I refer to constantly.

So here are three ways to quell your inner rebellion:

1.       Be clear that any change you make in your habits – eating better foods, starting to exercise, or taking a walk after dinner instead of plopping down in front of the television – is your decision. The idea might have stemmed from a discussion with your doctor, advice from fitness professionals or a plea from a loved one. But you are the one who ultimately decides if it is going to happen or not.

2.       Remove the feeling of deprivation. Angela Farley from Dearborn Heights, Michigan lost 120 pounds in a healthy manner over eight years ago with help from TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly) and deciding, after surviving being hit by an SUV while walking, that she wanted to do whatever it took to be healthy. She’s maintained the weight loss by refusing to tell herself that certain foods are permanently off-limits.  “If I really want something fattening, like I’m a huge whipped coffee drink, I just tell myself I can have it later,” notes Angela. “That way instead of depriving myself I’m simply delaying my gratification and by later I usually don’t want it. But knowing I have the power of choice makes it much easier to pass that food items by.”

3.       Keep your eyes on the prize. You know those over-the-top dramatic movie trailer announcers who often start their reels by intoning “In a world without hope, one person stood apart” or something else of that nature? Envision your own movie trailer and what you’d like that dude to say about you. For example, it could be “In a world filled with junky kid’s snacks, Jane Doe packed healthy items for the car pool line and now is two sizes smaller than her big sister” or whatever else motivates you. Of course, this approach might just work for me since I always tend to walk around with that announcer voice in my head making mundane activities more exciting.

Have you ever rebelled against yourself? How have you handled inner rebellions to make your goals and dreams a reality?

Tips for shattering your personal glass ceilings

While a “glass ceiling” sounds like a delightful way to stargaze from the comfort of home or the latest ornate upgrade to the Playboy mansion, in Corporate America the term has always meant intangible limits set by others on women and minorities reaching senior levels of management – just writing that definition causes me to grit my teeth in frustration. So when you have the chance to chart destiny in your personal life, the sky’s the limit…right? Never fear if the honest answer is “not so much.” Here are a few tips to help shatter glass ceilings you may be setting in your personal life:

1)     Redefine your expectations. I used to approach exercise with the ferocity of a freight train until a bunch of foot/knee/ankle injuries brought it all to a jarring halt by January 2010. While I began healing in 2012, fear of re-injury held me back and I got used to burning about 300 – 400 calories per gym session as my maximum level of achievement. Then this year, I started challenging that expectation with slow, deliberate workouts focused intently on strength training with bursts of low impact cardio. Low and behold, I burned over 700 calories during a two hour workout this past Saturday and felt great by redefining what is possible.

2)      Dream bigger. As kids, we don’t have a problem dreaming of becoming a ballerina or astronaut. So why can’t we aim higher now as grown-ups? Think about the last time you  let yourself dream about an ideal career. Chances are good that NASA isn’t looking to hire a forty-something marketing manager without a science degree as their latest shuttle mission caption.  But take a look at what you already know and do well and dream about how to translate that into earning a living while making your heart soar.

3) Seeing is achieving.  My friend Diane knew that she wasn’t going to always be single.  In her mid-thirties, she started visualizing having the right man in her life, thinking about the activities they would mutually enjoy, how it would feel to wake up every day with that great guy and seeing him support her goals in life. She even modified her home so it was set up for two people, having empty drawer space in a dresser he would ultimately use, setting out two towels even though she lived alone and more. It worked as Diane did meet the love of her life while swimming and 15 years later, their marriage remains incredibly strong.

What “glass ceilings” have you created or overcome in your life? What steps have you taken to change the situation now or permanently?

Four Ways to Make a Food Journal More Effective

Whether you record daily food intake online, use a smart phone app or jot notes the old-fashioned way on paper, one of the tried and tested practices for losing pounds is keeping a food journal – and skipping this step can often thwart your best-laid plans for better health. That’s why I’ve compiled four tips for making your food journaling easier and more effective.

Scientific data continues to confirm the benefits of daily food journaling. According to the National Weight Control Registry, which keeps a data base of over 5,000 weight loss maintainers, about 50 percent of their participants use self-monitoring tools like food journals to stay in shape.  A July 2012 study released by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that writing down everything you eat or drink in a food journal helped women consistently lose about six pounds more than those who did not.

It sure makes a lot of sense to me. Ever since I first cracked open a diary back in fifth grade, which came bound in chunky pale pink plastic and locked with a tiny heart-shaped key, I’ve been a fan of the format for organizing thoughts and goals. Sure enough, recording daily food intake keeps me on-track while stepping away from it for too long always results in several extra pounds. Here are a few ways I’ve found to make food journaling better:

  1. Take it with you.  Chances are good you don’t eat all of your meals in front of your computer (and if you do, cut back on work and get a little sunshine for a change, won’t you? ).  So consider choosing a tracking app that you can access from a smart phone or tablet.  Still prefer paper? Then keep a small notebook in your car, purse or briefcase to jot down daily eating. It defeats the whole “out of sight, out of mind” problem.
  2.  Be honest. You might not want to confess to inhaling a pint of ice cream in 10 minutes flat to your loved ones, but go ahead and record all of the details in that food journal. It doesn’t judge you. Being accurate with the data actually helps you plan better strategies for success.
  3. Maximize motivation. I’m a visual person. Back in the early 90’s, I created a notebook that featured success stories cut out of magazines and wrote about visualizing myself at a smaller size. It made sense to record what I ate every day and my mood at the time in that same folder. Recently, I switched to My Fitness Pal, a free online service for tracking nutrition and exercise. The visual output of the calorie tracking has been a great tool. Seeing myself come in under or at my daily goals on the display appeals to my competitive instincts, even if the “competition” is with myself.
  4. Spot patterns and make adjustments. After a week or two, you will start observing patterns. Like that tendency to break into your kid’s snacks while waiting for them in the car pool line or regularly “rewarding” yourself with after Thursday night spin classes with a large frozen yogurt drowning in chocolate chips.  To paraphrase a famous quote from Spiderman mythology (sorry for the comic book geek moment, I just couldn’t help myself), with great awareness comes great responsibility. Once you identify a habit from your food diary that is sabotaging your healthy living goals, change it.

Do you track your food intake on a regular basis? If so, what kind of tools and practices work best for you? Have any tips to add to the list for making it more effective?


When saying “no” too often triggers overindulgence

A few years back, Jim Carrey starred in a movie called “Yes Man” about a negative kind of guy who changed his life by saying yes to everything that came his way. Hadn’t thought much about it until now, when I realized that my constant efforts to say no to “treats” were causing me to crave them even more.   It made me wonder if carving out some room for regular indulgences can help maintain overall healthy living practices.

One of my goals this year is to embrace the best health and wellness of my life. I’m talking about the whole ball of wax here, with regular sleep and journaling for clarity getting as much attention as good nutrition and exercise. So at first, the food part of it sounded pretty simple. I would try to eat 100 grams of protein or more each day while keeping an eye on the overall calorie count. Avoid sweets like it is fashion advice from Christina Aguilera’s stylist.  Aim for five daily servings of fruits and vegetables while chugging down about 12 glasses of water during my waking hours.  While it appeared to be a sound plan, I forgot one very important aspect – the human factor. Trying to be “perfect” day in and out was causing me to crave some form of relief, usually in the form of sweets.

As nationally recognized Life Coach Michelle Goss explains, “The act of demonizing sugar or any particular food just gives it attention. Pressuring yourself to constantly say no can backfire, causing you to crave that item even more.”

So I chilled out a bit. Focused mostly on healthy choices while leaving the door open for measured indulgences – things like a quarter cup of trail mix with chocolate or a couple of chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels. And when I did that, things have slowly gotten easier. Most days I don’t eat those item. But having the option there quells the rebellion before it takes place.

What is your current nutrition philosophy?  How do you balance healthy eating with indulgences?

Get spicy to make healthier restaurant-style meals at home

Sometimes my eating habits feel like the culinary equivalent of a mullet – during the week we prepare most meals at home to keep it healthy while weekends involve cuisine from Atlanta’s great restaurants. You know, the stuff that often leads to a food hangover and extra time at the gym on Sunday morning. But during a recent visit to the headquarters of  McCormick Spice outside of Baltimore, I learned using spices can help me have the best of both worlds by preparing healthier, restaurant-style meals at home.

I was in their neck of the woods attending Fitbloggin 2012, an amazing conference for wellness bloggers on every continuum of the healthy living journey.  While McCormick’s products dominate my spice shelf, I previously didn’t venture too far out of the basics in preparing most of our meals at home. Maybe that’s because I grew up exposed to few spices beyond the contents of those artificial flavor pouches that accompanied Hamburger Helper. Standby’s included salt, pepper, cinnamon, dill, a major ingredient in the dipping sauces and potato salad prepared at my family’s delicatessen, and paprika, which mom added to lots of dishes purely for late 1970’s aesthetic appeal. Decades later, I’m sad to say my repertoire hadn’t evolved much further.

So visiting spice central was an eye-opening experience.  According to Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, cooking at home is back on the front burner. One in three adults are cooking more at home than they did in 2011, and 90% of shoppers believe home-cooking is either somewhat or much healthier.  They’re absolutely correct in those assumptions as donning the chef’s apron yourself means you control what goes into each dish.  Making healthy food as tasty as possible with flavor and spices helps reduce sodium and fat levels.

“You can have a great, restaurant quality meal that’s good for you by using the right seasoning,” explained Chef Kevin Vetter, in the midst of preparing a cooking demonstration of Pan Seared Citrus Herb Tilapia with Fennel and Toasted Farro Risotto. If you feel your arteries harden reading that name, no worries are necessary…a generous serving of that delicious dish was right under 500 calories, or about a third of its restaurant equivalent.  It was so yummy that I’ve got a link to the recipe for you here!

How do you use spices to make healthier versions of restaurant dishes at home? What are some of your favorite ways to add flavor without pouring on extra fat and calories?

Disclosure: McCormick’s reimbursed part of my travel to attend Fitbloggin’12.  However, all opinions are my own!


Four Ways to Maintain Healthy Habits

Amidst juggling new business proposals, work deadlines and my mom’s visit, I reached a very important milestone this past week – 20 years of healthy living.  While etiquette typically calls for gifts of platinum or china to commemorate a twentieth anniversary, I figured the best way to celebrate is to share a few lessons learned over time. Here are four ways to maintain those healthy habits you worked so hard to create:

Forgive, but don’t forget. Usually, I make sweets a planned weekend night treat. But during the past two weeks eating chocolate has become a daily habit. I’m not talking about the dainty little square of dark chocolate that merits a thumbs up from most nutrition experts. We’ve gotten into a quantity over quality issue here, ranging from excessive toppings on frozen yogurt to eating about a plateful of the dessert sampler my aunt brought to a family gathering last night. I’ve taken some time to understand the triggers, have halted the sugar deluge and am starting by forgiving myself. However, the next time stress makes me crave an over-the-counter chocolate remedy, I’ll recognize the symptoms upfront and turn to a non-food solution instead.

Recognize daily successes. Journaling helped me lose 50 pounds, over a third of my size, all of those years ago. Now that same practice helps me maintain a balanced perspective on healthy living. I record daily victories, like passing up a piece of cake when I wasn’t hungry or exceeding a strength training goal. I also have “before and after” photos up in my office to remind myself of how far I’ve come and the wonderful things you can accomplish when treating yourself like a friend.

Walk the talk with others. There are a lot of weight loss success stories out there, but what’s different about mine is the continued maintenance through a whole bunch of life changes and challenges. I share my story through writing and speaking in the hopes it will help others realize that if I can do it, they can too. The desire to be a good role model also keeps me honest about my healthy living habits. Consider sharing your healthy living journey in a blog, through social media, speaking or one-on-one conversations. You’ll be amazed at how it motivates you in return.

Shake up your palate. Sure, I’m better friends with broccoli and brown rice these days than a bag of Oreo cookies. However, I get bored eating the same foods day in and out.  I actively search for new healthy recipes and cooking practices to keep things fresh. That’s why I signed up to tour McCormick’s Spices headquarters to learn more about using spices for healthy cooking during the  Fitbloggin’12 conference in Baltimore on September 20.  I look forward to sharing some new tips for spicing up your palate without packing on pounds in a future post. Meanwhile, if you’re attending Fitbloggin’12 there’s still time to sign up for this off-site event; I’d love to see you there!

How do you maintain healthy habits? What takes you off-track and how have you regained motivation over time?


Disclosure: McCormick’s is reimbursing part of my travel to attend Fitbloggin’12.  However, all opinions are my own!


Can certain foods help your body heal or prevent illness?

Ever hear “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” or had a loved one try to drown you in chicken soup at the first sign of a cold? Well, it turns out that certain foods have been proven to help you heal or prevent illness from occurring in the first place. Just ask Rebecca Scritchfield, a Registered Dietitian and American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health and Fitness Specialist.

“Many medications we use every day are made from natural ingredients extracted from plants, so going to the source is definitely worth a try if you’re looking for more holistic remedies,” she explains. “A well-balanced diet, especially one rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables can help keep you healthy and less reliant on over the counter solutions.”

Okay, I can hear the long lineage of overprotective Jewish mothers that begat me sigh in vindication.  (But I’m still not eating Gefilte fish, not matter how hard they try.)  I’m a big believer in preventative maintenance – that’s why I hit the gym most days before dawn, make dental appointments before the reminder card arrives and never leave the hairdresser without my next touch-up booked. So learning that foods I already enjoy and can easily access also maximize my health is a big bonus!  Not that I expected learning anything less from an expert on finding wellness within who happily rocked a hula-hoop during the 2012 Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference.  According to Rebecca, foods high on the healing list include:


  • Tart Cherries: Their deep red color comes from anthocyanins — a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce pain and inflammation. Tart cherry juice has no added sugar and is perfect for before a workout.


  • Pistachios: They have the most antioxidants of any nut, and come in a generous serving of 49 kernels. They provide anti-inflammatory and anti-pain properties like cherries, plus heart healthy omega-3 fats which our bodies can’t make and we need to get from foods.


  • Ginger: Great for anti-nausea. It’s delicious in teas, or as a spice in cooking. Peel it right before you use it to keep it fresher, longer. You can even peel it and freeze it in a plastic bag so you always have some on hand. It’s great as a marinade too — just grate some peeled ginger into a bowl and whisk with a little soy sauce and corn oil, which is packed with four times the amount of heart healthy plant sterols as other oils which help lower cholesterol.


  • Turmeric: This spice is used widely in Indian cooking and helps combat heartburn, and helps the liver cleanse and detoxify the body. For a quick side dish, drain and rinse a can of chickpeas, and simmer with store bought Indian-flavored sauce, diced fresh or canned tomatoes, and a half-palmful of turmeric. It coats your throat, and heartburn will be gone in no time.


  • Chia Seeds: They are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and are a great vegan source of protein. They help fight pollen allergies and other impurities in our bodies. Easily add them to oatmeal, yogurt, or smoothies.

Want to learn more about foods that keep you healthy? Rebecca recommends visiting the World’s Healthiest Foods and I really enjoy her Rebecca Thinks site too. When you’re feeling under the weather, what foods help you feel better? Have you found any items in your fridge or pantry have helped prevent illness?

Are Extreme Diets Evil?

Some things clearly fall in the category of evil, like Lord Voldemort, identity theft scammers and those pre-Spanx girdles that cut off your breathing and circulation. But when it comes to healthy living, do extremely low calorie diets belong on the wicked list too?

I’m not talking about standard low calorie diets which are designed to create an energy deficit of 500 – 1,000 kcal/day, such as those covered in guidelines from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.  Very low calorie diets undertaken without medical supervision are the ones coming under my scrutiny.. After all, near starvation-level calorie plans like the HCG Diet have surged in popularity by touting rapid weight loss of up to 30 pounds a month. And as I learned in Dr. Holly Wyatt’s presentation at the 2012 Health & Fitness Bloggers Conference, several trials have found very low calorie diets are no more effective than traditional low calorie plans one year after treatment.

So I turned to NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist Mary Weaver, CSCS, to learn more. After all, she has lived the process herself, shedding 35 pounds in her mid-forties, kept it off for 10 years and now focuses on body transformations for women over 40.

“The risks are just too high,” Weaver explained. “Extreme diets can be profoundly damaging to both body and psyche. Cutting calories too radically causes your body to respond as though you are confronting possible starvation.”

She cites a laundry list of negative consequences from very low calorie diets, including losing muscle, slowing your metabolism and messing up your appetite-regulating hormones.  What’s really telling is this study Weaver shared about what happens to Biggest Loser contestants after their season ends.

When noting the significant decline in each person’s resting metabolic rate, study authors said “exercise did not prevent dramatic slowing of resting metabolism out of proportion to weight loss. This metabolic adaptation may persist during weight maintenance and predispose to weight regain unless high levels of physical activity or caloric restriction are maintained.” Bottom-line, despite exercising many hours every day, after six weeks in the program the dieters’ daily calorie needs had gone down on average about 244 calories, and after 30 weeks, the participants needed on average about 500 calories a day less. Scary, right?

“While I understand the appeal of rapid weight loss, I encourage people to take the long view instead,” continues Weaver.  “Making lifestyle change is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll get there—but if you take it slow, you’re so much more likely to achieve great long-term results.”

Amen, sister!  Whenever I’ve cut my calories too low, the scale doesn’t budget at all and I’m about as fun as a root canal. Have you ever tried a low calorie diet and if so, what were the results?