My Fit to Fat to Fit Story

There’s a new show on A&E called ‘Fit to Fat to Fit.’ On the show personal trainers are challenged to gain a significant amount of weight over the course of four months, they then work with a client to lose weight along with them.

The thought behind the show is that trainers don’t know what it’s like to be overweight, they don’t understand the daily challenges people who are trying to lose weight face and therefore aren’t able to empathize with the weight loss process.

Clients on the show repeatedly say that fit people, especially trainers, think that overweight people are just too lazy or aren’t committed to the process of getting healthy.

I’ve watched several episodes of the show and it’s caused me to take a long hard look at myself as a trainer. Do I lack empathy? Do I judge clients about their commitment to change?

And to both those questions I can confidently answer, ‘No!’ I can and do empathize with the challenges of healthy living because I struggle with them myself.

I don't have to get fat to understand the struggles of health and weight loss - I've already done it.

I don’t have to get fat to understand the struggles of health and weight loss – I’ve already done it.

In my youth I played sports and was very active. But once organized sports were no longer part of my routine, exercise wasn’t necessarily a priority. However, youth was still on my side so while I maintained a relatively healthy diet, I pretty much ate and drank whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. Pizza? Sure! Ice cream? Two scoops with extra toppings please. Beer? The most full-bodied on you have!

Fast forward a few years to when I started to have children. Like most pregnant women I had cravings. But my downfall was I was happy to indulge in all of them! I would even slouch in front of the tv and use my belly as a table to hold my snacks. The most exercise I got when I was pregnant was during those last couple weeks when I was trying to urge the baby out of me! I don’t think all of the shopping in my adult life can equate to the number of mall laps we did in anticipation of our three children.

We were one day away from having three children under three years old. My first two were 22 months apart, so I had a fair amount of time to slim in between them. I exercised moderately and tried to be a little better about my diet. Unfortunately, I had developed some really bad eating habits that weren’t quick to overcome. My second two children were 14 months apart. The math makes it pretty easy to figure out my body didn’t have much time to bounce back between number two and three.

I was a working mom of three small children. The days were long, the nights were extremely short and meals were often planned around what would be the quickest and cheapest way to feed everyone. We consumed a lot of pizza and a ridiculous amount of fast food.

Between lack of sleep, poor diet and lack of physical movement I was exhausted and unhealthy.

I dreaded the mirror…

I dreaded wearing anything but sweatpants (this was before the big Yoga pant movement)…

I dreaded meal time because it meant I would have to make hard choices…

I dreaded the little amount of down time I had because I didn’t want to fill it with being a couch potato while eating potato chips…

I dreaded exercise because it was so hard…

I dreaded the alarm clock because it was the start to another day that I was afraid to fail at…

I realized that while I had everything in the world I had ever wanted, a loving husband, three healthy children, supportive family and friends, and a budding career, I was living a life of dread and regret. I regretted the choices that turned me into a person full of dread.

I realized it was time to make different choices. So I started by using nap time as MY time instead of hyperdrive time for getting things done for work and the house. I found some Jillian Michaels DVD workouts that were only 30 minutes long. Each one had a different focus and required very little equipment. I can remember those 30 minutes being the longest part of my day. But each day got a little easier and it wasn’t long before I was shopping for slightly heavier dumbbells.

While I started with exercise, I have to admit I didn’t do a whole lot to change my diet. I still had cravings for junk and often gave in to them. So of course I wasn’t seeing the results I was looking for. Sure I was getting stronger but the scale didn’t reflect much of a change.

Naturally, my next step was to start looking for that magical diet. You name the diet or cleanse and I probably tried it. Who doesn’t want to lose 10 pounds in a week, right?

The problem is none of those things worked for me long term. I could stick with them for a period of time but always found myself reverting back to old habits.

I cycled myself through a variety of eating plans and exercise programs for about 5 years. I learned a lot about myself and my faults, I learned how to test my limits and when to recognize I was giving up, I learned there were no quick fixes and no matter how hard I tried, my willpower would always be tested.

In 2010 I studied to become a personal trainer because I wanted to be a part of helping others along their journey to better health. Unlike many trainers, I’ve lived out unhealthy habits and learned tools for overcoming them.

Do I still have cravings? Absolutely. Do I have days that I’m too busy or tired to work out? Of course, I’m human.

But over time I’ve developed tools to help me overcome the cravings and excuses. Do they work every time? No. Not every day is perfect. But I have more days that I overcome than fail.

As I trainer I work with my clients to discover their tools for change. There isn’t any one magical formula. Each person has to determine what this equation means to them:

 Exercise + Eating Lifestyle = Healthy Living

Exercise needs to be something you enjoy or you will find excuse after excuse to skip it. As a trainer and fitness instructor I make time for my own workouts as well. Some days it’s boxing, other days it’s lifting heavy weights and sometimes it’s a good old fashioned run. At the beginning of the week I schedule when I will get in my own workouts so there’s no excuses.

Your eating lifestyle has to be filled with things that you enjoy or before long your cravings will win the battle. I’ve found strict meal plans just don’t work for me. I get overwhelmed and give up all together. So each week I plan my meals based on the healthy protein I want to eat that week. I cycle through chicken, salmon, turkey, eggs, and tuna. For others using meals plans is the perfect solution because it keeps them accountable.

So do I understand the struggles? I sure do.

But I also understand the things that work for me aren’t what works for everyone. As a trainer it’s my job to help you discover what works for you and empower you to own the choices that will lead you to healthier living.

I’m not going to gain weight just to lose it with my clients to prove I understand the struggle. I know the struggle is real and every day is filled with challenges. But the more you are equipped with personal tools to help you face those challenges the more success you will achieve.

5 Ways to Deal with an Injury

I was ready to take this week by storm! Coming out of a great weekend, I was energized, determined and eager to make some headway on my health goals for 2015.

The alarm went off at 5:30 and I shot out of bed ready to teach my 6:00am class. I chose one of my favorite sets for class and before I knew it we were at the cool down.

After dropping the kids off at school I was determined to get my own workout in for the day. (Side note: As a group fitness instructor it’s important for me to get my own workout because when leading a class I am focused on creating an experience that meets the class needs while monitoring form and cuing the moves.) I headed to the gym and put in a solid 45 minutes of intense exercise. I gave it my all and felt empowered by the effort I put out during my workout.

At the end of class we split into two teams to play dodge ball. Not only was it fun, it was competitive. Our team was down to just a few people, I had my eye on the person holding the ball and in anticipation of the ball flying my way I tried to cut right. That’s when it happened. C-R-A-C-K!! I heard it, I felt it and I knew instantly something wasn’t right. The person next to me even heard the crack.

Limping out of the gym I headed straight for Urgent Care for x-rays. As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor you can imagine the thoughts running through my head. I immediately reached out to all my prayer warriors and asked them to pray for me and my injury. As I sat there the pain lessened and my hopes climbed that it was nothing more than a twisted foot that would heal in a day or so.

Well, that was partially the outcome. No break and thankfully no ligament damage, but one heck of a foot sprain. As I sit here 4 days later it’s still swollen, and rather than looking pale from the lack of sun, my foot is a bluish gray. Thankfully I have a boot that helps support my foot as I walk so I’m not just marooned to the sofa all day.

As I shared with my husband my irritation of the injury he reminded me that this was the perfect time to write about it – not at all what I wanted to hear. But he was right, the best thing that I can share with everyone right now is what to do when an unexpected injury takes you off the path of your goals.

foot in a boot

Injuries are part of pushing yourself.

Here are 5 things that you can do deal with an unexpected injury.

1. Follow the doctor’s orders

Believe me, I am not one that wants to slow down. So hearing that I need to RICE (rest, ice compress and elevate), was not music to my ears. But if I don’t do all of those things, I know the recovery time will be prolonged. So here I sit, writing my blog with my recently iced foot elevated on two pillows. Doctors don’t want you down for any longer than you have to be so take their orders to heart and follow through for a full recovery.

2. Listen to your body

There are times that our mind tells us we can and our body responds with quite the opposite. During the recovery process and afterwards it’s essential that you tune into how your body feels. There may be discomfort, but if there is pain, that is an indication that your body isn’t ready.

3. Take it slow

Coming out of a recovery period isn’t only about the affected area. Depending on how much time you had to take off you may have lost endurance or strength. Additionally, you may have developed ways to compensate for the injury that you need to correct to achieve proper form. Returning to the same level of activity immediately can result in another set-back or possibly a new injury.

4. Do what you can

I’m currently faced with a sprained foot so it goes without saying that cardio and leg exercises are out. But that doesn’t mean I can’t work my core or my upper body. My workouts are significantly modified but I am still doing them. In addition, it’s important now more than ever that I monitor my diet. My overall activity level is significantly less so my caloric intake needs to reflect that.

5. Appreciate health

Nothing like an injury to take you down to help you to appreciate having the freedom to physically do what you want, when you want. Apply that appreciation to your enthusiasm and dedication to healthy living when you return to 100%. We all only have one body, and one life, don’t take any of it for granted.

Over the next couple weeks I’ll continue to take it easy, and hopefully gradually begin to add cardio and leg exercises back to my routine. But in the meantime I will continue to RICE, remove the boot when my foot feels completely ready and not sooner, concentrate on building a stronger core and upper body, eat a healthy diet and look forward to getting back at it – again, only when I am fully ready.

Personal Training with Jenn is Coming ALIVE

A friend recently shared a quote with me that I can’t seem to get out of my head.

Don’t ask what the world needs, fine out what makes you come alive, and do that. Because what the world needs id more people who have come alive.’ – Howard Thurman

This quote has me evaluating how I spend my days and thinking about what truly makes me come alive. I’ve been reflecting on my own journey to adopt a healthy lifestyle and my desire to help others find their path.

As a wife and mother of three I’ve been juggling life, healthy eating and exercise for over 14 years. I know the struggles to interest children in eating healthy foods over junk, I know how it feels to be exhausted and have no energy for a workout, and I remember looking at myself after my third child and wondering what in the world happened.

When I was young I was active in sports and many physical hobbies. As I grew older and had more responsibilities I became more of a sideline fitness junkie – sometimes only reading about the things I should do, or watching transformation shows. I knew time had come for me to get off the sidelines.

My children were one day away from me having three under the age of three so believe me, carving out time for myself was no easy feat. But I made a commitment to myself. Every day during nap time, when I desperately need to do laundry or clean or maybe even get a short nap myself, I put on my workout clothes and did something.

It started with basic workout DVDs and progressed to training for my first half marathon. I spent many hours on that ‘dreadmill’ but in the end I completed my first half marathon before my son was a year old. I wasn’t going to break any records with that time, but I set a goal to do a half, and I did!

I think that’s the time that I realized I had a whole lot more in me than I ever gave myself credit for. I didn’t need to rely on those DVDs, I had learned enough about form and varying exercises I started creating my own routines using free weights in my garage. Before long my body wasn’t the only thing transforming. I was shedding pounds AND stress. I was exchanging disappointment for accomplishment. I was pausing at the mirror rather than rushing past it.

Then the thought struck me that I wasn’t the only woman who was going through this. I wasn’t the only one who had complete independence and total control over my life and my body to have everything change. Now I want to pause here and make it clear, I wouldn’t exchange a single thing to have those things back, but what I needed to figure out was how to regain what I thought was ‘lost.’ It wasn’t lost, I still had the power to make choices and I still had control over my body.

So I began looking into the process of becoming a trainer. I knew that I could identify with my clients because I had walked in their shoes. I could be that trainer that didn’t intimidate their client by their ‘perfect’ body and ‘controlling’ expectations for diet and exercise.

If I was going to help others, I had to meet them where they were. Find out deep down what they wanted to achieve and help set a plan for getting there. Not everyone wants to lose a ton of weight, not everyone wants to build muscle, not everyone wants to train for a marathon – the key is deep down we all want to achieve something and my job as a trainer is to pull that out of my clients and coach, inspire and keep them accountable to their goals.

Over the past few years I have trained college students to retirees and everything in between. Each of my client’s has had unique goals and varying athletic abilities. Together we’ve battled through plateaus, setbacks, injuries and sometimes even failures, all to also experience breakthroughs, achievements and milestones.

I have a passion for healthy living and nothing makes me feel more ALIVE than passing that passion on to others.

I feel challenged to get better at sharing my passion so I’m making some changes…

  • A re-commitment to blogging. Not everyone will be able to work with me as a trainer, but I do have the ability to encourage, educate and inspire through this blog. I encourage you to request blog topics on your biggest struggles/questions about exercise, healthy living, clean eating, etc. and I will do my best to respond to them.
  • E-mail updates – I promise not to clutter your inbox with nonsense, instead you can expect a monthly newsletter with training tips, sample workouts and healthy recipes. Sign up for my newsletter today!
  • Virtual training – can’t meet me in the gym? Don’t let that stop you from working with me! I’m putting together virtual training packages for clients. You can purchase a set of workouts for a one time fee, or pay a monthly fee for weekly workouts and continued support. Check out the basic virtual packages available or contact me and we can structure a program based on your needs.

I hope these changes will not only benefit you in your quest for healthy living but that they will also inspire you to find what makes you come alive.

Move the Candy Dish

This was the first year that I committed to giving something up for Lent. Once the 40 days were over I began thinking about how I could continue to use 40 day fasts to improve different areas of my life.

Now if you’ve read my past blogs you know that I am not a fan of adopting diet plans that involve complete deprivation. While totally eliminating certain foods can be a contributing factor in achieving positive results, I find more often than not when faced with total deprivation it becomes more of a test of your willpower than learning appropriate portions. That said, a controlled fast may offer you a great opportunity to learn more about your controlling your cravings or managing your time.

Let me share with you my 3 (or 4) step plan for controlled fasts…

Please note that the information included in this blog entry is specifically targeted at modifying a single behavior. If you are interested in doing a complete fast that involves removing entire food groups or food all together there are a number of serious considerations and you should consult with your doctor prior to beginning a fast.


The first step is taking some time to acknowledge unhealthy habits. I encourage you to think of this from both angles because modifying behavior isn’t always about removing something.

Make a list of those things you do too frequently and those that you don’t do frequently enough. Here’s two sample lists to give you an idea…

Too Frequently

  • Eating candy
  • Drinking soda
  • Going to bed too late
Not Frequently Enough
  • Reading
  • Praying
  • Drinking water

I discovered that I was developing an unhealthy craving for candy. During the Lenten season jelly beans were abound and what started as 1 or 2 was turning into handfuls at a time. Not good. So the day after Easter began my ‘candy fast.’


The next step is to remove the temptation. It sounds easy enough but in reality this can be difficult. For me, I have 3 children who had just received Easter baskets filled with candy so locking the house down from candy wasn’t an option.

Since I couldn’t physically remove the temptation I moved the candy dish. I cleaned out a junk drawer in our kitchen and moved all of the candy from its previous home on the counter into that drawer. Did I know it was there? Of course. But without the candy sitting on the counter it was no longer a consistent temptation every time I was in the kitchen.

So find a way to release yourself from the temptation. If you are trying to refrain from Starbucks maybe you will have to adjust your route a little so you aren’t tempted each time you drive by, or maybe you are trying to refrain from watching too much television so put the remote up and away so it’s not as easy to turn it on and surf the channels. There are plenty of ways you can ‘remove’ the temptation so be creative.

Now if it’s a behavior that you don’t do frequently enough find ways to make it part of your daily schedule. Let’s say you want to spend more time reading. Instead of waiting until right before bedtime when you are already exhausted, select a time during the day to sit and read. You may want to only start with a 10-minute commitment and then build on it each week. Or if you find that nighttime is the best for reading make sure you head to bed earlier. This will help you to get in your reading time before your lids get heavy and you have to read the same sentence over and over again.


Step three is where willpower comes into play and I’ll be honest with you willpower sometimes just isn’t enough so you need to find a replacement for the behavior you are trying to avoid.

My cravings weren’t necessarily rooted in desire for  ‘candy,’ but more that I wanted something sweet. For me that’s fixed easy enough with a piece of fruit.  But what if you are trying to give up drinking soda and you rely on that caffeine? Try unsweetened tea instead and add only enough sweetener to make it palatable to you.

This approach is also effective when trying to increase the frequency of a behavior. For instance, let’s say you don’t drink enough water. So grab yourself a cool refillable BPA-free water bottle and set it on your desk. Instead of heading to the coffee pot to refill your mug throughout the day drink your water. Or if you are trying to eat more vegetables eat them first off of your plate rather than leaving them for last when you have already filled up on your protein.

Whatever the behavior is you can find a healthy substitute that allows you to either replace the behavior or increase the frequency. After the fast you may actually find you like the substitute better.

Replacement is slightly different when you think about behaviors that require time. Any modification that requires an adjustment in the use of your time will also require you to identify ‘wasted’ pockets of time during your day that can be better used to accomplish the tasks. Just as with the removal of the behavior, scheduling and planning is integral in your ability to replace wasted time with productive habits.

Reintroduction (if appropriate)

Not everything should be reintroduced back into your life. If it is a habit that is harmful to your health like smoking or staying up too late or driving too fast the controlled fasting period should be seen as the first phase of eliminating the behavior all together. You may need to continue to work through the removal and replacement phases for years in order to gain control over the behavior.

But if you have elected to fast from something like candy it may not be necessary for you to give it up for the rest of your life. Believe me, I’m not willing to go my remaining years and never have another jelly bean. However, when I do reintroduce them back into my diet I will need to consider portions as well as my other options.

When you reintroduce something I would suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

  • How bad do I really want it? (scale of 1 to 10)
  • Knowing all of the options I have to choose from do I still need it or can I be satisfied with a better option?
  • Is it really worth it? What is it going to take for me to ‘work it off’?
  • Do I have control over my desire for the item? Will having a little only make me want more?

Certainly there are a number of other questions that you can and should ask yourself. The key is to introduce the item slowly and to truly think about your desire for the item, your ability to control the craving and your continued will to keep your desires in check.

So what’s on your list?

It’s Not Change…It’s Transformation

When I think of the word ‘change’ I think about things that happen quickly like:

  • Changing my clothes
  • Receiving change from a payment and
  • Changes in the weather (if you live anywhere near South Bend, IN you know what I’m talking about)
From my experience there’s really nothing quick about making the necessary changes to achieve weight loss and fitness goals so instead I like to think about it as a transformation.
Transformation: a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.
Rather than getting down about the time it takes for the transformation to happen, let’s talk about what it means to thoroughly transform your body and why the time itself shouldn’t be the focus.

Self Image

Health isn’t just about what your body looks like and readings like blood pressure and cholesterol. Having total health involves developing a positive dialog with yourself and respecting your body for the unique qualities you were blessed with. Believe me, if you don’t like yourself at your current weight shedding 10 or 20 pounds isn’t going to make you love yourself any more.

Think of it this way…is your opinion changed about someone who doesn’t treat you well just because they lose weight or get new clothes? Probably not. So why would your opinion of yourself change over night just because you lost weight?

As your body changes you have the opportunity to write a new script about what you tell yourself when you look in the mirror. Start complimenting yourself, start noticing the things that make you unlike anyone else and love yourself for those qualities, start being thankful for your current abilities and improvements, and start recognizing that you were wonderfully made.


If no training or true effort is required to achieve physical fitness goals what’s the point in even setting them? If hard work isn’t required what actually differentiates a couch potato from an olympic athlete?

Increasing ability is a process of training and preparing your mind and body to achieve limits you never thought were possible. It has just as much to do with gradually increasing your strength and endurance as it does developing the ‘mentality’ to keep you in the game.

Let’s take distance running as an example. It goes without saying that you can’t go from the la-z-boy to the start line of a half marathon without some training. A solid training program for a half marathon will include a mix of interval and strength training along with gradually increasing the mileage during endurance runs. The gradual increases and mix of exercises help to protect your body against injury while increasing your cardiac and muscle endurance for the race.

But there’s also the mental portion of the race that your body needs time to prepare for. You need time to develop the “I can do this!” attitude. You need the confidence and the courage to push through when it gets hard and all you want to do is stop. And just like developing muscle and endurance – being mentally prepared doesn’t happen over night.

Healthy Choices

Milkshake or apple? Fries or broccoli? Pasta or a salad?

For some of you the ‘right’ choice may be easy. They may be foods that you actually prefer. But for those who need a dietary transformation it can be daunting to give up all the ‘good stuff’ for the ‘right stuff.’

In order to achieve sustained weight loss you need to re-train your taste buds so that you appreciate the taste of foods without all the fat, sodium and added preservatives. If you think you can go from eating burgers to broccoli overnight and enjoy it, I think you’ll probably find yourself bingeing on a burger and anything else you can get your hands on in the not too distant future.

Slowly incorporating better choices will allow you to adjust without complete deprivation of everything you’ve become accustomed to eating. It will also help you to identify the true differences in taste between foods heavily laden with additives versus those with pure and natural flavors.

Sustained Loss

If you haven’t done it yourself you know of someone who has tried the latest weight loss fad and has experienced significant loss. At first everything is great! The weight is dropping off and compliments are abound! But it’s only a matter of time before the new clothes are suddenly ‘shrinking in the wash.’

Any diet or fitness program that guarantees immediate results should also caution of how quickly those pounds will come back on (and then some) when you deviate even just slightly from their program.

Quick weight loss is usually the result of starvation and deprivation and not a reflection of learning how to live within your limits. Where as sustained weight loss is accomplished by learning about portions, understanding calories in versus the calories you are burning and fueling your body with the right combination of nutrients.

Think about it this way…you lose a dramatic 10 pounds in one week. Great! But now you have to sustain that loss and possibly lose more. What happens the next week when you step on the scale to discover a loss of only a couple of pounds or worse none. You then will likely do one of two things – starve and deprive more (sending your body into a metabolic shutdown) or give up and pack back on the 10 you lost.

You didn’t gain it overnight and it’s not going to come off that quickly either. Accept the process and celebrate the gradual decrease because maintaining and building on a 1 – 2 pound weekly loss is much easier to do than a 10 pound loss.

These are only a few of the reasons that ‘time’ shouldn’t matter when transforming your body. If you are willing to change be willing to do it for all the right reasons. Embrace the process, but more importantly, learn to embrace yourself along the way so you experience a thorough, lasting transformation.