Monday, June 8, 2015

It's Not All Burgers and Cupcakes

It's Not All Burgers and Cupcakes 

Two weekends ago, we went tent camping for a three day dirt-biking adventure down at White Wash in Green River, Utah. Our campsite was 27 miles in off of the highway, and even back in town (I use that term very loosely) there wasn’t much more than an old gas station. 

White Wash, Green River, Utah, aka, Dirt Biking Heaven

I spent the day before we left doing something that I don’t usually do when I travel these days: 

I prepped food. 

I baked salmon and sweet potatoes, grilled up chicken and asparagus, and prepared spiraled zucchini with Tessa Mae's ranch sauce, and neatly packaged it all into tupperwares and ziploc baggies. (You're not living until you eat cold salmon out of a Ziploc bag at 7am) 

Hold up, Jen. 
Didn't you just tell us in this recent post on Girls Gone Strong that you ditched your tupperware?

Here’s the thing: context matters, with everything, always. 

While I no longer obsess about packing my food everywhere I go, I do understand that eating in a manner that supports a physique I love, as well as allowing me to perform my best, requires - just like with any good relationship - compromise

I travel frequently, and over the years I’ve figured out how to do so while navigating tricky eating situations so that it doesn’t derail me much. I have staple items that I always pack to fill in any gaps, and outside of those things I can always make do at restaurants. It may not be ideal, but traveling rarely is, and that’s okay; we simply do our best with what we have available, and then move on.

Riding a dirt bike - especially in the heat - is physically demanding. Plenty of endurance and energy are crucial for hours of riding, not to mention that it makes for a significantly more enjoyable experience. If I bog myself down with a bunch of junk food, I will inevitably feel horrible, and feeling sluggish and crappy brought on by poor food choices is never a good time. 

With all of that being said, you probably know from my social media that I don’t make any effort to hide the fact that I indulge as long as it’s…. 

Completely, Totally, Inarguably Worth It

I don’t just mean, “Oh, yeah, I guess that’s pretty good.” No, no. I mean that it has to blow my mind. 

It must be a holy-hell-this-is-Christmas-morning-for-my-taste-buds type of situation. 

Typical camping food doesn’t even come close to making my mouth dance with joy. Hot dogs, beer, potato chips - not even s’mores - are worth it for me. They are all so-so at best, and I will eagerly choose delicious grilled meats and veggies, and fresh fruit, over sub-par food any day of the week. 

Pro tip: if you take a bite and you aren’t sure it’s worth it, it’s not. Anything that isn’t a resounding yes, is a definite no. 

Give and Take

Another reason for my food packing extravaganza was that I knew I was coming to Vegas in 10 days, and Vegas has foods that rock my world. The filet at Botero at The Encore, the desserts at Bouchon in the Venetian and Palazzo, and the mojitos at Firefly - all shared with somebody that I care about, creating moments - now that is worth it. 

If you follow my work, you know that I can’t stand strict diets that tell people that they have to eat chicken and broccoli, or tilapia and asparagus. That isn’t necessary for outstanding results, and it’s making things much harder than they should be. 

But it can’t all be burgers and cupcakes, my friends. 

Sweet potato in one hand, chicken breast in the other. 

Is prepping food a pain? Yeah, kinda. I was pretty rushed the day before we left, and had a ton of things to do, but the 90 minutes that it took me to prepare everything was more than worth it. 

Knowing that I had plenty of delicious sustenance to power me through a rigorous weekend that nourished my body alleviated so much of the anxiety I would have had if I’d have gone unprepared and suffered the wrath (both physically and mentally) of eating garbage that doesn’t allow me to feel or look my very best. 

Sleep and Food Choices

I never sleep well when I camp. As a matter of fact, I sort of despise camping solely for this reason. Lack of sleep directly effects ghrelin and leptin (hunger hormones), and I know from experience that poor sleep is my nutrition kryptonite, always, every time, no contest. 

Jen + sleep deficit = poor food choices. 

Knowing that my sleep wouldn’t be optimal, and that I would be even more likely to dive into so-so junk foods, made an ever stronger case for me to make sure I brought plenty of foods I loved, but that were also in line with my goals.

Real Life Happens

I can not, and will not, spend all of my free time in the gym and eat out of tupperware for every meal. This is real life, and for me, that means that means embracing yes at every possible opportunity. I pack my life full of events, travel, adventure, and festivities, and this can make sound nutrition tricky, so sometimes we have to do a little planning. 

Constantly winging it, and hoping for the best, isn't an effective strategy. 

Even if you’re not currently seeking fat loss (and I’m not), it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the fun that even maintaining our current body composition can start to slip. 

We have to pick and choose our battles. If the food isn’t ridiculously delicious, I will pass every time, and if I know something is coming up (a trip to Vegas, a dinner at my favorite restaurant, etc etc) then I will stick to my guns a little more closely leading up to the event. 

Indulge sometimes but not all of the times, and be sure it’s worth it. If you're trying to maintain your current physique - and especially if you're trying to lose fat - you need to plan ahead. 

Besides, a little cooler full of tupperware here and there never hurt nobody. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Three Bears of Fitness: Getting It Juuuuuust Right

“The Three Bears” of Fitness

6am: teach Spin class
7am: teach yoga
Lunch break: 45 minute run
5pm: 60 minutes of weight lifting
6:30pm: 90 minute kickboxing class

Rinse, and repeat. 

This was my schedule, day in and day out when I was living in bright-lights, big-city Las Vegas. For years and years, I was grinding away, teaching up to 13 (!!!) group fitness classes a week, running on my lunch break, hitting the weights after work, and then icing all of that crazy off with a 90 minute, high-intensity kickboxing class with my girlfriends. 

I was tired. I was so effing tired all of the time. And the real kick in the pants? 

My body wasn't changing for the better. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

When my dear friend and on-staff Exercise Physiologist took my body fat, it had increased. Yep. Gone up. 

Amidst my workout madness, I was blasting away precious muscle mass, and still gaining fat, even though I was driving myself into the ground with exercise. 

Something had to change, and it finally did. 

If you follow my writing, you know that those days of working harder have long been replaced with days of working smarter

I am a huge advocate of the Minimum Effective Dose. If you aren't familiar with the theory, it basically says that we want to do the least possible in order to get the desired results. 

My good friend Jen Sinkler is totally on board with this theory as well, which is precisely what has helped her become one of the most well-rounded fit chicks in the biz. 

Jen is insanely strong (she boasts an incredible 320 lb squat, and 369 lb deadlift. Yowza!), however, unlike many that are viciously strong with the barbell, Jen's conditioning game is on point, which puts her at a serious advantage. 
It's one thing to be able to lift a barbell once or twice; it's another entirely to have the aerobic capacity to train with the amount of volume necessary to become even #strongrrrr. 

How, exactly, did Jen become so strong and so well conditioned? She is going to tell us all about it below, with an ode to a favorite childhood tale: The Three Bears

Take it away, Jen! 


Not too much. Not too little. Juuust right.

No, I’m not talking about porridge, even though the story of Goldilocks and three bears perfectly illustrates the idea that too much or too little of a good thing isn’t quite right. I’m talking about something far better than porridge: your fitness routine, and making sure you’re doing just the right amount of work required to get the results you’re looking for.

The rules, if you can call them that, are pretty simple: 
  1. Get enough sleep to feel rested and alert.
  2. Eat enough food to easily sustain the demands of your day.
  3. Move your body in a way that feels good to you and helps you achieve your performance and physique goals, should you have any. 

But, that’s not quite the end of the story.

Because the question is two-fold: First, what type of exercise is going to give you the most bang for your buck for the goals you desire in the time that you have? And secondly, how much of that exercise is enough, and won’t tip the scales into “too much” territory?

Not A Fairy Tale

Most of us, when we think of getting fitter, we want to achieve or maintain a healthy body composition, we want not to get winded chasing our kids or pets around the backyard, and we want to feel good. 

How to get there? Here’s what the research is telling us: High-intensity circuit training, performed at various levels of intensity consistently over a period of time, is superior to steady-state cardio when it comes to shedding fat, strengthening muscle, and improving our capacity to do work.

And it’s a fun way to train, in a twisted sort of way: You get to incorporate a wide variety of movements and equipment that challenge your body in every plane of movement for a duration lasting anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes. It’s fun and fast enough for those of us with limited time to spend in the gym. Here’s how to make it work for you.

The Biggest Bear 

I’m going to skip ahead and give you the moral of the story: Too much of a good thing is still too much. If you are constantly challenging your body to its very limits, you are setting yourself up for injury. You will also fail to recover between bouts of exercise. Your muscles won’t have time to repair themselves and emerge stronger than they were before. And if that doesn’t happen, the suck factor of your workouts is gonna be high. But how, exactly, do you know if you’ve gone too far? 

Turn your eye inward and take a closer look. Symptoms that can indicate overtraining include an elevated resting heart rate, difficulties sleeping, and an inability to focus on everyday tasks. Nagging aches and pains stemming from incomplete recovery, a hypervigilant focus on maintaining your exercise routine (whereby your self-worth is wrapped up in whether or not you trained), or a feeling of dread about your training sessions may also occur are signs to look out for, as well.  

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it’s time to start making your exercise program work for you, not the other way around. Exercise can and should be fun! When you take a little time to experiment with what works best for your body and your schedule, it can feel almost like a fairy tale.

An Exercise Routine That’s Just Right — For You

Just like the bedtime story, it could take some trial and error to find the exercise routine that works best for you. You can work short, high-intensity circuit training into your schedule as few as two and as many as five sessions per week, depending how your body reacts, so it’s important to honestly assess yourself to figure out where you might fall on the spectrum.

If your nutrition is on point enough — meaning that whatever your diet looks like, it’s providing you with the fuel you need to get you through your day — you’re regularly getting quality sleep, your joints feel good, and your schedule allows your body adequate recovery time between exercise bouts, you may thrive on the higher end of the spectrum, providing you mix up the length and intensity of your sessions. If, however, you’re struggling with one of these key factors, give yourself permission to scale back a bit. Rest and recovery is not only good, it’s great! Most likely, workouts aren’t paying your bills, so there is no workout on the planet worth you running the risk of overtraining or getting injured. 

Remember, when life stress is high, your workouts need to be chill. Fewer, shorter, and less intense conditioning sessions paired with long walks, gentle yoga, and meditation are an excellent recipe for maintaining your fitness level while keeping your body, and your mind, in a positive, healthy balance. 

To reap the benefits that high-intensity circuit training has to offer, it’s important to recognize where your mind and body are at right now and adjust your workout schedule accordingly. Now doesn’t that sound like happily ever after? 

Happy Endings

If you’re looking for a program that’s just right for you, I’ve put together a mammoth 181-workout pick-and-choose library with plenty of options for pace and intensity called Lift Weights Faster 2. Complete with a full exercise glossary that includes written descriptions and photographic demonstrations of nearly 270 exercises (from classic moves to more unusual ones — the Jefferson deadlift, anyone?), a video library that includes coaching on 30 of the more technical lifts, 10 challenge-workout videos, plus a dynamic warm-up routine, I’ve combined my training and athletic experience with my long background in magazine publishing to create a clear-cut, easy-to-use resource that you’ll want to turn to all the time.  

Every workout is organized by the equipment you have available, how experienced you are as a lifter, and how much time you’ve got, with options that last anywhere from five up to 30 minutes. 

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I teamed up with my husband, David Dellanave, to create a strength program companion resource called Get Stronger Faster 2 to help you take your strength to the next level. This completes the total workout package and helps you get results, faster.

For more info, click HERE.   

You can Lift Weights Faster, too, by clicking HERE

Hurry, hurry, hurry! Today is the LAST DAY to get LWF2 for the discounted price! 
The price goes up TOMORROW! Don't wait! 

Click HERE to start lifting weights faster, today! 

Jen Sinkler is a longtime fitness writer for national magazines such as Women’s Health and Men’s Health. A former member of the U.S. national women’s rugby team, she currently trains clients at The Movement Minneapolis. Jen talks fitness, food, happy life and general health topics at her website,

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I’m a Nutrition Coach, but I Refuse to Tell You (Exactly) What to Eat

12 Week Meal Plan 

Meal 1
5 egg whites
1/2 cup oats

Meal 2
4oz chicken
1/2 cup brown rice

Meal 3
4oz chicken 
4oz sweet potato

Meal 4
4oz tilapia

Meal 5
4oz cod

When you read the above, what is the first thing that comes to mind? 

I mean, aside from this:  

"Five spears of asparagus, how many times a day??"

The meal plan listed above is what many people envision when they think of a diet plan. Somehow, certain foods have become known by many as having magical fat-melting properties. Egg whites, protein powder, chicken, oats, sweet potato, brown rice, tilapia, cod, broccoli, and asparagus have developed a reputation as the only foods that will land you in Shredsville.

Spoiler: that is false. 

Yes, those foods will work in the right quantities, but it's not the only way, and it's certainly not an enjoyable or sustainable way for a long - or, really, any - period of time. 

Brace yourselves, my friends. I am about to lay down a cold, hard fact that will rattle the dieting world right down to it’s protein-powder-filled core:

There are no magical fat-loss properties in any single food item that some coaches are forcing down their clients’ throats.

Bodybuilding Folklore 
Years ago, I thought the above diet was The Only Way, too. As a matter of fact, the menu listed above looks nearly identical to the diet I followed for 18 weeks (!!!) for my first Figure show, and it’s extremely likely that most physique competitors have followed something incredibly similar. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with the foods listed above if you tolerate them well, and enjoy eating them - most of them are great, and nutritious! I’m also not arguing that eating those foods in the correct quantities for your body will get you leaner - they will. 

However, you don’t have to eat those foods in order to lose fat. It’s not the only way, and, I'll happily argue that there is a better way if you don't genuinely enjoy those items. 

You want to lose fat, but you hate cod and broccoli with a vengeance? No biggie. Eat something else. 
Eggs make you gag? No problem-o. Eat something else. 

I’ve had clients tell me that their past nutrition coaches have told them that there aren't substitutions for chicken. Chicken. Or oatmeal. OATMEAL

Riddle me this: What if you don’t have access to chicken or oatmeal? More importantly, what if you vehemently despise chicken or oatmeal? Or what if, like many people, oatmeal doesn’t digest well for you, making it miserable to eat? 

You’re supposed to - what - eat it anyways? 

No, no, no. 

“But, Jen, I thought I had to have protein powder post-workout because of it’s bioavailability?” 

If you like protein powder post-workout, then have it. However, if you don’t like it, or it upsets your stomach, or it doesn't satisfy you, or for whatever other reason it doesn’t totally float your boat, then eat real food that contains protein post-workout. Problem solved. 

I now interrupt this blog post with a short story:

A couple of years ago, I overheard a conversation between a trainer and his client at the gym, and the client was telling him that she hated protein shakes. She told him that the taste grossed her out, and she never found one that she liked. 
His response: "Well, you're just going to have to deal with it."


If you hate protein shakes, you don't drink them. For anybody. Ever. Also, fire that trainer immediately. 

“But, asparagus is a natural diuretic.” 

Groovy. You don't need a natural diuretic at several meals each and every single day, for 18 weeks straight. 
Or, at least, you shouldn’t

I understand that some coaches still do water manipulations with their physique clients during the final week of dieting leading up to a show. This is a topic that is worthy of a post all on it’s own, but even if you choose to take diuretics and eliminate some extra water for a show, you sure as hell do not need to start at 18 weeks out by scarfing down asparagus by the truckload. 
Some coaches are saying that it can not be kale, brussel sprouts, swiss chard, or any of the other beautiful, nutritious green vegetables that are available; it has to be asparagus.

Say what? 

I love asparagus, but if you force me to eat it several times per day for weeks on end, I will likely end up hating it, for eternity. I refuse to do that to myself, or any of my clients. 

I Won’t Tell You Exactly What to Eat

For years now, I have been running a very successful nutrition coaching company, and I’m going to unapologetically toot my own horn: I am really, really good at what I do. 

I am positively elated to have the opportunity to guide, coach, encourage, and cheer people to success in order for them to become healthier, happier, compete (powerlifting, weightlifting, physique competitions, and other sports), or change their body composition to boost their confidence. 

There is just one stipulation when it comes to my services: 

I don’t - and won’t - tell my clients exactly what to eat. 

I do not give food plans laid out like the one at the beginning of this article, telling them precisely which food to eat, and when. As a matter of fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I despise those types of plans, because they are removing, and therefore disabling, the client from the decision making process, which is crucial for their long-term success. 

Let me repeat that: specific diet plans that lay out exactly which foods a person needs to be eating, and when, is taking all of the power away from the client, leaving them totally dependent on the coach. 

The entire purpose of coaching is to guide and teach. A good coach gives the client the tools to succeed, guides them to make the decisions that will set them up for sustainable success, and then sets them free. 

Go Fish

It’s like that old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” 

I’m all about teaching people how to fish. I help them figure out what works best for them, get them more in tune with how their body is reacting to certain things, we make the necessary changes, and it's magical. There is no requirement to scarf down 17 pounds of chicken per week, or a pallet of broccoli, nor cartons of egg whites. Everybody is happy. 

As much as I truly cherish every opportunity to work with each individual, I do not want my clients to need me forever. My goal is to set them up to thrive on their own. 

“Can’t You Just Tell Me What to Eat?”

Nope, and lemme tell you all of the reasons why not. 

First off, you are an adult, which means you should have an active role in the decision making process regarding which foods you put into your body. 

When I was younger, I remember sitting at the dinner table for hours while I stared at those cold, soggy little brussel sprouts, unexcused to leave the table until I finished them. I vowed that when I was an adult, I’d never eat those miserable mini-cabbages again! (Untrue. I love them now.) 

You endured many adolescent years being forced to eat whatever was prepared for you, now you get to call the shots. 

Good Food, Bad Food 
When we follow a strict and narrow list of specific food items, we start to develop unhealthy thought patterns in regards to those foods, even if it’s subconsciously. The foods that are allowed become the “good” or “clean” foods, and the foods that aren’t on the list are considered “bad” foods, which leads to unexplainable and irrational food phobias, like a fear of fruits, or white potatoes - both of which can have their place in a nutrition plan for fat loss. 

I could rattle off an insane number of foods that are both healthy, and conducive with fat loss. You are not relegated to a list of ten foods in order to get to your goals! 

When you are told what you have to eat, the first week will be fine. The second week will be tolerable. After that, however, it can start to seem like punishment. 

It’s almost lunchtime and you are hungry… until you realize that it’s the same old tilapia and broccoli again, which is the same thing that you have eaten the last 14 days in a row for lunch. Wah-waaaaah. 

You start to think mean thoughts about tilapia and broccoli. You realize that you may actually now hate tilapia and broccoli, which is a shame, because guess what’s for dinner?? 

Day in, and day out, for weeks a time.

Food sensitivities
Some people can develop food sensitivities if the same food is eaten over and over and over again. I developed food sensitivities to eggs, chicken, and almonds due to over-exposure because I ate an obscene amount of them over a couple of years. Variety is important. We need nutrients from a wide variety of sources. 

Of course, we all have our go-to meals and foods - I certainly do - but it’s one thing to eat them because we enjoy them. It’s another entirely to eat the same ten foods over and over again because somebody is forcing you to. 

Not only is food variety important for optimal health, but it helps ward off food boredom. Nothing will kill your ability to be consistent with a nutrition plan quite like being bored to death with the food that you are being forced to eat. 

Food Rules for a Nutrition Plan 

I hesitate to use the word ‘rules’, because I’ll be honest - I’m not usually a fan, but in this case, it’s justified. 

Availability, and Substitutions  
This is pretty self-explanatory. What you are going to eat needs to be available. If your plan says you must have chicken, and you don’t have any chicken available, that is going to be a problem. Your plan should have plenty of substitutions, so that you don’t find yourself stuck at a seafood restaurant, in a panic because they don’t have chicken breast, and that is the only thing your coach said will work. (Which again, is completely false and totally ridiculous, but I think I've made that clear by now) 

It Needs to Sound Good! 
We don’t always get to eat exactly what we want. If we did, I’d subsist off of filet, carrot cake, and whisky, but we all know that won’t cut it. However, whatever you are eating still needs to sound pretty dang appealing. 

It Needs to Taste Good! 
No doubt that you’ve seen somebody that is dieting sit down to a dry piece of meat that vaguely resembles chicken, and a big soggy pile of some unidentifiable green vegetable, and the look on their face screams killmenow

If I had to narrow it down to the one spot where people get tripped up the most when it comes to trying to make healthier food choices, it would be that their food doesn’t taste good. Eating the same crappy, boring, bland, unappealing food is setting you up for disaster. You’ll end up eating the food that you didn’t want to eat in the first place, and then you’re left unsatisifed. This, in turn, leaves you ravaging the cupboards for something that does sound good, or, you’re just pissed off. Neither situation is desirable. 

Choose Your Own Food

Food is not merely sustenance, and anybody that tells you that it is is either lying, or an automaton, and either way, be leery. 
Food is glorious! It’s fuel, but it’s also social. There is nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to truly enjoying it. 

If you are able to choose your own foods based on what you have available, and what sounds good, the chances of you staying on track are infinitely higher than having somebody dictate to you exactly what to eat. Additionally, this gives them all of the control, and that's not fair. It's your body, which means you make the choices of what you eat. 

Fat loss does not only come from chicken and broccoli, or cod and asparagus. There is a wide variety of beautiful, tasty, nutritious foods out there that are fantastic for health, performance, and fat loss. 

Learning to make solid choices on your own, and tuning in to how they make your body feel, the better your chances are for long-term success! 

If you are interested in my nutrition coaching services, you can contact me at 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's All In Your Head: a Mindset Makeover for Lasting Change

It's All In Your Head: a Mindset Makeover for Lasting Change

“I know what to do… I know how I should eat and how to train, but… I just can’t seem to actually do it.” 

I hear this all of the time, and there simply aren’t enough font altering options to emphasize just how much I understand. 

You can have a wonderful training program and a fantastic nutrition protocol, yet unable to execute them due to certain thought processes and mental barriers that are holding you back - many of which we may not even realize are happening!

Maybe you’re obsessing over the next meal, or when your next indulgence will be, and worrying about which foods you can or can’t have. When things don’t go as planned, you’re dealing with guilt and negative self-talk, which eventually leads to labeling things (food, days, and ourselves) as “good” or “bad”. All of this starts to eventually pour over into other areas of your life, and pretty soon, you find yourself avoiding things that should be fun, such as social situations or vacations, simply because you aren’t sure how to handle them, which ultimately ends up affecting the quality of your life, and that is not okay. 

It saddens me to admit this, but…  I’ve been there. It isn’t fun, and can be quite consuming. 

For years when I was trying to make changes to my physique, I allowed myself to become trapped in the restrict-binge-guilt-restrict cycle that often accompanies really restrictive dieting. I would diet hard, indulge, feel guilty, and then try to “make up for it” by being even more strict with my food and intake, and the entire process would repeat itself over and over. Never thinking I looked quite good enough, and wasting an embarrassing amount of time dwelling on my flaws, I suffered from a wicked case of “If, then”. “If only I could get to x body fat percentage… if only my abs were visible…. if only I wore smaller jeans….  then I would finally be truly happy!”

It’s All in Your Head 

Mindset, how we think about things and react to them, is the foundation upon which lasting change is built. Without permanent habit change - which entails getting to the root of the issue - results are only temporary.

Let that one sink in for a moment. 

It is easy to tell somebody, “Stop eating those cookies every night” or “Stop caring what other people think of you” but how well does that usually work out?
Often times, it isn’t realistic to expect somebody to alter their behavior just because you tell them to. If it was that easy for them to just “stop”, then they probably would have done it by now.
Instead, we must dig deeper, and learn how to look at things from a different perspective.
A good coach - whether it be for nutrition, training, or life -  knows that their job is just as much about the mental side of things as it is dishing out (see what I did there?) which foods, how much of them to eat, and which exercise protocol to follow. . 
Often times we know the end result that we desire, but there is something that is preventing us from being able to execute. 

My friend Jill Coleman knows all about this. As a former fitness competitor and model, personal trainer, coach, and mindset aficionado, she understands the mental games that we play with ourselves to both justify and perpetuate certain thought processes that prevent us from meeting our goals, and more importantly, being happy with ourselves! 

In honor of the launch of Jill’s 10-Week Mindset Makeover, I had the chance to ask her a couple of questions about where so many women are going wrong in regards to mindset, and how her program can help make lasting health and physique changes. Here is what she had to say: 

Mindset Makeover

I've followed your stuff for years now, and it's been incredible to witness you evolve and shift your focus from solely diet and exercise topics, to the deeper things that affect our health and physique, such as mindset and habit change. 
What made you realize that lasting change involved more than just which foods we ingest and the workouts we do? 

Love this question! 
The JillFit blog has been around for almost 4 years now and contains 500+ blogs, so luckily for me, it's been really fun to watch the content change over the years as my own journey has shifted. I started out as a figure competitor and fitness model, engaging in solely physique pursuits for years. It was an amazing experience, seeing the body transform, but no matter how lean I got or how many tearsheets I collected, I never felt at ease or happy in my body.  
Dieting constantly was misery, and when you are in that mental space, you cannot see out of it. I spent many years berating myself for not being perfect with my eating, and then disgusted with myself for being what I perceived to be "weak" or "undisciplined" or frankly, just not good enough. My mindset was just always: leaner, more muscle, less sugar, more cardio, be better, stronger, thinner, etc AND THEN you can relax and be happy.  
And so, I thought it was the diet and the exercise that mattered most. If I just found "the best meal plan" and did the best workouts consistently, then of course I'd get the body of my dreams and finally like myself!  
Welp, it doesn't work that way because information does not equal transformation, and just because I had "the diet" and "the workouts" didn't mean I'd be able to do them perfectly or consistently. 
Implementation is everything. For the most part, people know WHAT to do, they just can't do it. And not because they are lazy gluttons who "don't want it enough," but because we are human and willpower is exhaustible. Plus, we have many focuses: kids, partners, jobs, home life, school, whatever, and the only people who can get and stay super lean are those who focus on it exclusively, like pro competitors and models who are getting paid to look that way. And even they struggle and the pool of those individuals is very small anyway. So for the average multi-tasking woman to compare herself to that is frankly absurd. And yet we all do it, and it doesn't serve us. 
The final piece for me came when I realized that hating yourself into positive change is impossible. Guilt, shame, remorse and self-digust are terrible motivators.  
Who's healthier: the person who's 12% body fat but hates themselves and is completely body-obsessed? Or the woman who is 25% body fat but loves who she is, wakes up excited to workout and eat healthy and doesn't waste a million hours stressing that she's not good enough according to some arbitrary number? I'd say the second woman every single time.

How important is mindset when it comes to making change, whether it be modifying physique, enhancing health, or changing the direction of one's life in a positive manner? 

Mindset is everything. I kind of sort of hate the word "mindset" because it feels really overused, but also somewhat esoteric. What I really mean by "mindset" is actually PERSPECTIVE. I've known women sitting at 10% body fat who are painfully insecure and I've also known overweight women who wake up every day killing life and loving every inch of their body. Perception is everything. You literally create your reality in every second with how you choose to see the world, how you see others and how you see yourself.  
In general, when I talk about mindset, it's to contrast two specific models:
  1. The Victim Mindset and 
  2. The Empowered Mindset. 
When we play the victim, we feel like life is out to get us. We say, "Why is this so hard??" and "How come so-and-so seems to do this effortlessly?" or "Why am I the one this bad stuff always happens to??"  
Can you see how these statements take our power away? They create the perfect scenario so that we get to continue being the one "done wrong" and unfairly treated. Playing the victim leaves us helpless to make a change. And it's also a choice, by the way :)  
The Empowered Mindset, on the other hand, is also a mindset that we can CHOOSE, and when we do, we get to be the creators of our life. When we perceive that we get a say in how our life unfolds, we are more likely to TAKE ACTION to make it so. Even when in situations that aren't ideal, people who choose an empowered mindset always feel like they have a choice. Is it always easy and pleasant? No, but they know that by choosing their attitude and their effort, they can change their circumstances. 
It's that simple. 
The Empowered Mindset is about possibility and achievement. The Victim Mindset is about staying small, scared and helpless. It's 100% your choice. 

Today is an exciting day, as your wildly popular program, The Mindset Makeover, opens up! In this program (which I have gone through), you ask some really interesting questions, and challenge our current perspectives, which leads to looking at things in a completely different way. 

How can somebody know if your 10-week Mindset Makeover is right for them, and what are some of the topics that they can expect to work through? 

Awesome! Yes! My 10-Week Mindset Makeover launches this week, and we've had over 500 women go through the program so far, and I'm pumped to have it out of retirement for the week! :)  
The program is for women who have exhausted all other options and are honestly ready for a huge mental overhaul. Meaning, they are sick and tired of stressing out about their physique constantly and wondering if they are ever going to be good enough/thin enough/successful enough/whatever enough. It's a game we never win, and certainly not by "dieting harder." 
The 10 week educational program takes the participants through 5 modules including intro to mental awareness, beating your inner victim, active acceptance and how to talk to yourself more effectively for physique change plus boosting body esteem, how to choose your attitude in every moment for success and putting it all together into a doable long-term strategy for physical and mental change. 
It combines the latest in positive and change psychology, with some of the new age personal development insights plus some unique takes on the fitness industry as it relates to body esteem and self-confidence. 
JillFit's motto is "You can have a cookie and still like yourself after," and this program is all about teaching you how to interact with your environment, other people and most importantly--yourself--to become the best version of you. 

What kind of time commitment is expected to participate in the program? 

I'm not going to lie--this program is not for someone who wants to merely dabble. This is a hardcore mindset change program. I'll often be asking you to take 10 minutes out of your day and complete some exercises to get at the core of you, your beliefs and the places you are stuck. 
The program is 100% educational in nature, but it involves the participant doing the work. I want each woman to know themselves better than ever at the end, and truthfully, that's going to take some time, introspection and the desire to unearth some potentially hard and scary truths about themselves. Each email takes a couple minutes to read, and then some exercises can take 5 minutes, while others will take more.  
Obviously, the more you put into the program, the more you get out of it. I've had plenty go through the program and learn a ton without doing any of the exercises, but ideally, the program is best for those who want to make real, sustainable change and stop wasting time looking anywhere outside themselves. 
This program is 100% about the individual. And of course I share plenty of embarrassing, open and super vulnerable stories from my own past so that everyone knows they're not alone :)

You've had a ton of people successfully complete this program with outstanding results. What are some of the biggest changes that people have reported? 

The biggest and best outcome is a complete mindset shift away from The Victim Mindset to an empowered one. 
I love getting emails from participants afterward saying that they've completely taken control of their life, their body, their career, their relationships, whatever. Ultimately, this program is about creating a life you love and feeling like you have a say in how it all plays out.  
The program can get emotional for people, and I've had women write and say they got back in touch with an estranged loved one or the program saved their marriage or they made a complete career change. It's been amazing to see. 
My personal goal? For each woman to appreciate who they are in the world, 100% and show up authentically and powerfully, as a result of going through this education :)

While almost everybody has tried to make alterations to their diet and activity levels at some point or another, I've found that diving headfirst into the mental aspect of things can be far more challenging. If you could give anybody a piece of advice as they embark upon your program, what would it be? 

Yep, I agree totally, Jen. Mindset change is so difficult! 
Usually, focusing on diet and exercise is easier because it's clinical. You're either compliant or you're not. And when you're not, it's easy to point the finger: "My coach is the worst!" or more common: "I'm the worst! I can't even follow this freaking diet for a week!"  
Negative self-talk is the biggest waste of time and energy, yet it's it's also the most effortless thing on earth--we all do it, and then wonder why we're not getting results. This is humanity's natural default state--to blame others or ourselves, which is really just one big distraction when it comes to outcomes. Blaming and complaining is a crutch. And it's also not a solution. Emotions are important, but action is what moves us. 
Mindset work is tough because it requires us go beyond the human default state. It requires we TAKE 100% RESPONSIBILITY for everything in our lives. Our thoughts and actions, the situations we find ourselves in, even if they were a result of someone else's actions. Doesn't matter, because regardless of whose "fault" something is, the bottom line is that we can never wait on others to change in order to be happy or accomplished. We have to do the leg work ourselves. 
The key with mindset work is ownership. And ownership takes courage and looking inward. Shining the spotlight on those not-so-useful parts of ourselves like the feelings of not-good-enough and the real reasons why we need to get thinner. This is hard, and sometimes painful. We have to give up the story that we've been done wrong or that life has "happened" to us. 
Mindset work requires taking 100% responsibility in every moment. And though it can be scary and uncomfortable, the alternative to doing this work is staying small, scared, insecure and never feeling like you have a say in your life. And I don't know about you, but the latter sounds a lot worse! :)
Thank you so much, Jen, for having me! Your readers are the best! Honored to be taking up space on your blog today!  


If you are ready to make lasting change to your health, physique, and happiness, you have to start with the foundation, which is your mindset. 

10-Week Mindset Makeover

Also, Jill is doing two free webinars today, Tuesday, July 22nd, at 12pm EST and 9pm EST, titled “Five Female Mindset Insights for Physique Change”

Jill will chat about the things that typically trip women up when it comes to reaching their physique goals, and how to shift your perspective to keep you moving forwards. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What To Look for in a Diet Coach: The Best in the Biz Sound Off About Contest Prep

What to Look for in a Diet Coach: The Best in the Biz Sound Off About Contest Prep

“Cod and asparagus”

“Okay. What else?”

“That’s it. I’m only allowed to eat cod and asparagus for all of my meals leading up to my show.”

“But… you’re 3 weeks out.”

“Yeah. It sucks. I’m doing cardio twice a day, too. I’m kinda scared what is going to happen after the show.”

This is a conversation I had about a month ago with a woman that was preparing for her first Figure show, and had reached out to me with concern. For five meals a day, she was only allowed to eat cod and asparagus. She is part of a "team", which in this case means (and sadly, such is the case with many of these prep teams) she is following a cookie-cutter diet program, and participating in one-size-fits-all group training sessions, regardless of individual needs. 

Getting back to her diet, let's crunch the numbers. At 4oz of cod per serving, and let’s say 10 spears of asparagus per meal, five times a day, breaks down to about:

100g of protein
12g of fat
30g of carbohydrate 
628 calories per day

Plus two-a-day cardio, and strength training four days a week. 

There are multiple problems here. 

There is the glaringly obvious, which is that she is totally miserable. Personally, I love asparagus, but force me to eat it for 140 meals in a row and I may hang myself. 

Next, she is starving, and not in that facetious “I’m so starving I may die”  type of way that I claim each time I leave the gym, but she is actually, genuinely starving. 

Less than 650 calories a day? Are you kidding me? 
Hell, even less than 1,000 calories a day. Are you kidding me?? 

Also, her concern about what happens after the show is completely valid. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to re-enter a world of ‘normal eating’ when all you are used to consuming is fish and asparagus? 
Unfortunately, I predict serious binging accompanied by a ton of remorse, followed by extreme restriction. Rinse, and repeat. That is a scary, scary path to be on, especially when you are fresh off of a competition, when most people struggle with a depressing case of the “What now?”s as it is. 

Bad Coaches

Horrible diet coaches, and more specifically to this article, contest prep coaches, absolutely pervade the industry. These reckless individuals are recommending cookie-cutter starvation diets and obscene amounts of cardio, driving their client (and the client’s health and sanity) into the ground. 

Subsisting off of nothing except for protein and vegetables, drinking only distilled water, cutting out all sodium for the course of the entire prep, using an arsenal of stimulants and fat burners, two-a-day workouts, fat coming only from fish oil.... the list of ridiculous tactics employed to get these women to the stage goes on and on. 
These women then turn to myself and my colleagues to help them sort through this metabolic nightmare once the show is over. It is heartbreaking, and it is rarely a snap to fix.

Make No Mistake - It’s Not Easy

Interestingly enough, every time I write about irresponsible diet coaches, I always have a few people rebuke me (and not surprisingly, it's always the people that have to resort to hairball tactics to get their clients leaner). Their rebuttal is always "competition prep is hard, and there is no way around that", and I agree with that to a point. 

Contest prep will rarely be a walk in the park. 
Let’s get that straight right now. 

Of course, there will always be the outliers that breeze through their prep. (We want to strangle those people. Kidding. Sort of.)

For most of us, though, contest prep is certain to be challenging and uncomfortable. You will likely be hungry, have cravings, and struggle a bit with dips in energy. You may suffer from lowered libido, irritability, and some strength loss. There will be days that you are prepared to do really desperate things for 30 more grams of carbohydrate. You may accidentally eat half of a carrot cake in the middle of the grocery store before you realize what you're doing. I get it. This is normal for many people preparing for a show. 

However, as a responsible coach, it is up to us to decide just how difficult we will let a prep be, and it's imperative that we take into consideration possible repercussions the client is going to have to deal with during the prep, and once the show is over. 

The coach that I mentioned in the beginning that has the client eating nothing but the same two foods every day, all day, is obviously not concerned about the client’s re-entry into post-competition life, and this is an aspect that must be taken into consideration. 

Professionalism and integrity aside, a coach is dealing with another human being, their health, and happiness. I certainly hope that your coach wants to see you succeed long after you’ve worked with them - because they should. 

Good Coaches vs Irresponsible Coaches

An irresponsible coach is one that takes on a client to prep for a show, knowing that there is not enough time to get the client contest ready in a somewhat healthy manner. 

As a nutrition coach myself, I am not afraid to turn down clients. If somebody comes to me, and wants to step on stage in 12 weeks (or 14, or 18, or whatever) and I know it’s not possible without employing extremely aggressive and dangerous tactics, I do the following:

  • I shoot straight. I simply tell them that they need more prep time in order to do things in a somewhat healthy manner, and still bring their best package to the stage. 
  • If they aren’t okay with finding a later show date, I will not take them on as a client. Period. I refuse to compromise their health or my integrity for a self-imposed deadline.

If a coach tells you that they can’t get you ready in a safe way for the show date that you have set, and that you require more time, it doesn’t make them a bad coach; it makes them a responsible one. 

I take my client’s health - both physical and mental - very, very seriously. Sure, I could recommend some idiotic diet, such as the cod and asparagus one above, coupled with obscene amounts of energy expenditure work, but I refuse to do that. No way, no how. 

I’d rather see somebody take 5-6 months to come in slow and steady, rather than make a big sweeping transformation in 10 - 12 weeks. The latter may look impressive on social media, but you have to ask: 

At what cost did this change come at? 
What price did this person pay - and will they pay in the future - because of this transformation?

In an effort to help you, or someone you know, find out how to hire the right contest prep coach, I asked the best diet coaches in the biz what you need to be aware of when hiring. 
I can personally attest for the knowledge, integrity, professionalism, and results that each of these coaches bring to the table.

My question to them:

"What should people look for when hiring a nutrition coach, for dieting or contest prep purposes?"

"The number one thing I tell people to be wary of when hiring a coach is when someone never is willing to say the three magic words: I DON'T KNOW.  

No one has all the answers and coaches who do not have the humility to admit when they do not know something or a topic is beyond their scope are very dangerous. Many coaches will make up nonsense when they do not really understand a topic or they will use the ever popular line 'because I said so.'  You deserve better than that.  You paid this person, they should either be able to accurately tell you why they want you doing something or they should admit that they simply are not sure.  BS or 'because I said so' is not an acceptable response."

"Be an informed athlete.
One key point that I cannot stress enough is individual specificity within nutrition. You are an individual and not a programmed machine thus your nutrition recommendations should be tailored to you, and changes should be made based off of your feedback and response, not ignored with responses like, "Oh, that is normal, this is just part of the plan." if you personally feel off or as if things are not going well. 

Make informed decisions prior to hiring a coach, a coach can sell you anything he or she wants but I encourage you to speak to the athletes of that coach and get an idea as to how that coach assesses and makes changes to nutrition with his current cliental. Reach out to several as well this will give you a good amount of data to review as to whether or not that coach is utilizing an individualistic approach or one that is more so one size fits all. 

If current athletes are all with different starting points, body fat set points, and possessing different amounts of lean body mass are all on a similar plan this is a sign that the coach is not the best option for you the individual." 

Twitter and Instagram: @INOV8ElitePerformance
YouTube: INOV8EP

Matt Jansen
INOV8 Elite Performance

"In my opinion the number one most important thing to look out for is a coach who is handing out meal plans. 
People must understand that every single person, even of the same height and weight, is going to require a different caloric intake to accomplish their goals. 

A meal plan is a generalized layout which can lead to metabolic issues, eating disorders and many other detrimental issues. A good coach is going to give you a customized caloric intake- hopefully based around macronutrients that are optimal for reaching your goals."

Kelsea Koenreich
NGA Figure Pro
IG: teamproscience

"When hiring an online prep coach, take notice how much background information they collect on you before officially hiring them. 

If they are a good coach, they will take many factors into consideration. If they don't get background info, and just hand you a diet and cardio plan, chances are it's a stock diet that may or may not work for YOU.

Also, reach out to their former and current clients, and not just the ones that are listed front and center on the testimonial page. Ask them how their experiences were and what they liked/disliked about working with that coach."

Twitter: @JuliaLadewski
Instagram: @JuliaLadewski

"Aside from obvious things to look out for like education/credentials, experience, client successes/testimonials, etc., I think the biggest thing that women face when seeking online diet coaches is the pressure to be part of a 'team'.

There are MANY teams of competitors, made up of mostly women, who have fabulous sounding names, logos, team clothing/uniforms, social media pages, group support, etc. Many of these teams give out things like cookie cutter diets, dangerous or gimmicky exercise prescription, push drug usage, offer no or minimal contact with the coach, provide no or minimal weekly assessments or updates, and promote antiquated nutrition information (all fish diets, no sodium, distilled water, etc.).

Some of the best coaches I've come across aren't flashy, don't have cool sounding team names, and don't make competitors feel part of a sisterhood of sorts, yet they are educated, experienced, and incredibly dedicated to their clients' health, goals, and success as an athlete."

Ben Hartman, MS, CSCS

"Be wary of a coach who tries to give you too much too soon. Is he/she restricting you to a ten-item food list? 
Piling on the cardio, slowly but surely? Have your workouts become a part-time job? 

If something in your program looks suspicious, there’s probably a reason behind why. You always want to start out with the minimal effective dose when it comes to training and nutrition – that means spending as as little time in the gym as possible and eating as much as you can afford to while still making progress toward your goal."

Sohee Lee, NSCA-CSCS 

When you are shopping for a nutrition coach, remember that you are hiring them to do a job, and you are trusting them with your health. This is a very big deal! 

The coach you are hiring should gather a ton of information about you prior to committing to helping you, including your goals, current and past nutrition, training, sleep cycles, stress levels, and health issues. 
If somebody shoots you over an invoice without gathering all of this information, that is a huge red flag.

Additionally, if a coach agrees to help you prep for a show without knowing your show date, and seeing pictures of where your physique is currently, along with obtaining the information listed above - yikes! You need to find somebody else. 

Remember - you are hiring somebody for a job. Ask them plenty of questions. Don't be afraid to request references from both current and past clients! If they are anything less than enthusiastic about answering your questions, and providing you with the information you're requested, immediately move on! 

If you are interested in my nutrition coaching services, please contact me at

Questions? Comments? 
Did my colleagues or I miss anything that you'd add like to add? 
If so, drop us a line below!