Spirit & Learning

Self-kindness is a Secret Weapon


January is a fantastic time to make new health & fitness goals but often people are really hard on themselves, taking a militant approach that really isn’t all that helpful. (Example: “I’m going to get up early every day and go to the gym and only eat salad”).  While some people may like a trainer that yells at them to work harder, that has never been my style and I think kindness is completely underestimated when it comes to fitness.  Are you really more motivated by being recognized for making a positive change than by being scolded for eating a cookie that wasn’t in your plan?  Um..no. Probably not.  Mostly likely you will feel bad about eating the cookie and then give up and eat the whole bag (“might as well”, right?). This is where self-kindness (and forgiveness) comes in. You are not a complete failure because you slipped up a little (or even a lot). There really is no such thing as a “perfect” diet or fitness plan and there are more important things to focus your energy on than berating yourself. Learning to forgive yourself and move on quickly is really important for long-term success.

When I was a teenager I was a promising athlete and was extremely hard on myself.  I thought that more was always better and I learned the hard way that this isn’t always the case.  Overtraining and not supporting physical and mental recovery can lead to injuries, burnout, and other negative consequences (for me personally, I developed an eating disorder).  It is one thing to strive for improvement and quite another to feel like you are never good enough. The truth is that there will always be someone faster, stronger, or more beautiful (or differently beautiful) than you are.  That is not the point.  The point is to do your best, to feel alive, and to make the most of the time you’ve been given.

Self-kindness is not permission to go off the rails and do whatever you want. We know that improving athletic performance requires intentional training and optimizing recovery through high-quality nutrition, rest, and relaxation.  We also know that loss doesn’t come from sitting on your butt and eating fast food.  So, are you really being kind to yourself when you make choices that are not supporting your health and fitness goals?  What does self-kindness look like to you?

I think that it will be a little different for each of us.  Practicing self-kindness to me is…

  • going to bed early so that I feel well-rested and ready for the day
  • eating whole foods that support my training and body composition goals most of the time
  • having really awesome cheat meals once in a while
  • warming up properly before my workouts
  • lifting heavy weights and striving to get stronger
  • making time to swim, run, and play basketball
  • getting a massage once in a while
  • reading for enjoyment (not just scientific articles for my PhD)
  • avoiding magazines and most popular media that promotes unrealistic body ideals

What about you?  How are you going to be kind to yourself today?


Toss out Those Broken Records

broekn record


“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become your character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

– Lao Tzu

I am convinced that our thoughts are the starting point for what we create in our lives.  Certainly things beyond our control happen, but we can always choose how we react and what we do with the cards that we are dealt (and yes, sometimes it still sucks).  Most of us have heard that motivation and the will to achieve our goals and dreams is key to actually making them happen.  But is there any science to support the power of positive thinking

As it turns out, recent research studies in positive psychology show that changing our thoughts can have significant effects on our life.  For example, researchers have that writing letters of gratitude, counting blessings, practicing being positive, performing acts of kindness, and meditation all help improve depression.  Positive thoughts and emotions are also linked to job performance, creativity,  improved social relationships, and better physical and mental health.  Given this knowledge, I think we can (and should) apply it to our own lives to help us be happier, fitter, and achieve our dreams.

The first thing that we need to do is start playing a new record in our mind.  Most of us replay the same thoughts on repeat, leaving us stuck in the past, rethinking and re-experiencing events that have already happened and preventing us from moving forward or creating desired experiences that differ from what we know.  In other words, who we are and how we react to things is largely based on broken records that have become a set of habits.  It is very difficult to toss them out but it is possible if you start dreaming, imagining, and letting go of your old (but comfortable) ways.

Personally, I am still working on tossing out some of my broken records but I have been able to get rid of some really unhelpful ones.  Some of my favourite strategies to deal with unhelpful thoughts come from cognitive behavioural therapy and sports psychology.  When I was younger I read every book I could find on mental toughness training for sports and many of the exercises and methods that I learned about have been very helpful for me.  For example, being aware of thoughts and realizing that the real you is the person thinking about the thought helps me distance myself from whatever it is that I was thinking.  Keeping a gratitude list on my phone also helps because it reminds me of all the joys and love in my life rather than focusing on negative things.  Keeping positive quotes and goals posted around my house serve as constant reminders to think positively and focus on what is important to me.

I also find that imagining positive future events helps me bring them into my life.  Sounds a little kooky, I know, but stay with me here.  One thing that I do often is I imagine what my workout is going to feel like.  I practice it in my mind before the actual physical event.  For example, the other day I planned to do a rather brutal HIIT circuit at home.  I was tired out from work and not very motivated but instead of bailing, I imagined how strong and powerful I would feel during the workout, as well as how wonderful I would feel afterwards.  Almost instantly, I got excited about the workout and it ended up being one of the best ones of the week!  The trick is that your mind cannot tell the difference between an imagined and a real-life experience.  One famous example of this was when Silken Laumann, a Canadian Olympic rowing champion, broke her femur with very little time to recover before the Olympics.  Since she was not able to train physically much of her training involved mental imagery and practicing in her mind.  If I recall correctly, she ended up winning a silver medal!  Pretty amazing stuff!

It is easy sometimes to get sidetracked by focusing on what is not going well or what you would like to change but my challenge for you this week is to think differently.  Maybe it involves creating a vision board, making a list of things you are thankful for, or giving your time to help others.  Start making new, better records and clean out the attic!


Dunn EW, Aknin LB, Norton MI. Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science 2008;319:1687–1688.

Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc Psychol 2003;84:377–389.

Froh JJ, Sefick WJ, Emmons RA. Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. J Sch Psychol 2008;46:213–233.

 Fredrickson BL, Cohn MA, Coffey KA, et al. Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. J Pers Soc Psychol 2008;95:1045–1062.

King LA. The health benefits of writing about life goals. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2001;27:798–807.

Lyubomirsky S, Dickerhoof R, Boehm JK, Sheldon KM. Becoming
happier takes both a will and a proper way: An experimental longitudinal intervention to boost well-being. Emotion 2011;11:391–402.

Lyubomirsky S, Sheldon KM, Schkade D. Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Rev Gen Psychol 2005;9:111–131.

Seligman MEP, Steen TA, Park N, Peterson C. Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. Am Psychol 2005;60:410–421.

Sheldon KM, Boehm JK, Lyubomirsky S. Variety is the spice of happiness: The hedonic adaptation prevention (HAP) model. In: Boniwell J, David S, eds. Oxford Handbook of Happiness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009;in press.

Sheldon KM, Lyubomirsky S. How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. J Posit Psychol 2006;1:73–82.

Lifecrafting with Narratives


We all have a story that we tell ourselves and the world about ourselves and although many of the facts are true, I’m beginning to realize that there’s also a lot of room for interpretation. Two people can interpret the same situation in completely different ways. And we don’t always see ourselves accurately either. In qualitative research, narratives (stories) are often used to help understand someone’s experience but I think we can use them to help understand ourselves and create the lives that we want through lifecrafting.

Lifecrafting is a term to describe intentionally creating the life that you want. I think there are many caveats to this (e.g. not everyone can work a 4 hour work week or make a million dollars, though perhaps you can do both by trying to convince other people that they can). That`s not to say lifecrafting isn`t useful but I think it is more about wanting the life that you have and making the most of the cards you are dealt than achieving anything and everything you decide you want. You can`t choose everything in your life but you can intentionally seek out opportunities to learn and grow, to share joy, and to develop positive relationships with other people.

I think narratives are another tool to help us on our path. Stories are malleable and sharing them with others helps give us perspective and make meaning in new ways. I think we can potentially use narratives to help us turn our “scars into stars” by looking at our own story through a new lens or even torching the stories that are unhelpful. By creating new meanings out of old stories, we change how we see ourselves, helping us to create the lives that we want.

Ideas for how to do this:

1. Tell your story. Write it down, tape record it, or say it aloud. Lay it down in rhyme if that’s more your style. Sharing can be really helpful since different people will bring new perspectives that you may not have considered (possibly one reason why support groups and cognitive behaviour therapy are helpful).

2. Look for main ideas. How do you see yourself? What labels do you use? What are the significant events and people and what do they mean to you?

3. What have you learned or gained from your experiences? Are you stronger? More compassionate? Try to reframe negative experiences by finding the gems in there.

4. Think about what you want your story to be and start driving your life bus that way. If you think someone else is driving your bus, get in the driver’s seat! A map helps too (especially if you have a poor sense of direction like I do). Most importantly, fill your bus with awesome people and celebrate life along the way.


Have a wonderful day!


What is Precision Nutrition?


Me holding a pair of my old jeans from my heaviest weight of 235lb

Last July I signed up for Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating program and now the program is wrapping up so I thought it would be a good time to share a little bit about my experience. First you should know that I thought about signing up for the program for 3 years before I actually decided to do it. It took me a long time to swallow my pride and ask for help.  You should also know that I do not work for them or have any reason to support them other than the fact that I loved the program and it was a game changer for me.

Intellectually, I know a lot about training and nutrition. In addition to being a registered nurse, I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology and have been a personal trainer for almost 10 years. Asking for help seemed like admitting failure. I even signed up for Precision Nutrition’s certification program with the intention that I could self-teach myself the program. Although I think the nutrition certification program is excellent, it is not the same as experiencing Lean Eating as a participant and I am so glad that I had the courage to sign up.

So what exactly is the program?

Lean Eating is a year-long online group coaching program that focuses primarily on nutrition and developing healthy lifestyle habits. Every 2 weeks you work on developing a new habit and every day you have a new lesson related to the habit that you are working on. You also have access to a coach, mentors, online group meetings, forums, a private facebook group, and support through email.

The program also provides a workout plan that changes every 4-6 weeks but if it is too easy or too hard you can make adjustments or follow your own training plan. Personally, I found the first workout program easy but it also focused on functional training and strengthening muscles that I didn’t train very often so I followed it anyway. As the program continued and my goals changed (I decided to compete in a fitness show) I hired Brad Fowler, an excellent trainer who works at The Athletic Club in London, Ontario, to design my workouts for me. I still trained on my own in the gym but he has a lot of experience training competitors and has been incredibly helpful.

Lean Eating is not a diet and it does not provide meal plans for you to follow and to me this is one of the best things about the program. Vegan? No problem. Paleo? No problem. You get the idea. In the past I have followed many different programs and diets and successfully lost weight – temporarily. The weight always came back once I stopped following the plan.

body tranformations2

My weight fluctuations over the past few years

Lean Eating is different because it helps you examine your eating habits and your lifestyle while creating positive changes. Before starting the program I had lost 50lb on my own after having my son but I was still engaging in self-sabotage by snacking when I was bored or lonely and I was really hard on myself.  Over the last year I have lost another 15lb and changed my body composition (I am currently 165lb and 5’8″ tall).  More importantly, I have changed on the inside and developed new ways of thinking and living.  You can’t see that in a picture but I am a much happier person.

It was also great to have support from my Lean Eating teammates, mentors, and coach because it has been a safe place to share struggles, insights, and successes. I used to think that it was a sign of weakness to ask for help but now I understand how important it is to have support on your journey. The photoshoot at the end was really nerve-wracking for me but I’m really happy that I did it. It definitely boosted my confidence and made me realize how much I have changed over the last year.

One of my fave shots from my celebration photoshoot

One of my fave shots from my celebration photoshoot with Dave Laus

Lean Eating isn’t for everyone but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way and is ready to change. Even if Lean Eating is not for you, I think everyone can benefit from coaching and ongoing personal and professional development so I encourage you to seek out people to help you on your journey.

Have a wonderful day!


My Precision Nutrition Adventure!

emilyIn July I started the Lean Eating Coaching Program with Precision Nutrition and I LOVE IT!!   Here’s a picture of me this week, almost 1 year after having a baby and 8 weeks into lean eating.  Even though I know a lot about nutrition and exercise, I think the secret to weight loss is to have support and accountability from people who know what they are doing.  Yes, even trainers can benefit from having a trainer!

Life has been super busy and I haven’t been posting very often but I hope that your fitness adventure continues to go well!  I am starting year 2 of my PhD in nursing, doing research, publishing papers, helping teach university classes, working P/T as a nurse, and having a blast being a mom!  My workouts have been more HIIT-style workouts in my living room with a few pieces of equipment and that has been working well for me.  I also hit the gym whenever I am able to 🙂  Some days I am tired but I always feel better after a workout, even if it’s just a small one.  Every little bit counts!!   Sure, we all have lots on the go and don’t always feel like running a marathon (or even a 5k) but it’s not about being “perfect”!   We can only live one day at a time and we can only do our best, whatever that is today.  Over time, it will get easier, we will get stronger, and we will surprise the heck out of ourselves!

Hope this post finds you well!  Happy Saturday!!

~Live Inspired~!


How to Manipulate your Cortisol Levels

Stress is a normal part of life but too much can be detrimental to your health and contribute to excess body fat.  One hormone that is influenced by stress levels is Cortisol.  Without getting into the gritty physiological details, here’s a brief overview of how cortisol regulation works in your body:

What is cortisol exactly?

Cortisol is the chemical that is in charge of your body’s stress response.  Think of it like the stress response Sergeant.  When your body is under stress, a whole bunch of chemical reactions happen to tell your adrenal cortex to release Cortisol.

What is Cortisol’s job?

When your body is under stress, Cortisol makes sure that you have enough energy by:

  1. Increasing blood sugar (via gluconeogenesis of oxaloacetate)
  2. Increasing glycogen stores in the liver

Cortisol also helps manage sodium and potassium levels in cells


  • Weakens your immune system by blocking T-cell function
  • Dampens inflammatory response by decreasing histamine release
  • Excess Cortisol can cause memory loss by damaging the hippocampus region of your brain

Daily Hormone Cycle –  First, it is important to recognize that cortisol has natural fluctuations throughout the day.  It is highest during the morning, about 30 min after waking up and lowest in the evening.

Cortisol is not all bad.  In the short term, increased cortisol levels promote energy release to help us meet the demands of the day. However, if cortisol levels remain too high for an extended period of time, it can have detrimental effects.

According to the model of reward based stress eating (Adam & Epel, 2007) the high cortisol level that result from prolonged exposure to stress has direct and indirect effects on the reward system.  Greater sensitization of the reward system can lead to excessive intake of really delicious food (usually things that aren’t good for us but taste good).  It is this combination of high cortisol, dense calories, and high insulin that results in fat storage.

cortisol and body fat

From Adam & Epel, 2007.

Now the fun part!  How can you lower your cortisol levels?

  • Get enough sleep
  • Sleep in on weekends
  • Avoid working out in the morning when cortisol levels are highest (working out is a stressor too so this will just increase your cortisol levels more!)
  • Find time for relaxation 
  • Reduce chronic worry            
  • Laugh often!                                                                                                                       

~Live Inspired~!


Adam, T. C. & Epel, E. S. (2007). Stress, eating, and the reward system.  Physiology and Behavior, 91, 449-458.

Hormones 101- Part 1


Intuitively I think we recognize that our body’s hormones influence our health and body composition but sometimes we forget how important they are.  For example, diabetics know all too well the relationship between blood sugar levels and insulin.  Melatonin helps regulate our sleeping, adrenaline kicks us into high gear during a perceived threat, ans sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen, among others) influence everything from body composition to reproduction.

In the next few posts I’m going to take a look at a few key hormones and some strategies that can help you take advantage of your physiology.

So first thing’s first.  What are hormones?

Hormones are chemicals that tell your cells to do things.   The endocrine system is in charge of making and releasing hormones in response to certain things (such as stress, time of day, what you eat, exercise, etc.)  It is made up of several glands including the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal body, and the reproductive organs (ovaries and testes), and also includes the pancreas.

Next, we will take a look at cortisol, commonly referred to as “the stress hormone”.

~Live Inspired~!