True Confession! I Drink Coffee…….Don’t You?

Being in the health and fitness profession, people watch what I do, watch what I eat, and watch what I drink. It’s an occupational hazard! Those of you who have met me in person know I walk my talk, do what I suggest you do, and drink coffee. Oops, did I say I drink coffee?

Yes, I’ll admit it. I drink coffee. Did I just hear you say……

What? Shelli drinks coffee?

Not only does Shelli drink coffee. She LOVES coffee and is quite the coffee snob.

I drink coffee almost every morning, sometimes with cinnamon, and I enjoy every minute of it.

I’m not exactly here to tell you that coffee is good for you. If I did, I would be telling only the good side of the story and that would make me a politician, not a health educator!

So, I’m here to give you the good and the bad and tell you how you can incorporate your favorite coffee or tea into your healthy meal plan.

The Ugly Side of Caffeine

Most coffee and tea contains a lot of caffeine. This is usually the primary reason people make coffee their drink of choice in the morning. Caffeine is a drug like any other and comes with a long list of side effects. Have you ever tried not having your coffee in the morning? Occasionally I’ll go without coffee for a month just to see what it feels like. The headaches that come on when you try and kick this habit can be brutal (just like with other drugs). Creating a dependency and addiction like this is harmful to the body.

Second, coffee is extremely acidic. Our bodies function at optimum levels when they are slightly more alkaline (the opposite of acidic). It is best for us to greatly reduce any foods that will drive our body’s pH to be more acidic and eat more foods that are alkaline (like fruits and veggies). An acidic body pH is a magnet for all kinds of illnesses. Also, an alkaline body has a much stronger immune system, making illness much less likely.

Last but not least, the caffeine in coffee and tea is abusive to your adrenal glands. Your adrenals release your “fight or flight” hormones, giving you a nice energy boost when needed. Unfortunately, people who drink coffee all day long are consistently beating on their adrenals. This is a really bad idea.

The Pretty Side of Caffeine

Coffee tastes great.

Many studies have shown that coffee can help in the prevention and treatment of diseases and illnesses as varied as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, liver disease, skin cancer, Parkinsons’s disease and more. Although I don’t believe coffee would be the cure all to any of these diseases, many ancient cultures did rely on the coffee bean to cure a long list of ailments. Also, SMALL doses of caffeine can increase performance and mental focus.

Green tea is also a great drink and has a long list of benefits. If nothing else, green tea is a wonderful source of antioxidants which are important in cancer prevention. Green tea has even been found to raise metabolism and aid in fat burning. Before you go take a green tea bath though, its effects are really minor when compared to the effects of sound nutrition and exercise plans. So please don’t think you can eat poorly and just wash it down with green tea!

What is a coffee and tea drinker to do?

  1. Limit your coffee and tea intake. TWO 8 oz cups per day. Any more than that is considered too much and means you’re likely a coffee addict.
  2. If you are currently dependent on a lot of caffeine each day, replace 1 or 2 cups of coffee with green tea. Green tea has much less caffeine than coffee and will help handle the ugly detox symptoms.
  3. Do not build up your coffee beverage with sugar, milk, syrup and whip cream. Skip Starbucks altogether! Use stevia or xylitol to sweeten and avoid all the empty, harmful calories. A teaspoon of half and half won’t hurt either. No flavored creamers.
  4. Make healthy food choices. Avoiding other acidic foods like sugar, artificial sweeteners and processed foods will lighten the acid load on the body.
  5. Make sure the coffee you drink is organic. Conventional coffee is filled with pesticides and chemicals and should be avoided at all costs.

Am I going to give up my coffee? Not likely. Probably not. I keep my intake moderate and enjoy my morning coffee. And I also do the five things on this list!

How To Stop Cheating On Your Diet: 6 Tips!

I don’t advocate following any traditional diets, per se. But I do recommend that, to stay lean and healthy, you avoid certain foods and stick to fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, and low-glycemic carbs.

Of course, it’s not always easy. I get that.

One of the biggest roadblocks to losing weight is the temptation to cheat on your healthy eating program and indulge in those delicious but dangerous foods, like sugary snacks, pizza, and perhaps French fries. But if you plan ahead, you won’t succumb to temptation. Here are six simple secrets to losing fat. These will help you stop cheating on your diet and cheating yourself out of a fit and healthy body.

Stop Cheating Secret #1: Script your week.

Set aside 15 minutes on Sunday to plan out your entire week. Write down what time you need to get up each day, what you’ll eat for breakfast, when you’ll do your workout, what foods you’ll have for snacks, lunches, and dinners.

By planning ahead, you’ll know exactly what you should be doing for fat loss and healthy living. That way you won’t have to make snap decisions on the spot, and you won’t give into temptation.

Make a plan and stick to it and you will lose fat! When it comes to success in any endeavor, I believe that those without a plan won’t come nearly as close to succeeding as those WITH a plan.

Stop Cheating Secret #2: Identify, in advance, potential obstacles to your healthy eating plan. Then come up with two ways to overcome each one.

For example, if you know you have meetings most of the day on Wednesday, and then a business dinner after work, you also know that you’re going to be hungry before you get a chance to eat a proper meal. You’ll be tempted to use the vending machine.

How can you overcome that obstacle? Maybe you’ll eat before the meeting and then have a healthy snack ready to go in the car.

Stop Cheating Secret #3: Shop once.

The more trips you make to the grocery store, the more chances you have to give in to the call of the pastry counter. Since you’ve already planned out your week, you’ll know exactly what to buy. Stick to your list, and buy it all in one go. Even if you use different stores, shop on the same day.

Stop Cheating Secret #4: Prepare your food in advance.

This ties in with Secret #1. Set aside time once a week to plan your meals, do your shopping, and prepare as much of your food as possible. (Cut up vegetables, batch-cook chicken breasts, etc.)

Planning the entire week, scripting out the meals, doing the shopping and some of the food prep is an essential part of sticking to a diet. If you want to have great results, adopt this mindset.

Stop Cheating Secret #5: Get social support.

I can’t recommend social support enough. You can’t stick to your fat-loss diet on your own. You need help from others. At the very least, you need a nutrition buddy who will encourage you to stick to your eating plan and also hold you accountable when you fall off the wagon.

People you work with can be supportive, but they’re also going to be the source of many of your obstacles. There are those who, trying to be nice, will bring in donuts and homemade cookies. Then there are those who will tease you about your diet, though they should know better. You just have to plan for those people.

It goes back to Secret #2: identifying potential obstacles to your healthy eating plan and coming up with ways to overcome them. That means being prepared for the donuts and cookies, and knowing, ahead of time, that you’re not going to eat them. It also means staying away from anyone who treats your fat-loss goals like a joke. Instead, seek out a nutrition buddy who is supportive of your goals and eat lunch with them.

You also need social support at the gym. Look for somebody who seems to be knowledgeable about diet and exercise. People like that are usually happy to help you stick with your plan.

Finally, get your family behind you. Without support at home, you’re going to have a tough time, especially if you’re the only one with a weight “problem” and everyone else can eat whatever they want. So don’t be shy. They’re not going to know you need their support unless you tell them.

Stop Cheating Secret #6: Brush your teeth after every meal, and whenever you might be tempted to cheat.

Eating right after you brush your teeth isn’t very pleasant, so it helps you control your cravings.

Most people are good about sticking to their diet until about 4:00 p.m. That’s a good time to have a healthy snack and then brush your teeth. Another time to watch out for is after dinner. To keep from cheating, brush your teeth, or chew a piece of gum, or have a cup of green tea. Whatever works for you.

It’s all a matter of developing routines to build your power over food, rather than allowing food to control you.

Implement these six ideas and you’re practically guaranteed to stop cheating on your diet, lose fat, and feel great. But remember, it doesn’t happen overnight. Take it day by day, enjoying every small victory. Make tomorrow better than today.

Should You Be Eating Cheese?

Is cheese an integral part of almost every component of your meals? Could this be a meal at your house: cheese and crackers to munch on, mozzarella and tomato as an appetizer, cauliflower casserole with cheddar cheese, and grilled burgers with the option of melted cheese on top? How about cheesecake as your favorite dessert?

Let’s take a look at cheese and figure out where cheese can fit into our healthy eating plan. Even if the above meal plan didn’t sound like one you’d recognize, this information will be very useful……I guarantee it.

What kind of fat is in cheese?

The kind of fat in a particular cheese is dependent on the source of that cheese. Just as the quality of our milk is only as good as the cow it came from, the same rule goes for cheese.

Conventional cheese from non grass-fed cows is very high in Omega 6 fats. We want to reduce the amount of Omega 6’s in our diet and consistently keep increasing the amount of Omega 3’s.

Cheese that is made from the milk of grass-fed, free roaming cows (without antibiotics and growth hormones) is much higher in Omega 3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid. CLA is an extremely healthy fat that has been found to be a potent cancer fighter. The most abundant source of natural CLA is the meat and dairy products of grass-fed animals. Research conducted since 1999 shows that grazing animals have from 3-5 times more CLA than animals fattened on grain in a feedlot. Simply switching from grain-fed to grass-fed products can greatly increase your intake of CLA.

Is the fat in cheese of the good kind or bad kind? Again, that greatly depends on the source of your cheese. Conventional, non-organic cheese can be quite high in bad fat and laden with antibiotics and hormones and really should NOT be included in our meal plans, whereas grass-fed, organic cheese can be a wonderful and tasty addition to your healthy meal plans.

Also remember that raw dairy is always a better option than pasteurized dairy. Raw milk may be extremely difficult to find in many states but raw cheese can be found at most grocery stores and health food stores all over the world. If you have never had raw cheese before, you are going to be absolutely amazed by the delicious taste. Raw cheese is so much more flavorful than any conventional cheese and makes all the difference in the world, especially when used in recipes.

Certain cheeses should be avoided at all costs. American Cheese out of plastic wrapping…..I think NOT.

Is cheese a fat or a protein?

Whereas many nutrition plans count cheese as a protein, I prefer to count it as a fat option That is because I do not feel that the protein content in cheese is high enough to qualify it as a full protein. With that being said, cheese does have a significant amount of protein, but for blood sugar balancing purposes, it just may not be enough for some.

Listen to your body, though. Some people can have 2 ounces of cheddar cheese and a small apple as a snack and feel great, whereas others may have this same snack and feel lethargic and sleepy just 30 minutes later. Let your body tell you if this would be a healthy option for you as a protein source.

Let’s remember that portion control comes into effect with just about everything and 1-2 ounces of cheese (1 oz is about the size of a domino) can go a really long way in any meal. Think of cheese as a condiment!

Here are some great ways to add cheese into your healthy weight loss meal plans:

  1. Sprinkle some shredded cheese on top of your morning vegetable omelet.
  2. Combine cheese with an apple or pear and some raw nuts as a great 3pm pick-me-up.
  3. Melt cheese over vegetables to get your whole family to eat their veggies.

It only takes a small amount of cheese to add that extra flavor to most meals and recipes. So you see, there is a healthy way to have your cheese and eat it too.

Do You Suffer From Portion Distortion Syndrome?

There’s is something called the Portion Distortion Syndrome. Have you heard of it?

If you think too much food on your plate may be what’s stopping you from seeing the weight come off, here are a few tips to help you battle the Portion Distortion Syndrome:

1. Eat slowly. In our fast paced society, it is difficult to eat slowly and enjoy your meal. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain and your stomach to register that food has arrived and calms your hunger. When we inhale our meal in the first 5 minutes after it’s served, we do not give our bodies enough time to register the, “I’m not hungry anymore” cue. Savor each bite of food and chew it thoroughly. For those of you that suffer from any gastrointestinal distress, you will actually find that this will greatly enhance your digestion because chewing your food more thoroughly creates more digestive enzymes in your body.

2. When at restaurants or parties, take a good look at what is on your plate before you even pick up the fork. If you just start eating the second it shows up in front of you, the whole meal will be gone before you even realize it. The scary part is you won’t even know how much you ate! We have all had those moments of total regret when our stomach is aching and we’re asking ourselves, “Why did I eat so much? Why didn’t I stop sooner?” A better question to ask before this happens is, “How much can I eat now and how much can I have again later?” Give yourself just 2 minutes to assess the portion size that would be best for you and take the rest home. Not only will you prevent the stomach pains, but you will get to enjoy your delicious meal twice.

3. At home, put exactly what you intend to eat on your plate before you start eating. Take your time enjoying the food you have in front of you and don’t make this an eating race with the rest of the table. I am often the last person finished at the table and I don’t care. Why should I rush? Unless we have plans or somewhere to be, there is no need for me to eat my whole dinner plate in 5 minutes. Not only do I enjoy my meal but I enjoy talking to my family members during our meal and even put my fork down a few times to digest between bites. I know we are often influenced by the people eating around us and if everyone else is eating fast we have a tendency to follow. Keep at your own pace and have people follow your lead. I know when people eat with me they do have a tendency to eat much slower because I eat slowly. You will influence others around you to eat healthier without them even knowing it.

4. Always remember, there is more where that came from. Chances are none of us are going to suffer from a lack of food, especially when it comes to dining out and being invited to parties. You also don’t receive a special reward for cleaning your plate or finishing your meal the fastest. There is always more food available for your next meal (many times there is just too much food available) and we can always take food home with us or eat again in a few hours if we get hungry.

Be careful of the Portion Distortion Syndrome. Using the above tips will keep you healthier and at a weight that’s appropriate for you!

Are You An Apple or Pear?

Do you have an apple-shaped body? You know what I mean, some people are apple-shaped and some are pears and some are bananas.
I read a study recently that had some important news for apple-shaped people.

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that taking in plenty of non-starchy vegetables and more magnesium helped increase the production of adiponectin, a hormone found in fat cells. The researchers were careful to look for any other factors that could have affected the results, but found none.

Adiponectin increases the effectiveness of insulin. In other words, it helps your cells absorb glucose. If you have plenty of adiponectin, your insulin production is lower, your blood sugar is better controlled, and that adds up to a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. But it may also mean you could have a much easier time controlling your weight.

Unfortunately, when we gain weight, especially in the belly, adiponectin production goes down. (This is one reason belly fat is so harmful for your health.) And, indeed, the researchers found that the higher the subject’s adiponectin level, the lower the subject’s weight. The lower the adiponectin, the higher the weight.

So the big news is that simply by increasing your intake of non-starchy vegetables and supplementing with magnesium, you can increase a hormone that will help you lose that belly fat and decrease your insulin resistance.

Reduce your intake of starchy carbs, especially refined flours and sugars. And eat eight to 10 servings of non-starchy vegetables every day. Non-starchy vegetables are very low in carb grams and calories. They are nutrient-dense foods loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and other beneficial phytochemicals in a very low-sugar, high fiber package.

A little extra magnesium helps too. The best food sources are nuts, seeds, and beans. If you show any signs of being low in magnesium (e.g., tense and tight muscles, constipation, or restless leg syndrome) you might consider a magnesium supplement. The best forms are magnesium malate or amino acid chelates like magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurate.

How’s Your Posture? Or Would You Rather Not Answer That Question?

Here’s another question I get quite often: “Why am I not seeing results in my posture/performance/whatever?” Does my training program really work?

The answer? IT DEPENDS!

In all honesty, without seeing your particular training program, it’s hard to say whether that’s the problem. With in-person clients it’s pretty easy to discover issues as we work with their programming, or nutrition or training. If they aren’t getting results, most of the time it’s due to things they are doing OUTSIDE of the gym or work-out time versus what they’re doing during their training time.

For instance, imagine the typical computer programmer who comes to see me. Their hips are constantly in flexion, and their upper back and shoulders are slouched over. Even if I gave this person the absolute most perfect program and they executed it to perfection, they may not get results.


In general it’s due to the law of repetitive motion. Particularly when it comes to posture. I’m a stickler for healthy posture. Sometimes when I see someone slouched over, I just want to walk over to them and put them in proper alignment. They can’t possibly be breathing deeply.

As a strength coach, yoga teacher, and running coach I’ll bring your attention to your posture when we’re together and we’ll review your programs making sure that your quad dominant and hip dominant movements are balanced, and that your horizontal pulls match your horizontal presses. HOWEVER, it’s what you do the other hours of the day that matter, and they matter A LOT.

We too often forget to account for what we do all day everyday! That’s where the idea of repetitive motion comes in.

This is one of the many reasons I’m such a huge advocate for more soft-tissue and flexibility/mobility work. No program can overcome poor postures that you assume throughout the day.

Think about it for a second, do you really expect 3 hours in the gym every week to counteract the fact that you sit at a desk or in your car for 40, 50 or even 60 hours every week?

No way!

According to the research, adaptive shortening of muscles can occur in as little as 20 minutes; that means if you’re sitting at a desk for 8 hours every day, your hips are adapting to that position by getting shorter! This epitomizes the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

If you are really serious about getting yourself healthy, mobile and resilient, you absolutely must take into account the positions you’re in throughout the day and try to optimize them.

If you sit at a desk, get your hips in extension by performing lunge stretches. Or better yet, get a stand-up desk and cue yourself to tighten up your stomach and glutes while standing. Those of you who have been reading my articles for some time might recall that three years ago I gave up sitting at a desk while working!

If you drive all day long, set a timer on your phone to go off every 15 minutes that will cue you to sit-up straight and move around a bit. Fidgeting is not always a bad thing!

In essence, everything we do influences our posture and our performance. The question becomes is what you’re doing right now positively or negatively affecting it?

Make the conscious decision throughout the day to optimize your posture and alignment. Doing so will not only help you outside of the gym, but it will improve your performance in the gym as well.

Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Remember the song “Let The Sunshine In” from the musical Hair? Well, that’s what we’re talking about today. No NOT Hair…..SUNSHINE and its benefits.

When our eyes don’t take in enough sunlight, we can experience a serious mood change. Sometimes you’ll notice you start sleeping too much, or that you go through energy slumps. You might start to crave sweets and starchy foods.

Studies link those symptoms to low levels of brain chemicals like serotonin and melatonin. Not only do we need sunlight in our eyes to produce those neurotransmitters, we need sunlight on our skin to produce vitamin D.

We’ve long known that vitamin D is critical for building and maintaining strong bones. But a big surprise in recent years has been that vitamin D also plays a critical role in insulin regulation, making it important for the prevention of diabetes and heart disease. It’s also important for the regulation of your immune system, with studies linking low vitamin D levels to an increased risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancers, as well as to multiple sclerosis, which is an autoimmune condition.

Depending on where you live, it’s hard to get enough sunlight during the winter months. And in summer, many people avoid exposure to direct sunlight because they’re concerned about skin cancer. In addition, drugs used to treat heartburn, acid indigestion, and ulcers can deplete the body’s stores of vitamin D.

What this means is that you have a good chance of developing a deficiency of this critical vitamin.

It’s easy to restore the vitamin D your body needs. You can get it by spending a few minutes in the sun each day. You can also get it from food sources, especially eggs, fatty fish, and fish liver oils. And if you don’t like fish, there are supplements.

I’ve long been a proponent of having your vitamin D levels checked the next time you get a blood test.

If you decide to take supplements, avoid the old form of vitamin D (ergocalciferol). Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the best form to use. Experts are now recommending that we get at least 1,000 IUs per day.

So enjoy letting the sunshine in and keep up your levels of vitamin D.

Are Looks A Marker Of Health?

The other day I was thinking about how looks can be deceiving. For instance, Lance Armstrong, and Jim Fixx (who wrote The Complete Book of Running), looked like two of the healthiest men on the planet. Armstrong beat testicular cancer, but came within an inch of his life. And Fixx died of a heart attack after taking a short jog.

So even if you look healthy and feel like a million bucks, you still need to know your levels of inflammatory markers. These you get from blood tests.

But in the meantime, it’s important you ALSO create a low-inflammatory lifestyle. Here’s how you do that.

A low inflammatory lifestyle would include a low-inflammatory nutrition and training plan, along with plenty of stress-free time.

Many of these blog posts help you with those first two. The third one, de-stressing, is mostly up to you. You may want to spend 30 minutes a day doing yoga, walking, meditating, praying, or whatever calms your mind and body.

Living a healthy life requires you to manage your insulin levels keeping them low, and using low-inflammatory nutrition and a smart exercise plan. So remember to use:

  1. Short workouts that are intense, effective, and enjoyable. Use both weights and cardio.
  2. Longer “soft” workouts (like brisk walking) that help de-stress the body and burn more body fat.
  3. A low-glycemic, high-protein diet packed with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Do You Read Food Labels?

I think it’s good to know where my food comes from. How about you?

Thanks to the new Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law, you can now see where many foods were grown or raised before you buy. This labeling comes in handy if, for example, you want to support local farmers or avoid products that come from a particular region or country.

Here are some of the foods that must now be labeled:

  • Meat and fish sold in supermarkets, but not in fish or meat markets (ham and bacon, because they are processed, are exempt)
  • Raw peanuts, almonds, pecans, and macadamia nuts
  • Fruits and vegetables (mixed fruit salad and mixed frozen vegetables, also considered to be processed, are exempt)
  • Bagged and unbagged lettuce, but not in grocery store salad bars.

For more information on COOL, go to the United States Department of Agriculture site here at

(Source: Consumer Reports)

Have You Ever Eaten Candy To Relieve Stress?

I read an article recently that said that the economy is wreaking havoc on Americans’ health. And, according to the findings of a landmark Gallup poll, Americans’ stress levels soared in 2008 and continue to rise each year.

But one economically related health risk mentioned in the article really jumped out at me.

It said that more and more Americans are turning to a tried-and-true stress reliever for comfort: CANDY.

Auto manufacturers and insurance companies may be struggling. But candy companies are thriving. Cadbury’s profits rose 30 percent in 2008 and continue to increase. Nestle’s increased by nearly 11 percent. And Hershey’s profits surged by 8.5 percent in the last quarter of 2008 and its stock price has been soaring.

Sure, indulging in sugary foods may make you feel better temporarily. But in the long run, it’s going to ruin your health.

According to organic chemist and nutrition expert Shane Ellison, “If left unchecked, an addiction to sweets spikes blood sugar and the fat-storing hormone insulin, disrupts satiety (causing you to overeat), and gives rise to age-accelerating molecules known as AGEs (advanced glycation end products). AGEs are responsible for causing wrinkles and age-related blindness, as well as premature heart attacks and stroke.”

And interestingly enough, I was just reading about AGEs detrimental effect and its link to Alzheimers.

Eventually, too much sugar can result in SERIOUS health problems, including insulin resistance, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

If you’re turning to sweets to feel better, I recommend that you try confections made with “safe” sweeteners like erythritol, stevia, agave, xylitol and luo han guo. Or stick to dark chocolate, which is high in antioxidants and has a host of other health benefits.

Of course I always recommend that you monitor your TOTAL sugar intake because sugar is sugar is sugar, even if it’s the “healthy” kind. I also recognize that most folks are going to eat some form of candy or sweets, so it’s helpful to pass this information along to you so you make better sugar choices.