My Favorite Ways To Spice Up Healthy Food

Many people equate eating healthy to bland food and being miserable. But guess what? Healthy food doesn’t have to be bland and boring. I’m NOT a great cook whatsoever, but since eating healthier and eating more fresh, non-processed foods, I’ve at least learned the basics and have found some easy ways to add flavor to my food without the excessive calories.

Here are a few simple ways you can spice up your foods, especially meats:

*Herbs and spices (my favorites are sea salt, garlic, onion powder, pepper, and oregano)
*Pre-made seasonings(Mrsh. Dash, taco packets, etc.)
*Marinades (using vinegar, oil, lime juice, etc.)
*Low sugar/calorie condiments:
-low sugar ketchup
-siracha sauce
-hot sauce
-sugar free bbq sauce

My personal favorites:

For burgers-
Weber’s Blazin’ burger. We use this every week for Friday night burger night. Just  use about a teaspoon for a pound of beef and mix it in.

For chicken-
My favorite way to cook chicken is to marinate and grill it. I usually use a marinade of vinegar, olive oil, garlic powder, and low sodium soy or teriyaki sauce.

I also love using pre-made seasonings for when I cook it on the skillet or the oven, like this one:

Or using a home made seasoning mix like this one, which is one of my faves:

4 tbsp olive oil

4 tsp chili powder

4 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp salt

Check out my Pinterest board for some more great chicken recipes!

For ground turkey-

I love taco seasoning for turkey. I sometimes use a lower sodium taco seasoning, but most of the time I just use a homemade taco seasoning. I don’t measure, just throw in a bunch of onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and paprika. This is my favorite for when I’m lazy or for when I make crockpot chicken, since it’s pretty much all natural ingredients:

As far as condiments go for me, I pretty much use ketchup ALL the time(yes, it can be high in sugar if you’re really being strict, but for me, it’s not a big deal). And for when my chicken turns out bland, all I do is add a bit of this bbq sauce for some flavor. It’s sooo good!

What are you favorite ways to add flavor to food?

It Takes TIME

I’ve been lifting weights for a LONG time. 10 years ago I honestly never thought that scrawny little me would look the way I do today. Not that I think I look amazing or anything(and I still feel scrawny most of the time!), but I have come a long way in all those years.

The changes in my body were not drastic. They sure didn’t happen overnight. I never had huge weight fluctuations or measurement changes, just very minimal changes from year to year to year.  There were many times when I felt like I wasn’t really seeing any change at all, but I kept on, and now looking back at photos throughout the years, I can see the progress I’ve made.

                                     The last 2 1/2 year’s progresss 2010-2013

It’s much harder and takes longer to build UP than to diet down. Especially while staying relatively lean. And the longer you’ve been training, the slower your progress will be. 2010 was the year I really “cleaned up” my nutrition. I got leaner but somehow still managed to gain muscle and actually weigh about 5lbs more now than I did in the first photo from 2010. In the last 5-6 years, I’ve gained about 8lbs.

The results that I achieved are simply the result of training HARD consistently and eating right for a LOT of years, always knowing that there was no “end” in sight. I just loved lifting weights and the feeling of accomplishing a goal and being strong and fit. I focused on getting better and stronger over time; I pushed and challenged myself continually by setting new goals and learning new things; I began to make better nutrition choices, a little at a time. As a side effect of those things, my body has changed and evolved over time.

I never did really did the “bulking” thing, but I did make sure to eat a lot because you do have to EAT to build. You will not gain a good amount of muscle if you are trying to stay super shredded with 6 pack abs. One bit of advice someone told me a while back that stuck with me was don’t try to get abs before you’ve built the muscle you want first! Makes sense.When I started eating real, quality food and more calories was when I really started seeing results. But I DO think you can build muscle without doing a major bulk(as in eating whatever you want and gaining 20+ lbs of what will mostly be fat), as I have done for the last 3 years. I’ve just trained hard consistently, lifted progressively heavier weights and ate a lot of healthy food without going overboard.

So what has my nutrition been like the last few years? Well, I have never followed a diet plan, or obsessively tracked calories, or weighed and measured my food. I do watch what I eat, but I’m not super strict 100% of the time, and my goal is to never get into the “dieting” mindset. I do, however, have a few guidelines that I follow that help me stay on track: eat every 3 hours, protein at every meal, adequate carbs, especially around training, eat mostly real foods, and 1-2 treat meals per week. This is what has worked for ME.

Now I’m at the point where I just want to maintain where I’m at as far as my bodyfat, and continue slowly adding a little more muscle, just as I’ve been doing for the last few years.I’m not striving for a 6 pack, and I’m no longer trying to have the perfect physique. I just want to enjoy my training and enjoy my food and not obsess over getting bigger or leaner. I want to stay in relatively good shape without being obsessive or super restrictive. Of course, I’m going to continue training hard and lifting heavy, and if changes happen, they happen! My journey isn’t over-I’ll never stop, but I’m content with being content where I’m at right now.

My body has transformed at a very slow but steady rate. And that’s the key: you will get the results if you’re doing the right things consistently over time. I’ve been training hard for the last 12 years, and it’s taken me that long to get to where I am. If you’re in this just for the physical results, you’re not gonna last. Because when you don’t see results fast enough, you’ll quit. When you feel like your body isn’t changing, you’ll give up. If  you’re not willing to be in this for the long haul and willing to accept that the results will come with time-lots of time-only then you will succeed.

So the moral of the story is: don’t rush things and just enjoy the process! You’ll get there.Don’t compare where you’re at in YOUR journey to where someone else is on their journey. Don’t become obsessed and so focused on just the physical results that you forget to have fun along the way!

Train hard. Be strong. Be patient. And most of all, have fun.

Tips For a More Effective Workout


The majority of people I see at the gym are doing ineffective workouts, using all the wrong exercises, and consequently, not getting results. One thing I see so many people in the gym doing wrong is only working certain muscles while neglecting others. For women, it’s usually tricep kickbacks and the inner/outer thigh machine that they focus on, and for men, it’s usually abdominal machines and chest exercises.

Most women’s workouts I see at a typical gym consist of cardio, the inner/outer thigh machine, a few ab exercises, and then maybe some bicep curls and tricep kickbacks. Very rarely do I see women doing pushups (one of the best exercises you can do!), and almost never do I see women squatting with any significant amount of weight, and definitely NOT with a barbell on their back.

Even though most of us know that you can’t spot reduce and that lifting heavy weights won’t cause women to get all huge and bulky, I think that most of the general population still believe those myths. Based on what I see on a daily basis at the gym, people still believe that crunches and ab machines burn fat from their waistlines and that light weights will “tone and sculpt” your arms.

Rather than focusing only on trouble areas like the midsection or inner/outer thighs, a good exercise routine will work every muscle in your body with a focus on compound, multi-joint exercises. Why? Because not only will  you be working those trouble areas, but you will also be involving other muscles as well. This will allow you to lift heavier, hit more muscle groups in one movement(more bang for your buck!) and burn more calories.

Here are a few tips for a more effective workout:

*Always warm up! You would think this shouldn’t even have to be mentioned, but so many people skip this part of the workout, and I am even guilty of doing so in the past! It is SO important to get the muscles warmed up and to make sure to do some dynamic stretching and mobility exercises before you jump right in to your workout.
*Focus on the basic, compound exercises first(these are exercises that involve multiple joints and muscles). For example, pushups are better than tricep kickbacks, pullups are better than bicep curls, and squats are better than the inner/outer thigh machine.
*Make sure to pick an exercise for every muscle group. This would include one exercise each for: back, chest, shoulders, legs, and core. With those exercises, you will also be working your biceps and triceps as well.
*Start with the biggest muscle groups first(legs, back, chest) and work your way to the smaller muscles(shoulders, arms, calves).
*Use mostly free weights(dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells). Machines have their place, but free weights allow for a more natural movement, are more functional , meaning they translate better to real life activities, and they require you to use more stabilizer muscles.

*Use a weight that is challenging, meaning that the last few reps should be hard to squeeze out, without losing form or control. Aim for 8-12 reps. If you can’t get 8, it’s too heavy, but if you can do more than 12, it’s too light.

*Decide how you are going to set up your workout. There are many ways to do this, but one of my favorite is to “superset” exercises. This just means going back and forth between two exercises that work non-opposing muscle groups(such as chest and back, or upper body with lower body). If you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym, this is the way to go, as you are able to get more work done is less time this way. You can also choose 3-4 exercises to do in a circuit, with no rest until after the last exercise.
*Go in with a plan of what exercises you are going to do, and I would even suggest to keep a training log to track your weights and reps from week to week. This will ensure that you are progressing as you get stronger, not just using the same weights and reps over and over again.
*If you absolutely feel the need to isolate your biceps and triceps, do those exercises onlyafter you have worked your bigger muscle groups with the compound lifts. So after you have done your presses and rows, then you can do a few sets of bicep curls and tricep pushdowns if you have the time.
*Finish your workout with some core work, such as plank holds and woodchops, but don’t waste your time doing hundreds of crunches or using abdominal machines.

*Of course, everyone wants to make cardio the priority of their exercise plan because most people have fat loss as their goal, but I would challenge you to make weight training your priority(along with good nutrition) and cardio secondary, no matter what your goals are.  If you have time, do 15-20 minutes of the cardio of your choosing after your weight training workout, or on off days, or just go for a walk a few times a week!

If you’re not getting results with your current workout routine it may be time to challenge yourself a little more and venture out of your comfort zone! Don’t be afraid to lift a little heavier or to try something you’ve never done before!

Changes For A Better Mindset

There was a time when I was consumed by workouts, eating, and transforming my physique. It was literally like my number one priority  in life and what I thought about ALL the time. In the past few years, things have definitely changed for me. My priorities are a little different now, and I am no longer completely obsessed with my training and physique. I wanted to share some of the things that helped me get to a better, healthier mindset.

For one, I stopped weighing myself obsessively. A few years ago I was set on getting to a certain weight(as in gaining weight), and I would sometimes weigh myself 2-3 times a day, every day. I would actually get frustrated if my weight was down.

In a way, it was good because it was a way for me to adjust how much I needed to be eating. If my weight was staying the same or going down, I knew I needed to eat more. However, just as I tell my clients that the scale doesn’t really tell you much about your progress, I didn’t realize that those words also applied to me!

Just because I was up a pound or two, that didn’t mean that I had gained pounds of muscle overnight! So what was it really telling me? Probably not much. What it was doing was just getting me discouraged.  Just like I get on people for wanting to lose weight as fast as possible, I was doing the same with wanting to gain weight! So I just stopped weighing myself. Now I weigh myself every now and then just to make sure I’m not losing weight.

I also took a break from focusing on strength as much in my training. I stopped trying to set a PR every workout and obsessively logging everything I did in the gym, and I think it was good for me, mentally and physically. I went back to training just for the fun of it, doing what I felt like doing from day to day, and not to trying to outdo myself every single workout. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was still training hard and lifting heavy!

Sometimes it’s okay just to go the gym, train hard, and get a good pump, even if you didn’t do a single extra rep or go pound heavier than last week. I think it’s good to go through training phases, where you put your focus on a different things, whether it’s gaining strength, building muscle, losing fat, or just having fun! Soon I will be going back to a variation of Wendler’s 5-3-1 powerlifting program because now I’m missing that type of lifting, and I can’t wait to get back into it.

Another thing I stopped doing is obsessively looking at pictures of fitness models. For a while, especially in the beginning of my muscle building journey, looking at those pictures really helped me to stay motivated and inspired to one day be able to look like that. I think that those “fitspiration” photos can be a good thing for some people, because it really does make you want to train harder, not skip the gym, and eat right. Because if you want a body like that, you know you have to work for it!

But there does come a point when those photos don’t help you in a positive way anymore, as least it did for me. For someone like me who has put in the time at the gym, who has trained their butt off for the past 10 years, who has eaten healthy consistently and has seen my body change and transform over the years, those photos now just seem to get me down more than lift me up. Instead of being proud of the body I have created and liking the way I look, it causes me to compare myself to others, to focus on my flaws, to wish that I had a different body type, to never be satisfied.

Sometimes I would stare at myself in the bathroom mirror, flex and pose and twist my stomach to see how good I could make it look. I would be disgusted with myself if my stomach was looking “fat” one day. I was constantly focusing on my flaws and what I didn’t like about myself instead of just looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, “Dang, I look pretty good, look at all those muscles you got!

Does that mean that I’m not going to continue to strive for improvement in my physique? Not at all. I’m still working towards making my butt bigger and getting rounder shoulders. Does it mean I’ll never post another “fitspirational” Erin Stern photo? Definitely not! I admire beautiful physiques and love motivational quotes and pictures. It’s just that I’m not going to compare my body to others constantly or wish for something I don’t have, but rather compare myself to myself and be happy with the progress I’ve made and continue to make. I’m not going to obsess about how I look, but be proud of the muscles that I’ve earned and just be happy that I am fit and healthy!