We interrupt our regularly scheduled keto feature to bring you “Nutrition in Quarantine!” We are in strange times, folks. Many of us have been in Coronavirus quarantine for at least a few days now and some are struggling to access the foods they typically eat. Now is a great time to complete a pantry or freezer challenge (or both!). These challenges involve “shopping” and meal planning primarily from the foods available in your pantry or freezer. They are typically used to prevent food waste, clean out your cupboards, and save money on food. In this case, the challenge will accomplish these goals as well as help you navigate nutrition throughout your time at home. I’ll take you through the process of a pantry challenge step-by-step. I’ll also be holding a Facebook Live event this Friday, March 20th at 12:30 pm PST for Pantry Challenge Q&A. Mark your calendars to join me on my Dietitian on a Diet Facebook page!


advertising Facebook Live pantry challenge


So let’s start our pantry/freezer challenge!


Step 1: Take Inventory

This can be a tedious process, but it’s crucial that you at least have some written representation of what is available to do the challenge most effectively. If it’s been a while since you’ve cleaned out your freezer or pantry, this could take a while but the silver lining is, this challenge will be easier the more you have available! I recommend separating your list into things that need to be used up (usually perishable foods or those nearing expiration), and things that you have available but will keep for a while. To simplify the process, feel free to lump foods you know you have into categories. For example, instead of writing “flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, etc.” it’s fine to write “baking supplies.” Each week it will be easier since you’ll have the list from the week before.



Here’s my first week pantry challenge inventory for an example:

Need to use up:


Dairy cottage cheese x 2
cream cheese
frozen ricotta cheese
cheddar cheese
1/2 gallon chocolate milk
Veggies asparagus
water chestnuts
pickled beets
baby tomatoes
mixed veggies
frozen stir-fried veggies
frozen pumpkin puree
frozen diced onions/peppers
canned green beans
Protein hummus 2 links chicken sausage
1 frozen cooked pork chop
1 large frozen swai fillet
2 pcs cooked frozen carnitas
frozen cooked turkey
2 c. frozen ham
frozen ground beef
2 whole turkeys
frozen top round steak
dry beans/lentils
mixed nuts
Grains/Starches red potatoes
corn meal
3 whole wheat + 8 white hot dog buns
frozen tater tots
6 sesame seed hamburger buns
frozen cheddar jalapeno bagels
1/2 box Cheez-Its
pita bread
Ethiopian injera bread
baking supplies
Fruit dried fruits/raisins frozen berries
15 gallons apple cider
frozen plums
canned peaches/pears/applesauce
Miscellaneous beef broth
ground flaxseed
red curry paste
Schezuan seasoning

Step 2: Mix and Match to Make Meal Ideas

Sometimes groups of foods will stand out to you as things that go together well. For example, in my list, I see turkey, tomato, onion, pitas, and hummus that could go together to make gyros. Make a list of possible meal or recipe ideas that you see from the list you have available. For certain rarely-used ingredients, think of the recipe you bought them for in the first place. For me, I buy MaSeCa corn flour to make pupusas (Salvadoran savory corn “pancakes”). I have never actually used it for anything else. Fortunately for me, I see the rest of the ingredients for pupusas on my list, so that’s going to be an option.

A couple of tips for this step:

  • Catch-alls: Curries, stir-fries, soups, scrambles, smoothies, and compotes are all examples of dishes that can be made with a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables. For more info on catch-alls, check out this post.
  • Recipe by ingredient resources: Websites/apps like Supercook or the Diabetes Food Hub (even if you don’t have diabetes!) allow you to search their databases by the ingredients you have available.

You can see my list of possible meal ideas below.

  • turkey dinner w/mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans
  • Thai curry
  • lasagna casserole
  • gyros
  • macaroni and cheese
  • steak, potatoes, and veggies
  • breakfast cookies
  • baked beans w/ham and cornbread
  • masala lentils w/Ethiopian injera bread
  • pupusas
  • fruit & nut granola bars


Step 3: Select Your Meals

Decide if your goal is to get through the week without shopping at all, or if you plan to make a small grocery shopping trip. Skim your list to choose meals that use as many of your “need to use up” ingredients as possible, and don’t need ingredients you don’t have or can’t substitute (if you’re aiming not to shop – I’ll have a post coming up soon on making substitutions!). If there are things that you will need, make a shopping list. Here’s my first week’s meal plan:

Monday: steak, potatoes, veggies
Tuesday: leftovers
Wednesday: lasagna casserole
Thursday: Thai turkey red curry
Friday: macaroni and cheese with sausage
Saturday: potluck (bring 2 gallons cider)

Step 4: Shop if Needed

Head to the store and pick up the few things you might need if you’re planning to shop. With my first week, I was able to cut my grocery bill from my usual $100 per week to only $54!


Hopefully these tips will help you feel more confident in using the food that you already have in your pantry or freezer. Not stressing about food can be a huge comfort in the midst of all of the confusion. I would be remiss if I did not mention that my greatest source of peace and comfort in all of this is knowing that God is in control, that Jesus died for me, and that no matter what happens, I’m in good hands. I hope you know the same peace and comfort, so the stresses of the world shrink in comparison to His goodness and grace. Hang in there, folks – we will get through this!



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Depending on who you ask, you might find anti-inflammatory recommendations that encourage complete elimination of sugar and carbohydrates to decrease inflammation. This reasoning is often used as support for a keto diet ____. As is frequently the case, though, those recommendations are likely unnecessary extremes and everything is case-by-case. For one thing, you can probably achieve the anti-inflammatory benefits you’re looking for while still including well chosen, nutrient dense complex carbohydrates. Secondly, why over-restrict if we can still enjoy some tasty treats in moderation? That’s how we balance meeting health goals and living a life we love! So what does the research actually say about carbs and inflammation?

Multiple studies have linked consumption of concentrated sugar and simple carbohydrate consumption with increased levels of inflammation.1-2 A long time ago I talked in this post about what happens when we eat carbs and how we break them down into blood sugar to use as fuel. Those fuels are stuck in the blood until insulin comes around to let them in to our cells.  Research draws a strong link between chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.3 This is a vicious cycle because insulin resistance means that blood sugars get stuck in the blood without a way out, causing fat storage and inflammation.4 Stored fat then produces inflammatory factors which make insulin resistance worse! Not fair.

So what can we do about it? Well, we can aim to cut inflammation off at the pass by changing parts of our lifestyle and the foods we eat to combat inflammation and give our cells a helping hand with that blood sugar. With regard to carbohydrates, we can do a couple of things specifically:

  1. Focus on eating more complex carbohydrates than simple carbohydrates like sugar. What does that mean? Well, complex carbohydrates are long chains of sugars that take much longer to digest, break down, and enter our blood, thus making our blood sugar much more stable (and preventing inflammation from blood sugar spikes). Simple carbohydrates are individual sugars or tiny chains of sugars that break down very quickly and enter the blood rapidly, causing a sharp spike in blood sugar that is inflammatory. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, and vegetables are connected with lower levels of inflammation.5 Same goes for high-fiber carbohydrates like fruit.
  2. Avoid eating too much carbohydrate at once. Just like with diabetes, the key to preventing carbohydrate-induced inflammation is keeping the blood sugar from going too high. Eating controlled amounts of carbohydrate throughout the day can help keep your energy up and your inflammation down.




Do I recommend keto to my clients?


You’d have to be living in a mole hole to not have heard of the ketogenic diet. Everyone knows someone who’s on it. What everyone wants to know is whether or not keto is safe and effective. Does the keto diet work for weight loss? Is it dangerous?  Is the keto diet nutritionally balanced? Is it easy to follow? There is SO much to say about keto so I’m going to make this post a quick overview. I’ll make more in-depth posts about these topics along the way (with a lot more references), so check back for more info!


What does the research say about the keto diet?

Research about the effectiveness of the keto diet (or similar low carb, high fat diets) for weight management is somewhat mixed. Most of the time, keto-like diets are successful at causing weight loss.1-2 Unfortunately, the research also indicates that the success of keeping that weight off long term (1 year or more) is low (and no better than with other types of diets).3-5

Research on keto’s effects on other health markers (cholesterol, blood glucose, insulin, inflammation, etc) is also mixed. Some studies show the keto diet improves cholesterol markers, others demonstrate that it makes them worse.1,6 Research on inflammation is once again, annoyingly, unclear and conflicting.6-7 For the most part, blood glucose and insulin levels do tend to improve1,6, likely because carbohydrates (and therefore the need for insulin) are largely a non-factor in a ketogenic diet.

With all of the conflicting information, it’s no wonder everyone is so confused about the keto diet. In a future post, I will go much more in-depth about what the research says and what conclusions we can pull from it.



Is the keto diet dangerous?

This answer is a little convoluted (you’re shocked, I know). Short-to-moderate length studies looking to evaluate the safety of the ketogenic diet have mostly unearthed no dangerous results (other than those mentioned above).1 However, few of those studies have looked at the long-term effects of the ketogenic diet (or similar very low carb diets) on metabolism.2,8 By far and away, my largest caution with the keto diet is its long-term effects on metabolism. This is also the main reason I do not recommend the keto diet for my clients and I am not following the keto diet during this feature.

Eating so few carbs mimics a “famine” situation, causing your body to rely more on its body fat stores than on blood glucose. So far, that sounds great, right? But your body expects this to be temporary (think caveman days – in Spring/Summer, the carbs will come back!). After a while, if carbohydrates don’t increase, your body resorts to a more sustainable long-term plan. Your body knows it can’t keep burning through the fat stores – it would rather slow down metabolism and try to preserve its fat stores as much as possible. This nearly always leads to fatigue, brain fog, feeling cold, and a weight loss plateau. Often at this point people become frustrated with the lack of results and begin to eat more carbohydrate. Your body is jazzed – “Spring/Summer is here! We survived! Boy, that was a long one. Next time, we will be even more prepared for Winter.” Translation: we will store more fat. These shifts are backed by documented hormonal changes in mice and humans,4,8-9   and are linked with the weight regain mentioned earlier.

The take-home message: In the long run, very low carb diets like keto teach your body how to store fat more effectively.


Is the keto diet nutritionally balanced?

The answer is a big it depends. I would venture to say that the average keto diet is not nutritionally balanced. I would follow that up by saying that it is possible to eat a nutritionally balanced keto diet, but it takes a lot of intention. Here are some of the nutritional weaknesses I see in keto diets:

  • Fiber – Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that composes the structure of certain plant-based foods. Since fiber doesn’t break down into blood glucose, it is not actually limited on the ketogenic diet and will not interfere with ketosis. At the same time, it comes in primarily carbohydrate foods, so the carb limitations often make it quite tricky to get enough fiber while avoiding other carbohydrates. It can be done with certain high-fiber foods such as nuts and seeds, avocados, and berries.
  • Vitamin C – While you can certainly get vitamin C from certain keto-friendly vegetables (hey, peppers!), a lot of the best vitamin C sources are fruits, which are very limited on a keto diet. You can definitely make a point to eat vitamin-C containing foods, but you have to make the point to do so.
  • Saturated fat – These are the types of fats that are primarily found in animal foods. Being a high-fat diet, unless someone is being very intentional in their food choices, a keto diet is typically quite high in saturated fats. While there are some debates around the appropriate recommendations for saturated fat,10 most keto-dieters I’ve talked with are eating WAY more than even some of the higher evidence-based recommendations. High saturated fat intakes are associated with high levels of cholesterol and increased occurrence of dementia.11-12 Keto dieters can buffer this impact by limiting intakes of high fat meats (sausage, bacon, ribs, hot dogs, etc) and dairy in favor of lean and grass-fed meats and reduced fat dairy. Focus on including a variety of plant-based fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil.



Is the keto diet easy to follow?

This kind of depends (do you see a theme here? It seems nutrition rarely has a clear answer). Some people absolutely LOVE meat and veggies and aren’t so big on the carb-y stuff, and keto totally rocks their world. Others – most, if we’re honest – enjoy at least some carbohydrate foods (or the option to eat them without ruining ketosis) on a regular basis. With ketosis, it’s kind of an all-or-nothing thing. You either need to be in and mostly stay in ketosis or regularly meet your carbohydrate needs. Bouncing back and forth or riding the low-carb-but-not-quite-low-enough-for-ketosis train is generally not an enjoyable ride. Many clients complain about low energy, brain fog, fatigue, and weight fluctuations, particularly coming in and out of ketosis. Digestive disturbances come up frequently as well.

My average client finds keto to be a social and nutritional bummer, because it restricts a lot of foods – particularly delicious and commonly social foods. It can also be a challenge for some to consume enough fat to promote ketosis and meet caloric needs. I can’t even count how many clients and friends have followed keto for a few weeks or months, convinced it was going great, only to decide it was too restrictive and they weren’t enjoying their food quality of life or feeling their best. The same high dropout trend is commonly seen in studies about low-carbohydrate diets.3 When deciding about a diet, be sure to take the nutritional and safety factors into account as well as your personality, favorite foods, and family/friends.


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  1. Dashti, Hussein M et al. “Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients.” Experimental and clinical cardiology vol. 9,3 (2004): 200-5.
  2. David S Ludwig, The Ketogenic Diet: Evidence for Optimism but High-Quality Research Needed, The Journal of Nutrition, nxz308,
  3. Phelan, S., Wyatt, H., Nassery, S., DiBello, J., Fava, J.L., Hill, J.O. and Wing, R.R. (2007), Three‐Year Weight Change in Successful Weight Losers Who Lost Weight on a Low‐Carbohydrate Diet. Obesity, 15: 2470-2477. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.293
  4. Cardillo, S., Seshadri, P., Iqbal, N. The effects of a Low Carbohydrate vs. Low Fat Diet on adipocytikines in severely obese adults: a three-year-follow-up on a randomized control trial. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci vol. 10 (2006): 99-106.
  5. Foster, G., et al. A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. N Engl J Med (2003); 348:2082-2090
    DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa022207.
  6. Rosenbaum, M., et al. Glucose and lipid homeostasis and inflammation in humans following an isocaloric ketogenic diet. Obesity. 2019 Jun;27(6):971-981. doi: 10.1002/oby.22468. Epub 2019 May 8.
  7. Shen, Y., Kapfhamer, D., Minnella, A.M. et al. Bioenergetic state regulates innate inflammatory responses through the transcriptional co-repressor CtBP. Nat Commun 8, 624 (2017).
  8. Goldberg, E.L., Shchukina, I., Asher, J.L. et al. Ketogenesis activates metabolically protective γδ T cells in visceral adipose tissue. Nat Metab 2, 50–61 (2020).
  9. Cooper, E. The Metabolic Storm: The science of your metabolism and how its making you fat. Seattle Performance Medicine. 2015. 2nd edition.
  10. Enos, R., et al. Influence of dietary saturated fat content on adiposity, macrophage behavior, inflammation, and metabolism: composition matters.
  11. Enos, R., et al. Influence of  The Journal of Lipid Research. 2013), 54, 152-163.
  12. Greenwood, C., Winocur, G., High-fat diets, insulin resistance and declining cognitive function. Neurobiology of Aging. Volume 26, Issue 1, Supplement (2005) 42-45.
  13. Barnard, N. D., Bunner, A. E., Agarwal, U. Saturated and trans fats and dementia: a systematic review. Neurobiology of Aging. Volume 35, Supplement 2 (2014) S65-S73.


What is the ketogenic diet?

It’s feature time again, folks, and it’s finally time to talk about the diet everyone is going on about – keto! The keto (aka ketogenic) diet has gained a lot of popularity in the last few years as a weight loss diet, and proponents tout that you can lose weight quickly without cravings.1 Interestingly enough, the ketogenic diet started as a therapeutic diet for children who suffer from epilepsy. The high fat content of the diet is linked with decreased occurrence of seizures in these kiddos.2

Keto curiosity is rampant! Questions about the keto diet top the list of FAQs from my weight loss clients. Even those who don’t directly ask about keto are often asking about how to limit their carbs to encourage weight loss. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting info about the keto diet – what it is, how it works, and the pros/cons of the diet. I won’t actually be following this one (we’ll talk about why throughout the feature), but we’ll be diving into the research and practicality as always!



What is the keto diet?

The keto diet is a high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet.2 The diet is designed to cease your body’s reliance on carbohydrates (broken down into glucose) for energy and instead shift to your body’s alternative fuel source – ketones. In the absence of glucose (aka blood sugar), your body begins to convert fat that you’ve eaten and stored body fat to ketones, which your brain can use for fuel! If you were privy to the Atkins kick, you may be noticing some similarities between the two. You’d be right! The keto diet is something of a reincarnated version of Atkins.

The keto diet includes plenty of vegetables and many high fat and protein foods such as:

  • beef and pork
  • poultry
  • fish
  • processed meats like bacon, sausage, etc.
  • cheese
  • avocado
  • nuts and seeds
  • butter and oils

To limit carbohydrates (usually to around 20-60 g per day), the diet restricts consumption of the following foods:

  • fruit
  • beans
  • certain vegetables such as corn, peas, carrots, and potatoes
  • bread and grains (pasta, rice, cereal)
  • milk and yogurt
  • sugar, honey, and syrups

Keeping the carbohydrate intake low keeps the body from coming out of ketosis, therefore promoting fat loss.



Stay tuned – we will talk more about the research behind keto and pros/cons of following the diet in future posts!


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Sometimes starting a new exercise plan can be overwhelming. One nice thing about being more active is that you have a lot of options, but that can also be a struggle. Many people are confused about what types of exercises they “should” do and how they should do them. This post will give you some tips on selecting exercises and making a sustainable (and dare I say, enjoyable?) exercise plan.

Keep in mind that any new exercise plan should be approved by your doctor, particularly if you have any chronic diseases or injuries. Use this form to guide you as you plan to safely increase your physical activity.



What are your goals?

Ultimately the exercises that you choose should be guided by your health goals. While being physically active is beneficial for overall health, choosing the most appropriate and specific exercises will help you achieve your goals most efficiently.

  • Weight Loss – Start out any new weight loss plan by focusing on simply moving more than you move now. Once that becomes a habit, then increase the cardiovascular challenge by spending more time with your heart rate up. Finally, add in strength training to build muscle mass. This extra muscle will use up energy, increasing your metabolism.
  • Endurance – To increase your endurance, start by gradually increasing the amount of time you spend with your heart rate up. In this case, you’re not looking for very intense exercise, but a moderate challenge that you can sustain for longer and longer bouts of time as you train. Then add in strength training, focusing on more repetitions (10+) and lower weights.
  • Strength – Begin by focusing on your form – ask a trainer or friend (or watch in the mirror) to ensure you are performing the exercises safely and effectively. Gradually increase the difficulty, focusing on fewer repetitions (6-8) and higher weights. Focus on muscle balance – if you train one side of your body (for example, your chest), you must also train the other (your upper back, in this case). If you train biceps, be sure to also train triceps. This helps to protect your joints from imbalances that can lead to injury. Make sure to incorporate the recommendations for flexibility into any strength training plan as well.
  • Improved digestion – Yes, physical activity can improve digestion! Moderate cardiovascular exercise can improve circulation to your intestines, helping your body break down and absorb food more efficiently. Another significant factor is stress – stress can wreak havoc on digestion! Consistently performing stress-reducing activities like prayer, yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation can play a huge role in improving digestion.
  • Improved health markers (blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) – While it varies based on which lab values you’re targeting, most are improved with combinations of cardio and strength training, even without weight loss; however, reducing excess body weight is linked with improvements in blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
  • Flexibility – This is a great goal if you’re wanting to improve or maintain movement in your joints and prevent injuries. Anyone can benefit from maintaining flexibility. The key here is consistency. Stretch your muscles and joints regularly. Whether you use yoga, standing stretches, or wall stretches doesn’t matter as long as you are gentle and consistent.





This is so, so important to an exercise program. If you detest doing a certain type of exercise, do not plan on or expect that you will do it consistently. That is a great way to set yourself up to either quit or be miserable. Bear in mind that the first few weeks of any exercise program will be difficult since you are not yet trained for the exercise, but I’m not referring to difficulty here. I’m talking about enjoyability – if you hate to dance, don’t join a Zumba class. If you can’t stand being on a cardio machine, don’t commit to a treadmill. Find methods of exercise that you actually enjoy.


Sometimes that looks like building a little more intensity into the movements you do in everyday life. For example, if you love to garden and be outside, use a push mower, shovel by hand, or cut your own firewood. If you like to watch television, ride a stationary bike while you do or – one of my personal faves –  take a drinking game designed for the show you’re binge-watching and exchange the shots for exercises. These tasks will incorporate fitness into aspects of your life that you do enjoy.




Ask yourself a few questions: Do you have the equipment or space to do this activity? Will you need a gym membership? Is there a realistic time in your day to set aside to do this?

If the basic logistics aren’t there, find something more accessible. If all else fails, there are hundreds of workout videos on Youtube for any type of workout you can think of. No fees, no membership, no travel, and no need for fancy exercise clothes (unless you want them).


Taking all three of these factors into account can help make sure that your exercise program gets you where you’re trying to go in the most enjoyable way that is realistic for your life. Fitness isn’t always fun and there aren’t too many people who are super jazzed to do their workout every day always, but a little thought and planning on the front end can make a huge difference in the long run. If you find yourself stuck or confused, find yourself a certified fitness professional to help you out. Finding a way to make it work is worth it!


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We are past the halfway point of January – did you make health goals this year? Resolutions? How are they doing? Here are a few of my best tips on making changes that stick!


Key #1: Before you change anything

Decide carefully how you will achieve your goals. For many years, scientists have been studying methods for weight loss to find the “best” way to get pounds off. The surprising result of a lot of this research is that so many methods work. A lot of nutritionists have taken to saying, “diets don’t work.” It might be semantics but in general, if the goal is to lose weight – most fad diets do work. Whether it’s low carb, low fat, low calorie, or portion control – weight typically comes off.1-5  If they didn’t work at all for losing weight, word would get around pretty quickly and they would never become popular.

Here’s the kicker (besides that many fad diets aren’t safe): the statistics for maintaining weight loss after a diet are horrendous. Long-term studies show that five years after short-term diets the result is an average regain to anywhere from a net loss of only 6 lbs to a gain of 10-21% of pre-diet weight.2,6 Yikes!

Many fad diets can be extreme, overly restrictive, or just plain miserable (or option d, all of the above). Most people beginning a diet program are willing to commit to short-term pain for long-term gain. Unfortunately, the reality is that long-term dieting is generally not sustainable, and weight loss from short-term dieting is temporary.

But fear not – all hope is not lost! The National Weight Control Registry is comprised of people who have successfully lost at least 30 lbs and kept it off for at least a year, though most participants have lost an average of 72.6 lbs and kept it off for more than 5 years.7 Their participants report that ongoing, long-term participation in sustainable habit changes has been key to their success, as opposed to radical, short-term dieting. You can read more about their habit changes at the National Weight Control Registry website.

All these studies show that a pivotal ingredient for long-term success with wellness, weight loss, muscle gain, or any habit change is sustainability. One of my favorite quotes sums up the wisdom behind this:

Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began, and let the Lord be all in all to you.”

-Charles H. Spurgeon

Some may wonder what the last phrase has to do with wellness, and personally I believe it is vitally important (and apparently so did Spurgeon since he tacked it on there), so I included it. Regardless of how you feel about God, however, the sentiment is to not even begin a habit change that you can’t commit to long-term. Find changes that work with your lifestyle, not against it.


Recognize that temporary habit changes create temporary results.  You can tweak them, change them, or adjust to the fluidity of life as needed, but if your habit changes disappear completely, so will the fruits of your labors.


Key #2: After you’ve met your goals

You’ve done it, congratulations! You’ve met your goal! You’ve placed a new brick in the healthy foundation upon which you can continue building the life you want. Guess what? You’re not done! If you want to continue to enjoy the benefits of your progress, you must grab hold of the second key to long-term success:

Always have a goal and a sustainable plan to achieve it.

Achieving a goal merits celebration, and also the exciting task of deciding what your next goal will be. It doesn’t have to be intense – your goal could be maintenance and your plan might be walking – but you need to have both or you’ll watch all your hard work and health benefits slip away. Living a healthy life is swimming upstream in our culture – you can not coast into good health.


Have a goal of your own but need help finding a sustainable plan that fits your lifestyle? Contact me or schedule an appointment to start building a healthy foundation for the life you want!


Goal Setting