#Sunday, April 17, 2011

Millions of people all over the world have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. If you are one of them I'm sure you have heard doctor's say "you just have to learn to live with the pain", or maybe they prescribed you with painkillers and muscle relaxers like they did for me. Or maybe they even said "it's all in your mind" - that one is the killer, it least it was for me. To be in that much pain and someone tell you it doesn't really exist, that is alot for anyone to take in. I can tell you right now that you can improve dramatically.

It's been over 10 years since I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, there was a time I couldn't even walk for 5 minutes without being in severe pain. If anyone else has been there you know how depressing this can be and without the support of the medical field you become hopeless. Well there is hope and it is possible to get back to the way you were before the onset of Fibromyalgia. I can now do anything I want and live the life I want to live - I'm no longer a prisoner to Fibromylagia.

Looking back, it's hard to believe that I was told time and again (by 13 different doctors) that I simply had to "live with the pain". Do I have flare-ups from time to time? Yes and I think that is part of the auto-immune condition, and the great thing is within 24-48 hours I can turn it all around. The best thing is knowing that you can do this, that you have control over your own body.

I hope this topic helps those who think there is no hope, because there is hope and you Can get better. My husband, Mark Macdonald, wrote the book Body Confidence (which is a NY Times Best Seller) and my extended story is in the book, and I followed the entire program to get myself back to the way I was before the onset of Fibromyalgia (1999)- and I live by the principles of the book to stay in a place where I can feel great everyday. I hope that those who suffer with Fibromyalgia are soon on the road to recovery.

-Abbi Macdonald
#Sunday, January 23, 2011

As a Nutrition Coach and Chef who has struggled with digestive challenges since the age of 15, I’ve never had the luxury of depending on a protein bar to get through a hectic day. 

Though I can appreciate the convenience of a balanced and portable bar, feeling as though there’s a heavy rock sitting undigested in the pit of my stomach just isn’t worth it.  And despite recommending a number of perfectly balanced bars to our clients and members, the protein bar has sadly remained an elusive part of my regular diet.  Until now.

I recently had the pleasure of trying the Power Crunch Bar; a delectable, cream filled wafer cookie packed with high quality protein.  With an average of 200 calories, 13 grams of complete protein, 10 grams of carbohydrates and 12 grams of fat per bar,  Power Crunch has an impressive balance of nutrients to stabilize my blood sugar and get me to my next meal.    

And because the Power Crunch bar contains only hydrolyzed whey protein (read: easily digested and absorbed) and no sugar alcohols, its gentle on my stomach.  In fact, last Saturday at our New Level of Thinking Event, I devoured three Power Crunch Bars in between a full day of presentations.  I kept waiting for the inevitable stomach pain and bloating.  But it never came.  

So, it goes without saying that the Power Crunch Bar is balanced and easily digested, but how does it taste?  As a “foodie”, flavor is right up there on my priority list.   It’s hard to believe that this delicious cookie wafer is actually good for me.  But who am I to argue? 

If you’ve ever tried wafer cookies as a kid, you already have a good idea of what to expect when unwrapping a Power Crunch Bar.  Picture sweet cream nestled between layers of crispy, light as air wafers.  Yeah, it’s that good.  And unlike most protein bars, the Power Crunch Bar is sweet without being overly so, thanks to only 5 grams of sugar and either Sucralose or natural Stevia, a calorie free sweetener that won’t spike blood sugar.

I had the opportunity to try three of the six flavors available; French Vanilla Crème, Triple Chocolate and Peanut Butter Crème.  Though the French Vanilla Crème and Triple Chocolate are closely tied in flavor in my opinion, there is something so distinct about the Triple Chocolate.  The taste reminds me of hot chocolate; where the sweet and almost salty flavors of cocoa blend together harmoniously.  Add a mix of creamy and crunchy textures and you’ve got one perfect bar.

A friend of mine who is also a Chef, recently laughed when I tried to introduce him to these bars.  He told me he’s been eating them for years and claims there’s nothing better than a Power Crunch Bar paired with a mug of hot coffee.  When it comes to food and flavor, the guy knows what he’s talking about. 

I can’t begin to explain how convenient it has been this past week to casually toss a protein bar in my purse while on my way out the door.  Or how wonderful it’s been to eat a wafer cookie that is helping (not hindering) my quest for great health. 

If you’ve already unearthed a protein bar that you’re passionate about and works for your body, you’re on the right track.  And if you’re open to trying something new, or you struggle with digestive challenges like me, you may just want to give the Power Crunch Bar a try.  I’m willing to bet you’ll have a new favorite!

#Sunday, November 07, 2010

Golden stuffing fresh out of the oven.  Garlicky mashed potatoes swimming in butter.  Sweet potato pie smothered in whipped cream.  If the thought of all this mouth-watering holiday fare sends you into a panic, you’re in the right place.  As Head Chef and Lead Nutrition Coach of Venice Nutrition, I’ve worked with plenty of dubious clients who just don’t seem to share my enthusiasm for the upcoming seasonal feasts.   Why?  Because for many, the holidays represent “inevitable” weight gain, not to mention the anxiety, fatigue and depression that tag along with it.   So, is there a way to truly let go and embrace all of the joy the holidays have to offer while still fitting into your skinny jeans?  Yes!  Follow my holiday checklist below and I promise come January 1st, your standard “I will lose weight” resolution won’t be necessary this year. 

1.  First, figure out what you really want to achieve.  Take a moment to jot down precise and realistic goals specific to what you wish to accomplish from now until January 1st.  Here’s an example of how.

Goal:  “I want to prevent gaining weight this holiday season.  In order to do this while still enjoying my family, friends and the festivities, I will:

(Plan of Action)
1.  Add an extra 15 minutes of cardio onto my workouts 3 times per week for the next two months.
2.  Aim for at least 75 ounces of water per day by bringing a bottle of water with me to work that I can refill frequently.
3.  Cut back my restaurant meals to one time per week for the next two months to make up for all the holiday extras.  This means I need to make and pack my lunch the night before the next work day two extra times per week.

Whether you want to lose weight, boost your energy or simply maintain your size, your goals need to be practical to your lifestyle and schedule like the examples above (who can’t bring a water bottle with them to work or while running errands with the kids?).  Bottom line:   Create do-able goals along with realistic means to make them happen and you will succeed. 

2.  Next, check out these must-read  blogs.  Over the years, I’ve authored quite a few How to Survive the Holidays blogs that my clients (and me) rely on year after year.  Here’s the ones that you need to prepare yourself for the next few months:

Thanksgiving:  How to Stay on Course with Your Nutrition- A step-by-step plan on making confident choices while still enjoying the holidays.  Find it here

Holiday Secrets from a Nutrition Coach and Chef- A must read for my fellow “all or nothing” thinkers.  Learn how to let go of the excuses and the guilt for real results.  Find it here

Thanksgiving:   The “Day-After” Survival Guide- An effective go-to guide perfect for the “morning after” too much food and indulgence.    Find it here


3.  And finally, open your mind to the possibilities.   I’m always bummed when I overhear someone say, "There's no way I can be fit over the holidays.  I’ll worry about it after the first of the year.”  I’m sure you can guess what happens to these cynics.  They’re the ones battling an extra ten pounds each year come spring time.  Living healthy isn’t something you skip for a few months.  There will be times (like the holidays) when your standards are slightly lowered and you may indulge a bit more.  As long as you have a “base” or health structure to fall back on, you are never too far from your goals or your goal weight.  And trust me, losing an extra two pounds is a heck of a lot easier and quicker than having to lose an extra ten. 

Don't have a health structure that you can rely on?  Consider becoming a member of Venice Nutrition;  we’ll create your entire health structure including customized meal plans, personalized exercise program and even sleep and stress help specifically for you.   In addition, you’ll benefit from the ongoing support system most of us need this time of year.    Learn more here

Already a member?  Consider working one on one with a Certified Nutrition Coach either by phone or a consulting center to keep you motivated all season long and take your body to that next level.  Learn more here. 

No matter if you want join a nutrition program or go it alone, remember the keys to succcess.   Create realistic goals along with a plan, arm yourself with the correct education (and please beware of all the misinformation out there; it can really slow you down) and keep a healthy mindset.  Though the holidays are wonderful, they can be quite hectic.   Don't complicate them further by trying to do too much.  Have a happy and healthy holiday season!

My best,

Valerie Cogswell
Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

#Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We all know that fruit and veggies are a vital part of a balanced diet.  In fact, eating plenty of colorful produce while stabilizing your blood sugar can help you to prevent disease, improve your digestion, reverse the signs of aging and even reach your weight loss goals.   Think of fruit and vegetables as edible powerhouses, jam- packed with essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.      So what’s preventing so many of us from getting enough?  As Head Chef and Lead Nutrition Coach of Venice Nutrition, I believe that fruit and veggies have a bad "rep".  After all, it’s tough to get inspired over boring carrot sticks or a plain old apple.  Luckily, we’ve created countless delicious recipes full of vibrant produce in our Recipe Collection.  No matter your age or health, now is the time to stock up on fruits and veggies in a creative way so you’ll actually enjoy eating them.  Here is a menu of my favorite produce inspired recipes from our collection (for the full recipes and many more, check out your Recipe Tab in your online program today)

Fruit & Veggie Filled Breakfast and Snack Recipes:

Greek Yogurt Parfait- A sweet and creamy blend of high protein Greek yogurt, fresh antioxidant packed berries and nuts

Cottage Cheese Bowl- An unexpectedly delicious combo of fresh apples, peanut butter, cinnamon and vanilla sweetened cottage cheese

Western Omelet- A hearty omelet of chopped tomato, onion, bell pepper, lean ham and melted cheddar

Banana Pineapple Smoothie- A tropical smoothie blended with fresh pineapple, banana, milk and protein powder

Fruit and Veggie Filled Lunch, Dinners and Sides:

Boca Burgers with Roasted Veggies and Garlic Herb Sauce-  A classic soy burger  with roasted red peppers, sweet onions, tomato, arugula and melted cheese  topped with a homemade garlic and herb sauce

Zesty Shrimp Salad- A delicious blend of diced mango, red onion, corn, greens and grilled shrimp with a citrus honey lime dressing

Turkey Veggie Meat Sauce – A hearty meat sauce made of lean ground turkey, portabella mushrooms, spinach and yellow bell peppers

Pork Tenderloin with Butternut Squash and Apples- Lean pork tenderloin smothered in fruit juice and pungent garlic then roasted with hearty butternut squash and sweet apples

Vegetable Salsa-  A zesty salsa of corn, black beans, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, perfect for topping your favorite protein

Sweet Potato Soup- A thick and creamy soup of sweet potatoes, apples and carrots simmered to perfection

Fruit Filled Desserts:

Sweet Stuffed Apples –   A delectable dessert of warm, juicy apples baked with a walnut, oat, sugar and butter stuffing

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt- A cold, creamy frozen yogurt full of strawberries and good-for-you protein

As you can see, incorporating more fruit and veggies into your daily diet can be easy, delicious and anything but boring.    And remember, we are always updating our collection of recipes and we invite you to check your Recipe Tab often!

My best,

Valerie Cogswell
Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

#Saturday, July 24, 2010

By now you know how much we love summer.  There’s nothing quite like cooking out with family and friends, taking your workout outdoors and showing off those hard earned muscles under the summer sun.   Unfortunately, it’s also our least favorite time of year to spend in a sweltering kitchen!    Don’t want to slave over the oven? No problem, fall back on these quick and tasty meal ideas instead…..

Low fat cottage cheese- with real berries, pineapple or any fruit (without added sugar) is quick and light enough for a summer snack, breakfast or lunch.

Greek Yogurt Parfait - Still haven’t tried this one?   Check it out under your recipe tab.  We promise, you won’t be disappointed!  Bonus:  Double up the recipe to have plenty on hand for the week.
Lean turkey roll up on a low carbohydrate, whole wheat wrap- Go ahead and load it up with anything you’ve got in the fridge- tomatoes, lettuce, hummus, onions, olives, roasted red peppers,  salad fixings, etc.  Add some sliced avocado for delicious, heart healthy fat.

Salad topped with tuna, cottage cheese, turkey or pre-cooked chicken.  The summer is the perfect time to get creative with your salads.  Layer your favorite greens with veggies, chopped or dried fruit, toasted nuts, light dressing and some protein and you’ve got a colorful meal in minutes.

A Protein and Fruit Smoothie is an ideal way to cool down this summer and get a big dose of calcium, fiber, and powerful antioxidants.  Even better, having a smoothie a day can help ward off cravings for other  high calorie summer time treats like ice cream.    Blend low fat milk or soymilk (try Lactaid if your lactose intolerant) with fruit (bananas and berries for example), some “good” fat like peanut butter, nuts, or ground flax seed, with your favorite protein powder (whey or soy) and ice until smooth.  Our favorite combo:  banana, strawberries, natural peanut butter, vanilla protein powder, 1% low fat milk and ice all swirled together in a blender….delicious!

Want more ideas?  Check out your Recipe Tab!  Each recipe in our collection is specifically designed to be balanced, delicious, FAST and EASY!  And the majority of recipes can be made in bulk and even frozen for meals later on (which fits in nicely with your busy summer).    How about Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad or BBQ Shrimp Kebobs?  Sure, some of these recipes will require cooking but if you take the time to cook in bulk once or twice this week, you can make enough food to last you for days.  Give it a shot and your summer might just get a whole lot easier! 

Enjoy your summer.  And feel free to drop us a line about your FAST and favorite summer time meals….we’d love to hear from you!

Our best,

The Venice Nutrition Team

#Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Earn your Nutrition Certificate via Venice Nutrition's home study course, and become a Certified Nutritionist. This will give you the ability to coach clients towards reaching their health and weight loss goals.
#Thursday, July 08, 2010
On occasion,  I like nothing more than a sweetened glass of cold iced tea or hot mug of coffee.  What I don’t like is “drinking” my calories.  If there’s a way to impart sweetness without spiking my blood sugar, I’m all for it. I recently had the pleasure of trying Truvia, the newest “real” sweetener made from the stevia plant, to hit the market.  I was pleasantly surprised;  Truvia was naturally sweet, blended perfectly with my cup of Vanilla and Pomegranate tea and had no aftertaste (really).    I decided to share my research on what makes Truvia stand out from the crowd of sugar-free sweeteners.
According to, truvia trumps other natural sweeteners made from stevia, because it’s made from rebiana, “the best tasting  part of the stevia leaf”.  Truvia is calorie free with no effect on the glycemic index, making it a fantastic choice for diabetics and people like me who stabilize their blood sugar for optimal health.    Truvia is tasty stirred in your favorite beverage, sprinkled on fruit and can even be used in baking.  One packet equals 2 teaspoons of pure sugar (without the sugar spike and calories of course).    

All in all, Truvia is a naturally tasty way to add some guilt free sweetness to your life.   For more info, check out

My best,

Valerie Cogswell

Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

Everyone knows that a walk or jog outdoors on a beautiful summer day is so much more exciting than pounding it out on the treadmill.    But if you’ve ever felt a little woozy or suffered from heat exhaustion afterwards, then you know how tough the blazing sun can be on your body.  What you might not realize is how risky it can be too.   In fact, prolonged or excessive exercise in the sun is one of the leading causes of heat stroke, a dangerous combo of exhaustion, muscle cramps and dehydration that can lead to shock, brain damage, organ failure and even death. 

The good news is you don’t need to give up your favorite summer exercise; you just need to be smart about how you do it.  Here are a few pointers to stay safe this summer.

  1.  Stay hydrated.  If you’re thirsty, you are already dehydrated.  It’s wise to drink plenty of water throughout the day leading up to your workout and bring water with you during your workout.  If you’re an endurance athlete and exercising for long amounts of time outdoors, a low sugar sports drink with electrolytes can help to keep you hydrated and balanced.
  2. Don’t overdress!  Wear loose fitting active wear, preferably made of moisture wick fabric.
  3. Check with your doctor if you’re on meds.  Certain medications can make you more likely to suffer from heat related illnesses.
  4. Take breaks in the shade and workout in the shade if possible.
  5. Don’t forget sunscreen- aim for a waterproof version with an SPF of at least 30.  Remember, an SPF of 30 will protect your skin in the sun for 30 minutes…plan accordingly.
  6. A hat and sunglasses are your best friends in the heat.
  7. Listen to your body. If you feel any exhaustion, muscle cramping, fatigue, excess thirst, headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea or start sweating more than usual, stop your workout immediately and get help.

Here’s to a beautiful, healthy summer!

Our best,

The Venice Nutrition Team

*info derived from  and

#Thursday, June 03, 2010

 If you’ve already mastered choosing high quality and balanced meals off of the menu while at a restaurant, you’re on the right track! Doing so will stabilize blood sugar levels and allow you to burn fat while feeling you’re best.

So why are you still bloated after a “healthy” meal? What you may not realize is that despite your best intentions of eating “clean”, restaurant meals typically contain much higher amounts of salt than what you are used to eating at home. A high sodium meal causes water retention which results in bloating, particularly in the abdominal area.

How can you beat the bloat while still enjoying your favorite restaurant meals? In addition to choosing balanced meals and watching your portion sizes, ask your server to request that your order is prepared “light on the salt” or with “no salt added at all”. Most chefs are used to personal dietary requests and are happy to comply.

Our best,

The Venice Nutrition Team

#Sunday, April 18, 2010

As a Venice Nutrition Coach for many years, I’m all for trying anything that promotes a healthier, fitter body.   Yet, whenever anyone attempted to persuade me to try yoga, I was skeptical.    After all, I’ve always been that girl in the gym sweating it out, lifting ridiculously heavy weights and sprinting until my hips ached, silently telling myself, “no pain, no gain”.  I looked good but felt fatigued, sore and unbalanced.  Regardless, I kept living by my motto until I actually got hurt in the gym.  I mean really hurt.    This pain was certainly not worth any gains I’d ever achieved.   My injuries were so bad, I had to stop all of my workouts and start extensive physical therapy.  Without realizing it, a lot of the strengthening and stretching moves that my physical therapists recommended to heal my muscle imbalances, core weakness and misaligned back and hips, were actual yoga moves.  It was time for me to change my ways and most importantly my way of thinking.  It was time to create a healthy body, mind and soul. 
Though I’m very much a “newbie” to yoga and I’ve only lightly scratched the surface of all that it has to offer, I’m tremendously grateful that yoga has become a part of my life.  I’m also completely astounded at the seemingly infinite list of benefits that yoga has to offer.  My research felt endless simply because the facts just kept piling up! 

What intrigues me most about yoga is that it’s a great workout for the body and for the mind.  And despite popular notion, it’s not all about twisting your body into a pretzel!  Ask any seasoned yogi why they love yoga so much and chances are they’ll admit to being absolutely addicted to the mind/body connection and the mental clarity they feel after they practice.   The way their body feels (and looks) because of regular yoga practice seems to be just an added bonus.   Do I think that every well rounded workout includes resistance training and cardiovascular exercise?  Yes.   But throughout my own experiences and extensive research, I now firmly believe that a balanced workout routine should include yoga too.  Here’s why (just a heads are about to be very pleasantly surprised):

Yoga can:
1.  Increase your strength.  Don’t believe it?  Try holding a yoga pose in perfect alignment.  I'm willing to bet you'll shocked at how challenging a workout it can be.   On another note, there are so many forms and levels of yoga that it can easily be adapted for beginners (read:  no contorting your body into a pretzel) all the way to advanced students.

2.  Increase your flexibility.  Stretching the body safely and moving gently from pose to pose is fantastic for mobility and releases lactic acid build up that causes pain, tension and fatigue.
3.  Increase lubrication of your joints, ligaments and tendons. 

4.  Increase your muscle tone.  Muscles that are weak (there are so many neglected muscles that are hardly worked throughout your regular day or exercise routine) are used extensively as you move through a series of yoga poses.

5.  Increase your core strength.  Yoga can help you to develop deep core strength because the majority of the poses rely on those core muscles.

6.  Improve your posture.  Increased strength, flexibility and body awareness can help you to improve your posture in both standing and sitting positions.

7.  Improve your energy levels and awaken the mind.

8.  Relieve chronic pain (such as neck, joint or back pain).  A seasoned yoga instructor or therapist can help you adapt postures to avoid further injury and release tight muscles, strengthen weaknesses and re-align imbalances.

9.  Help you to avoid injury by keeping the body mobile and strong.

10.  Promote circulation.

11.  Improve your lung capacity and respiratory health through deep breathing exercises.  This can also be a very powerful benefit for athletes who wish to improve their endurance levels.

12.  Improve your outlook on aging by making you look and feel younger.

13.  Help you relax and handle challenging situations more effectively.

14.  Can encourage self acceptance and positive thinking.

15.  Drastically improve your stress levels and help you to feel a sense of calm.  Yoga practice includes meditation which teaches you how to ignore the endless “mind chatter” that leads to stress.  The result is also biochemical; practicing yoga decreases stress hormones.

16.  Reduce your depression and increase your happiness.
17.  Increase your focus

18.  Lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate, and especially help those with hypertension, heart disease or stroke.

19.  Boost your immune system function.

20.  Decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels

21.  Increase your body awareness, which helps you to correct your posture or alignment.  This awareness allows you to gain the most benefits and prevent injury during other workouts and even throughout your everyday movements.

22.  Help alleviate medical conditions such as asthma, insomnia and arthritis.  Research in the US is still being done on this topic, but medical researchers are hopeful and suggesting therapeutic yoga as a form of treatment for sufferers.

23.  Help with learning and memory.  Some studies are suggesting improvement in these areas with regular yoga practice.
As you can see, the benefits of yoga are vast and quite powerful!    Anyone, no matter their age, lifestyle, goals, or limitations has something wonderful to gain from practicing yoga.   If you are interested in incorporating yoga into your lifestyle, I would recommend finding a beginners or foundation class to get started.  Always make sure to let your instructor know of any health challenges or injuries you may have so he or she can modify the poses to best suit your needs.


My best,

Valerie Cogswell
Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

*info derived from, and