#Monday, April 02, 2012

A few days ago, a friend of mine (who swears she’s allergic to her kitchen) called me in a panic.  Her in-laws were coming to dinner and she had promised to impress with a gourmet meal.  The trouble was, the only “gourmet meal” my friend knows how to cook is instant brown rice and ground turkey (hey, she’s a health nut!).  Needless to say, her lack of culinary skills had her sweating.  And that’s why she called me.

As Head Chef for Venice Nutrition, and a Certified Nutrition Coach for many years, my goal has always been to teach our members how to create food that helps to stabilize blood sugar, tastes absolutely delicious, and most of all…….is simple enough that anyone can make!  I have had so many wonderful clients over the years that stick to the same boring food over and over (hello, baked chicken!) because they claim they “just can’t cook”.  What I have come to find is anyone can cook a great meal….the key is learning the basics and stepping outside of your culinary comfort zone to try something new.

So , how did I get started?  Yes, I did go to culinary school but I’m truly convinced that though I learned some wonderful skills there, I have learned just as much on my own!  The confidence I possess today as a cook is not from my formal education, but from the experiments and culinary endeavors (and disasters!) that took place in my very own kitchen.  Below are some tips that have helped me to become a confident cook and create meals that I’m proud of. 

Start by practicing with a basic recipe that can help to teach you proper seasoning, different cooking techniques and flavor profiles.   A great example would be to find a recipe for a soup or chili that appeals to you.  Soup and chili are very easy to make, and you can experiment without worrying about drying the dish out or overcooking it.  You can slowly add seasoning and “taste-test” it as you go to make sure it’s to your liking.  You’ll also gain a great understanding about different flavor combinations of herbs and spices that work well together.  The other bonus about soups and chilis is they are usually on the lighter side and if they are not, they can be with a little tweaking (swap ground beef for lean ground beef, lower the oil to saute the vegetables, etc.)

Once you have successfully made one chili or soup, it will help to give you the confidence to make some adjustments.  Perhaps in place of a roasted butternut squash soup, you decide to use sweet potatoes instead.  Maybe you add a little diced apple to the pot to add a subtle sweet note.  Or maybe you toss in a few pinches of cayenne pepper to add some heat.   Maybe in the next chili you create, you skip the ground beef and black beans and try ground chicken and white beans instead.   Noticing a pattern yet?  By successfully managing a basic soup or chili recipe, you’ll have the confidence to switch it up and make it your own, or try a new soup or chili recipe altogether. 

Other simple, basic recipes that I would recommend you try to master?  Roast chicken stuffed with lemon, garlic cloves, onion and fresh herbs like thyme is sure to impress and will feed an entire family.  Salads are simply chop, toss and serve and the options are endless.  Vegetables drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper and roasted or grilled go with everything.  A baked or grilled fish like salmon with lemon, fresh herbs (dill, parsley, etc.) and olive oil is a great starter recipe for all seafood.   Find a recipe for that particular dish and then use those culinary techniques to explore and master new recipes.

If you are a Venice Nutrition member, I invite you to check out our database or recipes in the Recipe Tab.  I promise that even the most intricate looking recipe has been broken down into easy, basic steps and the end result will be simple but delicious.  I'm not into fussy food and when I design recipes for our members and clients, I like to keep it simple.

I like to find culinary inspiration in many sources.   After all, we can all learn something from somebody. When I go to a restaurant and enjoy a creative or delicious dish that stands out, I’ll try to remember what was in it and re-create it at home.  For example, I once had a butter lettuce, pistachio, cheddar and sliced apple salad with vinaigrette at an upscale restaurant in Boston.  I was able to re-create this dish at home and give it a healthy spin by reducing the amount of cheese in the recipe and preparing a low-fat vinaigrette.  I served it with grilled fish on the side and enjoyed my simple but restaurant-worthy meal without the big check and tip! 

I’m also a huge fan of the Food Network.  If you’ve never watched this channel before and have any interest in cooking, I highly recommend that you tune in.  It’s fun and designed to teach home cooks how to well…..become cooks!   The Food Network has truly changed the way people view the culinary world, myself included.  Because there are so many types of culinary professionals teaching their point of view and techniques they’ve developed and perfected over the years, these shows appeal to so many home cooks.  It’s an unintimidating and inspirational way to learn to love to cook.  I have learned so much and helped to perfect my own culinary skills and point of view from watching the Food Network.  When I see a recipe I love, I’ll brainstorm on ways to lighten it up and many times figure out how to simplify it as well.  I’ll then test the dish in my kitchen at home and put a creative spin on the recipe to make it my own.

Other ways to find inspiration?  When you are done reading this blog, stand up and head to your kitchen.  Open up your kitchen cabinet.  I can guarantee you have a few cookbooks on hand that have collected dust over the years.  Peruse the pages and keep an open mind.  What recipe catches your eye?  What picture makes your mouth water?  That’s the recipe you should create next!  Book mark that page, copy down the ingredients to your grocery shopping list and get cooking! 

Do you have a friend or family member who always manages to wow his or her dinner guests?  You know who I’m talking about.   The friend who makes the stickiest, fall –off- the bone BBQ chicken on the grill or the aunt whose famous pasta and meatballs are to die for.   Ask them to teach you one or two of their favorite recipes in your kitchen. Offer to purchase all of the ingredients and invite them to stay for dinner.  People that love to cook also love to show off their culinary skills and would more than likely be happy to help.  Observe, take notes and ask a lot of questions.  Pretty soon it will be your dish everyone is raving about.

Cooking is a skill that can be learned, perfected and mastered.  The key is putting yourself out there and trying something new.  The old saying, “practice makes perfect” may be a cliché but it’s true, especially when it comes to being confident in the kitchen.  Try something new and before you know it, you will be a confident cook who is not afraid to wow your own dinner guests.  Eat well!  And don't forget to be may just surprise yourself!

My best,

Valerie Cogswell
Head Chef and Lead Nutrition Coach
Venice Nutrition
#Tuesday, March 13, 2012

We all know that starting a new nutrition or health plan isn't easy.  It takes time, education, support and some mental planning. There are road blocks that can trip anyone up and derail even the most dedicated person from reaching their goals.  Here Mark Macdonald, creator of Venice Nutrition and author of NY Times Bestseller, Body Confidence, reveals how to move past any obstacles when embarking on a healthier lifestyle. 

What are some of the concerns people have when beginning a nutrition plan?

Time is by far the biggest concern.  We are all looking for more time, and the difficult part about taking on a solid nutrition plan is that it takes time.  Think about anything you do in life that fulfills you;  building a business, being in a relationship, raising children, etc…the list is endless.  My point is that everything you want to be great at takes time and your health is no different.   Most people start a nutrition plan without any idea of how they are going to work it into their world and this is a big reason why so many people fail. 

You must carve out time in your life, make room for your health and treat it like all the other core parts of your life.   Making your health a priority is not the easiest thing, but what you get from it is everything….

What are some mistakes people often make when starting a nutrition plan?

The biggest mistake is setting unrealistic goals.   It goes back to the feeling of being at your “tipping point”, you emotionally cannot take it anymore and need to get the weight off.  The challenge with this mindset is that your current lifestyle is why you put the weight on in the first place.  So you set a goal based on emotion and forget to look at the effort it will take to achieve that goal.  As you begin the plan, you progress but not fast enough in your mind, then you become de-motivated and choose to abandon the plan. 

This can easily be avoided by simply setting goals based on the effort you can initially put into your health.  Each week you can re-address your effort and results and then make the necessary adjustments to either increase your effort or change your goals.  The reality is that with the right plan all health goals can be achieved, the only unknown is the time frame in which you will achieve your goals.   Everything in life is an ever evolving process and your health is no different.  There are many variables that determine the pace of your results.  Staying present with your goals and evaluating them on a weekly basis keeps your emotions in check and sets you up to win.

by Mark Macdonald, creator of the Venice Nutrition system and author of NY Times Bestseller, Body Confidence

#Friday, March 02, 2012

Nine years ago, when I became a Venice Nutrition Coach, I had the pleasure of working with one of my very first and most memorable clients, who we’ll call Sally.  Sally walked daily and ate a “sensible” diet yet still struggled with an extra 30 pounds of body fat, major sugar cravings and low energy in the afternoon.     As we delved a little deeper during her consultation and talked about lifestyle including her profession, it became very apparent that Sally’s poor habits at work were causing her to gain an extra 5-7 pounds each year.  If she stayed at her current job and kept the same poor habits for even another few years….well you do the math!  Even more shocking?  As I continued to coach clients, male and female from all sorts of professions, I found that 80% of my clientele was sabotaging themselves everyday at their jobs.    I realized that even though my client’s jobs differed, their challenges were essentially the same.  Thus, the Is Your Job Making You Gain Weight List was born.    Now it’s time to share the list with you and point out the common workplace pitfalls as well as real-life solutions to overcoming them for all of us struggling to be fit in the workplace.   The result?  A leaner, healthier, happier, more energetic YOU, in and out of the office!
So, do you work in a cubicle or at a desk job? 

If the answer is YES, it’s time to find some creative ways to be healthier during your 9 to 5.  How can a desk job be detrimental to your health?  Surprisingly, there are a lot of ways.  Remember back in high school or even college, when you could eat whatever you wanted but you were active enough to stay fit and lean?  Fast forward 5 or 10 years.  You’re now sitting behind a computer all day, a headset attached to your ear, with an extra 15 pounds of unwanted body fat stuck to your middle.  How did this happen?  The answer is simple.  When you are sedentary or even less active than you were as a teen or young adult and your eating habits don’t improve to accommodate this lack of activity, your body starts to lay down fat cells and your metabolism slows.  Sound familiar?  If so, read on to learn what you can do about it.

1.  Know that it all starts with your nutrition.  In fact, that’s about 85% of the equation!   Your Venice Nutrition meal plans have been specifically designed with your goals, body composition and health in mind and will stabilize your blood sugar so you can burn fat, build lean muscle and increase energy all day at work. 

2.  Plan and pack the night before.  The morning rush is not the time to be packing your food for the workday, so take 15 minutes after dinner to pack your meals.  Ask yourself, what time do I wake up in the morning?  Can I eat my first meal before I leave the house?  How many meals do I need to make it through the workday?   For a lot of my clients, their breakdown goes something like this:

Meal 1 (one hour within waking) is breakfast before they leave the house for work

Meal 2 (3 hours or so later) is a balanced meal/snack that they’ve packed the night before, such as cottage cheese and fruit with nuts or a protein bar for example

Meal 3 (3 hours or so later) is lunch that they’ve packed the night before like a salad with grilled chicken or a turkey and cheese wrap

Meal 4 (3 or so hours later) is typically a snack packed the night before to hold them over until dinner at home such as a protein bar or Greek Yogurt Parfait for example

The key is to figure out your “game plan” so that packing the night before is fast, easy and hassle-free for the following work day.

3.  Stack up on healthy staples that you can keep at work for emergencies.  Let’s say 3 pm rolls around and it’s time to eat, your starving and you've forgotten your afternoon snack.  Maybe you grab an extra cup of coffee or head to the vending machine.  Sound familiar?  You don’t need to if you have a couple of go-to’s stashed at the office.  Here are a few simple meal ideas anyone can stash at work:

String cheese & fruit
Cottage cheese & fruit
Deli turkey, nuts and fruit
Protein powder, skim milk, fruit and nuts

If you don’t have a fridge at work, try stockpiling some protein bars (the easiest and most convenient option) or even protein powder in a protein shake cup (with a lid so you can quickly mix it with water) with some fruit and nuts on the side.   You may want to invest in a small portable lunch cooler that you can keep at your desk to keep items like cottage cheese and fruit cold.   The point is to always have a back up on hand so your always prepared.

4.  Avoid your co-worker’s bad habits at work.  Everyone has a co-worker who brings in brownies each week or keeps a bowl of M&M’s at her desk.  If it’s possible, avoid wherever this food is stashed.  For instance, one of my clients worked at a vet’s office as a receptionist and the dreaded “backroom” is full of leftover birthday cake, cookies and pizza from lunch.  My client knows this and along with packing balanced meals to nosh on all day, she does her best to avoid the backroom so she can the avoid temptation.  If your well meaning co-worker invites you to have some candy every time you visit her desk, let her know that you truly appreciate it and no thank you because you’re on a quest to eat healthier, particularly at work.  Then ask her if she’d like a few of your delicious, perfectly dry roasted almonds in return.  You may just find a new buddy to make healthy habits with at the office!

5.  Beware of take out and dining out too often.  I know how important it is that you socialize with your work peers and be a part of the gang. After all, who wants to be the co-worker who turns down every lunch invitation?  A good rule of thumb is to plan to go out for lunch with co-workers no more than once a week.  This way you are still socializing while not sabotaging your healthy efforts.  The truth is, the more we eat out, the less control we have over what goes in our mouths.  When you do go out to eat, it’s a good idea to scout out restaurants that offer balanced solutions or check out menus online ahead of time for healthy options.  If your job relies on you taking clients out for lunch or you dine out more than once a week, it’s critical to do some research beforehand and find healthy options as well as know how to order correctly.  For more information on dining out, please see Tips for Success #11 in your online manual under the Help/Support Tab.

6.  Get up and get moving.  If you sit at your desk for 8 hours a day without moving around much, you’re losing the precious opportunity to expend energy (not to mention ease aching muscles).  Here’s what I did when I worked at a desk job.  I made it a point to get out of my seat every 20-30 minutes to get a drink of water, use the restroom, answer the phone and move around a bit while I talk, use the wastebasket,  stand up and stretch.... whatever!  The point is, I was not sedentary, even though my actual job was.    Another huge benefit of moving around is protecting your spinal cord and back muscles which take a beating at an office job.  When you sit, your spine is compressed (another reason why so many Americans suffer from back pain- we’re putting in a lot of long hours at our desks these days).  When you stand up or move around, you lengthen the spine.  Mini stretches are also a good idea to keep your muscles fluid and loose.  I know from experience that an injury can greatly deter your daily exercise routine, so avoiding injury while at work is a must.

9.  Take advantage of your lunch break- it’s a perfect time to get moving.  Pack your gym bag with a change of clothes and sneakers the night before (perhaps after you pack your meals).  Then take a walk or hit the gym.  It’s a great way to get your workout in before the day is over.

10.  Pencil in your workouts.  Just like you add any important appointments to your planner, add your workout to make it “official”.  I know you’ve heard it before but it works!  Adding exercise to your schedule makes it a priority and your always less likely to skip out on a scheduled appointment.

11.  Overworked?  It’s time to de-stress.  If you are not aware of the negative effects stress can have on your health by now, it’s time to learn.  Stress causes increased body fat (particularly in the abdominal area), increased risk of disease and obesity and over eating, just to name a few.  For a full read up on stress, check out:   Combating Stress and Depression, written by Mark MacDonald, located in the Inspirational Messages Section of your Education Tab.  Or check out any of the blogs about stress in your Education Tab.

In the meantime, make an effort to de-stress.  Book a massage, take some time out or lessen your workload if you need to.  Years ago while running a nutrition consulting business, seeing 12 clients a day and training other nutrition coaches, I let my work “run” me.  Now I’m in charge and I schedule time for me to unwind every day (for me, de-stressing means working out, reading and the regular myofascial release therapy I receive for my back and hips).  The only time we seem to learn how detrimental stress is to our health is when it’s far too late and some of the damage is already done.  My advice to you is to start de-stressing now and honor your body, mind and soul.  It’s worth every minute.

12.  And lastly, keep your goals close.  When’s the last time you broke out the pen and paper and re-vamped your health goals?  My clients who do this regularly are more likely to work hard at work to stick to their goals.  Keep these reminders at work in plain sight….you’ll be amazed at how well they help to keep things in perspective….and keep you motivated.

So what ever happened to Sally?  I’m happy to report that with the above adjustments, Sally and the rest of my clients were able to overcome their health challenges and reach their goals, even while at work.    And if they did it, so can you!

Best of luck,

Valerie Cogswell

Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

#Thursday, February 16, 2012

We’ve all been there.  The alarm clock goes off and the last thing we want to do is crawl out of bed and exercise.  We give ourselves an out, with the famous, “I’ll just start tomorrow” excuse.   Maybe we justify missing our workout by telling ourselves we look good and we’re doing our best to get it in.   Now, of course missing a few workouts is fine….but only using your external results as a monitor if you should miss a workout is a faulty monitoring device.   You see, the external benefits of exercise (shedding unwanted pounds, burning body fat and building lean muscle) are only part of the equation.  The true power of exercise happens internally to your body’s systems and the best way to see this is through blood tests.  

I’ve been coaching for over 20 years and I like to teach my clients that if their internal systems are flowing (hormones, digestion, blood, etc.) then the external results will always come….they go hand in hand.   My goal with this blog is to share the amazing benefits exercise has on your body that can be directly shown through blood tests.

Before we dive into the exercise benefits, I want to quickly share that your food and exercise work together to create an optimal internal environment in your body.    So, step one is to know how to optimally Fuel Your Body.

Exercise activates and strengthens your muscles as well as helps create a balanced internal environment, but to get the most out of your exercise it’s critical that you fuel your body correctly.  You see, your body is a refuel as it goes machine, meaning it needs to be consistently fed the right food to function optimally.  This keeps your blood sugar stable and your hormones in balance.  Your nutrition (fuel) releases your stored body fat and your exercise burns that fat up.  Here are 3 simple nutrition parameters to ensure your food is dialed in and your blood sugar is balanced

1. Eat every 3 to 4 hours (5-6 meals a day) – Make sure to eat within an hour upon waking, then every 3 to 4 hours and an hour within in bedtime.  Yes, you can eat before bed (it helps to prep your body for the fast that occurs while you sleep and keep metabolism humming)

2. Eat a balance of Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates per
meal – Your body needs all three nutrients to keep its blood sugar stable.  The exception is your meal before bed.  Unless you’re hungry right before bed, you should stick to protein and fat only.

3. Eat the right amount of calories per meal
– Too many calories at a meal causes a blood sugar spike and fat storage while too few calories per meal causes your body to burn muscle for fuel.  The key is to eat the right amount of calories per meal to satisfy you every 3 to 4 hours.

Ok, now that we have your blood sugar balanced your body is ready to reap all the amazing benefits of exercise!  Here are 5 excellent benefits that exercise has on blood test results (keep in mind that great blood work means your body is great on the inside!)

Better Blood Sugar (glucose) reading

Optimal blood sugar readings are between 80mg/dl & 120mg/dl.  This is how it works….When it’s time to eat a meal and you feel hungry your blood sugar is around 80mg/dl.  Then about 90 minutes after that meal (as long as the meal was balanced) your blood sugar is around 110 mg/dl.  As long as your blood sugar stays within the 80mg/dl to 120mg/dl range your body will be in balance and will constantly release stored body fat.  Anytime your blood sugar drops below 80mg/dl (typically by missing meals) your pancreas over releases the hormone glucagon which causes your body to burn muscle, which slows your metabolism and anytime your blood sugar spikes (typically by overloading on carbohydrates and calories) above 120mg/dl, your pancreas over releases the hormone insulin, which causes your body to store fat.

Ideally you want your Fasting Blood Sugar (8-12 hour fast) to be between 80mg/dl – 90mg/dl.  Since exercise uses sugar and fat for energy, the more consistent you are with your exercise the better blood sugar reading you will have.   Cardio and strength training helps your body to more efficiently manage blood sugar levels and keeps your blood sugar in a more optimal range by utilizing your excess glucose and balancing out your two blood sugar hormones, glucagon and insulin.

Lower A1C

Your A1C is an average of your blood sugar readings over a few months.  The lower your A1C, the better.  A lower A1C it means your blood sugar is balanced throughout the day.  Since exercise helps regulate sugar levels and balances your blood sugar hormones, the end result is a better fasting glucose.  Since your fasting glucose is improved, your A1C will naturally be lowered. 

Higher HDL (your good cholesterol!)

The two types of cholesterol we’re all use to seeing on blood work are LDL and HDL.  LDL stands for low density lipoprotein (means it has more cholesterol than protein) and is the “bad” cholesterol.  LDL’s go through your blood stream and leave behind plaque in your arteries. HDL stands for high density lipoprotein (means it has more protein than cholesterol).  HDL’s go through your blood stream and pick up the plaque left behind by the LDL’s.  So, the higher your HDL the better for your arteries!   Guess what’s the number one way to increase your HDL’s?   Your exercise! Especially steady cardio for at least 30 minutes.  If you do cardio at least 4 days a week for 30 minutes at a steady heart rate, your blood will begin to reflect an increase of HDL’s, which is great for your blood, arteries and your heart!

Lower Triglycerides

Triglycerides are 3 fatty acids and a glycerol molecule.  Basically, they are the main source of fat in your body.   High Triglycerides have a direct effect on the health of your heart and cause excess fat storage.  So the goal is to keep your triglycerides low (anything less than 150mg/dl).   As I shared, stable blood sugar causes your body to continuously release stored body fat and your exercise then burns that fat up in your muscle.  So the more exercise you can do (especially cardio), the more fat your body will burn.  This will greatly assist with lowering your triglyceride level in your blood.

Increased Endorphins will cause more Balanced Hormone levels (ie. Cortisol, Thyroid, Estrogen and Testosterone)

We’ve all heard of the Runner’s High.  Well, that is caused by the release of neurotransmitters called endorphins (produced by your hormone system).  Endorphins cause that sense of “well being” we all feel after exercise.  I’ve always said that the stressors of life seem less stressful when you are exercising consistently compared to when you are missing workouts.  This is all because of Endorphins, and they also do more than just create a feeling of “well being” they help in balancing your entire hormonal system.  You see, your hormonal system works like a kinetic chain and every link supports the next link.  When one link is broken, it weakens the entire chain and the chain in this analogy is your body.  

As I shared, consistent exercise, cardio and strength training, create a more stable environment in your body.  This stability triggers more stable levels of your all your hormones, a few being cortisol (your stress hormone), thyroxin (your metabolism hormone) and estrogen and testosterone (your sex hormones that greatly affect your mood). 

So, there you have it! If you shift your thinking about exercise from just a way to get an external result to actually changing your body from the inside, you are more likely to get moving and keep moving!  After all, excellent blood work is a powerful motivator and will always reveal your hard work.   Just remember that if your body is in amazing condition on the inside, you’ll be in amazing condition on the outside too.  We’ve heard it countless times, always work your way from the inside out.  Your body is no different!

By: Mark Macdonald, Creator of the Venice Nutrition System and Author of NY Times Bestseller, Body Confidence

#Friday, January 06, 2012

As a Nutrition Coach for over nine years, I know what it takes to adopt a new health plan into your lifestyle and actually make it stick.  Whether you are new to Venice Nutrition or need a kick start for 2012, the following tips will help you to simplify your plan and achieve your goals faster!

1.  Start with Stage 1 of your Guide Tab.  And please don't skip any steps!  We’ve designed it so each step in your checklist walks you through the major parts of your software. This will help you to best understand and incorporate your plan into your life.  Skipping steps may lead to confusion…and who needs that when starting a healthy lifestyle? 

After Stage 1, make sure to move on to Stage 2…you’ll learn how to stay prepared, bust through plateaus, keep things fresh and more!

2.  Embrace the process!  Remember that beginning a new nutrition and fitness program takes time, patience and education. Our most successful members take the time to learn how their bodies really work.  They also embrace every little step of the journey including the most mundane steps like packing meals and weighing foods.  Why?  Because it’s all part of the learning process and ultimately leads to long term success.

3.  Stay engaged!   Visit your Education tab and take advantage of the Webinars, Blogs and Articles written by Mark Macdonald and our team of coaches.  Each article and webinar hits on points we discuss regularly with our consulting clients and are designed to increase your skill set and make your life easier.  And don't forget to reach out with all questions on the Forum or at Our team is here to help!

And lastly a few practical tips to help you as you get started with your personal plan:

4.  Plan out your Sample Day (see Sample Day Meal Plan under your Help Support Tab), especially if you are new to the plan. It always helps to have a game plan to follow so you know which meals will work best for you at different times throughout the day.

5.  Pack your meals the night before for the next day….always (mornings are just too hectic!)

6.  Cook a few high quality food items in bulk for the week like our Everyday Chicken, Individual Turkey Meatloaves (so good!)  a big colorful salad or brown rice so you always have quick high quality options on hand. 

7.  Stay motivated and accountable with your online journal.  I still journal from time to time.  Why do I do it? It keeps me on track and shows me where I’m “off”.  Plus I seem to be a little pickier with my choices when I know I have to record everything I ate (no one likes copping to an unplanned brownie sundae that you ate out of boredom!)

8.  Add workouts to your schedule like an appointment so you stick to them. I know, I know!  You’ve heard this one a million times.  The reason you keep hearing it is because it works.  Ask anyone who works out regularly and they will tell you that exercise to them is as necessary as air or brushing their teeth.  But these same people who seem to love to workout had to start somewhere and they started by making their exercise a commitment.  Eventually it became a regular part of their day…like brushing their teeth.

9. Remember how important a good night’s sleep is to your success!  When I’m tired or I’ve tossed and turned all night, by the morning I crave sugar and my desire to workout is right up there with “clean out my closet”. When I’m rested, I have a lot more willpower.  Take the necessary steps to get a good night sleep whether it be to create downtime before bed (turn off the TV!) or invest in a better sleeping environment (I just bought a brand new, quality mattress and box spring to keep my body in alignment for a better night’s sleep).  For more sleep tips, check out your Member Handbook in your Education Tab.

There you have it…seemingly small, simple tips that make a WORLD of difference to your success.  Got some helpful hints of your own?  Please share with us on Facebook or make a comment on our blog page!

Welcome to Venice Nutrition and Happy New Year!

My best,

Valerie Cogswell
Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

#Thursday, December 01, 2011

Here comes the holidays!  As a personal Venice Nutrition Coach and Chef for over 6 years, I have learned quite a few tricks on how to survive the holidays while keeping my waist line in check.  The fact is the holidays are a fun and wonderful time of year to enjoy great friends and delicious food.  You may think that Nutrition and Fitness Experts avoid any type of indulgence over the holidays, but that’s simply not true!  We just know how to indulge the right way!  Read on to learn some real-life tips to staying on course while enjoying your holiday season.

First and foremost, understand that your normal routine and schedule will change this crazy time of year.    There will be more opportunities to over-indulge and maybe less time to fit in a workout.    One of the best pieces of advice I can give to anyone is to acknowledge that life is going to get in the way over the holidays and that’s OK.   By accepting the challenges beforehand, your more likely to go with the punches when they arise.  Perhaps your goals change a bit to adapt to the holiday season as well.  During the holidays, I make it my goal to maintain my weight and body fat % and fitness level instead of aiming to achieve more simply because it’s more realistic for me.

All of my clients, myself included, go to holiday parties, indulge in a little alcohol and delicious food and desserts.  How can we possibly enjoy all the holidays have to offer and still reach our goals?  My most successful clients have learned to “Let it go”.  This can be a challenge at first if you are someone who is very “black and white” in your thinking.  I have found that when I first meet a potential client, if they have a past of either being “on” their diet or “off” their diet,  they usually have never achieved long term success.  Why?  This “all or nothing” thinking doesn’t allow for permanent results.  It is my primary goal as their coach to teach them that a healthy lifestyle includes attending parties and eating not so healthy food once in a while.   Basically I teach them to “Let it go”.  There’s no need to focus on the extra cookie you ate or the workout you skipped.  Right now, right this minute, is another opportunity to get it right and that’s where your focus should be!   Another tip?  Save the excuses and don’t give yourself an “out”!  The worst thing you can tell yourself is, “I’ll get back on track next week, or after the holidays.”  You’ll feel a whole lot better and do a lot less damage if you get back on track at your next meal.    After all, permanent success is all about balance and living your life and enjoying it.

Next, preparation is key.  I always tell my clients that if you know you have a huge party planned on Saturday night, then aim to eat well all week.  Get in your workouts and drink plenty of water.  This way when you indulge on Saturday night, there’s no guilt and very little damage done to your waist line! 

Last night I went to a Christmas party.  I admit I drank the homemade Cherry Wheat beer.  I sampled the hummus and pitas and had a plate of roast beef, ziti and salad.  I even ended the night with a sugar cookie dripping with sweet frosting.   And I don’t feel guilty one bit!!!!  I woke up this morning and had my eggs and wheat toast to re-stabilize my blood sugar.  I already have my workout planned for later this afternoon.  I made sure to eat well all week because I knew that I had a big party to attend Saturday night.  I drank plenty of water last night before I fell asleep.   Overall, I followed my own advice.  I acknowledged that I was going to indulge a bit at the party, I prepared to do so and I got right back on track the moment I could.    I enjoyed the christmas party and I’m still on track to reaching my goals, and so can you.  Happy Holidays!


Valerie Cogswell

Head Chef and Nutrition Coach

#Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving is only days away and I can’t wait!   I love the hustle and bustle of preparing the menu as the big day approaches and mostly, I love catching up with my entire family while enjoying the feast. 

At my house, we make enough food to feed a small army and aim to satisfy everyone’s tastes (in addition to the basics, we make a turkey and ham, two kinds of stuffing and five different kinds of pies!).    And while I used to worry about weight gain over Thanksgiving, I don’t anymore.   Why?  Because it’s all about balance.

 Here are my go-to tips that will help you to enjoy your Thanksgiving Day meal and stay on track with your health goals…no guilt necessary!

1.  You know Thanksgiving is coming, so be prepared.  Be extra careful with your nutrition the entire week leading up to your Thanksgiving Day meal.  Make sure to eat balanced meals and choose higher quality (natural, un-processed) foods as often as possible.    Try not to have any "off" meals leading up to the big day either; being consistent will stabilize your blood sugar and keep you in “fat burning mode”.  Another way to prepare?  Add 10 to 15 minutes of extra cardio each day leading up to Thanksgiving.

2.  Help with the cooking.  Because of my culinary background, I’m responsible for preparing 90% of our Thanksgiving Day meal. Not that I’m complaining; I honestly love every minute of it.  I’ve found that by preparing the food, I tend to eat a lot less when it’s time to eat.  Sure, I’m taste testing here and there but after all of the stress and hard work that goes into preparing a huge feast, I don’t feel the need to completely stuff myself.   I'm not sure why this happens, but every year without fail, it does!  So this Thanksgiving, aim to help out in the kitchen; you may find yourself eating a lot less at meal time.   

3.  If you’re a guest, bring a healthy dish to the meal.  Instead of smothering the sweet potatoes in high calorie marshmallow, mash them with a few tablespoons of brown sugar, a little real butter and sea salt instead.   Prepare a green bean casserole with fresh green beans, low fat milk and low-fat mushroom soup.  Go light on the fried onions or use sautéed onions instead.    Make mashed potatoes with low fat milk in place of whole milk or cream and jazz them up with roasted garlic, sea salt and a little butter.  Find a reduced-fat gravy online that appeals to you.   Offer to bring whole grain rolls in place of white rolls.   Get creative and choose lower fat options when possible.   You can even find healthier versions of your favorite dishes online ahead of time and share with the "chef" in advance to see if you can work together to create a healthier meal.

Bonus: Try bringing our Whole Grain Cranberry and Walnut Stuffing, Roasted Asparagus or Sweet Potato Soup, found in your Recipe Tab (“Sides and Extras”) for a lighter take on some of your Thanksgiving favorites!

3.  Remember to balance your plate.  Choose a protein first then add carbohydrates.  Don’t worry about adding fat; there will more than likely be plenty of fat in each item already.   Load up on white meat turkey for protein (skip the fatty skin) and healthier sides like sweet potatoes, butternut squash and veggies.  If you want to indulge, take smaller amounts of the higher calorie sides like stuffing to keep blood sugar from spiking too high. 

4.  Eat slowly and enjoy.  Focus on your family and friends, not just the food.  Before going for seconds, ask yourself if you're really hungry.  If so, wait 15 to 20 minutes and see if the feeling passes. 

5.  Dessert is fine in moderation.   I say… have dessert but take a smaller portion than what you would normally would and savor every single bite.    If you know that dessert is your favorite part of the meal and you may want to indulge a bit, go lighter on your carbohydrates with dinner.

6.  If you have alcohol, choose a small glass of wine or light beer.  Drink a glass of water in between to keep from bloating.

7.  If you’re hosting the meal, try to give away the not-so healthy leftovers by making to-go plates for your guests.  Save the leaner stuff like the turkey and vegetables to have on hand for meals later in the week.  If you’re a guest, take a to-go plate of the turkey and vegetables and skip the heavier sides.

A few tips:  In general, the least healthy options at a Thanksgiving Day meal are:  Gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and desserts.  White meat turkey, vegetables and cranberry sauce are usually the leanest.

Lastly, most of us do overindulge on Thanksgiving.  And that’s okay!  The key is to get right back on track 3 to 4 hours later with a balanced meal to stabilize your blood sugar.  If it’s time to eat again and you are not hungry, simply have protein and fat. 

For some of us, it takes practice to learn how to let go of the guilt that can accompany a holiday meal.   Obsessing over the fact that you overindulged is never a good idea.  Just pick back up where you left off and get your cardio in the next day.  Your body will never know the difference.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Venice Nutrition!

My best,

Valerie Cogswell

Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

#Monday, October 31, 2011

If there is any day of the year that I get a craving for candy, Halloween is it! And while one piece certainly won’t derail your results, bingeing all day on Halloween treats will. Just a few pieces of candy can leave you tired, cranky, bloated and craving more sugar. Worst, the effects of an all-out binge fest can last for a few days. So here are a few tips to stay on track tonight and for the next few days until the Halloween treats are gone.

1. Remind yourself of your goals. I recommend that you read your goals out loud and post them in a place where you can see them (even if it’s on the inside of the front door while you hand out candy!). When your goals are literally staring you in the face, they are a lot harder to ignore. You’ll also think twice before mindlessly reaching into the candy bag.

2. Keep up with your meals. Whenever you skip a meal or eat a meal that is not balanced in protein, carbohydrates and fat, it’s only a matter of time before blood sugar drops and cravings kick in. Add a bowl full of accessible candy to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for disaster! Keep the physical cravings in check by eating frequent balanced meals to stabilize your blood sugar.

3. Hide it! One of my favorite tricks to avoid over-eating high fat and high sugar treats is to hide them. It's the old, "out of sight, out of mind" trick... and it works! I prefer the basement but at the very least store extra candy up high (not at eye level) and preferably in a cabinet where the shiny colorful packaging can't tempt you. Whatever you do, don’t keep a bowl for “guests” (yeah, right!) out on the kitchen counter. I’ve learned the hard way that the “guest” bowl of candy always seems to end up on my thighs!

4. If you want a piece of candy, choose your favorite and have it with a balanced meal (go light on the carbohydrates in the meal to make up for the extra sugar in the candy). Better yet, skip the candy altogether and plan a real "off meal" like Saturday night dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant. Sometimes a measly piece of candy just isn't worth the spike and dip in blood sugar but your favorite meal always is!

I can remember as a kid my parents always had to “test” the candy to make sure some stranger hadn’t “poisoned” it. If this sounds familiar, it may be time to re-think your Halloween strategy and implement the tips above!

I'm you have any tips to avoid the dreaded Halloween hangover? Please share!

Happy Halloween!

My best,

Valerie Cogswell

Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef

#Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The goal for all of us is to get the most out of our exercise.  In the past, many people thought just getting some cardio in, like a morning stroll with your best friend, or casually riding your bike through your neighborhood was good enough to burn body fat and get toned and tight.  As an athlete and nutrition and fitness expert for the past 20 years, I’ve learned that getting the body you want takes much more than just casual cardio.

The most recent study from the researchers at the University of New Hampshire proves that using the “talk test” to measure if your cardio intensity is in the optimal range is a sure fire way to minimize your results and prevent you from taking your body to the next level.

Ok, so the big question is how should you do your cardio?  I know we are all pressed for time and pulling 2 hour cardio sessions is challenging for anyone’s schedule.  You see, it’s not about doing more; it’s about being better at what you do.  By simply making these four adjustments with your cardio, you will activate all of your muscle, burn maximum fat, drop any unwanted pounds and greatly improve your overall endurance.

Tip 1:  Do both types of Cardio

Body fat is primarily burned in muscle.  So your number goal when doing cardio is to make sure that you are activating all of your muscle.  We all have red muscle and white muscle.   Most of us have approximately 50% red muscle and 50% white muscle.  Red muscle is used on your slow and steady cardio (fat burning), like a brisk walk, slow jog or climbing stairs. Your heart rate is at a steady rate during fat burning cardio.

Your white muscle is used during high intensity cardio (interval training), like sprinting, running stairs or spinning.  High intensity cardio focuses on a 1 minute burst of a high heart rate, followed by a 1-2 minute recovery, then repeat.  If you are only doing one type of cardio, then you are only using 50% of your muscle and definitely not making the most of your time.  The goal is to get at least 4-5 days, 30-45 minute per session of fat burning cardio as well as 2-3 days, 30 minutes per sessions of High Intensity (interval training) per week.

Tip 2:  Push the Limits with your Heart Rate

Rather than focusing on the “talk test” to measure your heart rate, use a heart rate monitor or perceived exertion.  Always know that if you can talk steadily throughout your exercise than you’re not working hard enough and your results will suffer.    Perceived exertion means if the exercise feels to intense it is and if the exercise feels too easy it is.  The goal with fat burning cardio is to push yourself to the point where you are almost out of breath and then back down a bit on the intensity and maintain that level of exertion throughout your entire session.  This is typically around the heart rate of 135-145 bpm for most people.

For your high intensity cardio, your goal is to go as intense as possible for 1 minute (totally winded) and then recover at a very slow pace for 1-2 minutes.  Your heart rate will typically be around 155-170 bpm for the 1 minute of intensity, then once you get back to 120-125 bpm from your recovery period, you repeat the interval.

Tip 3:  Always do your High Intensity Cardio before Your Fat Burning Cardio

Fat burning cardio does exactly what is says:  it burns fat.  High intensity cardio mostly burns sugar.  It’s important to know that it takes your body about 20 minutes to really start burning fat.  Because of this fact you need to do your high intensity cardio first, high intensity cardio uses your sugar stores and will get your body ready to burn optimal fat.  Once your high intensity cardio session is complete, (about 30 minutes), go right into your fat burning cardio.  This simple adjustment to your cardio can burn up to 40% more body fat per session!

Tip 4:  Choose the Best Exercises

As I’ve shared, the goal with your cardio is to activate maximum muscle.  A big part in doing this is choosing the right cardio exercises. Your best exercises are movements that are low to high impact (impact is determined by how hard your foot impacts with the ground) and that activate the majority of your muscle.  For example, walking on a 15% incline on a treadmill will burn more fat than walking on a flat surface.   Sprinting or running up stairs are excellent types of high intensity cardio and will activate more muscle than spinning.   If possible, I suggest avoiding exercise like the elliptical and stationary bike because they are non-impact and recruit less muscle than low-high impact movements.

There you have it, four tips that will take your cardio to the next level and in turn help your body get toned and tight!

#Thursday, October 13, 2011

We all want it, the feeling of invincibility, that our mind and body can conquer any obstacle lying in our path. This hunger for invincibility is a big reason we invest so much time in our health. We know we must fuel and train our bodies efficiently and effectively to be their best. This is a quest to unlock your body’s full potential. So, what is my definition of this “invincible feeling” we crave? It is Body Confidence. To me, Body Confidence is defined as looking and feeling your best. Not good or great, but your best. At the end of the day, it’s what each of us truly wants.

I know this mindset well since I have lived it my entire life. As an athlete, fitness model, and nutrition expert, my goals have always been clear: discover the tools that will take my and my clients’ Body Confidence to the next level.

You would think with so much information on the market that acquiring this knowledge would be easy. Unfortunately that is not the case. The health industry is full of hype, so it’s difficult to know fact from fiction. I spent years falling prey to the “hype”, like “ground breaking” calorie and carbohydrate restriction diets, “miracle” supplements and “cutting edge” exercise routines, each one making huge promises and each one leaving me disappointed and frustrated.

It puzzled me that there wasn’t a better way to take the food and exercise you love and infuse them into your world, allowing you to permanently reprogram your metabolism and achieve true Body Confidence. Finding this way became my purpose, leading me to create the Venice Nutrition Program and write the New York Times bestselling book, Body Confidence.

You see, I found a better way. My journey brought me to the realization that taking your Body Confidence to the next level is all about the right kind of education. Think of the empowerment you will feel by possessing the knowledge to permanently achieve your health goals. This type of education is what gives the control of your health back to you. This type of education also provides the necessary foundation for you to continually move forward towards your goals without regressing.

The next question is: how do you get the education I speak of? To answer, I would like to share the 3 Step System I created: your Body Confidence Foundation. I have written brief recaps of each step to provide you with immediate insight. The complete explanation on how to master each step is found in my book, Body Confidence.

Step 1 – Knowing Your “Why” – Your reason for Body Confidence

- Anyone can get a result, the real challenge is once you achieve it, how do you keep moving forward? You see, when people get motivated with their health, they work hard, make progress and often achieve their goal. Then, life begins to push back, motivation is lowered (since the initial goal was achieved) and unfortunately the great health result we’d achieved becomes a thing of the past. Regression sets in. Your first step in preventing this from happening is to become very clear on your “Why” - the reason why you want Body Confidence. Try to see your “why” as a safety line – keeping you connected and committed to the process of moving forward with your health.

Step 2 – Developing Your Body Confidence Plan - Your game plan for achieving Body Confidence

- Would you build a business without a plan or a house without a blueprint? Of course you wouldn’t, because you already know the outcome: you’d be bankrupt in a year or your house would fall apart due to a weak infrastructure. So ask yourself, how is your health any different? It’s not. Your health needs a solid plan just like everything else in life that is built for success. Your Body Confidence plan is designed to create internal hormonal balance within your body by developing efficient systems for the 6 main components of health: Sleep, Nutrition, Exercise, Supplements (vitamins, minerals & omega fatty acids), Water and Stress. By focusing on these 6 components, your body will be in balance, which triggers it to consistently release stored body fat, increase lean body mass and launch your metabolism into overdrive. In addition to the results you achieve, you will always have a plan to work from when you fall off. Let’s be honest, we all fall off, the key is how quickly we get back on.

Step 3 – Balancing Your Quadrant – Working your Body Confidence plan into your world

- I look at life as having 4 primary parts: Health, Relationships, Profession and Lifestyle. These four elements together are something I call “The Quadrant”. Once you develop a solid plan, the next step is working it into your world. Too many times we start a health program and immediately begin to neglect the other parts of our lives. Eventually, the other parts of our lives begin to push back and our health takes a back seat. This was a routine I lived for many years, until I realized that I needed to adjust the other parts of my life to make time for my health. Rather than embarking on a 3 month sprint and then falling off, think of this as a cross country run, where you create an evolving balance between all four parts of your Quadrant. Doing this may mean shifting your mindset a bit, but introducing this balance into your life will prevent those long off plan periods, and set you up with a strategy to keep you moving forward.

There you have it: your 3 step system to taking your Body Confidence to the next level. As with everything in life, success is a choice, and so is having a high quality of health. My invitation to you is this: Choose to be your very best, Choose to get educated about your body, and Choose to make your health a priority. The answers and solutions are ready here and now. They’re yours for the taking. Go make it happen!

by Mark MacDonald, Creator of the Venice Nutrition program and author of Body Confidence.