I am so excited and truly honored to introduce you to my friend Natalie. She has had an amazing transformation to a healthier lifestyle and really went about it in such a mindful way! Not only will you be inspired and encouraged by this interview, but I bet you learn a little something too!
You have been coming to fitness classes for a while now. Recently I looked over at you in the gym and thought, “Dang! She is looking fierce!” When I complimented you, you shrugged up your shoulders and simply said, “Clean eating!”
How long have you been exercising?
As long as I can remember I have lived an active lifestyle growing up I was a dancer for 17 years. Recently I started running and have done a few races. Before joining the Libertyville Sports Complex I was a member at L.A. Fitness and would take a few classes a week there.
Do you like exercise, did it have to grow on you, or do you do it because you should?
I do like exercising, I like setting goals and seeing progress. I actually enjoy feeling sore and knowing that my muscles are getting stronger. I love challenging myself to push myself in class. There’s nothing better than the feeling after an amazing workout when you are drenched in sweat. I work in healthcare, more specifically physical medicine (physical, occupational and speech therapy) so I know how important keeping active is and the long-term benefits of it. Also I suffer from anxiety and I noticed that being active and exercising greatly helps keep my anxiety under control. So for me exercising is both physically and mentally important to me.
What are your favorite workouts and how do you make them a priority?
I love being outside so I will go on a run or a bike ride and now that I have a dog I try to take him for a walk after dinner every night to stay active. I love H.I.I.T class and started taking barre and that is becoming one of my favorites as well. When I am short on time I will do the sprinting drills that we do in H.I.I.T class. I love the social aspect of taking classes and knowing that I will see my friends helps me make working out a priority. We have a group text message that helps keep me accountable especially on days when I don’t feel like working out but I see everyone else is going to class. I usually remind myself how much better I feel afterwards which helps keep me motivated when I would rather put on my PJs and crawl into bed.
So even though you value exercise, you really see a change for the better with eating clean. What does it mean to you to eat clean?
I’ve always read that a healthy lifestyle is 80% diet and 20% exercise, and for me it’s 100% true! I have been consistently working out since January of 2015 and noticed that I haven’t made any progress in the last few months so I thought maybe switching up my diet would help.I follow some fitness blogs and read a few articles about clean eating and meal prepping and thought I would give it a try. For me, clean eating means being mindful of the food I’m putting in my body and eating as little as possible foods that are processed. My rule of thumb is when I look at the ingredients and I don’t know how to pronounce it- I don’t buy it. So it’s a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy fats, also I try to drink at least 60-90 ounces of water a day. I eat a lot of chicken, turkey and fish and try to cook with as little ingredients as possible. No fast food, no frozen meals, no foods with preservatives (so most foods found in cans and packages). I still eat some things that are processed, like cheese, but I try every day to be conscious of limiting it in my diet.
Have you had any setback along the way?
Yes, I try to stick to a meal plan and then my office will have a catered lunch or I have to work late and by the time I get home I don’t want to cook dinner. There have even been times when I’ve tried a new recipe and it has turned out awful and I can’t eat it and think about running out to get something quick and easy. Staying consistent is key so I try to always have a backup plan like a healthy salad I can make with chicken or scrambled eggs with an avocado in case a recipe goes horrible wrong.
What is your inspiration and motivation to seek after a healthy lifestyle?
About 6 years ago my father passed away unexpectedly, after his death I was put on medication to help me but it made me gain about 35-40 pounds. I went from being my usual weight of 112 to around 137 which being 5ft tall was heavy on my bones. No matter what I did I couldn’t lose the weight and felt so defeated. I would be out of breath walking up a flight of stairs, I would sleep constantly, I couldn’t even fit into my wedding dress and had to get it altered. I made a promise to myself that I would never let that happen again and completely changed my life. I joined a gym, started taking classes, I changed my diet and haven’t looked back.
How do you eat clean as a busy full-time working woman?
I make a meal plan and stick to it, on Saturday I will go shopping for my lunches and on Sunday I will prep them so they are ready to go for the week. On Monday I will make my dinner meal plan and after the gym I will go and buy the ingredients I need. I try to alternate between a crock pot meal and one I need to cook every day and usually have them match with my workouts. For example, on Tuesday and Thursday I take a 6pm class so those days are usually crock pot days since I get home later. If I like a recipe I will repeat it and I’m always willing to try new things which helps keep me on track and so things don’t get boring.
What are you favorite clean eating meals and snacks?
My favorite snacks are usually vegetables with different kind of hummus, almonds, bananas and peanut butter or fruit dipped in dark chocolate when I want something sweet. The meals I usually repeat are stuffed avocados; I’ve found a ton of ways to eat them AND stay on track which is awesome. I’ve made them with eggs, or make chicken for tacos but use the avocado as the base instead. I really love pizza so I found different ways to still eat it rather quinoa pizza bowls or on top of a vegetable like a Portobello mushroom or eggplant. Some of my go to crock pot meals are quinoa burrito bowls or chicken chili.
Do you have any goals coming up that we can cheer you on in?
I don’t have anything exciting coming up- just continue to try to be the best version of myself!
What are some of your favorite healthy recipes?
- For the Burrito Bowls
- 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Tricolor Quinoa
- 2 grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 (14-ounce) can back beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 (14-ounce can) corn, drained or 1½ cups fresh corn or frozen and thawed corn
- 2 vine tomatoes, diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for serving
- 1 large avocado, diced
- For the Dressing
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus additional for serving
- 1 teaspoons ground chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (use less or omit if sensitive to spice)
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- For Serving (optional)
- Diced avocado or guacamole
- Shredded cheese
- Sour cream or Greek yogurt
- Bring 2 cups water to a boil and add quinoa. Return to boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and let simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork, then recover, and let sit for 15 minutes. Transfer to a large serving bowl.
- While the quinoa cooks, prepare the other burrito bowl ingredients.
- Make the dressing: whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup: the olive oil, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, salt, black pepper. Drizzle over the warm quinoa, then toss to combine.
- Gently stir in the prepared chicken, black beans, corn, tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro. Serve warm with any desired toppings.
- 1 cup (dry) quinoa
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 (14-ounce) jars pizza sauce
- 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 2-3 cups of your favorite pizza toppings
- optional toppings: grated Parmesan cheese, crushed red peppers
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Cook quinoa in the chicken or vegetable stock according to package instructions. When the quinoa has finished cooking, fluff the quinoa with a fork. Then stir about ½ cup pizza sauce into the quinoa until evenly combined. Set aside.
- Lightly spray 6 large (10-ounce) oven-safe ramekins with cooking spray. Place the ramekins on a large baking tray.
- Spread about 2 Tablespoons of pizza sauce evenly over the bottom of each ramekin.
- Layer each with about ¼ cup of quinoa, and spread with a spoon to flatten.
- Layer each evenly with pinch of shredded Mozzarella.
- Layer each with a single layer of pizza toppings.
- Repeat by layering each with another layer of sauce, quinoa, Mozzarella, pizza toppings, followed by a final layer of Mozzarella. The ramekins should be full but not overflowing.
- Transfer the baking sheet full of ramekins to the oven, and bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the ingredients are heated through. At this point, you can either remove the pizza bowls from the oven. Or if you'd like to get the cheese extra golden on top, you can turn the oven to "broil". Then -- keeping a close eye on the cheese so that it does not burn -- broil the pizza bowls until the cheese is golden on top.
- Remove and sprinkle each pizza bowl with a pinch of Parmesan cheese and crushed red peppers, if desired. Serve immediately.
Your Trainer and Friend,
Cassie and Natalie