Live to Eat Well, Exercise, Be Well in Mind and Body

6 Ways to Improve Your Health and Finances at the Same Time

Having too little money and too many extra pounds – few things in life are rife with so much shame and fear. While it is typical to feel alone in your shame, the truth is that few people escape money and/or weight problems. Three quarters of Americans say they have money worries, and about that many Americans, children included, are overweight or obese.

According to the Financial Health Institute, 3 out of every 4 Americans report finances are the main contributor to their stress. That stress often results in negative coping behaviors like excessive drinking, overeating, smoking, escapism (television and movies). Those stress-induced coping mechanisms then manifest themselves in nasty ways – depression, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and more. Medical bills then stack up, creating ongoing stress, and the cycle continues. A strong argument can be made that financial and physical health and fitness cannot be tackled separately, but must be a package deal.

Instant Gratification

Inherent in the discussion of health and finances, is that greatest of American traditions – instant gratification. Sure, eating half a box of Oreos or buying that new pair of shoes feels good in the moment, but the dark side of instant gratification is the loss of impulse control, leaving us slaves to consumption, debt, extra weight, stress, and ill health. Culturally, we are not taught to pause and weigh the costs before we eat and shop. Just do it. Just eat it. Just buy it. Charge it now; pay later. That is the American way of life.

This is why financial and physical fitness have to be addressed simultaneously. If we would intentionally sit down and calculate how much money we are consuming by satiating our physical appetite for food, caffeine, and alcohol, we would be shocked. When the desire to lose weight and gain health and vitality is coupled with the desire to lose debt and gain financial freedom, it can be a one-two punch that reinforces our commitment to tackling negative consumption habits.

But no one can be shamed into being a wealthier, healthier human being. Hate and shame don’t serve as motivators; they only serve to create an oppressive weight of judgement that few people can crawl out from under. If losing weight or losing debt were easy, everyone would do it. It requires sacrifice and hard work; it is difficult and overwhelming, and there is no quick and easy solution. And it’s hard to know where to start.

So start here. Here are 6 tips and tricks to improve your health and your finances at the same time.

1. Weigh the Cost

Eating out, coffee to-go, field trips to the bakery, drinks after work, hobby-induced grocery shopping – it all costs more than you think. By signing up for Mint, a free and online financial manager that links into bank account, you can take a hard and honest look at how much money you are physically consuming and literally flushing down the toilet.

2. Create a Budget

No doubt that last foray into expense tracking has you crying into your beer. Now dry your tears, put on your big girl or big boy pants, and create a budget using Mint, that magical financial manger. After your bills are paid, your first priority is to build an emergency savings account, followed by an aggressive elimination of credit card or student loan debt. Take a look at your leftovers, and assign yourself a modest allowance for restaurants, coffee shops, and booze. Download Mint on your smartphone to stay on track.

3. Use Food As a Currency

A helpful psychological tactic in rationing daily and weekly servings and splurges is to think of food as currency, a weekly allowance, or a per deim expense account. A weight loss program like Weight Watchers utilizes points instead of calories as a helpful and playful way to monitor and budget food intake. Dave Ramsey, author of Financial Peace University, actually used the Weight Watchers model as the basis for his debt elimination program.

4. Get Cookin’

Making food in your own kitchen is only a fraction of the cost compared to eating out. And you are in complete control of the ingredients and serving sizes. Have some fun and experiment with different grains, legumes, vegetables, and spices to kick up the nutritional value. Make a big batch, and you’ll have leftovers to enjoy for lunch at work. This is good news for both your wallet and your waistline. Visit websites like Eating Well for free nutritious and delicious recipes.

5. Find Your Muse

There is a reason creative types are often referred to as “starving artists”. Looking at your forlorn budget for food and entertainment, you could get depressed, or you could get creative. This is your chance to write that book you’ve been talking about for ten years, pick up the guitar gathering dust in the corner, learn to knit, break open the sketch book, grow a small garden, and make your own natural body products. By switching from a consumption mentality to a creative mentality, you open yourself up to a world of wonder and possibilities.

6. Make Exercise a Hobby

Unless you’re enrolled at a seriously expensive boutique gym, exercise is an affordable activity. A modest gym membership runs from $10-$50 a month – many of which offer classes in kickboxing, barre, bootcamp, yoga, and more. Instead of meeting your friends at the pub or at the greasy spoon, make some new friends at the gym and get moving. And when the weather is nice, enjoy a long walk, hike, or run outside. Those exercise-induced endorphins and Vitamin D from the sun will provide you plenty of feel-good motivators to keep you on track, both financially and physically.

To conclude, it bears repeating that neither your wallet or your waistline can afford to gorge itself on whatever it wants, whenever it wants. But take heart. Remember that we’re all in this together. Few people escape the worry of money and/or weight. So, let us lose the contempt – for both ourselves and others – and encourage and build one another up instead. Follow the aforementioned tips and tricks and chances are high that you will drop the weight and gain financial freedom at the same time.




Kale Watermelon Salad

kalewatermelonsaladMy friends Nina and Christian Elliot at TRUE Health and Wholeness in Arlington, Virginia fed me this salad multiple times at their home. It was love at first bite. Who would have thunk it? Watermelon, olives, feta cheese, kale – surely those ingredients don’t go well together. Yes, yes they do. Now that it’s summer and watermelon is everywhere, I frequently make this salad for myself and friends. Give it a try; summer salad will never be the same. And if you’re pressed for time and live in the DC Metropolitan Area, stop by TRUE Health and Wholeness in Arlington to pick up some delicious, grab-n-go food that is sure to nourish both your soul and body.

Kale Watermelon Salad
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 1 Salad
  • 2 Cups Massaged Kale
  • ⅛ cup Reduced Fat Feta Cheese
  • 8 Kalamata Olives
  • ½ Cup + Watermelon
  • 3-4 oz Grilled Chicken Breast (Optional)
  • Drizzle of Olive Oil
  • Squeeze of Fresh Lemon Juice
  1. Rinse, dry, and massage your kale.
  2. Grill your chicken breast(s). If you don't have an actual outdoor grill, a counter-friendly George Foreman grill is a great alternative.
  3. Chop your watermelon into bite-size chunks.
  4. Assemble your salad with kale, cheese, olives, watermelon, and chicken (optional). Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the top and squeeze a quarter to half a lemon on top of salad to dress.
  5. Buen Provecho!


Turkey Wrapped Asparagus

turkeywrappedasparagusTurkey Wrapped Asparagus with Laughing Cow Cheese is a great addition to any summer picnic basket. This simple recipe for a healthy and delectable finger food doesn’t even require cooking, just assembly! The fiberful asparagus is coupled perfectly with lean, protein-heavy turkey and low-fat cheese. As an extra boost to your health, invest in organic turkey slices without all the added preservatives and sodium.

Turkey Wrapped Asparagus
Cook time
Total time
  • Asparagus
  • Turkey Slices
  • Laughing Cow Cheese - Any Preferred Flavor
  1. Trim asparagus stocks and boil them in a large skillet. While the asparagus is boiling, fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes. Boil the asparagus until tender but still crunchy. Drain and transfer the asparagus into the bowl of ice water. (This blanches the asparagus, halting the cooking, and helps the vegetable retain its crunch and vibrant green color.)
  2. Spread half a triangle of Laughing Cow Cheese onto a slice of turkey lunch meat. Place three asparagus stocks on top of the meat and cheese and roll. No toothpick is necessary as the cheese acts a natural glue.
  3. Buen Provecho!



The Perfect Diet: The Finale

FAdDiet-BAd-DietAfter writing The Perfect Diet: Part 1 and The Perfect Diet: Part 2, I had no answer to my own question. How now shall I eat? So, I set out of an adventure, left the Shire behind, and……. Here’s what I’ve come to learn along my journey – a journey long and hard. This is the wisdom I gathered along the way and I would like to share it with you before I pass from this day to the next.

Diets Don’t Work!

There is no perfect diet. “Diets” don’t work. They make people fat and miserable and sick and they keep people fat and miserable and sick. The original definition of diet is: “food and drink regularly provided and consumed.” This definition makes no value judgments, has no moral underpinnings. But diets as we’ve come to know them (restricting, weighing, measuring, counting, allocating, planning, following, cheating, obsessing) are the farthest things from perfect. They are poison for the body and soul.

Yes, there is healthy, nutritious food that comes in glorious variety. Yes, there is unhealthy food. (Is there really anything redemptive about food laced with trans fats, MSG, or high fructose corn syrup?) I’d even say there’s a neutral category of food. Chocolate truffles and waffles and pizza might not be super foods, might not even be “healthy”, but they’re delicious and, when eaten in moderation, they most likely won’t give you cancer, Alzheimer’s, or forty extra pounds. That’s all the redemption necessary to rescue these delicacies from being categorized as “bad” foods.

Food Science

Yes, overly processed foods – even delicious ones – are more science experiments than real food. Food scientists are hired by food corporations to find out what’ll hook a consumer and keep him coming back for more and more and more and more. We call these hyperpalatable foods – the perfect combination of packaged salt, sugar, fat, additives, and texture to get you hooked and possibly addicted. A healthy way of eating limits processed food experiments that require translation services in order to read the nutrition label. And let’s get something else straight; just because it’s a so-called “diet” food doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s usually just a science experiment. Will artificial sweeteners please stand up? Fat-free foods? Um, can I please have an extra cup of sugar with that?

And let’s not forget that one man’s food, even healthy food, is another man’s poison. For example, I know a girl who is deathly allergic to pineapple. No she does not like pina coladas; yes, she does like getting caught in the rain. Another friend of mine has terrible reactions to nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. And I’m sure we all know someone who has Celiac Disease and can’t eat gluten or someone who is lactose intolerant and can’t handle the diary products. Some people have adverse reactions to animal products; others to grains and flours.

Truthfully, even healthy food in excess is unhealthy. You could eat little other than broccoli and lettuce and apples, all very healthy foods, and still have a very unhealthy, unbalanced diet that results in sickness. Same could be said for people over-consuming organic meats, eggs, and dairy (highly acidic, and neglecting to consume adequate amounts of whole grains or fruit (very alkaline). Then again, you could nosh daily and moderately on your favorite banana bread and chocolate chip cookies made with white flour and sugar (*gasp*) like one spunky 93 year old woman I know, and live a very healthy, long life. (Granted, there are great recipes out there that can significantly enhance the nutritional punch of a cookie or piece of banana bread without sacrificing taste.)

The amount of food needed and recommended portion sizes also varies from person to person, depending on their gender, height, bone and muscular structure, activity level, and time of the month. So no, there is no perfect, one-size fits all diet, which is one of the reasons why diets fail more often than not. Bodies are different. Taste preferences are different. Cultures are different. Access to food is different. But as long as people continue to believe that diets work, we will continue to spend needless amounts of time, energy, and money on soul-sucking weight loss efforts that make us fat, keep us fat, and destroy and undermine the relationship we have with food and the relationship we have with our bodies.

Introducing…..Intuitive Eating

So ditch the diet and learn why and how to eat like a normal person – like the individual you are. Become an Intuitive Eater! More coming soon…..

Become a Yes Person


They say psychologists say it takes 28 days to break or build a habit. Others say 21 days or 30 days. “Is this true Amber, or just mere folklore?” Not totally sure, but word is that the origin of said legend comes from a 1960 psychology book by Maxwell Maltz called Psycho-Cybernetics.

Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness

Whether or not such common knowledge is actually legitimate, I don’t know. But I do know this. If you say no to something once, it gets easier to say no to something again. Once you say no to something twice, saying no a third times gets a little easier. And so on and so forth. Call it resistance training for the mind and will. Once exercised frequently and consistently, you get stronger. But one can only lead a life of denial for so long before cracking under the pressure. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Nature abhors a vacuum. So you eliminate a bad habit for thirty days, now what?

Yes and Amen

Become a yes person. Say yes to positive, wonderful things every day until they become good habits. Same resistance training metaphor applies. If you say yes to something once, it gets easier to say yes to something again. Once you say yes to something twice, saying yes a third time gets a little easier. And so on and so forth. So, here’s my advice. For every bad and negative habit you exercise out of your life, replace it with one or two life-giving habits – be they spiritual, relational, physical, recreational, or otherwise. Think about it! What if we flooded our bodies and minds and spirits with so many positive things, with so much light, that dark and negative habits could not root, grow, and manifest? That is what I call a “Yes and Amen” kind of idea.

This is why I’m going to purpose to say yes to my daily vitamins and nightly flossing for the next 28 days. (I was shocked to discover, painfully, why flossing is such a fundamental health practice – especially after the age of thirty. #HumbledIntoSubmission……)

What about you? Well, if you need a little inspiration, I would highly recommend this short and lighthearted TED Talk by Matt Cutts called “Try something new for 30 days.” Enjoy!

Join my Sunset Bootcamp in Roatan!

palm treeA New Fitness Class in French Cay

Ditch the gym and enjoy a Roatan sunset as you learn to exercise outdoors using everyday equipment and bodyweight exercises. Take in the sights and sounds of beautiful French Cay as you work out with friends—old ones and new! First class is free!

For more information, email Amber Johnson or call her at 3227-3034. Please bring water, a towel, bug spray, and a yoga mat if you have one!


Mondays: Upper Body

Tuesdays: Lower Body

Wednesdays: Core and Cardio

Thursday: Full Body


5-6 PM


La Cancha at the Yellow House Across from Frenchy’s


$4 Class

$35 Month

A certified personal trainer currently residing on the island of Roatan, Honduras, I have been teaching, mentoring, and training students of all ages for thirteen years. Working from French Cay, Roatan, I offer a fun and community-oriented exercise class for apparently healthy individuals or individuals cleared for exercise by a physician. Whether your main fitness goal is to lose weight, strengthen and improve joint function, tone up, improve balance, increase lean muscle mass, or train for a race or event, this class is for you! My typical US training fees are drastically reduced for Roatan clients – whether local islander or short or long term visitor. We’re talking a savings of 75% and more. Roatan is a great place to get healthy, so I hope you’ll take advantage of this fun and affordable outdoor bootcamp!

Personal Training Certifications Personal Trainer Certification – American College of Sports Medicine
AED/CRP Certification – American Heart Association

Major Muscle Groups: Arms, Chest, Shoulders


Though we have hundreds of muscles in our body, most of which are secondary supporting muscles, in order to design a good strength training program, we need to focus our attention on our primary, voluntary muscles. This means we’ll have to volunteer to use them if we want them to grown stronger and more flexible.

Ladies, stronger doesn’t have to mean bulky. Besides, more muscle means less fat. And strong is sexy! Physical strength can take a normal, insecure female and turn her into a confident and powerful woman from the inside out! Rowr. Who wouldn’t want that? And let’s not forget about that involuntary muscle – the heart. A great strength training program is great for that muscle too!

In today’s post, we’re going to focus on three of the major muscles groups of the upper body, found in our arms, chest, and shoulders.


The two primary muscles found in your arms are biceps and triceps.

Biceps_TricepsThough relatively small in size, the biceps draw a lot of attention to the upper body and using them regularly can help get rid of arm flab. You can call them guns, pythons, or weapons of mass destruction if that helps heat up your workout mojo.

The triceps make up about two-thirds of our upper arms and, when properly developed, they can aid greatly in the elimination of those dreadful bat wings or premature arm jiggle. Jiggle, jiggle….


Pectoral MusclesThough hidden under the breasts of  females, chest muscles, also known as pectoral muscles, are pretty obvious on males. (The more obvious, the more sexy. Rowr. Whew, moving on….) If you think about it, chest muscles have a pretty important job. They are the main muscular structure that protects the thoracic cavity, home to our lungs, heart, and parts of our digestive system. It makes sense that the stronger and healthier our pectoral muscles are, the stronger and healthier our internal organs and muscles will be too.


DeltoidsThe shoulder joint has the largest range of motion in the human body. Because of this, it is also the most unstable joint and is very susceptible to injury. How can we better stabilize such a flexible joint? You got it, strength training. Stronger muscles make for stronger joints. Not only that, but as a female, shoulders are my favorite upper body muscle to shape and show off. Attached to the very feminine collar bone, they can take any tank top or strapless dress to a whole other level. Bonus.

Shoulder muscles, also known as deltoids, are composed of  three different parts: anterior (front), medial (middle), and posterior (back). Often, the posterior deltoid gets left out of a upper body workout and it gets sad, but a good shoulder workout will work out all three parts of the shoulder.

To Be Continued….

Well, folks, that’s enough for today. Come back next Saturday for another lesson on major muscle groups, this time focused on those important, though often overlooked, back muscles.


Cranberry Kale Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Cranberry Kale Salad

The Truth About Kale

There is so much to say about kale. So much so that I’m going to let someone else do it. This is the part of the post where I refer you to WebMD – the online source to visit for helpful facts about food as well as an excellent stop for hypochondriacs to receive scary self-diagnoses. Read through their very informative page about kale and learn why you should eat more of it. For the “how” to eat more of it, that’s where I come in. Expect to see kale in many future recipes.

Cranberry Kale Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
  • 1 lg bunch of kale
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 lime
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • ⅛ - ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar (depends on how much vinegar you prefer)
  • 3 drops of liquid stevia
  • dash of salt
  1. De-rib a large bunch of kale and chop into salad size pieces.
  2. Toss cranberries and almonds in with the kale
  3. Orange Vinaigrette: Juice oranges and lime and mix together with olive oil, vinegar, liquid stevia, and dash of salt. Pour over the kale and coat thoroughly.

 They Go Together Like Burt and Ernie

For the perfect food pairing, serve this salad with my recipe for Turkey Apricot Salad on Ezekiel Bread. Buen Provecho!

Turkey Apricot Salad with Cranberry Kale SaladPhotos By Erick Nelson


Turkey Apricot Salad on Ezekiel Bread

Turkey Apricot Salad

Day 14: I’m Thankful for Turkey and Turkish Apricots

I heart turkey. For me, no other meat competes. I especially love my turkey roasted. Mmmmm. Most people only eat roasted turkey during the holidays, but I like to work roasted turkey into my diet all year round! Turkey is low in fat and high in protein and can be eaten in soups, salads, casseroles, sandwiches, and snacks….The list could go on and on.

As for a healthy slice of wholegrain bread, I’m a big fan of Ezekiel Bread. It’s made with sprouted grains and seeds and has no processed flour. Yes, it has gluten. And yes, it still has more calories than a celery stick. But fear not! Ezekiel Bread is delicious, wholesome, and filling. And if you make your sandwich an open-faced sandwich like I do, you can save yourself 80 calories. You won’t find Ezekiel Bread in the processed bread aisle. It’s kept in a freezer to keep the sprouted grains fresh. Most if not all health food stores, as well as many normal grocery stores will keep it on stock.

Now for the recipe. After some head scratching and scrumaging through the fridge and the pantry one afternoon, I came up with the following recipe for lunch and hit the healthy food-lover’s jackpot. I make Turkey Apricot Salad on Ezekiel Bread all the time now; it’s a current favorite.

Turkey Apricot Salad on Ezekiel Bread
  • 1.5 lbs (24 oz) of turkey. (I prefer to use white meat.)
  • 5 oz dried turkish apricots
  • 4 stalks of celery
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp Lite Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise
  • Dash of Salt
  • Ezekiel Bread
  1. Chop up turkey into bite size chunks.
  2. Dice celery and apricots; add to chopped turkey and mix together.
  3. Mix in mayo and a dash of salt.
  4. Toast a piece of Ezekiel bread and top with turkey salad.

The Perfect Pair

For the perfect food pairing, serve this open-faced sandwich with my recipe for Cranberry Kale Salad with Orange Vinaigrette, to be posted Friday, November 15. Buen Provecho!

Turkey Apricot Salad with Cranberry Kale SaladPhotos by Erick Nelson


Why The Perfect Diet Isn’t So Perfect: Part 2


What is the perfect diet?

We love preaching to the choir and talking diet and nutrition with other people who agree with us. But leave our safe circle of like-mindedness and ask the question, “What is the perfect diet?”, and we’ll get a gazillion different answers. Even professional dieticians and researchers can’t come to a consensus. Every camp of opinion has a different study, statistic, example, or story that “proves” dairy, or meat, or table sugar, or whole grains, or tropical fruit, or soy, or gluten, or margarine, or butter, or oil, or alcohol, or GMOs, or eggs, or saturated fat, or fast food are detrimental or destructive to our health and longevity.

Health and longevity are merely smokescreen words, red herrings for the two things we worship and pursue with unending zeal – youth and beauty. It’s no wonder that the publication of diet books will never end; turns out nobody has yet discovered the fountain of youth and cured either age or death.  Not that we’ll every stop trying. Just this September, Google unveiled its new company Calico, whose mission and hope is to stop aging and cure death. Good luck. No doubt Calico will produce a new diet book that will sell millions of copies.

Two Extremes

On one hand, we can try to follow the “perfect” diet and squander our existence on fear, worry, self-righteousness, self-absorption, self-punishment, social awkwardness and the joyless pursuit of those fleeting and fickle gods of youth and beauty, eking out an extra day, year, or decade of life or beauty for the sake of ego. On the other hand, we can feed our bodies like trash heaps, growing needlessly sick and old and frail, surviving each day with chronic pain and illness or succumbing to an early death and leaving our loved ones to survive on their own and mourn our absence. These are two extremes, neither which sound perfect to us.

Two Extremes

We’ve tried to follow the “perfect” diet. While doing so, we started to look really great, tight and toned; you know, the way we’re supposed to look. But after a week or two, our desperate binges on “bad” food made us feel like “bad” people and would send us spiraling into internal misery, over and over again. Maybe we’re just weak? Or maybe we’re just human, with a fundamental need to indulge and feast? For us, a world without tres leches cake and sugar cookies with almond frosting sounds like a sad place. We get a twinkle in our eye and a skip in our step even thinking about them. Is that bad? Should we be ashamed of such a confession? Should we train our bodies long and hard enough to not want or enjoy these things?

Or should we embrace our love of these decadent desserts and eat as many of them as often as we desire? For those of us who spent our entire adolescence and most of our adulthood significantly overweight, our natural inclination is to eat whatever we want to, whenever we want to, as much as we want to. And, again, we are miserable; we hate ourselves for being weak and fat. At least we know we are not alone in this tug-of-war.

So we seek answers to cure our miseries in the latest fad diet or celebrity trainer. Most fad diets on the market design super restrictive eating plans for super fast weight loss or super human powers, where we only get one day or one meal to “cheat.” And the authors of these diets lead us to believe that this should be enough to satisfy our cravings for diet-prohibited foods and keep us on track for the rest of the week, not to mention the rest of our lives. Bullshit! We’re frustrated and fed up with fad diets and we’re hitting the bullshit button! Let’s give that button another whack! Bullshit!

Bullshit Button

The In-Between Place

Somewhere between these two extremes has to exist a normal, sane, and pleasant solution to achieving and maintaining good health and satisfactory, though maybe not “perfect,” body composition while also satisfying our deep human need to indulge in the sensory pleasure of food and drink without guilt or gluttony. Somewhere in that in-between place exists a good and balanced diet.

 Continued in Why the Perfect Diet Isn’t So Perfect: The Finale…….

If you haven’t already, read Part 1 of Why the Perfect Diet Isn’t So Perfect.