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

Reconstruction: Day 2

Today’s lesson (a repeat actually): there is never enough time in a day. I went on a brunch date and drive, I rented a locker at the gym and stashed it with workout clothes and gear, I purchased juicing ingredients, I finished organizing all my paperwork, I tore down and packed up my Christmas tree and decorations, I loosely filled out my monthly calendar, I had a movie date, and I juiced those ingredients. Yet why do I feel like I could have been more productive? Because I am conditioned to believe I should be able to do it all and still have a clean house. Hell, and I don’t even have kids. Or a pet. This is where I breathe deep, exhale all those unrealistic expectations, and leave that pile of clean clothes in the same place it has been for the last four days.

Thankfulness: Today, I am thankful for my beautiful apartment. This is the first time I’ve lived alone in over ten years. And I decorated it from top to bottom! It’s a cozy, beautiful one-bedroom apartment in a historic mansion – a sanctuary where I get to relearn to live and function without never-ending stress, sadness, and fear. Huzzah!

P.S. I forgot to include kale in my juice. Only a tragedy a fellow kale lover will fully understand…

Reconstruction: Day 1

For the first day of 2017, it’s been productive. I set all my intention on organizing for the new year and setting goals.
After a hearty New Years breakfast and a small mimosa, I bundled up and walked to the Dancing Lotus for a yoga seminar called, “New Year, New Intention”. After a physical practice focusing on heart and hit openers, we moved into a written exercise where we scripted our 2017 Sankalpas. “Sankalpa means conception or idea or notion formed in the heart or mind, solemn vow or determination to perform, desire, definite intention, volition or will.”
My 2017 Sankapla reads, “I am joyful and content in my station of life and filled with hope and energy as I embrace today and look to the future with great expectation.” We then entered into a time of guided meditation. I fell asleep and woke myself up with a short burst of snoring. Must have been that mimosa. Also a great reminder of why I sleep on my side. I’m not sure I got much out of that section apart from a sweet nap. We capped off the seminar with a cupful of delicious black-eyed peas (for good luck in the new year).
I spent the rest of the afternoon organizing my apartment. I organized my bureau, desk, closet, and bookshelf. And I created a wall filled with white boards and a calendar in my bedroom as a means to conquer my goals. Tomorrow, I put finishing touches on my master plan. Mwahahahahaha.
To conclude the evening, my friend Amy came over for dinner and we worked through our goals together, with plans to reevaluate them in early summer. It was incredibly encouraging to have a partner in crime during this goal-setting session.
Tomorrow looks to be a full day; one finale full day to get my ducks in a row before I return to work.

Starting Over After Assault and Trauma

How I am reclaiming my life, my health, and my fitness

In November 2012, I ran into the top three percent of female finishers in my first half marathon. The next month I was certified and working as a personal trainer. Shortly thereafter, I was scoring in the 98 and 100 percentiles for muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance. I was fast, strong, powerful, lithe, confident, and ready to take on the world of fitness and nutrition like a pro.

By the following November, I had little heart or energy left to put on my tennis shoes. In six more months, I summoned all the strength and courage I had to escape a toxic, religious relationship with the man I thought I was going to marry. I left that relationship with no job, no home, no car, failing health, and sabotaged fitness. A week later, after being attacked by a jelly fish while night snorkeling, I was sexually assaulted by the very man who offered to bandage my wound – an older married man I sat behind in church; a father figure I trusted and to who I had confided my heartbreak and entrusted my injury.

At age 31, the identity I had spent a lifetime building came crashing down around me. Everything I knew about myself, about God, and about the world as I knew it was gone. The joy, power, self-confidence, and meaning I had found in fitness was also gone.

Beauty for Ashes

Waking up post-trauma is like waking up in a house that has been burned to the ground. Home, career, religion, friendships, family connections, hopes and dreams, laughter, health and fitness – much was gone or severely damaged. Sitting in the ashes of my former life and self, terrible, vast, and all-consuming is the grief and depression.

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t just get over it. My season of mourning ended up lasting far longer than I wanted – years of my life I can never get back. This was compounded by the fact that I had neither a full-time, permanent job or a permanent home and support system. (I recognize and am eternally grateful to the few people who went out of their way to assist me and assuage my pain.) I did almost whatever I could to keep a roof over my head, bouncing from place to place, all the while I filled out hundreds of applications and went on dozens of interviews, at the same time attempting to start my own health and fitness business and failing. I nannied, I babysat, I cooked, I folded towels and filled shampoo bottles at a gym, I taught group exercise and took a couple PT clients, I drove tourists around on a golf cart in DC, I rolled burritos and rang groceries at Whole Foods part-time, I sold freelance articles, I sold blood platelets. At one point, I inquired with the local homeless shelter, offering to exchange work for a bed. They never got back to me. Every day was a struggle to live and to want to live.

But there is good news. In the great story of redemption, we can trade our ashes for beauty.

Something I have learned during my adventures in national forests and parks is how important wildfires are to the future health of the very forests we are trying to protect. Wisdom now inspires the Forest Service to control those burns when possible, not to always extinguish them. Burned up within that ecosystem of beautiful trees is also the disease and decay that made that very fire so necessary. And what grows from the ashes is a lush, green forest.

Now that the ashes have settled, I have taken complete responsibility for my own reconstruction. I’ve made the conscious choice to grow something beautiful from the black, rich soil of my suffering.

Fast Forward

Today is December 31, 2016. After a very long and painful journey, I am happy to report that I am safe, secure, and settled into a wonderful and meaningful career, a lovely home nestled in a quiet mountain town, and an ever-growing community of family, friends, and colleagues. Physically and emotionally, I am robust and healthy again.

To paraphrase Judith Herman’s work in Trauma and Recovery, “Having come to terms with the traumatic past, I face the task of creating a future. I have mourned the old self that the trauma destroyed; now I must develop a new self. My relationships have been tested and forever changed by the trauma; now I must develop new relationships. The old beliefs that gave meaning to my life have been challenged; now I must find anew a sustaining faith.”

Over a lifetime, I am convinced that most people will go through many versions of the self. The person I was ten years ago is not the person I am today. And chances are high that the person I am today will not be the person I am ten years from now– for better or worse or both. Looking back over my lifetime, the old self that I love and miss and mourned for the most is the powerful, lithe athlete I carved out of my former chubby bookworm self. I am completely aware that I cannot recreate the past; nor do I want to. But I’d like to think I can pattern my new self after the old self who brought me so much joy.

2017 – A Fresh Start

I love the New Year and the days leading up to it when I get to reflect on the past and plan for the future. It’s an opportunity to start fresh, and I’m ready to reclaim every good piece of my body and soul that was stole from me. I’m ready to reclaim my fit self.

To be honest, I can still kill it in the gym. While my cardiovascular endurance has taken a really big hit, I exercise my muscles frequently enough that they haven’t atrophied. My exercise habits are no longer consistent, but neither are they non-existent. Compared to the average American, I’m still a mover and a shaker.

No lie, though, I’ve fluffed up. I know plenty of people who drop weight due to grief and trauma. Alas, I have the opposite problem. There were days when the only redeeming part of existence was a large, soft sugar cookie with almond buttercream frosting. Or a big glass of wine. Usually both. Daily. Hey, if that’s what it took for me to get out of bed, then thank heavens for wine and cookies. I have no shame.

And I am not fat, whatever Victoria’s Secret would have me believe. Let me say that again, louder, so I can believe myself, “I AM NOT FAT.” And even if I was, what does it matter? I weighed in at 145 pounds today. A far cry from the 125 pounds I used to be. Also a far cry from the 165 pounds that I used to be. So really, I’m not starting from scratch. I have a wealth of skills, knowledge, experience, muscle mass, and muscle memory that I didn’t have five years ago.

And I’m showing myself compassion. Post-trauma, my priorities changed. I didn’t have the emotional and physical energy to go on a casual nine-mile jog and throw weights around. My priorities were keeping a roof over my head, allowing myself to grieve, securing work, making peace with God, reestablishing relationships and building new ones. During that season of life, bonding over wine or fried chicken with a new friend was far more important and valuable to my recovery than attending a sports conditioning class.

But that phase of recovery is gladly drawing to a close and I look to the future with enthusiasm. I have athletic hopes and dreams and goals and ambitions again, as well as the spaciousness to pursue and achieve them now.

Join Me

Be you a friend or passer-by, you are invited to join me on my journey in this next phase of recovery as I joyfully construct a new self, new relationships, a new faith, and new fitness goals and achievements. Follow along on my blog, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

To the best of my ability, I will attempt to journal [almost] daily for the next five months while I pursue my fitness and weight-loss goals. And the plan is to also publish an extended article once a week.

And, please, feel free to share your own stories and struggles with me; nor hesitate to reach out to me in your own grief for some comfort or comradery. You are not alone.

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