Fitness is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. I have read this mantra many times in different forums and articles. While I don’t know if the ratio is 100% accurate, what I do know is that nutrition is an extremely vital part of a good fitness plan. The only problem is, I never truly internalized this fact until I started seeing Alicia Huggler, registered dietitian at FFC Park Ridge, who helped me change my perspective on nutrition.

Time for a Change

I began my journey a bit over 2 years ago at the age of 26. I finally decided it was time for a change after years of laziness and poor diet had done its damage to my body. I felt awful most of the time and I hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror. In December of 2015, I signed up for a membership at one of the budget gyms in the area, looked up a workout program, and started hitting the weights hard. After about 4 months of going consistently, I definitely felt much better. However, I wasn’t seeing much progress on the scale or in the way I looked. This is when I started doing more research and discovered the 80/20 guideline.

I started a meal-prep regimen based on (as I look back on it now) a lot of “bro-science”. Breakfast was always eggs and oatmeal. Every lunch and dinner consisted of either chicken or frozen fish, a vegetable (peppers, broccoli, asparagus), and either brown rice or quinoa. I avoided snacks like the plague and ate 3 massive meals per day. The meals were bland, boring, and repetitive, but the new diet was effective. My weight plummeted from 215 to 195 in a little over 2 months.

Related: food prep sound overwhelming? Here are some tips that will make the process as easy as possible so you can stick to it!

From Progress to Plateau

However, my body fat percentage wasn’t changing as drastically (I went from around 25% BF to 20% during this time). This sudden change wasn’t without issues. I had very little energy throughout the day, leading me to skip many gym sessions (until I stopped going altogether). I lost a lot of progress on my lifts. Cheat meals became a regular occurrence. The meal plan wasn’t sustainable, and I slipped back into my old habits. My weight rebounded past where it was originally, and just like that I was back to square one.

Despite all of this, I wasn’t ready to give up. In December of 2016, I recommitted to my fitness plan. Thinking I would be more inclined to go if I paid more for the membership, I canceled at the budget gym and looked for pricier alternatives. I decided FFC had all the equipment and amenities I was seeking, in addition to being in a convenient spot. I looked up a new workout program and restarted my meal-prep regimen. Progress was going great for a while, but over time I began slipping into the same patterns. Cheat meals, skipped meal prep, and missed workouts due to the lack of energy became the constant. I was frustrated and almost quit again.

Changing My Perspective on Nutrition

On a whim in May of 2017, I decided to see Alicia. It was a game-changer and she completely changed my perspective on nutrition. During our first session, she asked me what my current diet consisted of and what foods I enjoyed/didn’t like. She gave me some basic nutrition advice to get me started while she developed my full meal plan. The second session was where I learned that I was on a good path before, but I wasn’t doing the little things that would have made my diet consistent. My proportions were off: I was eating too much protein and not enough carbs or fats. I love the taste of red meat, but I had cut it out before in favor of lean white meats. To compensate, I wound up overeating red meat (pound or two of steak per meal) when I cheated.

This time around, Alicia built lean red meats into my meal plan. She informed me that snacks weren’t the enemy and in fact necessary to avoid overindulging during meal time. Variety keeps the meal plan interesting and staves off the propensity to cheat. Cheating was even OK as long as it was responsible and limited. “Have a burger every once in a while,” she said, “just don’t get the triple stack with bacon.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. She even opened my eyes to delicious healthy whole foods and substitutes that I had never heard of before: chicken sausage, chickpea pasta, farro, nutritional yeast, and Halo Top ice cream to name a few. Additionally, she was a great resource for tasty recipes that fit my meal plan.

Alicia is a very warm and open person; always upbeat and energetic. She won’t just take measurements and talk about nutrition in the sessions but will also take a genuine interest in you. She never chastises you for falling off the rails one week and instead encourages you to do better the following week. She’ll even let you know what sweets she indulged in that week, so you won’t feel as bad. Her attitude was a key factor in helping me stay the course.

How I changed my perspective of nutrition and lost 11% body fat

Seeing Sustainable Results

I could continue about my experience and how awesome Alicia is, but what’s really important is results. My initial measurements when I first started seeing Alicia were 218 lbs and 25% body fat. I can happily report that I’m now down to 196 lbs and 14% BF. Pants I purchased a year ago no longer fit and I’m down 2 belt loops. I feel a great sense of pride in my new physique when I look in the mirror. My lifts are steadily improving. More crucially, I feel much better. I have consistent energy throughout the day and will have maybe 1 caffeinated beverage a week if I really need it. I’ve only been sick once in the past year and I fought off the illness swiftly. Looking and feeling great has been an incredible confidence booster. Proper perspective on nutrition really has changed me for the better.

Even though I’m in the best shape of my life at 28, I’m still not satisfied and hopefully never will be. Fitness is a lifelong journey and I have a long way to go. I can now embark upon this journey armed with proper knowledge about nutrition. If you have been going the gym consistently like I was and aren’t seeing the results you want, proper diet may be the missing piece – you may need to change your perspective on nutrition. If you have any questions about nutrition or are curious about what a registered dietitian can do for you, I encourage you to seek one out and talk to (or email if you’re shy). And if you decide to start a nutrition program with her and stick with it, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Good luck on your own fitness journey and I will see you in the weight room!

Post written by FFC Park Ridge local’84 Cafe attendant Andrew Wrobel.


We’ve all been there. Searched good ol’ WebMD, typed in a few common symptoms, and get the news we’re knocking on death’s door. This is the one time I took it seriously, and boy, am I glad I did.

I first realized something was off when, two weeks away from that time of the month, I was experiencing extreme cramping and other symptoms. Deciding that I’d rather not risk a possible cyst on an ovary rupturing, I went to the ER. Two scans and one pelvic exam later, I had my diagnosis: uterine fibroids. Not the best news, but it also gave me a much better understanding of the constant, worsening symptoms I was experiencing leading up to my diagnosis.

Fast forward two weeks later – my symptoms were worse than ever, and I needed help. I went to the doctor, where they did a blood count check, prescribed me medicine, and sent me on my way home to sleep.

Not Just a Scare

The following morning, I went to work, trained a client, then fell ill. Hoping I could sleep off the pain, I took a three-hour nap. I got a call from my gynecologist’s office, highly recommending I get to the ER, ASAP. My hemoglobin level was a 3, and it should have been an 11. A blood transfusion was needed to get my levels up. Although I was terrified to receive someone else’s blood, I realized the medical team knew best, and headed over to the hospital. As I was being admitted and they saw my hemoglobin level, they asked me if I had been brought in an ambulance. I looked at them like they were crazy, seeing as I had easily driven myself to the hospital.

I found out my oxygen levels were extremely low (65%), which ultimately led to me losing a tooth and worsening eyesight. Amazing how the body works, and knows what areas of the body need oxygen the most. Two days, FOUR blood transfusions, and two IVs of iron later, I was cleared to go home. My hemoglobin level was still so low that I required five weeks of iron infusions as a follow-up.

All of my health issues FINALLY made sense. When I started to develop daily headaches that brought me to tears, I knew something was off. The need for a two hour nap every day, the pain in my legs and back going up a short flight of stairs made me more aware of an underlying issue. The spells of dizziness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations were the red flags that made me wake up, and get the help I desperately needed.

Related: how fitness and wellness helped FFC member Avnit make a doctor-recommended lifestyle change.

Exercise Saved My Life

So many of the doctors and nurses I met during my stay were baffled at my situation, and how I was able to function on a somewhat normal level. All they were able to attribute to me still being alive was the fact that I took care of my physical health. I was told that due to continual exercise and a healthy lifestyle, my body was able to adjust to the little blood and oxygen it had, and was able to sustain it for some time. People in my situation have dropped dead, passed out and gone into a coma, or into cardiac arrest. Overall, this is a testament to the fact that you should trust your instincts and get the help you need – but also never underestimate the power of a healthy lifestyle.

I am grateful to God and fitness for my existence!

Post written by FFC Lincoln Park Childcare Supervisor Nicole Achille.




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My name is Erin Sneed and I have been in the fitness industry for almost 10 years. I played sports all through high school and went on to play college soccer. While in college, I grew to love group fitness and began teaching classes at my college campus. I was extremely active and played pickup basketball, ran, taught workout classes, and trained on my own. In 2011, I was in the midst of my senior year of college and I began experiencing extreme hip pain. I shrugged it off and continued to workout daily, thinking I just needed to add more stretching to my routine. Little did I know I was running with a hip impingement and several labral tears which was putting the joint bone on bone and hip surgery recovery would be in my future.

About 6 months later, I couldn’t tolerate the pain anymore. I was 21 years old (at the time) and was waking up in the middle of night from the pain, unable to walk for more than 10 minutes without dragging my leg. I had acquired an extreme limp which caused every person to ask if I was ok.

Getting to the Bottom of the Issue

When I finally sought medical advice, I discovered that I had a congenital abnormality that causes a mismatch between the parts of the joint (the ball and socket) in the hip, and that, with my active lifestyle, had led to damage that could only be remedied with surgery. A total hip replacement was necessary, but not recommended due to my age.

I learned that hip replacements don’t last forever and the more replacements a patient receives, the more difficult the recovery is. In 2012 I underwent my first hip surgery – an arthroscopic clean up of my joint to help relieve my pain and buy me some time before I had to have a total hip replacement.

With any surgery, the recovery took a toll on my mind and body. I adjusted my workouts to more swimming, rollerblading, and cycling and removed running/impact training out of my routine. I became a cycling instructor and was back teaching in approximately 9 months. The arthroscopic surgery did relieve some pain; however, my range of motion did not recover. I only had 8 degrees of internal rotation in my surgical hip and retained a slight limp. Five years went by and and not only did my limp continue to become more and more pronounced, but the pain crept back into my life.

By this time, I had started a career in federal law enforcement and was gaining more popularity as a fitness professional in the city of Chicago. Going in for more hip issues was the last thing I wanted to do. I reluctantly went to the doctor who showed me my x-rays of an extremely arthritic hip and was surprised that I was even able to walk. A total hip replacement was strongly encouraged.

In my mind, the term “hip replacement” conjures up an image of a Baby Boomer keeping up with the grandkids, not a 26 year old just beginning her professional careers. I had now suffered from chronic hip pain for nearly 7 years and agreed to undergo the surgery with hopes of finally being pain free and without a limp.

As you can see from my video, I worked hard on my recovery and saw great results at first. I was finally living pain free and only had limitations of endurance walking, lateral movements, and running. I continued to attend physical therapy, which was recommended for 12 weeks.

Back to the Hip Surgery Recovery Drawing Board

About 4 months after my hip replacement, I began experiencing anterior hip pain (which was the same type of pain I had suffered from for years). I worked with my physical therapist to investigate what the issue could be and did some trial and error with exercises. I was beginning to limp again. I took a significant amount of time off from all physical activity which impacted my mind and body.

My physical therapist alluded that the pain and limp may have been from a weak gluteus medius and I began to train only that muscle (side steps, lateral leg raises, clam shells, hip abduction, etc.) for over a month. Despite my efforts, the pain persisted.

I scheduled an emergency appointment to see my surgeon who gave me a cortisone injection to relieve the pain. I had zero pain relief. I didn’t know what to do and began questioning if this limp and pain was something I was going to have forever. With a wedding around the corner in August 2018, my stress levels had risen. I had now not worked out in over 2 months and seemed to be out of options.

I doctor shopped, got a leg length discrepancy test done, and went to a different physical therapist to take a second look on what was going on and why I was feeling pain nearly 6 months post hip replacement. I had been doing my PT exercises and resting when needed. Fast-forward to over 32 weeks of physical therapy — which I was still continuing to attend several times weekly… the recommended amount for my surgery was 12 weeks.

Related: check out this story about how Pilates helped an FFC South Loop Pilates instructor recover from hip surgery!

A Second Set of Eyes

I went to see Jamie at NovaCare and she assessed my pain and checked my gluteus medius strength. I could hardly lift my leg it was so weak. How could this be?! I’d been doing gluteus medius exercises for over a month! Jamie watched and felt how I did my movements and informed me that YES, I was doing the exercises, BUT I was doing them with my hip flexor.

She explained that I have probably been moving incorrectly ever since my hip issues started and especially post hip surgery recovery – my body’s natural response to try to protect the hip joint was refusing to activate my gluteus medius and thus creating an over-activated hip flexor. She explained that I had no gluteus medius strength because my hip flexor had become the prime mover for ALL of my exercises, hence the anterior pain around my joint.

Jamie required me to take my physical therapy “back to basics” and only allowed me to do 2 exercises until I saw her next. In order to relieve the pain I needed to turn off my hip flexor and fire my side body. How do you turn off your hip flexor? You use it to walk, sit, lunge, etc. She assisted in turning off my hip flexor by doing some muscle relaxation techniques as well as dry needling.

For those of you who haven’t experienced dry needling, I’m not going to lie. Dry needling is unbelievably painful. However, it is also unbelievably effective. It’s a technique that is used to directly impact the muscle by moving the needle up and down that muscle or muscle group – allowing it go back to its relaxed state. In layman’s terms, it is a very intense version of foam rolling. Jamie said that by manually turning the hip flexor off I would have a better chance of firing the gluteus medius and over time strengthening it so it does the work it’s supposed to (stabilize the hip).

My Aha Moment

As someone who has been in the fitness industry this was such a powerful moment for me (and a total wakeup call). For many of us who enjoy working out, the easiest part about working out (believe it or not) is just grinding through your routine and getting the job done. However, I have learned the hard way that that’s not what fitness is about.

Yes working hard is great, but it’s about using the correct muscles to do the work you intend to do. If you’re doing a squat and you feel pain in your knees you may not be using the right muscles to do the work. My advice to anyone is to get a second set of eyes. Even if you think you’re doing an exercise correctly. If you are unsure about your form or have any doubts, get a second set of eyes to assist you! The power of a trainer, or in my case physical therapist, was life changing.

Post written by FFC Group Fitness Instructor Erin Sneed.





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The space we share with one another is defined by the space we create. It may not be something you would think about on a day to day basis, but space is a part of everything we do. Some of us need large spaces and may not enjoy crowds, while others love concerts or any event where large groups of people gather. These two examples are on a large scale, so let’s move on to the smaller, more specific situations. The movements you perform while exercising creates space in your joints, and are an active decision. Yoga, Pilates, heavy weights, etc. create a space. In some cases, space may be restricted and the desire would be to create more. Stretching to increase flexibility and even engaging in massage therapy (and maybe Asian Bodywork) are good examples for achieving greater movement for your body and all its mechanical components.

Active movements happen during exercise (the intentional choice to flex, stretch, and lift heavy weights, spin classes for cardio, Pilates for core strength, etc.) Passive movements are different in nature, but just as important as these other active movements we make. Receiving a therapeutic massage is a great way to achieve passive movement, and the therapist is the one who creates that space our joints need so badly.

Asian Bodywork, such as Thai or Shiatsu falls under the larger umbrella of massage therapy. Bodywork is distinguished by the body mobilization techniques utilized, and can easily be incorporated into a traditional massage. What’s more, the therapist gets to stretch and move during the massage therapy treatment as well, at times mirroring the client.

Related: click here to try FFC for free and check out all the amenities at our clubs!

My personal journey with massage therapy and Asian bodywork

FFC massage therapist Jessica demonstrating Table Shiatsu with fellow massage therapist Samantha Margaret Wolf.

These practices are what led me to become a massage therapist and dabble in Asian bodywork. I have a background in dance and martial arts, and at one point in my past I had to make a decision to find a career path that encompassed what I loved about both. Defining the space around myself with movement, whether it was dance or martial arts, is what massage therapy is to me now.

I have been a board-certified massage therapist and experienced with Asian bodywork with BCTMB for 12 years now. My most recent training is from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine with an A.A.S. degree in holistic sciences. I am also a certified practitioner of Asian Bodywork, specifically practicing Shiatsu work and Acupressure with 5 Element Theory.

Related: no time for a massage? Find your zen anyway. Check out these helpful tips for how to practice mindfulness every day.

I believe learning is a lifelong journey and for a new challenge I have returned to martial arts. I am learning Jiu Jitsu at my home club in Park Ridge from personal trainer Aiazbek Mustakov, who is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and 2nd dan black belt in Judo. I have also had the opportunity to collaborate with a fellow massage therapist Samantha Margaret Wolf, LMT, CST who is board-certified as well.

If you think you would like Shiatsu bodywork, call the spa at FFC Park Ridge and ask to book that overdue massage with Jessica Heffernan, or email me at for a complimentary consultation! I am at the club Friday 3-8 PM, Saturday 9 AM – 6 PM and Sunday 9 AM – 6 PM. Let’s create some space and define that journey of wellness.

Post written by FFC Park Ridge Massage Therapist Jessica Heffernan.

FFC Park Ridge Jessica HeffernanAbout Jessica

Jessica is board certified in massage therapy and bodywork with NCBTMB. She is also a certified practitioner of Asian Bodywork, including Thai, Shiatsu, Tui Na and Acupressure. She integrates these modalities into all types of massage – relaxation, deep tissue and sports massage. Her work is a blend of eastern and western.

Recovering from surgery, or even a minor injury, can be frustrating and discouraging. In the time it takes to recover, the body can change drastically. In 2014 I sustained a hip labral tear and ended up getting surgery to repair it. After surgery, I was in a hip brace for two whole months and, as a result, my body became uneven – I had extreme muscle imbalance, severe tightness and my body was just completely out of alignment. I seriously questioned if I was going to face these issues for the rest of my life. After I graduated from physical therapy at FFC’s East Lakeview NovaCare, my therapist recommended a Pilates transformation.

I knew nothing about Pilates, except that all the apparatuses looked like a bunch of torture devices. Needless to say I was skeptical that these weird machines could actually help me. To be honest, I thought some of the stuff was odd during my first few sessions, but then I started to fall in love with it as I began to see my body transform. All those issues I had after surgery were completely fixed with continuous Pilates sessions.

Related: Pilates makes you mentally stronger. Here are 4 ways.

I was in awe that this method of exercise literally healed me. Pilates ignited a passion in me – it helped me so much that it made me want to be a teacher to help others like myself. Since that turning point post-surgery, I have graduated from the FFC Pilates Teacher Training Program and am a Pilates trainer at FFC South Loop.

Due to pre-existing conditions, I tore the labrum of my other hip and got surgery in 2015. Having practiced Pilates both pre and post-surgery this second time around, I can definitively say Pilates helped me recover faster by reducing the muscle imbalances, alignment issues and overall tightness I experienced during the first surgery.

Related: click here to sign up for a free 30-minute Pilates consultation at FFC!

So, if you are hoping to get stronger before a surgery, recovering from a hip (or other type of) injury or just want to improve your overall balance and alignment, here are a few specific ways a Pilates transformation can help you. Pilates:

  • Restores alignment of the body and corrects muscle imbalances
  • Helps correct the body’s natural tendency for overcompensation when trying to cope with alignment or imbalance issues
  • Strengthens and lengthens muscles around the hip area
  • Helps speed up recovery time with pre-surgery preparation and with scar tissue issues post-surgery
  • Enhances overall core strength to assist with balance and confidence in falling
  • Reduces muscle tightness and increases flexibility and range of motion

Both before and after surgery, I experienced tightness in my hip flexors, quads and lower back; my Pilates transformation helped relieve this tightness and brought length back into my compressed spine.

Whether you have hip issues or not, Pilates will challenge your body in a new way and educate you about your own body. If you are apprehensive like I was, I encourage you to break out of your comfort zone and try it! If you are interested in scheduling a free introductory session please email me, Jenna Greenfield, at

Post written by FFC South Loop Pilates Instructor Jenna Greenfield.

My name is Charise Horn. Fitness has always been a huge part of my life – especially in the last few years. In January 2013 I decided to change my lifestyle for the better. I was 250 pounds, depressed, my confidence was to the floor, I was trying to get my foot in the door with my culinary degree and things were just not working out. So, with the help of my brothers, I started my fitness journey. From January 2013 to May 2013 I was able to drop 25 pounds, but I needed to change up my fitness routine. That change was boxing.

How boxing changed my perspective on fitnessMy cousin, who has been boxing for the past twenty years, offered me the chance work out as he was preparing for an upcoming fight. Come June 2013, I had officially started boxing. Throughout the summer, my cousin and I continued to box and work out together, and he brought me to his friend’s gym called Body Shot Boxing Club.

While working out there, I continued to lose weight and also signed up for my first amateur boxing match – the finals of the 2014 Chicago Golden Gloves.

The match was to take place in front of 2,000 people. It takes a lot to get into that ring– let alone in front of that many people! I did not come out of the match victorious, but it was probably the best thing to happen to me. You have to be humble in your defeat as well as your victories.

After my fight, I continued to train and lose more weight. In February of 2015 I hit my goal of losing 100 lbs! The feeling of accomplishment was the best I have ever felt in my whole life; my confidence was the best it’s ever been. The long days and nights of training, early mornings of running – nobody can take that feeling of accomplishment away from you.

Related: how FFC helped member Lauren find fitness & gain confidence. 

Boxing as a weight loss workout

Before all of this, I didn’t know where my life was going; I didn’t exactly know what career path I wanted to follow. With the help of my family I decided to go back to school for Bachelor Degree in Business Management, and started working at FFC.

Throughout the last three years my life has taken a dramatic turn for the better – I want people to know how important learning from failure is; that no matter what, don’t ever give up, no matter how many setbacks you encounter. Keep pushing forward because you never know where your life might take you!

Post written by FFC contributor Charise H.



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My name is Erika Boer and I’m one of the massage therapists at FFC Park Ridge. Last summer, when I was looking for jobs up north (I moved from southern Illinois), I came across a job listing for FFC. Not knowing what it was all about (besides that they needed therapists), I googled it and was amazed. Not only was FFC a fitness club, it had so much more… like a full staff of registered dietitians who might be able to help me change my perception of nutrition!

Before moving back up north, I had tried many “diets”. Those diets, along with working out at the local gym, did give me some results, but not as much as I wanted to see. When I saw that FFC offered help with nutrition, I was sold on the job listing and applied.

Since I can remember, I’ve had problems with my weight and have always tried to consider the different reasons why that might be. It wasn’t until I started working at Denny’s years ago that I gave more thought to my weight and decided to do something about it.

Related: 3 of the best registered dietitian-written books to help you get on the right track.

In the past, I had always purchased those body detox cleanses and pills and tried going to the gym… but always had an excuse not to go. I never thought about talking to a registered dietitian.

As I became a massage therapist, I listened to my body more and realized that if I wasn’t in a healthy state, I would probably have a hard time with my body mechanics. In order to make sure I didn’t hurt myself, I decided to start exploring ways to be healthier without putting all that other stuff in my body.

Nutrition Wasn’t What I Thought

I remember the first time I walked into Alicia Huggler’s office at FFC Park Ridge. She was super sweet and made me feel comfortable (for some reason I was nervous!). I’m sure I’m not the only one who had been in her office who thought they knew what they needed to do and what to expect – but I was completely caught by surprise!

What I thought (going by all those other “diets” I had been on) wasn’t what I should have been focusing on at all. She also caught me off guard when she said she would put together a meal plan consisting of things I would normally eat and most importantly like, rather than what I “needed” to be eating. We even talked about other indulgences, like alcohol. She asked me, “do you drink?” I of course said yes, but not that much – but she said that was okay because she would take that into consideration. A meal plan based off MY lifestyle? This couldn’t be true!

Just one hour in her office helped change my life for the better and change my perception of nutrition. We got an idea of where I was at as far as weight and began to piece together my meal plan. The following week I received the plan and it was great! I started around March/ April of this year and, though I’ve struggled a bit due to various life factors like a breakup and moving, I have lost 23 pounds so far! I have 28 more to go to reach my goal.

Not only did I lose all that weight, but my BMI went down a few points and I lost inches around my waist. I know that by sticking with the meal plan, weighing in every week and working out at least 4 times a week, I will be at my goal weight by the finish line that I have set for myself.

Related: click here to sign up for a free 30-minute nutrition consultation with an on-site registered dietitian at FFC!

A Lifestyle Change for the Better

When my mom came up to visit for my cousins wedding not too long ago, her jaw pretty much dropped to the floor when she saw my progress. She kept exclaiming how proud she was and how good I looked (she even “showed me off” to her friends because she knew how much I wanted to lose weight and that it’s been a struggle for me). Even my friends have been noticing a huge difference, which makes me feel so much better. I’m starting to get my confidence back, thanks to Alicia! It’s definitely been a transformative process.

Alicia is an amazing person and she definitely know what she’s doing. She not only helps me and motivates me every week, but she always offers to be there for support throughout the week (if I feel like I’m about to fail at something). I always look forward to my 15-minute weigh-in appointments (good or bad) because we also talk about what’s been happening.

She’s not only a coach, but a friend as well. There have been times I’ve broken down into tears because of big problems or knowing that what was happening in my life at the time was bad or distracting me from what I needed to be doing, but we’d press on and discuss what I needed to do to get back on track anyway. There have also been times when I would gain weight, but we would talk about it and make a list of items to address.

My Valuable Takeaways

Along with the tough times, there have also been some moments of surprise – times I’d step on the scale and see that I had lost more than the 2 pounds planned for that week! It’s been a rough road and I have had gains as much as losses, but I think everyone goes through those highs and lows when they want to succeed at anything in life. It just makes you want to push harder.

I also didn’t know changing my perception of nutrition and being healthy could be so much fun! To actually learn about different types of fats and other types of macros has been fascinating. Yes, I’ve tried to count those calories, but it never really stuck until now. Granted, I still have to watch my timing, drink more water and start meal prepping again, but I know I can get back into it. Once you put your mind to it, nothing can stop you from achieving your goal.

I want to say thank you so very much, Alicia Huggler – not only for helping me through this journey, but being there to motivate me when I need it. I would probably not even think about pushing myself this hard if it weren’t for your help. I haven’t had this much energy and drive for a very long time. You are definitely in inspiration to me and so many others!

My name is JP and I’ve been in the fitness and training industry for 7 years – from a personal trainer to fitness director. Here on the blog we always tend to see client testimonials, but I want to do something different – give another perspective. A personal trainer’s side.

Thus, here is my trainer testimonial about one of my very first clients and what she has taught me.

I met my client early on in a not-so-common situation. It was my 3rd month at my new job as a personal trainer when I was called down for a customer service-related request. I was new and eager so I rushed to the scene. My help was needed for a free session for a member in lieu of a bad experience with a personal trainer.

I walked into the office and was met with a family of four. Katina, my unexpected future client, her husband and two kids. It was actually her husband that was the one with the bad experience. I tried my best to get him to give us another shot, but no matter how hard I tried, he was set on cancelling the membership. I was feeling pretty defeated.

However, between the commotion of 4 adults cramped in a tiny office and 2 kids fighting with each other, it ended up being Katina that took me up on the offer. She wasn’t even a member at the time. So we got her on a guest pass and scheduled a session.

The next week she tried a class I taught. I definitely didn’t take it easy on her (not my style), but she took it like a champ. We did the personal training session as well, and I think that’s where our connection began. We say it all the time now: together we are a bad combination. I never let up, and she never backs down.

Starting a Routine

She promptly signed up for 3 days a week for a month. Here I was, with a 39-year-old woman that had never worked out in a gym- ever- and had only done the elliptical. What to do? Short answer: whatever I wanted. She never questioned anything I made her do. She might not have liked it, but she did it anyway!

After one month she saw some progress. I was ecstatic. It was the first client I was able to actually get through 12 sessions on schedule!! She lost weight, she got stronger, she felt better. What I didn’t realize at the time, though, was that it was more than just the physical wins and tangible things that were important to Katina. It took me a while to figure out what else I was offering her as her trainer.

Over the next 4 years we trained for weight loss, strength, competitions, races, you name it. I’ve been there for her for just about everything, or at the very least texted her before and after to hear how she crushed whatever she was going after. People watched us train and thought we were crazy. Battle ropes, cleans, attempting to climb walls outside, pulling me on a sled through the gym. We would just laugh and say “this is the easy stuff.”

Related: want to sign up for a free training session at FFC? Click here!

Challenging the Trainer

I was challenging her, alright. It wasn’t until this year she challenged ME. Katina signed us up to do the Spartan Race, a 5-mile run riddled with mud and 20 plus obstacles. Of course I agreed thinking she’d forget because it was months away. I should have known better; she’s a woman that researches everything and even keeps a spreadsheet of her runs!

The day of the race finally came. Then, and only then, did I realize I actually had to go through with it. We both had no idea what we were in for. The racecourse was nuts! There was mud up to our hips, 10-foot walls, barbed wire… pure insanity. But we stuck through it. I helped her with the obstacles and she slowed down on the run for me.

What I Learned

After the race I had a new outlook on what I did for her all these years. It wasn’t just counting reps, helping her get stronger or lose weight. It was more than that. For the first time, she helped me, coached me, made me feel comfortable and didn’t let me give up. She didn’t yell because I ran slower than she did or get mad when I needed water. She supported me when I needed it and encouraged me when I thought I couldn’t make it.

The last 4 years have been a joy, to say the least. She’s never missed a session and I’ve never cancelled one. We’ve cried, we’ve laughed, we’ve had 2-hour sessions, we’ve even been mad at each other to the point of not even saying a word. Through our relationship, I can finally see what I truly offer as a trainer: support, trust and friendship.

Want to train like us? Here’s a sample workout. Show us your results with #FFCChicago. Good luck!

Related: “Member Stories: How FFC Helped Me Get Fit & Become a Beast By 40.”

JP & Katina’s Workout

  • 50 push-ups
  • 50 sit-ups
  • 50 cleans
  • 50 lunges
  • 50 wall balls
  • 50 kettlebell swings

Repeat twice. This workout takes Katina just under an hour!

Post written by FFC Gold Coast Fitness Director JP Maund. 

About JP Maund

Some see working out as a thing they do- run x miles, lift x weight. To me, it’s more than that. It’s a mindset and a lifestyle. It’s not that I’m into fitness, more so it’s that I want to impact people on a daily basis. Fitness is as routine as brushing my teeth and as unconscious as taking a breath. It’s not easy, by any means. But as with most things in life, “nothing in the world is worth having or doing unless it means effort, pain and difficulty.” – FDR Contact for a complimentary workout with an FFC personal trainer!

I recently joined the Fitness Formula Clubs team as a group fitness instructor at FFC Boystown. While walking into FFC for my audition prior to starting classes, a memory of how I began my journey to following a plant-based diet was sparked from when I first entered this industry.

15 years ago, after earning my AFAA certification, I dove head-first into the world of teaching. Some days would go from 6 AM until 10 PM, teaching 4 or 5 classes a day. I was teaching all kinds of formats, all over the city, working to supplement my unpaid passion for theatre and dance.

On top of the 20 hours a week I spent teaching classes, the hours of dance rehearsals for shows, and the personal training I’d do in between, a compulsion drove me to do more.

I would be on the elliptical machine for an hour before teaching a double, just to make sure I burned my magic calorie goal that day. I’d push myself to run 6 to 10 miles, even before the gym opened at 5 AM. I never took a day off.

Then, I got injured; plantar fasciitis in my heel and tendonitis in my knee. I was beating my body into the ground.

But I was also overweight. My obsessive workout routine was only to compensate for the food addiction binges I’d have. I could tear through 3 bowls of cereal and 2 “energy” bars before noon. I thought running two Chicago marathons and lifting 5 days a week would solve everything. My disappointment with my fat stomach and chubby legs had one solution: add more exercise.

Time for a lifestyle change - to a plant-based dietTime for a Lifestyle Change

It wasn’t until I changed my diet that I started to lose weight and have more energy. My plant-based journey began with a “vegan challenge” – I’d eat plant-based and oil-free for 30 days.

I wasn’t ready to make a full plant-based change after that first month. Yet I couldn’t deny the effects it had on my body. I had lost weight, I was sleeping better, I didn’t feel bloated, and I had more overall energy.

In the 6 years since that “challenge”, I now fully embrace a plant-based diet. I’ve cut my addiction to refined sugar, oil, and flour. I’ve let go of dairy. I’ve discovered oats, beans, and red rice to be more flavorful and satisfying than poached eggs or roasted chicken breast.  

In the 15 years since I first entered the fitness industry, I’m now 50 pounds lighter, lifting heavier weights than ever. I can cruise at an 8:00/mile pace for a 10K, and I’ve learned how to balance my high-intensity interval training with slow, mindful yoga.

The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Eating plant-based, my body has been able to reset itself – feeling satisfied and nourished with a healthy amount of fiber, complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. I still crave carbs when I need more energy, but now I hunger for bananas and grapes over energy bars.

Related: ever thought about adding seaweed to your diet? Here’s why you should!

I thirst for watermelon to re-hydrate after a 90-degree 7-mile run. I dive into a bowl of lentils after heavy strength workouts. My recovery meals are full of delicious plant-based energy. I have let go of the refined flours, oils, and sugars – also letting go of my addiction to these foods. I feel like such a different body, with such a different emotional mind.

I feel joyful and lucky that fitness has always been a part of my life. I am equally grateful to have discovered the drastic impact a plant-based diet has had on my body. I look forward to sharing my passion for fitness with the FFC family. And I welcome any skeptics of a vegan diet to take my classes and see how strong plants can be!

Post written by FFC Boystown Group Fitness Instructor Katie Simmons.

Related: want to try a nutrition session at FFC for free? Click here!


Katie Simmons group fitness instructor at FFC Chicago plant-based diet

About Katie Simmons

Katie is a group fitness instructor at FFC Halsted Street and a personal chef based in Chicago. When she’s not teaching, she specializes in creating delicious, healthy recipes for those with special dietary concerns like gluten-free, oil-free, plant-based, and low-residue. You can see more at

Outside of the kitchen, she is a fitness instructor, with over 15 years of experience in the industry. For fun, she loves to travel. Some of her favorite trips include week of Holi Festival and Curry in Northern India, 4 nights hiking and camping on the Incan Trail in Peru, 10 days of trekking in the Patagonia of Argentina and Chile, and 5 months backpacking through New Zealand.