I’m sure you’ve seen it all over the web: “unbalanced cortisol levels lead to weight gain.” This can be incredibly frustrating if you are in a deficit-related program trying to lose weight for a healthier lifestyle, or even if you have another goal (like an upcoming weight lifting competition). What is a deficit? A caloric deficit is burning more calories than your body requires. Knowing how to manage, maintain and avoid your triggers will go a long way in helping you achieve your goals through nutrition and hormone maintenance. And prevent a cortisol crash.

So How Does Cortisol Tie Into All Of This?

Simply put, cortisol is a hormone released in the body via the adrenal gland. The adrenal glands are small glands located on the top of each kidney. They produce hormones that we cannot live without – one being cortisol.

Cortisol helps you respond to stress and has many other important functions. Your body’s cortisol levels increase when adrenocorticotropic hormones are released from your pituitary gland. Without getting into a lot of science, essentially, when a person is put under excess amounts of stress (whether it be physical or mental), the body produces more cortisol, attempting to calm you down.

How does this relate to nutrition? Another key purpose of cortisol is to help the body metabolize and use sugar and fat for energy. Having an excess amount of cortisol in the bloodstream and body can lead to weight gain, immune system issues, blood sugar imbalance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, low testosterone in men and fertility problems.

Related: want to set up a free 30-minute nutrition consultation with one of FFC’s on-site registered dietitians? Click here!

How to Balance Your Cortisol Levels

It’s safe to say that we want to keep this hormone as level as possible and prevent a cortisol crash! If you believe that you have chronically elevated cortisol levels, there are a few tips and tricks you can implement to help overcome this unwanted hormone excess. Lowering your cortisol can be accomplished relatively quickly.

Here are 4 tips that you can implement today to prevent cortisol crashing quickly and easily:

Up your magnesium intake.

Whether you get this through food or an Epsom salt bath, upping your magnesium intake will go a long way to improve your cortisol levels.

Get more sleep.

The obvious one – getting enough sleep helps your body restore and ensure you’re ready for another day of hard work.

Related: food can help you regulate your mood! Avoid mood swings with these nutrition tips.

Limit your blue light exposure.

Try to avoid blue light 1-2 hours before bed. Blue light comes from cell phones and televisions. Being exposed to blue light inhibits your body from creating melatonin, a naturally produced sleep aid, and can lead to getting less sleep, which is important for balancing your cortisol levels.

Eat regularly.

Eating frequent meals will help to keep your blood sugar level even throughout the day. Make sure to grab a bite/healthy snack every 2 – 4 hours.

Post written by FFC Lincoln Park registered dietitian Sarah Sobotka.

About Sarah

Sarah is a registered dietitian at FFC Lincoln Park. She is a credentialed professional who is inspired by the science of nutrition, passionate about advancing her knowledge in the field, and committed to promoting the RDN credentials.

She believes in the power of food, fitness, and having a good lifestyle balance. She aspires to serve as a guide to her clients & make positive differences in their lives. She loves to work out and be active, whether playing sports, rollerblading in the sun, or riding her bike to enjoy new delicious restaurants around the neighborhood.


So you’ve made the decision to track your nutrition. Congratulations! Meal tracking can improve one’s diet, promote more mindful eating behaviors, provide lots of new information for your benefit as well as for your doctor or dietitian and ultimately, lose more weight! MyFitnessPal (a popular app available for both iPhone and Android) is an easy and effective way to track what you eat.

Getting Started

After downloading the app and signing up using your email or Facebook, you are encouraged to provide basic information such as your age, weight and activity level.

This will help you establish a goal (such as losing, maintaining, or gaining weight) as well as the rate at which the weight change will occur. These factors will determine the app’s recommendation for your daily caloric intake.


Related: want some other apps or resources for tracking nutrition? Check out this post!

Track Your Diet

Now you can start tracking! Using the diary page, you can input new information by pressing the blue + button on the bottom of the screen or the “add food” button under specific meals. The + button allows for you to input food as well as other information like status with progress photos, water, exercise, and weight.

One of the most useful aspects of MyFitnessPal is their enormous database containing most food items that can be bought from stores. Your phone’s camera can also scan the barcode of almost any packaged food item and the database will usually have it stored! However, be careful to specify the number of servings you eat, as many packaged food items contain multiple servings.

As you track your meal through the day, the equation on your diary page will update to keep you informed on your progress. The more exercise you get in a given day, the more you will have to eat to compensate for those burned calories. Exercise can be factored into the equation automatically using your phone’s ability to count steps or compatible devices such as Apple Watch or Fitbit.

To see your breakdown of caloric intake per meal, nutrients and macros (carbs, fat, protein) click “Nutrition” while in the diary tab. Track your weight over time to further motivate yourself! You can also input other information like BMI and body fat %.

Related: want to supplement your meal tracking with a plan? Click here to register for a free 30-minute nutrition consultation with an FFC on-site registered dietitian!

5 Tips for Maximum Results

Use the “recent” food tab.

When inputting food in your MyFitnessPal diary, use the “recent” tab for foods you eat regularly. You can also group ingredients as a custom meal to use in the future. Over time, time spent tracking your meals should decrease significantly!

Say no to diets, just eat mindfully.

Studies show that people who subscribe to “fad diets” often do not succeed with their weight loss goals. At the end of the day, companies care most about making money by selling you products. Doing your research, tracking your diet, and eating more mindfully can be done without paying anyone (and is much cheaper, especially given that MyFitnessPal is free!)

Remember that everyone’s macros will be different.

Keep in mind that everyone is different –  different people will function best with different ratios of carbs and protein. Carefully monitor the way you feel and function after different meals – these experiences and results are uniquely yours!

Use the barcode scanner.

The barcode scanner is your friend! When I began to track my meals I was excited about the bar code scanner and the potential to track exactly what I ate. So for one day, I only ate food that came in packages I could scan. I cooked once that day but was sure to scan every ingredient using exact measurements. These rules dictated that I could not mindlessly eat a handful of chips or chug orange juice from the carton because everything had to be measured out precisely. I immediately learned about how to eat more mindfully.

Share the data!

The nutrition data you collect over time should be immensely helpful for your doctor, registered dietitian (did you know we have a full staff of RDs at FFC?), or other healthcare professional. Nutrition is one of the biggest indicators of overall health and it is currently very rare that patients have complete logs of their diets. If you are experiencing health problems potentially related to nutrition and your current health care professional is not knowledgeable about nutrition and primary prevention, find another who is.

The more you track, the more motivated you will be!

Post written by FFC contributor Andy Devries.


Winter weather gets a bad rap for also wreaking havoc on your health. Common questions we hear all the time include those such as “what’s the best way to boost your immune system before cold season?”, “what should you take to help prevent getting that icky bug that’s been hitting everyone?”, “what’s the best germ fighter around?” and “how do you fight colds faster?”

The answer is easy, simple, and my personal favorite: a healthy diet!

A healthy diet chock-full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber is your best dietary weapon against the common cold. How to fight colds faster? Never get one in the first place!

How to Fight Colds Faster

Giving your immune system everything it needs to operate at full capacity on a daily basis is far more effective at preventing illness than nursing reactionary fizzy vitamin C drinks or popping zinc lozenges during cold and flu season.

Far more goes into making a healthy, fully-functional immune system than just vitamin C and zinc (which are two of the most commonly supplemented over-the-counter cold home remedies for immediate or after-the-fact treatment.)

Related: don’t forget to hydrate! Here are some tips on how to stay hydrated.

We need a whole host of vitamins and minerals just to have functional enzymes in our immune system, let alone all the other dietary components that go into making all facets of the immune system. So, the first and most important thing is to maintain a healthy and very well-balanced diet.

Vitamin C & Zinc Can Still Help

That being said, vitamin C and zinc supplementation may yet have their merits. While no definitive research exists to support the use of these supplements to reduce the incidence of the common cold in otherwise healthy individuals (in fact, it’s supposedly just the opposite: a quick perusal of current literature reveals that study after study has found neither vitamin C nor zinc to significantly reduce the number of times a person gets a cold), researchers are now looking into the efficacy of these products once you have already contracted a cold.

The data is mixed, but some studies have found an association between zinc and/or vitamin C supplementation and a reduction in the either the severity of symptoms or the duration of illness. More conclusive research is certainly needed, especially to clarify timing and dosage, which are both still very unclear.

Even though the jury is still out on some facets of cold remedies, one thing is for sure: a healthy diet sure is a tastier and simpler method for staying healthy all year long. Check out some of these delicious recipes for a fast nutrient fix when you’re feeling especially run down and need to fight colds faster or just when you’re in need of a health-kick.

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

30-Minute Recipe: 3 Quick Cold-Busting Picks

Open-Faced Veggie-ful Breakfast Bagel

½ whole grain bagel topped with 2 tbsp cream cheese, sliced tomatoes, sliced bell peppers, sliced cucumbers, and spinach with several slices of chicken or turkey.

Healthful Lunch Bowl

Top ½ cup black beans + ½ cup corn kernels with 1 serving fajita seasoned chicken, chopped tomatoes and sautéed bell pepper + onions (sliced and sautéed in 1 tsp olive oil). Additional toppings can include 1-2 tbsp light sour cream, a sprinkle of shredded cheese, and/or ¼ cup pico de gallo.

Bonus: this meal is easily made ahead of time in batch for a whole week’s worth of lunches that will keep you health and help you fight colds faster!

Lean Mean Mediterranean Dinner Salad

Toss 2-3 cups spinach with ½ cup chickpeas, 4 oz shredded chicken, and as much sliced cucumber, diced tomatoes, and diced red bell pepper as you like then top with 1 oz crumbled feta cheese; make a dressing from ¼ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt, 1 tbsp olive oil, as much lemon juice and spices (try dill and a little garlic!) as you like.

Post written by FFC contributor Carla Schmitz.

According to research from Duke University, exercise is as effective as antidepressants. That means you can consider spinning your way to a good mood! People who exercise perform better at work and have been shown to increase their memory and learning by 30%.

Years ago, I joined a gym specifically to take as many cycling classes as I could. I found that the classes allowed me to work up a sweat and leave feeling energized and powerful. Nearly a decade later, my obsession has continued to grow and I now get to lead people in this awesome form of exercise.

The thing I love about cycling is that no matter your fitness level or energy level, you can kill it. You get to ride corporately but as an individual you get to make it your own. It’s the perfect combo. The hundreds of calories burned is a pretty nice plus too. You’ll leave class feeling like you’ve accomplished something great and you may even find it easier to smile!

Basic Spinning 101 Guide: It’s All About the Gears

“Bring your gears to flat road and increase your RPMs to 100.”

If you’ve taken a spin class, especially mine, you’ve definitely heard this phrase. On more than one occasion I’ve had someone come up after class and ask, “Where should my gears be? What gear is flat road?” I explain in class that flat road is when you begin to feel that little bit of tension when you pedal You could maintain flat road and 90-100 RPMs (Revolutions Per Minute) for the whole class. Yes, your butt may get numb but you could do it.

“Okay, but what number should my gear be at?”

As human we are creatures who look for patterns and concrete ideas. We even like to be told what to do, sometimes. We want to make sure we are working hard enough, but not too hard that we won’t be able to finish the workout. So we beg for a definitive number that will get us to our goals.

That being said, if I instructed that 11 was considered “flat road” it could be difficult for someone new to riding, or new to the gym. On the flip side, that same number could be a walk in the park to someone who has been spinning for years. In fact, there is a gal in one of my classes who’s training for a 400 mile ride who starts her flat road at sixteen! We are all at different places in our fitness journey and that means we have to take charge and play around with those numbers until we find our sweet spot.

If I asked everyone to hit gear eighteen for a hill I may have beginners who walk out discouraged – thinking the class is far too difficult, while that same gear may be the beginning of a hill for someone who is more seasoned. The aforementioned girl starts her hill at twenty! This is why giving exact numbers can do a rider a disservice. Don’t lose hope, there is a better gauge for your workouts.

Related: feel like you’ve mastered spinning and want to try something new? Check out this inspirational story on how one FFC member completed her first triathlon at 70!

What is RPM? The Difference Between RPMs and Watts

Watts, or power combined with RPMs, are the best indicators as to how hard you are working. The higher the watts/power number the more energy output, and the better benefit. Think of the watts number as a light bulb – the higher the number, the brighter the light. The way to get that number higher is to increase resistance and cadence (RPM) at the same time. Increasing one without the other will give you a slightly higher wattage while increasing both at the same time will cause the number to explode, in a good way.

The Keiser bikes will blink at the end of a workout showing you your average RPMs and average watts. Pay attention to these numbers. You want your wattage, or power number, to increase every few weeks. High RPMs doesn’t necessarily mean that you are working hard. You may literally just be spinning your wheels and I know you came to class to do more than that! You want to be able to match the RPMs the instructor gives while increasing your resistance to get a larger power/watt number.

Related: want to check out a spin class? Click here to try FFC free!

5 Tips To Getting The Most Out Of Your Spin Workout

Still asking ‘what is RPM’? Here are 5 troubleshooting tips to getting the most out of your spinning workout with RPMs and watts. Remember, gear numbers will differ for everyone!

  • If your RPMs are staying consistently high and your watts are stagnant try adding on a bit more resistance to your flat road and continue adding from there.
  • Each time the instructor asks you to gear up, make sure your watts are increasing or at least staying consistent. As best, you shouldn’t let your RPMs drop so much that your watts suffer.
  • When climbing, pay close attention to where your gears are. Pay attention to the feeling you are getting from the pedals and where the instructor wants your RPMs. For example, if you are hitting 70-80 RPMs, play with your gears. Can you keep your cadence steady while adding another gear? If so, continue to gear up until you can no longer hold the requested RPMs.
  • When sprinting, add on a few more gears as soon as the sprint starts. It will increase your watts and may even increase your pace! As long as your behind isn’t bouncing in the saddle and you are staying under 130 RPMs, you’re good! If you do not have enough gear on during a sprint, the flywheel may take over, depending on the bike. If this happens, you are no longer working – the spinning bike is actually pulling your pedals around. It may seem like you’re going fast, but really you are out of control and wasting energy.
  • Make sure that when you come out of the saddle to stand, your gears are appropriate. There is a sweet spot. Too little or too much gear can cause knee and joint problems. While too little gear causes the legs to spin out of control, too much gear can create a choppy effect to your cadence and a lower RPM. If you get choppy and/or can’t hold the requested RPMs, take a gear or two off. It’s better that you keep a smooth cadence and hold the RPMs than have a higher gear.

Note: If you do have an instructor who gives exact numbers, go with it, if you are able. But know that you can always gear up or down depending on your level of ability. Don’t let it discourage you. This is your workout, your treat to yourself. We all want you to leave class feeling like the rock star that we are. Look at what your body just did! Isn’t it amazing? Now love it!

About Jessica

Jessica is a group fitness and spin instructor at many different FFC locations. Jess has a few obsessions that include fitness, nutrition, Starbucks, and her family (not in that order of course, coffee would be much higher). :) She is wife to a fantastic husband and mama to two happy little boys. She was raised in Georgia but has lived in multiple cities across the Eastern seaboard.

She’s been in Chicago for two years now and is loving the people here. Chicago has that perfect mix of down home and city. Her playlists often include the Top 40 with a few eclectic tracks thrown in. You can find her on Facebook here or follow her on Instagram here. Want to try a class out for yourself? Check out the group fitness schedule for Jessica’s classes!


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What is RPM? A spinning 101 guide to helping you get the most out of your spin workouts

The push-up is commonly associated with military conditioning, gym class, and some martial arts. For many, they can be unexciting, feel impossible or even gruesome. Hopefully, though, after reading this you will incorporate this versatile and efficient exercise into your workout routine!

Push-ups are categorized as a calisthenic exercise performed prone (face down), during which the body is raised and lowered with the arms. Push-ups use many muscles, making it a great exercise to do regularly. Push-ups use your pectoral muscles, triceps, and other muscles of the shoulder area such as anterior deltoids, serrates anterior, and coracobrachialis. Push-ups also use core muscles, such as your transverses abdominis and rectus abdominis, and help with core stability. (Need something for the lower body? We’ve got you covered here.)

There are many varieties of push-ups – some are better for beginners, and some for more advanced levels. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 types and their benefits so you can find the ones that work best for you!

Standard push-up 1

Standard push-up 2

Standard Push-Ups

Get into plank position with your hands under your shoulders, engage your core and keep your chest lifted and eyes gazing out in front of you so that your spine stays in a neutral position.

Bend your elbows and lower your body to the floor with your inhale, then push up with control and exhale as you rise back to a neutral position. Don’t let your backside dip or stick up, your body should remain in a straight line from head to toe.

Draw your shoulder blades back and down, keeping elbows tucked close to your body. It’s important to practice good form consistently to avoid injury and yield greater results.

Modified push-up 2Modified push-up 1



Modified Push-Ups

These pushups are great for beginners; they are performed by supporting the lower body on the knees instead of the toes.



Wide push-up 1Wide push-up 2



The Wide Push-Up

Start from a normal push-up position but spread your hands wider than shoulder length. This will force your chest to do most of the work.



Narrow push-up 2

Narrow push-up 1



The Narrow Push-Up

From a normal push-up position, place your hands just a few inches apart from each other underneath your chest.



Diamond push-upDiamond push-up 1



The Diamond Push-Up

For these push-ups, place both palms on the ground so that both thumbs and pointer fingers are touching and form a diamond. These push-ups really work your triceps!


One Leg Push-up 2One leg push-up 1



The One-Leg Push-Up

From the standard push-up position lift one leg up off the ground and do a set, switch legs to complete the set. Be sure to engage your core to help you stay in position!


One arm push-up 1One arm push-up 2



The One-Arm Push-Up

Get into position and bring one arm behind your back or to your side and complete the movement, switch arms and complete the set. These are a great challenge!



Elevated push-up 2

Elevated push-up 1



The Feet Elevated Push-Up

Do a normal push-up, but with your feet elevated on a box or bench. The higher the platform, the more you’ll work your shoulders, chest, and core. For more challenge, use an exercise ball.


Body elevated push-up 1



The Body-Elevated Push-Up

Performed with hands on an elevated platform, commonly seen with medicine balls. For an even more advanced exercise, you can also elevate the feet.


Wall push-up 2Wall push-up 1


The Wall Push-Up

Another great variation of a push-up for someone new to exercise or lacking the upper body strength for a standard push-up. These are performed by standing close to a wall and then pushing away from the wall. Increase the difficulty by moving your feet farther from the wall.


Fun Facts About Push-Ups:

  • In most forms of push-ups, you are lifting 65% of your body weight
  • The record for the most consecutive push-ups is 10,507 by Minoru Yoshida of Japan in 1980.
  • Push-ups dates back to 1905
  • The record for the most push-ups done in 24 hours (non-consecutively) is 46,001 by Charles Servizio of the USA in 1993.
  • The Fence Lizard demonstrates push-ups to attract its reptilian mates

Photo demonstrations are courtesy of Jose Rodriguez. For more push-up ideas or to schedule a one-on-one personal training session with Jessica, email her at To schedule a consultation with Jose Rodriguez (pictured), email him at!

Post written by FFC West Loop Personal Trainer Jessica Frank.


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Perhaps you’ve seen some members at the gym rolling around on long black cylinders and wondered what they were doing. Or you have been foam rolling for a while now and wonder if you are doing it right or what the science is behind it all. I’m here to answer those questions, plus give you a few tips on how to work specific areas of your body for the most benefit!

The Science Behind Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a form of Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), a type of stretching that uses autogenic inhibition. Our skeletal muscle contains muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTO) – when these receptors are stimulated by a change in tension, it causes the muscle to relax.

Basically, when you hit a trigger point with the roller, the GTO will turn off the muscle spindle, which allows the muscle fibers to relax – thus easing muscle tension and aiding in muscle recovery.

The chain of events is kind of like our bodies’ natural reaction to pull our hand away quickly when touching a hot pan. It is one of the body’s many safety mechanisms, and it protects us from muscle tears resulting from muscle tension. The muscles can’t release what they don’t know is there, and making our muscles aware through foam rolling is the key to unlocking this tension!

The Benefits of Foam Rolling

Working with a foam roller is great for releasing muscle tension and pain, and increasing range of motion. Foam rolling will improve your joint control and mechanics, which will give you a better workout and greater result with less chance of injury.

Whether training for your first marathon or just regular every day wear and tear, muscles get tight. When a muscle is tight, it can pull on your joints – and tight muscles cause other muscles to work harder or sometimes turn off completely. It is important to keep your muscles in balance and free from excess tension, or you can end up with joint pain or injury.

Foam rolling is extremely efficient and safe, in comparison to many standard stretches. Foam rolling is safe anytime: before, during, or after a workout. Foam rolling is effective for many areas of your body. Read on for basics on how to foam roll and tips for specific areas of the body.

How To Foam Roll

  1. Place foam roll under target area.
  2. Engage core and glutes to create a strong base.
  3. Roll 1 inch per second for about 60 seconds on each area, hold tender areas for 30 – 60 seconds.

Important safety tip: do not roll over joints or bones and do not roll your lower back!

Choosing a Foam Roller

Foam Rollers can be short (12 inches) or long (36 inches.) They are typically 6 inches in diameter. A number of different densities exist, so choosing one that is right for you is important.

A softer roller is best for someone new to foam rolling. Some foam rollers have bumps, waves, or grooves for a more intense experience. At FFC, we have long black rollers that are of a higher density, (which, if you are new to foam rolling, you might find it difficult or painful at first.) To alleviate discomfort, you can reduce the amount of weight on the roller by shifting your body or supporting yourself with a leg or arm. As you continue rolling daily the discomfort will reduce. See the video for more on this.

Related: click here for a free 1-hour personal training session at FFC!

Calves- foam rolling



Calves (lower back of legs): put the roller under a calf. Rest your other foot on the floor. Roll from the ankle to below the knee. Rotate the leg in, then out. Stack ankles to add pressure. Roll both calves at once for less pressure.


IT band - foam rolling



Iliotibial Band (side of legs): lie on your side with the roller near your hip, rest your other leg’s foot on the floor. Roll down your outer thigh toward your knee. Increase pressure by stacking your legs.


Hamstrings - foam rolling


Hamstrings (upper back of legs): place the roller under your thighs. Roll from the knees to the buttocks. To increase the pressure, roll one leg at time, turning your leg in and out.




Adductors - foam rolling



Adductors (inside of thighs): lie on your stomach with one leg extended slightly to the side, knee bent. Place the roller in the groin area of the extended leg and roll the inner thigh.



Quads - foam rolling


Quadriceps (upper front of legs): lie on your stomach with a roller placed under the front of your thigh and slowly roll up and down from the bottom of your hip to the top of your knee.



Glutes - foam rolling



Glutes (your backside): sit on the roller and place one foot on the opposite knee. Lean into one buttock and roll forward and back, using your supporting leg to control the pressure.


Mid back - foam rolling



Mid Back: put the roller under your middle back and lie down. Support your head, and get long hair out of the way. Roll from bottom of your ribs to top of your shoulders. Rotate your torso to get into your lats.




For more information or to schedule a one-on-one foam rolling demonstration with Jessica, email her at See more at the following YouTube video link:

Post written by FFC West Loop Personal Trainer Jessica Frank.


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Meal planning. The concept seems so simple, yet can be very daunting when you’re up to your ears in Tupperware and can’t possibly seem to find the time to make a grocery store run.

It may appear easier to revert back to the old ways of winging it during the week, but trust us when we say meal planning will make eating healthy much easier and save your sanity down the road. Here are 5 tips to implement to actually make planning and meal prep a staple of your weekly routine.

Step 1 – Dedicate the time.

Dedicate a specific time each week (preferably a consistent time) for meal planning, grocery shopping, and prepping (at least a little bit) in advance. This will save you time and money during the week.

Step 2 –  Create and save meal ideas.

Look through your cabinets to see what ingredients you already have and check what’s on sale at your grocery store to get the wheels turning on what to cook for the week. Also, use Pinterest, cookbooks, and other websites to bookmark your favorite recipes. All these tools can help you come up with ideas for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. If it helps you, write out which days you will eat which meals.

Remember: it’s okay to repeat some meals during the week. Keep it simple by having similar breakfasts during the week, or making extras at dinner for lunch the next day.

Related: set up a free 30-minute nutrition consultation with one of FFC’s on-site registered dietitians – click here!

Step 3 – Make a list.

Using your meal ideas as an outline, create a list of the items you still need (remember to check if you have any of the ingredients already before you go!) Make sure you write down amounts from the recipes so you don’t buy too much extra.

Step 4 – Hit the store.

Now that you have your list, make a trip to the store and vow to only buy what’s on your list. (I dare you!) Easier said than done, but if you have it written down already you’ll be more likely to stick to only what you need.

Step 5 – Prep a few items.

Cooking protein ahead of time (don’t forget the spices – here are 6 you definitely need to have on hand), chopping vegetables so they’re ready to be cooked, or putting together lunches in separate containers so they’re all ready to go are all time savers once the week gets under way.

There you have it, 5 easy ways to make sure you’re set up for success! Now it’s your turn – give meal planning a try this week and let us know how it goes by leaving a comment or tagging #FFCChicago!

Post written by FFC Registered Dietitian Amy Silver.


Resistance training is an essential part of any workout program, regardless of whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain weight. However, most people are either doing way more resistance training than they need, or are doing exercises that do not give them the maximum benefit for their time. Here’s a resistance training efficiency hack you should try.

Sure, a five-day weight lifting split to isolate each body part will help you build muscle, but for most people that is an unrealistic amount of time spent at the gym.

If you are doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions hitting each machine in the row, you will see some benefit in terms of strength and muscle size – but in most instances, you will be sacrificing mobility, stability, and core activation. (Speaking of core activation, check out this recent post on how yoga can help you see better results from lifting!) That’s where this hack comes in.

The Compound Set

We all live busy lives, so why not get into the gym, do a quick AND effective strength and muscle building workout, and get out as soon as possible? This is why compound sets are very valuable.

A compound set has multiple exercises engaging the same muscle group. The method I prefer uses three exercises with different repetition ranges to get the perfect balance between strength and definition.

Related: want to check out a club for yourself? Click here to try FFC free!

Example Chest Compound Set Workout

Your first exercise will be relatively heavy, and therefore be more beneficial for building strength.  The next two will be at a moderate and lighter weight for more repetitions to help develop muscle tone or size. Repeat these two exercise sets two or three times with a weight that is challenging for you, and you will get a comprehensive and exhausting routine for the body part of interest that takes about 10-15 minutes.

Add two more compound sets for back and shoulders, and you should be able to complete a full upper body routine in 45 minutes with time to spare if you want to give your arms some extra attention.

It should be noted that in order for this routine to be performed effectively and safely, you need to feel confident enough with the exercises to be able to use heavier weights for the 5 repetition set. But regardless of your goals, this style of weight training can be very beneficial, especially if you feel that your resistance training has become boring or stagnant. Introducing some unusual stress on your muscles and nervous system is essential for allowing you to continue to make progress.

Apply This To Other Areas Of Your Workout

This routine can also be used for legs, or even for biceps and triceps. Not only is this an extremely efficient way to exercise, but it’s also more fun than your typical 3 sets of 10. Even if you feel comfortable with your program, adding a compound set is an additional tool that will easily help maximize your success!

Post written by FFC West Loop Personal Trainer Paras Patel.

About Paras

Paras Patel specializes in core training, functional, stability and balance, trigger point and athletic training, as well as TRX/bodyweight training and flexibility as an ACE-certified trainer at the Fitness Formula Clubs West Loop location. Have questions or want to set up a free complimentary 60-minute session? Email him at!

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Inflammation” is the new buzzword, and for an important reason – it’s often a good indicator to us that something is going on we need to attend to. For example, inflammation can happen as a result of injury.

Additionally, if it’s happening on the inside of our bodies, it may feel like bloating – and it can cause heart disease, diabetes and other issues. So how can we prevent or reverse this inflammation? Food is our best bet.

As people who are trying to be healthy, we need to stop thinking of food as the enemy. Food can be our best friend if we choose the right kinds, the right amounts and use it in a way that is nice to our bodies. Here are 3 tips to reduce inflammation in your diet and the diseases it may cause!

  1. Eat a diet chock full of fruits and vegetables.

Aim to fill half your plate at each meal with these nutrient-dense items, about 5-7 servings per day. One serving is 1 cup raw, 1/2 cup cooked. As I tell my clients, non-starchy vegetables are “free” – eat as many as you’d like! These are great for snacking or for the stress-relieving crunch we all desire. Make sure you eat the rainbow, meaning you chose many different colors each day. The different colors of produce give them different nutrients and antioxidant properties. Also, a variety of foods in our diet can improve the health of our gut, leading to great health overall.

How-To: I turn vegetables into comfort food by spiralizing them into noodles, blending them into smoothies or pancakes, dipping them in a homemade yogurt dip, or making fried rice with cauliflower “rice”. I also enjoy fruit as a dessert by sprinkling cinnamon on it and baking it.

  1. Season your food with anti-inflammatory herbs and spices!

Flavor is key to keeping healthy eating interesting, so why not flavor your foods AND add healthy properties? Use the following herbs and spices to get the best anti-inflammatory benefits: ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, rosemary, sage, thyme, turmeric, and cayenne pepper. You can also practice mindful eating by focusing on the different flavors while you eat!

How-To: I love to add rosemary and thyme to chicken breasts, ginger to my morning tea, and cinnamon to just about everything!

Related: click here to schedule a free 30-minute nutrition consultation with one of FFC’s on-site registered dietitians!

  1. Drink water, lots of it.

Water helps flush out your system throughout the day, it helps you stay full, and it has zero calories! Aim to drink half your bodyweight in ounces (i.e. 150-pound person should drink 75 ounces water). For more tips on how to stay hydrated, check out this post!

How-To: I like to add lemon to my water, but you can also choose lime, cucumbers, mint, or even ice. Please don’t add sweeteners – natural or artificial – as these will cause you to crave more sweets later.

Which of these tips have you tried?! Which are your favorite? Let us know in the comments or share on social using the tag #trainingforlife!

Post written by FFC Oak Park Registered Dietitian Amy Silver.


Have you ever sat down in front of the TV screen with a big bag of popcorn and before you know it, you’ve reached into the bag and discovered the entire thing has magically disappeared?

If you are like most people, this is something that happens more often than we like to admit. This is an example of mindless eating – eating without paying attention to what or how much food is being eaten.

Mindful, or intuitive eating, on the other hand, is the practice of paying full attention to the experience of eating/drinking. It is realizing the color, smell, texture, flavor, temperature, and sound (crunch!) of the food we are eating.

Intuitive eating is important because taking the time to fully experience the act of eating not only makes us more aware of what we are putting into our bodies, but can also keep us from overeating, which can eventually result in weight loss (and a much healthier relationship with food). Read on for 4 ways to practice mindful eating.

4 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating

Eat in silence.

This means you are not sitting in front of the TV and eating, driving and eating or on your cell phone or social media while eating. It is eating in an electronic-free zone in order to fully be engaged in the eating experience.

Slow down.

Try taking a bite of food and putting your fork down in between bites. It is harder than you might think. Eating shouldn’t be a race, and it takes your brain 20-30 minutes to register the feeling of fullness.

Related: want to schedule a free nutrition consultation with one of FFC’s on-site registered dietitians? Click here!

Pay attention to flavor.

Explore tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami), textures (crunchy, chewy etc.), and smells (sweet apple scent, smell of garlic etc.) of your food.

Try eating just one meal a week mindfully!

Mindful eating should be appreciating, respecting, and enjoying the food you eat everyday. It can be practiced on salad or even cake! It is easy for everyone to try mindful eating with the foods they love.

Related: similarly to scarfing your food down, cheat days aren’t the best idea. Check out this recent post to see why & how you can eat healthy and indulge occasionally anyway.

Do you have any tips for mindful eating or questions about how to eat more mindfully? Let us know in the comments!

This post was written by FFC Registered Dietitian Alicia Huggler.