Though a love for red wine could potentially improve one’s heart health, the latest global studies have shown that no amount of alcohol is safe for consumption. While there are some benefits to certain types, they do not outweigh the risks, and the report is actually urging government officials to change alcohol consumption guidelines. Whether you’re hoping to improve your health, energy levels, or just improve your quality of life, it is probably a good idea to limit your alcohol consumption. On way to do that? Mocktail recipes! Below are a few RD-approved tips on how to do that without sacrificing taste or fun, plus a few different recipes to try.

Mocktail Hour: 3 Recipes to Try

By using the same flavors as your favorite cocktail (without the alcohol), you can enjoy the change of pace from water all day, and even get some health benefits from the ingredients themselves!

Mocktail #1:

  • Mix ginger kombucha + juice of 1/2 orange or grapefruit + ice.
  • Stir, garnish with fruit slices.
  • *Kombucha is fermented tea, which means it’s packed with probiotics. These live ‘good bacteria’ can improve gut health and immunity.

Mocktail #2:

  • Blend 4 cups chopped cucumbers + 1/2 cup fresh lime juice + 1/3 cup packed mint leaves + 4 cups water + pinch of salt.
  • Strain through a mesh strainer, and serve over ice.
  • Add honey or pure maple syrup to taste.
  • *Cucumbers are super hydrating, helping your skin stay soft all winter.

Mocktail #3:

  • Stir 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk + 1/4 teaspoon turmeric + 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/8 teaspoon dried ginger + a pinch of black pepper.
  • Heat for 1-2 minutes until warm.
  • *Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. It needs black pepper to be absorbed by our body, which is why the black pepper is added to this ‘golden milk’ recipe.

Related: matcha is having a moment. Try this superfood mix in in your next beverage creation! Read all about the benefits (and a few recipes) here.

Other Tips:

  • Invite your friends to a different activity. Weekend activities don’t have to revolve around alcohol (I know, this can be surprising to some). Invite your friends to a group exercise class at FFC, try out a sushi-making class, check out a new museum, or go bowling. You’ll still enjoy quality time together, and the next day you’ll actually be able to be productive!
  • Focus on the benefits of not drinking. With so many things in life, we tend to focus on what we’re missing out on. Instead, change your mindset to think about how much better you feel when you don’t drink. Some people experience higher energy the next day, less depression, healthier relationships, and better performance in their workouts.

Post written by FFC Oak Park registered dietitian and nutrition coordinator Amy Silver.


FFC Oak Park spa manager Jason VonGerichten shares the effects of stress on the body and stress management tips, including strategies like massage for stress relief, among others. Check out the research and tips below!

When discussing the stress response, I would often tell my students that their bodies are like the Starship Enterprise.

Stay with me.

When the Enterprise was in a battle and they were taking some hits, Captain Kirk would inevitably say:

“Scotty, put. all. power. to. the. forward. shields!”

And Scotty would unplug the microwave (or whatever) in order to divert all extra power to their forward shields so they could get that final photon torpedo into the Klingons.

Our bodies do something similar.

Effects of Stress On The Body

When we’re faced with stressful conditions our sympathetic nervous system – the “fight or flight” response – is activated, and all power is diverted away from any unnecessary functions. Due to the effects of stress, blood flow is diverted away from our digestive system so we can get more oxygen to the muscles needed to run, many maintenance hormones and mucus production stop secreting, our immune system shuts down, and adrenaline and cortisol are dumped into the bloodstream to give us an extra boost of energy and strength.

And all of this is great… if we are indeed faced with a physical threat. But how often are we actually facing off with a bear in the woods? What do we usually get stressed about?

Office politics. Income taxes. Mortgage rates. Personal relationships.

Can we defend ourselves against these emotional things with a physical response?

We cannot. And in fact, we end up damaging our bodies from this response, because we don’t feel the effects of stress about the next election for five minutes, we feel it every day for the next two years, and our physical bodies have yet to find a pre-programmed response to this type of emotional stressor.

So, we divert blood flow from our digestive system and we get constipated or diuretic. We stop secreting growth hormone and we don’t repair damaged tissue as quickly. Less mucus in our stomachs means there’s no protection from stomach acid (hello ulcers!). We get sick easier without an immune system functioning, and a constant drip of adrenaline and cortisol means damage to our circulatory system and higher levels of glucose in the blood. You can stress yourself into type 2 diabetes!

So what do we do?

It’s easy to tell someone to just relax to combat the effects of stress, but unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. In fact, I don’t know if you know this, but telling somebody who is upset to calm down often has the opposite effect, and all of that person’s non-calmness then gets directed at the person offering advice.

Related: mindfulness could help! Here’s some best tips for practicing mindfulness.

Luckily, our bodies have two built-in systems we can manipulate to activate our parasympathetic nervous system – our “rest and digest” functions.

One of those systems? Breathing. You do not have to get in touch with the divine. You don’t even have to meditate. Just breathe, and breathe deeply. By activating your diaphragm, that big muscle under your lungs, your body gets the signal that you are in a restive state, even if you’re not, and then the rest of the body follows suit. It’s been said you can add years to your life by just breathing deeply a few minutes every day.

Massage for Stress Relief

Massage is the second thing we can do. Our bodies are built to be social creatures, and in the age of online communications it’s more important than ever to find ways to incorporate healthy, healing touch into our lives. Massage for stress relief is a great approach. Aside from all the benefits to your musculature, a simple sense of touch begins the release of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin in your brain. Those are all, in this case, feel-good neurotransmitters, mood elevators, and stress relievers.

Related: did you know that massage can also be a great solution to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Study after study has shown that children who are consistently given loving touch from their parents grow up to be stronger and less sickly, and elderly people whose partners have passed are less healthy because of the lack of loving touch.

Do yourself a favor. Live long and prosper by breathing deeply and getting a regular massage for stress relief.

Post written by FFC Oak Park spa manager Jason VonGerichten.

Hey, did you know FFC offers massage? Set phasers to deep tissue! Use your communicator to give us a call and book an appointment. Have more questions for Jason or want to set up a complimentary consultation? Email him at!

Jason VonGerichten is the spa manager at FFC In Oak Park. He is a husband, massage therapist, pug enthusiast, and his first book, Welcome to Uranus, is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Google Play.

FFC Union Station personal trainer Tyler Sutphen shares a perspective on the body positivity movement and a reminder to prioritize health habits above all.

As you read this, please know that I do not condone bullying of any kind. However, I do find it alarming the way the body positivity movement has progressed in certain directions.

Before I delve into this topic further, I’d like to point out that fatness doesn’t determine fitness. You can be overweight and be fit. Also, above all, you should be happy with who you are as a person both physically and mentally, or at the very least who you are becoming. If you’re not, then it is up to you to take action to change that. It is, however, time that we educate ourselves more about fat instead of suppressing the topic away because of negative feelings about it or an elementary school bully we once had.

Body positivity is a relatively new movement that has resulted in a change in the way the beauty is perceived. No longer is it just the size zero models strutting down the catwalks, as we also have people of a variety of sizes modeling for clothing companies, representing different body types in advertisements, etc. This a great stride towards diversity and mental health, as more people are happier with who they are.

Prioritizing Healthy Habits

There are, however, limitations that people should be reminded of in order to balance both physical AND mental health. The notion of body positivity can sometimes promote a greater likelihood for a dangerous lifestyle of overeating and inactivity, which can lead to serious health issues.

Just because you’re content with your body size, doesn’t mean that it is in fact physically healthy. While fat is important and we need to have some of it, like anything else, there are limitations.

There are mainly two types of fat in adults – white fat and visceral fat. White fat is the most common in the body, and is also called subcutaneous fat. This is the fat under your skin that gives your body its shape. Visceral fat is the harmful type of fat that you cannot see. It is the fat that lies on top of your organs. This fat affects the body in that the more of it that you have, the more at risk you are for developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease (the #1 killer).

*Bonus Fact: if your waist to hip ratio is over 1, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease*

So, as you can infer, the more overweight a person is, the more likely they are to have more visceral fat. Another thing that can contribute to more visceral fat that most people don’t realize is a heavy intake of alcohol. We can combat this type of fat in a healthy, sustainable way – no need to go all “Biggest Loser”. By simply eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, you can help drastically change your body composition. An example of a healthy exercise regimen would include 3-5 days per week of a combination of aerobic and anaerobic activity (like cardio – check out that post here!).

No one is saying that you need to look like Brad Pitt or Gal Gadot, but you do need to take your physical health as seriously as your mental health and try your best to prioritize a healthy, balanced lifestyle through nutrition and exercise.

Post written by FFC Union Station personal trainer Tyler Sutphen.

Want to learn more or set up a complimentary consultation with Tyler? Email him at

Vegetables have SO many amazing benefits. They can help boost our moods, help us fight off illness, and of course, feel better and deliver all the necessary nutrients our bodies need to function. Check out these 10 easy ways to increase your vegetable intake, plus a delicious veggie recipe for even the pickiest of eaters!

10 Ways to Increase Veggie Intake

  1. Add veggies such as broccoli, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini etc. to your pizza or omelet.
  2. Substitute pizza crust for a Portobella mushroom!
  3. Grill or roast colorful vegetable kabobs packed with tomatoes, green and red peppers, mushrooms and onions.
  4. Add lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes etc. to your sandwich.
  5. Top a baked potato with beans and salsa (or pico de gallo) or top it with broccoli and a sprinkle of cheese.
  6. Microwave a cup of low-sodium vegetable soup as a snack or with a salad or sandwich for a meal. You can also make your own easy vegetable soup by taking a frozen bag of vegetables and cooking it in low-sodium broth or bone broth (for added protein)!
  7. Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables (with no added salt, butter, or cream) to steam or stir-fry for a quick side dish.
  8. Make your main dish a salad of dark, leafy greens and other colorful vegetables. Add chickpeas or edamame for added plant protein.
  9. Use cauliflower rice instead of actual rice.
  10. Use spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles instead of pasta noodles.

Delicious Veggie Recipe: Ratatouille

A great veggie recipe for Ratatouille (adapted from this site) to get those veggies in – it’s also gluten free, paleo and vegan!


  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil about 3-4 large leaves, sliced, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence spice mix
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 medium sweet or red onion, sliced
  • 1-2 large zucchini (about 1 1/2 cups slices, sliced)
  • 1 large Japanese eggplant (about 3 cups slices, sliced)
  • 3 large fresh tomatoes (Roma are best; about 3 cups slices, sliced)

Related: check out another veggie-forward recipe: Egyptian spiced easy lettuce wraps!


  • Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 6″x9″ baking dish and set aside. (see notes for baking in an 8″x8″ square pan)
  • In a medium mixing bowl, combine the crushed tomatoes, oil and vinegar. Stir in the garlic, basil, herbs de Provence, salt, pepper, and chili powder.
  • Pour the tomato mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth it into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.
  • Stack the veggie slices in alternating patters (e.g.: onion, zucchini, eggplant, tomato; repeat) and place them on their side in the pan, leaning against the edge of the pan. Repeat until you’ve formed a couple of rows of veggies, filled the pan, and used up all of the veggie slices.
  • Optionally, spray or brush the exposed tops of the veggies with oil to encourage browning in the oven. This is more for appearance, so feel free to skip this step if you want.
  • Bake for about an hour, until the tomato sauce at the bottom is bubbling and the veggies are tender.
  • Garnish with additional chopped fresh basil before serving (optional). Serve hot or cold.

For other nutrition tips, veggie recipes and tricks please reach out to our Park Ridge registered dietitian, Alicia Huggler, MS, RDN, LDN at to schedule an appointment!

My story began in 2011, and in a way that is slightly different than you’d initially expect or assume when the topic of a gym or exercise gets brought into the conversation. At the time I joined FFC, I thought I became a member because my ‘crush’ was also a member. This was the perfect excuse to spend more time together (yikes, *cringing hard*) However, what I quickly realized was that the underlying reason I joined FFC was far deeper than a 4-month crush that my naive 21-year-old self wanted to admit.

For the first month, I was slave to the elliptical machine, the bicycle, the treadmill — really, anything that I could monitor the amount of calories burned on a second-to-second basis. There was an unspoken (but consistently abided by) rule that I couldn’t leave the gym unless – at the very minimum – an hour of exercise was completed. Looking back, I’m pretty certain my younger and gym-obsessed self didn’t actually enjoy it. That being said, I would never miss a day of the gym; it was an obligation I began to resent and yet couldn’t do without. It was a dependency I had built.

Uncovering the Cause & Exercise Addiction

Let’s backtrack for a moment here to get a fuller picture of what was really going on at the time. At 15 years old, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. To shorten a rather long story, I was placed in treatment, was discharged after a month at a ‘restored weight’, and yet I wasn’t recovered. I was nowhere near recovered. Anorexia itself isn’t solely about the food, or one’s body weight: rather, these things were “tools” I was using at the time to avoid what I was actually feeling and experiencing. So, somewhat ‘inevitably’, I relapsed during my freshman year of college.

By the time I joined FFC, I had also decided to recover on my own this time, free of treatment. I was overcoming the ‘food issues’ that had been at the foundation of my life for the past 5 years, and was able to gain about 20 pounds on my own. And yet there was a new obsession beginning: control over my body’s movement (exercise) and what it looked like. Exercise became my replacement to food restriction.

Resisting the Routine

I walked into FFC Gold Coast at about 90 pounds, still extremely malnourished. I was scheduled with Jeremy, one of the trainers who I will forever be grateful for (THANK YOU). On the day of our ‘free consultation session’, he walked me right past my ever-beloved elliptical, and to an open area near the free weights. We used only my body weight to perform squats, lunges, and tested my mobility.

In my head, all I could remember thinking was: ‘this isn’t doing enough. How many calories is this making me burn? I feel like we only worked out for 15 minutes total. Guess I’ll have to do more right after. This isn’t ENOUGH.’

However, the other side of my mind (the rational side), said that something about the session was empowering. It was scary and filled with uncertainty, but empowering enough that I decided to give up my usual routine. It didn’t happen overnight – rather, over the course of a year. The most common goal we hear upon joining a gym is to lose weight. My goal transformed into one of weight GAIN. And so I did: FFC helped me gain 25 pounds through exercise. In other words: FFC was part of what helped me gain my life back.

My words make it sound somewhat simple. It was far from: there were days of doubt, of wanting to relapse back to a life of obsession and of routine. And yet, the strength I built – both emotionally and physically – kept me pushing forward. I cannot fully explain in 2 pages, much less even 50 pages, what it’s like to feel alive within your body after it was destroyed and disrespected for so long. I cannot completely describe the amount of joy I find in movement: and this time, not for its purpose of burning calories, but rather for ADDING strength and power to my life. I can’t express the appreciation I have for a gym that provided such a safe space for the growth I experienced.

Related: an FFC trainer weighs in on the argument for weight lifting and why it will help you create a more well-rounded routine.

Recovered & Rewriting My Story

FFC will forever hold a special place in my heart. It is where my body changed, evolved, and transformed. It is where my MIND transformed, where I overcame exercise addiction, I rebuilt the relationship I had with my body and exercise, and where I continue to maintain such a healthy mindset around exercise. It was part of nearly every stage of my recovery. Its floors and walls hold painful conversations, fear, joy, and excitement. It witnessed my initial spoken goal of “toning my body” (AKA, maintaining my exercise addiction), to my recovered self saying, “I’m just here to feel good within my body.”

Our bodies are truly incredible; they are the vehicle to everything that we do. While I understand every individual has a different goal upon walking into a gym, I am hopeful that at the foundation of it is to show our bodies the highest level of respect that we possibly can.

There are days I want to lift weights and feel like a strong, mighty little badass. Other days, my body is craving slower movement – or no movement at all! In both cases: my body knows exactly what it needs. My role is just to listen and honor it. Exercise was never meant to be an obligation, an addiction, or a source of control over our bodies. Rather, it’s one of the greatest ways to show ourselves respect, compassion, appreciation, and to find the joy in movement.

Our bodies are truly incredible; they are the vehicle to everything that we do. While I understand every individual has a different goal upon walking into a gym, I am hopeful that at the foundation of it is to show our bodies the highest level of respect that we possibly can.

Post written by FFC Gold Coast member Nicole Ness.

About Nicole

Nicole is 27 and was born and raised in Chicago. She currently works as a behavioral therapist in private practice – and loves absolutely everything about it. Outside of the therapy office, Nicole would bring her yoga mat everywhere she goes if she could, could eat sushi for every meal (and sometimes does), and is borderline obsessed with traveling and experiencing new cultures. Her most recent trip? Bali, Indonesia, where she completed 200-hours of yoga training. She also will talk your ear off if you see her at FFC – so let this be your warning!

FFC Oak Park member Gary shares his experience with fitness and wellness, becoming a stroke survivor and how it altered his course of life.

In the fall of 2007 I was 56 years old, tired, overweight and my back hurt. My job involved a lot of sitting, either by a desk or in a car. I was approaching 200 lbs, way too much for my frame. I would often get back spasms or sciatica down my legs. I was a wreck and the quality of my life was in decline. I had two choices, do nothing and continue down this slope or do something about it.

I chose the latter and joined FFC. My immediate goals were to lose 30 pounds, do a pull-up and run a 5k. The first month, I went to FFC almost every day while I altered my diet. Within 6 months I met all three of my goals, including my first 5k in April 2008, at a very respectable pace. Over the next six years, attending FFC three times a week or so, kept me sane and healthy. I continued to run one or two races each year.

Related: how this FFC member was able to avoid surgery with nutrition and exercise.

On June 9, 2014 I woke up, ate breakfast and read the Tribune. Then I dressed and went into my second-floor office to work. My wife had left for work and would be back mid-morning. I was sitting at my desk working on a report. It was about 10:35 AM and my head exploded.

I put my head in my hands and waited for the fireworks to stop. I could not imagine what was happening. With great difficulty I got up from my chair and stumbled through the hall to the bedroom and collapsed on the bed. “Maybe if I lay down for a while, this will go away.”

It didn’t. It was like July Fourth was going off in my head. After a few minutes, I finally realized it was serious. I struggled to get out of bed. One side wasn’t working right. I still didn’t understand what was happening. I dragged myself back to the office and flopped back down into the chair. With my right hand I found a pencil and a piece of paper and wrote: “Feeling woozy, it’s 10:35.”

The next thing I knew, my wife was shaking me and talking. She had found me slumped over my desk. She said she called the paramedics and that I had a stroke. I looked at her. It still didn’t register. “What do you mean?” I thought. “I had a stroke?” I pointed to the note with my right hand and tried to speak. My mouth wasn’t working the way it should and the words weren’t coming out correctly.

The paramedics arrived and asked if I could move my left side. ‘What a silly question,’ I thought. I tried to move my left arm and nothing happened. Same thing with my left leg. It was about this time that I realized that my head had stopped hurting but that I could be in trouble. I pointed to the note. They said good, that was just a few minutes ago.

I was put on a stretcher and was told they were taking me to Rush Oak Park. A fire truck and ambulance were outside the house. They carried me to the ambulance and I heard them speak to the hospital. We were there in a couple minutes. A doctor said I needed a CAT scan and they slid me in the device. Everything was happening very quickly.

Stroke Survivor

I was laid out on a bed in the ER, when they rolled a monitor up to me and said a doctor from Rush downtown would speak to me in a minute. She gave me the good news. Yes, I had a stroke. The CAT scan confirmed it was a clot and not a bleed and that was a very good thing. I would be put back in an ambulance and taken to the downtown Rush facility. On the way the paramedics would infuse me with the anti-clot drug TPA. Since I had reached this point so quickly, there was a good chance it could work. I waved at my wife with my good arm. I mumbled, “See you downtown.”

The paramedics connected me to the miracle drug and kept asking me if I was all right and if I felt anything. They asked me to try and move my left arm and leg. I began to have sensation and they moved. As the ride continued, the movements improved. I told the paramedics “look what I can do!”

We made it to Rush and they rolled me into Intensive Care. I saw my wife and waved my limbs; all of them. I had never seen a bigger smile. I was pretty excited too. Over the next hour or so, different doctors came in to examine me. I had two smaller TIA’s where the stroke symptoms would partially reappear. Then it was over. I was tired and finally had begun processing what had happened.

Later that afternoon, I was visited by other doctors. They put me through a number of mental and physical tests. I was able to answer all of their questions but it seemed to take me just a little bit longer. I could stand and walk but my left side was weaker. I did not have the same strength in my left arm and it shook when I lifted it. When I went to point at something or pick up an object, my aim was off. Not bad considering what could have been. They gave me some exercises and some toys to squeeze and play with.

Recovery – Slow And Steady Wins the Race

I was in the hospital three days and each day I felt stronger. After I came home, I immediately wanted to see if I could still drive. My wife sat beside me as I drove through the neighborhood. She noticed I was driving slower and more carefully, but the more I drove, the better I felt.

The next day, I sat down at my desk to work. My typing, which is mediocre at best, was really bad as I struggled to get my left hand to go precisely where it needed to be. That too improved. About a month later, I went back to FFC and slowly increased my workouts. In November, I ran a 5k. It was four minutes slower than the previous spring but I completed it. My work, my workouts and my grandkids were my therapy.


Over the next three years I ran seven races including an 8k and a 10k. My left side would always remain a little weaker but I continued to work on it. Life returned to normal but then I had surgery for Thyroid cancer. Luckily for me, there has been no recurrence. Due to my continuing workouts my recovery from the stroke and cancer has been strong and quick.

In the past year and a half, I’ve run four more races including an 8k. I’ve reached retirement and am still stretching, running and lifting and doing my best to maintain the quality of life I desire. FFC has been there with me every step of the way and I’m not done yet.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Gary Belenke; images courtesy of Gary Belenke & Chad Marek.


Try FFC for free in Chicago

“I can’t run. I don’t do group fitness classes. I won’t lift weights.” Are these statements true for you? But why? Many times, the answer involves fear. Fear can take the form of many lines – such as “I’m afraid of my knees hurting.” Or “I’m afraid of looking silly because I can’t keep up with the class.” Or “I’m afraid that I’ll be doing it wrong.” How is fear limiting your workouts? How is fear limiting you in general? How to overcome fear? Fear is not simply an excuse. It is a real thing that can prevent us from doing things we want to do, or from dreaming and setting goals for things we might not even realize are possible for us.

If you find yourself saying things like “I can’t”, “I don’t” or “I’m not”, it’s important to really think about what you’re saying. Take a moment to consider how fear can impact your beliefs about yourself or things you’re doing. What if you took fear out of the equation? How would that change your beliefs and actions?

How to Move Forward

Take it one step at a time.

The most important thing to consider when thinking about how to overcome fear is to take overwhelm out of the equation. Pick one thing. Maybe it’s taking a Pilates class, or maybe it’s learning how to lift weights. Or maybe it’s taking an art class or speaking in front of people. It can be very helpful to find a trainer (or mentor) who believes in YOU and your ability to conquer your fear.

Chart your wins so that you can see that your progress is real.

Sure, you can set all the goals in the world, but measuring yourself against things you haven’t accomplished yet isn’t that helpful. Keep a list of your wins so that you can see your forward momentum.

Establish a plan that will move you forward.

Put a clear plan in place to reaching the one specific goal you set and be prepared to adjust this plan frequently, as success rarely moves in a straight line! There will be weeks when you hit all of your mile markers, and weeks where you won’t. Knowing that going off plan is actually part of the plan (and totally normal) can keep you from derailing!

Also, when you do hit a milestone, as mentioned in the previous step, acknowledge it! Chart it, note it – give yourself a high five. Breathe in the success of the moment, and then move onto the next action or stage in the plan.

Related: check out this simply DIY guide to setting smart, achievable goals.

How to Overcome Fear: Moving On and Moving Up

Continue to celebrate your successes and enjoy your new sense of empowerment through movement, no matter how small each baby step forward might be. Know that fear is normal, and never really goes away. However, when you recognize it and practice moving through the fear using the steps above, it becomes a lot less scary!

Reflect, recognize, plan and move through your fears for a strong and healthy body, mind and spirit!

Post written by Kristin Strom, FFC regional Pilates manager.

Whether you believe winter starts the second water freezes or more officially on December 21, we can all agree the changing of the seasons can create moodiness. Believed to be related to the decrease in sunlight and amount of chemicals our brains release with the change in seasons, Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short) – which is also known as Winter Blues – is a real thing. Check out this guide for some additional information about SADs, and how you may be able to find an effective Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment through massage therapy.

Don’t be fooled – SAD can hit you at any time of year, but seems to be especially prominent during the colder months. As I mentioned, the chemicals your brain releases can change during seasonal changes. Your brain creates all different types of chemicals, one of them being serotonin (which can be tied to sunlight). When the sun isn’t out as long, your brain creates less serotonin, which gives you motivation, energy, etc. It’s also a mood regulator, so when there isn’t as much produced, it can lead to feelings that are similar to depression or fatigue. Other symptoms include wanting to sleep or eat more, and lethargy. Not only that, but if you already have other types of mood disorders, this can cause an even greater effect.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment through Massage Therapy

While some may find they are prescribed medication for these times to help fight imbalances, there is actually another great alternative – you can find Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment through massage therapy! We already know that massage has a lot of great benefits to your health – but now you can add this to your list.

Those with SAD generally have higher levels of anxiety, increased symptoms of depression and can see a lack of sleep. This can lead to soreness and increased cortisol levels. Massage can help create Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment by activating neurotransmitters that lower those stress hormones. It can also lower heart rate and improve blood pressure. This can help you feel more calm, as well as more energetic. Massage also offers a gentle touch, which can give you a sense of comfort you may have not felt you were getting.

Remember how earlier I mentioned your moods can be affected by SAD? Another major thing that can be affected is your circadian rhythm – that little internal clock that keeps you awake and helps you sleep. Find yourself tossing and turning? You can help regulate your circadian rhythm by getting a massage – which helps relax sore muscles, ease the mind and make your day a little better through self care. All of those factors can be beneficial when it comes to getting adequate sleep and keeping your circadian rhythm on track, despite the change in sunlight, hormones, etc.

Related: avoid mood swings with these nutrition tips. Check out the post!

Other Ways to Combat SAD

Additional ways to fight off the effects of SAD include developing an exercise routine (ideally one that includes some sort of cardio as well as weight training). Making sure you’re getting enough sleep and exposing yourself to as much natural sunlight as possible, even as little as 30 minutes, could be beneficial too.

Post written by FFC Boystown massage therapist Ariel Leonard.


About Ariel

Ariel is a massage therapist at FFC Boystown; she graduated from the Cortiva Institute and specializes in a mix between deep tissue, sports and relaxation massage, as well as prenatal massage and a number of other modalities. She likes helping people fell better about themselves, whether it be helping overcome mental or physical stress. She always prioritizes listening to and taking care of her clients and always makes sure to share some type of valuable information they can put into practice.

Want to set up a complimentary consultation with Ariel? Email her at!

FFC Union Station massage therapist Aaron Gunn shares the benefits of Swedish Massage, plus other types of massage and all of their benefits.

Today is the day. You’ve made the decision to take that next step. You’re going to book a massage! You hop out of bed, put on your finest athleisure wear, eat a MyPlate-approved balanced breakfast (right after posting a picture of it on Instagram), and make your way to the closest FFC.

As you speed toward the club, you’re so excited about your dive into the world of massage therapy that you almost run over a now-terrified pedestrian. Slow down. The path to wellness is not a race.

You park your car and enter the doors that lead to your new destiny. You approach the spa desk and engage the gatekeeper. This is it. You have prepared for this moment. With confidence, you proclaim, “I would like to book a massage!” The receptionist smiles warmly and responds, “My pleasure. What type of massage would you like to book?”

Wait. Hold on. TYPE of massage? There’s more than one? You did not prepare for this. Which one do you choose? Swedish massage? Deep tissue? Sports massage? What if you choose the wrong one? Will you embarrass yourself, be disowned by your friends, and bring shame to your family? As beads of sweat begin to roll down your face, you panic and yell, “I HAVE DIARRHEA! I HAVE TO GO!”

Crisis averted. Try again tomorrow.

Types of Massage and Their Benefits

Now here’s the thing. You don’t have to be well-versed in the vast array of massage modalities to receive the type of bodywork that is most appropriate for you. At risk of further confusing things, I will briefly discuss a few types of massage that I most often get asked about: Swedish, deep tissue, sports, and myofascial.

Benefits of Swedish Massage

This is often used to describe a full-body or most-body massage that encourages fluid circulation and promotes relaxation. It intends to create a general sensation of feeling better without necessarily treating specific physical issues. However, as a technicality, Swedish massage techniques fall into a broad category that ranges from superficial and relaxing to some of the deepest and most aggressive techniques in the industry. It is not a simple task to describe Swedish, as it can have a variety of intended purposes.

Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage

Ready to have your mind blown? Deep tissue massage is technically Swedish massage. It’s just a specific application of some Swedish massage techniques done with a substantial amount of pressure. It aims at addressing deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue that are creating imbalance, pain, or other dysfunction. I find that many people are hesitant to book deep tissue massage because they expect it to be painful. Guess what? Deep work doesn’t need to be painful to be effective. I firmly (get it?) believe this.

Benefits of Sports Massage

You’re getting massage at your gym. You’re athletic, or at least trying to be. So this is the massage for you, right? Well, maybe. This is where it can get confusing – sports massage is a lot of different things, depending on how it’s complementing your athletic activity. It can be done right before your event/activity, aiming to prepare the body for the movements it’s about to do repetitively and/or forcefully. I can be done afterwards to help the body recover from activity. It could be a deep tissue massage, just specific to the muscle groups most utilized during your sport. Or a Swedish massage. It could be specific treatment of an athletic injury.

Just make sure that your therapist understands what your activities are and what your training schedule looks like. It is important to plan the timing of different massage types with the timing of your activities.

Related: curious as to which type of massage might be best for you depending on what type of fitness you do? Check out this post!

Myofascial Release Techniques & Benefits of Massage

Mostly simply put, myofascial massage is a category of techniques that addresses the connective tissue (fascia) within and surrounding your muscles (myo). By mobilizing connective tissue layers, the aim is to allow the body to move through its full range-of-motion without limitation or pain. While it can be an entire session alone, the reality is that myofascial techniques are incorporated into Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and sports massage.

And This Helps Me How?

I know what you might be thinking. After reading this overview of the various types of massage, you are now even less confident in booking the correct type of massage. That’s ok. The reality is that different modalities are often combined into a single session to give you a catered massage experience that is specific to your needs and goals. The most important thing to know is that you want to schedule a massage. Choose whichever option is closest to what you think you want, and choose the amount of time (if unsure, an hour is often a good place to start).

Then, just speak with your massage therapist. If we need to change the type of massage in our system, we can do that. Our priority is giving you the work that you NEED, not some pre-determined category of massage that you may have randomly chosen. When my clients arrive, I ask them about their goals, their activities, their known injuries and areas of discomfort, and what they are looking to accomplish. I guide them through my professional recommendations, and I structure the massage accordingly. As I often tell my clients: “You’re in good hands. I’m like Allstate.”

Post written by Aaron Gunn, FFC Union Station massage therapist.


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Aaron Gunn Massage Therapist at FFC in Chicago shares all the different types of massage and their benefits.About Aaron

Aaron Gunn has been an educator in the field of massage therapy for almost 13 years. In addition to being a practicing massage therapist, he is certified as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and a registered yoga teacher. He has had the privilege of providing massage therapy for a variety of sports teams and athletes. As a runner and triathlete, Aaron utilizes massage as a part of his own training programs. He aims to shift the perspective on the role of massage therapy to help individuals meet their fitness and wellness goals safely and pain-free. Want to schedule a consultation with Aaron? Email him at!



Try FFC for free in Chicago

A dream of mine? To be told I should eat more food – by data, no less. That dream came true during my recent resting metabolic rate test at Fitness Formula Clubs in Chicago. What’s a resting metabolic rate test, you ask? In the simplest terms, a resting metabolic rate test is a test to determine how much energy (read: calories) your body burns while at rest, in order to perform basic functions of living, by measuring your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels – and therefore, your daily caloric requirements for weight maintenance, gain or loss based on your unique metabolism. Sure, you could work with a RMR calculator (there are a couple online) to find out how many calories you should be eating – but since those aren’t based on your unique metabolism, they can be off. To get an accurate reading, it’s better to meet with a licensed registered dietitian and have an RMR test administered.

Cardio Coach metabolic testing machine for RMR test

How the RMR Test Works

As opposed to an RMR calculator, the resting metabolic rate test requires the use of a machine with a tube you breathe into that will use oxygen consumption measurement to determine your caloric requirements for weight loss, gain or maintenance. Since you need to be completely at rest, you will asked to recline in a chair while you have the test done, as well as wear a nose clamp (sounds weird and scary, but basically it’s just a padded thing you put on your nose to keep your nostrils closed so that all your breathing happens in the tube).

RMR Calculator vs RMR Test: Why You Should Do an RMR Test

As I mentioned before, RMR calculators are great and all – but they’re based on a formula. An actual RMR test analyzes your breath and gives you MUCH more accurate data. For example, I use an app called MyFitnessPal (when I remember) to keep tabs on my diet and to try and reign in my occasional snacking festivals – especially in the winter! According to that app, I was supposed to eat something like 1200 calories a day. Between meals and snacks there was barely room for anything else. I was constantly going over, feeling guilty all the time. I also incorrectly accounted for my exercise – I typically try to work out at LEAST 4 times a week. They’re also fairly intense workouts. Couple that with a meager 1200 calories and you get one very tired, irritable and hangry individual.

Related: how to use MyFitnessPal to help you with your weight goals.

When FFC West Loop registered dietitian Emily Marshall and I looked at an online calculator before my test, it was also pretty low – around 1325 calories a day. Post test, we found out that my actual RMR is up around 1555 calories a day – at a slightly elevated level beyond “normal”. Add in my exercise, and I should be eating something like 1900 calories – even in order to lose a pound a week!! So with no exercise, I should have been eating an additional 230 calories a day than what was predicted by the RMR calculator (which operates using an equation known as the “Mifflin St. Jeor” equation).

In the simplest terms, a resting metabolic rate test is a test to determine how much energy (read: calories) your body burns while at rest, in order to perform basic functions of living, by measuring your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels – and therefore, your daily caloric requirements for weight maintenance, gain or loss based on your unique metabolism.

Emily explained that with the equation estimation, it would have taken a fair amount of time and trial and error to figure out how much to eat for my body and goals – but with the RMR test, I have a much better starting point right off the bat. Not to mention, with the results, I can feel the effects that much faster – eating more and fueling my body properly means more energy, better ability to focus and a faster exercise recovery time. I have been feeling pretty sluggish lately and I am definitely noticing a slight change since being more mindful of eating proper snacks etc. Of course, this is my personal result based on my body – it will be different for everyone. However, there is something to be said for having a roadmap to get to one’s goals more quickly and accurately. Our bodies are like machines and are a lot more formulaic than we realize. The right combination and amount of fats, proteins and carbs can really make that much difference in how well and efficiently it functions!

RMR calculator vs RMR test - why you should get a resting metabolic rate test done

Important note: I agreed to do this test in the lobby to help bring awareness to the awesome power of data and wellness, but this is not the norm. You will definitely have privacy! Unless, you know, you want to hang out and wave at people while you’re taking your test. You do you.

How to Prepare for the RMR Test

If you happened to see my post about my Vo2 Max experience a couple of months ago (which basically measures how efficiently you exercise), you’ll know that gearing up for a test like this requires some prep on the front-end. As in, the fasting kind. My recommendation is to try to schedule the test as early as possible so you don’t have to worry about depriving yourself of food or caffeine for very long! (I did mine bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 7 AM). In order to get the most accurate results possible, you will need to make sure you

  • Don’t eat or drink anything prior to your test (check with the registered dietitian for specific timeframe).
  • Don’t drink caffeine before your test.
  • Refrain from exercise 24 hours before your test – if your workouts are high-intensity, you may need to hold off for 48 hours. Again, check with the RD!
  • Wear regular clothes (I wore my regular office clothes).
  • Bring something to occupy yourself for about 25-30 minutes that you can do with one hand in case you need to hold the tube for more comfort.

Things I’d Want My Former Self to Know Before Taking an RMR Test

The test was quick and painless – albeit a little awkward, but overall very simple. Emily did a great job of explaining the process to me, what each of the pieces of equipment was for, how the machine worked, etc. Here are a couple of tips & tricks for anyone considering taking an RMR test.

  • #1 most important thing – bring chap stick! If your lips get dry easily, I recommend some kind of chap stick or lip balm. If you get drooly, they will have tissues for you. The RD will explain!
  • Yes, they do use all-new disposable nose clamps, mouth pieces and breathing tubes – no germs here.
  • Don’t do the test with a cold – because you’re only breathing through your mouth, it can do wonky things to your head pressure – I would maybe stay away from the test if you’re experiencing a head cold.
  • Breathing with the tube will be weird – kind of like a snorkel.
  • Hold the tube with your hand if you find yourself wanting to bite down on the mouth piece so that your jaw doesn’t get tired! That’s why I recommend a phone or Kindle etc. that you can hold with one hand.

How to Sign Up for an RMR Test

Yes, this might sound a little more complicated than a simple online RMR calculator, but I promise the data and knowledge you will come away with will be well worth it. Now, I can use my results to figure out meal plans, and have a much better understanding of how much I should be eating for specific goals. Plus, if I ever wanted to start a race training program, kick up my weight loss a notch, etc., I would have an accurate roadmap to do it. To sign up for a test at FFC, you can visit this link or email! Questions about the specifics? You can email registered dietitian Emily Marshall at or visit your club’s RD.

Post written by FFC marketing manager Megan Zink.