Category: Life

Low on Willpower? How to crush your workout plan without it

I’m on week 10 of 12 week my workout plan, 4-5 days a week of lifting at the gym, for 30 – 60 minutes. This is the first plan I have ever done without skipping workouts or extending out the weeks and I am so proud! I’ve been doing a lot of introspection on why this time is different, and I have some takeaways that I know will help you achieve similar success.

We’ve all started an exercise plan before thinking that this time we’ll stick to it, and then we feel miserable when we don’t. I’m here to tell you that if you’re relying on pure “willpower,” not only are you going to have a hard time getting to your goal, but also it will not be enjoyable. There are better ways to ensure success:

1.  Small successes beget bigger ones

Motivation through negativity is the quickest way to fail. Posing pictures of people who have your “dream bod” or telling yourself that you need to workout because you don’t like your body may be motivating for a short time, but you can’t ride the negativity train for very long without losing steam and hating yourself along the way.  What’s more motivating? Meeting small goals and feeling good about them. Every time you meet a goal or see small improvements, you build positive momentum and want to keep going. When you start something new, keep your goals simple and manageable so that you can see results. For me, it was simply checking off the boxes on my workouts for the week and being able to see progress in the weight I was lifting from week to week.

2. Do something you actually like

This may seem obvious, but it’s a big deal. I like lifting and running, and I alternate between them depending on what I’m into at the time. Lifting weights makes me feel strong and confident and I think it’s fun to see how much weight I can do on a given day. If I didn’t enjoy it, there’s no way I would have gotten this far. This does not mean I am super pumped about getting to the gym every day that I go. I still have days where I’m not as into it, or I’m tired and just do the minimum to get it done. But for the most part, I like it enough to keep going. When you do something you like, it’s much easier to convince yourself to do it, even on days you’re not so motivated. And life is too short to spend hours a week doing something you totally hate.

3. Know what motivates YOU

This is the first workout plan where I had a physical book to write in and I learned something big about myself. I already knew that I enjoyed having a plan when I hit the gym so I don’t have to think about what to do or how long to stay. What I didn’t know was that I love keeping a physical record of the weights I’m using and seeing all of the check boxes in my own handwriting from week to week. Once I got a few weeks into the plan without missing a workout, there was no way I was going to have a week go by where I left boxes empty. It is super motivating and makes me feel accomplished. Again, feeling good about your progress means you’re more likely to keep going back for more. Keep in mind that everyone likes different things. Paper check boxes do it for me, but you may think it’s dumb to carry a book around and write things down between sets. Find out what YOU like and do it. And this may require trying several different things before you find something.

Willpower is not the way to results and you are not weak or lazy if you’ve been relying on it and feeling disappointed.  Skip “just do it” and build yourself up for success.

Curious about what my workout plan is? Right now I’m doing the “Get Jacked” plan from Girls Gone Strong. I highly recommend following them, and their founder Molly Galbraith.

Want to know why I became a health coach? Read my story.

How to Take Action on Your Goals Today (it’s easier than you think)

You’ve read all of the books and devoured more webinars than you can count on both hands – so why haven’t you started that business, lost the weight, learned how to crochet, or [insert desired thing here]? Why is it always getting pushed off until tomorrow?


I know this firsthand. I love all of the books, seminars, videos, and podcasts and could eat up information all day everyday. I love books so much I wrote my own! It’s easy and fun to learn new things and we’re all inherently curious. But we’re missing a key part of life and learning: experience.


There is an abundance of information available to us in the world now and we forget that we don’t have to consume all of it, all of the time. Our emphasis on learning starts early in life, as we spend 12 years (minimum) studying in school before we are sent off into the world to use any of the knowledge. If there is anything we know, it is how to learn, how to study, how to think about things.


I see this knowledge paralysis with my health coaching clients often. They read diet books and get caught up in the next new theory about carbs and protein. They inherently know the basics: more water, more vegetables, more movement, less processed food, less sugar. However, they get too tangled up in diet rules and food theory and declare it a lost cause. It takes time and patience to implement new habits and see real changes. Health also requires experimentation to find out what works for you and what doesn’t. What makes YOU feel good?


As I build Embracing the Mess, I encounter a similar problem. I’ve read enough books and listened to enough online business courses to know what the basic steps are for expanding my reach. But when it comes down to actually doing the work that I know I need to do, I freeze. Part of it is fear that I need to move through, and I do that through tapping and journaling. The other part is that it takes effort to transition from thinking about doing something to actually starting it.


Inner knowledge, and knowledge from experience, needs more emphasis. There is a time when we need to put down the books and start to TRY things, even if they don’t work the first, second or even third time. This trial and error is invaluable and how change and growth happens. It may be harder or scarier to actually ditch the wine or start that website than to just plan on doing it, but you will never regret taking that first step. The good news is that as soon as you start, your energy will transform and the momentum will carry you through to the next right step. One of my mentors, Marie Forleo, has a quote that inspires me daily: “Clarity comes from action, not thought.”


What can you do today to move from thought to action so you can start reaching your goals? Leave a comment below and hold yourself accountable!


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Feminism and Weight Loss – can they go together?

I’ve been studying personal development and nutrition for a few years now, and consider myself aware of media and how it affects women’s self-esteem and body image.

Whether you realize it or not, constantly seeing images of thin, photo-shopped women on social media, in magazines and advertising your favorite products can damage how you see yourself, and create body dysmorphia.  These images consciously or subconsciously tell you that your body is abnormal and needs to change.

As a health coach and self-proclaimed feminist, I encourage women to love their bodies and love seeing companies stop using photoshop in their ads. I think all of the women in my life are gorgeous.

However, the number one goal my clients and friends have is weight loss. Who am I to tell them that they can’t want to lose weight? And after coming home from a month-long vacation and noticing that my clothes were pretty darn tight, I started to think I could stand to lose a few pounds myself.

But there is NO way I was going to admit that. Judging my body based on its weight and feeling like I needed to look or be a certain way was just admitting that the media and all of its ugliness was right…right?

Body image can be a real mind f*ck, especially in the days of technology and social media. There is a whole industry targeting women, making them feel like they need to change themselves and buy certain products to do it. It’s in their best interest that you feel inadequate, and there are plenty of times a day that I and all women feel that way. Once you start creating awareness around the barrage of ads and subliminal messaging, it’s hard to go back and admit that you want to look differently.

How can you tell that something is what YOU want to do for your health and vitality and not something that you feel you need to do because of what the outside world is telling you?

There is no right answer, unfortunately. You have to examine your motivation, and the easiest way to do that is look at the language you are using when you think about starting to eat or exercise differently. Are you telling yourself that you’re fat and need to go look better for your cousin’s wedding? Or are you noticing that your energy is waning and you don’t feel as good as you want to, and you want to make some changes to get there?

See the difference? Both could have the identical outcome – e.g. a few more days in the gym every week. But completely different motivations.

Even if your motivation is just that you want your butt to be a little more poppin’ that’s okay. It is your prerogative to look and feel however YOU want to. But know that you may not stay on the workout train for very long unless you have a “why” that feels good to you. We can’t change our habits by beating ourselves into submission. Positive reinforcement will always work better.

More importantly, know that you ARE perfect the way you are now, and later. That you are worthy of love at every weight. It is possible to love yourself and want to change how your body looks and feels. Not only is it possible, but it will work better that way. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, and the patriarchy isn’t winning when you are making decisions that are good for you. The most important aspect of feminism is women having their own autonomy – the right to make decisions and be who they want to be, when they want to. And know, if you’re even thinking about this, that you are one step ahead of pervasive media. There is no shame in wanting to lose weight, or any other changes that you’re thinking about making. Do what is in YOUR best interest.

<3 Stephanie



Do you have a love affair with food? Me too. Here’s what to do.

Let’s just start here: I love food.

I started religiously watching the Food Network channel on TV when I was in middle school. I have no idea how or why, because no one else in my family was into it. Rachel Ray was my after-school go-to girl. I learned how to make one of my first recipes around then too when my neighbor taught me how to make guacamole.

I was never a picky eater, not even when I was younger. At dinnertime my sister would shove her vegetables onto my plate when Mom wasn’t looking. Peas? Greenbeans? All Mine.

Do you have that one food you can’t ever get enough of? Mine has always been pasta. Plain pasta, Alfredo pasta, Mac ‘n Cheese, I don’t discriminate. As a child on spaghetti night I would sneak into the kitchen and shove handfuls of leftover pasta into my mouth over the stove. When I went through a bout of depression in college, plain pasta with butter is pretty much all I would eat. Now I could probably still crush a half a box by myself in one sitting, although I admit I haven’t tried.

When people making me dinner ask, “what do you like?” My answer is always, “I eat pretty much everything,” and it’s true.  Except raw celery…gross.

Food SHOULD be something you love. It’s an integral part of living, and making it is fun, creative and a loving gesture for those you cook for.  There’s nothing like a dish coming out exactly how you wanted it to. I’m pretty sure heaven is something pretty close to a perfect bowl of Shrimp Scampi and a glass of wine.

But here’s the kicker… It can’t be the only thing you love. If you’re living your life just to make it to lunch or dinner or a glass of wine at night, and not enjoying what is in-between, you may have a problem. I get it, because I’ve been there. Lunch break at Chick-fil-a is the only time you take a break and get to talk to your co-workers. Evening meal on the couch is the only time you get to unwind and not have to be “doing” anything productive.

When you only enjoy life during meals, your brain gets the idea that food = happiness, love, socialization, relaxing, etc. And when you need a little more of that good stuff in your life, your brain says. “I’m smart, I know what to do, let’s eat more!”

I don’t subscribe to the notion that food is just fuel for your body. I love cooking and eating and it is part of the reason I started this blog. But you do need to listen to what you REALLY need. Is it a new job? More frequent breaks to go outside? More time with your friends? Whether or not taco night is involved, make sure that you have lots of other things in your life that are filling you up – emotionally and spiritually. You may find that that second brownie isn’t going to do it for you.




Started From the Bottom, Now We Here: my story, health and gratitude

Maybe it’s some rainy day introspection, or some mercury retrograde vibes, or the fact that I am confined to the couch today “resting.” Being sick this week has been a poignant reminder of why I made many decisions these last four or five years. Granted I can’t fully compare surgeries and hospital stays to a three-day virus, but the feelings are strangely similar. It’s a reminder that I take my health for granted on days that it is good. I never want to go to work or the gym, until I am unable to.

For those of you that haven’t heard my story, in 2012 I ended up in the hospital with a diseased appendix, and was having surgery to remove it the next day. It had been failing me for weeks or months, and I mostly ignored the symptoms, pressing on through my new job and life in Maryland. Unfortunately, there were two more surgeries after that one, a result of some complications. Scar tissue, abscesses, a blocked intestine, and infections close to spreading to my blood had me in the hospital for weeks. I narrowly missed all of this happening a few months before I got my new job, when I didn’t have any health insurance. I still don’t know how I got so lucky. I eventually came out the other side, only missing one organ and in a few thousand dollars in debt instead of tens of thousands.

After I recovered, I started taking my health much more seriously. I read piles of books and countless blogs, went vegan, and started what is now ETM Health. While I am no longer vegan, I do still follow a mostly whole food diet, low in sugar and processed foods. I met my now husband in 2014 and he taught me a lot about exercise, running and strength training. In July of 2017 I graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition as a Certified Health Coach, after a one year program. All of these things have become such a big part of my life now that I don’t think of them much anymore.

But today, as I’m forced to not move much without spurring a coughing fit, I’m taking a few books off my shelf. These were with me at the beginning and I’m excited to crack them open again. I’m going to nurse myself back to health, and use this week of a reminder of why I do what I do.

I wanted to share this with you all, and hopefully spur you to reflect on your health today. Take a moment to be grateful for it, and think about how you can show your gratitude this weekend through some healthy choices. Go for a walk or run, make some good food with your loved ones, and take a break.

With love,


P.S. These are the book titles if you want to check them out:

Fight Back with Food, from Reader’s Digest

All is Well, by Louise Hay and Mona Lisa Schulz

Complete Guide to Natural Home Remedies from National Geographic

Three Ways to Take Care of Your Body in Times of Stress

When we’re going through a difficult time, or stressing about something in our life, we tend to throw our “healthy habits” out the window and jump on the survival mode train. When I talk about making healthy decisions that support mental wellness with people who are struggling, there is an initial resistance. That is partly due to the way that I approach the subject, because I am known to be overenthusiastic and a fixer, a doozy of a combo. People also think that I’m trying to erase or diminish their difficulties. I want to make it clear that this is not at all what I am attempting to do. I fully believe there is a spiritual component to life struggles, and to health issues as well. But we are also in human bodies that have brain chemistry, and there are ways to maximize healthy body chemistry and ease the literal pain and suffering a person is going through. And, more importantly, reduce lasting damage to a person’s health from stress and mental anguish. You will come out the other side of whatever you are dealing with eventually, and your body will thank you then for taking a little better care of it.

Three Ways to Take Care of Your Body in Times of Stress:

Exercise – Move every day, especially outside if you can. The endorphins and sunlight will reduce cortisol (your stress hormone) and help to keep your sleep cycles regular.






Add foods high in magnesium and vitamin B6 to your diet – Magnesium helps relax muscles and is found in avocados, spinach and dark chocolate. B6 assists in the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps the body deal with stress and anxiety. Bananas and salmon are great sources of B6.






Consult your toolbox – Pick a stress relief technique that works for you and use it often. Yoga, meditation, tapping (EFT), journaling, and therapy are just a few options. Read a book for fun or get an adult coloring book and color away. You may have to experiment with a few different ones to see what makes an impact on your mood.


Three things seem overwhelming today? Start with one, commit to it, and try more when you’re ready.

Is your scale lying to you?

Did you weigh yourself today? This week? This month? Or are you avoiding getting on the scale because you won’t like the number that you see?

We have too many preconceived notions about the amount that we weigh, and we let it completely control what we think about ourselves and our fitness progress. Workout and diet programs promise that we’ll lose 15 lbs in 3 weeks, or gain 5 lbs of muscle, as if it will definitely happen, and in that order.

We think that it will look something like this:


When in reality it may look something like this:

Yes, those are all of MY weights, from the last 2+ years, in a chart (thank you Fitbit scale). Over the course of MORE than TWO years, I’ve gone down 2, almost 3 pant sizes. Does it look like it on there? Not really. That’s two years of different eating styles, workouts, and lifestyles. Two years of sometimes running a lot, sometimes lifting more, sometimes vegan, sometimes eating whatever on vacation, sometimes no sugar. Two years of getting fitter and stronger, playing soccer for the first time, running a 10k, and slacking on my yoga. The only thing that has been consistent that whole time is that I think healthy eating and being active are important, and no matter what I return to that in some way or another. And if you just looked at that graph, at the numbers, you wouldn’t think I’ve made much progress. But I am a completely different, much healthier, less asthmatic, lighter, quicker, less stressed person than I was then, I assure you.

Bottom line: go ahead and weigh yourself because stats are fun sometimes, but don’t get too serious about those numbers.

If you’re having trouble finding workouts and eating styles that work for you and make you feel good, contact me at and set up a free health coaching consultation. Real results take some time, but they are for life.

Be Happy Now…(and how to not get sick on vacation)

I recently caught myself doing something that I’m sure many of you will relate to. I have a lot of exciting things happening in my life right now, with very little space “in-between” to digest it all. I found myself thinking today that “I will relax once ____ is done.” This time, it was a test I wanted to pass, but it can be any variation of things:

I will relax/be happy when…

…the weekend is here

…I get that new job

…my debt is paid off

…I’m on vacation

…I figure out ‘x’

…I lose this weight

…I get married

…the house sells

…I hear back from [insert person]

…I get paid

etc, etc. I could go on forever with examples that people, including myself, use on a daily basis. But what if you could just choose to relax now? Yes, right now, before you finish reading this sentence. Take a deep breath. Congratulations, you did it!

Ever gone on vacation and immediately gotten sick? Most people blame it on the airplane germs (yes, that recycled air is gross), but many people suffer from “leisure sickness.” Your body knows (through stress hormones) when you’re busy and it’s not a good time to get sick, and when you are taking a break and it has time to repair.

So, in the interest of taking a great vacation without getting sick, and enjoying your life more every day, choose now to relax. Enjoy the time before, during and after your achievements! If you need help managing your stress, make an appointment to have a consult with me or another health professional, therapist or a date with a friend! You are worth it.

Daring Greatly: A Story About Barbells

When I started lifting weights a little while ago, I was in Maryland at a pretty nice gym. I was going almost every day at the beginning and just doing all of the different exercises and figuring out how to use the equipment was a good, soreness inducing workout. But there got to be a point where I started to plateau and didn’t feel like I was getting stronger.

I figured that if I practiced pressing 20 pounds over and over, that I would eventually be stronger and move up to 25s. Repeat cycle. Become superwoman. I am all about practicing and feeling like I can do things well before carefully executing (as you can guess – this is about more than the gym). Here’s what I figured out:

That is not how it works. It just doesn’t. If you keep practicing 20s you will be very adept at that weight and be able to do reps for days, but you won’t be any better at the next weight up. The only way you get to move up is by struggling through a couple of reps at the higher weight. It’s messy and hard and you can do a total of maybe 3 before your muscles are dead. Not pretty or well executed, but eventually you can do more.

At this ripe old age I’m starting to figure out that life is pretty much the same. You can’t get good at things before you try to do them, whether it’s running, figuring out at problem at work, or having a tough conversation with a friend. You can watch many YouTube videos or read books – trust me I’ve googled “how to run” more times than I’d like to admit. You will learn a few things, don’t get me wrong. But the only way to figure something out and get better at it is struggling through the beginning. Brene Brown calls it being in the “arena,” people crowded around while you’re wrestling a bull and all hell is breaking loose.


“I’m constantly reminding myself that I can’t wait until I’m perfect or bulletproof to walk into the arena because that’s never going to happen. We just have show up and let ourselves be seen – that’s my definition of ‘daring greatly.'”  -Brene Brown

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