The SparkPeople Blog

Jen Mueller (SPARK_COACH_JEN)

SparkPeople Community Director and Fitness Coach

Jen Mueller left her first career in corporate finance to earn a master's degree in health education. She is a busy mom of three and holds a number of fitness certifications (including ACE's Health Coach and Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist). She is passionate about helping people reach their health and fitness goals. In her spare time, Jen loves training for marathons (crazy, huh?) and spending time with her family. Jen enjoys blogging about raising healthy children and how small behavior changes can impact health and quality of life.


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Poll: Whom Do You Trust for Nutrition Information?

I've noticed a popular trend this year among friends who have children.  A common New Year's Resolution I heard other moms talking about was to feeding their families fewer processed foods.  This has been one of my goals for quite some time, but I know from experience that it's not very easy.  One reason it can be difficult to feed your kids healthier foods is that you get different recommendations about the "right" and "wrong" things to eat depending on where you look.  Your doctor says one thing. The doctor on TV says another. SparkPeople's dietitians recommend certain strategies. And those tips might conflict with what your best friend has tried successfully.
 
According to a new national survey, moms will be making changes to their food-buying decisions over the next year, and looking to more non-traditional sources for advice.  When it comes to food and nutrition, "Moms place higher priority on the opinions of bloggers and peers than that of experts like doctors and dietitians," according to the survey results. This stood out to me; it seems we trust one another more than the people we've been told to trust as "experts" all these years. So who do you trust more?

Posted 3/25/2013  4:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 22 comments   8,432 views

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You Asked: How Should I Train for a Mud Run?

Last summer, I surprised a few family members by asking if they wanted to form a team to do a mud run.  I’m not known as adventurous—or as someone who likes to get dirty—but mud races were becoming so popular among runners (and non-runners alike) that I was ready to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.  To my delight, the race was lots of fun and definitely something I’d do again in the future. 
  
Mud runs have exploded in popularity over the past few years.  One example is the Warrior Dash, which started as one run in 2009 with 2,000 participants.  In 2012, 65 Warrior Dash events were held across the world, involving more than 1 million participants.  Today, you have no shortage of mud-related "obstacle" races from which to choose. Each race is different, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into before you sign up. 

Posted 3/11/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 48 comments   30,190 views

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5 Foods I Never Feed My Children

One of my biggest priorities as a mom is providing my kids with a healthy diet.  Sometimes I'm met with success (they love vegetables), but other times it's a little more difficult ("Eww!  What is this?!?"). I try to expose them to a wide variety of healthy foods, so that eating this way becomes a normal part of the rest of their lives.  My kids are 6, 4 and 1, and even though I control most of what they eat at this age, I still shake my head at some of the food that's served when I'm not around.  My kindergartner can't go to a Girl Scout meeting, sporting event or even morning snack at school without adults serving her junk food.  So when I'm given the opportunity to bring something, I see it as a chance to show kids that healthy food can taste good.
 
Sometimes I get flak from other parents (including my own) because I don't let my kids order whatever they want at a restaurant or limit the foods I bring into our home.  I don't think I'm denying my children the joys of childhood by not serving them many common "kid foods."  If substituting vegetables for French fries or telling them they can't have the corndog on the menu is the worst thing I do as a mom, I think I'm on the right track.   
 
At the same time, I realize that putting some foods off-limits often makes them the "forbidden fruit," and they can become the food my kids want most.  Just like adults, completely denying yourself the foods you enjoy makes you more likely to binge on them later.  I don't want my child to go crazy at a friend's house because their mom serves chocolate milk and I only serve plain.  My kids get treats and snacks they like, but there are certain foods they will just never get from me.  Recently, I read an article about the top foods nutrition experts won't feed their kids, which inspired me to write this blog.  Wondering what foods are on the "off limits" list for this personal trainer's kids?

Posted 2/25/2013  6:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 114 comments   38,056 views

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Eating Habits of ''The Biggest Loser'': Inspirational or Bad Example?

"The Biggest Loser" is a television show that's gained increasing popularity over the last few years. Contestants lose astounding amounts of weight in a relatively short period of time, inspiring others who watch the show to try and follow in their footsteps. The contestants are forced to dramatically overhaul their eating habits. But are the methods they use healthy? Do they help them establish habits they can maintain long term?

Posted 2/13/2013  7:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 1004 comments   36,252 views

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7 Fitness Accessories for Safety and Visibility

One of my favorite times of day to run is in the early morning before the rest of the world wakes up.  It’s quiet and gives me time to think before the craziness of my day begins.  I prefer to run when the sun is already up, but at certain times of the year, that becomes more difficult.  When I do head out in the dark, my first priority is safety.  Although I never assume that cars can see me, I try to make myself as visible as possible.
 
I hear of too many runners, walkers and bikers out with no lights, no identification, wearing dark colors and expecting that everything will be fine and that cars will gladly move out of their way.  Accidents happen all the time, but you can reduce the chances they will happen to you.  Here are some of the products I recommend to help you stay safe and visible when exercising in the dark.

Posted 2/11/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 15 comments   9,094 views

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6 Ways to Make Your Resolutions Last Past January

You started the New Year full of motivation and enthusiasm.   You decided that this is going to be your year to make lasting changes and improve the quality of your life.    Now that we’re almost a month in, perhaps your motivation has started to wane and a little doubt has crept in.  Does this mean that you’re doomed to repeat the failed resolutions of the past?  Definitely not!  Take a few simple steps to ensure that your resolutions last from January to June to December—and for the rest of your life. Here's how.

Posted 1/28/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 14 comments   8,096 views

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My Best Fitness Tips for Busy Moms

Exercise is an important part of my life, not only because of my job, but because of what it does for me personally.  Exercise helps me relieve stress, makes me feel good about myself, and since I've become a mom, it's one of the few things I do these days that’s all my own.  I’ve blogged in the past about being a busy mom of three small children, and most of the time I put 110% of my effort toward my kids, leaving little for me.  I know that’s not good (and something I need to work on), but one thing I do try to make time for almost daily is exercise. 
 
Whether it means getting up early, squeezing in a few 10-minute workouts throughout the day or doing a quick video while they nap, exercise calms me and helps me get through a busy day without a (mommy) meltdown. 
 
Everyone has the same number of hours in a day, so whether or not you exercise comes down to how you choose to spend your time.  It’s not always easy, and just because I exercise regularly doesn’t mean I pop out of bed at 5 a.m., excited and energized to work out.  I have to drag myself out of bed most days, and some days, my scheduled workout doesn’t happen.  I do the best I can.
 
So if you’re a busy mom like me, how do you begin to find time for exercise?  Here are a few suggestions that work for me.

Posted 1/14/2013  6:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 19 comments   33,230 views

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4 Signs You Won't Reach Your Fitness Goals

With the New Year just around the corner, exercise is on a lot of people's minds. So many of us are bound and determined to reach new fitness goals, hit the gym with vigor, and change our bodies once and for all.
 
Does this sound a lot like last year? What happens between January and December that causes so many people to fail, only to set the same fitness resolutions year after year?
 
No one wants to fail.  When you start a fitness program, the hope is that all of your hard work (and sweat) will carry you to the finish line.  A lot of people can start a fitness program, but very few can stick with it for the long-term. Why?
 
In my experience as a trainer and health coach, the excuses we use to miss a workout aren't the real reasons people fail. You don't have to be a fortune teller to predict who will be going strong next December and who will be starting over again. Most often, I can tell whether someone will succeed or fail based on four simple signs.

Posted 12/31/2012  6:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 20 comments   20,167 views

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Perfect Layering for Winter Workouts

Believe it or not, outdoor exercise can be enjoyable year round—yes, even in the winter months! 
 
When there is a chill in the air, it's easy to assume you'd be better off to pop in a workout DVD or take your daily walk indoors at the local mall.  But as long as you dress properly, there's no reason you can't venture outside for a workout that is both comfortable and enjoyable. 
 
The tricky part is wearing enough that you're not shivering from the cold, but not so much that you're sweating because of all of the heavy layers.  Here's a guide to knowing what—and how much— to wear so that you can be prepared all season long.

Posted 12/17/2012  12:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 21 comments   27,610 views

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Stick-With-It Winter Workout Tips

When the temperature drops, so can your motivation to get outside and get moving.  So how do you resist the temptation to stay curled up under a blanket until spring arrives?  According to a poll of SparkPeople.com members, 76% of exercisers have a hard time staying motivated in the winter.   
 
I’m no exception, especially when it gets dark so early. But keeping a consistent routine helps me avoid holiday weight gain and deal with stress during this chaotic time of year. 
 
If you are dreading the cold, you can't always blame the weather.  Your attitude and approach go a long way, too. Winter doesn’t have to be a time to abandon your regular workout routine if you’ve got a good plan in place.  Here's how to stay comfortable exercising outside—and adjust your plan when getting outdoors just isn’t feasible. 

Posted 12/3/2012  6:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 17 comments   14,290 views

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Does Yoga Count as Cardio?

Yoga has seen a steady rise in popularity over the past few years.  According to a 2008 report released by Yoga Journal, 15.8 million American adults were practicing yoga.  In 2010, that number grew to 21.9 million.  The majority reported that they practice yoga for a number of health benefits, stress reduction and relaxation.  Yoga is a great complement to a well-rounded exercise routine, no matter what your fitness level.   It offers a variety of modifications (as needed), styles and intensities, giving it a wide appeal among exercisers of all fitness levels and goals.
 
But one of the questions I get most about yoga isn't whether I recommend it (I do), but whether it counts as a cardio workout. Could yoga replace one or more of your weekly treadmill or elliptical dates? 

Posted 11/19/2012  2:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 19 comments   25,352 views

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How to Injure Yourself at the Gym

Although I’ve been a fitness coach for years, I will admit that I don’t always practice what I preach.  I don’t stretch quite as much as I should, and as a result, I’ve sustained frustrating injuries that could easily have been avoided. 
 
Whether you’re new to exercise or a workout veteran, we all make workout mistakes from time to time.  While some can be harmless—where the only consequence is burning fewer calories—others can lead to serious problems. Here are four common fitness mistakes that can lead to serious injury if you don't catch them early. 

Posted 11/5/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 13 comments   21,972 views

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Will Adjusting Form Make You a Better Runner?

Whenever friends or family see me running around our neighborhood, they know it’s me right away.  I have a very distinct run, or as I like to joke, a distinct “shuffle”.  Over the years I’ve tried to adjust the way I run, because I think it could help me get faster.  So far, that has been totally unsuccessful.  I blame my dad for the problem because he runs exactly the same way I do.  It must be genetic.

My problem is that all of the movement in my legs comes from the knee down.  My feet don’t come very far off the ground and I don’t have any lift in my knees.  I know if I could get my knees up and my quads working a little more, I’d have additional power and potentially, additional speed.  I’ve worked with a running coach to try and correct the issue, but at this point, it’s hard to change something I’ve been doing for so long.  Perhaps if I would have tried much earlier in my running career, I would have had more success.  A new study proposes that people naturally become better runners, just by running more.  Although I can’t say the same applied in my case, the results are pretty interesting.

The study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, followed 10 women on a 10-week, self-paced program for new runners.  Each woman visited a lab before started the program to have their aerobic capacity, running form and running economy assessed.  “Running economy, also known as running efficiency, is a measure of how much oxygen a person uses to run at a particular pace — in essence, how hard it is to run at that speed. Efficiency is considered one of the determinants of running success.  A more economical runner requires less energy than others and presumably should be able to run farther or faster.”  It’s no surprise that the new runners were not very economical in the beginning, but that improved as the 10-week training program progressed. 

Additional tests over the 10-weeks found that the women improved their speed and endurance, and also improved their running economy (their ability to use oxygen increased by about 8.5%.)  There were also changes in running stride which ended up making running easier.  For example, their legs became more flexed as they left the ground which allows for a quicker turnover and increased speed.  They also increased stability in their feet as they struck the ground, which indicates becoming more comfortable with the movement of running. 

This study was done on a very small, specific group of people.  The results won’t necessarily translate to all runners, but the study’s author feels it can lead to some important takeaways:   “You can optimize your gait naturally,” she says, “by becoming more conscious of your running movement and how it feels.” Your body, at least in the early stages of becoming a runner, can be a fine and knowledgeable coach.”

My advice is to stick with what feels comfortable.  I know I’ll never have the long stride and leg lift of an Olympic sprinter.  But as long as I can stay injury-free and enjoy what I’m doing, that’s what is most important to me.
 
Have you considered becoming a runner but don’t know where to begin?  Check out SparkPeople’s Running Center, where you can find articles, training programs, virtual races to join and much more!
 
What do you think?

Posted 10/30/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 21 comments   10,407 views

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Stop Apologizing for Being Different

Every day I work hard to be a good mom.  There are days where I’m proud of the job I’ve done, and other days when I’m not.   I think that kind of goes with the territory.  I know I’m not perfect, but I always try to make decisions based on what I think is right for my family.  Some of those decisions aren’t the norm, but instead of being proud of paving my own path, recently I’ve started apologizing for them.  It’s time for me to stop being sorry and start embracing my differences.
 
My daughter started kindergarten last month, which means I’ve been getting involved at school, going to meetings and introducing myself to other parents in her class.  A few weeks ago, I went to a meeting where moms were chatting about popular meals they serve for dinner.  Most of the foods they were mentioning were things my kids never eat, because admittedly, I’m pretty picky about what we have.  Most of our meals don’t come from a box or fast food drive through, and I try to serve healthy foods as much as possible (leaving room for special treats now and then.)  I stayed quiet through the conversation, because I didn’t want to come off as judging other parents.  Every parent has their own things they focus on, and one of mine happens to be the quality of our food.  When I came to pick my daughter up from a playdate a few days after this, her friend’s mom asked “What does she eat for lunch?” She named a few foods she asked if my daughter would like to eat, and my daughter had never had them before.   Yes, hotdogs are on that list.    
 
After these two experiences (as well as a few others involving the toys my children have compared to other kids), I felt the need to apologize to them.  “I’m sorry that I’m different than other parents.  I’m sorry I focus a lot on what you eat, and don’t just buy you everything you want the second you ask for it.”  When my husband heard me doing this, he pulled me aside.  “Why would you apologize for doing things for our kids that you feel are going to make them better, healthier people?  Don’t be sorry for that.”  The more I thought about it, the more I knew he was right.  My kids eat plenty of treats, just not all-day, every day.  My kids get new toys and we do lots of fun things together, even if I’m not buying the latest, most expensive gadgets on the market.  I do these things because I think they are right for my family, which is why everyone makes the choices they do.  I just need to get more comfortable in my own skin and not be so self-conscious about it.
 
The path towards a healthier lifestyle isn’t always the popular choice.  Sometimes you have to turn down seconds at the dinner table, or decide against the rich dessert that everyone else is devouring.  Have you ever felt the need to apologize for that, as if you’re doing something wrong?  Do you apologize to family or friends for making time to work out instead of things others might like you to do?  I think there’s a difference between being selfish, and just saying you’re sorry for making different choices.  In the end, we all have one life to live.  The way you make yours great isn’t going to be the same as everyone else, but that’s okay.  That’s what makes each of us unique.
 
What do you think?  
  

Posted 10/23/2012  6:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 61 comments   10,019 views

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Does Fitness Matter More than Weight?

Which is better:  being fat and fit, or thin and unfit?  The first reaction might assume that carrying excess body fat is more harmful to your health, even if you exercise regularly.  But is that true?  Opinions will differ depending on who you ask, but some of the latest research seems to contradict what we’ve typically been lead to believe.  Size is not always the best indicator of health. 
 
Newer research has been exploring the “obesity paradox”, a term used to explain how overweight and obese people tend to live longer with chronic illnesses than those who are a normal weight.  For example, “One study found that heavier dialysis patients had a lower chance of dying than those whose were of normal weight or underweight. Overweight patients with coronary disease fared better than those who were thinner in another study; mild to severe obesity posed no additional mortality risks. In 2007, a study of 11,000 Canadians over more than a decade found that those who were overweight had the lowest chance of dying from any cause.”
 
Scientists have validated these results in a variety of medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.  Although research has yet to find a definitive reason, there are theories as to why those who are overweight and obese fare better with these chronic illnesses.  One theory is genetics (the illness presents itself differently in those who are thin versus fat.)  Another theory is that doctors don’t treat thin patients as aggressively because it’s assumed their bodies are able to deal with the disease more effectively.  Or maybe the real problem is that we are assigning blame to size, when really there are other factors causing these diseases.    

Posted 10/16/2012  6:00:00 PM By: Jen Mueller : 74 comments   14,305 views

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