It seems impossible that one year has passed since my life-changing week at Mountain Trek Health and Fitness Retreat in British Columbia. I remember the first few steps of our first hike vividly as my breathing quickened and my heart rate soared. But it was during that week that I learned to tweak my nutrition habits and style to help my body use food as fuel and change my nutrition habits to optimize meal timing and composition. It wasn’t that I ate badly before I went on the retreat, but as Mountain Trek’s holistic nutritionist Jennifer Kierstead looked at the food log that I had kept – there were definite tweaks to be made. In addition to the program lectures to teach about optimal nutrition, I scheduled a private session with Jennifer to delve deeper into my habits and what changes needed to be made.

Before my trip to Mountain Trek, I had already started to make a few changes to my nutrition like starting to eliminate gluten after reading the Grain Brain. I eliminated pasta – switching to spiralized vegetables and even caffeine, switching to herbal teas. But I was probably still in “diet” mode after years of ups and downs with Weight Watchers. What I realized is that nutrition is not a diet. It is as Kierstead says, a “mission” that, combined with high energy output can raise anabolic metabolism and reverse insulin resistance.

Keeping a food diary | LiveDoGrow

My pre-Mountain Trek food diary. Not terrible, right? But even eating like this, I felt fatigued, was bloated and could not lose any weight.


Some of the nutritional changes I made were small. Some were larger. All were essential to losing 30 pounds over the last year and eliminating fatigue and bloating. Best of all the new me feels strong, healthy and confident – which are the ultimate goals (even though fitting back into some of my favorite clothes was a nice bonus).

So what were these nutritional changes?

Five Nutritional Changes to Transform Your Life

five nutritional changes to transform your life | LiveDoGrow

1. Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of getting out of bed to kick-start my metabolism for the day.

Some people roll their eyes when I say that I do this. What about showering? What about preparing lunches for kids? To achieve this, I have made my 4 ounce protein smoothie a priority. It does not take very long to combine almond milk, banana, Vega One nutritional shake powder and frozen blueberries to my Vitamix. Best of all, I only need to make the smoothie every few days since I only drink 4 ounces each morning, I have enough left over for a few days.

After my smoothie I tend to the rest of life – my family, showering or working out and or checking email. The rest of breakfast – which includes favorites like overnight oats, scrambled eggs or hot quinoa breakfast cereal (which I make in a batch to have for the week) – comes a bit later.

Wondering how I do this when I travel? I always carry individual packets of my Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake and a BlenderBottle so that no matter where I am – I can start my day with the boost of protein. (I use water when I am traveling).

2. Maintain blood sugar levels by eating multiple food groups every three hours during the day.

This is probably not news to you, but eating a morning and afternoon snack has a purpose (as opposed to just grazing). My morning snack coincides with a good time to get up from my desk for a stretch (or dance) break and I have my afternoon snack when my daughter comes home from school and we talk about her day. My favorite morning snack is a coconut-almond-bliss-ball because I can eat it easily no matter where I am.

3. Reimagine meal composition by meal

Although my eating was always relatively healthy, one of the major changes that Jennifer and my week at Mountain Trek helped me learn was the role of meal composition. It is not just what you eat – but when you eat it as far as how your body reacts to the nutrients.

Optimal meal composition ideas include:

  • Breakfast: equal volumes of complex carbohydrates, protein, vegetables or fruit, and a teaspoon of omega oil.
  • Morning snack: fruit and protein (such as almond butter, nuts, seeds or hummus) Afternoon snack: protein and vegetable
  • Lunch and dinner: portioned by volume with 25 percent protein and almost 75 percent vegetables (plus a teaspoon of omega oil).

4. Schedule an earlier dinner and take a walk, or engage in some type of physical activity afterwards.

Transform your nutrition | LiveDoGrow

Having an earlier dinner was a huge change for my family. I grew up in an Italian household, which meant that 7:00 pm was considered an early dinner. Our goal now is to eat between 5:45 and 6:30 (at the latest) so that we can digest afterwards with a walk. To be perfectly honest, this is much easier in the summer when weather, school and extra-curricular activities do not get in the way, but even in the winter I started hopping on my treadmill for a short walk after dinner.

Really, the idea of going for a walk can and should be applied to every meal for optimal health (but I know that sometimes it is not that easy).

5. Lower alcohol intake to avoid empty calories and sugar.

Ok, this was hard too. It used to be that a glass or two of wine accompanied almost every dinner meal for me. What can I say, I like wine. In fact, my husband and I were married in a winery and are members of a wine club – which makes wine one of our “things” to enjoy together. Even though I always drank my wine responsibly (with food and never driving immediately after), I knew that I was adding empty calories to my day with every sip. The compromise was to enjoy two glasses of wine, twice a week. This allows me to think about which meal will pair well with a great glass of wine and really savor the sips as a celebration instead of mindlessly sipping just because.

Have I been perfect with my nutrition in the last year?


Not even close. In fact, last month I realized that I had developed a pattern of binge eating during the middle of the day – starting with “healthy” binges like extra salad but then spiraling into combining tortilla chips and chocolate. Instead of berating myself which only made things worse, I created a “Change the Binge” jar that would keep me accountable (to myself and to my family since much of my binge eating was done when I was home alone) to a daily meal plan that write out each morning. For everything that I eat that is not only my daily list, I add one dollar to the jar and have invited my daughter and husband to ask me about it when they come home. Although I know that this is a work in progress, after four weeks I have only added $5 to the jar.

More nutrition resources

Looking for more nutrition resources? Jennifer shares resources, recipes and articles on her Facebook page. Some of my favorites are:

Raw Icy Squares

8 Holistic Cooking Tips

Your Stomach Doesn’t Have Teeth

And for more recipes – I have been curating some of my favorites on Pinterest.

Healthy Recipes

Gluten-Free Recipes


Written by Elena Sonnino

Elena Sonnino

Chaser of Dreams. Life coach, wellness and travel writer, yogini, former teacher, adventure seeker, hiker, foodie …and oh right, cancer survivor. Elena writes about finding everyday wellness in far-flung lands and in her own backyard in the Washington D.C. suburbs.


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