Fit Story: HEAL with Chinwe

Carrots and Cake, Nita Sharda To keep things interesting on the Carrots and Cake blog, I'll be showcasing local "Fit Stories". This is your chance to learn about local exercise gurus and fitness opportunities available in Winnipeg. I often find when I'm counselling clients, we talk a lot about moving the body. So, what better way to share information about local experts than by being able to offer their unique stories on the blog. I'm so humbled that Chinwe Asagwara of Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) is joining me for round one!

Chinwe is a personal friend of mine, and, she also happens to be my personal trainer. After a back injury that left me demotivated, weak and actually really sad I decided it was time to get strong. I remember a time when reading a book for twenty minutes would cause week long pain. Something had to change. We all have different reasons for being active. My desire to participate in regular physical activity has very little to do with my body size. I'm a petite woman (just like my mama, and my grandmama) and I'll likely always be this way. I choose to engage in exercises that will push my body in unique ways so that it can stay strong for years to come. Coupled with yoga, barre and running I feel like I'm honouring this body of mine to do what it does best. To be well. To just be well. Oh! And if you can't tell, Chinwe is the one in full-sleeve blue top.

How did the birth of HEAL come to be? Was it a big decision?

I feel that the birth of HEAL was an organic progression over time. I dabbled in private practice for nutrition services soon after graduating from my dietetic internship program in 2011. At the same time I began personal training. I quickly found that my personal training clients required nutrition support to get the full benefits of their training programs. The same applied to my clients who came to see me for nutrition, starting an exercise program was something that would benefit their nutrition goals. I always had a vision of providing my clients with both nutrition and exercise support to be as healthy as they could be. In my first few years of working as a dietitian and personal trainer I worked for larger fitness facilities. I felt this limited my ability to provide services the way I really wanted to. I'm now able to work with the whole person, physically, mentally and emotionally. Eventually I made the decision to start my own business, and HEAL was born.

On the blog, I shared my personal food philosophy. Do you have a personal food philosophy or something you “eat by”?

If I had to describe my personal food philosophy I think of words like balance, moderation and preparation. When I am not training for a physique competition I like to include variety. To me this means eating from all four food groups, with room for a few extras. I love to see color on my plate, fresh vegetables in a tasty kale salad topped with red and yellow peppers, sunflower seeds, avocado and goat cheese for example. I am a meat eater, choosing lean cuts such as chicken and turkey, extra lean ground beef for a yummy tomato based sauce to put over pasta, typically whole wheat, but maybe white if I feel like a change. One of my favorite snacks is fresh raspberries with yogurt, I love other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, oh ya and ice cream here and there too! I also love traditional Nigerian foods, which I grew up on as a child. Semo and draw soup, fried plantains, jollof rice and black eye beans are just a few. I have a phrase I like to share ‘all foods can fit, balance is key’ I truly believe this, and my meals are guided in this manner.

"If I had to describe my personal food philosophy I think of words like balance, moderation and preparation"

Nita Sharda, Carrots and Cake

Nita Sharda, Carrots and Cake

How come you use the phrase “Women and Weights” to describe your circuit classes instead of “Bootcamp”?

I find that a lot of women are intimidated by weight training, and believe it will create a masculine body. This belief is untrue. Weight training is so important for women. I wanted to create a program that emphasises the importance of weight training for women and draw attention to the benefits it can provide. I don’t think I intentionally avoided the term ‘bootcamp’ but rather wanted to emphasise the class was an opportunity for women to start weight training.

How does the “health at every size” approach fit into your company?

I try to emphasise all the benefits of exercise and balanced nutrition, which is not limited to a person’s body shape or size. Exercise and balanced nutrition have benefits such as a reduced resting heart rate, improved blood sugar control, increased total body strength, improved flexibility, increased energy levels and improved sleep just to name a few. That being said, weight loss can also be a beneficial result of exercise and balanced nutrition. We know that a BMI and waist circumference above normal ranges places them at higher risk for chronic disease. I do not feel this should be ignored, so as a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer this is always something I look at and assess when starting with a new client. It is also a measure of assessment as a client moves through a training or a nutrition action plan. But if focusing on weight does not serve as a positive motivator for my client, we simply do not focus on it, rather all the other benefits I’ve mentioned.

Is HEAL geared at a particular population or gender?

HEAL is for everyone and anyone, and body size, shape and fitness level. The goal of HEAL is to help people become more active, and more importantly maintain that new level of activity.

Many people juggling full time work have a tough time scheduling in physical activity AND eating well. It’s not easy. Do you have any kitchen hacks you could share?

I think the main thing is to be prepared. If you have healthy and nutritious foods and snacks at your finger tips healthy eating can be made a little easier. Choose a time during the week (it doesn’t have to be the weekend) to plan, shop and prepare your meals and snacks. It pays to invest a couple hours at one time, to eliminate the need to cook and prepare foods during the week – big time saver! If this is new for you, start simple. For example breakfast can be a hardboiled egg and a piece of toast. Eggs can be boiled for the week, peeled and kept in the fridge – easy! Even those mornings you are rushed and in a hurry, you can grab it and go.

Lunch, again – keep it simple! Cruise the vegetable section of your grocery store, there are so many awesome pre-made salads that can be great time savers. Grab some fresh vegetables to chop and keep in the fridge, maybe cucumbers, yellow peppers, tomatoes, red onion… the options are endless. In a large Tupperware container, throw in all your vegetables and salad mix, maybe add some chickpeas for added protein, sprinkle some cheese – there you go! For more preparation you can bake a few chicken or turkey breasts in the oven to be added to meals during the week. Prefer a warm lunch? Whip up some chicken quesadillas with that baked chicken and keep them in the fridge. Grab and go, a perfect match to your salad.

Utilizing cooking tools such as a slow cooker can be a time saver as well. Slow cookers allow for meals to be made without the fuss of watching the stove. It also makes a large volume of food that can be portioned and saved in the freezer for later in the week.

It’s Friday night, what’s Chinwe having for dinner?

That’s a tough one! It could be so many things. Friday evenings I typically move away from whatever I have prepared for the week and make myself and make whatever I'm craving for. The meal is usually based on the season as well. During the colder winter months I like to make hearty meals that warm me up. I love whole wheat rotini with a lean beef meat sauce, with a simple salad of romaine, tomatoes and cucumbers. I enjoy making chilli in my slow cooker or stovetop. I load them up with beans and vegetables. In the summer months I enjoy cold salads like fresh leafy vegetables with summer berries. I often make a quick and easy mini pizza topped with with cheese, tomatoes and fresh cilantro (I love cilantro!). I also like to make meals from groceries I picked up at the St. Norbert Farmers market. Last year a reoccurring favourite was grilled cheese sandwiches made with fresh baked bread and bison sausage.

To learn more about Chinwe and the services she offers, be sure to visit her site by clicking here. If you want to follow her along on Instagram, her handle is @healthy_eating_active_living. Stay tuned for an at-home workout that Chinwe specifically designed for Carrots and Cake readers!

- With Love, Carrots and Cake,

Carrots and Cake Nita Sharda

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