Spoiler alert, this is a long blog with personal experience, science and encouragement! So, get comfortable and grab a snack and beverage and soak up some great content. As I sit down to write this article, I reflect on the last decade I have spent studying human nutrition, metabolism, exercise, fitness, physiology, wellness, and psychology. Science has been the basis of how I conduct my work with clients in establishing their nutritional recommendations as well as exercise protocols. I have always been fascinated with the way the human mind and body functions. Investigating and understanding what drives people’s desires. I refer to my client’s goals as their “emotional nugget”. We all have a desirable nugget that we are connected to emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. However, many struggles to identify what their “emotional nugget” is and how to attain it. This is where I use my expertise by partnering closely with my adolescent athletes, general consumers, and fitness enthusiasts on setting smart goals. If you do not measure it, you cannot improve it.
S.M.A.R.T stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. It is the basis for my coaching. Upon setting S.M.A.R.T. goals we can be more specific and identify a reasonable timeline to achieving the goal. For many, that may be not feeling like they have access to weights to improve their fitness levels. However, as we know there are many workouts that can be done to improve fitness without weights! General walking, stretching and elevating your heart rate can help improve your fitness! Please contact me for workouts without weights because it can be done! Another layer I discuss when coaching my clients is previous successes and failures, commitment to achieving the goal and the timeline in which you envision it. If you have not set a SMART goal before, please reach out and we can set one together! Furthermore, identifying successful strategies to overcoming the barriers. Many of us, get in our own way. We tell ourselves “No”, “I can’t”, “that’s too hard”, “I failed before”, “what if I fail again” and the list goes on. That type of talk and negativity is destructive. We want to focus on positive self-talk and constructive dialogue with ourselves.
For example, to my moms of 4, married and working a full career, you ladies are straight up AWESOME. Reproducing, running a household, working, being a wife and taking care of tiny humans is a lot of work. If you could reflect on all the truly “hard” things you have done in life you could utilize that as motivation and momentum to achieve your health and fitness goals. God has provisioned us all with the innate ability to achieve greatness and “health”. But health looks different for each person. A part of Nutrition with Wendi’s foundation is built on empowering people to create habits supporting optimal health, wellness, athletic performance and longevity in the context of their lifestyle.
Again, that looks differently for each person, for some it may be any of the following:
- Wake up feeling energized and not needing to consume caffeine
- Being able to pick up their kids or miscellaneous items around the house without pain
- Living a disease-free life
- Knowing how much to eat and when to eat it
- Being able to strength train 3-4 times per week
- Lose fat and build muscle
- Reduce joint pain, headaches, fatigue
- Improve digestion
- Eat more protein
- Improve self-confidence
- Run a PR 5K, 10K, Marathon
- Improved relationship with food
- Be able to run 1 mile without stopping
The are all real goals I have enjoyed supporting my clients to achieving and maintaining! If you’re interested in scheduling a consult to work on your personal health and fitness goals please click here .
Getting back to the point here. As time passes, science and data are cool, but it is the behavioral change and motivational interviewing that are the true keys to unlocking people’s success. Just because something is proven and works in the lab does not automatically transfer to the field. My athletes understand this better than anyone. We use the science and data to guide our nutritional needs but ultimately create a plan that works for them as an individual athlete. Cookie cutter programs or “rigid” diets serve no one. Nutrition can be confusing, and the amount of misinformation available online can make a person’s head spin, even as an RDN. You can find a magnitude of research to support one way of eating vs another. Ultimately, we know that you must facilitate a calorie deficit to see a decline on the scale. Now, let us be clear weight loss vs fat loss are not the same. For example, a person could dehydrate themselves and cut carbohydrates for a few days. Anyone who understands metabolism and physiology knows carbohydrates draw water into the cell, so by temporarily cutting carbohydrates you may see a “decline”, but it does not mean it is true fat loss. Again, not to get tangential but that is a real thing. Please email me or reach out if you would like to learn more.
Success is a result of many previous actions, which effort, diligence consistent work has been put fourth to facilitate a change. Success does not happen overnight. Successfully losing fat, building muscle, making money, paying off debt, mending relationships, building a relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I would like to personally share my story. I have always been passionate about exercise, nutrition, and overall fitness. I used the pain I experienced as a child and turned it into power. I used to run laps around our home to “feel good” when my family was enduring challenges. Now to be clear, I have the world’s greatest father, family and just like anyone else we all went through things, faced hardship, and experienced loss. What I would like to note is, that when things were challenging with my parents’ divorce, I would go play outside, run laps around the house or on our gravel roads (ask my uncle), rock pick, sports or anything outdoors. My siblings and I had several chores we had to complete which I am beyond grateful for. I learned at a young age that you must earn everything. The world does not owe you anything and that anything worth having is worth working hard for. Life can be tough, unfair and can knock you down. However, with hard work, sweat and a drive to succeed you can overcome great adversity and enjoy success. My family values were built on hard work, which is why I love the challenges within fitness, nutrition, and health. Hard work like rock picking was one of the best things I could have ever done as a child. I always joked with my city friends about how much I enjoyed the labor of picking rocks. I was grateful for the paycheck, sunshine, exercise and feeling of accomplishment after a hard day of manual labor.
My mindset is focused on my “gains” not my “losses”. That is the difference when you want to be successful. You focus on the positives, and not the negatives. I have experienced many times of self-doubt, like failing my registered dietitian exam. Yes, I failed it four times. Not once, not twice, not three times but four times. I passed on the fifth attempt. I suffered performance anxiety, and this was incredibly hard for me. My ultimate dream had always been to be a registered dietitian and performance nutritionist that desired to operate her own practice. I felt my confidence shrink with each attempt on the exam. For those that are unfamiliar the RD exam is incredibly challenging as it is broad in the questions. It covers topics from research, management, education, clinical care, human resources, marketing, quality improvement, sustainability, safety and sanitation, menu planning, procurement, production, and distribution. You could be asked a question on glycolysis and energy production , parental nutrition and tube feeding requirements , full time employee calculations for labor, then “how many inches of aisle space should be in a kitchen with so many people, or the size of the clearance of heavy equipment from a wall.” None the less it is a tough exam and I felt like a failure with each attempt I would miss by one point. During this time was fortunate enough to be a guest on a podcast called, Inner Fire Podcast with Jimmy Lee in California in November 2018. If you have not checked Jimmy out, I encourage you to do so. Great human with an incredibly positive platform. I recall talking about it with him then and saying, “It is not a no, just a not yet.” That is a true statement for all things. My dad taught me early on “we don’t quit”.
I kept getting back in the arena and taking the hits till I passed. I am not a quitter and I am grateful for the failures that were learning experiences. I used the pain and embarrassment of failing as power to accelerate me forward. Most people boast they never fail anything and are less willing to share their shortcomings. I think this is a disservice to many out there. It is so uplifting to hear the journey of many successful figures in our world. Acknowledging failures, growth and that success is not overnight. Failing something as important as my RDN exam made me appreciate it so much more.
It has been my childhood dream to be a registered dietitian nutritionist and help athletes, moms, women and men of any goal to simply be better! If I had passed on the first time, I do not think I would have appreciated earning my RDN credentials as much. Believe me, it was a difficult year of growth for me and I often stressed ate and did not take super care of myself. Which is why I am grateful to have that in my past and understanding the importance of taking care of my body, which is my temple. I was also distant in my relationship with Jesus during this time. By failing this exam, I had to truly trust Him and His plan for me. Jeremiah 29:11 was something I read daily and recited to myself and my journal for meditative practice for 360 days straight.
I highly recommend Dr. Brené Brown, researcher and story teller to anyone looking to be more vulnerable. I read her book “Daring Greatly and Rising Strong which helped me understand the power of being vulnerable and sharing your vulnerabilities with the world. Me sharing my journey is a way to show you that I have failed too, and that if I can overcome challenges so can you. Successful people understand that failure, struggle, and loss will come but you must stay positive and keep moving forward. It is truly a journey, and not an overnight solution that you can purchase off amazon prime. You may laugh but is true, I cannot tell you how many people come to me desiring to override decades of poor nutritional choices, inactivity, poor sleep, and unhealthy habits in a weekend. Yes folks, we start on a Friday and Monday rolls around and they say, “Wendi this isn’t working, I have not lost any weight.” My response, patience is a virtue. We live in a society in which we are often overly entitled, everyone wants everything instantly, with limited cost, at convenience NOW. The fact of the matter is it takes time and it takes what it takes which is a lot of work, patience, and trust in the process. I talk more about this on a podcast interview with Austin Witt available here .
My recent physique transformation explained
I have been an athlete my whole life, I ran cross country and played softball in high school. I loved nutrition and exercise; it was a fun way to focus on the “good” during rough times. Exercise always made me feel good, at the time I had no idea it was because of all the endorphins. Thanks science! I truly used to think running and endless hours of cardio was the best way to lose fat. I even used to think too much resistance training could make me “thick” and of course in my younger days fearing too much protein and meat. From 2010-2018 I train
ed and ate that way. I even competed in a physique competition in 2014 in which I placed 5th place with a skinny body and no muscle. Press on from 2014-2018 I was “healthy” by eating a variety of foods but too many carbohydrates, too little protein and inadequate fruits and vegetables. I felt tired, uncertain and unaware of what I could do differently as someone studying nutrition and a fitness professional. Until 2019, I finally decided that I would follow the science but also find a way to meet my goals to gain strength, improve my lean mass and simply be healthier. I created myself a plan and committed 100 percent into making a lifestyle I felt proud and happy to live. I always want to be a health and fitness professional that walks the walk and talks the talk.I am so grateful to share this experience with you all.
I have been where you have been, frustrated, confused and discouraged. Being healthy and transforming takes time. It took me ten years and I know the journey continues. I transformed for me, not anyone else. Since December of 2019 (see Instagram post) I have been focusing on my strength training, eating more high-quality protein. The current RDA for protein is 0.8 g/kg/day. I consume roughly 2.5 g/kg/day of protein. The benefits of a higher protein diet are becoming quite robust for fighting off sarcopenia (age related muscle loss), beneficial effects on body composition and overall health. Higher protein diets have been shown to be beneficial for health and body composition according to a crossover trial in resistance trained men published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) . For more information on higher protein diets check out another publication via the JISSN’s position stand on protein and exercise. Lastly, a 2015 publication studying a high protein diet of 3.4g/kg/d combined with a heavy resistance training program improved body composition in healthy trained men and women via the JISSN.
With the great science to support the positive effects of higher protein I set a goal to consume (2.0-3.0 g/kg/d) to support my goals. A byproduct of eating higher protein (3x the RDA) helped me experience greater satiety and lead to me ramping up my fruit and veggie game. I have never been a frequent user of alcohol, but I have not had even a glass of wine since August 2019. Alcohol and discretionary calories can add up quickly and when you limit them a byproduct is you consumer greater fruits, veggies, and lean proteins! Context is key, I am not an adolescent athlete and I do not participate in endurance sports, so I am not instructing my young athletes or masters athletes to eat higher protein. More carbohydrates are needed when you are a young athlete as well as endurance athlete. Furthermore, I consistently started using 5/g/day of creatine monohydrate. That is a whole different topic but I have previously published a blog, “Creatine, Not Just for Men or Muscle”. Creatine is not a steroid and it helps us better recycle ATP supporting health, recovery from injuries, traumatic brain injuries, athletic performance, cognition, bone mineral density and muscle mass. I love science and we have significant research to support the use of creatine beyond sports performance. Go read about it in the JISSN’s position stand paper on creatine in exercise, sport and medicine.
In addition to creatine, if you’re interested in learning more on sports nutrition I encourage you to check out one of my guest appearances on Fitness Disrupted with Tom Holland fitness on fueling young athletes. I have also authored previous blogs discussing carbohydrate and protein needs for young athletes , practical nutritional strategies for youth athletes , practical nutrition tips for the high school strength coach , and sample fueling day found here and on my website www.nutritionwithwendi.com . Furthermore, I have authored other sports nutrition articles that discuss on the science for optimal athletic performance that have been published on Stack and Simplifaster.
So, keeping context in mind here, the benefits of higher protein for body composition, decreased fat mass, better satiety during times of caloric restriction and fighting off sarcopenia is the context I am speaking about. We lose an average of 3%-5% of our lean mass after the age of 30. Men will lose up to 30% of their lean mass during their lifetime. It is possible to rebuild and maintain muscle mass with resistance training and greater protein intake. Statistics published in the Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal .
I am pleased with my physique but the mental clarity and general energy I experience is far more important than any abs or muscles. I sleep well, feel consistent energy during the day, have grown my faith, more muscle mass so better bone health and less disease. I eat unlimited amounts of fruits and vegetables and feel more confident and empowered in my work with others. I genuinely want to inspire anyone to be healthy, fit and to just simply trust the process. It took me roughly a decade to achieve where I am at today, and it has not been easy.
I have failed, I have taken steps back, I have learned, I have restarted but I never quit. Ultimately, creating sustainability within your health and fitness requires the mindset of “this is a lifestyle”. More people need to acknowledge eating nutrient dense foods in appropriate portions, quality sleep, meditation along with daily exercise should be a way of life. A life that should be lived in a way that will support my long-term goals. Another fun part of improving my fitness was being able to do true chin-ups and pull-ups. I will not forget the moment at the gym back in May of 2019 when I could not even do one pull-up. I thought, wow that is pathetic. So, I began doing pull-ups and chin-ups every single day until I could do 3, 5, then eventually now 12 at a time. My chin-up and pull-up goals required patience, discipline, and daily focus. The time is going to pass anyway so you might as well execute. You will regret it if you do not.
Many people will discourage you from wanting to be healthy and some may even succumb to “fit shaming”. Yes, fit shaming in which people will comment on your weight loss pictures where you express how great you are feeling, the changes you have made in your diet, exercise, and sleep. They may even direct questions like “why are you losing weight?” or “you look too thin, you looked better with more fat”. These comments are unfortunate and often those that make them are jealous that you are making healthier changes that they may struggle with. It is not acceptable to ask an overweight or obese person “why are you obese or overweight?” So, it should not be acceptable to directly ask someone why they are lean or to call them skinny. None of these comments are kind. Both men and women struggle with insecurities and loving their body can be one of them. Many women in particular , including myself at some point have felt as though we are held to a certain standard of “how we should look” even feelings of being under a microscope of society telling us to have ____insert physique. “Don’t get too lean, don’t get too fat, don’t get bulky, maybe you should do just cardio…sound familiar? Meanwhile, men are encouraged by their physiques and muscle gains, “hey bro nice work on your biceps and dropping the fat!” How often do women get compliments on dropping fat and gaining lean mass? Often there is a critique of “you’re too skinny, where are you curves?” The list goes on. I will say this, I am incredibly proud of the physique I have earned, and I feel the best I have ever felt. I do not eat for health and train for anyone else but myself. I love feeling strong, healthy, and energized! I want to spread positive vibes and help all my clients succeed.
Should you ever feel discouraged, smile, dust off and keep believing in yourself. No one is going to do it for you but there are people available to help you! I am sharing my progress photos with you to hopefully inspire you that if I can, you can! Many will also discourage you along the way, but you must remember to live your own life and that if people are discouraging you from living a healthier lifestyle to be a better parent, spouse, professional or just to simply be “better” they are not your people. Furthermore, we must stop comparing ourselves to others. God created us all as individuals with talents, skills, unique identifiers that make us individuals. I empower you to want to “look like your best self” vs “I want to look like that man or woman.” Our bodies are a temple that we must honor and respect. To say you want to look like someone else is to say you do not love God’s creation. God created you and I am happy to help you be the best you that you can be to grow God’s kingdom. Therefore, I also have a special place in my heart for adolescent athletes. The habits developed and fostered at a young age are carried out into adulthood. What we eat and how we talk to ourselves influences who we are as people and how we treat others. If you feel well rested, healthy, energized and generally “feeling well” you are less likely to be impatient, short and can enjoy life more!
My key pointers for fostering health, fitness, disease prevention and longevity:
- Eat the rainbow
- Sleep 7-9 hours
- Manage your stress
- Get up and walk often
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Check in with yourself regularly
- Eat a meal within 60-min of waking
- Fruits and vegetables at every meal
- Take after walk dinners with your family
- Drink water, limit sugar sweetened beverages
- Consume whole-grain breads, wraps, rice, bagels, and oats
- Eat more high-quality proteins with appropriate portions (see portions here)
- Resistance training 3-4 times per week to support lean mass and fight off sarcopenia
I really hope you found value in this blog and that it may inspire you to continue with healthy habits or consider making some changes. Investing in your health, fitness, career, family, personal interests is one of the best things you could do for yourself. If you want to live your best life start each day with a grateful mind, heart, and desire to be kind. Remember that you will work on your health, fitness and nutrition for the decades to come. Each day we have a new opportunity to take care of ourselves and fuel for success. Keeping in mind that there is no finish line, and this journey is more important than the destination. Should you have a bad day where you eat off your desired plan or fail to exercise that you give yourself some grace. When you are stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire you don’t slash the other three tires do you? No, that would be silly, you would have to spend more money and time repairing all four instead of just the one. Focus on one meal at a time, one exercise session at a time, one action at a time and keep positive. Anytime something negative pops into your mind replace it with a positive thought. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. So be mindful of when you slip up, just get back up and keep moving forward with your journey.
In good health,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and fitness coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for those looking to improve their health and energy. Along with supporting athletes desiring to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance & lifestyle plans. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan and is very active on social media platforms such as facebook , twitter and Instagram.