Improving My Blog Through Blog Brûlée

It’s hard to commit to a behavior change when you feel that you have too much on your plate. I hear this from clients all the time…”work is stressful right now so I don’t have the energy to cook” or “I don’t have time to exercise because I have too many other things to get done.” There are many more excuses, and I will admit that plenty of them have come from my own mouth.

Recently, I came to the realization that in order to make positive changes, you MUST feel that there is a reason for doing it, i.e. eating better to manage diabetes or to lose weight or exercising to become stronger. For example, I never find it difficult to eat healthy because I feel a million times better when I eat well versus when I eat crap. And I can see my body changing and my strength improving with exercise, so of course I want to keep it up.

As much as I love blogging, it is something that I have to devote major time and energy towards without necessarily seeing a major benefit (as in, more readers or revenue). Consequently, I don’t post often, which means my readership doesn’t improve, which means I continue to not make money off of my blog. Kind of a vicious cycle, no?

Enter Blog Brûlée, also known as the kick in the pants, savior, inspirer and booster-upper that I’ve been seeking (okay, I haven’t gone yet, but I’m pretty confident that I’ll be saying these things — and then some — after the event). 

blog brulee

My attendance at the Blog Brûlée is/was partially funded by Sponsors of the Blog Brûlée (hyperlink to, and I received a discounted registration to the event in exchange for writing this post. Opinions expressed are my own. I was not compensated for my time.

Blog Brûlée is an invitation-only, exciting, experiential weekend shared among a small, intimate number of healthy food bloggers and Registered Dietitian bloggers. The event is designed to provide education and professional development opportunities, as well as a forum for discussion and relationship building surrounding topics such as blogging and social media best practices, fundamentals of food photography, communication and marketing strategies, community niche development, brand identity and monetization.

I am sure that Blog Brûlée will provide many useful takeaways, but I am most excited to:

  • GET INSPIRED by like-minded bloggers, who are at all stages of their blogging journeys. There are truly some fantastic attendees going this year, who have already inspired me through their gorgeous photos, clever writing and delicious recipes. I CANNOT WAIT to meet these amazing ladies in person.
  • LEARN how to monetize my blog, take more captivating photos and communicate my food and nutrition knowledge to readers in a more engaging way.

But none of this would be possible without the masterminds behind Blog Brûlée. They are four amazingly talented women who continue to inspire me as a dietitian and [novice] food blogger: Regan Jones, RD (Healthy Aperture, The Recipe ReDux and RDs4Disclosure) Gretchen Brown, RD (kumquat), Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD (Teaspoon Communications) and Robin Plotkin, RD (Robinsbite).

There are also some fantastic sponsors, for whom I’m very thankful and with whom I’m incredibly excited to interact. In fact, I don’t think I could have chosen better sponsors myself. I am a huge supporter of them all and feel completely confident promoting their brands. They all represent REAL FOOD, which is my number one nutrition motto (#JERF).

So much excitement and it’s still nine days away!! Check out the awesome sponsors for yourself:










Salt Is Even Worse Than We Thought

We all know – or at least should know – that salt isn’t good for us. Sure, we need some salt in our diets. And by some salt, I mean 180-500 mg sodium/day. That’s chump change compared to what the average American consumes: close to 3500 mg! The Institute of Medicine (IOM) advises us all to consume 2300 mg of sodium/day or less, and for at-risk groups (those older than 50, African Americans, those with high blood pressure, and those with diabetes and/or kidney disease) the IOM recommends 1500 mg sodium max.

Yeah, yeah. Is it really that big of a deal to eat too much sodium?

YES! A recent study by Darius Mozzafarian (my epidemiologist crush and fellow Armenian) out of Harvard found that excessive salt consumption was linked to 2.3 million cardiovascular deaths worldwide in 2010 alone. For Americans, it was found that one in ten dies from excessive salt intake. The researchers concluded this based on, “247 surveys on sodium intake and 107 clinical trials that measured how salt affects blood pressure, and how blood pressure contributes to cardiovascular disease like heart attacks and stroke.” Read more about this study on

That’s not the only downside to sodium intake. Several recent studies published in the journal Nature have linked sodium intake to increased risk for and/or exacerbation of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Their studies were so groundbreaking because scientists discovered the actual pathway for why this happens. Basically, sodium chloride (NaCl, or table salt) causes an increased production of T17 cells, a type of immune cell that promotes inflammation and triggers autoimmune diseases such as MS.

That’s kind of scary stuff, but on a non-Debbie Downer note, the above is totally preventable. Eat. Less. Salt. This is not necessarily an easy task. Remember the recommendation I discussed earlier to consume less than 2300 mg of salt? This is what 2300 mg of salt looks like:


Yes, that’s ONE TEASPOON of salt a day. So if you think of all the salt found in our food, especially processed foods, you will hopefully also think twice about using the salt shaker. Though restaurants, from fast food to gourmet, are absolutely guilty of over-salting dishes, guess what the top source of salt is in the American diet??

Wait for it….

Wait for it…

Does anyone else love How I Met Your Mother, especially Barney??

BREAD! Shocking, yes, but if you think of how much bread we eat (toast with breakfast, sandwich at lunch, etc., it makes sense. We eat a lot of bread and bread is naturally high in sodium (because sodium stops the growth of yeast and is thus an essential part of the bread-making process). Other top sources, as outlined by the CDC (in order):

  • cold cuts and cured meats
  • pizza
  • poultry
  • soup
  • sandwiches
  • cheese
  • pasta dishes
  • meat dishes
  • snack foods

This information makes avoiding salt seem as difficult as avoiding the bubonic plague, but I assure you, it’s not. Here are some recommendations:

Bread (since it’s the top source): sprouted grain bread (I love Trader Joe’s version) is a great swap for regular bread. It is lower in salt than other slices mostly due to the fact that sprouted grain slices are usually smaller than regular bread slices. You can also find no salt added breads, but they’re pretty gross-tasting (not gonna lie). Other options: swap bread for corn tortillas, wraps or even low sodium crackers.

For the salt shaker users: studies have shown that our taste buds adjust to less salt (same goes for sugar) after about 2-3 weeks. Try gradually adding less and less salt to your food so that your taste buds can slowly adjust.

Herbs and spices: a great replacement so that you can still add lots of flavor without all the sodium. Some of my favorites are rosemary (especially on roasted root veggies), basil (on everything!), pepper, chili flakes, cumin and lemon pepper. Even the line of Mrs. Dash seasonings aren’t half bad.

Acidity: lemon juice, vinegar and other acidic liquid can give the sensation of saltiness on the palate with having to use actual salt. Try making your own vinaigrette instead of using store-bought dressings (which are usually high in salt): just mix equal parts olive oil and vinegar.


In general, avoid processed foods whenever possible (for many reasons, including the fact that processed foods are usually high in sodium). Prepare your own grains (Rice-A-Roni and even the healthier-seeming couscous packages are LOADED with salt). Use low sodium versions of products like broth/stock, premade soups, canned beans and veggies, condiments, etc.

Also remember to drink lots of water daily, as water sticks to salt in our bodies and helps “flush” it out. And potassium, found mainly in fruits and veggies, can counteract the effects of sodium. This is yet another reason to eat your fruits and veggies!

Whatever you do…PUT. DOWN. THE. SALT. SHAKER! I promise you’ll feel better when you’re not all hopped up on salt.



Liebster Award and Recognition

Wow! I must say I was truly honored when Amy of Foods for the Soul nominated me for a Liebster award. Being relatively new to blogging, I must admit I had to look up the Liebster award at first. It is given to bloggers with less than 200 followers (like I said, I’m new to blogging!) and has several rules (copied from Foods for the Soul’s post, One More Present!):

Share 11 facts about yourself.

Answer the awarder’s 11 questions.

Ask 11 questions of your own.

Nominate 11 bloggers.

liebster award

So, here it goes. Part one – 11 facts about me:

  1. I can do pull-ups! It took me about a month to work up to, but now I can do three sets of five pull-ups.
  2. I lived in Leuven, Belgium for 6 months, during which time I discovered a love for Belgian beer (Duvel is my favorite), fine chocolate and Leige Suker Waffle (AKA sugar waffles – completely different than regular “Belgian” waffles).
  3. I absolutely CANNOT stand country music. #nailsonachalkboard
  4. I have a major sweet tooth. Though I try to eat sweets sparingly, I could do some major damage. Fortunately, I love veggies, which helps counterbalance the love for sweets.
  5. One of my culinary goals for 2013 is to roast a whole chicken.
  6. I broke my foot (first metatarsal) in high school track whilst running a 200 m relay, and still got the best split in my relay team (wipes dirt off shoulder).
  7. I took pottery classes throughout high school as well as some classes at a local studio in recent years. I absolutely love wheelthrowing.
  8. Despite being 50% Armenian, I cannot tan to save my life. Pass the SPF 50, please!
  9. I once split a Ben and Jerry’s Vermonster four-ways (not a moment I’m particularly proud of).
  10. I attended University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana (go Illini!) for undergrad and completed my dietetic internship at Loyola University Chicago.
  11. I have an uncanny ability to remember song lyrics – rap, pop, my fourth grade musical…I remember them all. This has led to some embarrassing moments when my friends and loved ones have forced me to sing/rap. Hey – at least it’s a good party trick!

Part Two – Answer the awarder’s 11 questions:

  1. What flavor was your birthday cake this past year? Strawberry Shortcake from Frontera Grill in Chicago.
  2. Where was the last place you flew in an airplane? Los Angeles, CA for a trip to Redondo Beach and Hollywood.
  3. How often do you go to the grocery store? If I had my way, every day (I LOVE IT), but in reality, once a week.
  4. What’s your favorite quote? Ben Harper: “If you’re gonna finish, you’ve got to begin. Don’t fear what you don’t know; Just let that be your room to grow.”
  5. What would you most likely be found doing at 5 pm on a weekday? Working out. It helps me unwind from the day and gets my appetite rearing (plus gives me some time to plan my dinner!).
  6. How many countries have you visited? Nine. In alphabetical order: Belgium, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the United States.
  7. Are you right- or left-handed? Right
  8. What did you have for breakfast this morning? Went out for brunch: 1/2 an omelet with peppers, tomato and basil, 1 slice whole wheat toast with Nutella (my weakness!), fruit. Plus I snuck a few potatoes from my brunch date.
  9. What was the last live performance you saw? One of my dearest friends, Janelle Kroll, at House of Blues Chicag
  10. If you had a garden, what would you plant? Everything! I’m a fruit and vegetable monger – lettuce, arugula, berries of all kinds, kohlrabi, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, herbs of all kinds, mushrooms, avocados (if only I lived somewhere where they’d actually grow). Oh and lots of kale, obviously.
  11. Why did you start blogging? I love to write, especially about topics that I’m passionate about, i.e. nutrition, food and health. I wanted to share my simple and delicious recipes with others and provide inspiration for people to start living a healthier life.

Part three – Ask 11 questions of your own:

  1. When and where did you last go out to eat?
  2. What is your favorite magazine?
  3. If you could master any skill, what would it be?
  4. What is one of your hidden talents?
  5. What is your least favorite vegetable?
  6. If you were an animal, what would you be?
  7. How do you take your coffee?
  8. Milk or dark chocolate?
  9. What does a “lazy Sunday” entail for you?
  10. What is your dream car?
  11. Do you speak any foreign languages?

Part four (the most important part) – Nominate 11 other deserving bloggers:

  1. running up the down escalator
  2. Our Studio Kitchen
  3. Create Yourself
  4. Health Without Sacrifice
  5. Chef Mollie B’s Kitchen
  6. Eat Well, Live Well
  7. Nutrition Check
  8. Les Délices de Fleur
  10. The Healthy Epicurean
  11. Pretty Happy Baking


And since everyone loves a good food picture, here is my Mediterranean Mint-Orange Quinoa:


Blog post/recipe to come…

Thanks again, Foods For the Soul, for nominating me!

Changing Habits: Update

In my recent post, Changing Habits: Out with the Old, in with the New, I discussed my plan to follow Dr. BJ Fogg’s 3 Tiny Habits program. I wanted to update you all on my successes and struggles and a general overview on how the program went.

As a reminder, my three tiny habits were:

  1. After I drink my morning coffee, I will write one line in my blog.
  2. After I eat dinner, I will put water in the tea kettle.
  3. After I lay down in bed at night, I will take three deep breaths.

These tiny habits were meant to help me commit to writing my blog, stop my late-night snacking and relax before bed, respectively. Overall, I was able to do all three habits every day, and they felt very easy to accomplish (they were pretty tiny, indeed). I will admit that last Friday – the last day of my program – I slacked a bit. I really tried to commit, however.

My issue, however, is that I don’t feel the habits necessarily stuck. I am definitely still doing the deep breaths when I lay down for bed, seeing as this is the easiest and most relaxing/rewarding of the three. The tea kettle-filling was hit or miss because I wasn’t always in the mood for tea. If that was the case, I tried to go brush/floss my teeth to stop my snacking. The blog thing after coffee…not so great. Though I’d always write at least a sentence, it wasn’t enough and I ended up kind of slacking on my blog.

The lesson that I learned with the whole thing is that the easier and more realistic your desired habit is, the more likely you are to actually make it a habit. Since I rarely had time after drinking my coffee to sit down and look at my blog, it was harder to accomplish. And since I didn’t always want tea, I didn’t always do that either.

So, for this week (even though I’m not actually registered for another one of BJ’s programs, my three tiny habits are:

  1. After I eat my dinner, I will brush and floss my teeth.
  2. After I eat breakfast, I will plan out the remainder of the day’s meals and snacks.
  3. After I eat lunch, I will drink a bottle of water or a cup of tea.

For me, it is easiest to use mealtime as an anchor for my desired action (I never skip meals, so this works well for me). These habits will help me accomplish my larger goals to eat better and to avoid snacking and overeating.

What three goals would you choose??

Changing Habits: Out with the Old, in with the New

Newton’s First Law states that an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. I think of habits in a similar manner. Once we have created a habit, we cannot just stop it. We can only replace the old habit with a new habit. Because once a habit is in motion, it will remain unless we act upon it (i.e. replace it). Check out this Q and A with Charlie DuHigg, author of The Power of Habit, which provides more valuable insight into behavior change.

As a dietitian, I know quite well that habits drive behaviors, whether healthy or unhealthy. I myself have some “unhealthy” habits, such as late night snacking, reading my emails/checking FB/Twitter/Pinterest on my phone before I go to bed, and even putting off writing blog posts because “I don’t have time.” After some much-needed inspiration from Dan VanderBloomen’s, “My Habits are Tiny” post, I decided to follow Dan’s lead and sign up for Dr. BJ Fogg’s “3 Tiny Habits.” His program is essentially a way to create new habits that seem tiny but provide a sense of accomplishment and can add up or progress to larger habit change. You create three tiny habits that you perform each day for an entire week, along with a small celebratory phrase that you say to yourself (or out loud) every time you successfully perform the habit. Check out the above link for more info on BJ Fogg’s program (which is free and with which I am not associated). Consider these tiny habits as baby steps to reaching larger goals. For an example demonstrating the importance and usefulness of baby steps, we go to Bill Murray AKA Bob:

My three tiny habits for this week (starting today) and celebrations each time I complete one of the habits are:

Three tiny habits

The first habit, “After I drink my morning coffee, I will write one line in my blog,” is of course to get me to commit and make time for writing my blog. By starting with something tiny, i.e. writing one line in my blog versus writing a whole post, the behavior/habit seems more doable. And most likely, once I sit down to write one line, I will write several lines or even a whole post.

The second habit, “After I eat dinner, I will put water in the tea kettle,” is meant to help with the aforementioned “bad” habit of late-night snacking. Putting water in the tea kettle will spark me to turn the kettle on and make myself tea, which will act as a replacement to other late-night snacks I would otherwise eat.

The third habit, “After I lay down in bed at night, I will take three deep breaths,” is meant to help me unwind a bit from the day and also put my body in a more relaxed, “bedtime” state. This will [ideally] add up to me going to sleep rather than spending 30 minutes on my iPhone checking emails, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Ugh anyone else hate to love Pinterest??


Next week, I will report back on the way my week went down and whether or not these behaviors became habits. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out BJ Fogg’s website and create 3 tiny habits of your own.



Interval Training: Short but Sweet

Interval training, which involves alternating high intensity workout periods with rest periods (rather than endurance training – going the same speed for the entirety of the workout), can really rev up your metabolism. Plus, it can be done with a variety of exercises — from walking to biking to jumping rope.

Jump rope intervals

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), high intensity interval training (HIIT) boosts metabolism and subsequently speeds up weight loss. This is because during HIIT, a person uses up more oxygen than they would if going at a steady rate, which then ups the calorie burn post-exercise. According to the ACSM, a session of HIIT can boost metabolism for 1.5-24 hours after the workout.

I’d like to point out that you will not only burn more calories after the workout — you’ll also get these benefits from a SHORTER workout (read: efficiency). So you can have your cake and eat it too. Or have your protein shake and drink it too in this case?

Interval training will also improve aerobic capacity — basically your body’s ability to use oxygen to fuel muscles — which is a marker for your fitness level. So to sum up, here are the benefits of interval training:

  • Increased calorie burn
  • Revved up metabolism (for 1.5-24 hours post-workout)
  • Improved aerobic capacity/fitness level
  • Shorter workouts/less time at the gym
  • Build muscle
  • Speed weight loss
  • Decreased boredom

Below is a build-up for interval training. High intensity interval training requires a certain physical fitness level and is not for those just starting an exercise routine. The ideas listed are arranged from easier to harder, so choose a workout that corresponds to your current fitness level, and then work you way up. Interval training workouts should be around 20-30 minutes, so repeat for the following sets until you reach the desired time:

  • Walk briskly 60 seconds, walk steady 60 seconds
  • Run 60 seconds, walk 60 seconds
  • Run 2 minutes, walk 90 seconds
  • Run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute
  • Sprint 1 minute, walk 1 minute
  • Sprint 1 minute, jog 1 minute

These intervals can also be applied to biking, elliptical training, weight lifting, jump-roping and many other workouts. For example, you can up the resistance and your intensity for 1-2 minutes and then alternate with a 1 minute rest. Or my personal favorite: jump rope slow for 30 seconds, fast.