Saturday, December 24, 2011

Workout Video - Instruction on Chest and Total Core Workout by West LA Personal Trainer


In this video I am showing many options for chest exercises that involve most of the core muscles and use minimal equipment. You will get an amazing workout and get the benefit of using a lot more muscles than you would with typical isolation exercises.  See the details and the video on Chest and Total Core Workout here

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How the Amount of Sleep You Get Affects Your Hormones and Your Pant Size


By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2

Every day we are faced with troubling statistics about the health of Americans. We are the fattest nation on Earth, with 65% of us being either obese or overweight. We all know that this very fact increases our susceptibility to so many diseases: heart attacks, strokes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and insulin resistance, asthma, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, cancer, etc., etc. The list goes on and on.
We take more medications than ever in our history, yet we struggle more, not less, not only with diseases, but also depression and, as recent statistics show us, insomnia, or just plain lack of sleep.
Could this fact somehow contribute to our ever-expending waistlines? Could we become slimmer just by sleeping more?  
Learn all about the details of the sleep connection to weight loss here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Los Angeles Personal Trainer Lists 33 Cures To Your Health Woes Found in the Kitchen -

If you are thinking about making a resolution to seek better health in 2012, and you are thinking of hiring a personal trainer to help direct you, be sure that the personal trainer you select is qualified to help you with all aspects of fitness, including the nutritional component.  Below are some guidelines that will help you make certain that your diet is helping, not hurting, your healthy living goals.


By Monika Tarkowska-Carter CPT, LWMC, HLC                                                          

We often forget that clean water and healthy food are not only the foundation of health but have more power than medicines to keep us healthy. But the quality of what we put into our bodies is also of prime importance. If you build a healthy foundation with simple things like nutrition and exercise, your body will thrive.

 1. The most important yet cheapest thing you can do for your body every day is drink good quality pure water, ideally with a ph of at least 7.0.
For the rest of the list of Healthy Nutritional Tips, go to this blog post.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Los Angeles Personal Trainer Offers Weight Loss Resolutions

As 2011 winds down, my post from last year on top ways to lose weight still has everything you need to get started, whether immediately or in January 2012.  Read #1 below or go straight to the whole list of weight loss tips here.



By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2

1. Stop dieting and start eating. Diets don’t work and you know it. It’s time to start eating healthy for life. No more deprivation. No more starvation. If you don’t get this basic truth right you will always fail because you will never learn how to maintain a proper way of eating.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Picking a Personal Trainer in West LA - Lots of Choices. Not All Good!

You've decided to live healthier and better, lose some fat and finally get washboard abs while you're at it. You have also decided that you need one-on-one help from a qualified personal trainer.  How do you select a great personal trainer in West LA.  No doubt there are hundreds of people holding themselves out as personal trainers from the beaches of Santa Monica to the Hills of Beverly. What are the most important criteria that separate the amazing from the average or the downright bad?

In an earlier blog post I gave a detailed advice for getting it right the first time. 


Read the rest of the story about choosing a great personal trainer here

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Home Remedy for What Ails You? Exercise as Medicine!

 As a personal trainer, my clients are commonly asking me what to do about this ache or pain or other medical issue.  We would all like to have a free, painless, no hassle way to cure what ails us.  What about exercise as the medicine of choice?
Did you know that in 2005 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 365,000 deaths in the US occur annually from poor diet and lack of physical activity? Two-thirds of US adults are either overweight or obese. More than half of US adults do not meet the recommended levels of physical activity. Almost one-fourth of US adults have no leisure-time physical activity at all (1). Maybe it’s time to think about prevention.
What do YOU think about exercise? Is it fun and play or pain and suffering? Simple discomfort that needs to be endured or the necessary evil? Something boring you just go through mechanically or something you look forward to? But have you ever thought of exercise as medicine? Well, maybe you should.
To read the rest of the story and a detailed examination of the reality that exercise is a type of medicine, follow this link to my previous article on the subject. 

Monday, November 7, 2011


Physical Reasons
(Continued from May 3rd, 2011 post)

By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2
I have promised a while back to spend some time explaining how to get around the weight loss hurdles, and how to address specific reasons why you might not be losing weight. Some of you have been asking for more specific pointers and ideas for quite some time so I will devote the next few posts to this very subject. In this post I am going to start with the explanation of the most basic reasons for failure which, so often, is the source of frustrations for many.

1. You exercise too little

This is a very obvious one, yet so many people still can’t grasp the fact that it is NOT enough to follow the minimum daily guidelines for exercise, which is 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity activity, 5 days a week. Yes, if you have been sedentary for years and are totally out of shape, it’s a good start, but this amount is not enough, by itself, to start losing serious amounts of weight. I am going to be very cautious here and refrain from giving specific amount of exercise time recommendations, since all of you are different, eat a different diet, have different metabolism, daily activity level and lifestyle, as well as different conditions that might preclude you from intense or prolonged exercise. Your diet is still at least 80% of your weight loss success, but this does not mean exercise is not important. It is, and very much so. Keep in mind, however, that in order to lose 1 pound of body fat you will need to have a deficit of 3500 calories. An average person weighing 150 lbs burns about 150-200 or so calories during a 30-minute brisk walk (and I mean brisk! – at the speed of about 4 mph). Let’s call it a power walk to distinguish it from a leisurely stroll. If you walk 5 days a week, you will burn +/- 750-1000 calories. That’s not even 1/3 of a pound. The rest has to come from somewhere else. You will still have to cut back an additional 2500-2750. I will talk about the nutritional factors in the following posts devoted specifically to that subject, but in general, cutting your calories too low is not good either, because you will constantly be fatigued and grumpy.  Depending on your initial weight, the best solution is to cut between 250-500 calories from your diet daily (this number will depend on your overall calorie allowance for the day), and make up the rest of the difference in slightly longer, or more intense, workouts. Your weight training sessions should generally not be longer than 1 hour (plus a short warm-up and stretch), and your cardio sessions between 20 and 60 minutes; 20 for those who are total beginners, or those advanced ones who can really push at high intensity; and 60 for those who need to burn some serious calories but are not yet capable of working out doing high intensity interval training. I am generally not a big proponent of endless cardio sessions, (unless you’re an endurance athlete, of course) as they are catabolic in nature, make you lose muscle and, as a result, slow down the weight loss. They also very often lead to overtraining. My advice would be to limit your cardio to no more than 40-45 minutes, but put forward your best effort and really kick up the intensity. Also, do more lean- muscle-building weight training that will shape your body better than any cardio.
2. You exercise too much

This is as bad as doing too little and still quite common. I am not contradicting what I just said in the previous point, but more is NOT always better. Burning fat is very energy consuming for your body and you simply cannot fatigue it to the point where it has none left. Your body will outsmart you any time and will stop losing weight to protect itself from more abuse. You will also most likely find yourself looking puffy and retaining water, since it can’t keep up with clearing all the metabolic waste products out of the system. Use your common sense, listen to your body and let it rest if you feel exhausted. You will have more energy for your next workout and you can make it harder.
3. Your exercise is inappropriate for your age, fitness level and goals

I encourage all of you to invest in a few sessions with a good personal trainer. He/she will be well worth your time and money. Nothing can be more frustrating than wasting your time at the gym and not seeing results. Stop doing things you are not sure of or have no idea about. Your exercise program has to have arms and legs, be appropriate for you at the level you are currently at, be consistent with your goals and be performed according to a well designed plan that will progress you in the right way. Otherwise, not only will you not see much in terms of results, but you will be going in circles, and will eventually give up.
4. Your exercise intensity is too low or too high

Results oriented exercise is actually a science. Many people forget about it completely and think that anything will do. If you’re serious about results, ask someone who is trained in this area to figure out what intensity you should be working out at. This applies as much to cardio as strength training. If the intensity is too low, you are not going to challenge your heart or your muscles enough to get much benefit; if it’s too high, the chances are you will overtrain very fast, and might get injured in the process, which will only delay any possible progress.

5. Your exercise program lacks the proper balance of cardiovascular exercise and strength training

With all the knowledge out there on the importance of both, some people still often choose one over the other. From my observations, it’s usually the cardio lovers that tend to shun strength training and not so much the other way around. Keep in mind that both types of training affect the amount of calories burnt, and have the ability to increase your metabolic rate for quite a few hours afterwards. How much, depends on the intensity of the training itself. Cardiovascular workouts can burn quite a few calories during the session, while weight training builds muscle, and this in turn increases the metabolism overall, since muscle is a more metabolically active tissue than fat. The elevations in metabolism don’t seem very impressive in numbers, but add up considerably over time, so don’t ignore them. As a general rule, however, the more intense the workouts, both cardiovascular and strength training, the more additional calories your body will burn afterwards.
6. You are overdoing cardio

If you want to have a low percentage of body fat and look really lean, stop overdoing cardio. Your body gets very efficient at doing something you subject it to for such long stretches of time and will burn fewer and fewer calories the more you beat it up. Just look at so many “skinny fat” aerobics instructors who, though not heavy in a true sense, have a pretty high body fat. The same goes for long distance runners. Though lean due to pure amount of training, they look like famished skeletons with no muscle at all. Long aerobic workouts almost always guarantee that you will be burning precious muscle tissue, which is the last thing you want if you’re trying to lose weight. Also, it is almost a given that if you can do something for very long, you are not working out intensely enough.
7. Your exercise program is poorly designed or lacks any specific design to begin with

So you have read a few magazines and try to follow a routine described in the latest Men’s Health or Shape. Though some, or even all, exercises may be good, they may not always be the best for YOU. They don’t take all your particular circumstances into consideration and are almost never designed as part of a smart program, based on YOUR needs and goals. Or maybe you have designed your own routine, based on what you have observed in the gym – an even worse approach. Just because someone has a body you would like to have, does not mean you should follow everything they do. Their genetics are different, they may not have muscular conditions or imbalances that maybe you have, and you don’t know what else they do, or what they eat, to achieve the body you’re admiring. Exercise program design is a science and an art. Don’t just guess, or you’ll get nowhere.
8. Your form is incorrect on pretty much everything because you never learned how to perform the exercises appropriately. You think it’s OK because you’ve watched others do it

There is no substitution for working with a qualified trainer, at least for a few sessions. It is very hard to get the right feedback on whether you are actually performing the exercises correctly, especially if you have never done them before. It may seem to you that you are doing things exactly as they should be done, but only a qualified professional can spot where you’re lacking in form.  Invest in a few sessions and learn proper form. Otherwise, you are not going to achieve the results you are looking for.
9. You have no idea about proper intensity, load, sets, reps, tempo, rest periods between sets, etc. and how they affect your workout outcome

As I said in point 7, program design is a science. It takes years to study the human body and how it responds to various ways of training. Do you really know what intensity in a weight training session is? It is a degree of one’s applied strength relative to their current level of maximum strength. Probably not what you thought it was. How about load, tempo or rest periods? Do you know that when you change the rest periods just slightly, your whole program has just changed and you might be getting completely different results than you actually intended? If you plan on working out on your own and not wasting your time, make sure you learn about all the factors that affect your workout BEFORE you hit the weights.
10. You simply don’t have the knowledge when it comes to exercise and workouts

This is a very common problem, yet I see people in gyms all the time that insist on using weights and machines having absolutely no clue how to do so correctly. Please, please spend a few bucks and learn first. It will not only prevent an injury but is the ONLY way for you to get some benefits out of your workout.

11. You lift weights that are way too light to make any significant difference in gaining lean body mass and losing fat
This applies mostly to women, but not entirely so. In order to achieve strength gains, increase muscle size or just shape and tone your muscles, you need to challenge them enough so that they could respond by adapting to the new level of effort and thus changing the way you would like them to. This can only be done with a proper overload. If the weights you’re lifting don’t provide much of a challenge, you are wasting your time. For those women who are afraid of bulking up, I have a few words of assurance: we don’t have enough testosterone to build giant muscles that easily and you would have to lift very heavy weights in order to do so. If, however, you have a sizeable fat layer on your muscles, and you gain even a little bit of lean body mass, without losing any fat, it may look like you’re getting big. Extra muscle is a good thing, but you also have to look at your diet, incorporate cardiovascular exercise and stretch, in order to lose the fat and look really lean.
12. You don’t get enough recovery

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they get too eager to lose weight fast is forgetting that their bodies are not ever-ready batteries. Your muscles, and your cardiovascular system, need a sufficient amount of time to recover. Your muscles grow and change during that time, NOT when you put them through hundreds of contractions under heavy resistance. Remember to allow yourself enough rest days. It’s different for everyone. Some people can work out 5-6 days straight, and then take a day off; others might do 2 very intense sessions and have to rest on the 3rd day. All depends on your fitness level and your body’s ability to recover. There is no golden rule here.

Stay tuned for Part 3 – the Nutritional Reasons for not losing weight – coming soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011



By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2
                                                  Steve before
I had the honor of meeting Steve Nicander at the recent IDEA World Fitness Convention in Los Angeles. It took me only a split second to decide to do an interview with him. I wanted to know, how someone so close to death, could find in him the inner strength to get up and fight. How someone sentenced to living in a chair or in bed, could find the motivation to “exercise”. How do you even do it when you weigh over 600 lbs?

I hear excuses from people, some of my clients not excluded, that they really don’t have time to exercise, they have this condition or that, the gym is too far away, it is too cold or too hot,  they are too busy, too tired, too everything. How does a person like Steve, manage to lose close to 400 lbs, without being able to really “move”? If anyone could have had excuses, HE should have been the first person to have them, yet once he had made up his mind, he never gave up. I wanted to know more about his journey; what led to his morbid obesity; what was his life like; what made him finally decide to lose the weight for good. I wanted to know more about the impact Dr. Daniel Amen’s book had on him since I met Dr. Amen personally at the IDEA fitness convention.

Here’s Steve’s amazing story:

Contrary to what most people might think, Steve was not a child of obese parents. According to him, they would probably be considered just slightly overweight by today’s standards. Both his mother and grandmother were Old World cooks who relied on simple whole foods for nourishment. Junk food was nonexistent in the house and convenience foods, like sodas and the like, were not allowed. However, the external environment, school being one of the main places, provided enough temptation for the young boy to give into and then hide the facts from his family. As a result, at age 11, Steve was already overweight. From that point on, it only got worse. As it turned out quite recently, part of the initial reason for his weight gain were incorrect hormone levels which were most likely out of balance his entire life. To make matters worse, he was a musician at the time, which made unhealthy lifestyle choices, like drinking and smoking, even more accessible. A combination of low thyroid, as well as low testosterone, created a double whammy, but it was not until depression set in during his teens, that the situation went completely out of control. He turned to alcohol for solace putting in hundreds of empty calories on a daily basis. It was a deadly combination. As hard as it is to believe, at his worst, Steve would consume an entire 0.75L of 100 proof vodka and a half gallon of orange juice every day. He reached his highest weight at age 38, tipping the scales at 638 lbs.

I asked him what factors, in his opinion, led to such morbid obesity: nutritional, physical, psychological, all the above or maybe other. According to him, all three played a significant role, and created a vicious cycle. Asked what inside him allowed this to happen, he responded that depression was the key factor which progressed, along with the weight gain, until he became suicidal and simply stopped caring. He wanted his pain and suffering to cease and was hoping his demise would come quick. He contemplated suicide, but as ludicrous as it might sound, his gun was stored upstairs and he couldn’t get to it, as he was unable to walk up the stairs. When I heard that, I was curious what his life was like during all those years, as it’s easy to imagine that someone with obesity of that level would be hugely limited to just a few basic activities. In Steve’s words, ‘he was barely living at all’. He described his existence as dull and sedentary, with his only links to the outside world being TV, music and computer. One expression in particular, moved me with its incredible sense of reality and tragic: “It was like being trapped within myself and my own internal prison, my personal hell’.

You probably wonder what went through his mind; what feelings stirred inside him; did he hate himself. As you might imagine, there were not many positive feelings: self-loathing, hatred, anxiety, and anger towards himself, society and the whole world. He could not stand getting his picture taken or seeing himself in the mirror for years on end. He didn’t care what other people, including his friends and family, said or thought. Numbness was the overwhelming emotion and the desire for his torturous life of misery to end as soon as possible.

I asked him if he attempted any diets at that time, and if so, were any of them successful. Did he have a plan, if any, for solving the problem? Did he ever ask for help?

Steve, like most people trying to lose weight, tried every single diet he could get his hands on, every Over-The-Counter drug and prescription diet and weight loss pill, as well as cookbooks and various programs. The results were very slight at best – ten pounds here and there, but nothing more. He didn’t have a plan, nor did he care to even think of one. He tried to get some help through information he could find on the computer or in books, but never really reached out to people, except his personal physicians. Those, however, knowing how touchy the subject must have been for him, didn’t even broach it more than a couple times. Steve didn’t really want help, until he was ready to actually do something.

From my own experience with clients, it is never a lack of resources or willingness of others to help, but a lack of willingness on the part of the person in question to accept it. In my opinion, it is useless, in most cases, to try to help someone who is not ready, and Steve was no exception. When I asked him what brought on the final decision to lose weight for good, it turned out it was pain. His neuropathy became so severe that he knew unless he changed his life AND his lifestyle, his health would never improve. At that time, he also suffered from insomnia, and after a 3 week long bout of not sleeping, he finally decided to end the 25 year alcohol addiction, which was a huge contributor to the problem. It was the first step on the path to well-being.

How did he go about the whole process? At the time, he was staying at a physical rehabilitation center following one of many hospital stays. There he bought a laptop computer and started researching the most natural ways of reversing and curing his numerous conditions: morbid obesity itself, as well as all the chronic diseases it brought on. These included COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), arthritis, type 2 diabetes and neuropathy. A couple of months into his journey, his sister Sabrina, who had been his rock through the whole process, bought him a book by Dr. Daniel Amen, entitled “Change Your Brain, Change Your Body”. In it Dr. Amen explains that by giving the brain the right nutrients, as well as some important natural supplements, plenty of water and exercise, the body will actually heal itself, solving the weight issues and reversing disease. The book played a key role in introducing Steve to the concept of whole foods and nutrients they bring. He also used information he learned from Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. David Kessler among others. These are all doctors who use the same approach.

                                  Steve, before the weight loss, with his sister Sabrina
I wanted to know what the first changes he made were, and which made the biggest difference on his road to recovery. The answer didn’t surprise me, and confirmed the one thing I have always advocated to all of my clients – WHOLE, ORGANIC FOODS. Steve completely eliminated processed foods and any “white” foods from his diet, and reduced his sugar intake, bad fats and sodium, THE BIG 3, as he calls them. Since reversal of disease was essential for him, he learned from his research that he had to rely on organic whole foods in order to make the biggest impact on his health and bring on the quickest results. These turned out to be almost immediate – he lost 156 lbs in 4 months and managed to cure his diabetes.

As a Holistic Lifestyle and Nutrition Coach, I deal with the challenges people come across on a daily basis, exercise being one of them. Most are a lot less difficult to overcome than people imagine them to be. This was the first time, however, that I truly saw the magnitude of the challenge, and how much inner strength and determination it must have taken to overcome it. Imagine a body weighing nearly 650 lbs. How can one exercise if one can barely walk? Nearly impossible! Well, Steve turned out to be quite ingenious; he started to improvise by “dancing” in his recliner with wrist and ankle weights and dumbbells, in an effort to raise his heart rate and start sweating in order to burn some fat.

We take so many things for granted. Many people still think that taking a walk outside, or doing a short workout on the treadmill, is torture. Well, sometimes it’s good to see things from a slightly different perspective.

I wondered what Steve’s biggest motivation was then, what it is now and whether it changed at all through the whole process. It turns out, at the beginning it was the weight itself disappearing as quickly as it did, and the 4-month weigh-in that showed a 156 lbs loss. It changed everything for him, because he quickly realized he had basically saved his life. He also saw the potential to help other people, going through the same issues, help themselves. To do that, he started his own Facebook group, Steve’s Massive Weight Loss Fan Page, posting information, articles and various tips on weight loss. By now, it has turned into a life passion he is pursuing by trying to reach as many people across the country and the world as possible.

No matter how successful one might be in as daunting an endeavor as an attempt to lose 450-some pounds, something has to keep them going, since the road is not always easy. Many roadblocks occur on the way, and only the most patient, resilient and committed remain until the end of the race. So what, you might wonder, kept Steve going this whole time? It was the knowledge that other people in need were using his information with great success. Presently, Steve is working on his own reality TV series that he hopes to pitch in the coming months, called Big Dreams. The show will focus on teaching viewers about healthy lifestyle habits that lead to successful weight loss and general wellness. This project has given his life a real purpose. In his own words: "Every time (…) I tell my story, I know I touch people and their lives….his is a huge reason to keep doing what I am now doing!"

One of my questions to Steve was about the dramatic change in his daily life. How different was his life now? What was he actually eating these days? How has his relationship to food changed? The difference between his life now and then is enormous. From bed-ridden, depressed, suicidal alcoholic he transformed himself into a real health activist, safe foods advocate, motivational speaker, moderator, writer and producer of a potential TV show. His life will never be the same mundane existence as years before. Now, every day is a new challenge and a new adventure. And although he was close to death on many occasions, he thinks he was allowed to survive for a reason, and he takes his mission very seriously.

His relationship to food also changed dramatically for the better. Food has become fuel, as it’s intended to be, as well as “medication”. He wholeheartedly believes, as much as I do, in the words of Hippocrates, the Father of Nutritional Healing and Modern Medicine, that state: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Presently, Steve consumes large amounts of vegetables, and moderate amounts of fruit, seeds, and anything Mother Nature produces. What a change! From a malnourished alcoholic to a veggie munching happy camper. J

I am always curious what people learn from their life journeys. What do they learn about themselves? The whole process becomes an important life lesson and, more often than not, it’s a total transformation. Steve’s was no exception. He learned one of the most valuable lessons one can ever learn: that he was a lot stronger and more resilient than he ever gave himself credit for. He quotes one of his favorite sayings: “You never realize the strength of a Man until you see him at his weakest moment”. In the last year he has finally accepted himself and begun to love himself again. Now, he is trying to pay forward that love to others, to make them realize that by making necessary changes, they too, can transform and save their lives. He learned something that I have believed for many years now - that the solution to chronic disease and illness is a lot simpler than medical science is trying to make it out to be; that by removing chemicals from our bodies (which include medications and alcohol), and relying on NATURAL MEANS, like food, water and specific supplements, we can get a handle on the obesity epidemic in America. However, this will only happen when we can finally understand that we have full control of our health. The choices we make have a direct impact on what quality of health we are going to have. Human body was created to exist and thrive in a state of wellness, and when given proper nutrients and much needed movement, it is amazingly brilliant at healing itself. It is what we DO and DON’T DO that leads to disease and ill health.

I asked Steve what advice he would give to people who struggle with morbid obesity or any weight problems in general. Here’s what he had to say: “Realize that each and every one of you has the capability within yourself to make the necessary changes (…) to reverse pain, depression, anxiety, illness, weight gain and disease….” The way to achieve this is to start relying on Whole Food Nutrition, exercise and lots of good quality water. When it comes to exercise, especially in case of people who do not have the capacity to participate in more serious fitness activities, ANY type of consistent movement that allows the metabolism to be boosted will be meaningful. It will help to transform the body, if regular schedule is maintained. FITNESS is essential for optimum health and wellness.

Steve weighs 260 pounds at the moment. It has taken him over 2 years to get there. At the time of the interview (beginning of September), he was 22 pounds away from losing 400 LBS. He still can’t quite believe it. To date, he has done over 400 hours of nutritional research, mostly on his own, and has used the information given to him by experts in the field as well as many extraordinary people he has met during his amazing journey back to health.

Steve’s dream is to see the transformation happen all over America, see the real change in a country that is struggling with an epidemic of not only obesity, but also chronic disease. Ways to address these problems are simpler than many of us realize, or want to admit.

After having been in the health and fitness field for over 20 years, it is my belief, that although people have a free will, our current healthcare and medical system is partially to blame, along with insurance companies, Big Pharma, food industry, agricultural corporations, and advertising industry, just to name a few. This formidable force perpetuates greed to its very core. Greed is an extremely strong driving force for many and very difficult to stop. We have done so much damage already. If something does not change soon, it may be too late. Humans were designed to fight and resist disease, but this country is helping them to fail at every step of the way. Disease is spoon-fed to us from every angle. Instead of promoting disease-causing Franken-foods and chemically laden poison, we should be promoting farmers markets that sell organic food, community supported agriculture and co-ops. We need to promote healthy natural foods in schools all over the country, teach sustainable gardening and farming wherever possible, and rely on Nature to feed us, rather than technology and artificial, processed foods. We should be promoting health by means of prevention, through exercise and fitness in schools, instead of taking them out of the system. We need to fight for the safety of our food supply, and realize that things like pesticides, hormones, unnatural animal feeds and GMOs (genetically modified foods) should be banned before they get out of control and we are left with no natural foods on this planet. There is obviously a reason why so many countries have banned them already. All this is taking a huge toll on our youth, and childhood obesity, along with diabetes, are reaching epidemic proportions. When we create disease so early on in the young, what will this country look like when they become adults? The perspective is scary and the future looks bleak. Now, more than ever, we need all the knowledgeable, empowered people to stand up united and fight back to claim our health. It is not enough to think and talk about it. We have to act upon it and each and every one of us has to take responsibility for our own health.

I know Steve agrees with me.

                        Steve after losing 378 lbs, at the IDEA World Fitness Convention

 If you would like to contact Steve, please visit one of his websites or Facebook pages, or call him directly. You can also watch a trailer on his You Tube channel. Here’s all the information:
STEVE NICANDER                                                                                                               
Healthful Hope                                                                                                                       
Health Activist/ Safe Food Advocate/ Motivational Speaker                                                                           
Mobile Phone: (704) 928-7055


Sunday, September 25, 2011



By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2
                 Dr Daniel Amen and me at the IDEA World Fitness Convention

In the last couple of posts I talked about two famous people. Today I want to talk about someone who may not be as famous, but who has been changing people’s lives for quite some time. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the recent IDEA World Fitness Convention where he gave a standing- ovation presentation to an audience of 5000 health and fitness professionals. His name is Dr. Daniel Amen.

Dr. Amen is a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist, who has shown in his research and his clinics that aging of the human brain can be reversed with a combination of healthy diet and exercise. He is the author of two best-selling books: “Change your brain, change your life”, and “The Amen Solution. The Secret to Being Thinner, Smarter, Happier”. He runs clinics in Newport Beach, CA and San Francisco, CA and will be opening two more in Washington, DC and New York, NY shortly. Dr. Amen walks the talk. He is slim, fit, and full of energy. He exercises regularly and insists on eating a healthy diet no matter what the occasion. He was just getting ready to leave for a vacation in Spain, with his suitcase full of healthy snacks, in case the typical Spanish fare of fried foods was all that was available. His beautiful wife is also involved in spreading the results of his research by coaching people in healthy nutrition and teaching them how to cook in a brain-healthy way. She also has a DVD on the subject.

As someone who has been in the health and fitness industry for 20 years, I have my own observations on how diet and exercise affect us. I have had enough time to experiment with myself and learn from my clients, as well as my family and friends. I have always believed that proper nutrition and regular exercise is responsible for a lot more than keeping one slim and attractive looking. It helps us function at our best; it gives clarity of mind and makes focusing easier; it gives us energy, it keeps us healthy; it gives us clear and healthy looking skin, it brings confidence and high self-esteem; it prevents many diseases; it slows down aging; it allows us to enjoy life more fully and be more active participants in it; etc., etc. Considering the profession I am in, I obviously know how much diet and exercise affect our physical health. I have also been familiar with some studies of how lack of proper nutrition and exercise impacts the brain and its susceptibility to certain diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s, but until now I was not familiar with studies showing that brain damage or changes caused by unhealthy lifestyle are actually reversible. Dr. Amen shared with us some success stories as well as slides of actual brain changes, many of them following a fairly short period of a specifically designed healthy diet plan and regular exercise. Had I not seen them myself, I would have argued that these were not changes that were possible to make in such short periods of time, with such seemingly simple means. Not only did his patients lose weight, normalize their blood numbers, reverse diabetes and decrease their risk of many diseases but it almost looked as if the brain repaired itself. Some of the slides showed people who are well known personalities in America. These stories are real.

No story, however, is more real than that of Steve Nicander who, following Dr. Amen’s diet plan, lost close to 400 lbs. Steve used to weigh 638 lbs. In his worst moments, when contemplating suicide, he couldn’t even get upstairs to get his gun. His life did not show much promise, until he read Dr. Amen’s book. Steve was there in front of us – 5000 fitness professionals who gave him a standing ovation. Choked up with emotion, his hand on his heart, he bowed to us in deep appreciation - a truly changed man. In a way, he reminds me of both Jack LaLanne and Apolo Ohno. They all showed tremendous resolve to achieve what they wanted in order to make their life better and healthier. All three met with different challenges and road blocks, yet all found the inner strength and motivation to push their body beyond what many never could.


(I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve about his amazing journey to health and will be sharing this interview on the blog.)

To learn more about Dr. Daniel Amen and his work, please visit his website at: You can also join him on Facebook at: The Amen Solution or Dr. Daniel Amen. You can find his books on or by going to the above mentioned website.

Stay tuned for my interview with Steve Nicander, “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, coming next.

Friday, September 23, 2011



By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2

                 Apolo Ohno with me at the IDEA World Fitness Convention

 In my last blog I talked about the amazing Jack LaLanne, and the IDEA Inspiration Award he received from the organization, for inspiring so many people across America to take control of their health by incorporating exercise and good nutrition into their lives.

Today I want to talk about someone very different, yet so similar to Jack in many ways.

Every year, during the World Fitness Convention, Peter and Kathie Davis, the founders of IDEA, invite someone to speak to a few thousand health and fitness professionals gathered for the convention. It is always someone who has put their special mark on the fields of sport, fitness or health, or someone whose career has had a real impact on the above fields.

This year, IDEA invited APOLO OHNO. If you’re a sports fan, you have inevitably heard of him. Apolo Ohno is the most decorated American Winter Olympic athlete of all time, having won eight medals for short-track speed skating. He is a twelve-time holder of the men’s national speed skating title. He is not an average man. His story is unique……

Apolo was raised by a single father, a hard working immigrant from Japan. A wild and rebellious teenager who loved to ice skate, he discovered his natural gifts as an athlete early on. His wild nature and talent for sports proved difficult to balance from the start. He made a name for himself as a promising young speed skater but his lack of preparation for the Olympic trials in 1998 caused him to finish last. This almost ended his career before it began. At the tender age of fifteen, he was approached by his father and asked to go into solitary “confinement” so he would have a chance to think about what he really wanted to do with his life. He spent nine days in an isolated house up in the mountains, all by himself, facing his worst demons and fears. Those nine days of soul-searching were probably the most important and life-changing days of his life. His father asked him to call to be picked up once he had made a decision. And he did. The decision was a complete and unrelenting recommitment to speed skating. As a result, “… at the 1999 world junior championships he won first place overall – one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history. From that moment on, the world of speed skating had a new champion and Apolo was on his way to legendary status”. (1)

In front of 5000 people, he shared his amazing story of strength, discipline, self-sacrifice and never wavering devotion to training. He knew who he wanted to be. He knew he wanted to be the best in the world. For many years it required almost total isolation. He did not have a normal life; he could not afford distractions. He surrounded himself only with people involved directly in his training: coaches, trainers, mentors and others. Before the 2010 Winter Olympics, the regime of almost inhumanly intense training sessions and extremely precise diet completely reshaped his body. He had to learn how to achieve total focus and mental toughness in order to be able to face the best competitors on the planet, with millions of people watching his every move.

This training came in handy later on, when he was asked to compete in Dancing with the Stars. According to Apolo, no sports competition, no Olympics with its billion viewers, brought on as much fear as dancing in front of the audience of a few million. He had to face his demons again. And he did, the only way he knew how – by hard work and becoming the best. He later won the competition on the show. Yet another victory.

How did a person in his 20-ies achieve all this? How did he endure the years of tough preparations and sacrifices it required? By making a decision about who he wanted to be and what he wanted his life to be and following that path precisely. By hard work and commitment to his training AND his health. His efforts paid off in more ways than one. His goal was to have zero regrets. He has none. What a great thing to be able to say!

What does it really take to be successful? What does it take to be good? What does it take to be the best?

Both Apolo Ohno and Jack LaLanne showed that it takes incredible courage and inner strength to achieve amazing results – whether it’s weight training, losing weight, eating healthy or winning medals. In a way, they are all the same. All require that first initial decision, that first step so many of us are afraid of taking. And above all, they require a never-ending commitment. Rewards always wait for us at the end. The doors are always open. You just have to enter.

For Apolo’s own account of his life story, please read his recently published book: “Zero Regrets. Be Greater Than Yesterday”.

1. “Zero Regrets. Be Greater Than Yesterday” – Apolo Ohno; Atria Books (A Division of Simon and Schuster) – 2010.

Stay tuned for the story about Dr. Daniel Amen, the best-selling author of “Change your brain, change your life”, coming in the next post.