Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review, Giveaway, and Q & A with Helen Ryan

Good morning!

I’m really excited about today’s post! A couple of months ago, I was sent a copy of 21 Days to Change Your Body by Helen M. Ryan to read and review on the blog.


21 Days to Change Your Body is not like your typical diet book. Helen lost 82 pounds while running a business and raising two small children and is a certified personal trainer, spinning and pilates instructor. While this is impressive all in its own, what’s even more amazing is that she did it the old fashioned way – with healthy eating and exercise.


Helen’s book is written in a very unique way. Since it takes 21 days to make a habit, the first 21 chapters each provide a different piece of advice and a suggested way to “take action,” all geared toward losing weight and creating healthy new habits. Some of the topics she covers include portion sizes, will power, getting started with exercise, quick breakfast recipes, calorie cycling, battling cravings, and plateaus. I think that Helen’s initial intention was for the book to be read in 21 days, but I’ll be honest and say that I read all 21 chapters in about two days because I’m not that patient Winking smile.

The “Days” portion of the book only take up about two-thirds of the book, and the last third contains resources and Helen’s daily journal that she kept while losing the weight. I really enjoyed reading this book because Helen is funny and easy to relate to. She clearly encounters the same struggles that most of us do while trying to lose weight, but she has an amazing attitude and great advice to help you get through the tough times. One of the little things I love about the book is that there are tons of great quotes scattered through out each chapter. Some of my favorites include:

  • “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” –Vidal Sassoon
  • “Inside some of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but they can usually be sedated with a few pieces of chocolate cake.” –Author Unknown
  • “Rich, fatty foods are like destiny: they too, shape our ends.” –Author Unknown
  • “Your body is the baggage you must carry through life. The more excess the baggage, the shorter the trip.” –Arnold H. Glasgow
  • “Diets, like clothes, should be tailored to you.” –Joan Rivers

I’m pretty stoked because in addition to being sent a copy of her book, I was also given the opportunity to do a Q&A session with Helen. I thought of lots of things I wanted to ask her as I was reading along, and I think many of you guys may find her answers helpful as well. Hope you enjoy it!

Q&A with Helen M. Ryan


Q: I really enjoyed reading your book, "21 Days to Change Your Body." It was different than any other weight loss book or memoir that I've read before in the sense that it's a three week step-by-step approach with a new tip, suggestion, and action plan each day. What made you decide to take this direction when writing the book?

A: When I was struggling to lose weight I picked up book after book on weight loss and didn’t finish any of them. They were too long, too overwhelming, and didn’t give me any good starting point. When I finally lost weight by myself, I did it with the “baby step” method (changing one thing at a time) and since that worked so well for me I decided to structure my book in that same way. Plus it takes 21 days to cement a new habit, and I felt that creating a new healthy habit every day for 21 days could really change someone’s life (and body). And it’s easy to do.

Q: One of the tips that you mention for strengthening your will power is to "never tell yourself 'no' when you want a certain food, but tell yourself 'later' instead." Do you find that this tip often works for you? I have tried this trick many times, but usually end up just giving in and eating the food I wanted whenever "later" comes around. Any other suggestions about how to improve your will power and be successful with the "don't tell yourself 'no'" trick?

A: That’s hard for all of us, I think. Sometimes I still give in (especially when I have PMS he, he). But strong cravings usually go away within 15 to 20 minutes and if you can ride it out, then you are probably golden. Another way is to just eat half of the thing you want later and throw the rest out (and brush your teeth – my favorite trick). What works for me (usually) is that I sit for a moment and feel my “aliveness,” which also means I feel that one day I won’t be alive and that this is not some sort of “practice run” for my life. This is my actual life and my actual health. I am here only a limited time, and I can’t keep feeding my body nutritionally useless things just because I want them.

Q: Along the same line, you also talk about how no food should be forbidden, and you should never say no completely to something since deprivation can often lead to binging. However, it's extremely difficult for me to just have a "little bit" of something - it's easier for me to just say no! Any tips for not going overboard?

A: Great question! Sometimes we aren’t ready to have just a “little bit” and the little bit can throw us completely off course. In the beginning, until we are stronger, we might not be able to have any at all, and that’s OK because some day we will. When a cookie was just a cookie for me, I was able to eat half and then not want anymore. But when a cookie becomes all-consuming I can’t even have a half. It depends where I am at in my mind. Some days are better than others. The bad days are a challenge to get through.

Q: On page 46 of your book, you state that were tired of battling food for your entire life and decided one day that you were going to "stop dieting and start living." You go on to say that you "gave up trying to lose weight...and suddenly [you] were 82 pounds lighter." What exactly did you mean by that? What did you do to "start living" that sparked your significant weight loss?

A: I decided to stop obsessing about food and to stop obsessing about weight loss. When I was obsessed, that one cookie became a three-day binge. When I allowed myself to just not even think about dieting or calories or weight, my thought patterns changed. I freed myself from trying to “lose x amount per week,” or “don’t eat that” and once I did, food started to lose it’s magical powers and I began to focus on other things, which helped me make healthier choices.

Q: You talk about the importance of calorie cycling to keep your body guessing and avoid plateaus, but have you ever tried carb cycling before? I hear a lot about it and I know that a lot of bodybuilders and fitness competitors do it, but I'd love your personal opinion on the topic. Would you recommend it to your clients?

A: I think I naturally do “carb cycling” in an unofficial way. If I am going out for dinner in a few days and I know I won’t be able to resist the fresh baked bread, I tighten up on my other carbs a few days before so I can enjoy it. I would advocate carb cycling on a “loose” basis for clients, but not to be overly strict with it. I think “cycling” of any kind works into most people’s lives.

Q: What does a typical day of eating look like for you, both now and when you were losing weight?

A: I try to eat a high protein breakfast now. When I was actively losing weight I would usually eat oatmeal for breakfast. Now I make protein pancakes (with peanut butter and berries), so I am actually eating more protein. I still have about 7 pounds to go until I reach my goal, but it’s slow going at this weight. I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years(!), but last year I started to incorporate chicken and turkey into my diet to get more protein, so my diet has definitely changed (though I am thinking of going vegetarian again). I have low fat string cheese usually as a snack, and then some sort of salad with a lean protein (or an egg-white omelet) for lunch. Sometimes I will eat a high fiber sandwich half with peanut butter in between. Then I will have more string cheese (ha ha) or a piece of fruit with more peanut butter (I see a pattern) for snack, then some veggies with some sort of lean protein for dinner. I usually have a snack later in the evening (probably more string cheese). I also have coffee with almond milk in the late mornings, and sometimes a “coffee protein smoothie.” Overall, my diet before consisted of more (yes even more!) dairy and more carbs because I had a hard time eating vegetarian without being too hungry.

Q: I love how not only did you lose a tremendous amount of weight, but you decided to take it to the next level by becoming a certified personal trainer as well as a spinning and pilates instructor. What was the certification process like for that? I love going to spin classes and think that it would be so much fun to become an instructor some day. Any specific certification programs you recommend?

A: You should do it! Teaching is amazing. Spinning is my true love. I got certified through Mad Dogg Athletics, which is holds the Spinning brand license (and the only actual Spinning certification). Anything else is not Spinning – they have their own indoor cycling certifications (Schwinn, Reebok, etc.) The Spinning certification was an in-person 9-hour training course (where you study in advance). I am also certified as a trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE), which was incredibly difficult. Back when I did it I had to study for three to five months, then take a 2-day course, then I drove to UCLA to take a proctored test (where I had to show my driver’s license again and again whenever I went to the bathroom). There was no cheating there! I guess that’s why it’s such a respected. My Pilates certification was through Peak Pilates, which is the only certification I actually didn’t like to take. The instructor was so, shall we say, “mean” that she made someone cry. It was not a good experience.

Overall, certifications just credential your passion. You are either a good instructor or trainer on your own or not. Certifications don’t make you great. You have to have it inside of you. I simply love to teach, share and watch someone’s happy expression when they start accomplishing something they never thought they could.

Thanks for the great interview, Helen!

For those who are curious, Helen also writes a blog. Be sure to check it out!


Alright, now for the fun part! Helen’s publicist was generous enough to send me an extra copy of the book to send to one of you folks! To enter, just leave a comment telling me the best piece of health/weight loss advice that someone ever told you. For extra entries, you may “like” my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (@healthyberg) and tweet about the giveaway – just be sure to leave me a separate comment letting me know that you did! I’ll randomly choose a winner on Tuesday morning. Good luck!


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