Health kick: Tips from 3 local wellness experts

By / People / October 6, 2016

A new season means a new beginning so we checked in with 3 health and wellness experts to learn tips and tricks for giving the body and mind a boost. Ready, set, restart!

Stephanie Mansour | Step It Up with Steph

7-2_Jackson_Knuckles_2.jpgFor Stephanie Mansour, the road to health and wellness has been personal. “I felt like food was controlling me rather than [me being] in charge,” says Mansour, who once struggled with body confidence and pain — until discovering she could make fitness fun. She launched Step It Up with Steph ( in 2008 to help other women transform their bodies. Through her complimentary 21-Day Challenge (, Mansour helps clients get on track with healthy eating and a 30-minute workout five days a week. Here, she outlines a basic workout plan to try.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday: Alternate between cardio and strength training, with 3-5 minutes of each. For strength, choose three upper body and three lower body exercises — Mansour likes squats, bicep curls, tricep extensions and overhead presses. Repeat three times. Try different strength moves each day.

Tuesday: Do cardio intervals, varying your speed and intensity. “Listen to your body. It is not one-size-fits-all. One day your [maximum] speed on the treadmill may be 6.0, the next it may be 8.0,” says Mansour, who often pairs this with yoga. Her go-to poses? Forward fold and crescent lunges for 5-10 breaths each.

Thursday: Pair cardio with Pilates. “The abs are the only muscle group that you can work out every day because the muscles are so fine, so doing extra Pilates is great during the week.” For instruction, check out YouTube videos or get Mansour’s “Signature Slimdown Workout DVD” ($29).

Good go-to’s | Mansour shares her favorite healthy haunts

Fitness classes: Chicago Athletic Clubs ( “I encourage clients to find classes, because at least you’re surrounded by like-minded people,” says Mansour, who’s a fan of the BodyPump workout.

featurearts-unfried-chicken-72dpi_1200px< Restaurants: Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen (55 E. Grand) for the turkey burger and salmon Wok Out Bowl; LYFE Kitchen (413 N. Clark) for Art’s Unfried Chicken (pictured); and Beatrix (671 N. St. Clair) for the Turkey Neatloaf.

Holistic nutrition: Mansour’s private clients work directly with Dr. Katherine Chavez from the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern (500 N. Michigan). “She analyzes blood work in-depth and says what types of food you should eat more or less of.”

Spa: The spa at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago (120 E. Delaware) for the Signature Massage ($150-$205).

Dawn Jackson Blatner

7-2_Jackson_Knuckles_2.jpg“There are so many confusing diets out there: paleo, vegan, gluten-free. It’s crazy to think there’s one diet for [everybody],” says Dawn Jackson Blatner ( The registered dietitian nutritionist — now in her seventh season consulting for the Chicago Cubs — sees a common thread in diets that actually work: the absence of overly processed food. It’s the premise of her upcoming book, The Superfood Swap (out Dec. 27), based on the very plan that helped her win the ABC weight-loss reality show “My Diet Is Better Than Yours” earlier this year. Here, she offers a dietary dose of reality.featuresuperfoodcover_1200px

The No. 1 mistake she sees: “When people are not successful with losing weight and getting healthy, it’s because they have this all-or-nothing mentality; they have a very slow comeback rate because they beat themselves up for too long.” Her solution? “Screw up, forgive yourself and be curious about why it happened so that you can avoid it in the future.”

Back it up: In an ideal world, says Blatner, we’d be eating perfect, planned-ahead meals complete with wild salmon, quinoa and kale on the regular. Since that rarely happens, have a solid, realistic plan B. For example, if you don’t have energy or time to make a meal, put leftovers on a “green base” (a pile of spinach, kale or arugula).

Don’t be fooled: “Just because it’s a smoothie bar does not mean what you’re ordering is healthy,” says Blatner, who stresses the importance of examining ingredients. For smoothies, she recommends concoctions with an unsweetened base (think water or unsweetened plant milk), only one cup of fruit, plus veggies and boosts (anything from HUGE handfuls of spinach to a tablespoon of chia seeds to a shake of spices like turmeric).

Keep it simple

“People who do best tend to have a lot of repetition in their week,” says Blatner, who created a 1-2-3 meal and shopping organization plan to help people embrace what she refers to as “delicious monotony.” Pick a healthy breakfast, two healthy lunches, three healthy dinners, and three healthy snacks to look forward to throughout the week, and shop for just those items. “With repetition,” she says, “you have less planning to do, less shopping to do and less waste.”

Daniela Kende Ploszek | Color Me Complete

7-2_Jackson_Knuckles_2.jpg“Eating healthy comes down to having a balance, and not just coming from a place of judgment and restriction,” Daniela Kende Ploszek says. The Princeton psychology graduate and board-certified holistic health coach behind Color Me Complete ( works with clients all over the world — from Chicago and LA to Sweden and South Africa — to pinpoint their cravings. November 7-16, she’ll host an installment of her 10-Day Real Food Reset ($89 if you register by Oct. 20;, which improves overall wellness and identifies toxic triggers. “When [we] take a 10-day break from food we might be sensitive to, we give our bodies a chance to feel really great, and then we introduce those foods one at a time,” says Kende Ploszek, who often connects with clients over Skype (“I’ll send a shopping list, and we’ll cook up a meal together”) and in private Facebook groups. Here, she shares her expertise on better eating.

Good morning: Start the day with warm water and the juice of half a lemon to boost the metabolism and vitamin C. Bonus: “When you start your day with that sour taste, it can help decrease that sweet tooth throughout the day.”

Go green: Smoothies are another a.m. go-to for Kende Ploszek, who packs hers with a plant-based protein powder, fresh greens and healthy fats like avocado, coconut milk, nuts and seeds.

Gut instinct: She’s a big fan of fermented foods like raw sauerkraut. “At least 70 percent of our immune system lives in our gut,” she says. “Fermented foods are an amazing source of living probiotics, which increase good bacteria, improve digestion, improve our immune system and even improve our mood.”


Sunflower Lemon Zest Mighty Bites

Kende Ploszek recommends doubling or tripling this recipe and storing extra Mighty Bites in the freezer. 

Makes about 20

¾ cup pitted dates
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
½ cup shelled hemp seeds + ¼ cup for coating
¼ cup raw sesame seeds + ¼ cup for coating
⅓ cup raw cashew butter
zest of 2 small lemons (about 2 tablespoons)
juice of ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
½ teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor, pulse together all ingredients except for the additional hemp and sesame seeds that you’ve set aside for coating. Pulse until well combined.

Arrange the extra hemp and sesame seeds in a thin layer on a flat plate.

Using your hands and a small spoon, form the batter into bite-sized balls and roll each in the seeds to coat.

Transfer finished Mighty Bites to a flat Tupperware container and store in the fridge.


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