A Chat With A Holistic Nutritionist You Definitely Want to Read

Friday, February 21, 2020

Dear Readers: 

 If you already received this post via email, I apologize for the duplicate. We needed to fix some technical errors and repost. If you haven't yet read the post, I highly recommend you take the time to do so. Not only is it a fun chat with a good friend, it is chock full of really important information regarding holistic health and wellness. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

It was the first Shabbos in my new neighborhood in Boca Raton, and as I walked into shul, I noticed her right way. Tall and thin, with a huge, open smile radiating out to her adorable young daughter, I felt Henya's positive energy immediately and wondered if we'd be friends. And friends indeed we became.

We immediately connected over similar backgrounds, and cultural experiences. Our kids, who went though similar experiences as well, connected too. Over the next two and half years we shared thousands of WhatsApp and re-life conversations, meals together, countless bike rides including riding in Tour de Simcha together, joint creative projects, and some funny drunken 80's karaoke nights.

I often discussed health and nutrition with Henya, a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and ACE certified personal trainer, and would pay attention during our many conversations with our doctor friends. She always presented intelligent, and updated scientific data that made a lot of sense to me. Besides for being a fun friend, I grew to know her as a pretty smart chick when it came to holistic nutrition, wellness and even healthy culinary skills!

After years of trying everything and always struggling, I realized that if anyone could unlock the complex secret of how a woman of my age could possibly get rid of those increasing pounds, inflammation, and an annoying middle-age bloated belly, it was her!

So on this past New Year's Eve, with way too many tequila shots flowing through my veins, I asked her to please help me.

Now don't get me wrong. Up until that point, I had too much pride to "hire" Henya. I had been a self-educated, know-it-all dieter my entire adult life. Before I hit 45 I knew how to diet my way down to the weight I wanted to be, but it was mostly painful and unhealthy, physically, emotionally and mentally. And I was usually far from fit.

But after 45? Well, that was an entirely different story. I began to feel my age. I had less energy and my moods were out of control. And the weight gain wasn't just regular weight; it was a lot of bloat and inflammation. Often my face would be swollen in the morning and my belly would be round and protruding in the evening. And the worst part was that it seemingly had very little to do with how much I exercised (usually a lot), or how much I ate (usually not a lot).

No matter what I tried on my own, nothing worked for long. I just didn't understand how complicated it was to achieve and maintain that fine balance of health and wellness at my age. I had pretty much come to terms with the fact the I would never get even my old, imperfect, but better body back. Which is fine, I guess. Right? We're supposed to accept ourselves as we are.  But, I'm a warrior against decline in aging, and I really didn't like that I wasn't feeling good inside and out. It was time to surrender my pride to the person who I knew would understand the many factors involved in getting, and staying healthy and youthful as I got older.

And those weren't the only things Henya understood. Although it may not be evident by the way she looks today, she has experienced her own journey and struggles the area of health and fitness, which is what led her to her career to begin with, as you will read below in our chat. I have seen for myself that she too has to work hard to stay fit and healthy and is completely empathetic to the various issues that many of us struggle with.

So that New Year's eve, Henya reluctantly agreed to work with me. (Reluctantly, only because she knows how much I loved to drink!)

Being silly New Year's Eve 2020

She warned me it would be a lot of hard work, and I would have to listen to everything she told me. I'd have to cut down on my alcohol to almost none (gasp!), take a whole bunch of vitamins and supplements, and I'd have to take a saliva hormone test.

But, I was ready and I committed!

Since then I have lost more than half my goal weight, but more than that, my inflammation is down and I'm starting to look good in pictures again. (You may even start seeing more of me on social media now ;)

The one month difference!

But mostly, I feel way more energetic, way less sad and lethargic, way more youthful, and I hardly ever get "hangry" or "cravy". And just this morning, I noticed my hair was actually thicker and shinier.

Writing this, I know it all sounds like an ad for some magic weight loss pill. But the truth is, this is far from a shallow post about just weight loss, and it's far from magic. Henya creates extremely fine tuned, custom programs specifically for each individual client's needs and issues, based on real data and the most recent research. And it's all holistic, healthy, and extremely "feel-good."

And yes, I DO have to work hard and be diligent and organized. I do have to avoid many foods and shop organic, non-gmo, and prepare my foods carefully. I have to avoid eating out and drinking too much alcohol. I have to swallow all of my supplements and watch my FitBit, and make sure I burn enough calories everyday.

One of Henya's delicious, easy salads. Photo property of @RealHealthFit

So, no, it's not a magic pill at all. It's science and hard work. But I would have no idea how to do all of that myself, even if I was a know-it-all dieter who had already gone through every diet on the plate. The body is a very complicated machine. I'm glad I'm friends with such a smart chick!

So I give you my dear friend, Henya Lazar!

Photo property of @RealHealthFit

Sharon: OK. Let's start with some fun facts about yourself so my readers can get to know you better!

Tell us a little about your background.

Henya: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, in the typical Jewish areas of Boro Park and Flatbush back in the 70's and 80's; but moved to Canada when I married my husband who is from Toronto. I lived there for about 20 years until I was pretty much a frozen block of ice and decided to move to Florida to thaw out! I'm obviously being overly dramatic but the cold really got to me.

S. I can totally relate! What do you like to do for fun?

H. I love to cook and bake healthy meals and desserts. The hard part is cleaning up the invariable tornado of a mess I make in the kitchen, but I recently started listening to audio books or podcasts at the same time which helps make the cleanup process easier.

I also love to bike ride outdoors, which I did in Toronto during the warmer months, but you got me on the real deal - a road bike - when you moved here, which I was always terrified to do! By promoting Tour de Simcha, you convinced me that a road bike wasn't as scary or as painful as I though it would be, and you were so right! People often assume it was the other way around, so I love sharing the real story. Anyway, my old hybrid bike is now sitting in my garage if anyone wants it.

TDS 2018

S. Yes! I love that we rode together in TDS! It's really cool that some sort of fitness inspiration came from me to you as opposed to the other way around. That makes me so proud. And you inspired me to get my FitBit and really up my ante when it comes to fitness on a daily basis.

I'm sure people often wonder what a nutritionist eats...what are some of your favorite foods?

H. I genuinely like all healthy food, but my favorites would have to be salmon nigiri or sushi rolls with salmon, avocado and green onion. I am also obsessed with dark chocolate covered almonds. I have such a weakness for dark chocolate covered anything: rice crisps, raisins, it doesn't really matter as long as it's crunchy (and organic of course!). Over the years, many well-meaning friends have misunderstood this chocolate love affair and bought me boxes of dark chocolate truffles as gifts...and I really don't like truffles at all. There is something about the texture, not to mention the additives and unhealthy ingredients. So, if you're reading this and at some point you bought me truffles - umm, I'm sorry? You're still an awesome friend, it's the thought that counts ;)

Henya's delicious, homemade chocolates. Photo property of @RealHealthFit

S. Haha! I really think people will love hearing about your weakness for chocolates! As you know, my chocolate is tequila. So if anyone wants to gift us...it's chocolate covered anything and tequila! No truffles :)

While we're on the subject of no-so-healthy choices, what are some of your favorite foods that you have given up?

H. Pizza and fries, although I wouldn't say I've given them up, just switched them over to healthier versions. I'll eat homemade gluten-free pizza with vegetables on occasion (I'm still trying to find kosher organic mozzarella!) And I'll make organic "fries" in an air fryer. But growing up I at a LOT of pizza and fries. There were a couple of famous pizza places in Flatbush where I would spend way too much of my babysitting money. The other thing I've given up, but at this point would taste really gross to me, are chocolate bars like Twix, KitKat, and believe it or not, Paskesz nougat bars. That one is a little embarrassing but what can I say, I used to have a serious sweet tooth for all kinds of unhealthy stuff.

S. Aaah, pizza and fries! Long lost friends :( I want your recipe for the healthy versions! I'm waiting with bated breath for you to write your cookbook.

H. Thanks for the vote of confidence, hopefully I'll get there someday!

S. What's something unexpected about you that would be surprising to most people?

H. People tend to think I am aloof in social situations, but the truth is I am kind of shy and awkward with people I'm not close with. It's gotten better over the years, but basically if you come over and talk to me I love it. It's much harder for me to make the first move. Although, I think I spoke to you first and introduced myself when I met you in shul! Another thing people find surprising and also hilarious is my terrible sense of direction...I could literally get lost going around the block.

S.  I'm really glad that your came over to me! I remember us connecting right away...we even went to you for impromptu cholent, and I remember thinking, aah these people are so cool. The cholent wars began from the start!

H. Haha, we will let the people decide...but both our cholents are great, and I can say that without bragging because I don't make mine, my husband does! (Although, I did tell him what NOT to put in it!)

S.  So yours is healthier! What else is new ;)

Tell us something that's on your bucket list.

H. Traveling to places like Spain, Italy, Greece, basically anywhere exotic that I haven't been to before, which is a lot of places! For now I am happy to live in Florida and go with my family to different beach destinations within driving distance.

S. Yes! Greece. One day we'll make it there :) And yes, we are so lucky we live in Florida.

H. Are we telling your readers that every Purim and Simchas Torah when you drink one too many tequilas you tell all your friends we are going to Greece and Steven is paying? Haha!

S. Well, I wasn't planning on it! But thanks for sharing ;) 

If you could have lunch with one person dead or alive, who would it be?

H. Oh, this is a tough question. There are a few but the one who comes to mind right now while we are talking about fitness and health is Tony Horton - the creator of P90X. He revolutionized home based fitness programs and he just fascinates me as a person, a trainer and a businessman. I also find him pretty funny, and I'll have lunch with anyone who makes me laugh. Plus I know he would be happy to eat somewhere healthy! I would probably suggest Fuego Mundo in Georgia - we ate there on the way from Toronto to Florida and it was honestly the most incredible kosher healthy restaurant I've ever been to. They have grass fed meats and yucca fries. OK, now I'm hungry just thinking about it. Forget Tony Horton, you and I should go there!

S. I'm down! Did someone say road trip?? When are we leaving? But first...

Tony Horton and Atlanta's Fuego Mundo

...let's get down to business...The Real Health Business. Now that we have a better picture of you as a person, I'm sure everyone wants to hear about what you do professionally, and also learn more about  holistic nutrition and wellness. With so much information out there in the health, nutrition, and wellness fields, it can all get confusing!

H. It definitely is confusing! I have an Honors BA (that's a Canadian distinction meaning a more rigorous undergrad program than a typical BA) in Kinesiology and Health Science. I am an Advanced Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Culinary Nutrition Expert, both of those are from Canada as well. I am also a Certified Personal Trainer, but I've moved a bit away from that these days and focus more on health and wellness.

Essentially my job is to help people live their lives in the most healthful way possible, including food choices and teaching how to cook healthy wholesome food, exercise, lifestyle habits such as quality sleep and getting rid of toxins from skin care and household products and even unnecessary medications.

Obviously there are no guarantees in life. We all know people who smoke and eat garbage and are fine, and also those who obsessively watch what they eat and exercise, but don't feel well. This is where things like genetics, how you deal with stress, and social factors come into play. That being said, I strongly believe that we have to try and do our part to make sure that we are doing things to improve our health as opposed to constantly being exposed to harmful products and habits. And this is a daily practice, moving upwards on what one of my mentors Josh Gitalis calls the "slope of health." Meaning, you aren't either completely healthy or completely unhealthy, but rather, on any given day, what choices are you making to move up or down the slope? This was a powerful lesson to me and one I try to implement with my clients.

S. I love that! It's kind of like the 2 steps forward, 1 step back concept. If we think in those terms we won't be hard on ourselves when we are not perfect.

So just to clarify, how does what you do set you apart from a general nutritionist?

H. That's a good question, because the term Nutritionist here in the U.S. is different than in Canada. For the most part, especially in some states like Florida, it means Registered Dietitian, which I am not, and I'm always very clear about that and the fact that I have no intention of becoming one. Registered Holistic Nutritionist as I mentioned, is a Canadian distinction that is either unknown or misunderstood here. While there is some overlap in both fields, we have a more holistic approach, and rely on quality vitamin and herbal supplements along with organic food wherever possible.

It falls under the category of alternative wellness and functional medicine, as opposed to following the American food guidelines and western medicine approach. You will never see a holistic nutritionist recommending splenda or artificial ingredients of any kind. We cannot wrap our collective heads around serving food dye and sugar filled jello in hospitals to sick patients!

S. I know! That's why what you do resonates so much with me personally. The holistic approach to wellness just makes so much sense. It's not only about "getting skinny" or taking meds. It's about a lifestyle, where being lean and fit is just happy side affect of living healthfully!

So, tell us, what got you interested in this field in the first place?

H. I was sick a lot as a teenager and into my early 20's. I had chronic headaches, debilitating digestive issues, eczema, got colds very frequently, and had severe anxiety as well. I had no intention of getting into this field at all. (I started college as a computer programming major!) At the time, I went from doctor to doctor and after all the tests came back normal, was either told my physical symptoms were "in my head" or that I needed to take different medications depending on what my symptoms of the day were. Nobody ever asked me what I ate or what time I went to sleep at night. If they did, they would have learned I was drinking 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day, eating tons of sugar, maybe a vegetable every other day  and going to sleep around 1:30 am. Let that sink in for a minute...numerous doctors and nobody asked me what I was eating?

It was meeting with several holistic practitioners that changed all of that. My anxiety decreased by 80% simply by cutting out soda and caffeine...seems so obvious now, but back then I simply didn't make the connection. Probiotics and a change in diet drastically helped my gut health - I still get digestive discomfort, but only when I am not careful with what I eat, and for me that is different than it might be for someone else. I wanted to learn more and in turn help other people.

S. Thanks for sharing that! I feel like this is a really important factor in what you do. A lot of people don't realize what you have gone through personally, and I think this information makes you relatable and adds a certain comfort factor for your clients. 

What are the main goals you have for your clients?

H. When a client tells me she feels better, has more energy, better skin, lost weight, whatever the specific issue was, it makes me happy!

S. I know! And it's totally different for every client. I was so excited to use the meal plan you created for me. So many people who want to get healthy and lose weight feel like there's nothing to eat. Tell us about how you come up with your original recipes.

H. I am really good at taking an unhealthy recipe and modifying the ingredients to make it good for you, wholesome and still taste great. I am not a chef, but I learned a tremendous amount about delicious, healthy recipes and cooking from the Academy of Culinary Nutrition.

S. Yes! You recently completed their program and became a Culinary Nutrition Expert and started giving cooking classes too. Which is great for the moms out there who are struggling with coming up with wholesome meal ideas that everyone in their families will love.

Henya sharing her skills at one of her recent cooking classes. Photo property of @RealHealthFit

Can you explain to us why it's so important to understand concepts like GMO and organic food, and why that's just as important to our health and fitness as how much food we eat?

H. The sheer number of pesticides, fungisides and GMOs used in growing food today is staggering. Add that to the toxins in beauty products and household cleaning products and it's no wonder people get sick so often. Our immune systems simply cannot handle it. We also have no clue of the long term effects of GMOs, and if you do the research, like in this article, there really is no benefit to them. While organic food isn't perfect, it does drastically lower the exposure to all of those things while also, in most cases, increasing the nutritional value of our food. For more on that, check out this amazing resource at the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, no-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. 

S. It's really scary if you think about it! But, what you taught me was instead of getting overwhelmed with all of it, to just start being more aware of the ingredients and information on packages, and slowly replace the unhealthy food and products as they run out. There's no need panic and throw everything out at once. Even small slow changes make a difference.

What is your favorite part about what you do?

H. Listening to people's health challenges and trying to figure out the best way to help.

S. You're really good at that! What is the worst part?

H. Not being able to reach people who are too afraid and/or find it too difficult or overwhelming to make the necessary changes to improve th quality of their life. Watching them go down the slope of health I talked about earlier, and knowing there is nothing I can say to convince them to try an alternative approach. That's hard, but I've learned that not everyone will agree with me or what I do, and that's OK.

S. Sure. I hear that. 

What are some of your dreams and goals for the future of Real Health Fit?

H. I have a few and G-d willing I'll have enough hours in the day to implement them. My priority is and always will be my family, which B"H includes 4 kids, ages 12-19.

So, I'll keep those future goals under wraps for now except for one, which I am excited about us doing  together! You're an exceptional Life Coach and people need to hear more from you, that's why I am happy we are working on an awesome Health and Wellness Retreat together.

S. Thank you! And yes, I am super excited about that. So, dear readers, stay posted for more on that soon, and Henya, thank you so much for being with us today. I hope this conversation will inspire more people to walk down the path of holistic health and nutrition.





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