May 18, 2014

Mommyshine: A Health Minded Mom

For this Mommyshine we are spotlighting Cassandre Charles. Cassandre is one third of the brain trust behind A Healthy U Conference as well as the creator of Losing in the City blog. A Healthy U took place last weekend in NYC after months of planning with her partners and fellow moms Nellie Acevedo of Brooklyn Active Mama and Kimberly Whittaker  of Manifest Yourself blogs. They set out to create a program that would inspire and inform all of us to live a more healthy lifestyle.

I sat down with Cassandre to not only hear about A Healthy U but to shine a light on her as busy working mother.

1. Why did you decide to build this conference? What need were you trying to fill?
The idea of hosting a health event is something that I had hoped and dreamed about for along time. I knew the day would one day come; it was just a matter of the right time. One evening last year, after having dinner with fellow bloggers Nellie and Kimberly, I approached Nellie about the idea of partnering together to host a health event where we can have workshops, workouts and a full day of health and wellness. As we started talking, Nellie was becoming as excited as I was about doing this and we promised to continue our conversations and to make this event a reality. Weeks later we connected with Kimberly and before you knew it we were planning A Healthy U.

The goal of A Healthy U was to help women make their health and wellness a priority by providing them with simple and effective solutions that they can apply to their everyday lives. Our hope is that A Healthy U will help people to realize that it’s ok to put “you” first.

2. How long did it take to plan?  It took us about 6 months to plan the entire conference.

3. You are a working mom right? What kind of work do you do and how many children do you have/ages? Yes, I am a busy working mom who’s trying to accomplish too much in to little time! I am the Marketing Director for a magazine. I have a three-year-old daughter. 

4. How did you manage to put a conference together and do your regular job?
    I won’t deny that it was tough. I work long hours and to come home and have to get my daughter ready for bed, dinner and then work on the conference wasn’t easy. But because it was something that meant so much to me, I always found the drive and energy to keep going. Also, Nellie, Kimberly and I had such a good system with how we communicated. We emailed each other like crazy on a daily basis and we had weekly calls to help us stay on track. Working with the two of them made this all possible. We supported each other every step of the way.

5. Why is healthy living a personal focus for you?
   As an African-American women, the numbers that exist about the health disparities within the our community are real. African-Americans in general over index when it comes to several ailments that can be prevented with a more healthy living lifestyle such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity. I have dealt with weight issues all my life and when I finally came to a place of truly understanding food and how to lead a healthy lifestyle, it became important to me to spread the word and help out as many people as I can. I’m on a mission to help get our community healthier.

6. What tips would you recommend to someone who hates exercising but wants to start somewhere. The first thing I would recommend is to keep it simple and to find something you love. Research shows that if you love your exercise you are more likely to stick with it, particularly when you’re just starting out. For example, if you like to walk, just walk a few days a week then gradually add something new to your routine. Maybe one of your walks becomes a light jog.

I also recommend starting at home.
Going to the gym for someone who is just starting to workout can be intimidating and quite overwhelming. Social media and Youtube have made working out at home really easy. Between Instagram and Youtube alone you can find full-length workouts and demonstrations that can be done in your living room that don't cost you a thing. Lastly, try different things before you commit to one exercise.

7. What are you top 5 power foods for healthy eating? This was another question that we asked our panelists during the healthy eating session at A Healthy U. Our registered dietitian responded in a way that I completely agree with. It’s hard to say that I have 5 power foods vs. 5 power food groups everyone should incorporate in there every day diet. When it comes to eating what works for one person doesn’t work for another. So, my list of 5 power food groups are leafy green vegetables, fruits, lean protein/dairy, healthy grains (i.e. brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and sweet potato) and I can’t stress the importance of water. Water is the ultimate power food that everyone should incorporate into their diet.

8. Are health and weight interchangeable? Meaning can you be healthier at a heavier weight? This is an interesting question. Yes, you can be heavy and healthy. But I could never recommend to someone that just because you are heavy and healthy that you shouldn’t work to lose weight. Too much weight on your body is never a good thing.

9. Do you plan on doing any more conferences? What were the common threads you heard from your attendees?
Absolutely, we’re already talking about 2015. The main common thread for most of the attendees of the conference was a lack of time. A lot of people struggle with finding time to be healthy and/or exercise. There were also a lot of questions from attendees about not knowing where to start. We were encouraged as there were many women in the room that are well on their way to being their healthiest self.

10.  Speaking of time, what advice would you give to women & more specifically moms who feel they can’t find the time to adjust their weight/diet? I am a working mom and living proof on how challenging it can be to focus on your health and exercising when you have so much going on in your life (family, work, etc.). The struggle is so real and tough.

Personally, I have some weeks that are better than others with my healthy living journey.  But no matter what, I stay focused on my goals and I’m not hard on myself if I have a bad day/week. Life happens; being healthy is a lifestyle and there will be bumps on the road to good health. The key is to incorporate small and simple changes to avoid disrupting your overall life.

Also, at the end of the day, people may not want to hear this but, we make time for the things we want to make time for. If I can make time for a hair appointment and come hell or high water I will make it, why can’t I adapt that same mentality to my health?

11. What’s next for Losing in the City? I became a certified health coach last October (insert round of applause here), so now that the conference is over, I really want to jump back into building my health coaching practice. I am also going to start working on a redesign of my website and of course planning A Healthy U 2015.

12. How do you get your family involved/excited about being healthy?  For my daughter, it’s pretty simple. She’s a part of everything that I do. When I exercise she’s right there with me. To the point where she will sometimes say to me, “Mommy, let’s plank.”. When it comes to our food. I completely changed all the snacks we buy in the house. Before I would buy the healthy snacks for me but my husband would still eat some unhealthy, prepackaged food, but now we’re all eating the same healthy snacks. Basically, they are part of the journey too.

13. Organic food- how do you know if something is really organic? It's also super expensive so how can families in a budget also afford to feed themselves smarter without breaking the bank?
This was actually one of the questions we discussed at A Healthy U. Just because an item says it’s “all-natural”, doesn’t mean it’s organic. For an item to be deemed as organic, it has to have the official USDA Organic seal.

Also, eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to eat organic. That’s the biggest misconception. Yes, eating certain foods like meat/chicken that are organic is great to avoid eating meat that’s filled with hormones and other additives but that’s a personal choice. Also, some fruits that are known to have pesticides such as strawberries are also great to buy organic, but you can also buy them frozen and they are just as good for you. During our healthy eating panel at A Healthy U, one of our panelists shared the list of the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables that you should buy organic or frozen. I recommend doing some research on what you “really” need to buy organic and what you don’t.

Hmmm, guys I know this is a wealth of information I personally would love to have this Dirty Dozen list maybe I can snag it from Cassandre and share with you. Below you will see some photos from the sold out A Healthy U Conference.  Enjoy and be on the lookout for the event in 2015. Claps all around for Cassandre and her partners in health. I'm super impressed and proud I know them.

Photo Credit: Tamy Cozier

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