I have a confession ‘ because everyone loves a good confessional.

I pick my pimples. It is hard to write that, because it feels like the confession of a 16-year-old girl, not a woman on the other side of 40. It is probably one of my worst habits, and I’ve been hesitant to admit this ‘ and to try, for 66 days, to stop doing it ‘ because I am afraid it is a habit that is engrained in me. I’ve had this nervous habit for a long, long time so I need help.

Enter my lovely friend Donna Teodorov. The owner of the New Age Spa in Toronto, Donna is much more than an aesthetician ‘ she is trained in aromatherapy, reflexology, nutrition, Ayurveda and acupuncture ‘ to name but a few tricks up her sleeves. She has taught me meditation, she teaches yoga at the Chopra Centre, and she is one of the most grounded people I know.

I met Donna years ago when I noticed one of my friends, Kimmy, had glowing skin. I don’t know about you, but whenever I see someone with really great skin my first question is: How do you have such great skin? Where do you go? What products do you use? Help me! Kimmy introduced me to Donna, one of the most important connections in my life. We’ve been friends ever since.

So, when I had questions about how to stop picking my skin ‘ and how to achieve great skin ‘ I immediately got in touch with Donna. Although she does call me ‘angel’, she is very clear that I’m not being angelic with my skin ‘ and my habit needs to be nipped: ‘Picking your skin will leave scars,’ she tells me. Yikes. ‘The skin gets darker, and if the puss is not up to the surface, it isn’t ready to come out. When you squeeze the pimple you spread the infection down in the dermis.’

Bear with me ‘ the news gets worse.

‘This causes a rupture in the wall of the hair follicle, spreading the infection, causing more and deeper breakouts that are painful. So, you get more breakouts around the one you were first attacking.’ I know this to be true ‘ I will get a spot, and then I will pick it, and then I have four spots around the first site. So, what to do?

‘You have to have patience and discipline and recognize that picking your skin is almost like an addiction,’ Donna tells me. ‘Look at your emotional causes and mind patterns that you need to change. Remind yourself that you will make things worse instead of better, it will take longer for the skin to heal.’

So, stop picking your skin Erin. Now. My issue with my skin goes deeper. I’m perplexed about why I still get pimples, how to achieve healthy, glowing skin, and how to know what to choose. There are hundreds of products on the market ‘ what is right for you?
‘You have to consult with a trained professional, who will be able to give you the best advice,’ Donna says. ‘Look at it like getting a prescription for your skin health.’ You might have to try a few different products to find what is suitable for your skin. And, Donna reminds us, your skin changes from season to season, and stress and health issues affect your skin, so your routine might need to change.

What about that routine? Donna says we should all be cleansing, exfoliating, toning ‘ which restores the PH balance of the skin – and moisturizing, ideally with organic products.
‘Everything we apply to the skin penetrates the blood stream through the pores, affecting our health and not just the skin. There are so many irritating and toxic ingredients that affect our immune system that many companies still use ‘ watch out for chemicals, fragrance, colour, parabens, mineral oils, lanolin and alcohol.’

And, Donna’s final bits of advice ‘ take care of your skin from the inside out. ‘Have one tablespoon of Omega 3s with each meal such as ground flax seeds, coconut oil, avocados and avocado oil, pumpkin seeds or oil, sunflower seeds. Eat lots of greens and orange fruits and vegetables like kale, spinach, mango, sweet potatoes, carrots; these have beta carotene, which is very good for the skin. Vitamin C is important for collagen synthesis ‘ this is what we start to lose as we get older, and the skin looks saggy ‘ so up your strawberries and kiwis,’ Donna tells me. ‘Probiotics are very good ‘ natural yogurt or Bio K to balance the internal PH of your body. And I love green tea and Rooibos tea ‘ I call them multivitamins in a cup, full of antioxidants that the body absorbs right away. Finally, drink 2-3 litres of water a day, depending on your height, weight and physical activity ‘ this will help flush the toxins.’

I vow to have the kind of skin, where other women stop me and ask me how I get that glow. It will just take time, patience and discipline.

Follow me on Twitter @erinpp

Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health.

Sugar is getting a bad rap. First off, it gets tied directly with tripling Canada’s rates of obesity. Didn’t see that one coming. Then, this week the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that we all cut back our intake to five percent of our daily calories. Five percent?! Seriously? That’s, like, a few of teaspoons of sugar ‘ or a can of pop. Come on! For you healthy types, that is the equivalent one of those fruity Greek yogurts, a granola bar and a bowl of cereal. It is eye-opening to see how much sugar is in everything.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I committed to giving up sugar 66 days ago and it’s still a struggle. I have tried valiantly and I’m pretty sure I’m on par with the WHO guidelines, but it has been tough. I’ve avoided every package of licorice bites, cut out sugar from my coffee, and said no to every lovely baked treat alongside that coffee ‘ because they are full of sugar. I know that not only is sugar bad for us, but it sparks cravings for more. You have to stop the cycle in its tracks.

How? It is tough. But I think after 66 days I’m essentially an expert (she says with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek). Here are my tips:

1. Eat steadily throughout the day. Start your day with complex carbohydrates and protein ‘ steel cut oats, Greek yogurt, eggs and whole grain toast. Try to eat protein with every meal and snack ‘ protein provides you with a feeling of satiety making you less likely to reach for something to pump you up. That something invariably has sugar in it.

2. Make several plans: Meal plans, recipes plans, plans for the 3 p.m. sugar lows. Because even though you ‘plan’ to eat well throughout the day, life will happen. And almonds aren’t always the answer. Branch out with your snacks ‘ keep cottage cheese and a tub of blueberries in the fridge at work.

3. Read every label. It is boring, but it is true. Sugar is in everything. Be especially suspicious of labels that say ‘low sugar’ ‘ what does that mean? Low compared to what? There should be no added sugar whatsoever. Applesauce? Pure apples. Cereal? Wheat. Yogurt? Milk.  And so on.

4. Drink tons of water and herbal tea. Juice? Nope. Wine and beer? What are you, a saint? Of course ‘ but in moderation. And please: If you are working out and bringing anything other than water to the gym think again. True story: one of my spinning students was struggling to lose weight, and she kept bringing an orange-colored beverage to class. I finally asked her why she needed that ‘ because, unless you are exercising for more than 2 hours, you don’t need anything other than water. Her response? She needed the energy. We worked out a plan where she was eating a better breakfast before hand, and she started dropping pounds. 

5. Learn to live by the Glycemic Index. It is simple: there are foods that spike your blood sugars, and foods that raise them slowly. High GI foods ‘ ones that raise your blood sugars fast – increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Foods like baked goods, and granola are high on the GI index. Low GI foods raise keep raise your blood sugar slowly, and many also often high in fibre, which helps you stay full. Low GI foods include sweet potatoes, chickpeas and apples.

6. Fruit is fantastic ‘ eat it! But remember it is still sugar. In other words, you can cut out all the ‘refined’ sugar and added sugar, but if you counteract that with eating a massive bag of grapes, 4 apples, 2 mangos, and a bushel of bananas in one day, that gets converted in your body so you are still probably taking in too much sugar. Not that I’ve ever done that.

There are my short and sweet lessons for the day ‘ so that you, too, can live by the WHO guidelines. Because that’s our mission in life, right?

One final point: life would be nothing without treats. If I thought I would never eat a gorgeous slice of flourless chocolate cake again, or make cookies to eat fresh from the oven with my kids, then it wouldn’t be a life worth living.

Just balance it out.

Follow me on Twitter @erinpp

Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health and will be blogging here every Tuesday and Friday for the next 66 days.

I need more time.

This is a lament for many of us ‘ we don’t have enough time. We don’t have time for work, family and being healthy. We don’t have time for all the activities we would like to do, or even to finish the laundry. We don’t even have time to go on vacation ‘ nearly one-quarter of Canadians don’t take all their vacation days each year. That’s a bit depressing and somewhat Puritan.

And I don’t know about you, but it seems like we are jamming more into the time we have. We race from home to work, try to get to the gym, cart our kids to and from activities, fit in time with friends, or maybe even with our spouses. I stack my life like a Jenga tower and then am seemingly surprised when it topples.

Change takes time. 50 days ago, when I decided to change my habits, it seemed like a good idea: cut out sugar, alcohol and wheat, get more sleep, do yoga, drink lemon water and green tea, be calmer, write in a gratitude journal, make my skin and hair healthier, floss. Ha! I’m wondering if I’ve tried to do too much too soon ‘ like I do in other areas of my life. When we try to do too much, we crack. Or, we inhale chocolate. More on that in a second.

I’ve had triumphs and failures. What I’m learning is the process is long, and takes resilience. The 66-day research from the UK was spot on: Some habits are easier than others. I start every day with lemon water, and that appears to have stuck; I cut out sugar from my coffee and eat plain oatmeal. I’m virtually gluten-free, except when fresh bread magically appears. Then I’m a goner.

Yoga makes me happy and is humbling. I can’t do a headstand, and I’m certainly not going to be able to do one in a month (halfway through my 66 day challenge), but maybe next year. As my instructor said ‘ yoga is a lifelong practice.

To be truthful, I haven’t embraced stillness the way I need to. If I’m honest, I’m afraid because I believe I’m going to fail. How often do we avoid change, or going after our dreams, because we don’t think we can do it? Watch for my blog next week: I’m going to a Zen Buddhist temple as the next step in the right direction.

Researching habits makes you discover people living healthy, clean lives. There are hundreds of blogs out there for inspiration, with great recipes and inspiring stories. People are cut from the same cloth ‘ it is our habits define us. What is the difference between the pack-a-day smoker and the marathoner? One reaches for a lighter, the other for running shoes.

You and I both know ‘ being healthy takes time. Our dependence on ready-made meals ‘ full of sugar and salt, the two things killing us ‘ has risen exponentially with how busy we are in our lives. I happen to love cooking, but not everyone is in my camp. As much as I love it, I feel as though I’m always cooking.

You can cut corners with – there are some great tips from this website for eating healthy if you plan ahead. A tip from me: on Sunday make a big pot of quinoa, rice. Throw the healthy grains in soups and salads. Prewash days worth of lettuce, spinach and kale. Cut up carrots, celery, peppers, cucumber and put them in a tub with a squeeze of lemon. Roast a couple of butternut squashes ‘ chop up one and add it to salads ‘ delish with feta, arugula and lemon – and take the other and make a soup out of it. If you are always shopping the same aisles for the same products, switch it up by navigating the store for healthy choices. Yes, you have to read labels.

The biggest eye-opener for me is sugar. I have become a ridiculously boring label reader. It’s everywhere. Is sugar addictive? Research from Princeton says it is: Lab rats denied sugar for periods of time worked harder to get it when it was reintroduced. And, they consumed more sugar than they had before. This suggests that sugar leads to cravings and relapses ‘ similar to drugs. And another study showed how rats found Oreos as pleasing as cocaine. Yes, they ate the middle first.

So, chocolate. One of my friends took Lily and I out for her birthday to a chocolate-inspired restaurant. Yes, we live in a world where there are chocolate inspired restaurants. There were vats of hot chocolate churning by the cash, and chocolate handprints on the walls. My daughter’s three-tiers had chocolate milk, s’mores scones, Nutella sandwiches and a pot du chocolat with fruit for dipping.

I ordered a kale salad.

But then, as though something had possessed me, suddenly the spoon in the pot du chocolat was in my mouth, and I was having a little taste. Then another. One little voice in my head said, ‘You can’t have sugar.’ Another voice screamed loudly “It’s ok!!! DO IT!!! Doesn’t it taste good? GO FOR IT!!!” In the end, I had a headache and my daughter acted manically high from her smorgasbord.

So. I’m not ‘done.’ 66 days isn’t long enough. Are you done?

Follow me on Twitter @erinpp

Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health and will be blogging here every Tuesday and Friday for the next 66 days.


At seven o’clock this morning, I was standing in the living room of my apartment, holding what can only be described as the combination of a stability ball, medicine ball and beanbag chair. I was ready to Ugi.

Ugi (which sounds like "you-gi" and stands for "U Got It") was created by three fitness-loving Canadian moms. The workout component of the program features a butt-kicking series of exercises developed by celebrity fitness trainer Sara Shears. The Ugi DVD includes five different workouts (one for each day of the week) that take you through 30 challenging exercises, lasting one minute each. The exercises are also laid out in the handy fitness guide, which allows you to mix and match moves to create your own plan. In addition to the workout, there is also a food compontent to the program, the Ugi healthy eating guide, which offers straightforward tips about using your diet to further your workout goals.

Cost: The Ugi at Home kit is $189 ( and includes the Ugi ball (the site has tips for choosing the right weight for you), Ugi workout guide, Ugi instructional DVD, Ugi Good Eating guide, and access to the online video library. There is also a free Ugi interval timer app for your iPhone (with plans to expand to other smart phones in the future).

Pros: After my first Ugi workout, I was impressed. And the more I did it, the stronger I felt. Last summer, I spent 12 tough weeks slugging it out at bootcamp trying to slim down for my wedding, and I felt like the Ugi program let me fit all of those great bootcamp-type benefits into my workout’but in half the time, in the privacy of my own home, with minimal equipment (just the Ugi ball and a mat). I’ve been Ugi-ing for just over a month now, and mentally high-fived myself when one of my co-wokers recently asked if I’d lost weight. Next stop: Michelle Obama arms, just in time for summer.

Cons: During some of the more challenging moves in the workout, I found myself wishing that the DVD had verbal cues in addition to the written cues on-screen, just to remind me of proper form. There is an explanation of the moves in the workout guide, so I’d definitely recommend checking it out first before diving into the DVD. I’d also like to see the stretch series that’s provided in the exercise guide added to the DVD menu.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a challenging workout that will kick your butt and boost your strength, this is a great choice. At $189 plus shipping, it is not the most budget-friendly option, but compared to a personal trainer or gym membership, you may find that it is worth the investment for the long-term benefits. Just be sure to consult your healthcare provider first to ensure that the workout is safe for you.

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