Jen Mueller (SPARK_COACH_JEN)

SparkPeople Community Director and Fitness Coach

Jen Mueller left her first career in corporate finance to earn a master's degree in health education. She is a busy mom of four and holds a number of fitness certifications (including ACE's Health Coach, Personal Trainer, Medical Exercise Specialist and Behavior Change Specialist). She is passionate about helping people reach their health and fitness goals. In her spare time, Jen loves running, kickboxing and spending time with her family. Jen enjoys blogging about raising healthy children and how small behavior changes can impact health and quality of life.


Read More of Jen's Blogs:

These 3 Simple Changes Helped Diane Lose 128 Pounds

In 2010, Diane (DIANEDOESSMILES) weighed 288 pounds and was confined to her power chair 97 percent of the time. She had depression and an infection in her big toe that led to a diabetes diagnosis. When she went to the doctor seeking help for back issues, he told her that the pain was because she was fat. "I hated him for saying it, but that got my attention," Diane recalls. "What was I doing to myself?"

Because of her health issues, Diane was encouraged to enter an assisted living facility. When she learned she couldn't take her cat with her, though, she decided it was time to start making changes on her own. She tried another online program but had trouble understanding their system. Diane says she was "hit and miss, but mostly miss" with exercise because her pain level was so high. Although Diane went from 288 to 256 pounds, eventually she found herself on a four-month plateau. Feeling like her weight loss shouldn't have stalled already, she decided it was time to reach out for help and joined SparkPeople.

Breaking Out of the Diet Mentality


Even though she joined SparkPeople, Diane didn't initially follow the program. She was eating below her recommended calorie and nutrient ranges and deprived herself of many of the foods she loved. Despite getting down to 174 pounds, Diane was not happy. "Ever notice the first three letters of the word DIEting? I can't help but to think that was on purpose," she jokes.

Diane used quick-fix strategies instead of permanent, sustainable lifestyle changes, so, even though she was still consistently logging into SparkPeople, she quickly gained the weight back. Diane was very discouraged when she found herself over 200 pounds again.

Determined to turn things around, Diane started blogging on her SparkPage. "This is an amazing tool that many people don't use because they think what they say isn't worthy or important to write about. I felt the same way, but eventually, I found it to be a useful tool," she says. "Over time, more people started to read my blogs. It's not about followers, [though,] It's about me getting healthier- physically, mentally and emotionally. I love blogging now."

Diane's 3 Secrets to Success



Over the past six months, Diane has maintained a 128-pound weight loss. She credits her success to three things:
  1. Tracking food and exercise daily. "I eat within the guidelines SparkPeople has set for me," Diane explains. "I am in the diabetes program and know that I need to keep tracking in order to be successful, staying [within] my calorie, protein, fat and carb ranges." Diane also keeps a close eye on her fiber intake, since that helps with her feelings of fullness and satisfaction.
  2. An attitude of "progress, not perfection." "I learned from others who post that phrase in the Community Goal Feed that I don't have to be perfect in order to be successful," Diane says. "I even painted a rock that says 'progress, not perfection' and keep it on my kitchen counter so I see it often." By focusing more on what she has accomplished and what she's capable of achieving, Diane gives herself permission to make mistakes, learn from them and move forward.
  3. The 5% SparkTeam Challenge. "When I joined SparkPeople, somehow I met a most wonderful Sparker (HEALTHYGRAMMY49) who invited me to join the 5% 2011 Winter Challenge," Diane recalls. Since then, Diane has participated in all of the seasonal 5% Challenges, being a "motivational leader" in the challenge for many years. She says the challenge helps her stay on track and holds her accountable to her goals. As a participant in these challenges, Diane started drinking more water, learned to tolerate more fruits and vegetables, and began exercising more. "I am a competitive person who wasn't going to let my team down, [and] that meant I had to exercise," says Diane. "At first, I could only do 10 minutes, three times a week. With help from my teammates, I came up with a plan to do chair exercises and it worked! Now I'm stronger than ever."
Diane even met one of her best friends, MARYANNGI, in the challenge and they were able to meet in person. She encourages others to find SparkTeams that motivate them and give them the support they need.

Setbacks Will Never Stop Her


Throughout her journey to health, Diane has faced health challenges that she continues to overcome. Three years ago she had a bone infection that resulted in a toe amputation. "Despite the hurdles, I know I'm in the driver's seat," she proudly states. "It didn't discourage me because I was finally walking without any aids. Last year, I gave away my power chair and now I can walk more than three miles a day!"
 
Diane has learned to look for the silver lining on a rainy day. "I had surgery for a brain aneurysm that was found accidentally. It has affected my left eye and I stand a good chance of losing partial sight, but at least I still have the right eye," she says. "Life is always going to throw nasty health issues at me. One thing I've learned from SparkPeople members and content is this quote from Charles R. Swindoll: 'Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.'"

Diane's advice to other members is to take advantage of everything SparkPeople has to offer. "Read the articles, use the SparkCoach planner on your Start page, join some SparkTeams and SparkChallenges, blog on your SparkPage and check out the Community Goal Feed." She likes to help new members whenever she can, saying that helping those who are just starting the journey reminds her of where she started and how far she's come.

"I'm doing this!" she declares. "I'm maintaining my weight within a five-pound range. I'm happy, joyful and positive. Who knew life could be like this again?"

How do you deal with setbacks? Share in the comments below and congratulate Diane on her amazing journey to better health!

Posted 1/2/2019  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 62 comments   18,146 views

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The 9 Most Common Mistakes People Make in Group Exercise Classes

Trying a group exercise class for the first time can feel a little like that reoccurring nightmare where you forget to wear pants to school and it's your day to give a speech detailing how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Please tell me I'm not the only one who has that dream on occasion.)

The point is that walking into a class full of people who save mat space for their friends or seem to be best buddies with the instructor can be very intimidating. Feeling like all eyes are on you is enough pressure, so it helps to be aware of common newbie mistakes so you can come prepared and feel as comfortable as possible. That way, if you accidentally do a lunge instead of a squat, it will be easier to shake it off and just keep going.

No matter if you're hitting boxing or barre, group exercise instructors and other fitness professionals say they see a lot of the same mistakes over and over again. Familiarize yourself with these nine common errors now, before you set foot in your first group class, and you'll be able to focus on your killer workout instead of worrying you have "newbie" stamped on your forehead for all to see.

Posted 12/18/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 52 comments   9,143 views

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Why No One Needs to Know About Your Weight-Loss Plans

After years of unsuccessful weight-loss attempts, you've decided that this it. No more fad diets or extreme amounts of exercise—now you're focusing only on slow and steady, healthy choices. You've learned from past mistakes and vowed that they won't be repeated this time. Surprisingly, one of those mistakes wasn't related to your food or fitness plan. No, it was the decision to tell others you were about to embark on a weight-loss journey.

Most weight-loss programs stress the need for support, whether that comes from friends, family or others in your community. When you're surrounded by people who want you to succeed, you're much more likely to follow through, right? When you tell everyone you're trying to lose weight, it helps you stay accountable, correct?

That's not always the case. Is it possible that making a Facebook announcement about your goals hasn't led to success in the past, and this time, it's better to go-it alone? It might seem counter-intuitive, but for some, keeping their weight-loss goals to themselves has helped them be more successful.

Posted 11/26/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 88 comments   18,108 views

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Should You Ever Work Out Twice In One Day?

Many days, it can be hard to find the motivation to workout at all, much less two times. For most, it's difficult to imagine structuring your day so that you get sweaty more than once. Surprisingly, though, it's a strategy that's not exclusively reserved for elite athletes. Whether you only have time for a few short workouts, you really like the program you're doing or you're training for a big event, there are a variety of reasons someone might exercise more than once a day.
 
We often hear that giving the body time for adequate rest is so important, and it is. But does this mean that multiple daily workouts sets you up for physical and mental burnout, or can there be a healthy place for them in your exercise routine? Experts seem to be divided. While some say there are valid reasons for exercising twice a day, others say you're better off training hard once a day and then moving on to other things. Which is right?

Posted 10/26/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 56 comments   15,320 views

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5 More Exercises You Could Be Doing Wrong

Strength training is an important part of any well-rounded exercise routine, but along with it comes a degree of risk. If you aren't performing the exercise correctly, not only are you ruining your results by not targeting the intended muscles in the proper way, but you also risk injury which could derail your progress overall. This is why good form is so crucial. 

Mistakes happen and usually it's simply due to a lack of knowing any better. You see moves in a YouTube video or through the window looking in on a boot camp class, but what you don't understand is how posture, proper feet placement, pace and even breathing can affect the move's efficiency and transforming power. Although each exercise seems simple, putting it into practice with additional weight involved can make it even more difficult.

Before you set foot in the weight room, it's important to commit to learning and understanding proper form for a variety of exercises. Whenever possible, use a mirror or ask someone else to check your form to make sure your body is in proper alignment for maximum results.

While every exercise has its own specific form and pacing requirements, there are repeat offenders that challenge people over and over again. We covered plank, lunges, crunches, squats and pushups in the past—now it's time to unveil five more popular moves you're probably doing wrong.

Posted 10/19/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 36 comments   23,416 views

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Nola Lost 50 Pounds with a Positive Attitude and a Smile

"My first piece of advice is to smile more. You will feel better about yourself because a smile helps keep you positive."

Working on a farm, Nola (NOLAHORSERIDER) was used to days filled with chores like unloading hay, cutting tree limbs and fixing fences. As she gained weight, those chores became increasingly difficult. She recalls using rash cream where her skin would rub just so that she could mow the pastures. These difficulties, combined with inspiration from her sister who lost weight, gave Nola the push she needed to begin her weight-loss journey.

Nola joined SparkPeople in 2014 and lost almost 40 pounds in six months. She was proud of herself, had more energy and her clothes were too big. But the celebration was short-lived as the weight started to creep back on. "I got lazy," Nola recalls. "I stopped doing the things I did to lose the weight to begin with. I stopped tracking my food, was eating out too often and fell back into old habits. It took two years for the weight to return, but eventually I regained almost 30 of the 40 pounds I'd lost. I was ashamed and disheartened."

Posted 10/9/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 88 comments   22,711 views

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SparkCoach: Own Your Day With Our New Feature!

We're very excited to share with you a new feature that's been in the works for quite some time—SparkCoach! A virtual planner and so much more, SparkCoach is designed to help you prioritize your day, reach goals in all areas of life and make changes that will be sustainable for a lifetime. Much more than just reading information, SparkCoach will lead you through an easy-to-follow, 28-day program, coaching you through the steps that will allow you to become the best version of yourself. Best of all, these new features are all part of the FREE SparkPeople Program available to any member on the site.

For new members, this program will show prominently as a checklist on your Start page; existing members can turn on the feature by clicking on "Account/Email Preferences" at the top left of your Start page and scrolling down to the box that says "Use New Start Page with SparkCoach". You can switch back and forth at any time, so there's no downside to checking it out!

Posted 10/8/2018  10:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 98 comments   17,458 views

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Can 'Good Enough' Be Enough?

I freely admit that I'm a perfectionist. I like things done a certain way and sometimes get frustrated when things don't go as planned. I spent many years putting too many items on my daily to-do list, then easily discounting all my daily accomplishments when a few things on the list weren't completed.

The past few years, I started getting tired—not just the tired like you feel at the end of a long day, but a really worn down kind of tired. I blamed the fact that I'm a busy mom with lots of responsibilities, but deep down I knew that some of what was happening was totally under my control. The expectations I was setting for myself were too high, and I was constantly struggling with falling short. I was trying to be a superstar in all areas of my life and it wasn't going well.

My husband encouraged me to think about my daily tasks and whether or not they all really needed to be on the to-do list. Did the house need to look spotless every day? Did I have to make a complicated dinner every night, or were sandwiches okay sometimes? Did I have to be the first one to volunteer for every project, or could I take a backseat and let others step up?

Posted 9/10/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 97 comments   17,434 views

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7 Super Exercises for Shapely Shoulders

Whether your goal is to rock that new sleeveless dress or just perform everyday activities with ease, training the shoulders is an important part of any well-rounded exercise routine. Defined shoulders are a sign of strength, help to improve posture and can boost self-confidence, but strong shoulders are about so much more than just appearance.

Most upper-body activities involve your shoulders to some extent. Every time you lift a heavy bag of groceries out of the car, pass a tray of food across the dinner table or put a box on the top shelf of the garage, you're engaging your shoulder muscles. In order to prevent injury and optimize functional ability, you need to train the shoulders for mobility, stability and strength.

The shoulder is comprised of four joints and can move in all three planes of motion. As a result, the shoulder is one of the most mobile but least stable joints in the body. This contradiction explains why shoulder injuries are so common and why focusing on developing and maintaining strong shoulders with proper mobility becomes so important. Years of poor posture, decreased range of motion as we age or even a simple fall can all lead to shoulder pain and chronic discomfort.

It's important to include a variety of shoulder exercises in your workout program to develop stability and mobility, while simultaneously getting you ready to show off your shapely arms in your favorite tank top. Add a few of these exercises to your full-body strength routine, using an amount of weight that's challenging but still allows you to complete the last repetition with proper form. Start with one to three sets of each exercise, eight to 12 repetitions per set, and after a few weeks, swap in a few different moves for variety and a continuous challenge.

Posted 6/20/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 89 comments   59,704 views

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How Yoga Taught Me Not to Fear New Things

I am a creature of habit. I eat the same breakfast and lunch every day, I do certain household chores on the same days each week and my workout schedule basically follows the same structure no matter what (strength training on Mondays, running on Tuesdays, etc.). Part of this is due to my personality—I like structure and predictability—and part is out of necessity—I have four kids in a lot of activities, I work and I exercise daily. It wouldn't be possible to get as much done if it weren't for a routine.

Although this structure allows me to be very efficient, it's also made me very hesitant to try new things over the years. I either convince myself I don't have time, or the anxiety of stepping out of my comfort zone is more than I wanted to deal with. That is until three years ago.

Posted 5/8/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 51 comments   19,168 views

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Upcoming Changes to SparkPeople.TV

Hello, everyone!

We're making some changes to the website and, as with anything we do, we like to give you a heads up to what's coming. Beginning this week, the "Videos" tab in the navigation bar will be going away. Effective May 15th, SparkPeople.TV will no longer be available. Don't worry, you'll still be able to access all our SparkPeople-produced videos. This change only affects the availability of our partner's videos.

We work hard to offer a wide variety of features on the site, while keeping a close eye on the ones that are most popular and resonate with members. Based on your interaction with SparkPeople.TV, we know our SparkPeople-produced videos are some of your favorites, so we wanted to be sure to  keep those around for everyone to use.

Although this feature is going away, we have lots of other exciting projects in the works! In the coming months, be on the lookout for enhancements to SparkChallenges, the simplification of some features to benefit both current and new members, and new features to help you focus on your goals and maximize your potential for success. We're exciting about what's coming in the near future!

Thanks for your continued support of SparkPeople's mission to SPARK millions of PEOPLE to reach their goals and lead healthier lives!   

Posted 4/25/2018  9:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 70 comments   9,235 views

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8 Workouts for Anyone Who Hates Morning Workouts

You're well-aware of the benefits of morning exercise—it gives your metabolism a boost, helps you stay in a consistent routine and gets your day off to a healthy start. But despite your best efforts, this morning workout thing just isn't happening. You're not the type whose feet hit the floor bursting with energy and ready to get the day going. Mornings are not now, nor have they ever been your most productive time of day, and past attempts to convert to a morning exerciser have been met with frustration and exhaustion.

Does this mean that if you have any chance of creating a regular routine, you'll have to find space in your day sometime after the clock strikes noon? Not necessarily. Lots of people who never thought it was possible have found a way to make exercise a regular part of their morning routine. For some, the secret has been to prep the night before so the morning routine is as smooth and easy as possible. For others, weaning themselves off of the snooze button and getting to bed earlier has made getting up less difficult. Here's something to keep in mind: Most morning exercisers don't do it because they are bursting with energy as soon as the alarm goes off. They do it because they remember what it feels like to finish a morning workout and feel that sense of accomplishment. Feeling good about yourself will always drive you to come back for more.

Maybe part of your problem has been that the activities you pick aren't ideal for someone who doesn't hit their stride until later in the day. Some exercises are better suited to ease you into the day, so consider trying a few of these to convert you into the morning exerciser you've always dreamed of becoming.

Posted 4/25/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 69 comments   33,693 views

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6 Places to Find Cheap, Healthy Groceries

My sister is a thrifty shopper. She knows where to find deals and is constantly comparing prices, especially when it comes to groceries. When I mentioned that a new Aldi store opened near my house, "You have to check it out!" was her immediate response. "You'll be surprised how many healthy foods you can find there at a fraction of the cost you're paying at the regular grocery store."

Skeptically, I decided to make the trip, assuming I wouldn't find any of the foods I normally purchase and it would likely be a wasted effort. I was completely wrong. For example, the bags of nuts I buy almost every week were two dollars cheaper. The organic apples I pay $2.49/pound for were $5 for a five-pound bag.

Eating healthy on a budget doesn't have to be more expensive than a diet full of processed foods. By planning ahead and comparing prices, you can incorporate inexpensive, healthy foods into your diet for less than you might think. You've probably heard money-saving tips like "buy in bulk" and "shop in season," but are there really certain stores that provide deeper discounts than others?

Posted 4/10/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 122 comments   38,255 views

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A New Workout Challenge With Limited Mobility in Mind

Whether you've been sidelined due to injury or a permanent disability keeps you from being as active as you'd like, it can be frustrating to try to modify workouts to meet your needs. How do you keep moving and motivated when your joints and muscles hurt? What if you want to try an activity but it's not an option right now, or you don't even know where to begin? If you can't get up and down from the floor, or running and other traditional forms of exercise aren't possible, does that mean you're destined to be a couch potato? Certainly not!

The term "limited mobility" covers a wide range of situations. Your activity level could be limited due to a chronic condition such as arthritis or multiple sclerosis, a temporary injury or your size. The new 30-day Limited Mobility Challenge has something for everyone: tips to stay motivated, seated workouts, information on how to deal with specific kinds of pain and advice on how to modify workouts to meet your needs. While every day of the challenge might not apply specifically to your exact situation, you'll still get good ideas to get moving and stay moving on your journey to a healthier you. As an added bonus, you'll get SparkPoints for each day of the challenge you complete!

Posted 4/2/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 61 comments   38,360 views

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It's Time to Stop Feeling Guilty About Relaxing

My days start early and are full of activity, whether it's working, getting my four kids to and from where they need to be, or squeezing in daily chores and errands. Most of the time, I like it that way. I prefer to be on the go instead of sitting at home with nothing to do, but it has gotten to the point where I find it hard to remember how to really relax.

I know I'm not alone. When I ask moms at school, "How are things?" the answer I typically get is, "You know, busy as ever!" Life can be really stressful when you're trying to juggle commitments to family, friends and work. Often, the commitment to yourself takes a backseat—but does it always have to be this way?

Posted 2/28/2018  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 86 comments   25,366 views

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