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:

The Power of a Boring Exercise Routine

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • You eat the same breakfast every day because it gives you one less thing to think about on busy mornings when you're trying to get out the door.
  • You drive the same way to work each day because you know the route and the traffic routine is fairly consistent.
  • You exercise every day on your lunch hour because you know that time of day works best for you.
  • You eat snacks and meals at the same time each day because you know that's when you'll be hungry.
There's nothing wrong with being a creature of habit, especially when those habits are good for you and your overall wellbeing. Habits help you get through the day productively so that you aren't constantly having to make complicated decisions.

With so many fitness trainers and experts insisting on the importance of "mixing things up for maximum results," though, you might feel pressure to constantly change your exercise routine. While it's true that you don't want to do the same exercise routine exactly the same way every single day for months and months, does that mean everything about your routine has to change? If you walk regularly, do you need to stop walking and do something completely different?

Posted 10/30/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 118 comments   41,293 views

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Are You Cheating Yourself Out of Greatness Due to Fear?

"No matter how slow you go, you're still lapping everyone on the couch." Susie Miller

I've always joked about the fact that I'm a slow runner. I remind my kids that even though they can beat me in a sprint, eventually my endurance will win out and I'll catch them. Just as the tortoise eventually caught up to the hare, it just takes me a little while longer.

Have you ever been intimidated to try new activities because you know there's a chance you'll finish last or can't keep up? Are you worried that people will judge you because of it? Perhaps there's a class at the gym you've always wanted to try, but you're not sure if you're fit enough. Maybe you'd love to take a walk or jog around the neighborhood, but don't want everyone to judge your form or pace. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe you're too focused on other's opinions when you should just be focusing on yourself?

Posted 10/17/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 99 comments   33,479 views

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8 Life-Changing Health Lessons I Learned in My 30s

Earlier this year, a major milestone happened in my life, an event that I'm still working to fully process. Crazy as it sounds (to me at least), I turned 40.

I had a wide range of emotions leading up to the day, the biggest being disbelief since I clearly remember when my own mother celebrated her 40th birthday. Didn't I just graduate from high school and college a few years ago? Apparently not.

When I think back to my 30s, a lot of it is a sleep-deprived blur, best summarized by just a few words: kids, kids and more kids. I had my first child just before I turned 30 and three more within the next six years. I spent most of my time being pregnant, taking care of newborns and learning to juggle the needs of four children. I'm still working on that juggling act every day, and I don't think that will ever change. Don't get me wrong: My children are wonderful and I wouldn't trade them for anything. But it was a big adjustment to go from focusing primarily on myself for 29 years, to putting myself completely on the back burner within such a short period of time.

Posted 10/9/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 128 comments   37,650 views

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Breaking Up With Sugar Helped Jon Lose 260 Pounds

For some, the struggle to maintain a healthy weight is tied to specific life events, such as the birth of a child or death of a loved one. For others like Jon (WEWRTFO), weight loss is a lifelong battle. Jon recalls weighing 320 pounds in the ninth grade, with his weight steadily climbing from there. The tipping point came in his early 40s when Jon's weight ballooned to over 500 pounds and even daily tasks became a struggle.

Instead of taking the attitude that he was destined to be heavy forever, Jon decided to take control of his life and his health. After successfully losing 260 pounds, he wants to inspire others to believe that it's never too late to make a change.   

Posted 9/25/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 185 comments   91,649 views

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Can Sweat-Inducing Methods Really Accelerate Weight Loss?

Losing weight can be a true test of patience. It's not easy to cut back on eating so many of the foods you love, and it can be challenging to find the time and energy to devote to a regular exercise routine. You put in so much hard work that you expect the reward to be progress on the scale. When the scale isn't moving quite as fast as you'd hoped, though, it's tempting to look outside of just diet and exercise to find ways to speed up the process.
 
Water loss is one of those alternative prescriptions for those seeking quick results on the scale. Like the fighter exercising in a sauna suit before a weigh-in, sweating can help with temporary weight loss. The plastic suit acts as an insulator, increasing body temperature which increases sweat production. But is it a long-term solution to your weight-loss woes? Do products that promote sweating and turn up the heat really help keep those pounds off for good? These four items tout weight-loss claims, so let's find out if they really deliver and are even safe to try.

Posted 8/2/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 85 comments   44,842 views

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Why Don't SparkPeople's Images Feature People Who Look Like Me?

"We're looking for women who have a shape like the rest of us in reality. We're not the size 4. REAL LIFE MODELS, PLEASE."

"A little disappointed that SparkPeople chose this image to accompany the article. That woman is strong, beautiful, and probably around a size medium, which is well below the average size in the U.S. I'm happy you published the content of this article, but please be cognizant of images and the messages they send."
 
"I wish SparkPeople would do a better job of using "real people" photos for their articles, and modifications for the less fit, less flexible and older members." 

"What in the world happened to that woman? She is so thin she doesn't look like she could stand, let alone cook. Is this SparkPeople's idea of a good role model? Even the runways now are requiring models be a healthy weight. How about SparkPeople following this trend?" 
 
When SparkPeople members speak, we listen. We've made many changes over the years based on suggestions and feedback from our members, and we take pride in the fact that we care about the user experience and are constantly working to improve. If you've ever thought or commented on an article with sentiments similar to the real member comments above, you too might be wondering why we consistently feature average-sized or even thin models in our article and blog images. We're not ignoring your feedback—the root cause is actually a bigger problem with stock photos in general and it is one that we struggle with regularly.

Posted 7/17/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 231 comments   47,630 views

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6 Incredible Stories of SparkPeople Friendship & Success

Helen Keller said it best: "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." The road to a healthy lifestyle is filled with ups and downs, but having the support of friends to celebrate your victories and lean on when times are tough makes the journey much easier to navigate.

The SparkPeople Community is full of members who have formed special bonds as they work toward their goals together. Whether they meet for coffee once a week, go on group vacations or just check in on the site regularly, these relationships help define their success. Why go it alone, especially when you don't have to?

Bonds forged through message boards, SparkTeams and our Community Feed happen every day, and, for many, those supportive networks are the glue that holds their ultimate dreams together. Through thick and thin, good days and bad, scale victories and weight-loss plateaus, these six stories from the SparkPeople Community will inspire you to believe in the power of friendship. After all, there's a reason people say this community is unlike any other.

Posted 6/8/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 127 comments   30,779 views

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10 Full-Body Strength Exercises Every Beginner Needs to Know

You know that strength training is an important part of any well-rounded fitness program, but somehow it hasn't made it into your routine just yet. You've been having that reoccurring nightmare where you finally decide to try the weight room at the gym, only to be met with a room filled with experienced and toned lifters whose heads all turn and stare, judging you as you walk through the door. Although this nightmare is more fantasy than reality, the weight room can still be an intimidating place.

For many, the fear of the unknown is what keeps them from lifting weights. How heavy should weights be to start? What kind of moves should I be performing? How do I know if my form is correct? Is that guy with the massive biceps judging me? The good news is that you can get an effective strength workout, right in the comfort of your own home, with an audience of just yourself. Creating a balanced routine that targets all of your major muscle groups is easier than you might think.

Posted 3/24/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 214 comments   274,000 views

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Stay Safe And Be Seen With These 7 Fitness Accessories

One of my favorite times of day to run is in the early morning before the rest of the world wakes. It’s quiet and gives me time to think before the craziness of my day begins. I prefer to run when the sun is already up, but at certain times of the year, that becomes more difficult. When I do head out in the dark, my first priority is safety. Although I never assume that cars can see me, I try to make myself as visible as possible.
 
I hear of too many runners, walkers and bikers out with no lights, no identification, wearing dark colors and expecting that everything will be fine and that cars will gladly move out of their way. Accidents happen all the time, but you can reduce the chances they will happen to you. Here are some of the products I recommend to help you stay safe and visible when exercising in the dark.

Posted 3/16/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 162 comments   67,599 views

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Check Out SparkPeople's New Community Goal Feed

Spend a little time on our site, and it won't take long to discover that our positive and supportive Community is unlike any other. That's why we're excited to launch a new feature, designed to help you celebrate success, get a boost of support when times are tough and engage more easily with other members just like you! Did you know that SparkPeople members who are active in the Community tend to lose more weight than those who try to go it alone? This new feature can help you reach your goals, all while having fun along the way.

The Community Goal Feed (found on your Start page or homescreen) is a place to post updates and photos, share your goal progress and tell others a little more about yourself! Here are the features the Community Goal Feed has to offer in more detail:

Posted 3/9/2017  10:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 463 comments   158,359 views

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7 Must-Join SparkTeams for Goal Getters

What if there were a place you could go to meet people who not only have similar interests as your own, but also could offer support and comradery as they worked toward their own healthy living goals right alongside you? The power of community and support groups cannot be understated and, lucky for you, there is a place in the SparkPeople Community where you can find all of these things and more. Whether your goal is to conquer emotional eating, learn more about photography, find others with similar weight-loss goals or meet people from your city, there's a SparkTeam for that.

Posted 2/7/2017  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 46 comments   42,018 views

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SparkPeople Premium Can Answer Your Toughest Health Questions

Getting healthy can be confusing. In any given day, a hundred questions can arise about your diet or how many carbs you should be consuming or how to figure out the appropriate weight to bicep curl or exactly what the difference is between Barre and Pilates. Whether you're a beginner or you've been at it for a while, none of us are experts and trying to figure out the best path to weight loss can be frustrating as a result. But what if you had an expert right in your pocket? Someone to consult along the way who could guide you in the right direction?  

Posted 11/28/2016  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 11 comments   18,676 views

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17 Productive Ways to Deal with Stress Head-On

I have dreams of living a stress-free life, where my children are always happy, my house is always clean and I have plenty of free time to do whatever I'd like. In reality, I'm just like anyone else who has a lot of responsibilities on their plate and gets easily overwhelmed with the daily to-do list.

Stress isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some stress is normal and can even be used to your advantage. It's important to recognize that there are dangers associated with too much stress, though, including long-term effects on your physical and mental health. Headaches, insomnia, constant worrying—these are the kinds of things I'm trying to avoid.

Yet, when I read about how to reduce stress, so much focus is on things that require amounts of time I don't have available in the first place. I'd love to do a yoga class, but finding time for it would create even more stress. A massage would be great, but squeezing in an appointment between martial arts practices and work isn't going to happen. If you're like me, you're looking for simple things you can do right now that will make daily life a little more relaxed. Many of these options take just a few minutes, but the benefits can last a lifetime.

Simplify your schedule.


Take a look at your calendar for the upcoming week. Is there any appointment or activity you can remove or at least scale back? Could you use that as an opportunity to take some time for yourself? For instance, do your kids really need three playdates this week? Can the laundry or other housework wait a few days? Sometimes it takes sacrifices and tough choices to make time for yourself, but the benefit can be better health and a less frantic brain.

Declutter.


Stacks of papers on my desk or shoes piled in the corner of the family room drive me crazy. Getting rid of things I don't need provides a calming effect in my life. You might not have time to tackle the entire garage today, but even spending 10 minutes getting rid of the expired coupons in your kitchen drawer can give you a feeling of accomplishment while taking your mind off of daily life for a few precious minutes.

Color.


In case you hadn't heard, coloring isn't just for kids anymore. According to an interview with Mayo Clinic clinical psychologist Craig Sawchuk in The Washington Post, coloring has a calming effect because it "can help slow down the heart rate and respiration, loosen muscles and stimulate the brain." The folks at Colorit sent us a coloring book to try. I was initially skeptical that a coloring page would make my day less stressful, but it was surprisingly therapeutic. It was nice to try something outside of my daily routine where I could spend as little or as much time as I had available.

Unwind with the Calm app.


I have trouble shutting my brain off at the end of the day, which means falling asleep is usually a challenge. About six months ago I found Calm, a meditation app that I use every night. Calm offers a free, 30-day trial, which gives you plenty of time to see what it's all about. The "Daily Calm" is a guided, 10-minute meditation on a different topic each day, such as focus, sleep or gratitude. There are other guided meditation series about happiness, communicating, anxiety and more that vary in length. When I'm having trouble sleeping or just having a rough afternoon, it's worth spending 10 minutes to help me relax. 

Stop, breathe and think


This Webby Award-winning app offers guided meditation, customized specifically for your mood. It asks how you're doing in that moment, giving you a multiple-choice list of mental, emotional and physical emotions. Based on your responses, you're given a selection of meditations, each of which includes oral prompts to guide you through your few minutes of calm. There are both free and paid programs available. Plus, a portion of the site's proceeds go to Tools for Peace, a non-profit that promotes developing kindness and compassion in everyday life.

Scale back the multi-tasking.


I'll be honest: Multi-taking is how I live 90 percent of my day, and with four small children, it makes life pretty chaotic. While it may seem like tackling several tasks at once is the key to accomplishing more of your task list, the reality is that multi-tasking can be stressful and ineffective. Research shows multi-taskers do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one task to another as effectively as someone who does one thing at a time. Instead of making dinner while answering emails and helping the kids with homework, slow down. Most of the time, the emails can wait and dinner can be a little late if it means taking a breath and giving your child a few minutes of undivided attention.

Ask yourself: Will this matter a month or even a week from now?


It can be stressful when your day doesn't go as planned, you're running late for an appointment or you forget to pack school lunches. Although it raises you blood pressure in the moment, will these small things matter by tomorrow? Take a moment to consider that no one is perfect, we all make mistakes and the best thing you can do is learn from them and move forward.

Plan your meals.


I get easily stressed out when my evening is busy, the kids are hungry and I don't know what to make for dinner. By planning ahead, I have the necessary ingredients on hand, saving time and frustration. Consider planning for the week, looking at the calendar to determine which days are more hectic than others. On nights where I have a little more time, I'll cook dinner with enough for leftovers. Then, when we have a busy night, I don't have to squeeze cooking in on top of everything else; I just pull out the leftovers, reheat and go. I'll also freeze leftovers if I know I can't use them right away. It's cheaper, healthier and more convenient than takeout. 

Exercise daily.


Exercise is known to boost endorphins (those "feel good" hormones in your brain) and improve mood, both of which reduce stress. It might seem counterintuitive to recommend finding time in your day to exercise when you're already overwhelmed, but even 10 minutes of activity can be enough to reap the stress-reducing benefits. There are simple ways to squeeze short bursts of activity into your day, and by taking a closer look at how you spend your time, you might find that you actually have more time than you thought. Taking time to take care of yourself will pay off both physically and mentally in the long run. 

Ask for help.


A few years ago, I was at the pool one afternoon with my four children, having a hard time managing them all. A friend from school asked if she could hold the baby for a few minutes while I dealt with my other kids, who were crying and fighting. I told her I felt bad that I needed help, when she responded, "It really does take a village." That has always stuck with me, because I try to do so much on my own. When you need help, don't be afraid to ask. Others are usually more than willing to lend a hand when they know you could use an assist.

Reduce how much time you spend checking social media sites.


You don't have to give up your favorite social media app completely, but consider putting limits on how much time you spend scrolling because the minutes can add up. You might only check your Facebook feed for five minutes, but if you do that 10 times, it adds up to almost an hour a day! If that number sounds crazy, consider that the average American checks their social media accounts 17 times daily. If lack of time is a stressor in your life, cutting back on social media is one simple way to add time to your day. If political posts or complaining statuses stress you out, limiting your social media consumption and using that time for something more productive or relaxing might just be the most cathartic thing you do for yourself. 

Be prepared.


What would you do if you locked yourself out of your house or lost your car keys? Do you have someone nearby who could come to your rescue? Give someone you trust—a family member, friend or neighbor—an extra set of keys just in case.  What if your car broke down? Do you have an emergency kit in your car, know how to change a tire or have an AAA membership? Preparing in advance for emergencies can turn a terrible situation into a minor blip in the day.

Journal.


Despite the rise of social media, traditional journaling is still a popular way to reduce stress and anxiety. Organizing your thoughts and getting them out on paper can provide an emotional release and serve as a time to reflect on situations and problem solve. Find a spare notebook in your desk drawer and spend a few minutes writing about how you're feeling or what's going on in your day—you might find it makes you feel better to get it out on paper.

Don't be afraid to say no.


You can't be everything for everyone all the time, and if you try to be, you might find there's not much left for yourself. Saying "no" doesn't have to be a negative thing; it might just mean you know your limits. Prioritize what's important so that you're saying "yes" to the things that bring you the most joy and allow you to make the greatest impact. I was asked to serve board of a local organization in a position that was not something that used my skills. Recognizing that it would have been a struggle for me to contribute, I knew I was better off saying "no" this time so that when another opportunity came a long that was a good fit I would have the time available to say "yes." 

Stop apologizing.


I started counting the number of times I say "sorry" in a day, and it was unbelievable. I apologize for having to wake up my kids for school, for not making a dinner that everyone enjoyed, for throwing a bad punch in my kickboxing class, for taking an hour to respond to an email—the list goes on and on. I care so much about the experience of others that it stresses me out when I feel like I don't meet expectations. I've started reminding myself more often that no one is perfect, and that I only need to apologize when I've done something insensitive or wronged someone.

Listen to music.


Have you ever been late for work, stuck in traffic and starting to panic that you won't make your morning meeting? With the stress level rising, your favorite song comes on the radio. Even if it's just for a few minutes, your mood lifts as you go to that happy place in your head we all love. Research has investigated the therapeutic benefits of music, and found that it can reduce anxieties and promote relaxation. Isn't it nice how music can make a bad day a little better?

Whether you choose to adopt one of these or several, finding positive, productive ways to react to stress will mean the difference between pulling your hair out and facing your to-do list head on with grace and determination.

Posted 9/26/2016  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 56 comments   76,074 views

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SparkPeople Premium Puts a Personal Trainer in Your Pocket

One of the most frustrating things about adopting healthy habits and losing weight is that you're an experiment of one. What works for one person might not necessarily work for your particular body, metabolism or lifestyle, so it's on you to test drive various eating habits and fitness routines until you find the one that fits just right. It's easy to drive yourself crazy with all of the information out there telling you what to eat, when to eat, how to exercise, when to exercise and the best way to minimize your effort while maximizing your results.

With all the conflicting information and resources out there, wouldn't it be nice if you could talk with an expert, tell them your story and get personalized advice to help you reach your goals? Now, it's possible with the Email a Coach feature as part of SparkPeople Premium!

Posted 9/14/2016  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 15 comments   22,428 views

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4 SparkTeam Challenges That Will Help You Reach Your Goals

Most of us have worked as part of a group focused on a common goal at some point in our lives, whether on a class project, a team sport, a work task or a family vacation. In these situations, you know how important support from the group can be. When it comes to losing weight and adopting healthy behaviors into our lives, this kind of support becomes even more crucial. Research shows that accountability to others and social support are key factors in weight loss and weight maintenance success.

Posted 9/8/2016  12:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 74 comments   33,643 views

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