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8 Questions About Living an Authentic Life With Emmy-Award Winning Filmmaker Dana Michelle Cook

Recently, I interviewed Emmy-award winning filmmaker Dana Michelle Cook for my podcast “The Elements of Being." Here are her eight thought-provoking answers to my questions about how she aligned her life with her purpose. Take a read…It may inspire you to pivot the direction of your career or personal life (no matter how old you are or where you live).

Were you always running around with a video camera as a child?

Dana M. Cook: I did! My parents had a video camera, and I would recruit all of my friends to make skits. I would write a script…a skit for us-like lifestyles of the rich and famous….or play teacher and student and then record. Anything from long storylines to little blips. I'd recruit my aunt to pretend like she was evicting us. I don't even know where I got these ideas. I felt like I had a wild imagination and I loved filming. I loved it. I loved telling stories through film. When I was in college, I thought, “Well, I live in LA, the opportunities are sort of endless-Maybe I DO want to get into film and television!”

What do you think about the stories often portrayed in the media?

Dana M. Cook: I now understand that there is so much power in the platform and the story that you're telling….and how easily that story can be seen in a thousand different perspectives. When I worked for Fox News, the reporters were going out to tell the stories, and I was there to support them. The story was being told through their eyes. I remember going into the edit bay at Fox and seeing the story that was being cut…and it was SO different than the story I would have told. It was a moment where I thought, “Wow, as a storyteller you have to take responsibility in what you're creating because that is going out into the world!”

Did any mentors guide you through your career? What led you in this career direction?

Dana M. Cook: I can't say that I had mentors early in my life. When I became a producer, though, I had a bunch of mentors. I think what led me to that moment was curiosity. I feel curiosity is the root of finding your purpose. I think we can stand in our own way because of fear of failing or looking stupid. For me, it was just curiosity and having an open mind….knowing that if my eyes are open to the world around me, there are answers. I also think that--like a very Oprah moment right now--it sort of comes to you like a whisper…having the recognition “Oh, this feels really good.” When I imagined myself working on a set with people as a producer, I asked myself “What does this feel like in my body? Does it feel good or bad?” I found myself really drawn to the idea of doing THIS, and I think it's really aligned with who I am in my core. That's not me trying to be someone else….It's who I feel I am.

Do you think this curiosity has just always been like you said, a part of you? Or is this something that has been fostered over time?

Dana M. Cook: I think it's always been a part of me. It might be a result of being raised in a household with parents that have always been encouraging, though. I'm an only child-I had a lot of that attention, love, and encouragement to go out and pursue what made me happy. I thank my parents for that…I know a lot of situations that don’t have THAT kind of encouragement. We never worried financially. Both of my parents had blue-collar jobs, though. My dad is a mailman, and my mom worked for the phone company. We didn’t come from a very rich existence, but we were always comfortable. Because we were comfortable, I didn't have to take a bunch of jobs growing up to help my family, and I think that created space for me to be curious.

How do you reflect on your experience producing the reality television show “Strange Addictions”?

Dana M. Cook: Well… kind of soul search a little bit-especially when you're working on shows like this, and you're around people that feel broken. You sort of take the responsibility on and say, “What's my role here? What am I doing? How am I creating good in a bad situation?” That show was really exploitative to people even though they signed up for it. The guests responded to a casting call, and they said yes every step of the way. At the end of the day, we were creating a story…and exploiting THEIR story (and that episode lives on and on and on and on). I think it's on Hulu or Netflix right now. I know it became a challenge for some of the people profiled as they moved on in life. Many asked, "Is there a way to take this off the air? I just went in for a job interview, and the person recognized me for eating toilet paper.” Even though they signed up for it…it was becoming a barrier as they moved on in life.

That was an internal conflict for you (and I witnessed some part of that). Can you share some of the things that were happening at that time when you switched directions?

Dana M. Cook: Well, here we are at my first documentaries, "Girls On The Run" and "The Empowerment Project." Up to that point, I felt like I was working on content that I wasn't proud of. You should take responsibility for the work that you're putting out into the world. If you have control over what you're creating as a content creator, you need to understand morally how you're looped into that. The things that I was working on did not reflect who I was, and I only had so much control over how something was cut together in the edit bay.

At that time, I was overseeing projects that were being screened to 190 million people on Netflix, including "Toddlers in Tiaras"-which was not uplifting. Maybe somebody would think that that is, but to me it wasn't. It just wasn't who I was. It was a very dark time in my life, but also a very interesting time to say, “What is the voice in my head saying?” And it was saying, “This path doesn't serve you.” Telling stories like this….they don't serve you…and they're not serving the world. If you look at it in a meta-way, I care too much about humanity to continue doing this.

How long did this mental narrative take place?

Dana M. Cook: It was years…It was years. I would say that for two years I was constantly checking in with myself. I'm on shoots…flying all over the country…looking in the mirror and saying, “This doesn't feel right. This doesn't feel right. This feels terrible.” I felt that the way I was taking care of myself was sort of in the wind. I was always on a plane and working with people who were having a nervous breakdown in front of me. Week after week, after week, after week. It was a combination of these things.

So I decided to leave. There was a moment when I said, “Okay, this is it.” I was working on "Toddlers in Tiaras" and witnessing a little girl in a dressing room having an out-of-body experience. I'm filming a five-year-old getting a fake mouthpiece shoved in her mouth, and then she walks around a stage full of glitz (as they called it)…parading around a room full of old men. The whole thing was awful. And then, of course, working on 26 episodes of "My Strange Addiction" and just watching people suffer.

At the time I was also working with my friend, Sarah Marshman. We met through a teen filmmaking program. That was another project that I worked on that was so amazing in Chicago. The company name was Dreaming Tree Films. Sarah had also been working in reality TV and was burning out. She mentioned an idea to take a road trip with female filmmakers (there aren't a lot of us in the industry…It's a male-dominated industry) and wanted to interview women in different careers. I thought, “That's incredible. Let's do it.”

That was the first documentary that I'd ever been a part of creating. I don't know if I ever saw myself as a documentary filmmaker. I don't know if I had it on my vision board as a dream. I just knew that I loved telling stories. But for Sarah, she always wanted to do that. I thought that's sort of interesting…to know your entire life what you want to do and to achieve that. My path has been very different, but to arrive at this space is sort of a testament that there is no right or wrong way to do life. If you end up listening to the voices….where you're meant to be…you're going to be there.

Do most people ignore the internal voice that screams, “I need change”?

Dana M. Cook: I think you have to be driven to a breaking point. Often, when people make a big life decision of walking away from a career that isn't serving them it's because they've hit rock bottom. You might've been thinking about it for a very long time-to leave your job…to leave that person….to leave an abusive relationship…whatever it is, it takes time. It takes time to wear you down. You would hope that isn't the case. We hear about entrepreneurs that quit their job and walk out the door to pursue something new. It feels like it happens in a moment for them, but we know it isn’t always the case.

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness
8 Questions About Living an Authentic Life With Emmy-Award Winning Filmmaker Dana Michelle Cook
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.

Want to listen to the unedited full version of the interview with Dana Michelle Cook or other past guests? Find them on Apple, Spotify, Overcast, Castbox, Stitcher, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can also find it in our podcast section.


The Quick List: 9 Reasons Why You're Still Eating Unhealthy (And How to Change It)

No time to overanalyze your unhealthy eating habits? Let me help you. Here are 9 reasons why you can’t kick the habits and their respective quick fixes. Life is certainly more complicated than these suggestions but they will at least steer you in the right direction. Good luck!

Emotional association with particular foods

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Minimize exposure and availability to these foods by leaving them off the grocery list and preselecting a restaurant that won’t tempt you with indulgent menu items. Meanwhile, build a positive relationship with new healthy foods through weekly recipe experiments.

Cultural influence

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Determine boundaries in portions by restricting your consumption to one small plate while indulging in your cultural connection. Bring at least one healthy option to your cultural events.

Fatigue or boredom

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Athough food may seem like the best answer, you may need to satisfy other needs first including sleep. Set the same bed and wakeup times and aim for 7-8 hours of sleep. If this doesn’t solve your midday lags, you may need new engaging stimulation from your environment, social interactions, or projects instead.

Stress or anxiety

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Recognize your overwhelmed state of being and determine the contributing factors while finding a feeling of peace in the focus on your breath and simplifying your tasks and the demand on yourself.

Unhealthy reward system

Personal Trainer Wisdom: determine the real reward of eating a Snickers bar when you're not hungry and replace this routine with another option that will lead to the same reward. Examples of other routines: Take a break from your monotonous computer work by going for a walk or talking to a coworker.

Environmental cues

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Television commercials, junk food left in the kitchen at work, candy at the cash register....all environmental cues that probably steer you down the unhealthy path. You may need to determine new paths to avoid these triggers (it might just be this simple).

Peer pressure

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Minimize your interaction with peer pressuring individuals while you slowly work on your boundary lines and being assertive in social situations.

Access to healthy options

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Order from a specific list of healthy items from a grocery delivery service before you run out of food and always keep healthy foods you LOVE in your kitchen or packed at your desk (which requires you to experiment with different foods).

The taste and/or texture doesn't appeal to your sense

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Determine the taste-sweetness, saltiness, savory, etc. - or texture - soft, hard, crunchy, etc. - that appeals to you the most and add ingredients aligned with these preferences. These characteristics found in the right foods could satisfy your yearning for more and help you avoid overeating.

Photo Credit: sustainable jill .com: Are you pulling out your hair figuring out your diet?

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness
The Quick List: 9 Reasons Why You're Still Eating Unhealthy (And How to Change It)
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.

A Personal Trainer’s Answers to your 4 Biggest Health and Fitness Questions

Trying to unravel the complicated approach to achieving your best health? Chicago personal trainer, Michael Moody, answers your 4 biggest health and fitness questions.

What are some of the most common misconceptions about getting in shape?

Personal Trainer Wisdom: The most common misconception about getting in shape is the primary importance of fitness. While fitness plays a pivotal role in your strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, and cardio endurance, it still relies heavily on your nutrition. Without the proper nutrition for your body type, you will not have the energy or building blocks to sculpt the healthy body you want. Any nutritional deficit or inflammation will certainly affect your ability to get in shape, live to 100, or reduce injury.

What single piece of personal training advice do you have regarding form and technique?

Personal Trainer Wisdom: With the endless circus act of exercises found online and in magazines, it would take years to point out every little piece of the form you should keep in mind while exercising. While you should study your body's response to different positions and movements, there are basic rules you should keep in mind for whatever you approach:

-Keep your feet hip width and straight to maximize stability and glute/abdominal activation.
-Keep your shoulders above your hips to maintain a neutral position and reduce pelvic tilting.
-Maintain a neutral spine by periodically checking your lumbar curve (lower back) and cervical spine (neck).

There are certainly exceptions to these rules. Nevertheless, they will generally guide through a safe workout routine.

What is the best way to get a personal training client motivated when they feel like giving up?

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Considering that each person is different, there isn't a single strategy to motivate a personal training client when he or she wants to give up. While some personal training clients persevere when given a strict structure to follow, other clients are intimidated and will less likely push themselves. Add in societal pressures, personality traits, family and work demands, and natural limitations, it's surprising that anyone has the strength to sift through these factors and push through. The best advice is to help your personal training client become a human scientist - to study their physical selves and their habits, decision-making process, and problem-solving approach. By utilizing this strategy, you are reducing the ambiguity of the process in the most simple way and identifying the personal training client's strength and weaknesses for the most efficient approach. The personal training client will feel more control over his or her situation and will be able to target the undermining reasons for giving up with more confidence.

What is the best advice you’ve ever learned about staying in shape?

Personal Trainer Wisdom: After nearly 15 years of personal training and research in Chicago, I have learned that your mental approach is the steering factor of staying in shape. You will most likely reach your goal but whether or not you maintain this success is questionable. Who can blame you! There are too many distractions and pulls in life, including holidays, work, and family, that easily pull you from your new healthy routine. The best advice is to clearly define boundaries based on your needs-not your wants-and use this set of rules as you approach the unknowns of life. I don't think it's reasonable to assume that you'll make perfect choices each day. With reasonable boundaries based on your body and habits (not anyone else's), you'll keep yourself in check and stay in shape.

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness
A Personal Trainer’s Answers to your 4 Biggest Health and Fitness Questions
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.

My 10 Favorite Life-Guiding Quotes from the Stoic, Marcus Aurelius

Where do you look for the answer to the question, “How do I live a good life?” Naturally, you refer to 165 AD for a perspective that transcends time. To shape my philosophical self, I’ve been reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (one of the earliest self-improvement transcripts). The following 10 quotes are taken directly from this great work. While I typically offer commentary on their meaning, they are left to your interpretation (everybody could use a break from a pundit).

1. “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

2. “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

3. “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”

4. “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

5. “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

6. “If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

7. “If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”

8. “Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

9. “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”

10. “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

Photo Credit: Matthias Giezendanner and Wealth sf .com-Whether considering weight loss or optimal health, a personal trainer’s client’s real transformation begins at a deeper level.

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness
My 10 Favorite Life-Guiding Quotes from the Stoic, Marcus Aurelius
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.

34 Easy Weight Loss Meals with Modifications

Here are several meal ideas to launch your weight loss. Experiment! Experiment!


2 Eggs or Egg White Omelet with Peppers

-Smear the pan with grapeseed oil to remove excess calories and fat.
-Top with hemp seeds for additional good fat, fiber, and protein.

Granny's Berry Berry Oatmeal

-Description: Blueberries, red raspberries, and strawberries stirred in, topped with all-natural granola and honey.
-Modifications: Substitute the milk with almond milk. Add pecans instead of granola. Add a type of seeds (hemp, chia, etc.) too.

Mmm-Mushroom Spinach Skillet

-Description: A great combination of flavors… fresh spinach, lots of mushrooms and onions (and potatoes).
-Modifications: No cheese or milk. Add a side of vegetarian beans, seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), and avocado or nuts.

Tiny Tim’s Farm Stand Frittata

-Description: Fresh spinach and mushrooms accented with diced bacon and topped with jack and cheddar cheeses.
-Modifications: No cheese. Replace the milk with broth if possible (otherwise move to the next menu item). Add a side of vegetarian beans, seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), and avocado or nuts.

Buenos Diaz Breakfast Chilaquiles

-Description: Homemade corn tortilla chips cooked with green salsa, topped with mozzarella cheese and two eggs any-style. Garnished with refried beans, lettuce, tomato and sour cream.
-Modifications: No cheese or sour cream. Add a side of vegetarian beans, seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), and avocado or nuts.

Banana Oat Pancakes

-Description: Fresh diced bananas in an oat batter, perfectly griddled and topped with more fresh bananas.
-Modifications: If you must have your pancakes, a banana, oat, and almond milk batter will be your best bet hands down. Top with pecans to add healthy fat and protein and limit the syrup (1 teaspoon as a generous treat to a meal that already has a lot sugar from the bananas).

Egg Scramblers

-Description: Scrambled with three grade AA farm fresh eggs, served with hash browns and choice of toast or pancakes. Pick your three favorites for a custom scrambler! Green Peppers, Mushrooms, Spinach, Tomato, Onions, Broccoli, or Scallions.
-Modifications: I’ve left off the other meat and cheese options that will get you in trouble. Add a side of vegetarian beans, seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), and avocado or nuts.

Breakfast Tacos

-Description: Eggs Scrambled with Chorizo, jalapenos and onions stuffed in three corn tortilla accented with green salsa and cilantro. Garnished with refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream.
-Modifications: No cheese or sour cream. Substitute the chorizo with Green Peppers, Mushrooms, Spinach, Tomato, Onions, Broccoli, or Scallions. Add a side of seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.) and avocado or nuts.

Elena’s Egg White Scrambler

-Description: Spinach, mushrooms, roasted red peppers and low fat Mozzarella. Served with fresh fruit instead of hash browns.
-Modifications: No cheese or milk. Add a side of vegetarian beans, seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), and avocado or nuts.

Eleni’s Egg White Delight

-Description: Talk about guilt-free indulgence! Feast on fresh spinach, mushrooms, roasted red peppers and low fat mozzarella. Served with fresh fruit instead of hash browns.
-Modifications: No cheese or milk. Add a side of vegetarian beans, seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), and avocado or nuts.

The Mediterranean

-Description: A sunny omelet of fresh spinach, tomatoes, kalamata olives, oregano, and imported feta cheese.
-Modifications: No cheese or milk. Add a side of vegetarian beans, seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), and avocado or nuts.

The Bannockburn Green

-Description: For the veggie lover! Fresh broccoli florets, tomatoes, green peppers and onions mixed with Swiss and cheddar.
-Modifications: No cheese or milk. Add a side of vegetarian beans, seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), and avocado or nuts.

Griddle 24 Egg White Omelet

-Description: Baby spinach, avocado, tomato salsa, turkey bacon.
-Modifications: No cheese or milk. Add a side of vegetarian beans, seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), and avocado or nuts.

Steel Cut Oats

-Description: Steel cut oatmeal with 2% milk served with a side of brown sugar.
-Modifications: Substitute the milk with almond milk and add blueberries, strawberries, or bananas as well as pecans and a type of seeds (hemp, chia, etc.).

Espanola (1 Egg Skillet)

-Description: Jalapeno peppers, avocado, onions, mushrooms, jack cheese, potatoes, and tortillas.
-Modifications: No cheese or milk.

Veggie Garden Delight (1 Egg Skillet)

-Description: Green peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach.
-Modifications: No cheese or milk. Choose a side of fruit.

Acapulco Scrambler (1 Egg Scrambler)

-Description: Diced chicken, jalapenos, tomatoes, avocado, jack cheese.
-Modifications: No cheese or milk. Choose a side of fruit.

Veggies (1 Egg Scrambler)

-Description: Green peppers, mushrooms, onions, broccoli, avocado, spinach, tomatoes, jalapenos, Kalamata olives.
-Modifications: No cheese or milk. Choose a side of fruit.

Mexican Veggie Skillet

-Description: onions, green peppers, and diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of black beans, 1 tbsp hemp seeds, 3 tbsp of salsa, 1/4 avocado.

2 eggs or egg white omelet with peppers

-Smear the pan with grapeseed oil to remove excess calories and fat.
-Top with hemp seeds for additional good fat, fiber, and protein.

Fruit smoothie

-Instead of the protein powder, add 2 tbs of hemp or chia seeds and 1/2 cup of oats for good fat, fiber, and protein.
-Any amount of fruit sugar beyond 15-20 grams, may lead to weight gain (and a banana and mangoes have 18 grams of sugar in each serving alone.
-Possible combinations: Banana, mango, strawberry, blueberry, kiwi.


Stir Fry or Riced Cauliflower and veggies

-Be mindful of the oil (a fat dense option that we should minimize). Smear the pan with grapeseed oil to remove excess calories and fat.
-Check out local Asian restaurant menus for different combinations of veggie stir fry.
-Toast almonds on the pan for additional texture and taste.

Veggie stir fry

-1-2 cups of random veggies (frozen or fresh), 2 tbsp of chia or flax seeds, 1/4 cup of cashew or almond nuts, 3 tbsp of salsa or Trader Joe’s Soyaki.

Cajun stir fry

Sauteed mushrooms, green peppers, onions, chia seeds, black beans, creole seasoning, salsa.

Tacos with beans cauliflower peppers

-El Milagro corn tortillas (only made of lime, corn, and water).
-Frontera salsas don't have any artificial ingredients.
-Taco Seasoning: 2 tbs chili powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional), 1/2 tsp oregano, 1 tsp paprika, 3 tsp cumin, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp pepper.

Veggie burger and edamame

-If you eat the bun, choose only options that state 100% whole grain or wheat. Less or none is better.

Salad with cucumbers chickpeas carrots

-Trying tossing with almonds and cashews for additional protein, fiber, and good fats.
-Trying tossing with hemp or chia seeds for additional protein, fiber, and good fats.
-A darker green salad green is most nutrient dense (e.g., spinach, kale, and collard greens).
-Squeeze lime to add flavor.
-Add black or pinto beans for additional protein and fiber.

Buffalo cauliflower

-I looooooove buffalo sauce on everything.....and it's half butter, half hot sauce: No bien! Choose Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Sauce-the best healthy alternative!!!

Lemon garlic sauce chicken, veggies, and pasta

-1/4 chicken (2-4 oz), 1/2 veggies, 1/4 Banza Chickpea Penne Pasta (or substitute with boiled and drained cauliflower rice).

Bean chili

-1 diced medium yellow onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 tbs tomato paste, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 cup dry green lentils, 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce, 1 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes, 1 (4 oz) can diced green chiles or hot Rotel, 2 tsp chili powder, 2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp oregano, 2 green peppers, 3 tbs of Worcestershire, 1 can of drained kidney beans, and 1 can of drained pinto beans.

Tuscan white bean soup

-2 cans white (or cannellini) beans, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 large onion, sliced, 1 (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes, undrained, 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp white or black pepper, 1 cup white wine, 1 tsp minced garlic, 3 cups diced red potatoes, 1 cup diced zucchini without skin, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp Italian seasoning.

Spaghetti squash with a garden vegetable pasta sauce

Edamame hummus plate

-Edamame hummus, raw mushrooms, bell peppers, carrots, celery, grape tomatoes.

Grilled or Roasted Veggie Salad

-Romaine hearts, baby spinach, grilled peppers, eggplant, red onions, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, squeezed lemon and lime.

Photo Credit:
Epicurious .com-With a few modifications, this Epicurious favorite could be healthy.

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness
34 Easy Weight Loss Meals with Modifications
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.