Sleep is often the most neglected and most important aspect of health. On average, you need 7–9 hours of quality sleep per night. This is crucial for maintaining your body’s immunity and productivity. When you get a good night’s sleep, mood-regulating serotonin levels stabilize. Sleep also balances your hormones which impacts your metabolism. Therefore, I encourage my clients to create a nighttime ritual. This could include shutting off all electronic devices an hour before bedtime, and instead, writing in your journal, reading a book or meditating.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Clifford.
Erin Clifford, J.D., is a holistic wellness coach who is deeply passionate about helping professionals create healthy lifestyles for a more fulfilling, happier existence. She has trained with some of the world’s foremost experts in diet theories, nutrition, exercise, and healthy lifestyle management.
Erin is also a partner and the director of marketing and business development at Clifford Law Offices. She provides overall management of strategic business development, such as planning, coordinating, and implementation of marketing and business plans.
She helps clients through corporate health and wellness coaching, one-on-one wellness coaching, and educational seminars.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
I grew up in a family that was focused on health and fitness. I first became inspired to pursue a career in the wellness space during my tenure as a Chicago Public Schools teacher. Many of my students and their families were fighting obesity and developing severe health conditions, such as type II diabetes. Further, upon joining the legal profession, I encountered friends and colleagues who were struggling with stress, work life balance and developing preventable diseases, many at an early age. This all influenced me to embark on my career as a health and wellness coach.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The biggest eye opener since starting my wellness coaching practice was that clients were more successful in the long-term when they slowly transitioned toward a healthier lifestyle by mastering one change at a time. For instance, a beloved client began his wellness journey by initially replacing sugary beverages with filtered water and fruit-infused water. When he saw how his weight began to drop and energy levels skyrocketed, it inspired him to begin including more vegetables in his diet, then a fitness regimen, and so on. Five years later, he is in the best shape of his life.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
My most notable mistake was giving clients too much information and lifestyle tweaks at once. For example, when I initially put one of my first female clients on a reset without properly prepping her, she did not have the tools to be successful. But it taught me that each client is unique, and you need to meet him or her where they are at. As eager as a client may be to jump right into the program, as a coach you need to set him or her up for success.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
My unique contribution to the world of wellness is that I walk the walk and talk the talk. I work with primarily professionals and corporations. As the Director of Marketing and Business Development for a premiere law firm, I am a professional who faces many of the same stressors and work life balance challenges as my clients. Therefore, I have a fundamental understanding and respect for where my clients are coming from. I then use what I have learned works for me and my colleagues to help my clients lead their best lives.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My friend and mentor, Loren Lahav, changed my life. I met Loren when she led a Tony Robbins’s Life Mastery event and sought her out to be my personal coach. She has not only helped me grow my business but inspired me to find the confidence and growth in myself to live my best life personally and professionally. It was so incredibly special to have her as a guest at my wedding last year. I would never have gotten to this place in my journey without her by my side.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits.
In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
The three biggest blockages that prevent clients from being successful when making lifestyle changes are a failure to leverage their “why”, being overly ambitious and a lack of accountability.
Many individuals jump headfirst into wellness programs without properly setting themselves up for success. When they inevitably hit a roadblock, they have no leverage to get themselves over the hurdle. I always begin with my clients by guiding them to find their “why”. Beyond the surface level goal of wanting to look your best, what is really behind the motivation. For instance, do you want to gain confidence and find a new relationship? Are you a new mother who wants to be the best version of herself for her child? Do you have a history of illness in your family and want to prevent disease? Your whys provide you leverage and are key in helping you stay the course for the long-haul.
Next, many individuals become overly ambitious and try to take on too much at once. For instance, if you have not exercised in years, starting an intense fitness program where you work out an hour for seven days a week is going to burn you out quickly. You are much better off slowly integrating sustainable workouts back into your life. You need to meet yourself where you are at and be honest with yourself about how much you are willing and able to do.
Finally, individuals need accountability. The act of simply telling someone that you are beginning a new lifestyle program and putting your intention out into the world is a huge gamechanger. This could be a health professional, family member, friend or online community. You can even hold yourself accountable by keeping a meal and exercise log or journal.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
Building upon small lifestyle changes will dramatically improve your health and wellbeing. You are more likely to experience long-term success when you master one change at a time and then incorporate another one. For instance, one of my clients really wanted to lose weight and improve her health. She used to run marathons, but after many injuries completely fell off the wagon (as she described it). Since she loved fitness we started there. We began by having her walk at least 10,000 steps per day, then she slowly increased it to at least 14,000–16,000 steps per day. We then moved to cleaning up her diet by including more vegetables, whole foods and limiting processed foods. She was then inspired to decrease her alcohol intake and so on. This process did not overwhelm her because each lifestyle tweak became naturally ingrained into her life.
Staying hydrated is critical for overall health, immunity and weight loss. Water delivers important nutrients to your cells. You routinely lose water through breathing, sweating, and digestion so it is important to continually rehydrate throughout your day. Many of my clients under guesstimate how much water they drink in a day when they are asked to become more mindful. Therefore, I always advise my clients to keep a water bottle with them all day as a reminder. If a client has a sugar addiction, we use fruit-infused water to help them make the switch.
Colorful vegetables and greens are key to long-term health, weight loss and maintenance. Loading up on these gems provides you with vitamins, nutrients and fiber to keep you full and improve your digestion. Again, many individuals under guesstimate how many vegetables they are consuming. The occasional iceberg lettuce salad is not enough. I always advise my clients to consume at least 5 servings of different vegetables per day (1/2 cup cooked, 1 cup raw). I have a client who made the switch by sneaking them into her meals. She added greens to her smoothies, made homemade soups, mashed cauliflower and one-pot or sheet-tray meals.
Building a stress management toolkit is critical to long-term health and mastering any lifestyle regimen. Many times, individuals focus so much on the diet and exercise aspect of the program and completely neglect the self-care and stress management aspect. Therefore, I encourage my clients to create rituals or little pauses in their day. For instance, you could meditate upon rising or take an afternoon break to practice a stress-reducing breathing technique. Perhaps you change into comfy clothes after your workday and take your dog for a walk or write in a gratitude journal to transition to bed each night.
Sleep is often the most neglected and most important aspect of health. On average, you need 7–9 hours of quality sleep per night. This is crucial for maintaining your body’s immunity and productivity. When you get a good night’s sleep, mood-regulating serotonin levels stabilize. Sleep also balances your hormones which impacts your metabolism. Therefore, I encourage my clients to create a nighttime ritual. This could include shutting off all electronic devices an hour before bedtime, and instead, writing in your journal, reading a book or meditating. You could also take a bath with Epson salt or shower to cool down your body temperature. Drinking herbal teas, such as chamomile or Nighty Night, can also soothe you to bed.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
Besides weight loss, exercise is your best defense against coping with life’s daily stressors. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries. Further, exercise helps you build bone and maintain muscle which is critical as you age. Exercise is also essential to lowering your risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death globally.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
One of the best and most undervalued exercises is walking. It not only improves your mood, but it is an effective way to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, lose and maintain weight, increase your energy and facilitate a good night’s sleep. It is free and you can do it anywhere. Many of my clients start their fitness regimen by using a device, such as a Fitbit, to increase their daily steps.
Strengthening your core is so important for better balance and stability in and outside the gym. I highly recommend the Pilates stomach series which consists of five exercises all targeting different muscles in your abdominals.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a perfect exercise to get the most bang for your buck in the shortest amount of time. During this cardiovascular exercise, you become hypoxic (deprives your body of oxygen) which makes your metabolism stay elevated throughout your day. Because of this, you are still burning calories after you leave the gym. The app Tabata has different formulas or for 20 minutes you can go full out on a cardio machine for 1 minute and dial it back for 2 minutes, repeat. You may also choose to run or walk outside in this manner or incorporate jumping jacks or burpees into a strength training circuit.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
You need to give yourself recovery days to allow your muscles ample time to recuperate or it may lead to overuse injuries. Epson salt baths and applying arnica gel are also helpful in treating aches and pains. Further, I recommend stretching and foam rolling before and after workouts. In addition, consistently staying hydrated is essential for muscle recovery, as well as fueling your body with whole nutritious foods.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
I follow a whole foods diets and avoid processed foods as much as possible. I focus on eating tons of colorful vegetables, greens, lean protein sources and healthy fats. In moderation, I eat slow-releasing carbohydrates, such as quinoa, beans and lentils, wild rice and sweet potatoes. I am a firm believer in not depriving yourself or this will lead to bingeing and emotional eating. For instance, if a client loves pasta, I recommend eating a portion of a healthier version (spiralized zucchini or squash, brown rice, lentil or almond flour) and pairing it with a lean protein and vegetables. I limit my alcohol consumption as it does not support my hormones, sleep and skin. I recommend that my clients follow a similar whole foods diet, but I tweak it based on their body’s individual needs and personal preferences.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
My all-time favorite book is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. It had a huge impact on me when I first read it in grade school and does to this day. I strive to live by the quote: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I truly believe to be successful in relationships whether personal or professional you need to pause and understand the other person’s perspective. I use this practice with each of my clients because they are all unique and come to me with different backgrounds and experiences.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would start a movement to encourage families to regularly cook homemade meals. One of the most powerful things you can do for your long-term health is eat a limitedly processed whole foods diet. As countless health experts can attest, chronic disease begins at your fork and many families forgo homemade food for convenience. It would be amazing if families cooked together more regularly and then this powerful message would be organically passed down to the next generation. My grandmother regularly cooked meals for us with love and the childhood memories that we shared together in the kitchen are some of my most notable. One of the best things that has happened during quarantine is that families are spending more time together making wholesome meals in their kitchens.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
A life lesson quote that I continuously come back to is: “You can’t control the situation, but you can control your reaction to it.” I think this sentiment is so powerful because life is uncertain. There are many situations that arise that are completely out of your control. But you can choose to take a pause and assess how you are going to react to the situation. During the pandemic, I have felt scared and uncertain about the future. But I have chosen to use the wealth of knowledge that I have to help those around me by staying positive. I have connected with many organizations and individuals by leading wellness webinars and helped my clients manage their stresses throughout all this uncertainty. I have also chosen to focus on my own self-care and mental health so I can continue to be the best person and coach that I can be.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I would love to have breakfast or lunch with Dr. Sara Gottfried, M.D. to get advice on how I can better serve my clients as a health and wellness coach. Her book The Hormone Reset Diet completely changed my view on health, diet and supporting my clients in guiding their weight loss, hormonal and emotional eating concerns. Dr. Sara is so incredibly open with her own journey and has dedicated her life’s work to helping other women navigate their journeys. I enjoy doing her group hormone resets each year where she encourages you to do your best and move on from any setbacks. I also absolutely love her Reset360 products. I literally start my day with one of her smoothie recipes every morning and recommend them to my clients.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!