BetterU – Week 12 – Congratulations!

Welcome to week 12 of the BetterU Challenge! (New here or want to find out more about this program? Jump back to the week 1 information here!)

Week 12

Congratulations on completing this 12-week jump start into a healthier lifestyle!

Whether you have already made drastic changes to your lifestyle, or perhaps you’re taking it slowly and incorporating one new thing every week or two, either way you have improved your health and believe me, this all adds up!

Let’s go over the tools and knowledge you have acquired over the past 12 weeks:


  1. Identifying your personal benefits and barriers to healthy eating and physical activity. Creating a plan of action with SMART goals.
  2. Making small, simple changes to your lifestyle to be more active and eat healthier foods. Adding, removing or replacing ingredients to make your favorite recipes healthier.
  3. Getting in the valuable habit of tracking physical activity and foods in this journal or your own personal journal or mobile phone/online tracker. Fitting physical activity in at home, work and when traveling. Making healthy choices when eating away from home.
  4. Building a support team. Learning the importance of and incorporating strength/resistance exercises if you weren’t already.
  5. Knowing your BMI (body mass index). Making over your weight (knowing your calorie needs, setting a weight-loss goal if necessary.)
  6. Knowing physical activity recommendations. Distinguishing low, moderate and vigorous activities. Shopping heart-smart at the grocery store.
  7. Knowing appropriate levels of blood cholesterol and triglycerides. Identifying behaviors you can change to control your cholesterol.
  8. Knowing appropriate levels of blood pressure. Managing your stress.
  9. Learning about diabetes. Using exercise to reduce your risk for diabetes.
  10. Checking your family history for heart disease and risk factors. Encouraging your family to make heart-healthy choices.
  11. Knowing the risks associated with smoking and secondhand smoke. Advocating for a smoke-free community.
  12. Advocating for women’s heart health. Finding new opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating. Celebrating how far you have come!


This is not the end. This is the beginning, or the continuation of your heart-healthy new lifestyle. Keep on learning and improving. Keep setting SMART goals and continue to keep your eye on the ultimate prize: a long, healthy and vibrant life.

Life happens. You will have slip-ups. This doesn’t mean you give up! This means you go back to your program book and create your new plan of action. Do you need to get back on track with journaling? Do you need to make time for healthy menu planning and shopping? Do you need to learn some new inspiring recipes? Do you need to create a plan of action for your fitness if you’re not treating your heart to 150 minutes every week? Get back on track right away. Don’t beat yourself up. We will make mistakes or eat a few too many cookies, or skip working out some weeks. This is an opportunity to make new goals and get back on track!

Stop – if you’re tempted to make a choice that doesn’t support your commitment to honoring your life, your body, your active lifestyle and healthy eating.

Think – about the benefits you are enjoying from new, healthy habits. Remind yourself why your eating and physical activity choices are important.

Choose – the best solution. Whether you’re having a high-fat snack attack or you want to skip exercising after a long day – you’ll feel better if you choose the healthier option.

The results are so inspiring! YAY all of YOU!!! In just 12 weeks, this is what the participants of the 2013 BetterU program have accomplished: (*Based on 35 out of 50 total participants that we were able to get before and after lab work on)

  • Fruit intake increased from an average of 1.8 cups a day to 2.4
  • Vegetable intake increased from an average of 1.8 cups a day to 2.5
  • The number of people that eat 2 servings of fish a week doubled from 9 to 18
  • 59% improvement in sugar sweetened beverage intake, from 22 that limited it to EVERYONE!
  • 45% improvement in limiting sodium
  • Total cholesterol average was reduced by 25 points! We even had some 50+ point drops!
  • Glucose average was reduced by 10 points. We had some women with dramatically reduced blood sugar levels!
  • Participants lost an average of 3.1 pounds. We had 2 almost 20 pound weight losses in the group!
  • There was a 4% improvement in My Life Check score overall from 7.2 to 7.5

BetterU week 12

We celebrated this final weekly get together by sharing a meal together. Participants brought some healthy and delicious potluck style meals and I have to say…it was DELICIOUS! King5 HealthLInk was there to capture the tears, celebrations and testimonies to the participants successes and lifestyle changes. I can’t wait for it to air, we’ll update this as soon as we get the footage!

Where to go from here:


Keep up the lifestyle and pat yourself on the back every day for being a heart-healthy individual. Now you can help others do the same and even help save lives!

  1. Advocacy is the process of supporting a cause. If women’s heart health is important to you, raise awareness and get involved in the Go Red For Women cause. Donate time. Send a letter to your congressperson to encourage him/her to cosponsor the HEART for Women Act to raise awareness among women and their healthcare providers.
  2. Tell five women in your workplace, your family and your community about Go Red for Women.
  3. Raise money. Get involved in the American Heart Association’s fundraising activities for education and research related to heart disease and stroke. Visit for information and ideas on ways to get started. Walk with us in the Heart Walk! To join the Go Red for Women team, search “Join a team”, then “American Heart Association” then “Go Red for Women”
  4. Wear red on National Wear Red Day in February and raise funds for American Heart Association efforts to help women by offering educational programs, advancing their understanding about their risk factors for heart disease, and providing tools and motivation to reduce their risk and protect their health.
  5. Shop. Encourage your friends to visit the American Heart Association’s Go Red Shop ( It’s a great way to raise money and awareness for this important issue.
  6. Share your stories from the heart. Share with friends and family and visit to tell people about your accomplishments. Connect with others who choose to be heart healthy. Learn from other women’s experiences and provide support. Sharing your story is a great way to help yourself and others.


Make it YOUR mission to fight heart disease in women by continuously improving your health!


Week 12 Highlights

  • Here are some of the healthy recipes from the participants potluck!

    BU potluck

    Chef Kirsten’s creamy green chicken enchilada casserole:

    BU chicken enchiladas

    Serves 6-8

    2 tsp healthy oil/fat of your choice

    1 lb ground chicken breast, or chopped cubed chicken breasts

    1 onion, chopped

    1 bell pepper, chopped

    3 cloves garlic, minced

    1 pinch Kosher/sea salt

    2 tsp dried chili powder

    2 tsp dried cumin

    2 tsp dried oregano

    1 jar (about 2 cups) all-natural green salsa

    ½ cup lowfat sour cream or plain yogurt

    15 oz canned black beans, rinsed and drained

    12 small corn tortillas

    1 cup lowfat shredded cheese

    Garnishes:  fresh chopped cilantro and/or chopped green onions

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, or you can assemble this in a slow cooker and keep on low for the perfect potluck meal!

    Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, when hot add oil, swirl to coat. Add the chicken, vegetables and seasonings. Cook until golden brown and the chicken is cooked through (I recommend adding the garlic in the last 2-3 minutes of cooking for the most flavor).  Turn off the heat and add the salsa, sour cream and black beans, stir to combine. Place a bit of the mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish or the bottom of the slow cooker. Tear 3 tortillas to fit roughly into the bottom. Add more sauce and the cheese. Continue layering until all of the ingredients have been used up, ending with the sauce and cheese on top. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown, turn on the slow cooker and keep for up to 4 hours, OR freeze at this point to bake later. Serve and enjoy!

    Brandi Aubrey’s Mediterranean chicken, rice and artichoke salad:

     Serves 4

    3 Tb red wine vinegar

    2 Tb olive oil

    ¼ tsp coarsely ground pepper

    1 large clove garlic, pressed or chopped

    3 cups cooked brown long-grain or basmati rice – room temperature or cooler

    1 ½ cups cooked chicken breast, cubed (about 6 oz.)

    ½ cup drained, diced, bottled roasted red bell peppers

    ¼ cup medium pitted ripe olives drained and halved, or kalamata olives pitted and halved

    ¼ cup chopped fresh chives

    ¼ cup chopped fresh basil

    ¼ cup chopped fresh Greek oregano

    14 oz can quartered artichoke hearts, drained well

    In a small bowl combine vinegar, oil, pepper and garlic. Set dressing aside. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add dressing and stir well until blended.

Brandi Aubrey’s Dark Chocolate Stuffed Raspberries – YUM! 

BU Dark chocolate stuffed raspberries

Asian-style dressing for chicken salad

BU Asian sesame lettuce cups

¼ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup sesame oil

2 Tb soy sauce

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 tsp crushed red pepper

Whisk in ¾ cup olive oil.

Makes 1 ¼ cups dressing. This was delicious! Served tossed with chopped cooked chicken, carrots and green onions and served up in lettuce cups.

Sue Ferguson brought this delicious Chicken, Black Bean and Sweet Potato Slow Cooker recipe, from the American Heart Association Slow Cooker Recipe book you can purchase by clicking here. 

BU slow cooker chicken with black beans and sweet potatoes

BU healthy slow cooker

Sue also showed us these wonderful spoons available on They have serving sizes right on them! Find out more here.

BU serving size spoons

Have a wonderful week and congratulations on Week 12 – and a lifetime working on a BetterU!

I want to thank the American Heart Association Puget Sound chapter for this amazing opportunity to watch the participants go through this amazing process. If I can be of any service to you, please contact me over at!

Chef Kirsten Signature

Special thanks to our sponsors:

Verdant Health Commission

Lynnwood Rec center


BetterU – Week 11 Information & Action Steps

Welcome to week 11 of the BetterU Challenge! (New here or want to find out more about this program? Jump back to the week 1 information here!)

Week 11

Week 11 of the BetterU program is focused on living smoke-free and how to quit smoking if you are currently a smoker. Not a smoker? We also have information on how you can support a loved-one that is.

Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  Here’s why.  Factors like high blood pressure can stretch out the arteries and cause scarring. Bad cholesterol, called LDL, often gets lodged in the scar tissue and combines with white blood cells to form clots. The good cholesterol, called HDL, helps keep the LDL from sticking and building up.

Here are some other problems smoking causes

  • Smoking robs you of some of your good cholesterol.
  • Smoking temporarily raises your blood pressure.
  • Smoking increases the blood’s clotting likelihood.
  • Smoking makes it more difficult to exercise.
Choose to Quit Smoking
  • Cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. It accounts for nearly 440,000 of annual deaths.
  • Smokers have a higher risk of developing several chronic disorders such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lung problems), and atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty substances in the arteries).
  • Smoking increases your chances of developing heart disease and stroke.
The Best Path to a BetterU is to Stop Smoking
Even if you don’t smoke, chances are someone you care about does.
The health risks of secondhand smoke (also called environmental tobacco smoke) are well known.
  • About 38,000 deaths are caused by other people’s smoke each year.
  • Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke, and exposure increases a child’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma attacks.
  • Babies born to women who smoke during pregnancy are at higher risk for lower birth weight sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and lung and other health problems.
Smoke Free In Your Community – How Can You Help?
  • Give your support to the efforts recommended by the American Heart Association.
  • Support strong federal laws.
  • Learn more about federal regulation of tobacco and regulation of tobacco as a women’s health issue.
  • Support the establishment of smoke-free workplaces and clean indoor air policies.
  • Support increasing tobacco excise taxes at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Support the funding of tobacco control and prevention programs.
  • For more information on how you can help, click here.
Did You Know?
The AHA encourages women to get involved in health advocacy. You’re the Cure is the advocacy network of people committed to reducing death and disability from heart disease and stroke and a group passionate about tobacco control. Enroll in You’re the Cure.
Quick Quit Tips
Quitting smoking can be one of the best things you can do for your health and the health of your family. But, any change – and smoking in particular – is hard. If you, or someone your love, is committed to quit,here are some tips that can help.
  • Take heart. It may help to know that the health benefits of quitting smoking start almost immediately. Within a few years of quitting the risk of stroke and coronary artery disease are similar to non-smokers.
  • Be prepared. Women are more likely to quit smoking for good if they prepare for two things: 1) the last cigarette and 2) the cravings, urges and feelings that come with quitting.
  • Medication can help. Specific medicines can help people quit smoking when used correctly. Talk to your healthcare provider about the options that may work best for you.
  • Get support. It can help to recruit a support team. Additional support can be found by looking for quit-smoking programs through hospitals, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, or the American Lung Association.
  • Replace the behavior. Women are often concerned about managing stress and weight gain when they stop smoking. There are practical strategies that can help.
  • Learn more about coping with stress when you quit.
  • Learn ways to manage your weight when you quit.
  • Plan for lapses and snapping back. Most women will have an occasional lapse, or slip, which is normal. A lapse does not have to lead into a relapse back to your old habits if you plan ahead for those situations.
  • All of these resource above, as well as where you can get more information about quitting and a plan to help you stop smoking: Click here!
Breathing smoke-free from the American Heart Association
Important to Keep in Mind
Choose to Breathe Smoke Free. Whether you have never smoked or you are a current smoker, there are some steps that you can take to choose to breathe smoke free. Apart from quitting smoking, here are some breathe-better choices:
  • Set your own clean indoor air policies. Do not allow anyone to smoke in your home or car.
  • Identify and support smoke-free restaurants and businesses in your community.
  • Support others in their attempts to quit. Be understanding of how hard it is to quit, give encouragement and support, avoid nagging or being a watchdog and help keep smoking triggers away from ex-smokers.
  • For more information on being a support person, read Tips for Friends and Families of Quitters.

Week 11 Action Items

  • Reflect on how far you have come. Take a look at your food and movement journals and watch as you have increased healthy choices every week!
  • Get a plan ready for week 13 and the rest of your life! What will you begin doing to keep yourself accountable? Do you need some more support? Do you need to take some cooking lessons? Do you want to check out a new workout routine? Get a plan ready for yourself and write it down. 

Week 11 Highlights

  • This past week at the meeting the ladies had their follow-up testing to get the results of what just 11 weeks of healthier choices can make on their health. I saw some happy dances and heard a lot of good news! I also am getting emails from some of the ladies that maybe didn’t have the results they were looking for, but they know why and are ready to get on track. Like we said, this is so individual – it is about YOU. Some of you are fully committed to a complete lifestyle overhaul, some are taking baby steps, some are just ready to get started with the tools and knowledge you now have. No matter where you personally are, ALL of you have made at least some change and any change is a step in the right direction and will lead to longer, healthier lives! Wherever you are, I’m so proud of you. 🙂
  • We also discussed the past 12 weeks, going through what we talked about each week. What a difference these past weeks have made in most of the participants lives! We will have “official” numbers based on the information and a follow-up survey, but having the discussion and hearing the changes they are making was really inspiring. We will have your results compared with your first testing next week!
  • Chef Kirsten’s healthy recipe of the week: Spiced Pumpkin Yogurt & Oat Pancakes! YUM! Click here for the easy recipe and whip up a batch this weekend!

Have a wonderful week and congratulations on Week 11 towards a BetterU!

Chef Kirsten Signature

Special thanks to our sponsors:

Verdant Health Commission

Lynnwood Rec center

BetterU – Week 10 Information & Action Steps

Welcome to week 10 of the BetterU Challenge! (New here or want to find out more about this program? Jump back to the week 1 information here!)

Week 10

Week 10 of the BetterU programis focused on family history.

What is your family history?

Major risk factors: those that research has shown significantly increase the risk of heart disease. The more factors you have, the greater your chances of developing it. Number 3 is the genetics. The first three risk factors we cannot change. The rest we can.

Non-Modifiable – these risk factors cannot be changed:

  1. Age – As we get older, our risk for heart disease increase. From the AHA: About 82 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older. At older ages, women who have heart attacks are more likely than men are to die from them within a few weeks. From the NIH:  This is in part due to the slow build up of plaque inside your heart arteries, which can start in childhood. Before age 55, women have a lower risk for heart disease in part due to estrogen. After the age 55, the risks go up for women and men. A large part of this increase as we age is also from the increase in other risk factors, below.
  2. Gender – From the AHA: Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when women’s death rate from heart disease increases, it’s not as great as men’s. *Heart disease still kills 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 3 men.*
  3. Family history – From the AHA: Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors. Just as you can’t control your age, sex and race, you can’t control your family history.

BetterU family tree

Modifiable – Any person can make changes to these risk factors, even modest improvements to your health will make a big difference. We’ve been focusing on how to help create positive change in all of these areas through the BetterU program:

4.  High blood cholesterol

5. High blood pressure

6. Physical inactivity

7. Obsesity and overweight

8. Smoking

9. Diabetes

From the AHA: “Am I making an effort or making excuses?”  I grew up with a family history of heart disease. I always heard the phrase “It’s how we all are, we have a high rate of heart disease.” Genetics do play a role in determining your risk factors for heart disease, stroke and your health in general.  Some of us are genetically predisposed. Do you have a family history of these health issues in family members that are the pictures of health, or perhaps born with heart conditions? Then living a healthy lifestyle is extremely important. Heart disease may be in your genes, but healthy habits can help you and your family avoid the risks.

More often than not, a family history of heart disease, stroke and other health issues come from an unhealthy lifestyle that is being handed down generation to generation.  Do you have a family history of these health issues in family members that may be overweight or obese, smokers, eat an unhealthy diet, have lack of exercise or have stressful lives? Then living a healthy lifestyle is extremely important. I know this is the case for me.

When the phrase “It’s how we all are, we have a high rate of heart disease.” was made, it was almost as an excuse for “how we were”: overweight, living an unhealthy sedentary and high stress lifestyle. Dr. Siecke made that point in week 7 when introducing the topic, I mentioned that my family had a large rate of high cholesterol. He asked “do they also have a high rate of obesity and eating unhealthy?” I, like many Americans, had previously used this as an excuse for how I was, almost accepting my fate that I would too get heart disease and that it was something I couldn’t control. My health and the health of my family was largely under our control. We just had to make some lifestyle changes.

Common excuses – These are the top barriers named from a recent survey of visitors to the American Heart Association website:

If I have a family history, what can I do about it?


According to the AHA:  Your family history provides a picture of the environment and genetics in place when these diseases occurred. “You can’t counteract your genetics,” Dr. Kraus said, and so if you have a history you must do what you can to change your environment. That means lowering your risk by changing behaviors that can increase your chances of getting heart disease or stroke. “It’s good, healthy living – the more that can be ingrained in your family, the more impact it has,” Dr. Kraus said. “A patient should encourage better eating habits, physical activity and eliminating smoking.”

Being a part of the BetterU health challenge and implementing the tools and knowledge into your new healthy lifestyle means YOU are reducing your risk factors! According to the AHA: Just because your family has a history of cardiovascular disease, does not mean that you will certainly have the same diseases, it just means that you are more likely to have them. Disease is not imminent, and your health can be controlled by making lifestyle changes. Even modest improvements to your health will make a big difference. Implement a new action step from the BetterU program every week, or improve upon them continually. You are doing a wonderful job at lowering your risks for heart disease by continually improving your lifestyle!


Make health YOUR family’s priority: Let’s start creating new healthier branches on the family tree!


  • Put your health first. Many women use the excuse of putting the needs of their family first as a way to rationalize not making healthy choices. Or, they simply don’t think about themselves at all. It is important that family members see you taking time to exercise or slowing down to enjoy a healthy meal. Remember, you cannot take care of others without taking care of you.
  • Be a role model. Like it or not, your habits influence your family and friends. Make a commitment to do the health habits that you want to see in your family. When it comes to health, it is important to practice what you preach. If it’s better for you, it’s better for your family.
  • Become a heart-healthy family. Incorporate the following activities into your family’s schedule:

*Set aside time for everyone to get moving together, take walks, ride bikes or garden.

*Limit screen time. Unplug from computers, phones, television and video games.

*Involve all family members in planning and preparing meals. Try new recipes and modify old favorites to be heart-healthy.

*Make mealtime family time. Focus on being together and encourage conversation. Set an example of eating slowly and with awareness. Everyone can develop good eating habits together and the quality time with the family will be an added bonus.

*Find fun ways to educate kids about heart health. Incorporate health into vocabulary words, science projects, crafts… the possibilities are endless.

*Ensure that each family member receives good healthcare including preventive exams and check-ups.

*Get involved. The Start! Heart Walk, Jump Rope for Heart and other active fund-raising events provide good opportunities for families to practice heart-healthy behaviors and support education and research on heart disease and stroke.

*Join the American Heart Association in their efforts to combat childhood obesity. Learn more about the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (  to help kids and families get healthy.

For more information about family history, head over to the AHA site, here.  


Week 10 Action Items

Action steps for Week 10:

    • Fill out your family health tree to get a visual of your family history: There is one in the BetterU program book in Week 10 for you, or you can fill one out online, here:
    • Consider registering for a CPR certification class if you’re not already. Click here to find a location near you.  At the very least check out the great videos available here. Show your kids too, everyone should know how to do compressions…it could save a life.
  • Keep up the AMAZING work! 150 minutes of physical activity, logging your healthy meals and choices, keep on patting yourself on the back!


Week 10 Highlights

  • This week we had paramedic Dave Matthews from the Lynnwood Fire Department give a CPR demonstration for us. This information was incredibly valuable as many of us did not have any training, or hadn’t had any for years. Thanks so much for your service Mr. Matthews!


  • Kirsten’s recipe of the week: Two-for-one heart healthy slow cooker meals! Make Slow Cooked Beef Provencal the first day, then the following night turn the planned leftovers into French Country Beef and Lentil Soup! Here is the recipe!

Have a wonderful week and congratulations on Week 10 towards a BetterU!

Chef Kirsten Signature

Special thanks to our sponsors:

Verdant Health Commission

Lynnwood Rec center