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Gina Lemke is Fighting Muffin Top—With Muffins

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Gina Lemke is the founder of Mind Your Muffin, a local company that makes sweet treats with about every single accreditation a health nut could ask for. When we chatted with Lemke for a Fitness Week profile, she told us about her treats and where to order them, sure; but she also filled us in on where to work out, which local grocery stores are the best, and her take on juicing.

What started as a conversation about muffins led to a primer on leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle in Chicago—even on days when you have the flu or, you know, can't leave the house due to extreme-weather conditions. Read on for some powerful tips on kicking off your New Year in the healthiest way possible (with plenty of sweet treats on the side.)

First thing's first: Tell us all about your muffins!
We have eight flavors of muffins and another delicious treat called the Almond Cave Bite. The cave bite has all the nutritious qualities of the muffins but is also paleo, gluten-free, grain-free and contains healthy omega 3s. At the moment, these are my go-to treat. This may have something to do with the fact they are the newest addition to Mind Your Muffin Co.'s product line! The bites really fill you up and provide a great amount of energy, making them perfect pre-workout fuel.

What was the development process like for your products?
I was, and still am, engrossed in health-related research and learning the inner workings of the food and beverage industry. I love research. I am a nerd in that way and any chance I get I am eyeballs deep in it.

Developing the Mind Your Muffin recipes took some time and my kitchen did turn into a food laboratory for awhile, but the results were well worth it! When I think back to all the food experimentation, there was a ton of sampling. I remember hearing a bit of concern in my boyfriend's voice as I'm sure he was thinking I was going to start putting on the pounds. Honestly, the thought crossed my mind as I was developing flavors of the muffin. I was eating about eight muffins daily for well over a month. I did increase my daily exercise to help with excess calories and kept my weight in check! As I began receiving orders and requests to cater small events, I knew I had created a line of truly unique healthful sweet treats and this was how I could impact the most people.

What gave you the courage to turn your passion into a career?
I worked two career paths for awhile. One was my full-time day job in the financial industry, and the second was what I truly looked forward to. I used my evenings and weekends to consult with individuals and families on nutrition, exercise, and how to lead a healthy lifestyle in our fast-paced culture. I spoke at small group settings about the same, educating and sharing my personal experiences.

My plan was that I would make the leap and fully commit to my dream job once my potential impact in the health and nutrition industry was greater than my potential impact in the financial industry. It took several years for this to happen. I knew I had stumbled upon it when I realized I had something truly unique that the market needed and was not seeing. The demand for a true, good-for-you, no-exception sweet treat was not available and the demand was growing. It was time.

For someone else who wants to pursue a passion that may seem bold or scary, what advice would you offer?
Make a plan. Do as much research as you can prior to completely cutting ties with your current career. Attend industry functions and events. Do not form hypotheses about whether or not trying something will be beneficial. Just do it and collect the data. Go out of your way to meet people who are in that industry. Make a business plan—a good one—and bring it to someone you trust to give you truthful criticism. You need that. One last thing: make an exit strategy if your passion does not end up working out. Do not burn bridges. Honesty is a great way to keep former business relationships alive.

What are some of your diet staples—apart from muffins, of course?
I always try to make sure I have beets, cauliflower, almonds, chia seeds and sunflower seeds near me. What I love about these five foods is they all can be eaten raw if I'm in a hurry! I am obsessed with cauliflower rice. I will make three heads worth of the rice using coconut oil and garlic, and keep it in the fridge to eat over the next couple days. Other foods I enjoy regularly are guacamole and coconut. Lately, I make a paleo gluten-free coconut "oatmeal" for breakfast and enjoy it with a chocolate muffin. The coconut "oatmeal" is quick and easy to make check out the recipe here.

I also enjoy juicing. I am not a fan of the commercially prepared juices available, as I find there is too much sugar. I go to Chicago Health Food on Maple Street for their freshly pressed juice because I'm able to customize the ingredients. I did write a couple blog posts on juicing, including one of my experiences with Blue Print Cleanse.

What's your personal philosophy on wellness and self-care?
Before entering the healthy living industry, it was rare during the course of my workday to meet people who were truly into health. I met many people looking for dieting tips, but not health or nutrition advice per se. The only health and nutrition advice taken was if it was attached to weight loss. This thought process between weight loss and health is a huge problem in our society. So many people look for a quick fix to enhance their appearance. I believe there would not be such a high rate of tipping scales across America if people considered their health and what actions they could take to make them feel better rather than only look better.

What are your personal musts for leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle
Oh goodness. There are a few things that I believe are key. You definitely need a routine: think long-term here. Not just with exercise, but with eating and sleeping as well. If you find yourself not quite in a routine just yet, try a daily journal to help get there. I found that if I had to jot down my daily activities, including eating and sleeping, I was more likely to stick to a routine. And remember, change is hard. If you have an extreme personality like I do, try not to change everything all at once as you are likely to burn out quickly and resort to old habits. This brings me to my second "must" for leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle - have a plan!

You need a plan for when you veer from your routine. This will happen! You may be traveling for work or vacationing in locations that don't have your healthy food options or fitness studios. Or, you may become ill for a day or two so you're off your game. Make a plan for when something like this happens so not to let more than three consecutive off days go by. You must make a contract with yourself that is non-negotiable, otherwise you will find an excuse to put off getting back on track. You have to make the choice to commit to your health and have a plan in order to maintain. Lastly, surround yourself with like-minded people!

Indeed, it's cold and flu season. So how should people behave if they come down with something?
Here's an example of a plan for when the unexpected illness comes up: If you need to, take two days off from rigorous exercise, but maintain daily stretching activities and keep up with your regular eating or sleeping. If day three approaches and you still feel ill, take a long walk—preferably outdoors. Use a foam roller to massage muscles.


What are the best local grocery stores?
The only grocery stores I frequent in Chicago are Whole Foods and Plum Market. I would like to check out Mariano's and Mrs. Green's Natural Market soon.

Where do you work out in Chicago?
Chicago has so many great fitness options! You really cannot get bored. A couple places in Chicago have made exercising an easy part of my routine. These have been Bikram yoga at Bikram Yoga River North,Go Cycle, and The Bar Method's Loop location. These are all great fitness studios that have helped me maintain a healthy lifestyle over the last few years.

Finally, where can people order the muffins?
We are working on a local delivery and pickup page for the website, and expect it to be completed at the end of this month! In the meantime, local Chicago delivery and pickup are available. Just send us a quick message via Facebook, email us or give us a call. And if If you're looking for suggestions for convenient healthy travel snacks, Mind Your Muffin Co. can definitely help out with that! We have snack travel bags that are resealable and reusable. I had nearly 30 of these travel bags filled with muffins and almond cave bites in my car and a couple in my purse to get me through the holiday season.
· Mind Your Muffin [Official Site]
· Real Foods Lady [Wordpress]
· Welcome to Fitness Week 2014 [Racked Chicago]