Shan Cooper chats about exercise and shares her stunning Key Lime Tart recipe.

By Amy Crawford

Exercise. I'm sure some most wonder if I do it, because let's be honest I've not yet touched on it. There's a reason for that - it's the anticipation of the can of worms that may spill forth when I do! In short, the fact is I do exercise though certainly not with the same intensity that I did pre-diagnosis. Mine has been a very slow and steady, paced exercise plan (that for a Type A personality has proved nothing short of frustrating). But more on that another day.

To kick off the exercise theme I have invited one of my very favourite 'instagrammers' (@myfoodreligion) and a daily source of food and exercise inspiration Shan Cooper to share her thoughts on health, exercise and a darn good recipe! Shan is the fit foodie behind My Food Religion.  This lady is nothing short of inspirational - her food, her motivation, her energy, her passion. All of it. It's totally infectious. So without further ado...

Great to have you here Shan! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Thanks for having me! I will stick to quick facts as I have a tendency to go off on random tangents. I am a wife, mother to a Great Dane called Astro, love cooking, eating, training & have an unhealthy obsession with coconut in all it's forms. I sometimes get "Hangry" (hungry x angry) if I am without food, it's not pretty, there are tears, sometimes I cry too. My "real job", the one that pays me money, is in animal health, I love it but not as much as I love food & fitness.

There is no question that you are super fit and take great care of yourself. Have you always taken great care of your health or was there a pivotal point where you very consciously changed your habits?
I have always been very active. If there was a sport to play, I'd give it a crack. I'd go as far as to say that through my late teens/early 20's I was a terrible "over trainer". I'd train twice a day, for hours, I did not eat nearly enough food, I was constantly injured, I was skinny but I had no muscle mass. I ate "low fat" everything and would eat an entire packet of lollies in one sitting to fuel the exercise. I was addicted to sugar. When I met my husband, about 5 years ago, and actually started to do a lot more research into nutrition (he used lecture on nutrition at a number of RTO's), things changed. I started training less & smarter. I started really experimenting with food. I started eating more fat. I quit sugar. I got leaner, stronger & fitter. I started challenging my body. I started lifting heavy weights and doing less cardio.

Could you give us a typical day in the life of Shan? 
I love routine. Probably to a fault. I get royally pi$$ed off when things disrupt my plans. Because of this my days look pretty much the same. 6am is normally the start of my day- hop up & walk the dog, home, brekkie, work, train, create some dinner, hang out with my awesome husband, off to bed generally by 9.30pm. I love to sleep and I never train more than an hour- usually 40mins is the max! Go hard then go home.

What are you truly passionate about - what lures you out of bed in the morning on a chilly day (and don't say burpees because I'll brand you a iiar )
Fig and pistachio quinoa porridge would lure me.... Definitely NOT burpees!!! FOOD - The only reason I get up in the morning (apart from the giant dog staring into my face) is to cook and eat! I am constantly thinking about new food I can create, new flavors, people I can feed. I love learning about food, nutrition and fitness. That is my passion. Once I am fed, then I start thinking about what punishment I can inflict on my body... What new exercises I can try & master? Handstand push-up's are the current challenge. I love learning new techniques, ways of training & functional exercises.

You have two fantastic and popular blogs that must keep you very busy, My Food Religion and My Fit Religion. Can you tell us a little bit about these and what motivated you to establish these blogs?
These were both created to share the love & the passion that I (and Trav) have for fitness and nutrition. One without the other is moot. Obesity is now an epidemic. Nutrition & Exercise both contribute to reversing that epidemic... If these blogs can help one person I care about live a happier, healthier, with a better quality life, then we have done our job. If someone would like to pay me to cook & train all day, that would be fine too! ;)

My Food Religion is healthy, creative recipes along with my random ramblings - they are all clean, nutritious and wholesome foods that nourish our bodies. My Fit Religion followed this to help people get enthusiastic and educated about fitness. It is about providing challenges (COW's-Challenge Of the Week) for people to start, continue, or excel in their fitness journey. We have weekly Food COW's & Fit COW's to do and hopefully it is helping to teach, motivate and help people train smarter and make better food choices.

From your experience training with people either recovering from illness or commencing an exercise program for the first time, what is typically the greatest challenge they face in your view?
The biggest hurdle anyone, whether they are recovering from illness, a period of inactivity, weight issues or anything else, is not going to be their body, it will be their mind. Our bodies are quite remarkable things and can actually endure far more than we think. Our minds, our self-talk, our negativity, our impatience, our lack of confidence, are what will stall the process. Having unrealistic goals and timeframes will also just set you up for disappointment. I suggest goals that are strength or fitness based, NOT weight related. Scales don't tell the whole truth. Take a photo at the start of your journey so you can reflect in the following months and see how far you have come and be proud of the small and big achievements.

What advice would you give someone who is starting out?
First up, stop making excuses and make your health a top priority. We all have the same number of hours in our day, we just make different priorities. If I am 100% honest with myself, my top 2 priorities are my family & my health. If your health is not in your top priorities, it should be. Good genes are only going to get you so far, at some point, they will NOT be enough. You will get fat or you will get sick, or both, it's not an 'IF' it's a 'WHEN'.

Get the all clear from your GP/physio/witch doctor and know your limitations to START. Try lots of different activities/sports/training types. Find out what you actually LIKE doing. Just because you can run, doesn't mean you should. If you find something you love, you will actually do it without having to struggle mentally to get out of bed for it. I think everyone should do some form of strength training, it is good for our entire body & mind. Train smart, 20 mins of high intensity weight training will kick a$$ on a 10km run any day.

Speak to a trainer that as been recommended to you by someone you trust & who has achieved results that you are impressed with. Be clear & realistic about your goals & make sure you know WHY you are doing this? What is your motivation? Write it down. 'Get skinny' is NOT a good goal. 'Be able to do an unassisted chin-up by the end of the year' is an excellent one. Word of warning.... Not all PT's were created equal. There are some total Muppets out there. Seek someone who obviously practices what they preach...

Be kind to yourself, you will not be an athlete in a week. Go gently and be nice to your body, it is the only place you have to live. Negative self talk & beating yourself up will not get you anywhere. Focus on what you CAN do now and be awesome at that.

Shan's Key Lime Tart

These Key Lime Tarts are one of my favorite desserts of all! I don't even know what to say except that these are the BOMB! They are super low in sugar (only a few fresh dates!) and are beautiful enough to serve at a dinner party. Enjoy!

Crust Ingredients:
1 cup walnuts (you can sub for macadamias if you like)
4 fresh dates (for a sugar-free version sub dates for 1 tbs coconut oil and a pinch stevia)

Place walnuts and dates into a food processor and pulse till combined. Take crust mixture and spoon into your mini cheesecake pans (or one large pie pan) and press into the pan. Bake for 10mins at 180C or until just starting to brown. Remove and set aside. You don't actually have to bake this- you can have them as 'raw' tarts if you like. I made a couple of raw ones too.

Filling ingredients:
2 1/3 cup cashews (soak the cashews in water for a few hours prior)
1/3 cup coconut butter (you can use coconut oil if you don't have butter but reduce to 1/4 cup)
Stevia to taste (you can add 1/2 cup maple/agave instead if you like)
1/2 -3/4 cup fresh lime juice (start with 1/2 and see if you want more tang)
2-3 tablespoons lime zest (depending on how 'Limey' you like it)
1/2 cup coconut cream
2 kaffir lime leaves, bruised (to bruise- roll them up and whack them a few times with the blunt end if your knife)
Extra zest to decorate

In a small saucepan add lime juice, lime leaves, zest, coconut butter, coconut cream and stevia and heat over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 mins. Remove lime leaves and set mix aside. Drain water off cashews and pop them in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Add saucepan mix and blitz again until all combined.

Spoon lime filling on top of your crust in your mini cheesecake pans and sprinkle with extra lime zest. Pop back into the oven at 180C for 10-15 mins until just browning at the edges. Remove, allow to cool and pop in the fridge for a few hours to set. Once again, if you want a 'raw' tart you can skip this baking bit and just pop them straight into the fridge to set.

Once set, gently remove from tart shells and serve.



February 12 2013

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