Get a Life! Do Boot Camp with Laura Downing and Ditch the Self-Judgement

Most friendships start with a common interest or a shared passion, but my friendship with Laura Collins Downing started with Desperation: I needed to fit into a dress.  I was barely eating yet getting larger and larger. I did not know what was happening to me, but I was NOT going to settle for “it’s an age thing”.   

I know a million gorgeous, strong and radiant women in their 50’s.  Just because a woman is close to 50 doesn't mean she is doomed to a life of misery and Mom Jeans.   I only wanted to lose weight, but instead I found in Laura a biochemistry teacher, health coach, spiritual seeker, psychologist, motivational sports trainer, comedian and cheerleader all wrapped up in one. Lucky me, Laura Collins Downing really is all that, and more: she’s an awesome friend, too.

The second-to-youngest of nine children, Laura grew up in the Berkshires, moved away and then moved back in 2012. Her parents were also "born and bred" in the Berkshires.  Her father, Bernard, was a veterinarian and, like Laura, was the eighth child of nine. Together, he and Laura's mom Ann [nee O'Connell] ran Collins Veterinary Hospital from their 36 acre family home in Lee, [which had been the summer home to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands].

Laura's parents instilled in their children a sense of fun, hard work and meaning and their little army of nine knew how to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They all learned from an early age how to pitch in and put others - and animals - first. If you look at all of them today, you can see it still holds true, and that's possibly the greatest legacy any parents could hope to achieve.

Health and Fitness are a part of Laura's DNA as much as her Destiny.  In 1980, she was the first-ever graduate from Lee High School to earn all twelve Varsity letters [in field hockey, basketball, softball].  She's been in the health and fitness industry for 28 years, and loves what she’s doing. There is a perfect give-and-take to her life that offers her a chance to learn from others as well as to teach and inspire others to adopt new ways to find health and wellness.

Laura and me, after a 10 mile morning pilgrimage in France

Laura and me, after a 10 mile morning pilgrimage in France

Seems there is always a line outside her door.  Laura thrives in high gear so it's no wonder she bought a house right in the center of things, directly across from the Morris Elementary School. She doesn't even flinch over the morning school-run back ups blocking her drive and enjoys watching the summer Tanglewood traffic stream by.  There is a reason so many of us find our way to Laura. As a health coach, fitness instructor, and owner of Ideal Protein Weight Loss Clinic in Lenox, MA, she’s very good at what she does.

She makes sense out of the madness of losing weight. I use ‘madness’ lightly, but think about it – helping people change what they do, what they eat, and how they look at themselves and their relationship with food is nothing short of performing a frontal lobotomy. Laura gives dietary ‘lobotomies’ AND makes it fun. Now, that’s a rare gift.

From the moment you walk into Laura's “office” - a large farmer’s table in her front room - you immediately inhale the spirit of “I can.”

On your first visit, Laura spends time going through the science of the Ideal Protein Plan and how it applies to you. You leave with a powerful image of the 3 energy tanks that fuel the human body – SUGAR, FAT, and PROTEIN. Our bodies burn sugar first. When there is no sugar left to burn, then we will burn fat because fat burns faster than protein.  It’s important to keep your protein tank full so the body burns the fat off, not the muscle.

OK. Got it. Now, let’s rock ‘n roll!

1)     Empty the sugar tank [and keep it empty]

2)    Fill up the protein tank

3)    Watch the fat tank empty. *

* To illustrate this, Laura has 5lb and 20lb ‘weights,’ disgusting chunks of blubber on the table for people to pinch and get an even better image of the fat they are shedding. She also has a more palatable 20lb bag of winter Ice Melter for you to lift. It’s an amazing, albeit awkward correlation.

It’s one thing to read up on different diets, but it’s another thing entirely to read up and then know exactly which diet is best for you. That's why I needed help and Laura was THE person to make sense of it and to help me turns things around. Turns out, I wasn't eating enough. My metabolism had shut done. Now here's the kicker: on the new diet I would be required to eat more than I ever had before. At the end of the eight weeks, I didn't just lose 20 pounds, I gained my life back, and I am never going to let it go. I LOVE MY LIFE! 

Find out what is TOXIC to your system. 

Find out what is TOXIC to your system. 

“Gained my life back”? Through Laura’s help I was able to discover the single most important thing on my journey to wellness: sugar augments my pain.  The correlation was so obvious yet profoundly difficult to reach. I would never have discovered it on my own. When my sugar tank emptied, my pain went away. It was a most welcomed signpost on my way-too-confusing journey to wellness, one that I had not expected to see. What a relief to know that the cause of my pain was not something "big" like my PTSD or Hypothyroidism. It's just SUGAR, and I can control how much of it I allow into my system. 


Who knew a diet could be fun?! Laura’s optimism is ridiculously contagious. When you walk in the room, she lights up and blasts you with a glorious compliment. Immediately you feel good and relaxed about getting on the scale.  She’s the same when teaching a fitness class. She calls attention to what is positive in everyone there.  She will shout out your name and celebrate your strength, and because she celebrates you, it sends ripples out and everyone else in the class gives a subliminal, sweaty nod to you, too.

It's all about you. Remarkably outgoing and upbeat, Laura is surprisingly shy and has a superhuman ability to deflect attention away from her so that it shines back on to others.  When you take one of her turbo-charged classes at Lenox Fitness you can’t miss her. Her bright neon sportswear and headbands are rallying calls to Boot Camp. The class is packed and everyone is psyched for the hour of hard-core training because they know they are going to get something out of it – STRENGTH.

From the moment Laura switches on her headset and starts the class, the focus is on YOU. While she moves around the class, she keeps you focused and "in your zone."  While you're sweating to the JNL* [*Jennifer Nicole Lee] battle cries of ‘Strong is the New Skinny,’ and ‘Kiss my Abs,’ Laura bounces through exercises as though weightless and skipping down the lane with a balloon in her hand. 

Laura cracks jokes and reassures the boys that if they are wobbly with their balance they might be getting their period and reminds the ladies to wear a wee-wee pad for the jumping jacks. It’s hilarious. It’s also amazing to watch her in action and think: “Wow she is a really good teacher. I am lucky I found her. ” You don’t ever once think “oh, she is so strong. I will never be fit like her.” Laura keeps your focus right where it should be: on you, beautiful you.

No Judgement. Laura is an effective motivator in and out of class. She encourages everyone to ditch the self-judgment.  It gets in the way of everything. And she’s right.  Everyone knows I've never been to the gym, and the only weights I lift are grocery bags. I prefer to be outdoors, but Laura inspired me to push myself beyond my comfort zone and try her JNL* Fusion class at Lenox Fitness.  

JNL focuses on eight 3-minute “cycles” that are half cardio, half strength with one-minute breaks in between. Up until 3 weeks ago, I was too frightened to take an intense fitness class. Fearing my core was not strong enough, I avoided all things “muscle-y” thinking they might trigger my fibromyalgia or give me "Earl Campbell thighs," but years doing Pilates paid off. JNL Fusion did not leave me in pain for days. I was sore, but in a very good way. 

Shiny Happy Good Girls after one of Laura's class

Shiny Happy Good Girls after one of Laura's class

Whether she’s teaching a class or weighing you, Laura always focuses on the positive. Through her constructive example, you learn to look at the process of losing weight less as a schedule to follow and more as a script to learn. Soon, looking after your health becomes more natural. You learn to love your body for what it is and forgive it for what it is not.  You learn to stop and feed yourself throughout the day. You no longer blow through your body’s need to be nourished. You no longer skip meals and soon you choose to eat well. Nothing is more important than nourishing our bodies and minds. When we are strong and healthy, we live and love completely.

Laura really does stop and chill. Here she is, journalling in France and in the shade at  Le Lac du Verdon

Laura really does stop and chill. Here she is, journalling in France and in the shade at Le Lac du Verdon

Life gets hectic and sometimes we forget to eat or we don’t eat the right things.  We all need to learn how to stop and listen to our bodies and make the time to care for ourselves. I look back and wonder how I allowed myself to push to the side something so critical to life as eating the right things in the right way. Seriously, how does that happen? Like many, I was wrapped up in a rhythm of choices that breathlessly rushed me from one thing to the next, never nourishing only depleting.


Working through an effective diet plan with Laura reversed all that for me. The experience empowered me to change the rhythm of my life - to stop and eat, to slow down to make unhurried, healthy choices so that I could reclaim my health and my life - in that order. Once fueled with awareness [and Protein], I could take ownership of my bright and happy future. 

Eating well in France [Laura has just biked a million miles on this day. We didn't] 

Eating well in France [Laura has just biked a million miles on this day. We didn't] 

We are all different, but when it comes to weight loss, “whatever works best for you” is the greatest common denominator. It doesn’t really matter what plan you choose to follow as long as the process improves your understanding and acceptance of what your body needs.

A diet is a course of action that teaches you healthy patterns of self-care as part of a no-longer-dysfunctional relationship with food. No wonder the French call it "le regime". For me, Laura Collins Downing coupled with The Ideal Protein Plan was exactly what I needed. When I started the diet, I was only thinking about a dress. I had no idea I would get a life, too.

I am forever grateful to my dear friend Laura Collins Downing whose humor, sound advice and knowledge brought me back to a place of happiness and strength and showed me that I really could have a life and live well without pain.

Sometimes you just have to slow down, to get a life. Go, Good Girl, Go!

Dirty Filthy Farmgirls: Grounded and Digging Deeper

By Carolann Patterson

I haven't always eaten kale. In fact, I rarely ate my greens. Admitting that sounds like a confession. It wasn't until I was so desperate to feel better that I was willing to try anything new, but I still had my doubts...I wasn't yet convinced that changing my diet really could change my life. [How ridiculously unenlightened could I be?]

CA and Trub 5.jpg

Before being diagnosed with hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia, I had already changed to a gluten-free diet just to see if it would help... and it did, but it wasn't enough. I was only scratching the surface and needed to dig deeper and learn more.  I began reading more books and articles and listening to good advice from knowledgeable friends. I then transitioned from a merely gluten-free diet to a full-on organic, anti-inflammatory, low-glycemic diet. 

No amount of reading prepared me for the life-changing results I received... the ability to move without pain; to wake with optimism; to fall asleep in a daze of gratitude for a day well spent; and to sleep unburdened... all these were precious gifts restored to me. I embraced them all and wrapped them in the newfound joy of being able to move my body again and to live for days without constant, debilitating pain.

Profoundly grateful for the nourishment that enabled my body to repair and recover, I didn't just want to buy organic, I wanted to learn what it meant to be organic...and so I asked my friend Kyra Hart if she could indulge my quest.  Kyra alongside her husband, Matty, farm at Overmeade Farm, the Hart family farm in Lenox, Massachusetts.  Their crops are Authentically Grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides and are grown with cover crops and green manures, through crop rotation and soil management.

What I learned from 2 days farming with Kyra and Matty surprised and awakened me beyond my expectations.  At the outset my approach was straightforward: I was going to perform an act of physical labor and to learn some really useful things along the way. Nothing signaled to me in advance that I would receive a spiritual wake up call, a veritable "lightening bolt" not from Heaven Above but from the ground beneath my feet.

The beauty of farming with Kyra is that a day follows its natural rhythm. Mother Nature is in the driver's seat and what could be more natural than starting the day off with a Fire Cider shot and bringing my son AND my dog to work with me!? No make up. No high heals and no internal-maternal struggle. As my son, Allott, headed off for riding camp in the Overmeade barn, I met up with Kyra and her 3 year old daughter, Zofia, and together with my dog Trouble, we made our way to the lower fields.

We emerged from the track into the wide-open glory of the fields and an uninterrupted blue sky above. Kyra parked the car and set up the big red sun umbrella, while I did a 360 turn to take it all in, noting the red umbrella as the only flash of color amongst the deep earth tones and greens.  In an instant, I could feel myself exhale and release. 

The first thing to strike me was how incredibly neat and tidy all the rows of vegetables were. Added to which, there was no fence in sight. I asked Kyra how she kept the fields so beautifully maintained without a fence and her answer was profoundly simple: "we replant. and some times we replant again. and some times we replant again."

Replant. Replant. Replant: a profound take-away from the day. I have thought about this ever since - that no matter what kind of life we lead, the ground can always shift beneath our feet, and quite literally for Kyra, who needs to go to bed each night with a working knowledge of which way the wind is blowing in order to prepare for the next day.  There's a reason they call it a Farmers' Almanac, and not a Bankers' Almanac...but the truth is, whether you are a farmer or a Wall Street banker, we all need to learn at times how to adapt and redefine how we go about doing things in order to yield a crop and put food on the table.

Zoe is an amazing little girl and held her own in the heat.  The sweetest assignment was picking snap peas and eating them with Zoe, all of us talking as we moved down the tangled line of greens. I was equally charmed by the Coleman hoes we used to carve weeds gently out from under and around the baby lettuce heads.  Kyra told me how Eliot Coleman, the now famous Maine homesteader, had developed sharp, narrow tips to insert on long or short handles.  Kyra cleans and sharpens her blades each night.  It is interesting to see how Mr. Coleman's definition of "organic" has shifted over the years to "authentic."

As I researched Mr. Coleman, I was easily side-tracked when I discovered that his daughter, Melissa Coleman, had written a book on her family's life homesteading in the yet untamed environs of Maine. This Life is in your Hands is one of the best books I have read in a very, very long time. Ms. Coleman is a gifted writer whose prose are both lyrical and level


While I have no desire to romanticize farming, I can say with confidence that there is nothing so grounding [actually] as getting dirty and "feeling green" all around you. Yes, of course it is Romantic [just read Thoreau] but Farming is about so much more than what we choose to put in our mouth; or what we choose to plant; and how we choose to plant it. It is bloody hard work but it's also one of THE most natural things we could ever do - growing our own food with our own hands and actually connecting with the earth.

I've never been one for the gym, and after a back-breaking day pulling garlic, the concept of going to the gym seems even more absurd: all that energy leaving our bodies and not going anywhere, and not making anything. There is no better place to find strength and to make ourselves strong than when we are closer to Nature. But Farming is no easy or convenient thing - if it were, we would all be doing it... Farming is a temperamental beast elusive practice that is part beauty, part pain; part  bounty, part loss; part planned, part unpredictable; part sorrow, part joy. 

But in less than one week, farming [with a little 'f'] showed me that I could find so much happiness just by taking time to do a whole lot more with my hands and seeing a whole lot more with my eyes. If I could re-jig my life and make time for this hands-on approach to life, I could live more fully and breathe more deeply. I took this lesson with me, from the Overmeade fields and into my home and witnessed how magical and transformative it is to apply this approach to practically every thing I do...Like many people out there, I am Slow Living

And that means: no more rushing around for me. Now that I am healthy again, I plan to stay healthy and that means taking time to read labels on food; learning how to make good choices about the food I buy [i.e, just because it's gluten free doesn't automatically mean that the level of sugar is healthy for me]; and learning how best to prepare certain foods. 

But it also means no more multi-tasking. My to-do list is now an Un-Do list and it will take years to work through it. My phone is always turned off from the time I help my son with his homework after school until the next morning when we are making breakfast and packing lunches for my husband and my son. It's also turned off when I am walking our dogs, "hanging" with friends, and visiting with my elderly mother. I need that quiet to be present and engaged with what ever I am doing...I don't want one thing more to get in the way or pull me away from what I am doing and experiencing "right here.right now." 

Whatever I am doing, l needed to learn how to slow things down and to make time to be in touch with my life. The more nurturing and nourishing things I do for myself and for my loved ones, the deeper my life will be and the stronger, more able I will be when the ground shifts beneath my feet. And the ground always shifts, no matter where you are standing.  From now on, it's Hands-On!

Some times, you just gotta' slow down and live slow...

Source: /farmgirls