My Interview with the SkinLess Project

The SkinLess Project presents:
Inspirational Woman May 2014: Ayesha Akhtar
An Interview.

I was honored to be the “Inspirational Woman” for the month of May at the SkinLess Project. To hear more about my endeavors, check out the website here.

You are passionate about advocacy for women and young girls, where does this stem from?

In college (Loyola University Chicago) I received a scholarship into a 4 year women’s leadership program. I knew I was some version of a feminist (or a proponent of the advancement of women), but had no idea about the passion the program would ignite in me by the time I graduated. Thereafter, I viewed everything from the lens as an advocate for women and girls. (Check out the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership)


Sifting through protein powders

Hi all! I am asked frequently on the brand of protein powder I use. I thought I’d take a moment to write up some of my favorites.

I’ll try anything once (after careful consideration of course)! Over the last several years I’ve tried: Vega, Perfect Fit Protein, Drink Svelte, Muscle Milk (ready to drink), and most recently, GnarlyI’m going to outline them for you below, and I’d love to hear your comments or experiences with any of these!

Let’s begin by understanding what you DON’T want in your protein powder. This will help you sift through dozens.  Most of this should be self-explanatory. As always, conduct your own research, particularly on Carrageenan. I am not a fan, and I switched off the varying almond milks (Almond Breeze) that used it because I noticed my stomach always hurt after I would drink it. I normalized that feeling until I did some research on the thickening agent and decided to ditch it for good. Don’t be fooled by natural and organic products either – I’ve found it in Horizon Organic chocolate milk..

I grabbed this great meme from CalNaturale, they make Drink Svelte (read about them below). Continue reading

The Birthday Workout!


The Aquarian

Year two of the ‘birthday workout’ was today! I turned 38 and after my morning ‘total body’ class, I went to hit the iron at 38 reps each. I love this circuit because it’s ridiculous, it’s hard and it makes you stronger. I did this last year with great satisfaction, challenge and joy. This year was no different! And the fact that this year I am studying to become a personal trainer, this challenge became more meaningful to me in a way.

This is what my trainer friend and I designed for me (the focus was low weight, muscle isolation). Unfortunately the squat bar was being work on so we had to go to plan B. Since Tuesday was a hard leg day, today’s focus was not on heavy weights:

  • 38 reps single leg split squat (no weight)
  • 38 second wall sit
  • 38 reps one-arm dumbbell row, per arm (20lbs)
  • 38 reps lateral pulldowns (80lbs)
  • 38 side-lying leg raises, per side
  • 38 reps adductors
  • 38 reps abductors

I don’t even remember the weight but I remember thinking, no one should ever do 38 reps straight of leg abductors. WHEW!

I worked on my core / some lower abdominal exercises and went back to the one-arm dumbbell row for the encore. I rowed 45lbs each side, which is my current one-rep max.

My Birthday Workout!

Really pleased with myself and excited that I challenged myself to do something different.

Because, what doesn’t challenge you, won’t change you.

And I’m a new woman after today.

I’m 38!


I’m in a rut. I have writer’s block. I’m feeling very uncreative. I’m running all my miles on the treadmill for crying out loud! It is the dead of winter. We’ve endured and survived a thing called “polar vortex”, and I’m just over it. I’m ready for spring so I can remove things that have been frozen to the ground.  Weeks ago, like everyone else, I had written this gratitude list of 13 *things* I am grateful for this year. I didn’t feel like posting it, but I do think looking back allows me to look forward and plan out my year. I don’t dwell on the past, but rather consider life events and experiences as artifacts of my life. Every event had a proper place, given its context.  And in true Aquarian style, I’m posting it now, on my own terms. And after having thought about it a little more. 

My parents, my husband of 15 years, my two sons and my siblings

My new house, which I adore curating into our beloved home

My talent, which enables me to be successful in my career

Watching Derrick Rose play at the United Center

Traveling, whether with friends, family or for work

Running a sub-2hr half marathon

Getting physically stronger, lifting heavier weights, and boxing more

Writing MY narrative – check out www.MuslimahMontage.com

Amazing locally roasted coffee – Every morning I make myself a latte with the freshest locally roasted beans. Seriously, Chicago coffee has some attitude that rivals my favorites from the Bay Area and NYC. If you’re looking, try dark / espresso roasts from Big Shoulders and Halfwit Coffee Roasters – that stuff will go right through you.

My girlfriends

My health – part of the “Five before Five” sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Take benefit of five before five:
your youth before your old age,
your health before your sickness,
your wealth before your poverty,
your free-time before your preoccupation,
and your life before your death.”

and finally,
Being able to do it all over again in 2014. (God willing)

What I Would Tell My Children About Nelson Mandela

Beautiful words from my friend Maaria. When remembering his legacy, it’s so critical to remember all the hardships he endured, and how he overcame them peacefully and with grace.



What would I tell my four-year-old daughter about Nelson Mandela, in a time when she lives in a country where we have an African-American President?  What would I tell her, when she lives in a country where she has the responsibility as a citizen to live in a diverse community, practice tolerance and engage with people different from herself? What would I tell my daughter, who will have the right to vote as a woman, a right to access, accommodation, property and the American Dream? What would I tell my daughter about Nelson Mandela that could possibly come close to framing in the most approximate accurate words the gift that he was? How would I do it when she lives in some way the world of the “haves” and not in the “have nots”?

Well, after much searching, I realized that I would be doing a disservice to Mandela if…

View original post 1,236 more words

10 life lessons I’ve learned from running

What running has taught me about life.

Disclaimer: I was inspired to write this post after reading some #runchat comments between a couple of bloggers, check them out here> http://www.happyfitmama.com/life-lessons-running/ and www.pavementrunner.com.

It’s definitely a list that I’ve thought of over the last several years, and resonates with me in daily life.

  1. “Be Somebody”.

    "Be Somebody"

    “Be Somebody”

    This is what ultramarathoner Scott Jurek signed in my copy of Eat & Run. I met him a couple years ago for a fun run. When you read the book, he talks about his running coaches and pals who have said this to him along his way. Really, are you going to go out there and simply pound the pavement, or can you really ‘be somebody’. Always leave a dent, make an impact, make yourself better every time.

  2. It’s okay to leave your gadgets at home. I ran my fastest 5k unplanned, no watch, ran on feel and surprised myself. Sure it’s great to run with a Garmin but trusting in technology takes away from being in touch with yourself. Lose the gadget, free yourself. Disconnect from technology every day; turn your phone off after a certain hour, don’t be used by tools.
  3. You reap what you sow. When you toe in at the starting line, there is nothing but your training (or lack thereof) that will make or break you. Much like life, what you put into your life comes back to reward you. Work smart, get rewarded.
  4. Always have a plan B. Start a run strong, cramp up, trip, slow down, bump into a friend, whatever it is that stops you from what you initially intended to run cannot be the ‘end all’. Always have a plan B and be okay with it. This has spilled into my life as an educator for the Epilepsy Foundation – the first training I did was in a special needs room with a sight dog barking and running around the room and the L training buzzing by every five minutes. It wasn’t my ideal situation, but I adapted to something just as perfect.
  5. Don’t give up when life presents you with a challenge, you are about to make a breakthrough. You know this when you are planking and are about to collapse – don’t! It is said our true character shows when we are facing hardship or difficulty – that is when we are making a breakthrough. Be your best self when it counts the most. No one regrets trying their hardest.
  6. Injured? Figure out what happened and prevent it next time. I can’t say this enough as a public health practitioner. There is a public health impact in everything, and I approach my life this way. My goals are to prevent disease, increase awareness and promote health education. My brother recently ran the Chicago Marathon and developed a meniscus tear at mile 25. Diagnosing his knee means understanding the mechanics and kinesiology of the knee, basically going deeper into the injury. Life lesson? We have to take that extra step to solve problems. I’ve written a lot on the negative impact of media on girls’ self esteem, which basically puts the onus of responsibility and accountability back on corporations, movies, and the music industry. Why are they interested in selling a concept of weak women and images of photoshopped girls and women? Who is their audience? There is always a cause and effect. I could go on…
  7. Start what you finish. This is so hard for me as an aquarian (yes I read those signs from time to time).
    Still don't know how we finished this trail run without snowshoes!

    Still don’t know how we finished this trail run without snowshoes!

    Can’t see the pavement because of yesterday’s blizzard? Well, just do your best and have fun with it. As someone who has multiple interests, it can be overwhelming to get it all done. But in general, we should always strive to finish what we start, hopefully at 100%, but sometimes it at less.

  8. Be empowered. Embrace your strengths. Being a mid-distance runner has somehow elevated me among my acquaintances and friends to a different echelon of ‘fitness people’, hardcore, they say. I don’t know how it happened, I hit the perfunctory 5 mile mark one April day and knew I was in a new club.  From that day onward, I started going out for 10 mile runs no big deal. If you find yourself saying to someone, “I only ran 5 miles today”, then you know what I’m talking about. You’re a beast and you know it (at least now you do). Life lesson here (and verse from the Qur’an) is we are always capable of more than we think we can handle. Stop that negative self-talk and rise above it. (I love Runner’s World’s columnist Marc Parent’s article on getting to five miles).
  9. Running is for me, myself and I. I love to run alone on the pavement. But I do enjoy running with company, and do so 1-2x a week. We build our self efficacy when we are alone, and increase our self esteem when we join others. We feel good about ourselves when we do something good together.
    races are always more fun with friends

    races are always more fun with friends

    Consider volunteering, it is always more impactful to the community or organization in aggregate, and we get to hang out with family and friends. However the true benefit you get from making a difference is an individual experience. In the end, YOU have to feel good about yourself when giving YOUR time to a cause, not the time of your friends or family.

  10. Have a sense of humor. Seriously, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re fooling yourself. Yes you are important but there are bigger things to worry about around the world.  Life is too short and unpredictable, make the best of every day, count your blessings, and be good to others.

    It's totally okay to hang out on the lakefront path and take silly running photos.

    It’s totally okay to hang out on the lakefront path and take silly running photos.

Peace out.

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding Public Health

Preventative care is what drew me into the field of public health. Instead of treating disease, why not take steps to take care of yourself before it’s too late. Prevent trips to the hospital, prevent disease, prevent illness. What are some measures you currently take to ensure you and your family live a healthy life?

As my graduate school professor used to say, there is a public health impact in everything. My town built a street designed to be a thoroughfare between two business districts, in lieu of the existing green space and walking path. It caused quite an uproar years ago and the village has since tried to redeem itself by creating additional pedestrian paths and such. Creating the street added traffic, and the parking meters and lots of course contributed to increasing revenue. Consider the public health implication of farmed vs wild caught fish.

Farmed fish is laden with chemicals, mercury and the fish are fatter as they don’t have the space to be free as opposed to wild caught fish which have more omegas, sometimes as much mercury and are 3-4 times more expensive. Check out this great article by Rodale for more information. Ultimately people have to be comfortable in the decision they make when determining what type of fish to consume. Making these decisions, however, implores one to be informed.

Once you develop the mindset that there is a public health implication in everything we do, you begin to think more consciously about your actions and are more mindful about your impact. The connection between public health and preventative care becomes is blatant, and you can begin to see if from whatever lens you are wearing, be it parent, teacher, chef or physician.

Uninformed people don’t change

Here’s a sampling of various disciplines and how you can appreciate public health and take part in your own preventative health from those lenses. This reminds me of the way I first learned about public health vis a vis the social justice theory which one of my grad school professors, Dr. Bernard Turnock, is very well known for discussing. It implies that everyone in society has a fair share of burdens and benefits and that everyone be educated about health and illness. This is why I believe in the interdisciplinary approach to public health as it involves all aspects of a society.

Appreciate public health…

As a scientist. You need to understand your genetic makeup. Do you have a predisposition to heart disease? Do you have a history of diabetes? Also, understand how artificial and synthetic products are created. Soy protein isolate, for example, sounds great, it’s ‘soy’, but it’s a synthetic by-product created from soy and has little resembles to its original, healthy form. If you aspire to eat lean, clean and green you can avoid most of the synthetic junk that finds its way into common foods. It may be an adjustment, but completely possible. Beyond genetics and food is epidemiology and the etiology of disease. Understanding how diseases are formed and spread are critical to staying healthy.

As an accountant / entrepreneur. Learn how to budget and live within your means. Retail therapy, excess spending, and falling into debt are tickets to financial hell. Many people complain that eating healthy is costly, yet have no problem purchasing the latest TVs or personal electronics. Eating organic can be expensive so maybe pick the top 3-5 food items your household consumes the most and purchase those products in organic. Excess spending and living outside of your means induces stress which brings unwanted health risks.

As a lawyer / activist / politician. As my mom always told me, “Be an advocate for yourself.” Understand consumer law, understand how the FDA and USDA work. Understand how food is regulated and how the corn industry is monopolized by a few companies. (Join the fight against Monsanto). Understand your insurance policy, your rights as an insurance consumer. Does your employer reward you for maintaining your health during the year?

As a consumer. Ultimately we are all consumers. You’re reading this, you are consuming information. We consume products, ideas, food, concepts, and words. What are we putting out there in response? We are all part of a system that relies upon the strength of one another (until we get some new version of healthcare). Insurance premiums vary based on the health of your group. Cancer rates are high and communicable diseases are spreading.

What are you going to do about your public health?