2016 In Review: Exciting Times At TOVI


In the summer of 2012 I called up Tony Zappia to see if he wanted to work on a fitness app that I had an inkling of an idea for. Since that day over four years ago, TOVI has undergone numerous changes. We have built a team, created numerous product versions, opened offices, raised money and signed customers. What remains the same is our primary objective – to use digital technology to help people improve their health and wellness.

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Eating For Weight Loss

A miracle diet for weight loss; wouldn’t that be amazing!? How wonderful it would be if we could click on the pop-up advertisements clogging our Facebook (twitter, emails, etc, etc) and find an easy answer to getting the lean, toned, healthy, body we all aspire for!

If it was REALLY that easy would we be facing a Global obesity epidemic? The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2014 more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight (39%) with 600 million (13%) obese. Obesity is preventable- but there is no denying it, losing weight is hard.

So, the question remains, what is the best strategy for losing weight? There are so many ‘diets’ out there, where do we start?

Losing weight involves eating fewer calories than you are burning in any given day. To lose 1lb of body weight, you need a deficit of 3500 calories. There are so many promoted diets out there all of which claim to do something the others do not. In 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study comparing the most commonly used diets (Atkins, Ornish, South Beach, Zone, Biggest Loser, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Weightwatchers, Rosemary Conley). This was large meta-analysis (compilation of 48 published studies) which included 7286 individuals. The results demonstrated that all diets resulted in weight loss with no one diet providing a huge benefit over any others.

While there is some evidence an emphasis on certain food types may help you eat less (ex. protein and low glyceamic index diets increasing satiety), the overall message is that all diets which restrict calories result in weight loss.

So, where does this leave us? What is the best ‘diet’ or best approach to losing weight?

Firstly, I hate the word ‘diet’ used in this context (going on a ‘diet’). It implies that losing weight has a finite time scale; you lose the weight, stop the ‘diet’, and go back to living your life the way you did pre-‘diet’ but weighing 10 lbs lighter. Anyone who has tried a diet knows that this is not the case. Returning to pre weight loss dietary habits results in you returning to pre diet body weight. You need to think of your diet as a lifelong commitment to eating in a certain way. Your diet is not just about losing weight but also about achieving the maximum health benefit from your food.

If you are considering making some changes to lose weight, I assume you are concerned about your health. If that is the case (and I certainly hope so!), there is more to consider than just reducing calories. You also need to be thinking about making the calories you eat ‘count’. Food is about so much more than energy. The vitamin, minerals, and unknown substances in food have the potential to affect many other aspects of health. You want to make sure the foods you are eating are nutrient dense (high in vitamins and minerals). This is where vegetables, fruits, nuts, and healthy oils become important.

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4 Ways To Stress Less


Stress has become one of those words that people use to indicate feeling overwhelmed, busy and over-worked. Feeling stressed is not fun and most of us feel rushed and stressed on a daily basis. We multitask both at work and at home and tend to spend little time to take care of ourselves and our needs. Stress is normal and everyone experiences it differently. There is such a thing as good stress or eustress, which represents the type of drive that is energizing and motivates us to complete a task. It is important to have eustress in our lives, because it helps us feel challenged and incentivized to test our limits, expand our knowledge and master skills. However, when stress accumulates and becomes too much to bear, our capacity to cope is taxed, tension builds and we feel overwhelmed and helpless. People respond differently to stress, depending on their coping skills. When people’s coping skills are not enough to provide relief, they make poor decisions which adds more stress and a vicious cycle begins.

If you find yourself experiencing/doing any of the following, your coping skills can be improved:

  • Inability to meet work or school deadlines
  • Feelings of pressure and anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Over-eating/ not having healthy eating habits
  • Increase in smoking, alcohol/drug use
  • Increases in illnesses, like colds and flu, which signal a weak immune system

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Fitbit For A Bit


This summer, our team decided to try out some fitness wearables to learn more about them in daily use and how to best integrate them into our products at TOVI. I was extra motivated to put my new Fitbit Charge HR to use as I had just gotten out of the hospital and was needing some help to get back to a regular fitness regimen. I’ve heard from many of our blog readers who were curious to know what exactly happened, so I’ll fill you in a little bit more …

I was hitting a pretty good groove in my half marathon training six weeks ahead of my first race. The weather in Ottawa was still a bit wet and cold for me to be running outside, so I was doing an hour on a treadmill at the gym. With about ten minutes left before cool down, I started to feel some intense pain in my lower abdomen. I toughed it out until the end of the run and quickly rushed home as the pain was getting worse. By midnight I knew that it was a serious problem and my sister came over to bring me to the emergency room. After a night of tests I was admitted to the hospital where I was told by the doctors that I would have to stay while they monitored me in the hopes that the situation would resolve on its own. I had a few new tubes connected to me and the waiting started. It was a long wait, one which would see me drop twenty pounds from my already slim frame. Ten days without a crumb of food or sip of water will do that to you. As for the rest of the story in which you’ll learn a bit more about my medical history , well you’re going to have to wait a little bit too. Check back in to see the third and final part of my blog covering the story of me not running my first half marathon.

Jumping ahead a few weeks, I was on the mend but still feeling pretty weak and quite tired. I was ready to start getting back into shape, but needed some motivation. I took my first opportunity when I flew down to San Diego from Ottawa for a meeting with the TOVI team. Our CEO Joel and I went for a run between Tourmaline and Pacific Beach in San Diego and the next day we had a company picnic where we played football and frisbee with our junior TOVI kids. Joel and I both bought a Fitbits to test the features it offered. It didn’t take long to figure out the biggest draw: step challenges. Kelley, from our provider partner, UCSD Center for Community Health challenged both Joel and I to a Weekend Warrior competition after I had returned home. The winner is the person who takes the most steps over the weekend. All three of us were having fun messaging each other throughout the weekend with cheers and playful taunting. I walk a fair bit during the course of most days, but I definitely found myself literally going the extra mile to see that step count get as high as I could. I came out on top (tip: if you are running a competition across time zones and you are at a disadvantage because of it, delay your device sync to lull your competitors into a false sense of security

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What Makes An Employee Wellness Program Good?


Best Practices

What really does make a wellness program good or a good wellness program?  I see many other blogs and posts that essentially all say the same thing – all very by-the book so-called “best practices” and admittedly, this is a good starting point.  Most of that advice may often times be difficult to translate into real-world action.  What if you did not get the opportunity to start with a “needs assessment?”  What if you don’t have the time or resources to conduct one – heck what if you have no idea what a needs assessment is or should assess???

This well-intentioned advice on best practices, is just that – practices – things to do – a checklist of activities.  What makes a good wellness program is focusing first and foremost on WHY – the overall WHY for the program/initiative and the WHY behind those best practices.  Here is what I have seen from my experience running a long-standing wellness program through changes in leadership, program branding and internal/external turmoil – a program that continues to operate successfully today

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Reading Food Labels- What It All Means


Nutrition is confusing.  You hear conflicting advice everywhere, the terminology is like a foreign language (macros, carbs, omega-3 fatty acids, etc), and just when you think you might have it figured out, it all changes again.

One of the first steps in improving your nutrition is to understand exactly what you are eating by reading food labels.  I am going to run through a step by step guide on what to look for in a food label.  Unfortunately, all countries have different guidelines for labeling food however the same principles generally apply.  I will focus on the US food label but note, this is due to change in the next few years (2018) so I will also highlight the proposed changes.

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Your Weekend Workout Survival Guide

Each weekend people worldwide swim, ride and run their way to higher levels of cardiovascular fitness. On the surface, this many being active seems like a great thing.

The long and short of it is that swimming, riding and running (not too mention sitting all week) only take place in one direction (or plane of motion) which opens you up to the potential to experience a whole host of repetitive stress issues. If you’ve got muscle imbalances that have lead to postural distortions this can easily become a matter of WHEN, not if, you get injured.

If you experience joint pain swimming (usually shoulders and low back), riding (typically knees and low back) or running (neck, hips, low back, knees, ankles) the best solution is the simplest one: STOP. DOING. WHAT. HURTS.

I interviewed Spine Biomechanics guru Stuart McGill a few years back, and he told me if “it hurts to hit your thumb with a hammer, put the hammer away, don’t use a bigger one.” However, for whatever reason, this has yet to be fully embraced in the endurance sports community. In my experience, swimming, running and riding more when something hurts rarely alleviates the pain (and very often makes it worse).

You WILL NOT lose fitness if you rest your body allowing it to heal. In fact you may just start to gain more if you give your body the chance to recover.

The take away? If it hurts, find out why, make the appropriate movement adjustments then strength train the right way prevent it from happening again.

There are ways to combat all of this in the gym. After a long weekend of uniplanar repetitive stress activity, you might just have a fighting chance of surviving with the right approach.

Moving in one direction for hours at a time (especially after sitting for seemingly days on end all week long) requires the right strategy to reset that. The good news that basics work best and can be tolerated by most people.

The key is moving the way our bodies are designed to: in a 3D environment in multiple planes of motion as we provide our base of support to move from. A few examples include pushing and pulling in a standing split stance, lunging in multiple directions, hinging, single leg squats and rotating.


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