Finding My Strong: A Celebration of Values, Vulnerability and Vitality PART 2

Dec 11, 2018


Part Two

Disclosure: I want to thank the Beef Checkoff for sponsoring this blog post. My vision for living and aging ‘strong’ aligns well with the Beef Checkoff’s strength campaign and resources to help people enjoy lean beef as part of a heart-healthy diet. I’m proud to be a member of the Beef Expert Bureau.

In Part One I shared my vision for aging ‘strong’ – both physically and mentally. I shared stories from family and friends who inspire me to take care of myself and live my best life. In Part Two I’m digging a little deeper into setbacks, support and solutions for living and aging ‘strong’ including more stories from friends and family who inspire me, and some really cool resources, too.

We all have moments in life that bring us to our knees. It could be illness, injury, death of a loved one, or a million different kinds of loss. We usually have little or no control over these events. But we do have some control over how we handle them and pull ourselves back up and take another step forward.

What does it mean to be strong? To grow and age healthfully? To live life to the fullest? How do we handle life’s setbacks and struggles? How do we find the strength, the support, the solutions we need to live ‘strong’?

50 years strong


When I got married in 1995 I didn’t know I would be divorced 11 years later. It was devastating. I had lost my best friend, and I wondered if I would ever be a mom, ever have a family. There was so much beyond my control, but I had to keep moving forward.  


I was nearly 40 years old when I became a mom. First, as an adoptive mom to Sarah, then 9 months later as a birth mom to Michael. I waited a long time for motherhood and that’s one of the main reasons I try to be present with my family as much as possible. I don’t want to rush around and miss out on some of the little things that really matter.

In Part One I shared this goal of being present with my family and ways that I try to take care of myself through exercise, diet and social activities. But I’d also like to share my Do M.O.R.E. with Dinner idea because it has truly helped me take the daily ritual of dinnertime and turn it into a wonderful opportunity to be more present with my family and also provide more nutritious meals for my family through meal planning and meal prep.

When it comes to being present, one of the best things we’ve done at dinnertime is the “Rose/Bud/Thorn” game. I’m not sure where it originated, but my daughter brought the idea home from middle school and it was instantly a game changer for us. It’s a round-robin sharing out of each person’s “rose” or best thing that happened that day, their “thorn” or worse thing that happened that day and “bud” or what they are looking forward to. The “bud” is what really triggered us to have more meaningful and lively conversations. Over the years this has evolved into more of a question/answer game that allows us to ponder some of life’s biggest (and smallest) questions. I’m really in awe of how our family conversations have evolved and enriched our relationships.

I’ve talked about my #domorewithdinner journey on my blog and podcast, including asking my guests to share their stories and tips. I’ve compiled some of my favorite tips and resources into a free Do M.O.R.E. with Dinner Resource Kit.

Do more with dinner kit download

When it comes to the daily dilemma of getting a quick, healthy dinner on the table, I’ve found the information and recipes on very helpful. A few of my favorites are: how to thaw ground beef in 4 minutes, recipe ideas for different occasions, and how to choose the best cooking methods for lean cuts of beef so they stay juicy and taste great.

In addition, the Lean Beef Cuts section is super helpful for deciphering the many different names of beef cuts. Did you know that “strip steak” has about 20 different names like NY Strip and Top Loin Steak? You’ll also find the best cooking methods, the nutrition facts and various recipes that use that cut of beef. 

“Beef is a complete, high-quality protein food that contains all the essential amino acids the body needs to support physical activity and a strong, healthy life. The iron in beef, which is more easily absorbed than iron from plant sources, can help prevent fatigue, and the protein in beef contains the optimal mix of amino acids for building and repairing muscle.”

Stay tuned as I’ll soon be sharing three new resources focused on the role of strength in optimizing our health and well-being including a 20-minute workout video and a 7-day meal plan!

I hope you find these resources and recipes helpful, and I invite you to create your own vision for Do M.O.R.E. with Dinner and share how YOU #domorewithdinner on social media.

Just like Part One of this blog, I talked with some of the women in my life who inspire me and asked them to share their experiences about how they live ‘strong’ and age healthfully. What does living ‘strong’ mean to them? What do they value and how do they live those values?

What follows is the result of these important conversations. I share them with you to inspire you to find your own ‘strong’. If we pay attention, there is inspiration all around us. Who are the people in your life that inspire you?

Carmel – 19 years strong

Thanksgiving, 2004

My sweet, funny, creative niece Carmel has always been such a joy! Who knew 10 years after this photo was taken she would be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Even though I am a Certified Diabetes Educator, I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to say or do to help my niece and her family. A friend suggested that we send a care package that had *nothing* to do with diabetes but *everything* to do with how much we love her which was a poignant reminder that you don’t need to have all the answers, you just need to be there for others and let them know you care.

A few years later, I interviewed Carmel and her mom about their life-changing journey on my Sound Bites Podcast. I can think of few people who inspire me more than Carmel. I know she might feel the weight of the world on her shoulders sometimes, and I wish I could carry it for her.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 14. Since then, taking care of myself has taken on a new meaning entirely. For me, taking care of my diabetes is important so I can enjoy drumming and attend college. I constantly watch my blood sugar on a continuous glucose monitor and take insulin with a pump to manage my diabetes. One thing many people don’t understand is that I can eat anything that other people without diabetes can eat, I just have to watch the amounts at any given time. I have to count all the carbs I eat in order to give myself the correct amounts of insulin. In addition to that, I get exercise by walking around on campus and walking my dog. Stress management is especially important in managing my diabetes, so I like to play with my dog, play drums, and play video games. I also enjoy going to diabetes camp, being a counselor and helping my campers with their diabetes. When I first went to diabetes camp I had a lot of mixed feelings, but now I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Lauren- 47 years strong

The first time I met Lauren I was immediately drawn to her beautiful smile and then how genuinely beautiful she is on the inside. We’ve bonded over our love of Broadway and pretty much have each other on “speed dial” for when life gets messy. She’s always a great roommate at nutrition conferences and I’m lucky she’s such a good listener and lets me cry on her shoulder when I need to.

Lauren’s been a ‘frequent flyer’ on my Sound Bites Podcast, talking about her journey as an obese child, protein powered breakfasts, and the super grain sorghum.

Since protein is so important to maintaining muscle mass as you age, I encourage you to check out Lauren’s book: The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club

Lauren with her family

I strive to be strong in both body and spirit. Strength has several definitions including emotional and physical strength as well as strength of character. I’d like to think I exhibit all three, at least to some degree. I’ve found that life as an entrepreneur certainly requires emotional strength to carry out all aspects of a business while always keeping an eye on future potential opportunities. Strength of character is key to knowing who you are and what you stand for when making business decisions. It’s tempting sometimes to stray from your values when you see dollar signs, but integrity is a critical part of who you are, and it takes inner strength to do the right thing sometimes.

Being a solopreneur is physically and emotionally challenging, and when you add in teenagers, a husband, a house and a dog to the equation, that’s a lot to handle for anyone. Good nutrition and exercise are critical to nurturing my body to develop and hopefully maintain strong muscles and bones, but also to provide much needed stress relief on a regular basis. I make sure to workout at least 4 days per week in some capacity and I have a standing desk to keep the blood flowing when I am chained to the computer and phone. Working from home means the wonderful flexibility of fitting my exercise in during any free time block. It’s also fun walking with my furbaby during the warmer months in NJ.

It’s so easy to constantly bang away at the laptop all hours of the day and night, and equally easy to let it overwhelm your existence. Since the internet never closes, it’s really tough to unplug and take time for myself. All work and no play makes for a pretty dull existence. I’m an avid theater fan and Broadway is my happy place. It’s my favorite way to unwind and spend some quality time with my daughter J If you pull up next to me at a red light you’ll catch me belting out showtunes to the Broadway channel on SiriusXM radio. We also love trips to Disney World and cruising as a family, something we try to do every 1-2 years. Friends are also a source of strength, especially my dietitian “tribe”. These ladies are a constant source of support and inspiration.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes about strength:

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about.”- unknown

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”- J.R.R. Tolkien

Amber – mid-30’s strong

Amber always makes me laugh! Our mutual admiration for agriculture was what first brought us together as we attended several farm tours and had the opportunity to get to know each other. As fellow podcasters, we frequently talk about business challenges and opportunities, supporting each other along the way. Amber’s Healthy Under Pressure podcast is an inspiring show that highlights the stories and struggles of entrepreneurs and busy people learning to live healthy under pressure. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, this show addresses the most important aspect of our lives – our physical and mental health!

The fall season is incredibly busy for me because of my teaching and media schedule. So, I stay healthy under pressure by making sure that I include physical activity every day because it’s not only good for my blood pressure but also good for my mental health and job performance. This summer I started taking spin classes on demand and I absolutely love it. Having new workouts and motivating music keeps me engaged and coming back for more. I also workout every Saturday with my husband and a personal trainer. I really look forward to it because it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something!

Toby – 44 years strong

In Copenhagen, 2017

I’ve gotten to know Toby well by working together on projects for various food companies. She is truly a supportive and inspirational team player and friend. Her work is impressive, as is her support of other dietitians in the media. In addition to frequently interviewing and quoting other dietitians for her articles in publications such as U.S. News & World Report and, she was featured in the Academy’s Food & Nutrition Magazine regarding ethical behavior in the field of nutrition and between registered dietitians, which is indeed an important current issue for our profession. I applaud Toby for speaking out on this issue and championing others!

I recently interviewed Toby and fellow dietitian friend Jessica Levinson on my Sound Bites podcast about their new books, so stay tuned for the episode which is scheduled for release in January. But if you’re looking for a great holiday gift, I encourage you to check out these great books!

Smart Meal Prep for Beginners

52 Week Meal Planner

Toby takes her “baby” with her everywhere – even the tennis court!

Toby with her parents, sister-in-law and children when she received the Media Excellence Award at FNCE, October 2018

In order for me to be strong, I need to care for both my mind and my body. To take care of my mind I need to constantly be working in the field I love, nutrition. Over the past year I authored three cookbooks which helped power my creative side of nutrition. I have more book projects in the works for 2019, which will help me continue to power my mind. To take care of my body, I play competitively in numerous USTA tennis leagues in NY and CT — and yes, I like winning!

I also have my mom side, and need to continuously be strong for my three kids. As a working mother of three ages 16, 13, and 11, I need to find the balance between my home and work life. This is no easy feat, especially since I own my own business and my work projects can take a lot of time to complete. Luckily, with organization and the help of my kids who work with me as a team we get everything done. I also make it a point to spend quality time with my kids, especially on my weekends. No matter if it is a walk in nature, seeing a movie, or just having game night, spending quality time with my kids is a top priority. This is what helps make my family strong.

Christine – 67 years strong

I met Chris at an international conference and have had the pleasure of seeing her speak at various conferences. When I heard she published a book on healthy aging, I had her on my podcast to discuss all the important details. I really enjoy Chris’ approach to living life to the fullest to be able to travel the world – lugging her suitcase without assistance – and be active with her dogs and bike trips. It sounds like the good life if you ask me!

I encourage you to check out Chris’ book!

I’m 67 years old and I eat well and move well to remain functionally fit. Functional fitness means that I can do anything I want to do to remain independent for as long as I can. For me, functional fitness means lifting my suitcase in the overhead bin without the help of seatmate or flight attendant and being able to lift a 50-pound bag of dog food into my shopping cart and transferring it to my car and into the garage. I got the local YMCA for dance aerobics and yoga 5 days a week and I walk my big dogs every day. I also enjoy cycling adventures with my husband.

Anna Marie – 79 years strong

I began this 2-part blog post by featuring my mom and I’m going to close it by featuring my mother-in law. I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful mother-in-law who is always there for me when I need advice, insight and compassion. And she is also a close friend and a confidant! She’s pretty much the antithesis of the stereotypical mother-in-law. I don’t ever take it for granted!

She’s pretty dang strong, too. Most people would never guess her age – not just by her looks but by her behavior. She works out with a trainer, and it was her ballroom dance performances that inspired ME to take lessons! She buys season tickets to the theater so we make it a priority to attend those performances and always try to squeeze in a “girls” dinner beforehand.

Anna Marie on her 79th birthday with flowers from her “favorite daughter in law”

Ballroom dance competition with instructor Aleksander Bonev of North Shore Ballroom Dance Society


To enjoy and live life to the fullest as we age, to me, means being fully conscious and attentive to my spiritual, cognitive and physical needs. Integrating these realms creates a sense of well-being and appreciation of the gift of life. I begin each day by thanking God for the gift of the day. I try to use it wisely. To those of us to whom much has been given, much is expected. I believe that we are most content when we are of service to others, and for me, that is volunteering in my daughter Tam’s medical office. I can contribute to the staff’s efforts in assuring patients a pleasant experience and can also be a role model of successful aging. I also believe that it is important to cultivate friendships with younger people as well as nurturing and sustaining those with older friends. More important, is to commit to family. I am blessed to live to near my children and grandchildren.

I believe that I have the responsibility to maintain, enhance and protect the gifts God has given me. Caring for my body through dance and exercise makes me stronger both mentally and physically. Dance is especially a major contributor to my quality of life. It promotes, balance, grace (I hope), as well as cognitive stimulation. Socializing through family and friends is essential. Book club, church, courses at Life Long Learning, and going to the theater keep me involved in the world.

A major challenge for me has been to become less judgmental. Being open to perspectives that differ from my own is an ongoing “developmental opportunity”.  I have learned not to sweat the small stuff—more and more things are small stuff.

Finding YOUR ‘Strong’

I hope you enjoyed these stories and are inspired to find, connect with, or reclaim your ‘strong’ and also reach out to other women in your life who are strong, or who need support. Share your thoughts with them and share this post if you think it will help them.

I’ll leave you with this thought and image from an artist who captured a recent beef council brainstorming session:

What does “strength” look like throughout the different seasons of life?

Please share your thoughts and comments below or on social media.

Click on the image below to enlarge



  1. Neva Cochran on December 13, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Love these two blogs and the strong women stories, especially because I know so many of them! They are so inspiring. Your MIL is beautiful, too!

    • Melissa Dobbins on September 17, 2019 at 9:43 am

      Thank you so much for sharing your story and for being such a phenomenal friend!

  2. Judy on December 14, 2018 at 2:35 pm

    Enjoyed reading the wisdom these strong women share. As i celebrate a milestone birthday my goal is more laughter, more connection and more exploration. Thanks, Melissa, for sharing your story and friendship! ?

    • Melissa Dobbins on September 17, 2019 at 9:44 am

      Love your goals and love our friendship!

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ABOUTI’m the Guilt-Free RD® – “Because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!™”. So, on my Food for Thought blog I’m exploring the secret ingredients needed to enjoy your food with health in mind.  I’m also a “Dietitian Enthusiast” so I’m showcasing interviews with dietitians.  My “How To” Series shares practical advice to help boost communication skills and gain more visibility, influence and success.

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