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Baby Steps to Success


Discover a fit, healthy way of life with Dr. Iina Ester.


Dr. Iina Ester grew up between a small village of Leppäkoski, Finland, and Israel, where her father served in the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. She moved to the United States in 1994, and she landed in New Orleans in 2011, after completing a Ph.D. in exercise physiology at Georgia State University. “I wanted to live in New Orleans since my second visit to the city in 2002,” she says.

She first became interested in anatomy and physiology in the ninth grade, when she used her mom’s nursing school books to study for a test in her biology class. She found the books so interesting that she continued to study them well after her exam. At the same time, she was also learning about the effects of various forms of exercise. “I knew several people struggling with their weight, and the confusion surrounding the topic piqued my interest, especially after I started to struggle with binge-eating issues and weight problems after moving to the States,” she says. “I started college knowing that I wanted to study something health-related, and exercise physiology provided the perfect combination for my interests.”

She began studying nutrition during her final undergraduate year, and she continued to do so during a career in corporate fitness in Los Angeles. “When I started my graduate study, I selected a minor study in nutrition to understand the scientific approach to healthy eating and weight loss,” she says. “I also selected a research focus in motivation and behavior modification to fully understand determinants of health behavior and change in behavior from a psychological perspective.”

Dr. Ester started her company — Live Free, Laugh Hard Fitness — in 2011 as a way to work independently with private clients. Today, she offers everything from traditional personal training and nutrition education to complete lifestyle-change programs. “I also work with people looking to change problem behaviors from hoarding and time management issues to negative self-talk and lack of faith in one’s personal ability to make major life changes,” she says. “I focus on making sure that my clients understand why they are making changes until they can continue living a healthy lifestyle on their own. I can usually teach basic nutrition science and the foundations of weight loss in about four to six sessions.”

She also trains those who want to excel in sports, get into the military or learn more difficult skills. “Most of them find it a relief that when training with me, they do not need to go to the gym or sign up for a membership,” Dr. Ester says. “I train many of my clients in the privacy of their homes, their neighborhoods, or a park convenient to their home or place of employment.”

As for her personal fitness routine, Dr. Ester simply aims to stay active every day. “I really enjoy yoga, calisthenics and learning acrobatic moves,” she says. “When I travel, I select active entertainment like snorkeling, hiking, dancing and biking. If I feel a bit lazy or tired, I go for a long walk or I do a relaxing stretch.” (504) 758-9192, livefreelaughhardfitness.com

“My primary motivation is health and the ability to function physically to my maximum capacity,” Dr. Ester says. “Most ailments that people suffer from are lifestyle-related (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer, among many others) and they can largely be prevented or even reversed by knowing the key factors that cause each disease. For example, I eat minimal amounts of saturated fat to prevent heart disease, stroke and other vascular diseases. I exercise to stay fit [so I can] enjoy the activities I like to do for the rest of my life.”

“I follow the recommended nutritional guidelines for the prevention of lifestyle-related illnesses and deficiency diseases to the best of my ability,” Dr. Ester says. “This means eating plenty of plant-based real foods and minimal junk. I love all vegetables and eat at least three servings each day. I love sandwiches made of true, whole grain bread. I eat beans, lentils or other legumes several times per week, often with quinoa, bulgur or another high-fiber, whole grain. I eat yogurt and fruit for sweet treats and snacks. I avoid processed foods and I minimize simple sugar intake.”

“My first huge client success story was a woman I worked with in Los Angeles in 2003 to 2005,” Dr. Ester says. “She lost 90 pounds in about eight months, and then continued to train to shape and tone her body. She was my first client where the transformation did not end at her physical being. The enthusiasm, energy and confidence she gained led to her leaving her call-center job behind for a career in real estate. From then on, I knew I was doing more than helping people live healthier.”

“Learning to think and act like a fit, healthy person takes the struggle out of weight loss, but it also means having a role model who can teach a fit, healthy way of life,” Dr. Ester says. “Going from one short-term diet program to another with relapses in between leads only to a reduced sense of control and self-esteem. Thus, I recommend that people start with small steps of giving up a few vices and taking on a few easy, healthy behaviors. The same baby-step process works with exercise. Start by going on a regular short walk or a bike ride two to three days per week, and work your way up to exercising most days of the week. These changes, made at any age, can truly transform a life, making it possible for living free and laughing hard.”