Resilience: the capacity to recover from adversity. Meet Tosca Reno, “the woman with 9 lives,” Eat Clean founder, and master wellness coach.  In this, the first in this 3-episode series on Self-Talk, Tosca takes us through the “set and reps” necessary for resilience, including seeking challenges, positive stress (or eustress), taking ownership, practicing gratitude, and being kind and compassionate. Yes, adversity can make you stronger! 

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Tosca Reno

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Interview Transcript

Dr. Andrea Wojnicki: Thank you very much Tosca for joining us and talking with us today about resilience.

Tosca Reno: It’s my pleasure to be with you. Thanks for inviting me.

AW: I thought we would start at the bottom.

TR: Oh, it’s a good place when you have to go up.

AW: Yeah. So what did your life look like? And how did you end up there when you were at the bottom?

TR: So it was in my 30s. And I weighed 204 pounds that my heaviest, so I was obese, and clinically, not well. So I was beginning to get the early signs of type two diabetes. I knew like a lifestyle diabetes. And my father had died of heart disease young, he was only 64. And I was starting to get heart palpitations. So I was really young to be experiencing all these things. And I had a young family as well. So life at the time was really just a series of having babies and moves. My then husband was with Imperial Oil. And so we were always moving for his career. So there’s really not a lot of opportunity for me to work, even though I was I was schooled myself and wanted to have a career. But I was blessed to be able to stay home with my children. It’s just that I was very underserved, and felt the lack of worth and then lonely and isolated and ate my way into oblivion. It wasn’t cute.

AW: So then, you divorced him?

TR: Yes, I made a decision to go out on my own. So in 1999, I served notice, and I went back to school as a mature student and got my degree in education. I have a couple of other degrees but got my degree in education thinking, Okay, I’m going to, I’m going to become a teacher, I’ll teach and I’ll make a living for myself, because I wasn’t really at the time gainfully employed. So did that. And then, you know, as luck would have it, began my journey into wellness, albeit with a limited scope, because then I thought wellness was simply strapping on your running shoes and running, I hadn’t thought about changing the way I ate other than counting calories, which is a foolish notion. And so I really needed an education in that. But first, I had to fall a few times. So literally, I strapped on my running shoes in my fat clothes, got on the treadmill and shut off the back end of it. That was the level of my ignorance. Yeah. And then as luck would have it, as I say, I think the student was ready. So the teacher arrived and the teacher arrived in the form of Robert Kennedy who I didn’t know anything about him. I didn’t know that he was an icon in the bodybuilding industry, or any I knew nothing. He was on the playground with his daughter, he would bring his daughter to school we chatted and I would say foolish things. Like when he asked me if I was working out? And I said, yeah, I’m running. I’m really loving. You know, I sounded so stupid. And I just want I just want to be fit. And he said, If I had a dime for every person who ever said that I’d be a millionaire? Well, I’m not. So he kind of issued me a challenge. When he said, I think you can do better. No one had ever said that to me before.

AW: Hmm.

TR: But he really took me on and he said, I think you should compete. And I said, Well, what does that mean? What does compete mean? And he said, I think you should compete in a bodybuilding show. So here’s me – now get this. Okay. I’m a schoolteacher, mother of three children all under 20. They’re teenage girls. Formerly fat. And now I’m going to get on a stage in my stripper heels with a bikini. No. But he issued me the challenge. And he said, Well, if you want to change your life, and you want to look like those people in the gym, the ones with the cuts and the muscles … he said, I think you can do it. He says, I’ve trained other people, I don’t train too many. I choose them. I just went, Okay, I’m in, what do I have to do? And I was supremely coachable. Because I had no preconceived notions at all. He just said, You eat what I tell you to eat, you train the way I tell you to train, you do exactly, as I say. We will get you competition ready. And I did.

AW: So I was wondering about what people say, when they start to turn things around. And there’s one quote that you just said from Robert, and that’s you can do better.

TR: That is him challenging me, I would say that I probably lived a pretty small life and hadn’t really tapped into my full potential. I knew I was strong, but I never tested myself and the gym was a really good place for me to test that. And when he said, you can do better, and you can lift heavier and you can go harder. I believed him. Although I really wasn’t going on experience. He just said, do what I tell you to. I mean, I didn’t even know what a tri-cep was. He asked me to flex out my tri-ceps. I went I don’t know what that is.

AW: So awesome.

TR: Yeah, that’s pretty green. But when he challenged me, what he didn’t realize was a bowl. I go. And so he was maybe somewhat surprised, although he might have made an educated guess. But I dug in. And every time I hit the weights in the gym, it was just like an absolutely liberating experience for me. And I grew stronger. I was one of those people who said I was unusual because I grew stronger as the sets developed, as opposed to usually people are strong in the beginning and they fade out the end, I get stronger, which is unusual.

AW: As you go through the rep?

TR: Yeah.  So by set four or five, like the first two are throwaways, and by set four or five, I’m really in it. So I was unusual in that way, and he could push me and he did.

AW: Do you think that working out is a metaphor for life?

TR: Damn, yeah, I think I think you could measure that one up against resilience. Yeah, actually, it’s the word eustress, positive stress that tests us challenges us. And if we’re up for the challenge, we get better, we develop, and we grow. So for me, that’s absolutely what happened. I never felt so alive and so switched on. And so in charge of myself as when I was in the gym…

AW: And it was probably a combination of physiological right, as well as psychological impact. Because you…

TR: for me, working out….

AW: You’re  giving me shivers. I literally, physically have the shivers here. Yeah.

TR: It’s an attitude adjustment. I mean, yes, it kept my booty in shape. I mean, I got a booty I didn’t have one before. But what I really found was the power of my mental state, the emotional state that’s shifted so much. When you’re in the gym, that experience harms no one, the weights don’t talk back, they don’t ask you for a peanut butter sandwich. They don’t %&$#@ and moan. It’s you and them, right? It’s your story. It’s the dialogue you’re having with that equipment, running your body. And I really like the challenge of it.

AW: Wow, I never thought of all those things. When I go into the gym next time, it’s going to be a different experience. For me. back to when you were you said 205 pounds. And you left your first husband. And I read in one of your books that you said, You finally decided that you were going to seek freedom and happiness. And I thought, wow, a lot of people would be seeking revenge.

TR: Yeah.

AW: How did you come to that  positive mind space?

TR:  You know, I just knew with my first husband, that there would never be freedom if I was looking to get revenge, because that’s what he loved best. He loved to dig in and be stubborn. And I thought my best freedom will be to seek success on my terms. And I’ll be done with him. He doesn’t owe me anything. I don’t want anything. If I’m really going to make a clean break, then it’s going to be clean. And that means no expectations from him. So I was good at that.

AW: And then the second big dip in your life was when your step son passed away. And then Robert died of cancer within a year right?

TR: Yes.

AW:  How did you take yourself out a second time you must have just been like-  come on, people…!

TR: I’m just coming out of it, I will … in 2011, my stepson from complications from a car accident. He had lived for 13 years as basically a vegetable. We had him at home here and cared for him. And I wrote my first book for him because it was all about how to, you know, eat soup. He couldn’t eat, but he could eat soup. So that, you know, there’s a lot of learning for me. I was definitely on new ground. And then Robert’s passing just was a massive shock. No one saw it coming. Right. After my step son passed in 2011. And not even 12 months later, Bob was palliative. He was stage four, lung cancer.

AW: And so and for the listeners that don’t know, Bob was superhuman. He was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s buddy, right?

TR: He brought Arnold here. He has been in this house at this table with all of my family. And Robert, ripped out plate loaded leg press 250 pounds on Christmas Day. The man was no wimp. But his body at six foot two once Mr. Cannes International, you know, he had a great body, even though he was 20 years older, the man still had that good body. But the cancer ate him. Basically ate him alive.

AW: how long did he have cancer before he passed away?

TR: Well, we got the diagnosis on January 27, 2012. And he passed April 12.

AW: Wow. same year.

TR: And in a way that was a blessing because he was not a good sufferer. And I didn’t know any of what was yet to come. Okay, so it was enough that Braden passed. And then Robert, a year later, I would be bankrupting our publishing business, his publishing business, which he had handed over to me in his will, but I knew nothing about publishing. So then I had to do the forensic accounting and learn, you know, the really the deadly truth that he had been involved in for five years prior to his passing, but I had to pull the trigger on bankruptcy, and his employees did not like it…. So as a result of that, I lost my business, which was separate from his, my first book out of that whole terrible debacle was a commercial failure, because that was basically roadkill. And then I learned that this whole house in which you’re sitting, and if you hear noise in the background, it’s the waterfall in the estate and the grounds and

AW: It’s stunning! I look out, I do see waterfalls, I see forests,

TR: …leveraged completely against the bank, there had been no mortgage and no debt, and he had leveraged it against the bank. So when I leave from here, I leave with my skin, which is hard for people to believe. So the first dark period was basically divorcing my husband, he was abusive, and all the rest of it, the second is divorcing this life. And it, it did not come easy. This work, I had to really, it’s been seven years of slogging and doing the emotional work. And that really brings me to that the three E’s component where I learned, I could exercise and I could eat clean, but I couldn’t fix myself, I had to get deep and down and the fugly cry and the snotty nose and the, you know, the painful looking inside your heart to get to a point where I can now walk away from here and be grateful for being clean of it.

AW: So do you think it helps people who have traumatic-  for some people it is a traumatic event or some kind of negative situation in their life – for them to physically leave?

TR:  I do, because I think — and I’m glad you said some people, because it’s not for everybody. Let’s face it, I gave this a try. I’ve been sort of hitting a dead horse for at least six years here trying to make it work. So I have no shame in that fact, I did my best, but it’s sucking the life out of me. So for me, my strategy was I’ll do my best. But at some point, I’m going to have to make the cut. Other people just have to run right away. You know, we all have an individual response. But I can say this now, I couldn’t say it that I can say this. Now. I know that Braden’s passing, and Robert’s passing, and the business and the house and the life in the material, all of that. These were all lessons. And was I student enough to handle them and absorb what I needed to absorb? I would come out. Okay. So I think I can say this now that I’m coming out the other end of it, and I paid attention. I did the work.

AW: Wow. Okay.

TR: Because there are points when you’re looking in the mirror, and you’re looking at yourself, and you’re thinking, I have stood in front of this manure pile so long, I don’t actually know what I’ve got anymore. And that’s how I felt there was actually a point where I thought I should just quit everything. I’ve got nothing to give, I have no feelings of worth in myself. I just want to quit everything. And some not good thoughts about life. Let me say,…

AW: I can imagine. I mean, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t go there at some point, right?

TR: I never hit the bottle or drugs or anything. But there was a time where I just thought I just want to step off. I’m so tired. Yeah.

AW: So I know people who are typically happy people and highly functioning people who for some amount of time will lose their sight of a future goal. And then they seem to lose their happiness. Do you think that there’s something in that?

TR: Well, yeah, put it this way. The thing that gives me happiness in this life is to know that I can change a person’s life, I can change a person’s status, how they think about themselves, how they feel about themselves. With the knowledge I’ve learned over these last 20 years, I can make a difference. And I have, so that gives me great joy. So if I’m not doing that, if I’m not aligned with my purpose, I’m going to feel pain. So if I’m not doing that, then I’m losing sight of everything, then I’m going down. But fortunately, I have a daughter, Rachel, some know her as Dr. Rachel, who just is that person who has an amazing ability to connect. And she knows when somebody needs help. So you know, the first time I was down, flat out in bed,  flatlining, pretty much after Bob died. And she said you need to start meditating. And she just gave me the Headspace app and said start here. And it was nothing. It was like a you know, 10 minute freebie app, try it. The second time when I basically flatlined on my career, she hooked me up with an executive coach. And she has basically resuscitated my career because she, she connected me with what I needed to know about myself. Here we go. Now I’m like, Oh, my God, I can’t wait to get up every day.

AW: That’s amazing.

TR: It’s feeling good. I’m feeling good again.

AW: What’s interesting about that response is that you’re actually helping other people. And you’re helping yourself at the same time. It’s almost like that double whammy, right?

TR: It’s interesting. So I still need the title for that book. Once I thought it was gonna, I was gonna call it model of resilience. And I thought, you get that diva out of there. Let’s just get in the trenches, because being resilient is not, you know, ABC simple, it’s not math, it’s to get to that point where you are resilient means you gotta fall, a lot of times, you got to go through failure. Get up, keep going, fall again, fall again, and then get up one day and go, yeah, I think I’m finally here at the point where I could call success. I know, I’m going to fall again.

AW: Do you ever imagine if you hadn’t had this adversity, what you would be doing and maybe more importantly, how you would be thinking about yourself, and how different that would be?

TR: I think I would not be a good person, I think I would have gone down the road of materialism and the next it bag, and you know what car I can drive, I’m not sure. Because that’s not really my true nature. But I could feel that it was going that way. And so now I can say two words in the same sentence that don’t sound right at all, grief and gratitude. I can grieve for my lost husband and my son and the business and the life past. But I can be grateful at the same time, because they have given me some of the greatest lessons of my life.

AW: Wow. Wow. So over the last, I guess, seven years, as you’ve been developing your online business and getting clients and now introducing them to the three E’s, I’m wondering if some of them have shared stories with you about resilience that you could also share?

TR: Yes, I can. You know, some of the greatest nourishment I get for my soul comes from the stories people are willing to share at the times I least expected. So there is a story of a young family, a friend now. But in the day, she was a follower of eating clean, and they had five sons. And they have gone through financial hard times lost, everything had nothing. That mother made a decision to continue to nourish her family with eating clean food, because she said, If I don’t keep us well with eating clean foods, we will lose our minds. Wow. And every day, they would feed their children, their young family, the right vegetables, the right nutrition, not the cheap stuff. But you know, they made that sacrifice, so that mentally they could stay in the game. Because they lost their house. They lost their livelihood, they lost their savings, they lost everything. status is a thing that we create as human beings, we make we take it as a dirty word, but we make a lot of decisions based on status. And when you lose all of that you are down. And it was the nutrition and the structure of how to care for yourself through nourishing yourself with clean foods. She said that is what gave her the stamina, the will to keep going. They’ve since rebuilt their lives, have a beautiful life again, there’s so many stories there literally thousands of stories. I remember one time I was at an event, I could see that there was a mom and a dad and a young sort of teenage girl. They were waiting, waiting, waiting, they want a private moment with me. Finally got a chance to speak to them. The mother and the father were just like clinging to each other. And the young girl said,…  Oh, dear, I just….want to thank you for giving me my life. And I said, What do you mean, she said, I just got out of the hospital, I have been severely anorexic. And I read your book, Eating Clean. And it gave me permission to eat and love myself as I was …

AW: Wow.

TR: I survived because you taught me how to eat. And the parents were just sobbing. It was a mess. And it was so beautiful. And it was just that moment. So that’s sort of, yeah, it’s just the experience of that to feel that in your soul. Right? And to know that that’s happening, like for every 10 stories I hear, there’s 100 I don’t

AW: Right. Fantastic. I kind of asked you this before, but I want to ask again, maybe in a general sense. And the question is, does adversity make you stronger? And and I want to coach that in a specific question and culture. I’ve heard people say that Hillary Clinton didn’t have a story because she never experienced adversity. And perhaps that contributed to her lack of followers, right, and voters. So do you think that adversity makes you stronger? Do you have to experience adversity to achieve a certain strength in life?

TR: you do. Everybody needs a hero’s journey. And everybody’s got one who’s worth listening to. I think if you don’t have adversity, you’re living a small life. And I can say with 100% certainty prior to my, my dark times, if you will, I was living a small life. I didn’t put myself out there. I lived safe, I played small. I didn’t dare I didn’t take risks. adversity, it’s like wine. Some of the best ones wines grow in the crappiest soil because they’ve had to learn how to grow. They’ve had to dig and fight for it and grab the nutrients and stretch for the water and stretch for the sun. I feel the same way. I feel like if it’s an easy ride, you poke your finger at it, the whole thing might evaporate. But if you touch me and you push me, and you test me with something difficult, you will find that I can stand up and I can take a hit. And I will give back and I will love just as deeply and just as strongly. I’m not embittered.

AW: Wow, I did not anticipate that answer. But I love it. I love your point. It’s actually empowering. Just stretch harder, because you might fail, but you’ll probably make a difference to yourself and to other people.

TR: Yeah. And that really is again, with plants. It’s called eustress or positive stress and it teaches plants to be stronger. And I think the same thing of people – that we need those difficult moments in life. We are given what we can handle. And it hasn’t been easy, all of this, it should have maybe, but it hasn’t…

AW: So you are handed only what you can handle. Do you think that’s true?

TR: Well, I do because I’m here. And I’m not a raging alcoholic. Although we are sharing a glass of wine! I do. No one ever said that the ride in life was going to be easy. No one ever said that. Right?

AW: Right.

TR: And I’m quite fine with having a good life. But a good life may also include some of those challenges that make us better people.

AW: Right. Last question, I want to ask you about resilience. And it’s probably the toughest question, but is there something that you can offer in terms of advice for people that are feeling helpless and hopeless?

TR: Oh, yeah. And I have been one of those people. So have deep compassion For anyone struggling. I read recently that if you look around you and your daily life, 50% of the people are struggling with a crisis of some kind. So first of all, we need to up our compassion game quite a lot. Secondly, we need to practice gratitude. Because even in the moments where we feel life is just giving it to us and giving it to us and it’s relentless. There are things to be grateful for. Yes, I lost Robert. But I gained so much from him. He taught me so much about myself, and the lessons are still coming. Yes, I lost my livelihood. But it taught me to rebrand, yes, I lost my son, but his inability to move or eat or think or swallow or talk sharpened mine. I have been … enriched …for every one of those, and I’m thankful for them.

AW: Well, thank you very much for sharing that with us. Would you say that one of the main messages is, is gratitude?

TR: Gratitude, because it raises your vibrational energy so much. And there’s, you know, even Viktor Frankl in the concentration camps, practiced gratitude, and look what he had to put up with, right? So we can find things to be grateful for, if we just want to try to do that.

AW: And there’s all sorts of research I’ve read about, for example, writing down three or five things that you’re grateful for every day increases your life satisfaction, but I feel like there’s got to be something between helpless and hopeless, and then gratitude, right?

TR: Well, there’s something which I talked about in my three E’s of wellness called the emotional scale, which is by Abraham Hicks. And it basically teaches you that the lowest vibrating emotion is shame, and the highest is joy. And we’re not enjoy all the time. But even going from shame to the next higher vibrational emotion, which might be a anger is better than shame. Because at least if you’re angry, you’re still alive and reacting to something, you can’t get to a higher vibrational emotional feeling all the way from shame. It goes one emotion at a time. And the quickest way to shape or shift your emotional energy is through practicing gratitude, it’s a way to actually move the needle on your vibrational soul. So it’s a leverage or a catalyst it is and the next thing you can do and this is where the pay it forward thing comes from is to practice an act of kindness for no reason at all, other than to do it out of self-love. So in other words, make a jar of butternut squash soup for your brand new neighbor, leave it at the front door, knock on the door and say here, I wanted to give this to you to make your day better. No expectation of thanks or anything. See how that feels when you do that. Or go into I did this recently, I went into a little greasy spoon diner, in my town here in Caledon. And I saw a group of students they were studying, but they were sitting around a table. And I just went up to the cash and I said wherever they’re having whatever’s on their table right now I’m paying for that, because I was so impressed by their eagerness to work together. And I didn’t want any thanks. I just pay the bill and walked away. Doing something like that takes you out of whatever it is you’re mired in into a whole new place. You did it purely out of your soul. And there’s no quicker way along with gratitude to shift that energy level for yourself.

AW: That’s very empowering to and it’s contagious, right?

TR: very contagious. Yeah.

AW: Okay, now I’m going to move us on to the five rapid fire questions that I asked every guest. Are you ready?

TR: I’m ready. Ready for rapid fire!

AW: First question. What are your pet peeves?

TR:  Oh my god. Poor spelling? Yes, I can’t stand it.

AW: Well, I read your book, one of your books, and it has definitely no typos.

TR: …or things like okay, it’s a workout. So that means it’s WORKOUT. All together workout,

AW: No hyphen and no space.

TR: That’s exactly right. So know the words you’re using, especially if you’re in an industry where the word workout is going to be used a lot. Spell it right. Or if you’re going to lose weight, but not loose weight. Please, you’re gonna LOSE weights not LOOSE, you know? So I’m picky about that.

AW: Funny. Okay, second, what type of learner Are you…

TR:  kinesthetic!

AW: I’m not surprised!

TR: I have to be in it. I have to. I really have to be in it. I got to touch it. Feel it. Smell it. Do it.

AW: Yeah, I think that affected you when you were starting to one word workout?

TR: Beautiful.

AW: Oh, yeah.

TR: Because I could see that was the thing. Like I needed to feel it all. It’s just, yeah.

AW: Okay. Third question, introvert or extrovert.

TR: I’m a combination. So there’s this wonderful book. Who wrote it? I’m trying to remember – I  think it’s called “Quiet.”

AW: Susan Cain.

TR: Okay, thank you. So I am a person who wants to be extroverted on stage in a crowd in public. But when I’m home, I’m an introvert. I think there’s a word for that. I don’t know what it is. But I definitely know that I have to be both of those people.

AW: Ambivert.  You are highly functional. I know you well enough to know that you are highly functional. When you’re on stage. You are gaining energy from your audience.

TR: I am on fire.

AW: And when you’re at home and you’re working at your desk, you are gaining energy from whatever you’re typing.

TR: 100% I’m thinking I just learned something. My IQ went up by a couple of percentage points. That’s me.

AW: Okay. Question number four, communication preference for personal conversations.

TR: Personal. It’s got to be face-to-face. I have to look them in the eye. Because I remember eye color and something about looking at a person’s eyes and seeing the color of their soul in their eyes just does it for me.

AW: So to some extent you are visual?

TR: Yeah, I guess. But I read somewhere I read this. Like the most beautiful thing you can do for a person in their day is if it’s your barista, if it’s your person who’s packing your groceries, doesn’t matter who it is. Take a moment to look in their eyes long enough to register the color. So that’s what I do. And yours are fantastic. By the way.

AW: Thank you. I’m going to try and do that.

TR: There’s something about the eyes. Yeah. So. And for those who don’t know, Andrea, her eyes are brilliant blue.

AW: Yours aren’t so bad. You know, you’re a looker! Okay, fifth question, podcast or blog or email newsletter that you recommend the most?

TR:  I love this – it’s a little bit off the wall. I love Legends and Losers by Christopher Lochhead. He’s an expat from Canada. His podcast is all about hope for the person who can’t learn in in normal situations. And he’s made a complete success of himself. So now he’s running this podcast and he’s irreverent. And he’ll drink scotch on the podcast sometimes, boy, he looks down the barrel and he gives it to you. And I love that black and white. I love him for business advice and for, you know, picking me up and getting me going in my day. Because you know, when you’re doing an entrepreneurial business, you’re often alone. I love to hear a voice that that helps me get in touch with my business self.

AW: What are you usually doing when you’re listening to a podcast? Are you sitting at your table listening to the podcast? driving?

TR:  Yeah, driving. When I work out, I have to listen to rock. And then another Canadian podcast I love is living well, with Lianne Liang, who is an ex CTV host. And just she’s just wonderful. I love her voice. She has a great series of connections. And of course — Andrea’s!

AW: Thanks!, so Okay, so I’m gonna put links to those in the shownotes for everybody, as well as to all of your books and to your website. If someone wants to get a hold of you, what’s the best way to connect with you?

TR: you can go to and all of my connectors are there. I’m on all the social media platforms. You can find me there and I’m very good at answering email.

AW: Thank you. Is there anything else you want to add about resilience?

TR: Embrace the growth when you are feeling like the earth feels unsteady under your feet because the circumstances are unknown to you and everything that you thought you knew about the way your life was going feels strange. That’s growth. Embrace it, hold on for the ride. And let yourself spread out into that giant, beautiful person that you’re meant to be – because your purpose lives there.

AW: Okay, I will leave it at that. Thank you so much.

TR: Thanks for having me.


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