How I Lost the Baby Weight (Again)

It’s important to start off by saying that my ability to lose the baby weight within the first six months postpartum has very little to do with the fact that I’m a fitness professional. I haven’t used any voodoo magic for my body or resorted to any intensive training programs to lose weight. I also haven’t done any formal diets or eating plans to lose weight. You might be wondering how this is possible then…how does a woman lose the extra pounds after baby is born? Here are my three main guiding principles when coaching postpartum women back to pre-baby health (I use them for myself too):

  1. Be gentle and give yourself LOTS of grace
  2. Stay consistent (when possible) and remember that there is no perfect day for exercise, only the determination to make time for it
  3. Find eating and exercise habits that jive with your lifestyle and that are enjoyable to you 

There are many approaches to losing the baby weight and the only one that is “right” is the one that speaks to you. This is why I customize every single workout plan and session according to each mother’s individual needs (PS – if you need any prenatal or postpartum support feel free to check out my Services).

 

 

Some women enjoy structured eating and exercise plans, and that’s fine too! Many of my clients desire a well laid-out program so they know what they’re working towards. The only caveat is that the first 6-12 months of motherhood are anything but predictable. Each month brings unique health and schedule challenges/milestones so it’s important to stay flexible and pivot when necessary. For this reason, I don’t personally put the pressure of any structured weight loss plans on my own postpartum agenda but I still aim to drop weight.

The following lays out my approach for postpartum weight loss after baby #2. As you will see, it’s very gradual, progressive and flexible, adapting month to month as my postpartum needs and energy changed. Perhaps this will help you remove a little bit of stress from your own postpartum weight loss journey or will inspire you to realize that it doesn’t have to be very formal or complicated.

 

Background: My Postpartum Life

I want to briefly share about my first six months postpartum as a mother of two. It has been unspeakably hard at times but not impossible. I know lots of moms have things way harder. That said, my baby has had multiple health complications including subluxating hips. He had to wear a rhino hip brace 24/7 during his second month of life. It affected his latch and caused my milk supply to tank so I had to get a LC and milk donor’s help for a while. At month three, right when life started to feel a little normal again, I had to return to a newborn nursing schedule. So, I’ve basically been on a newborn feeding schedule of every 1.5-2 hours for half a year. Thank heavens he finally dropped down to 7-8 feedings/day! #momwin

My baby also [still] has torticolis which has affected his neck positioning for nursing and sleep. I take him to a chiropractor every week and monthly physical therapy along with daily home exercises. In addition, this poor child has reflux that coats everything within a close radius. It’s a rare hour of the day that I’m not wearing something covered in colorful spit ups (yaaayyyy solid foods…ugh) All of this is the big stuff, to say nothing of the little challenges or oh yea, continuing to parent a strong-willed three-year old. Side Note: The threes are when things get painfully real. Anyone else?

Why do I mention this?

To show you that my life isn’t perfect. I don’t have tons of time on my hands and there are many days that I would rather just throw my hands up in the air and surrender. But I’ve continued to commit to my health and bite off small workouts and healthy meals/snacks where and when I can. That’s all. That’s the secret: Commitment. That one simple commitment to myself, even on the hectic and sleep-deprived days, is why I’ve been able to lose the baby weight. And you can too!

I’m at my goal weight now. It’s not my skinniest size but it’s my pre-pregnancy weight that is easy to sustain and which keeps healthy stores of fat and nutrients for my body as it continues to provide fuel (aka mama’s milk) for another life. If I gain or lose a couple pounds then I’m still in a happy place. Stressing about getting to my “smallest” would be too much pressure right now and would likely compromise my immune system and milk supply – neither of which is ideal or necessary during the first year.

 

 

The First Month Postpartum – Recovery Mode

The first month of motherhood is filled with almost as many trips to the bathroom as the third trimester, except that the process takes way longer (moms, you feel me). The graveyard shift with baby is exhausting following labor or a C-section delivery and life is forever altered for couples who were formerly childless and big siblings who have to learn what it means to have a new family member hogging all of Mom’s attention. The first month is such a roller coaster of sleep deprivation and emotions that it’s remarkable when women make it past their home’s front step. There should be zero pressure to get back into shape or to resume exercise so soon after baby. But…

If you exercised during pregnancy or even if you didn’t but feel stir-crazy or the baby blues, some light walking and exercising is generally fine if the mother isn’t suffering from complications. Taking things at a very slow pace is critical though. Your body will tell you in more ways than one when you overdo it that first 4-6 weeks. A simple stroll around the neighborhood or gentle stretches and exercises on your bedroom floor are the way to go.

Exercise:

I enjoyed getting outside for a few walks with my three-year old during our unseasonably warm end of winter. It gave my legs a chance to stretch and it was a great opportunity to show my oldest that I was still able to spend quality time with just him. On days I didn’t go on a walk I usually did anywhere between 5-20 minutes of gentle movement before hopping in the shower. That movement plus the shower became my “me time” and helped me feel rejuvenated each day. I kept things very simple and focused on stretching, gentle flow-based yoga, deep breathing, modified core exercises and planks, and hip stability exercises such as bridges and clamshells. The goal was to support my loose ligaments and open up my posture following the stress of labor and breastfeeding.

Diet:

During the first month there were zero food restrictions – nor should there be, in my opinion! You just had a freaking baby!! I allowed myself to eat to my personal delight and satisfaction. I enjoyed each and every home-cooked meal and baked good that friends and neighbors dropped by and ate a several-hundred calorie snack in the middle of the night each night to satiate my ravenous appetite! It was glorious even though I knew it wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t last that way for long.

 

 

Postpartum Months 2-6

Exercise:

As I regained stamina and strength, I gradually increased the intensity of my workouts. During months two and three I began to incorporate low-impact exercise on cardio equipment at the gym for short periods of time and low-resistance strength training. Once I felt I had the hip, core and pelvic floor strength necessary was when I finally let myself go out for a brief and very slow jog. I refrained from running during my second pregnancy so that first postpartum jog marked the end to the longest period of time in my entire adolescent and adult life combined without running. And ohhhh my goodness….everything hurt. The next day I was so sore that – *confession time* – I popped one of my postpartum pain pills to go to sleep that night. Yikes! Thankfully it didn’t take long to feel better but I did limit myself to just one run a week until month four, for the sake of my pelvic floor health (and I would encourage a lot of women to consider doing the same).

Around month four I allowed myself to run a little more and I began to increase the intensity of my workouts across all fronts. I let my heart rate go higher when I had the energy for it and I let the weights get heavier. I will admit that I had a few setbacks due to low back pain but most of it was due to a lack of spinal rejuvenation during sleepless nights and poor breastfeeding posture around month three. I continued to refrain from HIIT workouts and anything too strenuous that could compromise my immune system. My goal was to exercise four times a week, sometimes five, for anywhere between 30-45 minutes at the most. At least two days were dedicated to full recovery every week. We’re talking extra sleep (thanks to my husband) and lounging on the couch for a breath or two before one of my small humans made demands of me.

As you can see, this exercise approach was gentle and progressive. It allowed me to pick which days I had energy to go for a run and when I just needed 15 minutes of yoga and a hot shower. It was simple and low pressure, and I believe those are the reasons it worked. Being a mom is pressure enough without an overly prescriptive weight loss plan on top!

Diet: 

I stayed as flexible as possible about my postpartum diet, pivoting my approach to eating month to month. As mentioned, I ate like a happy cow during the first month but eventually I could tell my appetite wasn’t that strong anymore and I was only eating larger portions out of habit. I decided to cut back portion sizes and tossed a few leftover baked goods in the trash. I found that I was comfortable cutting my middle of the night snack in half and it was rarely necessary by the end of the second month.

I got a little bit discouraged when month three rolled around. The weight wasn’t dropping off as much as I would have liked and certainly not as fast as it did after my first baby. I had 12 lbs left to lose compared to only a few pounds at that point after my first baby. I decided to watch my macronutrients. I was honest with myself about my carb intake being too high so I focused on having protein-based snacks in the morning and afternoon to fill me up and keep me from mindless snacking. I also ramped up healthy fats in my diet.

Watching my macros helped me drop about half a pound a week. By month four I was feeling a little impatient so I turned to the tried-and-true method of calorie counting. I never had under 2000 calories/day because of breastfeeding and exercising but I made sure I wasn’t eating say 2500-3000+ calories (except maybe one day of the week because we went out to dinner and I let myself eat a big meal and have a couple glasses of wine). The weight started to come off at a faster rate of about a pound a week. By month 6 I was back at my pre-pregnancy weight and feeling happy with my figure again. That said, my belly button still looks stretched out and I’m carrying a little fat around my middle that I know from experience won’t fall off until I’m better rested and my baby has weaned. But I’m happy!

I never did anything too drastic or cut out any food groups or treats. I basically eat dessert every day, enjoy carbs and relish in my weekly allotment of a couple glasses of wine. I’m a normal person! And that’s all there is to it. If you accept being normal (flaws, cravings and all) and let the process be organic then you may be surprised at how much weight you can lose and effectively keep off. You win a million times over again when you tweak your exercise and diet plan according to your own needs and lifestyle.

 

My little critters deserve a mom who prioritizes her own needs too!

 

These Are a Few of My Favorite Foods

When I take a step back to look at my diet I guess you could say it’s mostly a Mediterranean style of eating. I enjoy a lot of fish, fruits and vegetables (and olives!). I’m not sharing these lists to say that you should eat these foods too. I’m just trying to help spark foodspiration! In my opinion, eating should be pleasurable! Find what foods and style of eating work for you.

 

Carbs I Eat & Love Every Day:

Rolled or Steel-Cut Oats, Banana, Apple, Raspberries, Blueberries, Salad Greens, Sweet Potatoes, Fresh Raw/Steamed/Baked Vegetables (Favs; brussel sprouts, green beans, bell peppers, kale, carrots, arugula, broccoli)

 

Proteins I Eat & Love Every Day:

From Land (chicken, turkey, pork or beef) – OR – From Sea (usually salmon, cod, tuna or shrimp), Also; Hardboiled eggs or egg whites, Whey protein isolate or Pea protein powder once a day

 

Fats I Eat & Love Every Day:

Rotation of Almonds/cashews/peanuts/pistachios, Avocado, Olives and/or olive oil, Ground flaxseed

 

Daily Indulgences for My Sweet Tooth:

A.M. – Mug of coffee with coconut creamer and organic stevia, P.M – Mug of unsweetened chocolate almond milk with a square of 95% dark chocolate

 

I hope you can see that I’m not doing anything dramatic or challenging. I’ve simply found healthy foods I enjoy in a variety of food groups and portion control them in my diet. I enjoy exercise on the majority of the days of the week but I play things by ear according to my energy and sleep needs too. There’s nothing wrong with following a weight loss program (heck, I’m even happy to be the one to design it for ya!) but there’s also nothing wrong with living mom life and accepting imperfect plans while loving on your perfect and new little person.

 

Yours in health and wellness,
Maggie
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What I Did Differently in My 2nd Pregnancy (and why)

As a fitness professional, I’m hyper-vigilant about documenting little details regarding my wellness and changing body. I have charts and notes recording mileage and training plans from various marathons, bulking/cutting programs, my bridal workout plan, and both pregnancies, to name a few. I’ve come to appreciate these notes, even while admitting they’re a bit over the top. Referring to them has led to some helpful insights, especially in regards to my first pregnancy.

I kept detailed notes on every week’s symptoms throughout my first pregnancy (with my son Carter, now a true “threenager” whose favorite angsty response to questions is “nothin”). That pregnancy ended abruptly when I experienced PROMS at 36 weeks 2 days (Premature Rupture of Membranes – aka my water breaking before full term). My mom had my oldest brother at 6 weeks early, for no apparent reason and without any strong risk factors, so I suppose I had filed away the possibility of an early baby in some remote corner of my mind, but it still shook my world. I didn’t have any risk factors for preterm labor outside of my mom’s single experience (the rest of us kids were full term). So, when approaching the preconception planning of a second child I was torn on whether or not to accept the advice that OB after OB gave me; to receive weekly progesterone shots throughout the pregnancy to reduce the risk of preterm labor.

 

 

If I had given birth a few weeks earlier than 36 weeks (which is considered “late preterm”), then I think I would have accepted the progesterone shots without question. But I felt like I was so close to full term that maybe…just maybe…if I looked back over my pregnancy notes and did copious amounts of evidence-based research, I could consider alternatives. As it turned out, my notes were very revealing and made me realize a couple of things; 1) my cervix is very sensitive when pregnant so internal checks and even sex can trigger changes more rapidly for my body than other women’s, and 2) my signs of preterm labor began around weeks 34-35, a time when progesterone temporarily dips down in pregnancy before jumping back to new highs in the last month.

I had to ask myself a difficult question:

Could I risk going against doctors’ advice and try natural approaches for preventing preterm labor and increasing progesterone throughout all 40 weeks of gestation? Could I live with myself if my actions didn’t work out? Could I live with myself if I didn’t try to let my body self-regulate with a little extra TLC from a healthy lifestyle? 

I decided to give Mother Nature one more shot… and I delivered my second baby at exactly 40 weeks. I can’t be sure that my actions deserve credit for a full term birth – it might just be happenstance or luck. And I can’t recommend that women at risk for preterm labor do the same. But I can share my story a bit and help women consider all the ways we can help our bodies along, regardless of whether we’re also using additional medical interventions, like progesterone treatments, to prevent preterm labor.

To start, let’s talk a bit about what preterm labor is and how to identify it…

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are not medical advice. If you have concerns about preterm labor you should contact your medical provider to discuss your risk factors. If you believe you are currently experiencing symptoms of preterm labor contact your medical provider or call 911 immediately.  

 

36 weeks 2 days…aka day one of my oldest son’s life

 

Preterm labor

*All information in this section is quoted directly from the March of Dimes.

Definition: Babies born before 37 weeks.

According to the March of Dimes, signs of preterm labor in a pregnant woman may include:

  • Change in your vaginal discharge (watery, mucus or bloody) or more vaginal discharge than usual
  • Pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, like your baby is pushing down
  • Constant low, dull backache
  • Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Regular or frequent contractions that make your belly tighten like a fist. The contractions may or may not be painful.
  • Your water breaks

 

 A few of the top risk factors for preterm labor include:

  1. You’ve had a premature baby in the past.
  2. You’re pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets or more).
  3. You have problems with your uterus or cervix now or you’ve had them in the past.

 

Medical risk factors before pregnancy for preterm labor and premature birth:

  • Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy. This can include having an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia.
  • Having a family history of premature birth. This means someone in your family (like your mother, grandmother or sister) has had a premature baby. If you were born prematurely, you’re more likely than others to give birth early.
  • Getting pregnant again too soon after having a baby. For most women it’s best to wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again. Talk to your provider about the right amount of time for you.

 

Coming home from the hospital with baby #1 (my son Carter)

 

Things I Did Differently in My Pregnancies

Although I did a lot of things differently in my second pregnancy, there are a few things I did the same that I feel are worth mentioning first. In both of my pregnancies I avoided smoking and alcohol. Some moms feel like by the third trimester the baby is “fully baked” and an occasional glass of wine or beer won’t do any harm. I can see the logic, and to each their own, but I feel that the evidence regarding baby brain growth accelerating in the third trimester (the brain triples in weight!) is enough to confirm that I don’t want to flirt with any toxins beyond an occasional “taste sip” of someone else’s beverage.

In both pregnancies I followed a healthy diet, eating plenty of fruits, veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats (plus a daily sweet indulgence after dinner!), and maintained an exercise regimen focusing on lots of hip and core stabilization. Lastly, as is my nature, I nested like a crazy person both times. My husband may be experiencing PTSD from my latest “honey do” list that had him scrambling up ladders, re-caulking our kitchen, and car shopping for a new vehicle. 

The things I did differently the second time I was pregnant were primarily actions driven by the desire to avoid another preterm labor. As mentioned, it’s impossible to say whether these actions influenced my body’s ability to get to full-term this time around or if I was always going to have a second baby at full term. Either way, these natural approaches to preventing preterm labor are ones any woman can incorporate into her prenatal care after talking to her OB about her personal risks for preterm labor and whether or not progesterone shots are strongly encouraged for her…

C-Reactive Protein

This protein can be high in a mother’s bloodstream because of acute or chronic infections, and may be the reason why women with urinary tract infections during pregnancy are more susceptible to preterm labor. C-reactive protein is a marker of inflammation but it can be lowered and controlled by a Mediterranean diet, adequate vitamin C, and probiotics. Hence, I tried to eat fruits higher in vitamin C during my pregnancy (kiwi, strawberries and citrus), started a new, higher CFU probiotic designed for prenatal health, and made sure that I ate the maximum allowance of low-mercury fish for pregnant women alongside other healthy fats like nuts, flax, avocados and olive oil.

Omega 3s

There is some evidence that an increase in Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of preterm labor primarily thanks to their effect on balancing prostaglandins (which help the cervix ripen in preparation for labor and help the uterus contract – hence a better balance of this hormone would do the reverse and slow down physical preparations for labor). Thanks to this research, I made sure to bump up my Omega 3s, starting with adding a serving of ground flaxseed to my morning oatmeal.

 

Mega-Hydration

Uterine irritability can be triggered by dehydration. I was informed of this when I went in to the labor and delivery unit at 24 weeks with pregnancy #2. I was throwing up uncontrollably thanks to a virus that my toddler and husband had been ill with just a couple days prior. They only suffered a fever and lack of appetite whereas my body went into full-blown chaos; fever, chills, violent vomiting, etc. While I was getting treatment for an anti-nausea medication at the hospital the nurses hooked my belly up to monitors to assess potential contractions. Extreme dehydration can throw some women into preterm labor or labor because uterus begins to experience contractions. My belly wasn’t contracting in full but it was “irritable” – aka experiencing an abnormal amount of tightening that could potentially progress to contractions. The nurse who was caring for me sent me home with one of those giant hospital cups that has a handle and straw, and that holds up to 32 ounces when full. She told me to drink 3-4 of them a day in addition to my other beverages. I was a bit shocked by the volume but took it to heart and can say with certainty that I stayed better hydrated in my second pregnancy than my first.  (Summary:  To prevent uterine irritability and contractions drink at least 10-12 cups water/day.)

 

Coming home from the hospital with baby #2 (my son Colby)

 

Dental Health

Believe it or not, it’s true; challenges in dental health (ex: gingivitis) can contribute to preterm labor. Say whaaaa? Yup, bacteria from the mouth actually migrates to the placenta and can cause inflammation that can trigger preterm labor. Most women who experience a direct correlation between poor dental health and experiencing preterm labor are women who haven’t had proper dental care, but that being said, it never hurts to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. This is why, despite not having any former dental problems, I became extra diligent about brushing my teeth for a long time and flossing each day during pregnancy. Admittedly, my flossing habits were in need of some improvement.

 

No High-Intensity Interval Training

We’ve known for a while that exercise can impact hormones. It helps women who are estrogen dominant become more balanced and it releases feel-good hormones like endorphins. Men and women benefit from a boost in testosterone during exercise too. Changes in body composition in response to exercise bring additional benefits for the endocrine system. As it turns out, progesterone is yet another hormone that can be impacted by exercise…more specifically, it can be lowered by high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

During my first pregnancy I did a couple HIIT workouts each week – it was my jam. I always kept my heart rate within safe ranges and I knew how to modify high-impact and intense exercises for safety. It felt like I was doing no harm. In retrospect, maybe that kind of exercise wasn’t the best. If nothing else, it didn’t kill me to put it on the back burner during my second pregnancy, plus I think my pelvic floor enjoyed a rest from high-impact moves – and for that, my body is already saying thanks (and I’m only 2.5 weeks postpartum!).

 

Lowered Physical Stress

Studies show that women who spend 5+ hours on their feet each day are at a higher risk for preterm labor. This is a tough pill to swallow for a busy body like myself who works in fitness. With this knowledge in my back pocket, I worked to lower physical stress during my second pregnancy. I took more naps and got off my feet when I was fatigued instead of powering onward in my stubborn determination to get stuff done. It was difficult to discipline myself at first but with a toddler to care for, this may have ended up becoming my saving grace.

 

Delayed TTC

Women who wait 18 months from giving birth to one child to conceiving another are at less risk for preterm labor. In other words, any woman who gives birth to or gets pregnant with subsequent children in under 1.5 years is at a higher risk for a preterm baby. Hence, I took my time gradually weaning my son around a year and a half old and let my hormones stabilize for a few months before jumping into the TTC roller coaster for the second time.

 

Right to Refuse Internal Prenatal Checks

It’s hard to feel like we have a right to deny basic prenatal routines like internal cervical checks in the third trimester – but as mothers, we totally can reserve that right! You have full control over the process and no one can force you to do something you’re not comfortable with. I was thrilled when I told my OB that I was concerned internal checks might cause my water to break early again (it broke a handful of hours after an internal check in my first pregnancy). Thankfully, my OB understood my concerns and said that internal checks don’t do a lot for most of the third trimester except satisfy curiosity. I was blissfully in the dark until 39.5 weeks when I got my first check and discovered I was already 4 cm dilated! (So *that’s* what the random back pain and cramps were at 38 weeks – early labor contractions!).

 

 

Visualization

I’m not sure if there’s any science to pointing to visualization helping you get to full-term in pregnancy but I will hang my hat on how a difference in my mindset facilitated a healthier and longer pregnancy the second time around. I was so anxious and ready to be “at the end” in my first pregnancy. Perhaps that caused me to have higher inflammation, push harder, ask for more internal checks and more. There are a number of ways this could have caused me to treat my pregnancy differently. I’m so glad that I wanted nothing but to be extremely (even painfully) pregnant instead of having a preterm baby in my arms. This mindset drove small daily actions that I believe added up and helped me achieve a healthy pregnancy.

 

I did a few other things differently in my second pregnancy too, like avoiding most decaf coffee brands due to how the beans are decaffeinated using chemical solvents and requesting that I be allowed to drink an organic fruit juice drink for my prenatal glucose screening instead of that nasty, unhealthy orange drink they offer in the office. I also stood my ground in labor and delivery, electing to avoid pitocin and an epidural and marveling in shock (and pain) when my natural labor efforts jumped me from 6 cm dilated to 10 cm in one contraction (in a warm bathtub!).

It wasn’t always comfortable trying to do things differently for my second pregnancy but it was well worth it (just check out the sweet, healthy glow of my full-term baby boy Colby!).

 

Worth the wait for this little sweetie

 

(Please forgive any typos…still only a couple weeks postpartum over here! See y’all in a few months for some fresh content…okay…maybe even longer…we’ll see how mothering two headstrong boys shakes out.)

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

How to Design Your Yoga Space at Home

Very pleased to introduce a blogosphere friend from the South Pacific today – meet Harper! She is from Auckland, New Zealand and is sharing her insights on how to create a zen at-home yoga and/or meditation space. Namaste! 

 

 

How to Design Your Yoga Space at Home

One of the great things about yoga is that you do not need much space in which to practice. That means that even in a small home you can create a special area that is exclusively designed to please you and to provide an ideal setting for meditation and yoga.

Here are some tips for creating your perfect yoga space at home:

 

  1. Where to create your home yoga space

If you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate, creating an inviting outside space is ideal. Ensure the ground is firm and level in the outdoor space you choose, as this is vital to being able to perform your asanas correctly. If you do not have an outside space available, try to find somewhere within your home that has plenty of natural light and good ventilation. Alternatively, if you have the room, you can create a fantastic yoga area at home from an empty shipping container. These are perfectly suited for creating a hermetic environment where you will not be distracted by the outside environment. If you can place it in your garden and open up one side, you can create a perfectly peaceful and relaxing place to practice yoga. Whatever space you choose, make sure that family members will respect your privacy and the intimacy of this special place.

 

  1. Why have a designated yoga area at home?

Creating a designated yoga space will help you to maintain regular practice sessions. It means you won’t need to head out to the yoga studio or to have to rearrange the furniture to spread out your mat. Whether you convert the spare bedroom, create a whole new room, or just designate a corner in an existing room, having a dedicated yoga space lets you create an atmosphere of peace where everything you need to use is at hand to make the best use of your time for yoga practice. Also, practicing daily in the same space can increase your awareness by making you more conscious of subtle changes in your environment and in your own body and mind.

 

 

  1. Declutter

First, in whichever space you choose, remove everything that is not essential to practicing yoga or that is not beautifully inspiring. Getting rid of unnecessary distractions will allow you to be able to concentrate on your meditations and asanas.

 

  1. Color

If you are going to repaint, choose calm, muted colors and use non-toxic, eco-friendly paint. Pale blues and greens or warm tones of white that recede rather than call your attention, are ideal for creating a relaxing and calming environment.

 

  1. Decorations

Keep them minimal but inspirational. A plant or two, a handcrafted wall hanging, a dream catcher, a statue of Buddha. Only include items that you personally find exceptionally beautiful and pleasing to raise your spirit and to center your attention.

 

 

  1. Lighting

Natural light is best – but hang lightweight curtains so that you can control the level of light that enters. Dimmer switches are essential, and discreet soft lighting that can be changed to match your mood is ideal.

 

  1. Essentials

Make sure all the things you need for your yoga routine are easily accessible such as yoga mats and towels, or bolsters and meditation pillows. A strap, blocks, and a yoga sandbag can also be useful.

 

  1. Accessories

Scented candles, aromatic oil burners and incense are good accessories to create special atmospheres in your home yoga space. Our sense of smell greatly affects our mood and choosing different aromas can influence both your mood and your state of animation.

 

 

A little more about our guest writer:

Harper is a creative writer and adventurer who is fond of anything related to fitness, design, and travel. When she isn’t busy freelance writing, you’ll find her buried in classic novels or meeting up with friends in a neighbourhood café. Be sure come to say hi on her blog.

 

Happy Yoga-ing!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Becoming Your Own Health Advocate (Tips, Tools, Resources)

I was hit by a car 10 years ago. It changed my life. Not just because I lived in pain for five years but because while in the midst of recovery, every health care provider I saw had a differing opinion on how to care for me. It wasn’t like I had an internal health problem that was elusive or resulting in conflicting medical test results – I had herniated and fissured spinal discs… That’s ALL! I mean, yes, they were excruciatingly painful, but not rocket science. The anxiety that resulted from being tossed left and right by well-intentioned doctors, physical therapists, psychologists, acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors served to cripple me more than the pain itself. But being left adrift in the middle of the sea does have a way of forcing one to find a way to swim to shore all by themselves, doesn’t it?

 

 

I’ve been symptom free for five years now, not thanks to any one provider but because I learned, for the first time, how to advocate for my own health. Through the years I’ve come up with resources and tips for clients to help them do the same. My highest hope is that you can use this advice to find your own unique road map to better health. If you don’t find it for yourself, I can almost assure you that no one will try on your behalf. So, let’s get you started!

 

The Problem

The road blocks that keep people from properly advocating for their own health are manifold. Let’s review a few main ones….

For starters, there’s SO much health information out there these days. You’ve heard the term “Dr. Google,” I assume? Alas, we can be sent down an unending virtual funnel of information overload that only serves to make us paranoid, confused and convinced we can self diagnose. Google can be equal parts friend and foe, just like all the blogs, magazines and social media sites. How does a person learn to advocate for their health when it’s so confusing how to even take the first step? Welcome to the world we live in!  

 

 

Secondly, a large majority of health professionals (from fitness experts to surgeons) will have a “provider bias.” In other words, they have a specific perspective or approach that they trend towards as a solution for health concerns brought their way. Case in point: An extremely talented personal trainer I know would (unfortunately) put all of her clients, both male and female, on a similar bulking/cutting program involving specific nutritional parameters and weight lifting regimens. While it’s true that this style of training likely suited many of her clients, it’s highly unlikely that it was the best approach for every single one of them. Another example: A chiropractor who believes that spinal correction and releasing nervous system pressure is the cure-all for internal health ailments when, in fact, some individuals will continue to suffer even when in perfect alignment.

Lastly, many people simply don’t have the time, energy or confidence to actively pursue their health or to second-guess medical opinions. It takes a LOT of effort at times. For example, I’ve known of several people who have had to follow-up with doctors to get answers regarding sensitive medical tests when the doctors got the results weeks earlier and didn’t carve out a minute to call and inform the patient. It’s also very hard to trust our gut instinct that something is wrong when providers (and sometimes even scans) tell us otherwise. I know of multiple women whose breast cancers weren’t initially identified through scans and others who have been told to “wait and see” how ailments progress only to discover months or years down the line that action or treatment should have been immediately undertaken.

Alas, all of these challenges come up because people – both providers and patients/clients – aren’t perfect, and neither is medicine. We’re all just doing the best we can with the tools at our disposal. So, the real question becomes, “how can I better advocate for myself?”  

The Solution

Becoming our own health advocate involves several things. Here’s a short list:

  1. Asking well-prepared questions of providers
  2. Finding second, third and even fourth opinions
  3. Knowing where to look online for credible health information
  4. Balancing advice; traditional vs alternative, western vs eastern, etc.
  5. Coming up with our own solutions
  6. Finding the confidence to trust your gut

 

 

Let’s dive into more detail…

Asking Well-Prepared Questions of Providers

One sure sign of a good health professional is when they are willing to sit, listen and patiently answer your questions. We ALL have health questions (don’t pretend you don’t!), so it’s important that we seek answers through the professionals who are qualified to give them to us.

One of the most frustrating medical experiences I’ve had was when I was pregnant with my first son. I had so many questions and always felt rushed by the OBs at the office. I never felt that my questions were given thoughtful attention and it made me feel guilty for asking them. Not surprisingly, I remained pretty ignorant on many fronts and didn’t know that I could speak up for myself and tell them “no” when they started doing frequent internal cervical checks that I’m convinced led to my premature rupture of membranes and son coming into the world a month early. My current OB, though? Wow… WORLD of a difference. I just passed the point in pregnancy when I delivered my first child and feel confident that the second kiddo is staying put for at least a few more weeks – and most of it is thanks to my current, *new* OB! She takes the time to listen to me and answer my questions. She never insinuates that I’m taking too much of her time (which I totally know that I am, hah) and she is thoughtful in collaborating with me to come up with an individualized plan for my health and pregnancy (including ZERO internal checks that could throw me into preterm labor again).

Have your questions ready and find someone who will listen. Don’t hesitate to schedule follow-up appointments to seek additional answers. If the professional is available via phone, email or health portal then don’t be afraid – contact them! Especially if this saves you forking over another co-pay or deposit for an unresolved issue. Use the access points offered to you and don’t let up on communication until you feel comfortable doing so. There should be NO closed doors in the health realm and if you find yourself looking at one then it’s time to find a new professional to work with. Period.

 

Finding Second, Third and Even Fourth Opinions

There’s a reason that the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic and UCLA Medical Center are all highly reputed. It’s not just that they have the most technologically advanced tools for cancer screenings and treatments that makes them so great. Part of what makes these centers so well trusted and successful is the teamwork and collaboration efforts of the doctors who work there. It’s well understood that certain cancers can be confusing and need a multi-pronged treatment approach; one that is best found when multiple voices and experts weigh in to craft a custom treatment plan. Very few health professionals can claim to have all of the answers on their own.

 

 

One big reason to consult various professionals is so that you can try out different treatment options. This works best when you either have a gut instinct that your current treatment plan or program isn’t right for you (and therefore isn’t worth your time and investment) or when you have given your current program all of your earnest effort and are not seeing the desired results. Another big reason to shop around for different opinions? R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If you don’t have respect for the health professional – or they don’t express respect for you and your needs – then onward you go! There are other fish in the sea, I assure you.

 

Knowing Where to Look Online for Credible Health Information

There’s no denying that finding credible information online can be a doozy. Top this fact with the rise of fake news and it’s hard to know where to turn. Here are a few ideas to get you started in your virtual hunt for answers and solutions:

  • Ditch Dr. Google and opt for Google Scholar (!!!)  This works just like regular Google except when you put in search terms you will get populated results from peer-reviewed journal articles (aka where the real research and findings are published – not someone’s subjective interpretation of them). It can be a tad overwhelming at first but with a little self-educating you will learn how to search for relevant terms and scan articles for key takeaways.
  • Trust the big guns (and occasionally your fav blogger, hehe); long-time established health websites are going to offer objective information over subjective or anecdotal. Examples: Mayo Clinic, Medscape, WebMD, Livestrong, to name a few. Wikipedia also remains a straightforward place to find information that has been combed through and objectively vetted by the masses. A couple of my lesser-known favorites (but highly credible and evidence-based): Precision Nutrition (this is one of the top nutritionist certification programs on the market and they have free articles in their blog section) and Evidence Based Birth (great articles AND podcast to inform mothers-to-be)
  • Look at what governing medical bodies, associations and foundations are recommending – the latter two may not always take into account the most recent, emerging research, but you can bet that they hang their hats on what has been well-reviewed and widely accepted in the relevant industry. Examples: World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health,  The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG), American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society, American Dental AssociationAmerican Heart Association
  • Find one or two sites you love and trust so you can avoid the temptation of reading articles from 10 different websites on a single niche subject (unless you want to…I’m admittedly a bit of an info junkie and do this often…). But be warned: Clinging to your subjective bias has downfalls at times, too. I could rattle off dozens of popular “health” Instagram handles that are highly subjective, ill-informed, and alas, being widely accepted as true and reputable, when in fact they’re not. This can be tricky territory and we’ve got to ask ourselves if the information is merely serving our subjective bias or is holistic and credible.

 

 

Balancing Advice; Traditional vs Alternative, Western vs Eastern, etc.

It can be daunting when one kind of health practitioner pushes pills our way while another insists that with the right kind of diet we don’t any prescriptions. Equally confusing is when we’re told by one doctor that we need surgery and by another that regular physical therapy is sufficient to pull us out of pain. Go to a western-trained doctor and you will likely be told that improving heart health depends on cardiovascular exercise and eating a heart-healthy diet…go to an eastern-influenced guru and he will tell you the key to improving cardiac function lies in specific yoga poses and pranayama (yogic breathing practices).

Who do you listen to? Whose advice do you give a fair shot? Who’s right?

Answer #1: It depends.

Answer #2: They all are.

Allow me to elaborate…most professionals have good reasons for taking the approach that they do. Under specific circumstances, some of them may be right on the money while others may miss the mark. This is largely because it depends on the person being treated, their lifestyle, mindset, commitment to a health plan, and unique health situation. So, that aforementioned person who needs help with heart health may be overweight, sedentary and have a family history of high cholesterol. This person should definitely get on a cardio exercise plan and begin eating a more heart-healthy diet. But what about someone who already eats pretty well and regularly exercises but has high blood pressure due to excessive stress and sleeplessness? She may benefit most from learning the recommended yoga poses and breathing practices. You can start to see how taking multiple angles and approaches to health solutions into consideration may be the wisest thing you can do. This will help you find your own way. Your own solution…

 

Coming Up with Our Own Solutions

Some of the best fitness, wellness and health plans are those that don’t fit into a program designed for the masses. As successful as she is, Kayla Itsines’ “Sweat With Kayla” program is NOT the fitness solution for every woman on the planet. And frankly, I’m sick of women thinking that it is! The paleo diet is NOT the holy grail for everyone’s health. And as wonderful as exercise is, it’s NOT the cure-all for the everyone’s blues just because it releases endorphins. This is where therapy comes in, friends.

I started healing from getting hit by a car when I decided to glean little bits of advice from each of the roughly dozen health professionals I worked with instead of committing to just one’s treatment plan. From one chiropractor, I learned that my upper back needed to be stronger to support my lower back (where the herniated discs were). From a physical therapist, I learned the power of muscular release through dry needling (my multifidus needed some TLC!). From an older-and-wiser fitness professional, I learned how to correct my foot alignment and strike so that both sides of my body balanced out again. From a psychologist, I learned the power of creating a safe, mental space for myself to overcome PTSD. From a nutritionist, I learned how to better craft my diet to become anti-inflammatory. And from an acupunturist, I learned how to harness vital energy while simultaneously letting go of toxic grief.

As you can see, my healing was not straightforward…at least not in the sense that I could turn to one person to reveal all the answers and solutions for me. It took time, patience and acting as my own personal investigator to solve the mystery.

 

 

Finding the Confidence to Trust Your Gut

If you feel that you need a second opinion, get it. Trust your gut.

If you find that a health professional just isn’t working for you – even if you think they’re a good person and you like them enough to maaaybe hang around longer – move on. Trust your gut.

If you find the best solution for a health problem is a combination of both modern medicine (aka prescription or over-the-counter drugs) and alternative medicine (ex: herbal supplements and an Ayurvedic diet) then enjoy the benefits of both. Trust your gut.

If you have the nagging feeling that something is wrong with your body even though not one but two doctors have said you’re in perfect health then keep searching until you find someone who will be your teammate in the investigative process. Trust your gut.

It’s not easy to learn how to speak up for ourselves in this impressively vast network of health professionals and insurance plans but it’s critical we start practicing. We all need to learn to trust and depend on our own voices for our health. The point isn’t to turn a blind eye to quality advice or completely distrust health professionals – the idea is to learn how to take proactive steps towards living our best lives.

 

Become your own health advocate!!!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

NBC News: My Thoughts on 2019 Wellness Trends

I’m very honored to kick off the new year in conjunction with NBC News! The network has a “BETTER” news section on its website that covers Diet & Fitness, Careers, Money, Wellness and Relationships. I worked with journalist Nicole Spector to highlight what I feel is one of the foremost emerging trends in wellness this year: restorative exercises and experiences.

If this sounds intriguing to you, or if you’re finding you need a little more TLC this year, I encourage you to check out the article:

From sleep to restorative exercise, 2019 wellness trends are about owning self-care

 

I encourage everyone to take a good, long look at what “wellness” means to them this year!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

Forget About Weight Loss

This year, I want to encourage my readers to forget about weight loss. That’s right, just rid it from your line of thinking. There are so many other goals that can positively impact your wellness and, ironically, can take weight off effortlessly. These “other” goals propel us in the right direction for our holistic health and release us from the mental stress of focusing on the scale.

 

I recently shared my thoughts with HealthiNation for its article:

6 New Year’s Resolutions That Have Nothing to Do with Weight Loss

 

If you’d like to check out my favorite “anti weight loss” new year’s resolution then scroll to tip #5. That’s me. And, just for fun, you can watch the accompanying video for a quick, visual summary of the article. My tip [#5] includes entertaining visuals of a puppy, Obama and Ariel (yes, the little mermaid). Hope you get a good chuckle like I did!

 

Here’s to your health and well being this year and always!

Maggie

 

Should I Exercise When I’m Sick?

Did you know that the #1 reason people take sick leave is due to chronic low back pain? Well, exercise has been proven to reduce sick leave for these individuals. Water aerobics also reduces sick leave for pregnant women dealing with low back pain. Exercise programs combining both high and low intensity activities have been proven effective for cancer patients going through chemo too. It helps these patients “prevent and/or minimize physical inactivity, fatigue, muscle wasting and energy loss.” Amazing!

But what about exercise during a head cold or following a stomach virus? Should we exercise when we start to feel sick or stay home and rest? And how soon following an illness should we try to get back in the saddle with our exercise routine? How quickly do we lose fitness when we’re inactive? Let’s discuss both scientific findings and common sense…

 

 

The Impact of Regular Exercise on the Immune System

Research on exercise immunology shows that there are positive adaptations in the immune system with moderate physical activity. For those who routinely exercise in moderation this results in overall fewer sick days, including fewer common colds and upper respiratory infections; however, more exercise is not always better for boosting immune function. There’s an upper threshold that most people’s bodies will tolerate.

Studies show that heavy exertion lasting longer than 90 minutes can have negative impacts on the immune system for the next 3 to 72 hours, meaning an individual is more susceptible to viruses and bacteria while recovering from intense exercise and over training.

 

General Recommendations for Exercise During Sickness

“In general, if symptoms are from the neck up, moderate exercise is probably acceptable (and some researchers would argue even beneficial) when an athlete is sick, whereas bed rest and a gradual progression to normal training are recommended when the illness is systemic.”

*If you’re looking to get rid of a head cold check out my former post: Quick Tips to Kick a Cold

 

The Grey Area of Exercising While Sick

Although general recommendations are helpful, they’re just that – general. Not specific to your unique situation and how your body handles illness. For me, a head cold is almost always improved with some light to moderate exercise. My husband is a different story though. I try to refrain from judgement. If he feels a cold or sickness coming on and tries to exercise he’s almost always achy and more sick feeling later that day, So, it’s important to do some trial and error with exercise and your health through the years to learn how your own body responds to things.

Let’s talk through some common sense approaches for figuring out whether you should exercise or not when you’re feeling sick…

 

 

Ask Yourself These Questions When You’re Ill

What kind of sickness am I fighting?

How tired and rundown do I feel at this moment?

How often do I typically exercise?

How do I feel after exercise when I have this kind of illness?

 

Give Exercise a Try If…

  • Your illness is “above the neck” – meaning a common cold or mild sinus infection
  • You don’t feel overly winded walking up and down the stairs
  • You’re getting good sleep at night
  • You feel that you can go to the gym and keep germs from spreading (i.e., washing hands, wiping down equipment, covering coughs/sneezes, etc.)
  • You have a normal appetite and are well hydrated
  • Exercise tends to energize you
  • You’re currently in a regular exercise routine and know how to modify its intensity

 

Types of Exercises to Ease in With

  • Your regular routine with more rest following exercise days
  • Your regular routine but lower in intensity (i.e. lighter weights, longer rest intervals between sets, shorter total workout time, etc)
  • Restorative or gentle yoga
  • Walking or light jogging
  • Low-impact cardio for 30 minutes or less
  • Light to moderate weight lifting
  • Dancing or aerobics class
  • Swimming
  • Biking

 

 

Hold off on Exercise If…

  • You’re contagious with a stomach virus or the flu (wait at least 48 hours after extreme vomiting and/or diarrhea before trying light exercise)
  • The virus or bacteria is systemic (i.e. impacting your lungs and oxygen transport)
  • The infection or illness has you feeling extremely fatigued and incapable of performing your normal daily tasks
  • You’re dehydrated
  • You’re unable to eat a normal diet
  • Exercise makes you feel worse, even after a light routine
  • You’re highly contagious and/or unable to control the spread of your germs

 

How Quickly Will I Lose Results if I *Don’t* Exercise?

A week or two off from the gym won’t do any major damage to your fitness results but you will probably feel more fatigued getting back into the groove for the first couple workouts before quickly resuming your former levels of strength and endurance. Generally speaking, cardiovascular capacity will begin to decline more significantly after two weeks and you may lose some muscle mass after three weeks of not doing any strength training.

As with anything, consistency is key so two weeks off from the gym will have a much different impact on someone who only works out once or twice a week versus someone who works out daily. Think of it this way: The person who is less active doesn’t have as much to hang onto for their fitness so will decline in fitness more rapidly. The person who is more active has stronger cardiovascular function and more muscle mass so will potentially have an easier time regaining ground in their workouts.

 

 

*Stay well this season and make positive, proactive decisions for your health. Cheers!*

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie