Author Archives: wellnesswinz

About wellnesswinz

I'm Maggie Winzeler. I've been a fitness professional for 15 years. My experience has taught me that tough workouts are great, but wellness is even better. Wellness transforms our bodies and hearts.

10 Ways I Have Reduced Environmental Toxins in My Household

Wellness is not defined by products. Whether expensive or inexpensive, products will never capture what the heart of living in wellness is all about. Nonetheless, products can have a helpful or harmful impact on our health. While I understand that paying for certain products is prohibitive for some people, I believe in spreading awareness about them so that consumers can pick and choose what feels important to them (btw – a few things I’ve gotten rid of have saved me money!).

If nothing else, I hope this article plants the seed for some of your own ideas. The included list of things I’ve changed and products I’ve switched to in effort to reduce environmental toxins in my home has taken years of trial and error, and is nowhere “complete.”

My advice as a wellness professional who is very much in the active state of learning about this topic is to stay curious and try not to feel too much pressure. Small changes can happen one day, month or year at a time as you find yourself ready.

 

Why Reducing Environmental Toxins is Crucial  

I found an excellent summary on EarthEasy.com about why household chemicals and toxins are dangerous, poorly regulated, and difficult to understand for the average consumer:

“A 2004 report by the British Medical Journal states ‘it is clear that environmental and lifestyle factors are key determinants of human disease – accounting for perhaps 75% of most cancers.’ And estimates show most Americans have somewhere between 400 and 800 chemicals stored in their bodies, typically in fat cells.

Because effects from exposure to toxins are difficult to identify, it can be years before problems from exposure manifest themselves as a disease or chronic ailment. In the US, the EPA does screen many products for some toxins, but until needed revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act are enacted by Congress, many loopholes in the system leave the burden of responsibility on the consumer to make informed decisions through reading individual product MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets), following recommendations from agencies like Consumer Reports, or by studying product literature.”

 

My Main Takeaways About Toxins (in plain language)

I’ve browsed literature, studies and mainstream news articles about environmental and household toxins through the years. Here are a few basic things I’ve learned that people can do to reduce their overall toxic load:

  • Change beauty and hygiene products in favor of those that are “cleaner”
  • Use unscented products for household cleaning, laundry, beauty and hygiene whenever possible
  • Lean towards products that include descriptions on their labels such as: Human Safe, Plant & Mineral Based, Fragrance Free, No Harmful Preservatives, Non GMO, Free of Dyes & Perfumes, Phalate & Paraben Free
  • Reduce plastic use when possible, or at least in the kitchen
  • When harsh chemicals must be used for cleaning, treating flooring, painting, etc. turn on fans and overhead vents (even turn on your oven’s hood or downdraft vent), open windows, and anything else to increase circulation, get rid of fumes and/or allow for “off gassing”
  • Keep water and HVAC systems clean with proper filters that are changed on a schedule
  • Eat “cleaner” by going local for ingredients or prioritizing organic fruits and vegetables and naturally-fed and farmed meats and fish. Buying an entire grocery’s list of organic items isn’t feasible for many people. If it’s within your means then try to at least buy organic for fruits/veggies on the “Dirty Dozen” list of produce to avoid heavy pesticide exposure

The 10 Things I’ve Changed in My Household

1) No Dryer Sheets

I started hearing that dryer sheets had a bad reputation years ago but couldn’t wrap my mind around it at the time. I was focused on healthier eating and getting restorative sleep after a few years of dysfunctional insomnia and troubles falling asleep due to anxiety and PTSD. At the time, healthier food and sleep were all I had the brain space and energy for. If you’re in a similar boat right now that’s totally okay! We can only handle so many changes at once.

When I eventually opened myself up to learning more about why dryer sheets are dangerous I discovered a study revealing that dryer sheets emit endocrine disrupting chemicals (ex: chemicals that can mess with estrogen levels) and chemicals associated with triggering asthma. I decided I would order some wool dryer balls but got lazy and did the next week or so of laundry without dryer sheets. I was surprised at what I discovered! There was hardly any difference without them! I personally didn’t notice a major difference in static or softness. From then on, I haven’t used anything in my dryer. The clothes go in, the button is pressed on, and that’s that!

2) Free & Clear Laundry Detergent and Plant-Based Stain Treatment

After realizing how easy it was to get rid of dryer sheets I started to wonder if I could (and should) opt for free and clear laundry detergent. I grew up with the original scent of Tide infusing my clothes, towels and bed sheets. Would it be so hard to disassociate from that scent? Probably not, I decided. And I was right. I’ve tried a variety of brands for Free & Clear detergent over the years and much prefer it now. I’m especially grateful to be scent-free during my pregnancies when a heightened sense of smell assails me.

Quick anecdote: At one month postpartum with my second son I stayed in an Air B&B for a long weekend so that I could be matron of honor for my cousin’s wedding. Despite being perpetually exhausted from nursing my baby around the clock I could hardly sleep the first night in the rental because the sheets smelled SO intense. Whatever detergent or softener had been used on them was completely revolting to me! I think it’s safe to say I will never go back to the using potentially dangerous and scented laundry detergent (not worth risking carcinogen exposure or the extra stink!).

3) Free & Clear Hand Soaps and Dish Soap

You might expect that when I changed all my laundry products around that I also changed other soaps in my home, but I didn’t. I love the smell of vanilla coconut hand soap and the luxurious aroma of various Milton Brown liquid soaps. I wasn’t quite ready to part with them until I noticed that my oldest son’s hands would break out in response to washing them with more heavily perfumed products. My son has eczema and the last thing I want is for him to be uncomfortable in his own skin or grow resistant of hand washing. After making the switch I found that we’re better off as a family. I discovered a gentle foaming hand soap from Target that is especially helpful for getting dirty toddler hands clean!

4) Bye-Bye Perfume!

About seven years ago, I started hearing about women making the switch to wearing essential oils instead of perfumes. I was intrigued but not ready to part with my array of Chanel perfumes. It was my daily joy to spritz myself with one. In retrospect, I’m sure I made some people dizzy by the perfume cloud I walked around in.

When I got pregnant for the first time I started spritzing the perfume on the inside of my sleeve or chest of my shirt instead of directly on to my skin. This felt safer for the baby and allowed me to enjoy the smell. Eventually, once I was breastfeeding, I felt like it was too aggressive for my baby to be pressed up against my smelly fabrics and I gave up perfumes for good. I’m glad I did. Although more research is needed, one study by the Environmental Working Group “estimated that only 34% of stock ingredients often found in fragrances have been tested for toxicity.” Given how chemicals can build up in the body over time, I’m more comfortable living without my Chanel these days – and it has saved me money to invest in cleaner beauty cosmetics!

 

5) Safer Body Lotions & Sunscreens

Both pregnancy and my son’s eczema inspired me to switch to gentle body lotions for daily moisturizing. I prefer Aveeno for a hand cream and Cerave for body lotion, especially for my son’s dry skin. We coat him in Cerave per the dermatologist’s orders a few times a day. As I learned more about why body lotions with fragrances and added color can dry out skin instead of help it, I began to wonder about sunscreen…

Why am I putting a safer sunscreen on my babies than I’m lathering on myself?

My entire family has tried out the following mineral sunscreens over the last few summers: Blue Lizard, Cerave Face Sunscreen, Think Sport. Most mineral sunscreens are oxybenzone free, paraben free, fragrance free and chemical-filter free. Mineral sunscreen is safer for the ocean’s reefs too.

Concerns over ingredients in most commercial, chemical sunscreens prompted an FDA investigation a couple years ago. The FDA found that only two of the 16 active ingredients in these sunscreens was recognized as safe and effective (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – i.e. the two primary ingredients for many mineral sunscreens). The FDA also found that four of the active sunscreen ingredients are “systemically absorbed” into users’ skin. One has even been found in breast milk, urine and blood plasma samples. The fact that these chemicals are flooding a person’s system and have NOT been proven “safe and effective” is beyond concerning.

6) Safer Shampoo & Conditioner (no color tinting or highlights)

For a while I used a shampoo and conditioner with color tinting included. The products looked neon yellow when squeezed out into my palm and I was convinced they added a little bit of blonde to my naturally brown hair. Not only do I think I was fooling myself but I can’t help but wonder if those products were safe. Apparently, I’m not alone in questioning the safety of various hair dyes.

Results from studies about hair dyes are conflicting. Most recently, researchers at Harvard Medical School found associations between certain cancers and different kinds of hair dyes but were hesitant to declare these causation. They did suggest that the fumes and long-term exposure of working as a hair stylist using coloring products on clients could cause cancer, but that personal use of hair dye products probably doesn’t.

The results of the study are conflicting because on the one hand, the researchers conclude “permanent hair dye does not appear to increase overall cancer risk,” but in the same breath, they admit that there were limitations to the study, especially with regards to gender, race and ethnicity. Additionally, the researchers based their study around the assumption that “hair dye color correlated with natural shades of hair.” This assumption might not capture chemicals involved in stripping naturally darker pigments of hair during coloring treatments. So…to each their own on this topic until further research is conducted. I feel best keeping my natural color for now…but ask me again when I go grey!  😉

7) Investing in Clean Beauty Cosmetic Products

Clean beauty can be expensive but my hope is that more cosmetics companies will make the move towards clean beauty with commercial pressure and perhaps better regulations on ingredients some day (one can dream, right?). I was initially hesitant to pay the higher prices but I don’t wear a lot of make-up so I’ve found that with a few clean beauty products I can cover most of my bases. I currently use Beauty Counter products for face lotion, foundation, concealer and lip stick. I still use my old blush and eye liner for now.

I hosted Beauty Counter Representative and breast cancer survivor Morgan Adams for a Clean Beauty Q&A the other year on the blog. You can check it out to learn more about why she encourages clean cosmetics for clients and friends.

8) Unscented and Plant-Based All-Purpose Spray

For many of the same aforementioned reasons for going fragrance free and aiming for more natural products, I also eventually made the switch with all-purpose cleaning spray. At first, I tried Mrs. Meyer’s lemon scent and used that for a few years because it felt like a move towards fewer chemicals even though it’s scented. Years ago, that was about as close as I could find for a more responsible cleaner off the shelf in grocery stores. It’s organic, paraben free and eco-friendly. Not too bad.

Over the years, I’ve been pleased to see more options including my recent favorite at Wegman’s: Sensitive Home Free & Clear All Purpose Cleaner. I transfer new bottles to my preferred spray bottle under the kitchen sink and recycle the discarded one. The spray is so gentle that is seldom leaves streaks!

9) More Houseplants

According to Swanson Nursery, houseplants have the following main benefits:

    • Improving your mood.
    • Reducing fatigue.
    • Lowering stress and anxiety.
    • Improving office performance and focus.
    • Boosting healing and pain tolerance.
    • Minimizing the occurrence of headaches by improving air quality.
    • Easing dry skin and respiratory ailments due to dry air.

I love a lot of green in my home (both decor and plants), so I’m thrilled by how helpful houseplants can be for filtering air and improving its quality. With all the unknown chemicals floating around in our homes from commonly used products this seems like a big win for just about anyone! While some plants like Monstera and Fiddle Leaf Figs can be quite pricey, others like golden pothos (amazing for air purification) and braided money tree are affordable houseplant options. I’ve tried them all through the years and am proud to say that two of my plant babies are 16 years old!

10) Glass & Silicone Food Storage

Research shows that harmful chemicals can leach out of plastics into food, especially if the plastic is hot. Because of this, I’ve tried hard to use mostly glass food storage containers and silicone storage bags in recent years. I also remove any and all plastic wrap from frozen foods before it’s heated, even if the instructions say to leave the plastic wrap on. I’ve found that a round glass casserole dish with the lid on works just as well to steam vegetables as a plastic steam pouch – I simply add a minute or two to the cook time!

 

At first glance, it can look like a lot of changes. But all of this happened over roughly a decade and is still ongoing. I know I need to get better at being more eco-friendly, probably starting with paper towels (I confess I overuse them in frazzled mom moments), and I could make some more changes to reduce toxins in my home too. As it stands, if I use a harsh cleaning product I usually wear a mask and gloves.

I’m aiming for progress, not perfection. I hope you’ll join me!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Religion vs. Evidence-Based Science: An Integrative Philosophy for Wellness

People like to pit religion against evidence-based science, and vice versa. I’ve heard of some Christians, for example, who write off modern evolution theories like clergymen used to write off Galileo’s then-revolutionary scientific findings about the earth and sun because such findings opposed outdated understandings about the earth in scripture (i.e. pre-telescope guesses about how the planets revolved). I’ve also seen atheist Christmas stockings with text bubbles spelling out “BANG!” above images depicting the scientific evolution of humanity from apes. Perhaps the most recent example that comes to mind is the religious skepticism tied to some of the anti-vaccination buzz amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, many attention-grabbing arguments and loud voices choose strict sides in this debate, as though preparing for a life-and-death game of dodgeball.

 

 

The world loves to think in black and white. It marries itself to binary perspectives because they are the most logical. To integrate dichotomous philosophies requires much more thought, contemplation and introspection. But I suggest trying it.

Here’s why…

Wellness is at its best when it’s approached in a multi-pronged and integrative way. I believe science and religion are also at their best when viewed as complementary forces instead of enemies at war. When they are integrated into the understanding of the human experience, we can take better care of ourselves than ever before, serving both our utmost physical needs and intangible longings of the soul.

It turns out that scientists and theologians aren’t all that different…

Many famous scientists are known for their belief in God including Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Johannes Kepler, and Sir Francis Bacon, to name a few. One Catholic group explains that the scientist and theologian are fairly similar, especially in light of the scientific method: “The fact that he [the scientist] must seek answers proves that they are not in sight. The fact that he continues to seek them in spite of all difficulties testifies to his unconquerable conviction that those answers, although not presently in sight, do in fact exist. Truly, the scientist too walks by faith and not by sight.”

 

 

Albert Einstein famously said:

“Science without religion is lame,

religion without science is blind.”

I believe most people find themselves in some difficult-to-define balance between these two forces, using one and then the other to explain their life’s circumstances and beliefs. And that’s okay! Science operates in the realm of what we can logically understand about the body and nature while religion and spirituality operate on what is above our logical brains. Spirituality relies on the inexplicable and infinite whereas science rests firmly on the finite components of this world. As you can see, the two were never supposed to be forces at war. They complement one another, with spirituality picking up where the limitations of science, research and evidence have been reached.

I’ve heard of people inexplicably recovering from grim medical diagnoses because they found God or began a spiritual practice involving prayer and meditation. If science could keep an eye on every cell of the person’s body throughout that healing process then perhaps it might find an explanation for how the body corrected itself…or perhaps it wouldn’t. Personally, I’m okay resting into the unknowns and inexplicable. It gives me some measure of reprieve that there are aspects of us that can never be contained to an evidence-based study or a research lab. In fact, the more that I seek concrete answers in life the more that I find they seldom exist.

 

 

The more that I stretch my brain and heart to integrate multiple competing perspectives into my understanding about the mysteries of this world, the better off I am. It’s like that famous Indigo Girls song (yes, I rocked out to them in the 1990s):

“And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There’s more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
Closer I am to fine, yeah”

So yes, one day I’m going to throw my hands up in celebration over a groundbreaking scientific discovery (ahem…mRNA vaccine trials for cancer) and another moment I’m going to raise my palms to the sky in praise of The Infinite. The One. The Mystery.

I’ve been given every reason to trust medicine because it has saved my body (and my oldest son) from tremendous harm and death. I also have every reason to trust in a greater power that can’t be contained by the laws of science because I have felt another kind of saving deep in my soul; the kind that allows me to be free from fear of death and open to abundant joy in this life, even in the desperate and broken moments. This peculiar balance has been paramount to my wellness journey.

 

 

Now, my question is this: Will you be brave enough? Brave enough to believe that you don’t have to pick sides after all?

It requires a leap of faith in two directions at once.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Healthy Way to Beat Stress with Exercise

Stress of all kinds (ex: exercise, accident, illness, trauma, an argument, generalized anxiety, etc.) can impact our endocrine systems both immediately and over a prolonged period of time. When our bodies sense a stressor they release both epinephrine and norepinephrine right away. These hormones dissipate rather quickly once the body perceives it’s no longer in danger or threatened. The famous “stress hormone” called cortisol is released about 10 minutes after the initial stressor and does not dissipate quickly. Instead, cortisol can circulate in the body for 1-2 hours.

Normal levels of cortisol rise and fall throughout the day with our circadian rhythms. People experiencing prolonged elevation of cortisol might demonstrate “anxiety, agitation, poor sleep, ‘wired but tired’ feeling and a fast pulse.” Over time, the constant release of cortisol causes the hormone to accumulate in the body to the point that the adrenal glands can’t produce any more of it. This is when the “exhaustion phase” begins following chronic stress and anxiety.

 

 

The Exhaustion Phase

During this period of exhaustion, the body’s immune system is vulnerable and small stressors are more difficult to manage. People might experience emotional issues, poor sleep, increased pain, slower wound healing, and other challenges that outwardly reflect the body’s dysregulated state.

I’ve lived for long periods of time in the fatigued state that follows an excess of cortisol. It happened when I over-trained in just about every exercise format while also working full-time as a personal trainer. It happened again after getting hit by a car. I also felt exhaustion rear its ugly head after postpartum anxiety plagued me during the sleep-deprived days of caring for both of my infant sons. And, just when I thought I’d never get burned out again, it happened after I endured a traumatic loss and surgery last fall.

So, take it from me [a health professional] when I say that you can set aside any shame, blame and guilt that you want to put on yourself for your stress getting out of hand. It just happens sometimes. This is life. What matters is that you do your best to learn how to manage stress better as the years pass. You can start by taking the simple steps to manage lifestyle habits that support the healthiest version of you possible. I will talk about how to do that with exercise today but I encourage you to seek a mental health counselor who can address the root of the problem and a naturopath who can help you rebalance hormones.

 

The Stress of Exercise

As many of you already know, exercise is a stressor. Hard exercise can become “too much of a good thing” for someone who is experiencing adrenal fatigue from the prolonged release of cortisol. If you’re currently experiencing a major life change, loss, accident, illness, stressor, or long-term fatigue, then my advice to you is to avoid exercise modalities like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), distance running/biking, competitive events, classes that focus on elevating your heart rate above 70-80% max, boot camps, and other forms of exercise that you might define as intense or very intense. Now isn’t the time! Set aside the long workouts, the twice a day workouts, the intense workouts, and even the everyday workouts. Make sure you have at least two rest days a week.

 

Here are the healthy options for exercise that will help you recover from prolonged stress (and beat stress in general)!

 

 

Exercise that Feels Fun and Uplifting

This is about as straightforward as it can get: HAVE FUN. Exercise formats and routines that you find enjoyable will help you stay committed and lift your mood too. Try a dance class or ballroom dancing lessons if you used to dance when you were younger or have always dreamed of getting better at it. Try walking or jogging a local trail that has a great view or outdoor exercise equipment stations that you can play around on. Go for a gentle bike ride with your kids or sign-up for a family fun run. Whatever sounds exciting – and not too rigorous – is what you should pick first! Challenge yourself in a positive way without overdoing it.

 

 

Get Outside for Exercise

Exercising outdoors is a great way to help boost feel-good hormones. Science shows us that being outside helps to raise both serotonin and dopamine: “Serotonin is responsible for many functions such as memory, sleep, behavior, and appetite. Dopamine affects movement, emotional response, and your ability to feel pleasure.”

As you can see, so-called “outdoor therapy” is real! One of the best ways to get a dose of it is through a walk in nature, a hike with a friend, beachside yoga, a country bike ride, and other soul-soothing physical activities. Just be wary of conditions that make the exercise strenuous such as high heat, heavy humidity, dehydration, inappropriate apparel/gear, planning a route that’s overambitious, etc.

 

 

Do More Stretching

Stretching can help your body release tension and activate a relaxation response. This is helpful when you’re feeling the physical effects of stress such as tense muscles, a tight jaw, a racing pulse, intestinal distress, poor sleep, etc. Stretching is also a great time to focus on deep breathing which can help you calm your mind and progressively relax your muscles. I like to tell people to stretch at the end of a workout for their nervous system’s sake, not just their muscles. Taking a few minutes to stretch can help calm the nervous system down from sympathetic overdrive and can help the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) kick in. Your PNS helps regulate and slow down your heart rate, breathing and mind so that you can reach a more calm and peaceful state.

 

 

Practice Mind/Body Exercise Formats

Just because yoga and Pilates are considered mind/body disciplines doesn’t mean that they’re easy. Pick a class level that’s appropriate for your energy and beneficial for your healing. Personally, I love really gentle hatha yoga classes where I can just melt into comfortable poses and focus on my breathing. I find these experiences to be highly rejuvenating.

Yoga and Pilates instructors will help you pay attention to your body’s alignment, internal cues, breathing, and more. We often take these aspects of the classes for granted, focusing instead on mastering headstand in yoga or getting ab definition in Pilates, but the body awareness and progressive relaxation is the best part – especially for people who are chronically stressed!

 

 

Play More Sports and Do More Recreational Movement

Even if you never made varsity back in high school you can still enjoy sports as an adult. Pickleball courts are sprouting up left and right, and there is always a rec league accessible if you’re willing to be brave and dust off the sneakers. Find an adults league for soccer or a local pool where you can swim laps. Play a round of tennis or golf with a friend, or find a court where there is pick-up basketball happening regularly. If you’re short on sports options then seek out other recreational movements through a climbing gym, martial arts or kickboxing studio, boathouse that rents out kayaks and canoes, or anything that allows you to enjoy movement without the pressure of performing sets and reps all the time at the gym.

 

Choosing any of these options will help you enjoy exercise, sports, mind/body formats, the great outdoors and an active lifestyle for many years to come and without the added toll to your system that comes with other rigorous fitness options.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Fitspiration Proven Harmful: How Do We Fix Things?

Although the fitness industry’s mission has many merits there are also a multitude of ways that it has gone awry, damaging people’s physical and mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness month, so I want to talk a little bit about studies that prove “fitspiration” images pack as much harm as power, and how we can protect ourselves from becoming collateral damage from “well-intentioned” social media hashtags, trends, images, and messages.

 

 

Mental Health and Fitness

As a fitness professional, I have spent the better part of the past two decades witnessing the underlying anxiety and cultural pressure imposed on both men and women regarding body image and desirability. I watch people with impressive careers crumble when they talk about their weight and people with outgoing personalities shrivel into themselves when asked about their lifestyle and exercise habits. It happens again and again, at various ages and stages in the lifespan, with people of all shapes, sizes, races, ethnicities, and income levels. Each time I witness that familiar, typically-nonverbal burden weighing the person in front of me down I can’t help but ask myself: Is teaching this person safe and effective exercise really going to help them with the core of their crisis? Is getting to a “goal weight” really going to make them happier? Is pushing through a hard workout to attain a particular body type going to help them realize they were worthy all along?

The short answer: No. It doesn’t help. At least not for long.

 

So, what does help people feel their best in the pursuit of health?

Well, it’s a little different for everyone but a huge chunk of it revolves around unplugging from cultural expectations and messages, and centering on the essence of what makes that person feel alive, really alive. This is where joy comes from within.

In my personal training relationships we celebrate small victories and honor what setbacks teach a person about their personality, motivations, insecurities, and how they respond to things out of their control. We view the training experience as an opportunity to get to know the body on a more focused level, with as much practical wisdom about exercise physiology, anatomy, life-enhancing movement, biomechanics, and exercise programming poured from my brain into theirs in bite-size, consumable pieces. We make the mission not just about an “end goal” but about an educational process of learning how to care for the body through health, illness, injury, and preventative medicine.

The exercise journey can and should be healing, not harmful. It should be infused with compassionate support, uplifting messages, and both personalized and realistic aspirations. This sets a person on the path towards a version of health that looks and feels best for them.

 

 

The Picture-Perfect Problem

Sadly, we’re often met with boiler-plate, subpar training programs designed to be consumable by the masses, young “influencers” who pose as fitness professionals and dole out questionable advice, and a nonstop waterfall of images that objectify both men and women’s bodies. These images perpetuate the stigma that only certain body types are healthy while damaging the mental health of both the people viewing them and those creating them.

We all know that life isn’t picture-perfect and yet the multitude of unrealistic images flooding #fitpso and #fitspiration dishearten and intimidate most people, even those who claim such images “teach them healthy habits and are inspiring.” At present, there are over 73 million images in #fitspo on Instagram alone, tagged by celebrities, fitness and nutrition professionals, and members of the public alike. That’s a lot of images. Unfortunately, viewing these fitspiration images has been linked to greater body dissatisfaction.

Instagram noticed a similar dangerous trend with the now-banned #thinspo or #thinspiration. These tags and over a dozen similar terms were banned on Instagram due to the dangers they posed for followers who used them to spread pro-eating-disorder messaging and to build communities around supporting disordered eating and body dysmorphia. Unfortunately, since that ban there have been stronger and more niche hashtag communities formed around these dangerous topics. So, it would seem that an outright ban on #fitspo isn’t the answer, but keeping it around is nearly as dangerous as the years of #thinspo.

 

 

Here’s the Evidence of How Fitspo Images Harm People

A publication on Research Gate that looked at body image disturbances resulting from fitspiration images stated that “viewing fitspiration leads to sexualization, objectification, upward and downward social comparisons which can either lead to self enhancement or body dissatisfaction.”

Another study, published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found similar trends in objectification and sexualization of the people in fitspiration posts, noting that women were most often thin and younger than 25 years old. The images were often sexualized and didn’t include the women’s faces. Many of these images “emphasized the woman’s buttocks.” Men were most likely to be muscular or “hypermuscular” but were more likely to include their faces in the images.

Okay, let’s pause for a second…

Ladies – WHAT are we doing to ourselves?!?!

The issue of self-objectification is driven, in part, by the amount of time people spend on social media. Apparently after just 30 minutes spent on Instagram each day, a person is more likely to view their body as an object. Not only is this linked to greater body dissatisfaction but it also predicts both depression and disordered eating in young women. The damage doesn’t just start with the viewer’s experience; it begins with the person taking and posting the picture. Women posting to #fitspo tend to have a stronger “drive for thinness” and are more likely to compulsively exercise. They are at higher risk of a clinical eating disorder too.

In yet another study, participants expressed multiple negative effects from viewing fitspo images, including “frustration about the deceptive nature of posts, jealousy regarding unattainable body appearance or lifestyles, feeling that their usage had become out of control, guilt about not following the lifestyles advocated, and frustration in being encouraged toward inappropriate goal-setting.” These experiences were amplified for some participants who expressed negative opinions of their own bodies and answered questions in ways that suggested underlying disordered eating habits. However, this particular study’s most novel finding is that there is an element of guilt about social media usage getting out of control and becoming addictive while following tags such as #fitspiration and #fitspo.

It appears that even careful and critical viewing might not be fully effective at avoiding the negative psychological consequences of fitspiration.

 

 

How Do We Fix Things and Feel Better?

It seems fairly obvious that nobody wishes to experience chronic stress, depression, fear of exercise, and recurrent weight loss and regain cycles, and yet that’s what fitspiration is causing to happen. This begs the question:

How do heal from fitspiration or, at the very least, better control our consumption of it?

Here are a few ideas:

Engage in self-acceptance practices like mindfulness, meditation, prayer and reflection

Work with a mental health counselor to treat underlying eating disorders, anxiety and/or depression.

Practice intuitive eating instead of restrictive eating. In other words, eat when you’re hungry and recognize which foods help you feel uplifted, energized and healthy. Intuitive eating acknowledges that it’s okay to indulge here and there too, and to focus on the cultural foods and dishes that honor your lifestyle, ethnicity, religion, taste preferences, etc.

Get active with life-enhancing movement instead of rigorous and regimented exercise. Ask yourself what types of exercises, sports and movements you enjoy and focus on them. One person may find health and wellness through frequent nature walks while another may prefer weight lifting. Still other people prefer tennis and golf, or yoga and Pilates. Whatever works for you, works! Plain and simple.

Keep a journal where you can pour out your emotions, tell your story, focus on healing, or scribble down daily self-affirmations.

Acknowledge and remind yourself that health doesn’t come in one size only. Find people on social media (or even better, in real life) who go against the cultural norms of beauty or have unique stories about the ways in which they look different. Watch their bravery and find encouragement.

Limit time spent on social media apps. As previously mentioned, around the 30 minute/day mark is when social media apps can start to influence a person towards self-objectification and all the harm that comes with that.

Avoid, block or delete triggering accounts, hashtags, content and messages. Life is too short to waste on scrolling through content that makes you feel lesser-than.

Pause and consider your own content before you post it. Who are you posting your own “fitspo” or objectified image for? Are you doing it because it genuinely makes you happy? Are you trying to gain attention and affirmation? Are there other, healthier ways to do that? Are there other ways you could take a picture of yourself that are less intimidating, sexualized or harmful, but also make you feel excited to share the content?

 

 

The Future of Digital and Image-Based Fitness

There’s something very captivating about images and sharing them, so I don’t think the social media trends around these behaviors are going anywhere for a long time. If they’re going to stick around then we must consider the consequences of our digital behavior on ourselves and society at large. Young women in particular are suffering on an epidemic level from what they consume on social media, and they’re getting set up for lifelong battles with their bodies. That’s not the legacy I want to leave as a fitness professional, nor as a “person in the public” posting pictures just because that’s what we apparently do these days.

Let’s ALL try our best to subtly shift the way we’re photographing these images, liking them and encouraging them. Let’s focus on boosting young women’s self-esteem instead of setting them up for harmful, unrealistic and oftentimes elitist and racist body image expectations. Let’s shift the dialogue and keep it positive, healthy, and accessible.

Perhaps you can do this by limiting social media time or maybe showing a little ” behind the scenes” into your real life instead of the picture-perfect version you may wish the world to believe. Whatever little thing you do, it matters. The small and collective actions of the masses are what will carve a healthier path for people of all genders and ages now and to come.

 

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

How Vibration Machines Affect the Neuromuscular System

Neuromuscular conditions are some of the most debilitating health concerns plaguing humanity. The ease of movement is something that we all take for granted until mobility restrictions begin to appear in our own lives.

Though age and genetics are regarded as the most common predisposing factors that initiate the beginning of degenerative neuromuscular concerns, there can be other influential variables too. Vibration exercise and therapy are increasingly integrated into prevention and treatment of these conditions. So, one may ask:

What is Vibration Therapy?

In simple terms, vibration therapy involves using an intense vibration or shaking within simple day-to-day workout routines to promote faster healing. To introduce vibration into the workout regime, specially designed equipment is used. These vibrating machines create a wide range of vibration intensities that can be custom manipulated based on the requirement.

 

The History of Vibration Therapy

In approximately the mid-1800s, Russian scientist Gustav Zander created a weight-and-pulley system to produce vibrations and used it to help improve the overall well-being of his digestive system. This was the earliest official record of using vibration therapy to improve health. Later on, the Russian Space Program also introduced vibration therapy for the astronauts and was soon followed by NASA’s similar endeavor. NASA scientists noticed that astronauts returning to earth after extended space missions experienced accelerated bone loss. They prescribed a daily regimen of 10-15 minutes of vibration therapy for the astronauts to help them regain bone density.

How Does Vibration Therapy Improve Neuromuscular Health?

Vibration can be categorized into two distinctive types:

  • Localized – The vibration machine is placed at a specific local area that needs immediate relief.
  • Systemic or Whole Body – Whole-body vibration requires one to sit or stand on the machine for the vibration machine to produce the vibrating effect.

The vibrations produced by vibrating machines can be vertical, horizontal or even circular in direction. As the vibration continues, the musculature of the body contracts and relaxes in a consistent yet frequent manner. This results in increased production of osteoblasts, a well-known and key component of bone formation. The increased production of these bone-forming cells promotes overall healthy growth and well-being for the skeletal system.

How is Vibration Therapy Incorporated into the Workout Routine?

Regular exercise moves like squats, pushups, crunches, deadlifts, etc. are widespread and easy to incorporate into vibration training. It’s simple – rather than a flat surface, a vibration machine is used as the base support for the exercise!

Since the vibration machine constantly produces vibrations while exercising, the muscular workout is intensified. This produces faster results in the form of leaner muscles, stronger bones, and decreased fat content within a shorter time span than workout programs that don’t include vibration.

What Are the Various Exercise Routines That Can be Done While Using a Vibration Machine?

As mentioned above, push-ups, crunches, and squats are great options, especially for beginners. Foam rolling devices are also starting to incorporate vibrations. However, as time goes on and the user gets accustomed to the constant vibration during the workout routines, numerous other exercises can be introduced.

These exercises might include calf raises, lunges, planks, bench press, side lunges, dead lifts, side planks, leg raises, sit-ups, v-sits, standing shoulder press, bent over rows, balancing exercises and more! Any free-standing or weight-bearing exercise is feasible.

 

 

Choosing the Right Vibration Machine

Vibration machines today come in various sizes and with numerous configurations. Choosing the best vibration machine from a wide range of options can be difficult and confusing. The simple solution is to choose a vibrating machine based on a few notable factors. They are:

  • Size – Larger vibrating machines are bound to be heavy and occupy a lot of space. Choosing a machine based on the overall size of the area where it will be permanently kept is the first point one should consider.
  • Requirements – There are certain scenarios where prescribed vibration therapy is restricted to specific regions of the body. In such cases, it’s unwise to invest in a whole-body vibration setup.
  • Functionalities – The best vibrating machines available today are equipped with a wide range of functionality based on the duration, intensity, and direction of the vibrating currents.

Additional Benefits of Using Vibration Machines

In addition to helping with neuromuscular improvement, vibration machines are also known to promote numerous other health benefits too. These include:

  • Weight Loss – Obesity is one of the primary global health concerns today as it leads to numerous additional issues like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and more. Adding vibration therapy to regular exercise routines can help burn calories faster and produce better results.
  • Improved Bone Density – Vibration therapy promotes osteoblastic cell formation; the key structures for increased bone strength. Using a vibration machine during a workout adds noticeable changes in overall bone density. This may be a special consideration for menopausal and post-menopausal women in preventing bone loss, and a tool for aging populations to stay strong.
  • Boosts Metabolism – Research has shown that vibration therapy is known to promote leptin production in the body. Leptin is one of the primary components that inhibits hunger.
  • Improved Lymphatic Drainage and Blood Circulation – Vibration therapy improves the fluidity of the circulating blood as well as the lymphatic drainage system. This helps with the faster removal of toxins and increased oxygen production within the body. Both of these factors promote the overall well-being for organ function and other bodily systems.
  • Reduces the Effects of Parkinson’s Disease – Vibration therapy machines may help to reduce the intensity of neuromuscular tremors and also decrease the muscular rigidity that occurs specifically in Parkinson’s disease.
  • Improved Sleep – The hormone ghrelin impacts sleep patterns in humans. Increased ghrelin hormone can cause spikes in hunger and sleep disturbances. Exercising with a vibration machine can help stabilize the release of the ghrelin hormone and improve overall sleep quality.
  • Reduced Back and Joint Pain – Joint and bone pain are often the result of osteoarthritis. Low impact and low-stress workout routines are often prescribed to people who suffer from these ailments; however, combining vibration therapy with these routines has been shown to increase glucosamine and chondroitin production in the body. Both of these components are essential for cartilage metabolism.
  • Decrease of Blood Pressure – Stress and other additional underlying factors can cause increased blood pressure. Vibration therapy relaxes the body and mind, and helps reduce stress while improving circulation.

 

 

 Contraindications of Vibration Machines

Despite the numerous health benefits vibration machines offer, there are certain scenarios where vibration therapy can cause more damage than good. This adverse effect is generally a result of interference created by the vibration.

The contradictory situations include:

  • Patients with pacemakers and other electronic implants
  • Patients recovering from operations
  • Pregnancy
  • Epileptic and other neurological disabilities

 

Conclusion

Vibration therapy has many benefits for the neuromuscular and skeletal systems, and can be used by astronauts, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts alike. It also offers many benefits for certain health complications such as osteoarthritis, back pain, Parkinson’s Disease, osteoporosis, and more. Choosing the right machine is crucial for maximal benefits. If you’re hesitant or unsure about starting vibration therapy then consult with a trusted fitness professional or physical therapist before getting started. They can help address your concerns and point you in the right direction so that you can enjoy vibration training in a safe and healthy manner!

 

Many thanks to my friends at Elliptical Ninja for collaborating on this content and helping us learn more about vibration therapy benefits!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

It’s Time to Laugh off Stress!

Do You Need to Laugh?

Have you felt stressed this year? Has your body been more tired or tense as the result of anxiety? Have you felt disappointed about missing celebrations and milestones with loved ones? There are a million reasons why 2020-2021 has increased stress levels, but the good news is that healing can start now. It’s simply a laugh away!

It’s time to laugh your stress off…literally.

I’m not suggesting that difficult emotions must get buried or left unprocessed. That would be unhealthy for long-term wellness. What I am recommending is that you find things that make you joyful so you can lighten the mood and laugh along with life.

 

 

“Laughter is the best medicine in the world.”

-Milton Berle

 

The Scientifically-Proven Benefits of Laughter

According to the Mayo Clinic, a good laugh immediately stimulates your organs through the intake of oxygen-rich air. As you laugh, your heart rate and blood pressure rise but both drop after the giggles subside, producing a calm and relaxed feeling. Your stress response “cools off” following a laugh and muscle tension eases for up to 45 minutes afterwards.

Also, laughter increases blood circulation, which is good for your heart and lungs, and boosts the release of mood-enhancing endorphins. This  all contributes to the calorie-burning effect of laugher which may not be equivalent to formal exercise but is just one more benefit of a hearty laugh.

Laughter even improves pain, strengthens the immune system, and extends the lifespan!

 

Humor for Pain Relief

Endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals, are commonly known for their stress relieving benefits following things like exercise and laugher, but they also help improve pain! In a study on the effectiveness of humor therapy for older adults living in nursing homes, it was found that individuals who completed a “humor therapy program” experienced significant decreases in chronic pain and perception of loneliness. Study participants reported enhanced happiness and life satisfaction compared to a control group that didn’t complete the humor therapy program.

The study concluded that “Nurses and other healthcare professionals can incorporate humor in caring for their patients. Telling a joke and encouraging clients to tell a funny story may have a therapeutic effect. Asking patients to make a “My Happy Folder” is also a good way to involve and empower them in their own pain and symptom management. Regardless of their physical condition, patients need to allow themselves to be happy, to let humor play a greater role in their lives, and to enjoy life. Using humor therapy is a good method of health maintenance.”

Hunter “Patch” Adams, who was portrayed in the film “Patch Adams” by Robin Williams, has long understood the medicinal effects of humor. Adams is an American physician, comedian and clown who organizes volunteers to travel around the world dressed as clowns so that orphans, patients, and others in need can enjoy their humor. Adams is also a social activist who founded the Gesundheit! Institute, a free community hospital. In its latest plans, the Gesundheit! Institute will be built as a healthcare eco-community in West Virginia that incorporates alternative medicine with traditional hospital care. Of all people, Adams understands that traditional medicine isn’t always the only answer. Humor and alternative healing approaches can improve pain and outcomes of medical interventions.

 

 

“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

-Mark Twain

 

Bolster the Immune System with Belly Laughs

Laughter has long been praised for boosting the immune system; however, researchers face inconclusive evidence about the benefits of laughter on the actual various immune system components. That said, the scientific community knows that increased and chronic stress weakens the immune system response. Humor, it seems, might just do the opposite by influencing the rise of immune cell levels and infection-fighting antibodies.

My two cents: Laughter can’t hurt.

As we continue to suffer and/or recover from the effects of a global pandemic, a good laugh is easily the most accessible, free, and unlimited medicine that we have for healing. I say use it!

 

Laughter and Longevity

A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that women with a strong sense of humor live longer than peers despite a variety of illnesses that they may suffer. The Norwegian study was conducted over 15 years and included over 50,000 adults. Researchers stated:

“The findings show that for women, high scores on humor’s cognitive component were associated with 48 percent less risk of death from all causes, a 73 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and an 83 percent lower risk of death from infection. In men, a link was found only for the risk of death from infection—those with high humor scores had a 74 percent reduced risk.”

This is highly compelling evidence that it’s never too late in life to benefit from a good laugh. And why wait? Start incorporating daily or weekly humor now!

 

 

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”

-Victor Hugo

 

Bonding and Togetherness in the Giggles

Laughter is contagious and can bring people together, strengthen relationships, diffuse disagreements, and release inhibitions. It comes in the form of swapping jokes and spending time with family and friends. Laughing can help people feel happier, more positive and relaxed in stressful situations.

As the world attempts to gain immunity from Covid-19 it’s a good time (once safe) to visit with select loved ones face-to-face and to engage in the powerful social aspects of humor, storytelling, quality time, and in-person interactions. These are all important for mental health and have been lacking for many of us over the past year.

Laughter helps people “get out of their heads” and better connect with others. The collective healing capacity of humanity depends on simple daily acts and moments like… giggling with a girlfriend, tickling your toddler, swapping playful jokes with parents, belly laughing to a comedy movie, reading something humorous, and finding the levity in life. Despite all the recent heaviness, there is always something to laugh about. Doing so may even give you the hope and healing you need.

 

“If you become silent after your laughter, one day you will hear God also laughing. You will hear the whole existence laughing – trees and stones and stars with you.”

-Rajneesh

 

 

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Trauma Recovery & Mental Health Support for Mothers

The last year has taught me a lot about recovering from trauma and coping with grief. The healing journey is never linear and yet it remains a steady part of my daily life. As anyone who has endured trauma will tell you, it can flash in and out of your life with unpredictable speed and timing for days, weeks, months or even years. Trauma often involves layers. After one layer is peeled back another is revealed, and then another, until you reach the core of the crisis. I’m not a mental health professional but as a wellness writer I feel that it’s my responsibility to point fellow moms in the direction of people who can help them.

Traumatic experiences in motherhood are common and yet we seldom label them as such. We brush aside birth and labor-related trauma when it happens because it’s an assumed “rite of passage” for mothers. Personally, I haven’t met a single friend who has experienced unmedicated labor and said it was a breeze. Rather, these women shudder at the memory and sometimes have flashbacks to the birth in the first few weeks as a mom. I experienced this firsthand after the birth of my second son. Thinking about the pain evoked a physical trauma response throughout my entire body for over a month after he was born.

 

 

Similarly, some mothers who have gone through C-section births recollect their nerves and fears while being conscious and cut open on the operating table. One friend of mine asked for anxiety medicine while having her fallopian tubes removed after her last child’s C-section delivery while another became temporarily paralyzed from the C-section spinal tap. It was an experience that scared her so much that she doesn’t want to have any more children now.

I also know of friends who experienced fear when birthing their own babies because of what happened to me last fall; I had a pregnancy loss followed by a D&E and my uterine artery ruptured during the procedure resulting in an emergency C-section. If that doesn’t spell out trauma then I don’t know what does. Unfortunately, the concerns for mothers don’t stop at “a friend of a friend’s” anecdotal experience; the maternal mortality rates in the United States are trending upwards, not downwards, for the first time in over 30 years.

Women’s fears are not unfounded. Women’s trauma experiences from pregnancy, pregnancy loss, childbirth and infant complications are very real. And yet…where is the support?

 

 

If you’re a mother, let me ask you this:

Did anyone offer to help guide you towards professional resources after your own personal trauma (if you’ve had any)? Were you able to find accessible, affordable and meaningful help? Or, like so many women, did burying the trauma feel like the easiest option within reach?

Whether trauma is related to having babies or enduring a scary hospital stay with your child, it’s a part of mom life at some point for almost every mother. As caregivers, it strikes us deep. I experienced trauma when my oldest son was unexpectedly born a month early and I thought I was losing him. I experienced it again in the PICU when a nasty case of bronchiolitis nearly took his life, and again when we learned he had a small hole in his heart. Traumatic flashbacks haunted me during night nursing sessions after my second son’s unmedicated natural birth and in a bigger way than ever before in the wee night hours upon losing my third son during the second trimester. It was a loss that felt far greater and harder to bear than a first trimester miscarriage I had endured years earlier that also left me reeling.

Even before having children I experienced trauma – when biking to work and getting hit by a car – and yet this mom stuff?

Way harder.

 

 

Anything involving my children’s well-being in addition to my own carries extra weight. As much as I always want to protect my children, sometimes real life steps in the way. Even though my boys are still very young I know that this feeling will come back to me when my oldest goes to kindergarten next year and when he learns to drive a car. When my boys move out of the house and into the real world as young adults, these raw emotions will likely pay me a visit again. I hope these emotions will be healthy and normal, without past trauma hovering over them like a cloud, but if I don’t deal with my trauma experiences over time or with professional help then normal milestones and rites of passage can come at a heavy price.

Here’s the thing about trauma:

It sticks with you even when you don’t realize it.

According to Psychology Today, “trauma is the inability to deal with a certain stressful situation, which leads to feeling overwhelmed and powerless. In short, it’s not being able to process difficult emotions to completion and then enact the solution. This is when trauma is internalized and has a life of its own inside our brain and nervous systems.”

Signs of trauma may include:

  • Anxiety that manifests as edginess, irritability, sleep disturbances, poor concentration and/or mood swings
  • Emotions such as denial, anger and/or sadness, and experiencing emotional outbursts
  • Physical symptoms such as lethargy, fatigue, racing heartbeat, panic attacks, and fuzzy thinking
  • An inability to cope with certain circumstances
  • Withdrawal and detachment
  • Hypervigilance
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Feelings of intense helplessness and fear

This list is not exhaustive of the signs and symptoms of trauma, nor does it demonstrate how “invisible” trauma can be. Some people display it very openly while others experience it internally and out of sight. Either way, trauma begs to be resolved on mental, emotional and physical levels. As moms, dealing with trauma is especially important so that we can stay present as caregivers. It’s our responsibility to deal with it so that we don’t pass it to our children. This doesn’t imply that we have to be “perfect” parents, but it does mean that we must hold ourselves accountable for healing and tending to our mental health.

We deserve wellness and our littles ones count on it. 

 

 

A good friend of mine, Lauren Goldberg, who owns Secure Base Mental Health, LLC explained to me years ago that babies and children co-regulate their nervous systems with their parents’ nervous systems, especially their mother’s. I think most moms would say anecdotally that this is true (plus, it’s backed by science). For example, when I returned home from my emergency C-section, my oldest son had a peculiar stress response for a few weeks and I knew immediately that it was because of what had happened to me. Although he didn’t know all of the details, children are intuitive and their bodies’ feel the energy that we adults put out. With this in mind, it’s important to recognize that addressing and healing from trauma are important processes for the entire family unit’s wellness.

The word “trauma” can apply to a swath of trauma-inducing situations, some of which are acute and others chronic. Sometimes, healing from trauma happens without interventions or professional help. More often though, trauma necessitates some professional help along with plenty of self-care, balance and boundary setting. This is where personal time and boundaries are critical for moms. It’s back to the analogy of “put your oxygen mask on first before you help put someone else with theirs.”  We have to prioritize our needs so that we can self-regulate in a healthy way and positively influence our children with their own emotional regulatory needs.

Again, I’m not a mental health professional but I’m an exercise professional who passionately pursues wellness in all its forms. Thus, I think this topic deserves some pause and reflection for moms. If you find that you don’t have any trauma to heal from – that’s great! But what about anxiety that tears you apart inside? What about depression that makes you sluggish through each day? What about low self-esteem that gets in the way of your goals and happiness? Mental health support is a crucial element of wellness and it deserves center stage in this whole mom thing.

Being a parent isn’t easy nor is it supposed to be. Other humans depend on us! We deserve to get the help and support we need without fear of guilt, shame, rejection or judgement.

 

 

Below I’ve compiled a list of resources for moms who have experienced trauma and are seeking mental health counseling, support services, and resources:

 

Post-Traumatic Stress After Traumatic Childbirth:

Postpartum PTSD

Birth Trauma Association

 

Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support:

Pregnancy Loss Support Groups

Baby Loss Doulas

Bereavement Doulas

 

Poor Prenatal Diagnosis Support:

Perinatal Hospice & Palliative Care Programs & Support

The TFMR Doula

 

Abortion Healing:

The Healing Choice

Support After Abortion 

 

Grieving the Death of a Child:

Losing a Child

Grief Coach

Virtual Support Groups

 

Postpartum Depression (PPD) & Anxiety Support:

The Motherhood Center

PPD Counseling

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

 

Mental Health & Substance Abuse:

National Helpline for Mental Health & Substance Abuse Disorders

 

Suicide:

National Suicide Prevention Line

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Spiritual Bypassing: Why it Hurts Wellness

Spiritual bypassing was coined by John Welwood, a prominent psychotherapist and author. I owe Rachel Ricketts, author of Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy, thanks for putting this term on my radar. In her book, Ricketts makes excellent points about how damaging spiritual bypassing can be and how commonplace it is. So, what exactly is spiritual bypassing – and why does it hurt wellness?

 

 

Spiritual bypassing involves a large degree of avoidance and repression of emotions, resorting instead to spiritual ideals in pursuit of enlightenment. As described in Welwood’s book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, spiritual bypassing is when someone uses “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks.”

Spiritual bypassing is a means of side-stepping hard emotions and truths through spiritual ideology and idealism. It’s succumbing to binary thinking and accepting black-and-white views of circumstances. Through spiritual bypassing people avoid the often painful and complicated realities of life by always trying to find a silver lining in traumatic events or saying “everything happens for a reason” instead of facing deep-seeded and difficult feelings. This happens because people mistakenly believe that we must rise above our “unreliable emotions” instead of facing them and allowing them to serve as inner wisdom in raw form.

Spiritual bypassing can look like the following go-to phrases during hard times:

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • There is no pain without purpose
  • There’s always a silver lining
  • God will never give you more than you can handle
  • Only positive energy and vibes are welcome
  • Your life’s circumstances are a product of the energy you attract

These statements are commonplace in everyday conversation about tough circumstances. They’re a way of glossing over the situation; an often underrecognized defense mechanism. My guess is that you’ve heard one of these phrases or something along these lines over the past year as the world has battled a deadly and devastating virus.

 

 

According to VeryWellMind, other signs of spiritual bypassing include:

  • Avoiding feelings of anger
  • Believing in your own spiritual superiority as a way to hide from insecurities
  • Believing that traumatic events must serve as “learning experiences” or that there is a silver lining behind every negative experience
  • Believing that spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer are always positive
  • Extremely high, often unattainable, idealism
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Focusing only on spirituality and ignoring the present
  • Only focusing on the positive or being overly optimistic
  • Projecting your own negative feelings onto others
  • Pretending that things are fine when they are clearly not
  • Thinking that people can overcome their problems through positive thinking
  • Thinking that you must “rise above” your emotions
  • Using defense mechanisms such as denial and repression

Kelly Germaine, a trauma therapist, wrote on Medium that although Christians most notably use spiritual bypassing, “The church is not the only culprit. Those of us disillusioned with the faith lineages our people come from frequently escape into Eastern spiritual traditions.”

Kelly continues by explaining that when westerners pursue Eastern spirituality, it’s “often an attempt to escape the roots of violence our people have enacted and been complicit in. We run away to nature, India, or Latin America to meditate, tree pose, permaculture, and breathe our way out of the reality that we live in an empire dominating the world along the lines of class, race, and gender. Our attempts to go anywhere else on the globe to get away from this reality are futile. We cannot bypass the truth and holing ourselves off will not save us. We cannot escape our global, interlocking crises of oppression.”

These forms of bypassing, defense mechanisms, and escapisms deny our innermost feelings and needs on both individual and collective levels. As Kelly highlights, spiritual bypassing inherently denies the harsh realities of those who are oppressed by society or have difficult lives. It turns a blind eye to people who suffer at the hands of others who seek to explain away such undue hardships.

Spiritual bypassing hurts wellness. Big time.

We can never thrive or be collectively well when it’s at the expense or denial of others’ difficult circumstances. We also can never achieve individual well-being when we deny our feelings or refuse to face reality. This doesn’t mean that we can’t be spiritual or religious. We can!

 

 

True spiritual wellness is essential.

Spiritual wellness is defined differently by each person but it generally relates to a sense of greater meaning in one’s life and connection to others and/or a higher power. More specifically:

Spiritual wellness provides us with systems of faith, beliefs, values, ethics, principles and morals. A healthy spiritual practice may include examples of volunteerism, social contributions, belonging to a group, fellowship, optimism, forgiveness and expressions of compassion. Spiritual wellness allows one to live a life consistent with his or her’s own belief and moral systems, while we establish our feeling of purpose and find meaning in life events.”

Here are a few ideas to embrace spiritual wellness without resorting to spiritual bypassing:

  • Listen in earnest to the cries, laments and needs of others
  • Demonstrate compassion
  • Attune to your personal emotions and the roots of them
  • Live in the here and now
  • Admit when things are hard and you need help
  • Engage in works of justice, charity and service
  • Connect meaningfully with others
  • Bring honesty into your community of worship
  • Heal from trauma
  • Accept your anger, grief, shame, etc. and find professional help when needed to work through these feelings
  • Stay emotionally present with the people around you
  • Avoid telling someone in pain how to feel or behave
  • Admit that it’s OK to *not* be OK all the time
  • Acknowledge your personal trigger responses, work towards healthier responses where appropriate, and set boundaries

 

 

Spirituality can help us achieve wellness when we avoid spiritual bypassing and find positive beliefs within our faith and moral systems. As mentioned, a person’s propensity to be overly positive and idealistic can be a harmful form of emotional repression. Positive belief systems are a bit different though. Positive beliefs associated with a higher power and our connection to others can be beneficial to one’s health.

On the other hand, negative spiritual beliefs can be damaging in many ways. For example, one study of over 200 people suffering from a range of conditions such as cancer, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, and more, found that individuals who harbored negative spiritual beliefs had increased pain and worse mental health than those who held positive spiritual beliefs. Negative spiritual beliefs were associated with feeling disconnected from or abandoned by a higher power. The people with negative beliefs attended religious experiences less often and had lower levels of forgiveness.

Sometimes, for our overall health’s sake, we need to push the pause button and tune in to how our spiritual wellness is doing: Is it positive or negative? Are we making time for it? Is is helping us become more self-aware and fulfilled? I really like the reflection exercise (below) that I found on the Laborer’s Health and Safety Fund of North America:

Personal Reflection

Take a moment to assess your own spiritual wellness by asking yourself the following questions.

  1. What gives my life meaning and purpose?
  2. What gives me hope?
  3. How do I get through tough times? Where do I find comfort?
  4. Am I tolerant of other people’s views about life issues?
  5. Do I make attempts to expand my awareness of different ethnic, racial and religious groups?
  6. Do I make time for relaxation in my day?
  7. Do my values guide my decisions and actions?

 

 

As you can see, spiritual wellness involves diving deeper within and connecting to our most authentic self, values and beliefs. In doing this, we also convene with a greater power that connects all of life. The authentic practice of spirituality has the capacity to change the world and it reduces the amount of spiritual bypassing that is used in an effort to avoid the real work of wellness.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

Building Lean Muscle Boosts Immune Function

Building lean muscle has been boasted for reducing fat and toning the body, but it’s seldom discussed in relation to the immune system. Lean muscle is a powerful medicine and has a protective effect for our immune systems.

The Evidence

In studies of mice it has been observed that mice with more muscle fare best when fighting a chronic viral infection. Many chronic illnesses like infections and cancers exhaust the immune system, but in muscular mice the skeletal muscle tissue releases cytokines. This small protein triggers a phenomenal reaction. The cytokines influence “T-cell precursors” to settle within the muscle, creating a sort of back up reserve of cells that can migrate out and develop into fully-functional T-cells when needed. Thus, when the immune system’s regular T-cells are too exhausted to support the body in the face of chronic illness, the precursor cells get released from muscles and become new, disease-fighting T-cells at the sight of infection.

(I don’t know about you, but when I learn something like this about the body I REALLY geek out!)

While this specific protective mechanism between the immune system and muscles has only been proven in studies on mice, there’s a strong chance the same thing happens in our bodies. For example, it has been known for a while that immune cells play a critical role in repairing muscle. This is called myogenesis. In this process, immune cells help regulate stem cells within the muscles to regenerate healthy tissue. The immune system’s critical role in muscle growth and repair may help explain why muscle mass diminishes with age. In other words, the aging immune system results in reduced muscle stem cell function.

In another study, people who regularly bicycled had more immune cells thanks to their muscle mass. Their muscles produced more hormones to regulate the thymus, the organ where T-cells are manufactured (these little fighters help detect infections, including covid-19). The cyclists’ bodies also produced more cancer-protective proteins like the interleukin-6 protein (IL-6).

In summary, the muscle-immunity connection is very real. Now, let’s talk about how to take advantage of it…

How to Maintain Muscle

First off, please don’t feel upset if you don’t look muscular. You don’t have to flaunt a six-pack or chiseled legs to be strong and healthy. Bodybuilders and fitness models have lots of lean muscle, it’s true, but they also have very low BMIs. In other words, they work extremely hard to trim down fat. Sometimes, this can be to the detriment of women’s health if they become amenorrhoeic (i.e. their menstrual cycle stops), so try hard not to compare your body to someone else’s. Perfectly normal people can have immune-fighting and health-boosting muscle mass while also retaining healthy amounts of fat.

In general, I recommend for healthy people under the age of 40-45 to focus on exercises that are moderately intense for 45 minutes/day, 4-5x/week to maintain good health and lean muscle mass. Other days of the week can be used for rest days, low-intensity exercise days, walking, stretching, gentle yoga, meditation, gardening/yardwork, cleaning the house, or other light activities. Adults over 45-years old can follow the same framework but should keep exercise bouts lower in intensity. This programming is extremely basic but demonstrates how weekly exercise can be scheduled for general fitness and muscle maintenance.

You can build strength and muscle through virtually any exercise; running, low-impact cardio, HIIT, strength training, dance, swimming, sports, yoga, pilates, barre, you name it. It’s all fair game. What matters the most is that you regularly stimulate and stress your body (in a good way, of course) with exercises that get your heart rate up and challenge your efforts. As long as this is done safely then you can enjoy many lifelong benefits for your overall health.

Strength Train at Least 2x/week

Although it might be out of your comfort zone, I recommend that everyone (yes, everyone) do strength training twice a week.

Why?

Strength training offers focused bouts of effort that can allow you to train weak areas of your body to improve overall strength, balance and postural support. Incorporating strength training into your weekly regimen (even if you only do 20 minutes twice a week) will allow you to troubleshoot weak muscles so that the exercises and sports you enjoy the most can be enjoyed for years to come.

While performing strength training exercises, the number of sets and reps needed is highly subjective to your level of fitness, ability to maintain form, and knowledge of the movement pattern. Whether you choose to use free body weight exercises, weight machines, or props is also dependent on your individual needs. You can gain enormous benefits from any and all of them. For a highly detailed tutorial about strength training, check out my contribution to a MyFitnessPal article on the topic: Fitness Basics: Strength Training.

You deserve to feel amazing in your body. A little muscle might help. This doesn’t mean that you have to be excessively skinny or lacking fat. It doesn’t even mean that you have to be super strong! Feeling amazing is a balance that only you can define and at its heart is wellness.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Do an Annual Blood Panel (right now!)

Getting your doctor to run an annual blood panel can be life changing and life saving. A yearly peek into your internal health helps you get familiar with your baselines and can offer a quick diagnosis if there are any issues. You don’t have to be symptomatic or unwell to get a blood panel done. You can simply request one at your annual physical with your general practitioner. I highly recommend it for several reasons that I will share, especially in the depths of winter.

My husband and I started requesting annual blood panels six or seven years ago. We wanted to know what our baselines were before trying to conceive our first child and also wanted to check that my husband’s vitamin D levels weren’t too low (without proper supplementation his levels can fall off a cliff). Since then, we have done an annual blood panel every year.

You Might Get Paid to Do Bloodwork!

Every year my husband and I upload our bloodwork results into a health benefits portal through my husband’s employer. Not only has this been beneficial for keeping tabs on our health but we actually get paid for doing it. If you get health insurance through your employer it’s worth looking into whether or not they offer health perks or incentives. Many large companies do. Rewards for reporting basic biometrics such as weight, height, age, blood pressure and cholesterol levels (collected through blood analysis) might include a discount on the premium for your health insurance or a cash bonus for your health savings account (HSA). Even if your employer doesn’t offer these benefits, it’s still important to do a blood panel.

Internal vs. External Health

It may seem obvious but external health doesn’t always equate to internal health. Thus, it’s critically important that we occasionally peek into what the blood reveals about our holistic health. An overweight individual doesn’t always have internal risk factors present for diabetes or heart disease. The converse is true for an individual whose weight falls within what is generally deemed a healthy range; this person might have hypertension and high blood sugar that a trip to her GP and a blood panel can reveal.

Sometimes, a blood test is the only way to get answers for health factors that aren’t discernable to the naked eye and don’t always correlate with one’s body weight. For example, a woman complains of chronic fatigue. She is a normal body weight and practices good nutrition. She also maintains a daily exercise schedule. A blood panel can reveal if this fatigue comes from low iron or thyroid dysfunction. If a problem is found then iron supplements or thyroid treatment may begin. If not, the woman might take a closer look at whether she is sleeping enough, feeling undue stress, or over-exercising. Each of these lifestyle factors can also cause crippling fatigue.

What Can Different Blood Panels Evaluate?

  • Organ function
  • Heart disease risk factors
  • Presence of disease (ex: cancer, diabetes)
  • Blood clotting factors
  • Hemoglobin levels and anemia
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Efficacy of certain medicines
  • Clinical allergies (usually requested by allergist not GP)

What are the Most Common Blood Tests?

Below are descriptions of the most common blood tests that doctors do, but the list is not exhaustive. As mentioned, my husband has specifically requested checks on his vitamin D levels before. I have also taken my toddler for two blood analyses for different suspected allergies (milk and soy when he was a baby, almonds as a toddler…all negative). Most recently, I had a blood analysis done to assess my recovery from blood loss during emergency surgery. The panel looked at my hemoglobin levels, red blood cell counts, and the size of my red blood cells. I also asked for a folate and thyroid panel check out of curiosity and a desire for hormonal balance and nutritional well-being. All levels were within normal ranges and I was assured that I had recovered from acute anemia. The peace of mind was wonderful. If something had been “off,” I would have been grateful to know so that I could take swift corrective actions.

Complete Blood Count

What it measures:

Blood diseases and disorders like anemia, clotting issues, blood cancers, and immune system disorders. Components included in a CBC: Red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin, hematocrit and mean corpuscular volume.

Basic Metabolic Panel

What it measures:

A BMP can reveal information about the heart, organs, muscles and bones by looking at different chemicals typically found in the plasma (fluid) part of the blood. Components included in a BMP: Glucose levels, calcium, electrolytes, and more.

Lipoprotein Panel

What it measures:

Heart disease risk analyzed through total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (i.e. “bad” cholesterol), HDL cholesterol (i.e. “good” cholesterol), and triglycerides. This test often requires fasting for 12 hours prior to the blood draw.

Other Tests:

As mentioned, there are many reasons to do a blood test. For example, a blood enzyme test can look at enzyme levels related to heart attacks to rule them out or confirm them. Blood clotting tests may be done if your doctor suspects you may have a clotting disorder or before/after certain major surgeries. Even covid-19 patients have been undergoing blood tests at hospital intake to evaluate their risk of mortality based on elevated red cell distribution width (RDW). According to medical professionals, elevated RDW “has previously been associated with an increased risk for morbidity and mortality in a variety of diseases, including heart disease, pulmonary disease, influenza, cancer and sepsis.”

Conclusion

I’m not a doctor. I don’t pretend to be one either. This is why it’s imperative that you become your own health advocate. Ask your doctor for a blood panel on an annual basis. It might simply reassure you that your health is on the right track. Or it might be the thing that helps save your life.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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