Category Archives: Happiness

Can Positivity Be Toxic and Hurt Our Health?

 

A new buzzword has circulated the web since 2020: Toxic Positivity…

The pairing of these two terms can make some people feel prickly and others like someone finally gets it. It’s my nature to empathize with opposing views. I often find myself somewhere in the middle, chewing on it all. As a wellness and fitness coach, I see both perspectives and have lived both.

Perhaps the balanced discussion of toxic positivity in this post will help inform you about where positive thinking helps health and when/where it may hurt it. And per usual, I write this with one big caveat – every person is unique and will find themselves at a different place on the “positive vibes” spectrum.

Take my experience, for example…

I was the classic American, privileged, white girl with a stable family and home growing up. I saw the world through rosy-colored lens and stood at a comfortable arms length from any real suffering. In middle school I ran around proclaiming “Life is good!” shortly before it was coined on popular t-shirts in the 90s. I was 100% Miss Positive Vibes. I didn’t have any reason not to be.

 

 

As I grew up and got a little more kicked around by life (you can read about some of those experiences here: Hit by a Car and Pregnancy Loss), I came to better understand the people who met my youthful enthusiasm and can-do attitude with quiet irritation or outward eyerolls. This fresh understanding doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do my best to move forward in life with a hopeful disposition, but it certainly changed how I speak to and empathize with people in the jaws of suffering, grief and loss.

I don’t think our culture is obsessed with people being miserable as some other wellness advocates have suggested. By contrast, I think our culture is addicted to numbing. We find ways to avoid pain or offer quick fixes for it rather than addressing its roots. [Enter: “Toxic positivity,” substance abuse, fear avoidance, spiritual bypassing, grief hierarchies, food addictions, and more.]

A positive disposition is not in and of itself a harmful thing until it prevents us from really sitting with other people in their pain. The very definition of compassion is to suffer together and be motivated to help the suffering person. In other words, compassion compels some people to sit with the person who suffers, acknowledging and hearing their pain, and motivates others to “fix” the suffering. This is where some people in a place of hardship may feel frustrated by futile attempts from loved ones to offer solutions for the painful circumstance. [Hello again, toxic positivity phrases such as “at least you still have…things could be much worse…try to see the bright side…I have a book you should read to help with this,” etc.]

 

 

The complaint against positivity is that it’s not okay when it denies acknowledging hard feelings to the exclusion of positive ones. We are whole beings with ALL the feels at one time or another. This is natural. This is life. This is still within the wellness spectrum; to be fully human.

When we only offer up ideas to solve the pain of another, we miss the other, perhaps more genuine, side of compassion: the “suffer together” side. I would personally rephrase this and call it the “I’m here for you and whatever you need” component of compassion. In times of great need, people must feel free to tell you what they need rather than the other way around. We’re all different and thus, our grief and healing needs will be unique too. We can’t slap boilerplate fixes, numbing tools, and “perk up buttercup” messages to all of humanity.

To sum, positivity becomes “toxic” (i.e., not situationally sensitive) when it:

  • Diminishes the feelings of another
  • Puts another’s grief or hardship into a hierarchy to suggest it’s less difficult than “X”
  • Dismisses or minimizes another’s lived experience
  • Addresses a complicated situation with a cliché phrase or one-size-fits-all perspective
  • Suggests that you’re unwilling to listen due to your own personal discomfort around the subject

Negative emotions can actually inform and grow us emotionally, mentally and spiritually when we work through them. Denying emotions – both negative and positive – can result in distress. As evidenced by one study, suppressing emotional reactions of all kinds can lead to increased heart rate and other physiological symptoms of overwhelm and anxiety. In short, we must authentically confront and work through ALL emotions.

 

 

But if toxic positivity is the harmful denial of negative emotions then doesn’t it stand to reason that “toxic negativity” exists too?

YES.

Negative feelings left unchecked can spiral and wreak havoc on our physical and mental health. That said, it’s entirely natural to oscillate back and forth between positive and negative feelings. So long as we don’t assign labels like “good” and “bad” to the variety of emotions that we humans experience then we’re making at least some small steps of progress.

The wellness industry has been bashed for selling “positive vibes only” for the last decade or two, and heck – even my site’s tagline can be interpreted as toxic positivity. I picked “start believing you can” as the tagline years ago because I saw (and still see) the way that negative self beliefs limit people when it comes to their health and fitness. This does NOT mean positive thoughts will fix all things or that people in a state of suffering can simply adapt an optimistic attitude and “think” themselves better. What it does mean is that faith in ourselves, even in the face of great adversity, is fundamental to persevering the many highs and lows that life doles out.

So, toxic positivity and toxic negativity…meh. They’re just words. Don’t get too hung up on them. Instead, put your energy into embracing authentic living and sincere compassion. These are some of the best tools for wellness.

Start believing you can.

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

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

 

 

Healing Requires Courage

The world is slowly inching towards a new year and possible solutions for moving the pandemic towards its end. Even once a vaccine is proven effective and administered to the masses, there is still global healing that must follow. No doubt many of us have suffered physical, mental and spiritual repercussions from this scary year. Survivors of covid-19 sometimes say that they have lingering and chronic symptoms from the virus. Still others are grieving losing loved ones who they longed to hold tight in their final days but could not. The whole world needs healing…and it may take a very long time for that to happen, even if and when global immunity is established. We must step into 2021 with bravery and hope like never before. 

 

 

At the outset of the pandemic I felt very fortunate to have escaped its nasty jaws (so far). My family’s livelihood was not majorly hampered and most of our professional work was already based out of our home. In fact, the pandemic meant that my husband’s part-time work travel was made obsolete. Suddenly, he was more available to help with the children, errands, dinner prep and chores. The atmosphere around the dinner table was still tense with pandemic-related stress but we felt like we could count our blessings and muscle onwards.

And then…well, then we were dealt a terrible blow. Our perceived invincibility went racing down the gutter. I was left quite literally dumbfounded and broken, brought to my knees by the great and tragic twists of life. I’m currently on my own unique healing journey. One that requires healing from emergency surgery and pregnancy loss.

My body has had to heal physically on many levels (at two months out it’s still ongoing, of course).

My hormones are finding their way back to equilibrium. The layers of tissue under the incision on my stomach are gluing themselves back together. My core strength and stamina is slowly returning. My heart is pumping to replenish from blood loss and recover from anemia. Emotionally…well…grief takes a while, and you can bet I’ve linked up with a mental health counselor to wade through the trauma. Spiritually, I feel like I’ve grown tremendously…but I still have lots of unanswered questions to make peace with.

Healing takes time. It’s complex. And most of all, it requires courage. 

 

 

Before diving into why healing requires courage, let’s explore how healing is defined to better understand it. Who better to ask than Wikipedia, right? According to wiki:

Healing is the process of the restoration of health from an unbalanced, diseased, damaged or unvitalized organism.”

Said in other words, being healed implies ongoing balance, wellness, safety and vitality. From this standpoint, healing is quite different from modern medicine. Prescription medicines are often masking while surgeries are considered curing in many scenarios. Healing isn’t either; it’s a holistic process.

For example, let’s say a woman is “cured” from breast cancer through a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Does this mean that she is also healed? No, not yet. Healing will take place in the post-operative room following surgery and in the weeks ahead as she regains strength and mobility. It will happen as she begins to deal with the emotional impact of being diagnosed with cancer in the first place. Additional mental healing may be necessary as she adapts to a new body image (in the case of mastectomy) and grieves aspects of the diagnosis and/or trauma. Perhaps healing must also occur on a spiritual level for her; she may be angry at God, questioning the existence of a higher power, or seeking to assign spiritual meaning and value to the experience as a whole. 

Nurses are often given credit for facilitating patients’ healing in hospitals. In nursing literature, healing has been explained as “the process of bringing together aspects of one’s self, body-mind-spirit, at deeper levels of inner knowing, leading toward integration and balance with each aspect having equal importance and value.”

Prior to my recent trauma, I learned the aforementioned definition of healing firsthand after being hit by a car. The healing process took over five years in my twenties. Yup, five full years – partially because my body began to dysfunction in response to the acute injuries I sustained. Also, I was going through a spiritual and emotional crisis at the time. You could definitely call that time a “coming of age” experience but it went hand-in-hand with lessons on physical, emotional and spiritual healing, and the complicated web that entangles them all. 

In the seasons that followed the bike accident, my eyes were opened to the powerful role of inflammation in our bodies, the complexity of pain pathways, the nonlinear nature of healing, and the difficulty involved when advocating to partner with the right health professionals, to name just a few lessons. But most of all, I discovered that healing requires courage. A lot of it. 

 

 

There are powerful stories we rehearse in our heads like “I don’t deserve to feel better,” and “No one can fix me,” or even, “I’m too tired, sad, angry (etc.) to find the resources I need to heal.” Other times, the mental narratives relate to the trauma or inciting incident itself: “It was my partner’s fault when he did ____,” or “I feel like I’m drowning when I think about the day ____ died.” Whatever image or phrase repeats in your head and causes a negative physiological and/or emotional response becomes a footpath in your mind.

As you rehearse or relive that negative experience or belief, that footpath expands into a one-lane road. Over more time and left unchecked, the road gets wider and wider, making it much easier to travel down than another path that is still overgrown and untrodden but which contains a positive belief about the experience. Your brain will keep choosing and reinforcing the wider road until there is courage to step away and intentionally choose to trailblaze a new path. Oftentimes this is a process, not an overnight fix, requiring intentionality and professional help.   

It can be very scary to choose to heal. It entails confronting “inner demons” and misbeliefs, working through trauma, and more. All of this can feel extremely daunting and draining. But being brave enough to heal isn’t about waiting for the fear to subside. It’s about stepping into the fear and moving through it. 

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

-Ambrose Redmoon

Each individual is responsible for being courageous and owning their healing process. Oftentimes, healing feels like a lot of small quiet victories, unannounced to the world but felt profoundly in a person’s daily life. These small “wins” add up and are just as significant as the big ones. Healing requires being brave enough to take action; setting boundaries, self care, and saying no to things that will deplete you too much or that you’re not ready for. Healing will look and feel different for each person.

We can also learn a little something about healing through understanding what it looks like at a cellular level in our bodies:

“With physical damage or disease suffered by an organism, healing involves the repair of living tissue(s), organs and the biological system as a whole and resumption of (normal) functioning. Medicine includes the process by which the cell(s) in the body regenerate and repair to reduce the size of a damaged or necrotic area and replace it with new living tissue. The replacement can happen in two ways: by regeneration in which the necrotic cells are replaced by new cells that form “like” tissue as was originally there; or by repair in which injured tissue is replaced with scar tissue. Most organs will heal using a mixture of both mechanisms.”

 

 

In other words, if we take what cellular repair and regeneration look like and blow this out to the entire organism or person, we might conclude that healing looks in part like an evolution of the self (regeneration) and in part like a return to the original self (repair). Both are paradoxically true: Through healing we return to ourselves just as we become brand new beings. As I’ve said once before, it’s a metamorphosis.  

I would like to leave you with this parting thought:

In what ways have you been healing recently? What parts of you feel steadfast and true, a return to your authentic self, and what parts of you feel transformed? Lastly, is there anything you can do as we head into a brand new year to heal more completely? 

Sending out a little prayer and some good energy in hopes you find the courage you need. And guess what? If you don’t find it right away, that’s okay. Sometimes healing looks much slower and more painful than we would like. It’s important to remember that living in a season that feels stalled does not make you “lesser than” or imply that you aren’t trying. Sometimes the most profound hope can be born in the midst of what feels like an unending dark night…  

Oh, one last thing:

In case you want some ideas for actionable things you can do in the healing process, here are a few from a very, very long list of options: 

  • Prayer
  • Mental health counseling
  • Herbal supplements, teas and tonics
  • Nutrient-dense meals
  • Restorative sleep
  • Meditation
  • Guided visualization and/or progressive relaxation
  • Rejuvenating exercise
  • Engaging with communities for spiritual growth
  • Omkar chanting and/or mantra recitation
  • Yoga and stretching
  • Aromatherapy and/or essential oils
  • Sound therapy
  • Nature therapy and grounding
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic adjustments
  • Journaling
  • Leisure time and hobbies
  • Joyful activities with friends
  • Reading

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Calm Your Body and Mind: A Therapist’s Guide for Nervous System Regulation

Before Mental Health Month concludes, I thought it best to bring on board one of my closest friends for some discussion. Please help me welcome Lauren Goldberg (MSW, LCSW), a mental health professional who owns a therapy practice in Colorado called Secure Base Mental Health LLC. Lauren will guide us through how our nervous systems respond to stress (especially amid a pandemic) and how we can become flexible and responsive to our emotional needs through daily grounding practices. Believe me: You should want to read her advice. I’ve already gained some extra wisdom for my wellness journey thanks to the insights Lauren shares here and I’m confident you will too. And now, passing the torch to Lauren (see below)…

 

 

A Therapist’s Perspective

As a therapist, I am often asked my opinion on major current events involving mental health. It makes sense; people want advice, insight, and maybe even answers. They want to feel better. There’s never been a harder event to weigh in on than the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Because I’m going through it with you.

Generally, there is some space between me, my family, and the major current event, but I am inundated as much as you are with the newest data, often conflicting information, and evolving requirements. Like everyone, I am constantly (daily, hourly, sometimes minute to minute!) adjusting the way I think about the world and how I interact with those around me. It is exhausting spending extra energy navigating tasks that used to be second nature. Plus, I can’t forget the ever-present message that the world is not a safe place. That’s enough to throw anyone’s nervous system into a tizzy!

When Maggie asked me to be a guest on WellnessWinz, I initially thought “what do I know?!” These are such unprecedented times. There’s no context from which to draw on to provide “magical insight.”

What I quickly realized is I do have insight. It may not be magical, but perhaps it can be useful. After all, the same principles can be applied to navigating a pandemic (wow, that word alone is charging!) as they can be to any stressful situation. There are key concepts that I apply to my work with every client, regardless of their circumstances.

 

 

The Autonomic Nervous System

My approach to therapy is based on the value of safe relationships and developing the capacity for autonomic nervous system regulation. My main goal as a therapist is to help my clients feel safe enough to connect to me and, as a result, connect to their own experiences. Let me break that down…

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the term “nervous system.” When I reference it here, I am referring to the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which responds to cues of safety and danger. It helps us know when it is safe to connect and when we must protect ourselves from a threat. There are three modes (or “neural circuits of regulation” if you want to sound fancy) that our ANS shifts into as it responds to the environment. Two of them are more commonly referenced – mobilization (fight/flight) and immobilization (freeze). Side note: There’s also the “fawn” response if you’re a nerd like me and want to do additional research.

An individual’s nervous system drops into fight, flight or freeze when a threat is perceived in the environment, whether the origin is internal or external. These threats do not have to be acute, life-threatening events but can also be chronic, low-level stressors, such as developmental trauma (i.e. not having basic emotional and/or physical needs met throughout one’s life). Responding to repeated threats of safety without the opportunity to re-regulate can decrease resiliency in one’s nervous system. I’ll explain this more in a bit.

The third circuit that is rarely talked about but just as important is called “safe and social.” This is the mode from which we feel safe enough to connect to ourselves and others. In this regulated state, we have access to logical thinking and can learn, communicate and engage with others.

A healthy ANS is flexible enough to respond to an incoming “threat” and recover quickly. However, many people lack this flexibility and end up spending more time in survival mode than in a safe and social state. Generally, this is a result of upbringing and life circumstances. Our nervous systems are so smart that they can be “trained” to look for threats. This can be advantageous when there are threats, particularly in childhood when we have no choice but to adapt to our circumstances.

 

 

The Disconnect Between Brain & Body

What happens when we logically know our environment is safe but our nervous system is still stuck in survival mode?

This disconnect between our logical brain (i.e. “mind”) and our survival brain (i.e. “body”) causes what we call dysregulation and brings with it some seriously unpleasant symptoms. A person with chronic dysregulation may experience anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, intensified autoimmune responses, irritable bowel, an inability to problem-solve, difficulty connecting with others, and a myriad of other symptoms.

Amidst the global novel virus pandemic (yikes!), some people are spending more time in survival mode as their nervous systems shift away from connection (safety) and towards protection (danger). The world as we know it no longer exists. Our way of moving through life with relative ease and predictability is now replaced with reminders to protect ourselves, stay vigilant in our interactions with others, and deal with the grave uncertainty of our future, not to mention financial stress, social isolation, and serious illness.

 

 

Mindfully Navigating a New & Stressful World

So what can we do to help ourselves navigate this new world, especially with the number of “danger” cues around us? It is difficult to manage the influx of advice and information and to integrate so many changes without access to critical thinking. Remember, our logical brain goes offline in survival mode. To bring it back online, we must show our nervous system it is safe to come out of protection and get back to connection.

While the concept is simple, it is not easy. It takes practice, but the good news is, the more we practice, the easier it becomes. We can literally show our nervous system a different way to “be,” one small step at a time. Even in the midst of a pandemic, our bodies can be trained to notice safety cues. This does not mean ignoring discomfort in our systems; it means learning how to experience comfort and discomfort at the same time. Mindful practice can help our systems move fluidly between the two. Remember, a healthy nervous system is one that is flexible.

There are certain things we can do to show our system signs of safety and even joy. If we focus on these cues instead of cues of danger, we can build our capacity for regulation. I’ve included some suggestions below. Figure out what works for you. You can do this by paying attention to your body’s response (i.e. “gut reaction”) as you read through them. You may find that you already do many of these things so the key now is to do them mindfully. (Helpful hint: Try them for the first time when you’re relatively calm. The idea is to reinforce and expand any amount of regulation rather than attempt something that feels too hard and end up reinforcing survival mode.)

 

 

Daily Practices to Regulate & Calm the Nervous System

1) Ground in all five senses. I lead my clients through an exercise in which I cue them to notice what they see, hear, taste, smell and feel. This orients them to time and place and reminds their bodies they are safe in the room with me. You can do this on your own, too. I have my clients use this video outside of therapy to continue their practice of nervous systems regulation. If this feels too challenging or if you find yourself in a very escalated state, try focusing on just one part of your body that feels good or even neutral. This can be anything from one toe to the tip of your nose. All you’re doing is reminding yourself there is a place on your body that’s okay. When you focus on the comfort rather than discomfort, you’ll be surprised by the shift you begin to notice!

 

2) Get moving. Any kind of movement or exercise, including dancing, is a great way to connect to your body and remind it of its power, health and strength. Try to stay connected to your experience. Overriding your body’s needs and doing too much will push you back towards dysregulation.

 

3) Listen to music and better yet, sing along. The reason is complex, but engaging vocal cords can do wonders for discharging emotions.

 

4) Put pen to paper. Journaling, especially the good old-fashioned way, can help you get acquainted with and reflect on your experiences.

 

5) Take a shower or bath. Water is grounding. Take the effects up a notch by noticing the water fall onto and off your body. Try integrating aromatherapy. Figure out what smells good to you by experimenting.

 

6) Breathe mindfully. Breathe in through your nose as you expand your belly and out through the mouth. Focus on the exhale, not the inhale. Contrary to popular belief, the exhale is what slows our heart rate. Focusing on the deep inhale can actually have a dysregulating effect. As you breathe out, trust your body will know when to bring air in again.

 

 

7) Cook or bake. These two nurturing tasks can help you focus on a basic human need, and the completion of them can feel so fulfilling.

 

8) Practice self-compassion by connecting to your emotional experience. Such a therapist thing to say, right?  Well, there’s a reason – letting yourself feel your emotions allows them to discharge, and this can have far-reaching effects on regulation. Think about what you do for a kiddo when they’re upset – you acknowledge what they’re feeling before you try to apply logic. This is called co-regulation and you can do the same thing for yourself.

 

9) Take a nap. Rest may be just what your system needs to regroup. If you’re feeling up to it, see if you can tune into the heaviness of your body on the bed, couch or whatever supportive surface you’re using. This will allow your body to fully let go and lead to even more restorative benefits (you can also add a weighted blanket for more sensory input).

 

10) Restorative yoga poses. I am no expert on yoga but I do suggest using certain poses like laying on your back with your bottom all the way against the wall so your feet rest on the wall. Shivasana, child’s pose, figure eight/infinity pose and others that are “cooling” can help rest the body and elicit a parasympathetic nervous system response.

 

11) Connect to nature. Walk barefoot on the grass or sand, put your feet in a nearby body of water, notice the animals, plants and trees around you – really notice and even name them aloud or in your mind.

 

12) Listen to relaxing sounds. I have a playlist of ambient sound that I use as needed. My favorite is waves crashing onto a beach and rain falling. Soothing noises like this can be helpful when it’s hard to connect to your body. Engaging your auditory system provides a nice anchor.

 

 

13) Sunbathe! Good old vitamin D can most certainly aid in restoring vibrancy and positivity.

 

14) Pursue social interaction. There is no better way to regulate than by connecting with another safe person.

 

15) Do something creative, whether coloring, drawing, painting, molding or crafting. This is a great way to connect to yourself and discharge survival mode energy.

 

16) Hang with your pet. Spending time with them can be incredibly grounding. Intensify the grounding effect by engaging as many senses as you can. Notice how their fur feels on your hands, notice their color, the sound of their breathing, how they smell, how they feel if they are sitting on your lap, etc.

 

17) Do a puzzle or another game that supports problem-solving. Engaging your logical brain will in and of itself create space for more connection.

 

18) Watch comedy or light-hearted, feel-good shows. It’s important to screen out overwhelming and negative news. This is good practice when it comes to social media, too. Unfriend or unfollow people that seem to be stuck in survival mode. They will only serve to remind your system it’s not safe.

 

 

19) Visualization. Imagine being in a place that brings you comfort. For me, it’s sitting on the shore of the beach with my toes in the sand and my family nearby (but not close enough to disrupt my peace). Use ambient noise to intensify the visualization. You can find a lot of these on YouTube! As you begin to settle in, notice how your body feels. Don’t worry if your mind wanders. Just notice it is and gently bring yourself back.

 

20) Eat! You read that right. What’s more nurturing than a delicious meal, especially one that nourishes your body? It’s also okay to indulge. Just try to stay present while doing so. We run into problems when we disconnect and numb ourselves with food. Notice every bite as it goes into your mouth, notice the texture, the taste, and try to notice when you’ve had enough.

 

21) Pursue therapy. Especially if all of these suggestions feel like a challenge or if you know you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic dysregulation. Most therapists are trained to stay regulated so they can act as a regulating source for their clients. If you are interested in my style, seek out a somatic experiencing therapist. They are specifically trained to attune to the autonomic “conversations” in the therapy room, which can help you reconnect to your body and show your nervous system a more regulated way to be.

 

There are many more options to show your system signs of safety than what I’ve listed here. Do some experimenting! And I can’t say it enough – this is a practice. It’s not supposed to be easy. If it were, I wouldn’t have a job…

Thanks for reading, reach out with questions or comments, and best of luck on your journey to nervous system regulation. ~Lauren

 

*Feel free to contact Lauren with inquires and mental health needs at Secure Base Mental Health LLC.

 

Thanks for reading everyone! Keep nurturing the mind/body connection through daily grounding practices and self care for your mental health!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

The Vagus Nerve: Lose “The Last 5 lbs”

Although I’m currently in weight-gain mode (i.e. pregnancy), I’ve found over the last couple years that my body has slowly shed extra pounds without effort. I recognize this sounds obnoxious but trust me, I’ve spent over a decade exercising harder than the average person and putting my body through the gauntlet, so it’s not like I haven’t put in effort for weight loss. But ironically, my body was most willing to let go of those “last 5 pounds” when I stopped working out as much. When I put rest and rejuvenation for my whole system as top priority.

Over the last two years, I’ve slept like I’m a teenager again (minus snoozing until noon). I’ve eaten more intuitively and joyfully, and listened to my body each day for whether I’m in a “tackle-and-conquer-the-world” or “sit-back-and-accept-my-low-energy” kind of mood. I embrace both sides of myself equally and without judgement. This is a new thing for me. Although I’ve always known that stress reduction is positive for weight loss – and coach my clients accordingly – I hadn’t truly experienced this firsthand.

Before getting pregnant again I actually told my husband that it felt like my body wanted to let go of even more weight – but that I was going to work against it to keep my hormones level for the TTC process. It was so fascinating to me; to feel that my body was relinquishing fat stores, no longer in survival mode and depending on them for emergency reserves. It made me wonder…what exactly is the root of this change? Yes, my change in attitude and action, but what physical part of myself is aiding this whole-body physiological response? And how do I communicate about this “source” to others so that they can consider the implications in their own lives?

The answer lies at the root of the parasympathetic nervous system: The Vagus Nerve.

The vagus nerve is responsible for the parasympathetic control of your heart, lungs and digestive system, and is the longest autonomic nerve in the body. This means that the nerve is operating and acting on your body’s systems without your conscious thought, controlling the relaxation responses that calm your heart rate and make you feel like you can take a deep breath. It also helps keep digestive woes like bloating, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome at bay.

We often hear the terms “fight-or-flight” and “rest-and-digest.” The vagus nerve controls the latter, but its impact on our minds and bodies is much more complex and powerful than this simple statement. When we have good “vagal tone” our bodies are operating from a place of better wellness. When we are chronically stressed, our vagus nerve basically gets shut down. Think of it like the nerve is asleep. Not doing its job.

If the vagus nerve is less responsive this is a big problem and is linked with higher levels of inflammation, heart attacks, strokes, loneliness and depression, and more. You see, vagal nerve stimulation and responsiveness triggers the release of a substance called acetylcholine. (Fun fact – the first neurotransmitter ever discovered.) Acetylcholine acts like a tranquilizer for the body and has a major impact on inflammatory responses. Researchers have even found that implanted devices that stimulate the vagus nerve help people with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis!

Numerous studies have also shown that “people with higher vagus nerve activity have lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and lower levels of TNF-alpha, the inflammatory immune marker. Studies also show that the vagus nerve regulates inflammation throughout the body, including inflammation associated with obesity.”

We clearly see through all of this evidence that the vagus nerve has a big impact on our bodies and lives…so how do we stimulate it? How do we “keep it awake?” How do we ensure that we’re not chronically stressed and suppressing the benefits this nerve has for our organs, waistline, internal health, and mood?

Methods for Improving “Vagal Tone” and Keeping the Vagus Nerve Alert:

  1. Getting enough rest
  2. Deep breathing
  3. Meditation
  4. Personal time
  5. Enjoyable activities
  6. Positive social connections & relationships
  7. Yoga
  8. Chiropractic adjustments to relieve nerve pressure
  9. Probiotics to assist gut health
  10. Outdoor and nature activities

It’s interesting…none of these things (above) seems particularly aggressive or proactive for weight loss itself, and yet, they’re exactly what our bodies need for it. I’ve seen this countless times with my clients – they don’t have to exercise as hard to achieve weight loss when they begin de-stressing, simplifying, prioritizing self-care, and generally not beating themselves up about “perfection” for their bodies, careers and relationships.

Over the last two years, I’ve found I do a little bit more of everything on this list. I go to a chiropractor once a week, get outside on the regular, started taking a new probiotic (with *prebiotics!*), find time to read and “do me,” attend yoga class once a week, sleep more at night, make time for friends and family, etc. It’s really not anything earth-shattering! These simple things are exactly what my body needed to let go of a little bit of inflammation and a few extra pounds.

I hope this serves you well on your weight loss or wellness journey, too.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Authenticity in an Image-Focused World

Authenticity is a word that has been tossed around a lot in the media. Probably because we live in a world where we have to discern between fake and real news. Where air brushing apps are within everyone’s reach, not just professional photographers’. And where Instagram and Facebook algorithms dig their hooks in and glue us to devices. Ever heard the saying “If there isn’t a picture, it didn’t happen”…? Sometimes I wonder if people remember that I’m an exercise professional since I don’t take very many photos while working out like some fitness pros and exercise fans do. *Sigh.*

 

 

Summer is the second-most photographed time of year to the holidays. It’s natural to want pictures to hold on to memories, to tell a story, and to capture the feeling of the moment. After all, holidays and summer vacations are special times of the year. But what about when picture-taking becomes more about being seen and fitting a mold than about embracing who you are and enjoying life? This is where we come into problems. And it’s not a problem exclusive to frequent picture-taking, it’s also a challenge for many people who embark on fitness goals. People come into exercise with an idea of what they want to look like and try hard to force their bodies to change shape. Like if they don’t look a certain way by a designated point in time then they’ve failed.

I get really disappointed when I see personal training clients struggle. There are so many positives to be gained from exercise, even if your results don’t make you feel like snapping selfies in your bikini left and right. (Many of those who do are feeling proud for fitting into a mold – a toned physique, chiseled abs, plump booty, etc.) In my opinion, exercise isn’t supposed to make us all look alike. It’s about helping us live our individual, unique lives to the fullest.

 

 

The definition of authenticity is “made to be or look like an original.” Blogger on PsychCentral, Margartia Tartakovsky, explains how she lost touch with her own voice and originality when she struggled with body image and exercise:

“Sure, it may seem obvious but when you’re deeply entrenched in a negative body image and someone – a weight loss or diet company, women’s magazine – offers you a solution, you hold onto it with all your might. You grip the rope tighter and tighter, hoping that your hips being smaller will give you something you’re seriously missing. Hoping that happiness will come through the door.”

I see what Margartia describes happen a lot. People exercise rigorously thinking it will build up their confidence and fill the void of whatever troubles them. The second that results slip or they get sick or injured, that entire facade comes crashing down. They realize their worth wasn’t all that secure after all. They pinned it on something temporary and fleeting – physical achievement.

 

 

So how does one chase after their fitness goals (and even snap and post pictures) while remaining authentic? 

Psychology Today explains the following qualities of inauthentic people:

  1. Are self-deceptive and unrealistic in their perceptions of reality.
  2. Look to others for approval and to feel valued.
  3. Are judgmental of other people.
  4. Do not think things through clearly.
  5. Have a hostile sense of humor.
  6. Are unable to express their emotions freely and clearly.
  7. Are not open to learning from their mistakes.
  8. Do not understand their motivations.

Conversely, these are the qualities of authentic people:

  1. Have realistic perceptions of reality.
  2. Are accepting of themselves and of other people.
  3. Are thoughtful.
  4. Have a non-hostile sense of humor.
  5. Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly.
  6. Are open to learning from their mistakes.
  7. Understand their motivations.

 

While we may not identify with every quality on each list, there’s a strong chance we identify with some on both. For example, I’ve gone through periods in my life when I looked to others for approval, was less apt to learn from my mistakes, and made quick, emotionally-charged decisions that weren’t well thought through. We all live, learn and grow. But what’s important is not that we’re perfectly authentic each and every day but that we’re self-aware enough to move our lives in that direction. To understand the heart of what motivates us and to ensure it aligns with our original selves. To be careful that we don’t lose ourselves to false, image-driven virtual realities or to working hard to fit into a mold.

Everything changes when the motivation behind exercise and fitness goals shifts. For example, someone who wants to get skinny because they want “revenge” on an ex, to prove how special they are, to attract more outside attention, or to look more like their friends, isn’t exercising from a place of motivation that can last. (And it if does endure then they’re likely setting themselves up for other personal obstacles.) Someone who exercises because they want to feel their best, stay healthy, be more energized, etc. is going to better handle the ups and downs that life and shifting exercise schedules dole out.

 

 

Inauthentic Reasons to Exercise:

  • Desire for more outside attention
  • Desire to look better for pictures and social media approval
  • Seeking “revenge” on an ex; “look how great I look now that we’re not together”
  • To look better than one’s friends
  • To look similar to one’s friends
  • To fit the mold of a particular body type or physique
  • To look good for the opposite sex
  • To gain followers or fans
  • Self-inflicted punishment for shame and guilt
  • Because someone said “you have to exercise”

Authentic Reasons to Exercise:  

  • To improve quality of life
  • To better enjoy one’s body
  • To improve both internal and external health
  • To see what one is capable of
  • To improve the body’s quality of movement
  • To look one’s personal best
  • To improve posture and body language
  • Desire to gain confidence and improve body image
  • Desire to prevent and improve injuries
  • Desire to improve at and enjoy a sport

If you can think of more examples for either list I would love to hear them!

 

Being authentic can change your health and elevate your fitness results thanks to giving you a solid platform from which to jump. One you can return to when you need a breather and to feel reassured before jumping forward again. And again. And again. Being inauthentic will simply leave you treading water. What motivates you to exercise?

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

A Personal Trainer’s Love Letter for People Who Want to Lose Weight

I considered titling this post “What Everyone Who Wants to Lose Weight Needs to Hear” but that sounded harsh. And the point of this article isn’t to lecture, it’s to reassure. Consider it my love letter. The words from my heart for all those who’ve been disappointed by the fitness industry or guilt-tripped into buying a diet plan or product. I know you’re frustrated. I know you’re self-conscious at times (especially in the gym, if you ever set foot in that awful place, right?). But here are all the ways you can rise above the bull**** and take ownership of your health once and for all. And the best part? Not a single claim about “the right” kind of exercise or eating program. Because we both know chances are that they’ve already failed you.

 

 

Personal Trainers Won’t Judge You

I know it’s super intimidating to see well-sculpted trainers walking the gym floors but trust me, they get you more than you think. In fact, a lot of fitness professionals have been inspired to work in the industry because they’ve gone through personal health, weight or athletic struggles themselves. These people are full of empathy and are good listeners. If you’re willing to open up and be vulnerable, they’re sure to put their best foot forward to guide you on your weight loss journey. Please know that when you approach a trainer they will not judge you! We work with people every day who are dealing with the complex emotional and physical struggles that accompany weight loss.

 

Kiss Your Guilt Goodbye 

I’ve worked with a lot of clients who will have a late afternoon slump at work or a late-night anxiety attack at home that sends them in search of the good stuff (i.e., the cookies, ice cream, chips). They tell themselves they will only eat a few bites of the yummy snack but before they know it, their desire to feel better has led them to consume the entire sleeve of cookies, pint of ice cream or bag of chips (or sometimes all of the aforementioned at once!). Guilt drives these actions, not hunger. So, it’s time to kiss your guilt goodbye.

It takes some practice but in the moments when you catch yourself at risk for mindless overindulging simply remind yourself that you’re not a bad person for wanting a treat. Enjoy it. Relish it. (That’s right – no food is off limits entirely and emotional eating is OK sometimes – yes – it’s OK!). Remind yourself of all the reasons you will feel better if you don’t let yourself spiral with the overeating. Remind yourself of how you have felt after episodes like this in the past and put the food down after you’ve had a little bit. Even when you’re tempted to guilt yourself over slip-ups for overeating (which will happen) – don’t! This practice in self-control and self-talk will eventually lead you to a place in life where you can enjoy a small dish of ice cream guilt-free instead of a whole pint with a side of self-shaming. Remember, there are chances every day to practice and you will get better in time. Guilt sends people backwards, not forwards.

 

 

Don’t Panic 

When ANY of us humans are confronted by an uncomfortable situation we routinely have a knee-jerk, panicked reaction to try and rid ourselves of it right away. Similarly, the fear of our excess weight can startle us so badly that we are desperate to do anything to make it go away quickly. To feel better again. But the challenge with reacting in a panic is that we don’t choose very sustainable actions for feeling better.

You deserve better than short-sighted actions and measures that shed weight quickly. You deserve the luxury of taking your time to find better health. If it’s over the course of a few years of slow but sustainable change then so be it! Almost every program that has you shed weight really quickly is at VERY high risk of having you rebound in weight gain just a short stretch down the line. You can still see and feel incredible changes in your body and health without feeling the rush to do it in 90 days. Don’t panic, just commit to taking one step at a time.

 

Become a Well-Equipped Warrior

Weight loss is emotional. It’s tough. There can be a long story behind why someone hides behind her weight for security or why another person keeps losing and regaining that same 50 lbs. Oftentimes, healthy exercising and eating isn’t enough because your mind keeps playing hardball. It stays fixated on your past trauma or reminds you of cruel words or abuses from authority figures. Sometimes, our minds can’t stop playing “the comparison game,” looking at other people and social media highlight reels and wondering why our lives feel less happy and beautiful.

The weight loss journey is often undertaken as an individual process. But how many wars are won as a one-woman show? Warriors need a support system to win. Warriors need people who are willing to boost them up and support them through the mental and physical obstacles standing in their way of losing weight. These support systems can come from significant others, family members, friends, fitness professionals, nutritionists, life coaches, psychologists and doctors. Most people who struggle to lose weight or who have cyclical weight fluctuations will greatly benefit from seeking out the guidance and counsel of a mental health professional. Please don’t look at scheduling an appointment with a psychologist as a failure. It’s a MAJOR win and will probably be the missing element that will help you finally gain control over your body.

 

 

Your Health is More Valuable Than Any Product

I’m not a product person. I’ve had dozens upon dozens of well-meaning and passionate individuals approach me about the health/nutrition product lines that they sell. They want me to join their ranks and represent the line or help spread the word to my audience. I’m always happy to enlighten clients and readers about what different products are out there; HOWEVER, there isn’t a bone in my body that can endorse a product line as being an excellent be-all-end-all, go-to for weight loss (even well-deserving, scientifically-backed ones!).

There isn’t a single nutritional supplement, shake or meal plan that you’re going to be willing to consume in excess (and pay up for) for your entire life. That’s right. I’m a professional who wants to see you succeed long-term. I don’t give a rat’s *** about before and after photos for results people get in 30 days because you know what almost ALWAYS happens? The weight comes right back on when people abandon the short-term exercise program or “drink-this-shake-in-place-of-most-of-your-meals” plan.

YOU deserve to learn how to get control of your REAL life (ya know, the one that continues after the fad diet). YOU deserve to eat REAL food. YOU deserve to keep the weight off. YOU deserve to feel proud of your progress even if it’s not as dramatic as before/after pics from a 60-day plan. Remember, these photos aren’t the full story. How many of these people are posting a two-years later pic and boasting about it? 

 

 

Your Mind is Powerful But it’s Not Always Right

A lot of people who want to lose weight feel like the whole room is staring at them – at their thick thighs or fleshy belly, vanishing waistline or double chin. They stand in the middle of parties and boardroom discussions feeling unworthy and self-conscious. Same thing goes for in the gym. But hear me on this one: YOU ARE WRONG. You’re not unworthy. And no, the whole room (or gym) is NOT picking apart your faults. You are your greatest critic.

The second we get out of our heads is the second we free ourselves of shame, blame and ridicule. Don’t you think you deserve that? Remind yourself of the many things you’re great at and the wonderful qualities that are deeper than the surface. These are your core. Not your physical appearance. When we place our confidence on those lasting qualities, we gain the power to approach our body transformations with a calm mind instead of a ridiculing one.  

 

Remember, You CAN 

The tagline for WellnessWinz is “Start Believing You Can.” I chose this years ago because so many people hit roadblocks in their mind that prevent their bodies from performing. The same can be said for people in their careers and relationships. Our minds can be powerful vehicles driving our energy and decisions.

Your weight CAN be lost. I know it doesn’t feel like it. Your mind is probably telling you that you’re stuck with it… but you’re not. The second you believe that you can commit yourself to the incremental changes that amount to permanent weight loss is the second that your life changes. The physical process of losing weight may take a little time but the mental shift required to jump start it all can happen today.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

My Thoughts Shared on MyFitnessPal and Thrive Global

Quick shameless plug (…or two):

This week I was honored to be one of several featured trainers on Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal blog! This is basically a life dream, so I can’t help but gush a little. The article, The Best Way to Spend 30 Minutes in the Gym, reviews what each of us trainers prefers to do for exercise when we only have 30 minutes to work out.

To clarify; despite how I was paraphrased in part of the article, I don’t think everyone should “take it fairly easy” with exercise when they only have 30 minutes to expend energy. That said, sometimes it’s appropriate to enjoy a recovery workout or some steady-state cardio. For example, now that I’m a woman in my 30’s and a mom who needs time-efficiency and stress reduction, I prefer to steer away from high-stress workouts like HIIT. Trust me, I’ve done PLENTY of HIIT workouts in my lifetime. Maybe too many. But my body calls for something less strenuous in this season of life when hormone balance needs to be respected and immune health kept strong. To read what I prefer to do with my 30 minutes, and what other trainers do, check it out: Read More.

My last shout out is for an article written by the incredible, bold and fearless Sandra LaMorgese on Arianna Huffington’s health and wellness platform, Thrive Global. The article: How Social Media Complicates the Positive Body Image Revolution includes my personal thoughts about social media and how it can [at times] let us all down. Sandra reflects on her own physical journey and why she took on a new attitude about her health in her 60’s (oh yea, and now she’s a model). It’s a great, worthwhile read. Enjoy!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie