Category Archives: Motherhood

The Reason I Avoided Ab Exercises During Bikini Season (Pelvic Floor Health)

Let’s dive into an awkward subject, shall we? In fitness, we’re accustomed to discussing our hamstrings, glutes, biceps, the like. We explore the ins and outs of the large muscles in our body because they’re familiar and frankly, easy to feel (and sometimes see) during exercises. We’re less apt to talk about the small muscles deep in the pelvis because it typically involves discussing the big “V-word”…that’s right, VAGINA. I said it. Now let’s embrace the elephant in the room. 

Many of us are hesitant to talk about incontinence, leaking, prolapse and pains “down south.” We hear that mysterious exercises called “kegels” help, but we wonder whether we’re doing them right or not. Beyond that, we’re left in the dark. We assume that surely, these issues only happen following childbirth or into old age as we decline in fitness, but that’s not the case. Women can suffer from weakened pelvic floor muscles at any age, with or without having given birth, despite high or low levels of fitness, and even when knowing how to perform kegels. Sounds a bit daunting, but fear not… 

Confession Time

Take me, for example. I was at the gym doing a HIIT workout a few months ago when BAM. A gush of fluid rushed out of my “V-word” during a squat jump. I felt my face flush. What the ****??? I scaled down my workout that day and was nervous to run or jump during my next couple workouts. I wasn’t having any more leaking following that incident but I felt an increasing urge to pee, like all the time, for the next few days. And my girlfriends who have road-tripped with me already know about my notorious “tiny bladder” and its pit-stop needs. 

It was about four days later and my body still felt off. My husband and I decided to spend that Sunday evening taking our toddler to the grassy park overlooking Reagan National Airport to watch the planes coming in to land. Our son was giddy with excitement, having seen these planes many times from afar. Everything felt blissful and I was entranced by my child’s smiles. We were walking back to the car to head home when I felt a very sudden and very alarming feeling. It was as if something had fallen out of my vagina. It freaked me the heck out. Big time.

When I followed up with my OBGYN, I was told that my bladder was slightly lower than normal but that I wasn’t even a stage-1 level of pelvic organ prolapse. I was shocked because I thought certainly this feeling had to be associated with a more extreme condition. I was told to go home and do more kegels. That just wasn’t good enough for me, though. As a fitness professional, I know to always question one-stop-shop solutions, even healthy ones like performing kegels more regularly. That just couldn’t be enough, I thought, especially if I’m at a higher risk for developing true pelvic organ prolapse moving forward.

Let me take a step back and give you a little background as to where my body was at the time:

  • It was almost 1.5 years after giving birth to my son and I had recently finished breastfeeding
  • I stayed in shape during my pregnancy and postpartum, and was still regularly exercising
  • I had experienced zero issues with my vaginal health as I returned to pre-pregnancy fitness levels following childbirth – no vaginal tears (wowzers, I got lucky there) and no leaking or issues with bladder control
  • I was confident that I was doing kegels right but, admittedly, hadn’t done them as much following the first 6 months of the postpartum period

I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me at this point in time, so late after giving birth to my son, and with no warning signs. I knew there had to be a professional who could shed more light on the situation…and there was.

The Pelvic Floor 

I met a fantastic professional named Dr. Jennifer Nelson (PT, DPT, COMT, CMTPT) with Therapydia in Washington, DC, and she was the one who helped me get to the bottom of why this could be happening to me…and let me tell you, the answers were completely unexpected, but perfectly logical, at the same time. Here’s why she believed *my case* of near-prolapse occurred:

  1. Overly TIGHT muscles, not weak ones, particularly in my abdomen.
  2. Years of being in the fitness industry, sucking every core muscle in unnaturally, shifting the tilt of my pelvis under muscle tension and creating excess intra-abdominal pressure.
  3. An accident from nearly 10 years ago that caused my left piriformis to stay cramped up, causing a chronic stress on my pelvic muscles (this was something that could only be released through INTERNAL, manual palpation…that’s right, through the vagina).
  4. Caffeine consumption irritating the bladder and causing it to become hyper-reactive and perhaps inflamed (ahem…yes, I confess I was drinking more coffee than I should have been due to normal mom-fatigue). Apparently artificial sweeteners and alcohol can cause similar irritation.
  5. Hormones adjusting back to pre-pregnancy levels following the natural weaning of my son. In other words, breastfeeding hormones can keep joints and muscles more loose and tender, just like during pregnancy, so my body’s sudden, enhanced tightness may have been from hormones acting like a roller-coaster.

Every woman’s experience with prolapse symptoms, whether they’re full-blown or not, is different and brought on by unique causes.

 

Reality Check: Prolapse is Common (albeit not talked about)

While learning more about my own experience with these sensations, I discovered how common pelvic organ prolapse is. Prevalence in post-menopausal women is over 40% and in younger, pre-menopausal women, who have given birth to one child, mild to moderate prolapse has been discovered to be quite common as well. While weakened pelvic-floor muscles are thought to be one of leading causes of prolapse, there is still more being discovered.

 

Running, Lifting & Pilates

There are some researchers who suggest that increased abdominal pressure, created from lots of endurance running, heavy lifting, and/or Pilates and core exercises, contributes to prolapse issues. This begs the question: Are we hurting our bodies through modern exercise?!? 

My thought is that we are doing our bodies GOOD through modern exercise, but that we need to increase our awareness of the excess pressure we create in our core which contributes to the “downward push” of our organs, when not kept in check. We also need to keep in mind that just because contemporary images of beauty align with a flat stomach, devoid of any of the natural roundness which has marked beauty and women’s bodies for centuries, doesn’t mean that standard is right. Modern women are sucking in their tummies at the expense of their vaginas. That’s the unfortunate truth, ladies.

 

How Do Women Prevent Prolapse?

For starters, it’s important not to ignore those good, ol’ trusty kegels. They help maintain the integrity of the small, but oh-so-crucial, pelvic floor muscles. The key is to practice these regularly (I know, I know…not the first thing most women add to their to-do list at the start of each day) and to hold the contraction for the appropriate amount of time; 10 seconds per kegel. Focusing on the release of the muscles from the contraction is just as important as the tightening of them. This is a good rule to apply to gym exercises too.

Another way to stay on top of preventing prolapse is to take a gradual approach to getting back into shape following childbirth. Upcoming app Matriarc is a great place to start. It helps women regain fitness during the postpartum period with a heavy focus on SAFE core and pelvic exercises.

Additionally, allowing the stomach to be soft and relaxed, in its natural state, is important. Frankly, it sucks to think about the damage our egos (mine included) could be causing to our bodies. So, let’s all be confident women in the shapes we possess rather than twisting and contorting (and sucking in) to conform to society’s “norms.” Our bodies are pretty awesome without all the [intra-abdominal] pressure. 😉

*Please note that this list of suggestions is not all-inclusive. If you’re concerned about your risk of pelvic organ prolapse or are experiencing leaking, incontinence or a feeling of pressure in your vagina, please contact your OBGYN right away.* 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

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The Marathons in Life

I’ve completed three marathons and the third was the hardest, not easiest. The first was the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. I was an idiot and ran it when I was completely under the weather, just because I was [am] stubborn and don’t like to give up on my goals, even when it’s wise to. The second was the Walt Disney World Marathon. That was a fun one. Lots of high fives with costumed Disney characters and pauses in front of iconic Disney backdrops (think Magic Castle) for mid-race photos. Ah, to feel young and innocent again whilst putting your body through a gauntletThe third marathon…the hardest marathon…was not your typical road race. It was a 17-month long commitment to breastfeeding. Yup, it was a marathon in every sense of the word; equal parts difficult and fulfilling, challenging yet beneficial for one’s health, and mentally grueling while simultaneously inspiring. Here’s how the lessons I learned from my road-race marathons applied to my commitment to something else. Gotta love exercise-life parallels. I’m all about ’em.

Good Things Don’t Come Easy 

Nursing was not something I was passionate about at the beginning of my journey with it, whereas I have always been very passionate about running. But my experiences running road races (shorter ones like half marathons, 10-milers and 10Ks, too) have taught me that tough commitments can have unexpected rewards. Thus, I stuck out the breastfeeding thing, using my stubborn, marathon mentality to get me through its challenges (of which there were many, including the fact that it was extremely difficult for me to produce enough milk through pumping…in order words, I had to be present around the clock to provide).

Somewhere about a year after my son’s birth I experienced a dramatic shift in perspective; instead of knowing I should appreciate the ability to provide for him in his infancy into toddlerhood, I finally truly appreciated it. It hit me one day out of the blue. I saw how much intimacy we shared, how quick the years ahead would pass us by, how much like a little boy instead of a baby he already was, and I knew. My heart finally understood that it was the hardest and best decision I had made for us both thus far.

Physical Discomfort Makes Us Mentally Tough 

I never knew that bloody heels and almost passing out during my first marathon would be things I would become grateful for. The painful experiences taught me not only to wear more protective socks and to avoid physical competitions when sick, but also that I was capable of enduring pain and moving forward a little bit tougher. This made shorter distances mentally easier in the future, and left me with the reassurance that, for better or worse, my body is capable of anything I might ask of it.

When my motherhood marathon began, I also endured pain…but it was much worse. TMI ahead, folks. In the first few months of nursing I had cracked nipples because of my son’s small mouth and his tongue tie (he was born a month early and we had to wait over a month for an ENT appointment). My hormones were crazy and at the start of every nursing session I experienced unthinkable letdown pain. I would literally cry out in pain or attempt to take deep breaths through tears. Getting through those upfront challenges built up my resolve that no matter what normal challenges lay ahead (nursing strikes, mastitis, maintaining supply) that I could handle it. Mommy’s battle gear was ready!!

The Second Time Around Will Be Easier

If there’s one thing I know it’s that being a novice is tough. Most first-time road runners don’t know how to fuel properly and typically don’t learn proper negative-split and cross-training techniques. But over time and with some effort, runners refine and evolve. They implement strategies to help them run faster while enduring fewer injuries.

Similarly, first-time moms encounter  many challenges that force them to be more strategic and build up their tolerance for future issues. For example, my nursing experience was initially tough, but I have no doubt that it paved the way for an easier experience next time. Aren’t most things easier for mom after the first child? Please tell me yes! 

No one said nursing a toddler was free of complications! Lol.

You Can’t Marathon Straight Through Life

In a study published by the NIH, the Mayo Clinic found that there may be an “upper-dose limit” for endurance exercise. In other words, marathon after marathon and sustained competition at an elite level can have detrimental effects on an athlete’s heart. Think of it kind of like overdosing on a medication…it goes from helpful to hurtful very quickly. Cardiac tissue can have multiple negative adaptations to intensive training, including large-artery wall stiffening, coronary artery calcification, myocardial fibrosis, ventricular arrhythmia and more. These devastating effects of exercising TOO much strip away all the benefits and longevity that come with exercise in moderation (which can increase life expectancy by 7 years!). At some point, we have to intuit when we’ve gone too far, when it’s time to move on from the marathon…for our health’s sake.

Similarly, what I consider the “marathon of motherhood” (i.e. nursing) isn’t intended to be something the mother and child practice forever. At a certain point, life’s demands, the child’s distraction or disinterest, or the mother’s need to focus wholeheartedly on her own health again, come into play. In fact, the volume of milk that a toddler needs goes drastically down after the 12-15-month mark, and too much milk or dairy can stand in the way of getting enough of other key nutrients. To continue “marathoning” the nursing in the same frequency as when the child was in infancy isn’t ideal for the child’s health (that’s not to say that some nursing isn’t still healthy, nutritious and emotionally satisfying for the child). Anywhere between 18-months and 3 years old is when experts say children naturally wean, meaning they lead the process based on their physical and emotional needs.

That said, my son was just under the 17-month mark and I knew it was time to stop pushing us both through our once-a-day nursing that remained; the morning nursing. I had been pushing him to continue for weeks, even though he was showing disinterest. We might get a few minutes of nursing in and that was that. I knew he was gearing up to quit – he loved his sippy cup with whole milk way more than me (well…my boobs) at that point and had recently found new ways to share cuddles and affection with me on/off throughout the day, filling the emotional gap that I was worried would be created by stopping nursing. I could also feel my own hormones and emotions crashing over the whole ordeal. It didn’t feel the same anymore. I felt like after nearly 1.5 years I really needed a few mornings to pass the torch to my husband so I could sleep in and get the rest my body was begging of me.

One morning a couple weeks ago, my son just flat-out refused to nurse. I tried everything I could to get him to and he just wouldn’t. I set him down to play instead and off he went on his merry little way. I knew. That was it. My marathon had ended. And it was actually a good thing for us both, I found.

Was it easy to nurse 17 months? Heck no. But it got easier over time. Was it worth it? Yes. 100% worth it. All marathons are. 

What’s your marathon? What have you been tasked with that requires every fiber of your being to persevere through? Most importantly, even when it’s hard, can you see the potential for the long road ahead to mold you for the better? Hang in.

 

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. It’s that I had the courage to start.”

-John Bingham, American Marathon Runner and Author

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Where Does Obesity Start?

I can’t believe that my perspective on obesity in America has shifted so dramatically in the last six or so months. I’ve been in the fitness industry for over a decade and have taken countless courses on metabolic diseases, health and wellness. I thought I knew most of what I needed to know…until I realized that I didn’t. One lesser-known fact that I recently learned has changed everything for me. I couldn’t believe it when I found out. It made my jaw hit the ground and simultaneously made me want to cry. This one simple statistic changes the ballgame for all of us. Big time.

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While conducting research for a manuscript I’ve been working on for the past year, I came across data about the prevalence of children who are overweight and obese in America. I was curious to read the stats but paused before getting to them. The age range taken into evaluation for childhood obesity is what struck me first. I always wrongly assumed that data on children who are overweight and/or obese referred to school-age children only. Kids get a little wiggle room to grow out of their baby fat, right? But no, the age range that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assesses starts at the tender age of TWO! I was floored. For me, this changes everything. Here’s why…

The fact that the age range evaluated for being overweight or obese is from 2-19 years old reflects the fact that obesity starts way before we are irresponsible teenagers guzzling down chips and soda or even school-age children being served controversial, less-nutritious lunches in elementary school cafeterias. Being overweight or obese literally starts when children are adored for having chubby cheeks and pudge. That got me thinking, how can you tell “healthy fat” tots from “unhealthy and overweight” ones? I dug a little deeper and found that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that parents shouldn’t worry about the weight of children younger than 2-years old, citing that there is no current and relevant information supporting the notion that children who are heavy as babies are going to be overweight later in life. But just one second…

Today, 30% of American youth are overweight or obese (17% obese, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011-2014 data), with the prevalence of overweight 2 to 3-year olds being 40% higher than it was in 1994! What’s more is that overweight 2-year olds are apparently twice as likely to become obese as an adult. The older a child gets without outgrowing their extra layer of insulation, the greater the risk goes up. Obese 6-year olds have a 50% risk of obesity at 35 years old and obese 10-year olds have up to a 80% risk! Anyone starting to feel a little uncomfortable about these numbers yet? So, going back to the toddlers…how exactly does a 2-year old hit their second birthday and magically go from being considered healthy to overweight? That’s just not fair to the little ones! Obviously, there are things happening in the FIRST TWO YEARS OF LIFE that have the power to set us up as a society for a host of challenges in our childhood onwards into adulthood.

This brings me to my next question: What is happening in the first two years that sets a child up for certain “healthy” vs “unhealthy” habits that are perpetuated throughout their youth? Moreover, what can we do as ADULTS to prevent this? After all, the first two years of life have very little to do with what a child chooses for their nutrition and physical activity and a whole lot to do with what we offer them to eat and how we help them engage (or not) with the world around them. Our attitude towards wellness very directly impacts theirs.

These are my opinions as a health professional so take them for whatever they are worth to you. These are what I see as some of the potential root causes for their unhealthy habits and compromised gut health, and the implications for us as responsible adults.

 

3 Things that Impact Health in the First 2 Years of Life: 

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I. Breastfeeding vs. Formula

I’m a big proponent of breastfeeding but I understand that sometimes formula is medically indicated or otherwise chosen by moms who want or need it for convenience. I will spare you my opinions on women’s rights for maternity leave and the necessity to have both time and a place to pump at work, but certainly those factor into maternal nutrition decisions. I digress. When we compare breastmilk and formula side-by-side, we see a couple of differences in potential nutrition and how some babies are fed.

Breastmilk has been fine-tuned by evolution over the course of nearly 200,000 years and its complexities are only just beginning to be understood. Formula, on the other hand, was first developed on a grand scale in the early 1950s and was heavily marketed as an “ideal food” for babies. Yes, formula can adequately nourish babies. That has been proven, otherwise babies being fed formula would fail to gain weight and survive. But, the debate on whether or not it’s “ideal” is certainly a heated one, with proponents on both sides. Here is where I see formula falling short and having the *potential* to impact long-term health (albeit formula is a miracle for babies who have no other options – it was made to save lives – and is in no way, shape or form the only predictor of health outcomes):

Taste changes in milk

Just like unborn babies can taste their mother’s broccoli or potato chips via the amniotic fluid they swallow, nursing babies experience the diverse flavors of mom’s diet via changes in breastmilk flavor. There are breastfeeding advocates out there who would argue that this helps a baby embrace healthy foods later on during the introduction of solids (assuming mommy eats healthy in the first place, of course!).

Ability to digest

Just as there are experts who have brought light to the fact that one-a-day multivitamins are difficult for the body to digest, others have made us aware that formula is also difficult on a baby’s digestive system due to higher caesin content in the milk compared to breastmilk. Although parents get longer breaks between baby’s feedings while his tummy sorts everything out, this lends me to believe that a baby’s system is taxed by its food source and may not absorb all of it.  For this same reason, some formula manufacturers continue to attempt to make it with less curd to better simulate digestive processes aligned with breastmilk.

Antibodies and gut health 

Antibodies help build up our immune systems and healthy gut bacteria. Breastmilk is full of antibodies that respond and change daily to the specific needs of the baby. Baby gets sick with a cold and mama’s milk provides the medicine for healing. The healthier our gut microbiota, the healthier children (and adults) are in general. Studies are increasingly showing that gut health, inflammation and metabolic diseases (such as obesity) are scientifically linked. This means that protecting our children’s gut health needs to be a fundamental goal of any parent, and breastfeeding is just one way we can do that (and arguably the best way, for children under one-year old).

Bottle mentality

Bottle-fed babies are sometimes subject to parents and caregivers encouraging them to finish the entire portion of milk in the bottle. Babies have varying metabolisms and milk requirements so while it may be completely appropriate for one baby to guzzle down eight ounces of milk in one slug, this may be overfeeding another child. Milk requirements may also vary day by day. In this way, babies and children are not all that different from adults. We all have different needs and overeating can become a vicious and repetitive cycle thanks to our biological tendency to hoard fat when given the opportunity (I’m telling ya…our bodies still think we are getting chased down by bears). It’s important to practice baby-led bottle feeding.

What this means to us (the adults): If you are a mother or have friends, family or coworkers with a baby, try to be as supportive as possible of the breastfeeding relationship. Don’t give women snarky looks when they are nursing in public or a hard time if they are late to a meeting because they had to finish pumping. For women who choose formula out of necessity or desire, try to encourage them to follow baby’s lead and not push them to finish all of their bottles and food unless the pediatrician has medically advised it. Both breastfeeding and formula-feeding mothers can make enormous strides in their children’s long-term health with the introduction of solids and healthy foods…

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II. Introduction of Solids

The introduction of solids is an important time in a baby’s life. The new colors, textures and flavors are all fascinating to babies. While it’s obvious that overfeeding a baby solids can result in too much weight gain, there are some other things to consider that stack up and impact a little one’s health.

Sugary puree packets

Lots of puree packets look lovely – they are organic, produced by trusted brands and packed full of healthy ingredients. What’s not to love?! The challenge with lots of puree packets is that they are loaded with sugar. Baby is already getting about 17 grams of sugar from a cup of breastmilk and, at one-year old, 11 grams of sugar from a cup of cow’s milk. Clearly, sugar is a natural part of a baby’s diet, but as we know from the obesity epidemic taking flight in the 1990s when sugary sodas were having their heyday, too much of the stuff is definitely not good for our health or weight. Even veggie and fruit puree mixes have a ton of it – sometimes as much as 11-13 grams/packet! Even when you have good intentions for baby eating up all of those peas and spinach mixed in, that’s a ton of sugar! The best bet is to try to make your own baby food or choose lower-sugar, store-bought purees.

Veggie resistance

I will be the first to admit that getting a little one to fall in love with veggies is tricky business, but it’s 100% worth every effort, creative cooking method, and/or baby-friendly spices/seasonings you can muster up. Roughly 38% of American adolescents eat LESS than ONE serving of fruits or vegetables a day. Surely, we can ALL do better than that. We NEED to do better than that, starting right when solids are introduced and kids palates are impressionable. Start early and start healthy!

Time Constraints

Yes, it’s difficult to feed extra mouths, but it doesn’t have to be an elaborate, over-the-top ordeal that’s so stressful that we break down and nuke chicken nuggets every night. If we commit ourselves to eating healthy and slowly introducing our children to the same foods, we only have to prepare one meal; the family meal! I’m totally serious – my son eats everything we do and is just a year old. It’s not because he loves salmon, quinoa and veggies more than yogurt, cheese, bread and fruit, Trust me, he would eat all the aforementioned till the cow’s come home, if we let him. He accepts and enjoys healthy foods because we try to offer him the same nutritious foods that we eat (and when we eat them). It makes things far simpler on us and way healthier for him.

What this means to us (the meal providers): Whether or not we feel like we have loads of extra time on our hands to prepare homemade, healthy purees and meals, it’s really not a matter of choice. It’s a necessity for the health of the next generation. If we give up and let nine-month olds dictate an all fruit and bread diet then how are we going to hold our own when those children are five and we are telling them to eat their peas as they protest saying they don’t like the taste? It doesn’t have to be super scary to healthfully feed young children and there are a million blogs, pins on Pinterest and nutrition resources to help make it easy! Find some or personal message me and I will help you navigate it all!

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III. Modeling Good Eating

Kids are easily influenced by their surroundings. I’ve heard stories about people with babies who didn’t walk until 18 months when suddenly, on vacation with their older cousins, the child decides to morph into a walking toddler to chase after them. Our healthy choices (or lack thereof) are no different. Kids see their parents eating pizza while they have carrots and they are gonna want the pizza. Plain and simple. Who wouldn’t? Pizza is delicious and shaped like a triangle! Since when did an edible triangle not taste amazing? Watermelon, sandwiches, chips… How we influence the wellness of children is fundamental to solving childhood obesity and its propensity to carry through into adulthood.

Eat healthy foods (duh)

It’s as straightforward as that. Eat healthy foods, in front of a baby and young children, and they will be more apt to eat them too. Think of it as a chance for the whole family to get healthy.

Mindless Snacking

“Snacky” foods typically pack a lot of empty calories. In other words, lots of calories from carbs or sugars with very little return in the way of vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, etc. They can also cause children (and adults alike) to lose track of what “full” really feels like thanks to zoning out in front of a cartoon while eating fistful after fistful. Mindless snack habits set children (and adults) up for health problems because of the lack of nutrition and risk of overeating (which leaves less of an appetite for healthy meals).

Food as a tool

It’s definitely tempting to shove food in front of kids for any number of reasons, but when food is abused as a tool for getting children to behave better, we begin down a slippery slope that can tie unhealthy behaviors and expectations to treats. And we all know that if you give a kids an inch they take a….yup, mile after mile after mile. Or rather, cookie after ice cream after soda. 

What this means to us (the “models” for healthy eating): Modeling healthy eating takes commitment on a regular basis and also talking to kids about why you eat what you do. Even babies can sometimes be influenced to take bites of “yucky” foods when you show excitement and enthusiasm about them – or better yet, are eating the exact same thing in front of them. I understand that it’s unrealistic to expect people to eat healthy foods 24/7. I like to indulge a bit too. So, when you do go off the “healthy-food menu” simply make sure that you keep portions small for children (if you offer any at all) and discuss how certain foods are for unique occasions, and that if we ate them all the time, they would make us tired and give us stomach-aches. Your choice if and how you want to discuss the actual weight gain component. 

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There is a lot we can do as adults to impact the upcoming generations’ wellness and a lot starts with nutrition. It’s definitely worth noting that activity levels play a tremendous role in the childhood obesity epidemic too, even for babies. Take them out of their car seats and strollers, and let older children run around for fun – it’s the best exercise [playing] that there is! And if you’re feeling just a little bit daunted about setting a healthy example, focus hard on what it will take for YOU to be more healthy and the rest will gradually fall in place. It’s not fair to leave our children and children’s children in a place where they look down at the scale as adults and think “What the heck?! How did this happen? Where did I go wrong?” You will never regret setting a child up for good health because ultimately, it’s an integral part of what makes us happy as humans.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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16 Health Lessons from 2016

2016. Oh man. What a whirlwind. The world is still feeling a little dizzy from a heated American presidency race, a slew of terrorist attacks, Brexit, ZIKA and chasing after Pokemon. Who wouldn’t be? But, 2016 had its highlights too. If nothing else, we can always learn from the ups and downs alike. Here is what I learned in my year, for better or worse.

6 Lesson #1: Expect the Unexpected

It was a month before his due date when my son decided to make his debut to the world, He was supposed to be an on-time Valentine’s Day baby. Instead, he showed up on January 19th after my water broke and membranes simultaneously ruptured (which in truth made me think I was bleeding out or losing the baby…terrifying). Thus began my education in one of the biggest lessons you have as a parent: Don’t ever think you have it all figured out.

A baby is a person. It has its own mind. And probably shouldn’t be referenced as “it.” This lesson can also apply to the body and our health. Both can take unexpected twists and turns. We may get hit by a car (ahem, been there) or fall unexpectedly ill. Or we may become marathon runners at the age of 50 after a lifetime of avoiding sneakers and gym shorts. You just never know. The unlimited potential in the unexpected is actually a beautiful thing when we learn not to be afraid of it.

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Lesson #2: Our Bodies Are in Sync with Nature

The only reason I can think of for why my son arrived a month early into this world is that there were barometric changes in the atmosphere as the January 2016 blizzard made its way to the east coast. There is actually evidence of changes in atmospheric pressure increasing the number of women who have their water break. Kind of like hospitals getting flooded by pink-skinned, squealing babies when the new moon comes around. It’s pretty incredible that we are linked so inexplicably to nature.

Lesson #3: Sleep is Crucial

This seems pretty obvious but it’s worth mentioning sleep for the millionth time on this blog. When you lose sleep, things get cray cray. I had the WORST mom brain for months when my son was under six months old, waking up lots and suffering from reflux. Now that he has slept through the night for almost five months, I can still feel the impact of restless nights. My body has become programmed by maternal instincts to wake up at the slightest noise from him. Add in weird hormonal things, a need to pee once every night around 2:00-3:00 am, and my husband snoring (sorry to call you out, love) and there ya have it. Still kind of tired. Not miserably, but just that slightly worn-thin feeling that a lot of parents live with for all 18 years their children are under their roof.

Sleep impacts the way we think and feel. An earlier bedtime can be tough to stick to when the evening hours are oh-so peaceful, quiet and MINE, but it’s so important. I would advise anyone reading this to think very carefully if the quality of their entire life could be improved by minor changes to sleep schedules. Again, it’s important stuff for our mental and physical health.

Lesson #4: Being a Nursing Mom is a J.O.B.

Being a mom is tough. Being a nursing mom is even harder. Yes, it’s a wonderful and beautiful bonding experience but it’s also incredibly challenging to juggle life around the schedule (or on-demand needs) of a nursing baby. We’re talking sprinting in and out of stores and cutting meetings short in order to feed or pump for the little one. Life is a revolving door of boobs in, boobs out. It’s no wonder so many women quit breastfeeding or don’t even initiate it! In fact, according to the CDC, the national average for initiating breastfeeding from birth is under 80%. At six months of age, less than 50% of infants are breastfed and under 20% are exclusively nursed, meaning they have to be supplemented by formula. For more info check out the CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card.

But the thing about nursing is that it’s your child’s best chance at optimal nutrition and health. I’m not saying it’s the only way or shaming moms who have to do formula or supplement. There are lots of cases where that’s necessary, appropriate and life-saving. But, mama’s milk has everything in it that a baby needs and changes composition over time to meet those needs. Mama’s milk even produces antibodies to help baby get over specific illnesses and build up positive gut bacteria. So, even though it certainly feels like a job to breastfeed, it’s definitely worth trying to for as long as possible from a health perspective. Think of your paycheck as baby’s lifelong health!

Lesson #5: Patience is Everything 

Patience is not an easy virtue to abide by. I think it’s why many people quit their workout and weight-loss programs, and why some mothers give their kids food to appease them when they are fussy. It’s hard to deal with frustrations or a lack of desirable results, but almost always, if we hang in just a little longer, the scales will tip in our favor. Things will change.

Nothing has taught me this as profoundly as waiting for my son’s gut health to mature. He was a gassy, fussy baby in the first three months so I cut out dairy from my diet and we did everything we could to keep the little guy comfortable. In months three to six, he developed GERD (gastrointestinal reflux) and was in extreme pain. While medicine eventually helped keep things under control and we took every precaution we could to help reduce instances of reflux, there was still not a lot we could do except give his body time. Right when we thought we couldn’t handle it any more, our hearts so distraught over a baby who was chronically exhausted, reacting to pain, and having troubles with constipation, his body did a 180. Around six months of age he started going to the bathroom regularly, sleeping more soundly, weaning off his meds, and becoming the happy baby we had caught glimpses of. My patience definitely wore thin many times, but the fragment of it that I clung to kept me going. It kept me aware of the truth in the statement new mothers hear all the time: “This too shall pass.”

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Lesson #6: Isolation Hurts Health

I’ve learned firsthand that isolation is most definitely no fun. I spent lots of long days home alone while my husband traveled for work and I cared for my son in his early infancy. He was very sensory sensitive as a newborn so I wasn’t exactly able to be one of those new moms toting her baby around to Starbucks, Target and happy hour. I discovered from experience that no amount of Facebook, Instagram, texting or phone calls can equate to being with people in person, seeing their facial expressions, sensing their warmth, and hearing their laughter. “LOL” just isn’t the same. We are inherently social creatures. Our wellness is immediately improved by quality human interactions.  

Lesson #7: Weight Retention is a Choice

I think because I grew up in a small town that I saw a lot of mothers with young children who were overweight. Something about the culture of a small town and rural America seems to lend itself to this a bit more. Anyways, I had this idea that once I became a mom my body would never be the same. But, when I moved to Washington, DC in my early 20s I saw so many older women taking care of themselves through healthy eating and exercise that I was inspired to change my perspective.

Neither age nor motherhood means an inevitable decline into being overweight or less healthy. You can absolutely lose the baby weight instead of retaining it, with some effort. I could too, I realized. And I did! I’m no supermom and I’m not out accomplishing amazing physical or culinary feats every day for my health. I’m simply a woman who is reminding herself that she is the one in control of her weight and health. Not anybody or anything else. I stay on track by simply following my choice to be healthy, day after day after day. With the occasional wine and chocolate. Okay, fine. I eat chocolate every day. Anybody else is capable of just the same.

Lesson #8: Little Things Add Up

One of the ways that I lost the majority of my baby weight during the first few months postpartum was by staying gently active and keeping myself in check so that not every day was pancakes and scrambled eggs day for breakfast. Although for the record, if calories didn’t count, I would probably do that all the time. In the same way, little things that we do for our health can snowball and help us overcome a suppressed immune system, a chronically aching lower back, high blood pressure or any number of conditions.

If we try to do too much too fast, it can backfire. For example, if someone with cardiac issues tries to go out and strengthen their weak heart in a single exercise session, they might quite literally kill themselves. Similarly, we can hurt ourselves if we skip over all the small details and actions that contribute to better health. If we pay those obnoxious little details just a smidge of attention, they will add up and take care of us so well that suddenly we are enthused instead of annoyed by them.

Lesson #9: Sometimes, Health Professionals Suck

Confession time. I was going to a pediatrician at a trusted peds office in my neighborhood. I liked her when I scoped her out as a prospect. She seemed to-the-point, candid and knowledgeable. In the early weeks of parenthood, when it was so critical that our late pre-term baby gain weight, thrive and recover from jaundice, I hung on every one of her scary-sounding words. As he got a little older I started to notice that her bedside manner wasn’t as good as it originally seemed, and wasn’t always contextually appropriate.

At several check-ups she made me genuinely nervous about my son’s perfectly healthy development, all because of how she chose her words. One appointment, she mixed up my son’s weight chart with another parent’s baby. It had been a couple months since I saw her and she whisked through the door in a huff and said very frankly, without so much as a “hello,” that she had bad news about his weight. I hemmed and hawed and said I thought he had been doing okay but that as a new parent with a baby who came early, I was always nervous since he was consistently “behind” his birth-age peers. Which is totally normal and to be expected. I was holding my breath to hear her next words. My heart had started racing. I felt like I was failing at motherhood. Then she said, “Oh, whoops! I completely got you mixed up with another patient. Carter is doing great!” On numerous other occasions, instead of giving me professional advice, she gave me advice based on her own child’s preferences and routines as a baby. That’s just out-of-the-ballpark unprofessional and subjective. Period.

There is a certain way that health professionals can make you feel, even when they have to deliver bad news. Their tone and demeanor is everything. It can change lives just as much as their diagnoses, programs and scalpels. And sometimes, even when a professional is smart and trustworthy, they can suck at communicating the right way. Be it a doctor, nurse, physical therapist, personal trainer, OBGYN, or any other health professional, you know when they are out of line. For example, there’s a right and a wrong way for personal trainers to motivate people who are dangerously overweight to get back on track. Should the overweight client be shamed? Absolutely not. Should they be reprimanded? No, of course not. Should they be made to feel afraid? Ideally, no. That behavior on behalf of any health professional is unacceptable in my book. Which brings me to my next point…

Lesson #10: Fire and Rehire (your health professional)

If your health professional acts in a way that makes you uncomfortable (see Lesson #9), you fire them. Period. You don’t let them drag you through the mud. You don’t let them make you feel unworthy or paranoid. Again, you fire them. You find someone who can take care of you in the right way. Simple as that. Don’t hesitate or be afraid to do it.

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Lesson #11: Human Physical Development is Mind-Boggling

I know everyone is all crazy about babies learning to crawl, walk and talk, but I find the little details that my son discovers about his body to be just as fascinating. Okay, once he walks I will probably be ecstatic like every other normal parent. Recently, he has discovered that he can intentionally shake his head side-to-side like a “no” except he is super happy doing it, can touch his tongue with his fingers, can pinch his belly fat (haha), can scratch surfaces with his nails (eek!), can carefully stack objects on top of one another, and can play peekaboo with doors, blankets, curtains and anything he can hide behind. Believe it or not, this is the short list. 

I’ve been totally baffled as he has discovered things like lateral and rotational movement, balancing on two feet without support, and how to feed himself using his hands, So many things that we take for granted and don’t even think about are exploding like fireworks into his awareness. Every single one of these little things makes us human. Every one of the little things we can do so effortlessly as adults helps define our physical experience in the human body. It’s truly incredible and we are truly lucky to have such amazing vehicles to transport us from cradle to grave. Sorry if that’s a touch morbid to you, but to me it’s a thing of pure beauty. 

Lesson #12: Our Bodies Are All Insanely Unique

WARNING: TMI AHEAD. READ ON WITH CAUTION!

I’ve always heard that exclusive nursing is a form of birth control, for the most part. But a mere six weeks after having my baby, I got my period. Yup. Undeniably, my period. And I was breastfeeding around the clock. This is one very simple example of what tends to be a universal truth: There are no hard and fast rules that apply to all of our bodies. We all have some fundamental needs as humans like air, food, water and shelter, but we are each so uniquely designed that we can’t assume that what happens to one person’s body will happen to ours. This is why I much prefer to personalize workout programs rather than assume that one program meets the entire populations’ fitness needs. It doesn’t. It never will. 

Lesson #13: Doing Things Too Fast Will Slow You Down

When we push ourselves too hard for too long, it hurts our health. I know this firsthand because it’s something I have to work hard to keep myself in check about. In fact, just this holiday season I’ve found that I’ve reached a point of “burned out” because I ran on all cylinders for several weeks straight. I was working to finish writing a book, take care of my 10-month old while my husband traveled for work, get holiday shopping and wrapping done, host a party and do all the cooking, and manage normal chores, dog walking, errands, etc. I’m completely worn out. But, it’s not just that I’m tired.

Like other instances in the past when I’ve been a touch too hardcore, my body is now suffering from inflammation and stress. My joints ache, my stress-response is out of control (think heart racing over something stupid and minor like hearing a dog barking for a while next door), my tolerance for indulgent foods is zero, and my sleep is a bit wrecked. These are just a few examples of how our bodies break down when we chronically stress them. When we get to a place like this we must go back to basics; eat well, sleep well, rest, keep blood flowing with light exercise, focus on things that balance us mentally and spiritually. Sounds like a good recipe for the holidays anyways!

Lesson #14: Support Systems are Necessary

Without support systems, health inevitably suffers. I mean, we can all claim to be super woman (or at least try to be), with minimal outreach to others for emotional and physical support, but then we suffer. Big time. Our health thrives when we have the opportunity to lean in to others for help when we need it. It allows us to have recovery time and to build our strength back up so that we can face the world.

I take a lot of pride in being a go-getter who goes and gets things done. But when the going gets tough, I can get exhausted. This year I had to learn to swallow my pride and ask for more help to get simple things accomplished. And ya know what? I’m living to tell the tale. It wasn’t so bad after all. The help of others has gotten me through 2016. It has been paramount to my health. And sanity.

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Lesson #15: Good Health Takes Work

This probably seems so obvious. It kind of is. But so many of us KNOW the things we need to do for our health and yet, we don’t take action. We understand how to feel better but living out that lifestyle seems really difficult. Honestly, sometimes it can be. Buying fresh foods and preparing them takes a lot more effort than zapping something in the microwave. Going for a brisk walk or hitting the gym obviously requires more energy than sitting back and scrolling through social media. Although I’ve found that fingers can get tired too.

As my child has gotten older I’ve been challenged for the first time in a while to figure out how to stick to healthy choices and put in the effort to take care of not just him, but ME! Mama’s health matters, too! A few things that have helped me are walking into the grocery store with a list and a plan, acknowledging that efficient 30-minute workouts can be just as beneficial as lackadaisical 60-minute ones, and making sure that I’m in bed at the exact same time every night to ensure enough sleep. Maybe some of these simple things will help you too.

Lesson #16: Health is a Blessing

It’s a bit of a cliché, I know. But. HEALTH IS A BLESSING. Drop the mic.


Without further ado, I wish you all a very healthy, very happy holiday season! See you in 2017!

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Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Pregnancy and Exercise – Infographic

As WellnessWinz readers know, I’m a big fan of exercising while pregnant and wrote on the subject already: The Inside Scoop on Exercise During Pregnancy. Today, I’m thrilled that my friends from the UK’s MyFitnessBoutique have weighed in on the topic with the following article and infographic contribution. Thanks, guys!!! Gals – get your exercise on whether pregnant or not!

Pregnancy & Exercise 

For women who enjoy being active but are also expecting a child, exercising becomes a dilemma. Do they try and remain active for their own benefit and wellbeing, or is exercise a bad idea while pregnant?

This infographic from My Fitness Boutique (www.myfitnessboutique.co.uk) shows that pregnant women can still obtain regular exercise without doing any harm. In fact, it is rather important for pregnant women to try and get at least 30 minutes exercise a day for a minimum of five days a week. Exercises such as Pilates, squats, wall push-ups, cycling and lunges all serve to improve the stamina of women during pregnancy, making pains less difficult to bear. It also helps them sleep better at night and provides a self-esteem boost.

If you’re expecting a baby and you still want to keep active, that’s magnificent – just remember not to overdo it. All exercises should be done with caution and if you feel any strain or discomfort, stop the exercise. Even something as simple as a 30-minute walk still counts as exercise and certainly beats doing nothing. Don’t believe that if you haven’t exercised before, now is not the time to start. Do what you can and you will thank yourself for it.

Pregnancy Fitness

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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The Similarities Between Parenthood and Personal Training

Happy Spring, WellnessWinz Readers!

I’m officially back from maternity leave! *Deep breath.* Let me tell ya, it has been a whirlwind. This entire lifestyle shift means that I may not be able to blog as much as I would like to for a little bit, but I will do my best to produce meaningful and relevant content when and where I can until a better rhythm is established (and my son is letting me get more than a couple hours of sleep at a time, lol).

To kick off my return to the blogosphere, we have a somewhat humorous post: The Similarities between Parenthood and Personal Training. That’s right guys, I went there. I’m bold enough (or crazy enough) to compare my experiences as a new mom to the personal training experience. It turns out that my little one can be just as tough and demanding as a boot camp sergeant! He is my new little boss man and he kicks my butt. I’m like “No more! Have mercy, pleeeaaasseee!!” and he’s all “You WILL NOT rest until you climb the stairs 50 more times to check on me, change 20 more diapers, and feel like your back is going to break from rocking me!”

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Just following his lead! 😉 

A lot of the lessons I’m learning as a mom parallel ones I have experienced through exercise. For example, oftentimes anxiety over a situation as a mom is worse than the situation itself. For instance, within 24 hours of writing this my husband and I experienced one of the biggest fussy streaks in our son’s life. Every 45-50 minutes (one sleep cycle), he would wake up wailing and would be inconsolable. He did this all day and all night. None of us slept and we were all extra tired and cranky as a result. I began franticly googling all sorts of mumbo-jumbo and determined that he was experiencing a sleep regression. I was so sure of this that I texted some of my mom-friends and asked how on earth they survived such episodes in their children’s lives. I had resigned myself to sleeplessness for the next few weeks and was depressed thinking about the cloud hanging over all of us, bleeding into my birthday week and my first Mother’s Day. A bit selfish, but true.

When the crying escalated to an off-the-charts level, I felt desperate. Surely this wasn’t just something weird about my son’s sleep development, right? I mean, I get it – any change in my sleep patterns and I’m a crazy person. I called the pediatrician and we agreed to have him looked at. It took the doctor all of a couple minutes and a handful of questions to get down to the bottom of this stressful situation: he was constipated. My mind spun a million miles an hour over this simple explanation behind the manic day we barely survived. As I calmed down I realized that the simplest explanation was the right one. It wasn’t a complicated situation with his sleep. It was simply a need to poop. Poor baby. Apparently mama’s milk is so easily digested and turned into little baby parts that pressure doesn’t always build up in a baby’s system to help eliminate waste. 

AEBC2C5C-A537-493C-86D0-A44BC4D0990F Crazy how he went from this tiny preemie …

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…to this happy big boy!

Similarly, a lot of people come to me wanting to lose weight via personal training and pour out all sorts of complicated reasons for why they have been having challenges with it. I get it; losing weight is a physical, mental, emotional and sometimes spiritual process. Unfortunately though, we can get so caught up in thinking of the reasons that we AREN’T losing weight (job, time, family, convenience, etc.) that we bypass the simplest explanations for what WILL help us: controlling our diet and managing an exercise schedule and/or active lifestyle. The anxiety over trying to find some complicated solution for weight-loss troubles can blind people to the simple truth: they put a fork into their mouths one too many times a day and never hit the gym! Not exactly a mind-boggling revelation, right?  If only we could drop our anxiety as parents and/or people looking to feel good physically, then we would see the answers to our problems with more clarity instead of fishing for complicated, far-reaching explanations. Or turning to Google for the umpteenth time.

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Creative ways to stay active! On-the-go napping!

As a mother and personal trainer, I’ve learned that wellness is a balancing act, that change is a universal truth we can’t shake, that hormones are boss, and that your own opinion is the most important in determining what is right for both your body (and baby). Another very tangible lesson is that perseverance pays off…

Moms are encouraged to do “tummy time” with their babies; 3-5 minutes a couple times a day placing the baby face down so that neck, back and chest strength can develop through the baby’s effort of trying to lift his head and press away from the mat. When my son was first born, a month early, he was way too little to even consider trying tummy time. At just over 5 lbs he would just lie on the mat like a fragile little bird fallen out of its nest. At best, he might occasionally lift his head a tiny bit. We’re talking an inch or less. It was hard to imagine he would ever be able to do more.

Like a good personal trainer mom, I kept putting my baby on the gym mat for tummy time a couple times a day. Some days he wouldn’t tolerate it and would squeal and cry until I picked him up and other days he seemed to get the idea. He would attempt to lift his head and look around (complete with grunts and pitiful gasps). Around two months of age he was able to press up and look around while also cooing. Cutest thing ever. And at three months he surprised us one day and decided to roll over! The personal trainer in me beamed with pride over this early accomplishment. Bit by bit he grew before our eyes and today the gym mat is his favorite place during play time. In fact, many times as soon as I lay him down on it, face up or face down, he breaks into a big grin and squeals with joy as he works to grasp toys with his hands and kicks his legs playfully. It’s hard to imagine that this evolution will also turn into crawling and walking one day!

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Tummy time pro!!! 

Isn’t it funny though…that a person (even a tiny one) can accomplish feats they were never physically capable of with just a little bit of effort on a regular basis? Like adults attending the gym or working out, there are days when my son just isn’t feeling tummy time and there are days when he loves it. It’s normal to have days when we don’t feel like exercising, but persistence will go a long way. All we need to do is bite off a little, manageable bit at a time and we will see results emerge.

In my first three months postpartum, I’ve taken a similar approach. I’ve stayed consistent in being active but have taken things gradually. Thanks to having realistic expectations for my physical abilities day by day, I’ve actually been able to exercise 78 days out of 102 so far. That’s only 24 days postpartum without some form of movement. Mind you, a good number of the early days were focused on simple things like going on a walk, doing basic (and safe) core exercises on a mat, and performing yoga balance poses to regain stability after labor and delivery. Let’s not ignore the fact that there were Kegels too…LOTS of Kegels. Around three weeks postpartum, I was able to resume light weights at the gym and light resistances on cardio machines for short periods. Around five weeks postpartum I went for my first run – and wow it felt incredible!! Especially since I no longer had a baby in my belly to carry along! Although these days I do push him along in the stroller and it ain’t easy!!! 

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Stroller workout adventures!

Today, three months postpartum, I’m able to do almost everything I did before pregnancy – maybe even more! I feel like my emphasis on core conditioning (which I used to not prioritize as heavily) has left me stronger than ever in my stomach. Also, I’m shocked at how my cardio conditioning never felt like it took a hit since I stayed active during pregnancy. On my first run I felt like my lungs and adrenaline could have carried me through a marathon (although in reality that’s probably a euphoric disillusion). Staying active has not been easy in the wake of caring for an infant and suffering major sleep deprivation, but exercise has been a life saver, just as it was for my mental and physical health during pregnancy. I would be stir crazy and cranky without it.

When I left the hospital after having my baby I was shocked that I still had about 17 lbs to lose. Today, I only have about 3-4 lbs of that left. The short 30-45 minute long exercise sessions combined with eating about 200-300 calories less a day (than needed for weight maintenance) has helped me shed a few pounds a month. Honestly, it hasn’t felt like the exhausting post-pregnancy weight loss journey I feared. This is thanks to taking things slow and approaching the process with balance – something I’m confident all of my readers can do in their weight loss and fitness journeys if they approach them with patience and perseverance. Any good personal trainer or parent will do the same, approaching things on a daily basis, not trying to rush through rearing a child or getting a client fit. There is a due diligence and process to both. It’s all about the little steps. The small things DO add up – for babies trying to lift their heads up off the ground and for adults trying to see one pound melt off at a time.

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Leaving the hospital 17 lbs heavier than before pregnancy

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One month postpartum

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Two months postpartum

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Three months postpartum thanks to just a little effort adding up!

Happy to be back with you all in the blogosphere!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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“The Winz” is on Maternity Leave!

Maggie Winzeler here, Author of WellnessWinz. I’m on maternity leave taking care of my health and that of my son’s. While I LOVE blogging, I’m trying to find a holistic balance and extra energy (hah) during this special time.

Please peruse the Archives page and enjoy a sampling of older posts. I put a lot of energy into each article, to ensure that it is of excellent quality. I hope you enjoy one or two.

I’ll be back in a few months! In the mean time…

Sincerely Yours in Health & Wellness,

Maggie

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