Category Archives: Wellness

5 Tips For Women to Get Better Sleep

Today, WellnessWinz is hosting Morgan Adams as a guest writer to discuss insights about women’s sleep needs and solutions. Morgan recently launched a new website for her Sleep Coaching services. Check it out and read on. Sweet dreams! Yours in health and wellness, Maggie

 

5 Tips For Women to Get Better Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 67% of women say they’ve had a sleeping problem at least a few nights during the past month—and 46% said they had problems almost every night. The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, fewer than two thirds of women (according to the CDC) actually get that much sleep each night.

This pre-pandemic data clearly speaks to the fact that many women are getting suboptimal sleep. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I would argue that women’s sleep situation is actually worse than these statistics suggest. Pandemic-related anxiety, lack of boundaries between work and family life, and women often shouldering more of the household duties have created the perfect storm for sleep struggles.

While many of these issues seem beyond our control, I want to share 5 strategies I’ve been helping my clients implement:

 

 

  1. Avoid starting prescription sleep medications

In my mid-30’s, I had a personal crisis that caused insomnia. I sought a prescription for a popular sleeping pill which I became dependent on for almost a decade. The downsides for me were late-night binges without any recollection of these episodes the next morning and feeling extremely foggy the next day up until close to lunchtime. 

According to Dr. Matthew Walker, author of the best-seller Why We Sleep, “Sleeping pills do not provide natural sleep, can damage health, and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases.” While prescription sleep drugs can help you become unconscious, sedation isn’t the same as sleep. These drugs can actually restrict the deeper brain waves that happen during REM sleep, which is why so many people experience grogginess the next morning.

So what should you do if you’re already on prescription sleep medicine and no longer want to be taking it? Work with your healthcare provider on coming up with a plan to gradually reduce your dose. 

 

  1. Pay close attention to what you consume in the evening

Avoid eating a heavy dinner 3 hours before bed. This could help you avoid potential heartburn or indigestion, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Have an alcohol curfew. If you’re going to enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine, it’s better to do so at Happy Hour as opposed to an after-dinner drink. I’ve personally found that I (and my clients) sleep much more soundly when we stop drinking about 3 hours before bed. While alcohol can help you get to sleep faster, the downside is that it impairs your REM sleep which you need for consolidation of memories and processing of emotions.

If you’re going to chill with Netflix before bedtime, consider the type of content you’re watching. Shows that are disturbing and overstimulating could impact your sleep. So go for “Ted Lasso” instead of “Handmaid’s Tale.”

 

 

  1. Track your sleep

Tracking your sleep is important because you want to 1) identify whether or not you’re getting enough of it and 2) make sure it’s quality sleep. You can opt for logging your sleep data in an online or paper tracker. My preference for really drilling down to get some hard stats is to use a sleep tracking device.

In a recent study in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep, several popular wearable trackers were evaluated. The findings concluded that there were large variations between devices and that the greatest amount of confidence was measuring Total Sleep Time, Total Wake Time, and Sleep Efficiency. Where all the devices fell short with regard to accuracy was measuring sleep stages (eg. REM and deep sleep). Fitbit and Oura were both noted as being the most accurate devices.

Personally, I’ve had an Oura ring for a year and a half and have gained so many insights from using it nightly. Its ability to measure your body temperature could be of interest to women who are closely tracking their fertility or menstrual cycle. One piece of advice I’d offer to those who are using wearable sleep trackers is to pay more attention to your weekly trend lines than what data the tracker reports each day. If you lean toward perfectionism you don’t risk developing an unhealthy obsession with achieving perfect sleep (AKA “orthosomnia”).

 

  1. Practice relaxation techniques

A common sleep complaint I hear from women is not being able to fall asleep because you’re having worrisome thoughts OR waking up in the middle of the night with random things running through your brain. 

If that’s you too, here are a few strategies that could be helpful. I’d suggest choosing one that resonates with you. If that doesn’t seem to help then try another strategy. The same techniques aren’t going to work for every person.

  • 4-7-8 breathing: Rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth. Breathe in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds. Exhale forcefully through your mouth, pursing your lips (make a “whoosh” sound) for 8 seconds. Then repeat this cycle up to 4 times.
  • Meditation: Research has backed up that mediation is an effective strategy to help those who struggle with sleep. In a 2015 study published in JAMA, researchers analyzed how meditation affected 49 adults who had moderate sleep problems. The participants were randomly assigned 6 weeks of meditation or sleep hygiene education. The study concluded that the meditation group experienced fewer symptoms of insomnia. There is an abundance of free meditation apps on the market these days, with dedicated sections devoted to sleep meditations. I’ve found that the Insight Timer app has the most meditations for sleep. Other apps to check out include Calm and Headspace.

 

 

  1. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary

When I’m coaching my clients, one of the first things we address is their bedroom environment. This is what I call the “low hanging fruit” because most tweaks in your sleeping environment are super simple to address. For example, adjusting your thermostat to 65-70 degrees can help you sleep better. Why is this? Studies have shown that we need to lower our core temperature by 2 to 3 degrees to prepare our bodies for sleep. Another simple tweak is to put electrical tape on any bright lights. Fun fact…your bedroom should be so dark at night that you shouldn’t be able to see your hand if you put it in front of your face. 

 

DO THIS NEXT!

Make sure your bedroom is optimized to help you sleep better. I put together a handy and SIMPLE guide to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Click here to download my Better Bedroom checklist today!

 

 

Random Things Every Woman Should Learn About Women’s Health

I learned a lot more about women’s health over the past year for two unexpected reasons: 1) a medical emergency that resulted in deeper understanding of female reproductive anatomy, and 2) being drawn to a book titled The XX Brain by Lisa Moscani, PhD. My takeaways from both were so unexpected and enlightening that I started bringing up these newfound facts in conversation with friends, family members, and my book club circle. I was surprised to find that these very basic facts about our bodies and health aren’t common knowledge.

So, here I am today as a wellness coach and fitness professional trying to shed light on some startling facts about women’s health. Bear with me if these seem unrelated to your personal situation at the moment…you never know when they might become relevant for you or a woman you know. Knowledge is power and women are worthy!

 

 

Reproductive Organs & Health

Fact 1: Removal of a single fallopian tube only reduces fertility by about 10%, not 50% as many women assume. (I told you this was random stuff.) But this is great news for those of us women with a single tube! I was surprised to learn this fact after losing one of my tubes last year. It gave me tremendous hope.

Fact 2: The ovaries sit closer together, somewhat behind the uterus, not far apart as shown in textbooks and anatomy diagrams. It’s odd to me that women are taught so little about their reproductive organs! We’re seldom taught how they really work sexually despite the basic education in sex ed. class, and conceiving a baby doesn’t seem like complicated stuff until a woman starts meaningfully tracking her cycle and figuring out peak fertility signs and symptoms. And lo and behold – now I realize that we don’t even really know what we look like “down there” without a mirror for the outside or a kind doctor explaining the intricacies of all the stuff on the inside. (Did you know your uterus has 3 layers?! My point exactly!)

Fact 3: Fallopian tubes are flexible and mobile. You heard me right – those skinny little suckers can move! This is why you can still get pregnant while having only one tube, assuming it’s healthy and undamaged. A single fallopian tube figures out how to intelligently move to the ovulating ovary, even if it’s on the opposite side, to suck up or “catch” the egg that is released. The next month, it will move to the opposite side in preparation for the next ovulation cycle.

This. Absolutely. Boggles. My. Mind.

Women are complicated and magnificent. Thanks to this phenomenon, I’m currently pregnant with a baby girl whose egg came from my ovary on the side *without* the fallopian tube. I’m still in shock.

 

 

Fact 4: Most aggressive forms of ovarian cancer start in the fallopian tubes, not the ovary itself. This is really eye-opening information to me. I hadn’t thought much about ovarian cancer and internal female reproductive anatomy until a year ago when my world tilted. Now, I’m processing the fact that my paternal great-grandmother died from ovarian cancer. I believe that the reason ovarian cancer is so deadly is because of its frequent origin in the fallopian tubes. You see, the tubes are wide open to the abdominal cavity on one end, meaning that cancer originating in the tubes can quickly and easily spread to any number of internal organs.

When I went to a fertility clinic to check if my remaining fallopian tube was healthy, the doctor did a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) procedure where dye was injected through my uterus up and into my fallopian tube to check for obstructions. I saw the thin line of ink on the screen and was told that was my tube. But then I also saw a fanning out of the dye as though it were spilling into open space. The doctor explained that’s exactly what it was doing – it was spilling from the open side of my tube into my abdomen (the doctor called this a “blushing effect” and sign of a healthy tube). While this was encouraging at the time, I must consider my family history of ovarian cancer and its risks for me. Which leads me to the decision to have my remaining tube removed after this pregnancy because research shows…(see fact 5)

Fact 5: Removal of fallopian tubes can reduce ovarian cancer risk by over 40%. Ovarian cancer has been shown to have a genetic component in some cases and is worth discussing with a genetic counselor if your family has a history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. If you’re a women intrigued by genetic testing then this is a good thing to check genetic risk for too, even in the absence of a family history.

 

 

Hormones & Brain Health

Fact 1: Did you know that the X chromosome is much larger than the Y chromosome and contains over 1000 more genes? And women have two X chromosomes at that! That’s a lot of genetic power, if you ask me. According to The XX Brain these genes primarily support hormone production and brain activity.

Fact 2: Men’s brains produce more serotonin (mood, sleep, appetite, “feel good” hormone) whereas women’s brains produce more dopamine (drive and reward-motivated behavior). Does this make a light bulb go off in anyone else’s mind? This fact produces such an “aha!” moment for me. It makes so much sense.

My husband sleeps like a log, has a fairly level mood every day, and seems generally content to watch football on the tv while playing a mindless video game on his phone. My day is much different. Sleep is easily thrown off by hormones, my mood is much more subject to fluctuations, and some evenings I battle feeling “unproductive” if I’m being a zoned-out couch potato. I wonder what life would feel like as a man for just one day…but then I remember that women have more brain power, so I quickly forget the notion 😉

Fact 3: Women’s Alzheimer’s risk is an emerging health crisis. According to Lisa Moscani, “two out of every three Alzheimer’s patients are women” and “a 45 year old woman has a one in five chance of developing Alzheimer’s during her remaining life.”

Does this startle anyone else? I’m mind blown and saddened by these statistics but also encouraged from reading The XX Brain because it helps dive into preventive actions, risk assessments and more, so that women can be proactive about their health.

 

 

Fact 4: Pregnancy-related gestational diabetes and preeclampsia may predispose a woman to develop heart disease around the time of menopause. This was a bit of a side note in Moscani’s book but one that really jumped off the page to me (page 49, for those interested). According to studies, women who experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a 26% higher risk of heart issues after menopause. Women with former preeclampsia are at a 31% elevated risk. If you suffered from one of these two prenatal health conditions it’s worth filing this note away for the future so that you can speak to a trusted medical professional about managing menopause and taking actions to boost and monitor heart health (good news – you can start ALL of these things well before menopause).

Fact 5: Removing a woman’s ovaries (or just one) before menopause can increase her risk of dementia by up to 70% (page 53, The XX Brian). If you’ve had one or both of your ovaries removed for medical reasons then please consider reading The XX Brain to learn what you can do about Alzheimer’s prevention. I was very alarmed by this data and hope that women will spread the word and get the preventative help they deserve.

Fact 6: While some aspects of menopause are out of our control, we have the ability to adapt our lifestyle behaviors before and during the process to help ease the intensity of the fall in estrogen. Although I’m still somewhere in my “fertile years” I know that I will inevitably hit menopause one day. For the longest time I thought menopause was just something that “happened” to you, like you step unexpectedly onto a roller coaster with no way off until it stops. Thank goodness this isn’t entirely the case! There are steps you can take to help your body manage the intense downshift in estrogen and the brain/body’s process of adapting to functioning on far less of it.

 

Thanks for hanging in with me and diving into the random, unexpected world of women’s health!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Complicated Return to Collective Wellness

Malcolm X once proclaimed that “when I is replaced by we, illness becomes wellness.”

 

With the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic, the interdependence we have on one another for our health and wellness has become a focal topic in many peoples lives. Collective trauma, wellness and healing are newly revived topics in mainstream western culture but they’re far from infantile or irrelevant beyond this global crisis. Whether we recognize it or not, collective wellness is a powerful influence in our history and daily lives, and right now a lot of people are struggling to integrate it.

 

Modern Tribalism

Although the word tribe often applies to traditional tribal communities such as Native American and aboriginal communities, the term can apply to “modern tribes” or “modern tribalism” too. These tribes are groups that we consciously or unconsciously belong to and affiliate with, and which possess great influence over our identities, actions and decisions. According to Foreign Affairs we live in a tribal world and “in many places, the identities that matter most—the ones people will lay down their lives for—are not national but ethnic, regional, religious, sectarian, or clan-based.”

(Before moving forward with this topic I encourage every reader to respect the term “tribe” and use it in the proper context rather than casually or with flagrant disregard for people of color who come from or currently live in traditional tribal settings.)

 

 

The Dark Side of Tribal Instinct

Tribalism is a force to be reckoned with. Just as quickly as it can empower unity, it can breed division (ex: political divisiveness, discrimination based on ethnicity and/or religion, violence based on differences in beliefs in covid-19 masking and vaccination, etc.). When a tribe feels threatened or is in danger, fear and anxiety reverberates with all its members. Sometimes this draws members of the tribe closer together but other times it causes them to look unfavorably on outside people and groups.

“This is the dark side of the tribal instinct,” according to neuroscientist Ian Robertson, who continues by saying that there is “a greater tendency to demonize and de-humanize the out-group.” This lowers the empathy people have for one another’s suffering and reduces demonstrations of compassion, outreach and volunteerism.

Robertson explains that this tribal instinct begins in childhood: One study demonstrates how when children were told to wear red or blue they made negative social assumptions about children wearing the opposite color. The children’s judgements were quite obviously based on non-reality assumptions. But how easily can adults recognize a similar bias in themselves? In truth, adults discriminate far more often and the judgements become more harsh, aggressive and violent to those outside of their tribes.

Without question, the “dark side” of tribalism possesses great potential for damage both within the tribe and in opposing groups beyond it. As tensions, stress, trauma and other negative lived experiences impact one member after the next, the collective wellness of the tribe is greatly diminished, if not altogether extinguished.

 

Tribal Health & Wellness

Tribal members collectively benefit when healing and thriving occur. One person’s victory becomes a shared victory for all and the successes of the larger community are sources of pride for each person. This is what you might call “the light side” of modern tribalism and it’s why moving the needle towards collective wellness is so critical.

We are all reaching towards comfort and health during these difficult times in the world. We each feel the effects of the pandemic’s collective trauma and toll on our physical and mental health. Sometimes it can feel like “the light side” is far from our grasp, but underneath the heavy feeling of trauma is the capacity for healing. This is why we can take action and inch slowly towards a brighter path.

Healing requires that we navigate this global crisis with patience and tolerance, heal ancestral wounds, process our lived experiences in emotionally healthy ways, and integrate the tribe’s experiences into our cultural narrative. These are just some of the many ways that we gradually build personal health resilience and collective wellness.

 

 

How Individual Healing Translates into Collective Wellness

Individualism is something that western cultures value above all else whereas eastern cultures tend to place more emphasis on a collectivist mentality. As we in the western world grow more ego-centric and self-reliant for our health needs, we lose touch with the ability to see how our tribe’s mentality and circumstances impact our well-being, and vice versa. The two are interdependent and in constant relationship with one another.

Collective wellness depends on each individual’s efforts towards self care and self love while keeping the greater good in mind. This allows us to offer our best to the world and live vibrantly within our purpose. According to Cultivate Balance, “It is the greater vision of what we are working toward in the small moments when we care for ourselves. Valuing the wellbeing of the whole invites us to think critically about our communities and our roles within them. It is about looking beyond our individual experience to honor a collective vision that prioritizes the needs of many.”

 

The Future of Wellness

As a wellness professional I anticipate the words “health” and “wellness” becoming increasingly associated with these processes of community healing. I anticipate a world where exercise and eating vegetables are givens for health and we can finally sink our teeth into the meatier stuff that requires a lot more chewing. Stuff like trauma and healing through storytelling, putting tolerance into practice, allowing space for rest, honoring and getting comfortable with grief, and so much more. One fundamental component of healing from trauma is “the experience of being truly heard and seen.” When we speak up for ourselves and our needs, share our stories, and offer a compassionate listening ear then we are paving the way for healthy connection and community.

The world won’t remember many of us by name or face, but the modern tribes we belong to will tell their stories for generations to come. Personally, I want to contribute to my community in such a way that its story is one of collective healing, wellness and redemption.

(Will you join me?)

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Create Your Own Wellness Retreat (at home!)

We all need a little time to decompress, especially as concerns mount over a new delta variant of Covid-19. While wellness retreats and spa packages are indulgent and delightful options for pampering and reducing stress, they can also prove expensive. Some people might also be reluctant to spend an hour getting a massage in a room with a stranger if they don’t know the professional’s vaccination status, aren’t comfortable removing their mask indoors, or are high risk themselves despite vaccination status. All of these factors can cause anxiety for some people – and that’s the opposite of what self care time is supposed to do!

So, today I’m going to outline the perfect at-home wellness retreat schedule! The best part? The day’s plans don’t require spending money on anything – unless you want to! I will throw in some ideas for wellness products ranging from $18 to $500, but these are entirely optional splurges. Your main agenda is setting aside a day for yourself to relax and intentionally engage in healthy, rejuvenating activities.

 

 

If you have a partner, family or roommate then be sure to make plans with them in advance to allow you the personal space you need and deserve. Once they’re on board and willing to support you, keep it clear that you will be maintaining your boundaries no matter what. This means no last minute chores, errands, laundry loads, calls, etc. Claim the day and keep it open!

 


At-Home Wellness Retreat Schedule & Health Benefits

 

8:00 am or later: Wake-up at a leisurely hour

Sleep is crucial for rejuvenating the spine, boosting immune function, balancing hormones, and improving energy, to name just a few of its functions. Modern culture often places an emphasis on waking before dawn to make the day more productive. Not only does this mean that many people are shortchanging the hours they spend sleeping but the emphasis is squarely on productivity. We think of rest, down time, and a morning spent sleeping in as “unproductive” but that’s simply not true. Sleep is one of the most critical things we need for both physical and mental health. Slowing down is never unproductive. It’s a mature way of acknowledging that our lives demand balance between high and low energy, active days and periods of time spent in spiritual, creative, or mentally replenishing endeavors.

 

8:15 am: Drink 8 oz of water and make a healthy breakfast including fresh fruits

Hydrating early in the day helps your body rehydrate from the long night without fluids. Early hydration helps release toxins and ramp up your digestive system too. A healthy breakfast is another important start of the day. It’s an opportunity to get nutrient dense foods into your system right away (think fruits like berries, cantaloupe, apples, oranges) and give your metabolism a wake-up call. A few delicious options for a healthy breakfast include:

  • Two scrambled eggs topped with avocado slices with a side of fresh fruit
  • Sliced apple w/ 1-2 tablespoons nut butter
  • Greek yogurt topped with berries and a drizzle of agave syrup or honey
  • Egg white, spinach and feta cheese omelet with a side of fresh fruit
  • Whole grain toast topped with avocado and slices of hard-boiled egg
  • Steel cut oats or old-fashioned oatmeal with half a cup fruit mixed in
  • 2 or 3 slices of turkey bacon, whole grain toast, and a small side of fresh fruit

 

 

9:00 am: Read for pleasure while you digest

Reading for pleasure is largely taken for granted. A lot of people put off reading something enjoyable because it doesn’t feel “productive” (ugh…there’s that pesky word again!). But reading for pleasure has a wide range of benefits including:

  • Mental Stimulation
  • Stress Reduction
  • Knowledge
  • Vocabulary Expansion
  • Memory Improvement
  • Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills
  • Improved Focus and Concentration
  • Better Writing Skills
  • Tranquility

Allow yourself to sink into the depths of a good book that you hand select in advance of your wellness retreat day. Get one from your own bookshelf, local library or a friend’s stack of favorite reads. Take an hour and escape from your day-to-day in its pages!

 

10:00 am: Enjoy your favorite workout or active outdoor excursion

Now that your healthy breakfast has digested and you’ve luxuriated in a slow morning, it’s time to get active and enjoy feel-good benefits from an endorphin boost! Pick your favorite type of movement for exercise and bring along a healthy amount of water to keep the hydration going. Go out for a run, stream your favorite yoga or dance class, hit up the weights in your garage or venture out to your most beloved local spot for hiking, biking, kayaking, climbing, or walking in the fresh air! If you’re planning to be out for a few hours then be sure to wear sunscreen and pack a lunch.

The most important part about this time spent exercising is that it’s enjoyable. There are no “shoulds” on your wellness retreat day. Pick an activity that feels good and makes you happy! Follow up your exercise with 10-15 minutes of gentle stretching and deep breathing to bring yourself back to zen. Unwinding after exercise is important as it allows your parasympathetic nervous system to “turn back on.”

 

12:00 pm: Prep a lunch full of healthy proteins and vegetables

By now it’s probably getting late in the morning or early afternoon and you’ll want to get a meal in before you clean off. A healthy lunch complete with protein and nutritious vegetables will fit the bill. The protein will help you recover and reap benefits from your exercise and will keep you full. The vegetables help with disease prevention, dietary fiber, potassium and essential nutrients. You’ll want to keep breakfast and lunch on the healthier end because here’s a little hint about dinner: You get to indulge!

Some healthy ideas for lunch:

  • Bean and rice burrito wrap with a side salad
  • Greek salad with chicken breast
  • 1-2 sushi rolls with spicy green beans or pickled veggies
  • Poke bowl with plenty of veggie toppings
  • Whole grain avocado toast with fresh sliced veggies (ex: carrots, red bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, broccoli) and dip (ex: light dressing, hummus, tzatziki, Greek yogurt)
  • Chicken or beef kebob with grilled vegetables
  • Roasted red pepper, hummus and veggie wrap
  • Chicken salad on whole grain bread with fresh sliced veggies or side salad
  • Mediterranean chicken and couscous or quinoa bowl with red onion, tomatoes, cucumber and cheese
  • Turkey panini melt with large helping of steamed or baked broccoli

 

 

1:00 pm: Unwind with a Warm Bath or Steamy Shower

After lunch it’s time to relax in some bubbles or a steamy shower. Make sure to have your favorite bath products on hand. Water offers you the chance for physical relief, emotional release, and spiritual cleansing. These are all elements incorporated into pricey wellness retreat getaways, but they’re accessible and free at any time. While you bathe or shower, it can help to burn a soy candle scented with essential oils, add aromatherapy bath salts, or use a scented shower steamer so that you are encouraged to take deep and rejuvenating breaths as you inhale the calming fragrance.

For baths: Focus on deep breathing. Inhale for a count of seven, hold for seven, and exhale for seven. Place attention on your forehead and imagine a bright light radiating from it. Allow your attention to come and go from the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe.

For showers: As you inhale imagine breathing in cleansing energy and positive thoughts. You can even repeat a mantra in your head as you inhale, if you like. As you exhale imagine any energy blockages, frustrations, worries, fears, grievances, negative thoughts, etc. leaving your body and flowing off you into the water as it goes down the drain.

2:00 pm: Meditation or Prayer Session

Now that you’ve cleared your mind with breathing and visualization exercises while getting scrubbed off, you’re in a great place to enter into a session of meditation or prayer. Choose what feels most natural to you and allow yourself at least 15-20 minutes to dialogue with God or engage in the meditation of your choice. Even if you don’t consider yourself a very religious person, this is still something that I encourage. Regardless of religious affiliation, we are all spiritual beings with spiritual needs. You can use this time to explore anything you like or simply to engage in a practice of gratitude and reflection.

2:30 pm: Spend time journaling as an outlet for creativity, self expression, dialoging with God, practicing gratitude or dreaming of the future

Kentucky Counseling Center explains that journaling can benefit your mental health by helping you keep things in perspective and explore your emotions and thoughts. Here is a list of different kinds of writing they suggest:

  • Expressive Writing: Talk about the events or your experiences during the day (self-reflect, self-expression, or explore your thoughts and emotions).
  • Personal Planning Journal: This is a goal-setting type of journal. Reflect on your short-term and long-term goals. Formulate a realistic game plan on how to achieve them, and how to keep track of your progress.
  • Gratitude Journal: Write down the good things you’re grateful for and your life’s blessings.
  • Write a letter to yourself: Write down your achievements, address your self-doubt, how you can do better the next time, or how you can take care of your mental health.
  • Stress Management Journal: Write down and describe the stressful moments and emotions you’re going through. Think of the stress management techniques you can use.

These are all great options for journaling. I would also add creative writing to this list as well as writing a letter to God or the universe, or a letter you think God or the universe would write to you. See what happens as you dive deeper within!

 

 

3:30 pm: One hour or more of your activity of choice; music, drawing, more reading, afternoon walk, catching up with a friend on the phone, etc.

There’s no afternoon slump on your luxurious wellness retreat day! Use that tiresome late afternoon hour or so before dinner to enjoy something you seldom make time for but enjoy. Maybe you’re overdue to catch up with your best friend who is long distance or perhaps you love taking your dog for walks but never get the time to in the afternoon. Whatever you choose – music, painting, a puzzle, a nap – just enjoy without any pressure about outcomes.

6:00 pm: Cook or order yourself an INDULGENT dinner

You’ve eaten two healthy meals already so now it’s time to indulge! Cook or order in your favorite meal and toss any guilt you may have about its contents or calories to the side. Emotional eating is a healthy and natural thing, and when you allow yourself to pleasurably eat here and there without self-shaming then you’ll find greater satisfaction with your overall food choices. So, go ahead and get the juicy burger or pizza. Cook your favorite Italian dish or yummy tacos. Whatever sounds mouth watering! Feel free to imbibe in an adult beverage if you desire too, but for the sake of this being a day oriented around wellness, only have 1-2 drinks max so you can continue feeling your best.

 

7:30 pm: Movie Time!

What better way to wrap up your wellness day at home than with a movie? Pick out a fun sounding new flick to watch or curl up to a nostalgic film that’s a long-time favorite. Settle in on the couch and relax! After the movie, get to bed at a decent time so that your body can reap all the wonderful benefits of your day’s efforts while you sleep.

Congratulations for putting yourself first and being intentional with your wellness!


Optional Add-on Products for Your Wellness Retreat

(low to high cost) 

 

 

Dry Brushing Body Brush Set

$17.99

Dry brushing has been getting a lot of attention in the wellness realm over the last couple years and I know of many cancer survivors who do it regularly. According to Healthline, “Dry brushing is a type of Ayurvedic medicine that has been around for centuries. It’s believed to have many health benefits. Some of the benefits may include:

  • stimulating the lymphatic system
  • exfoliating the skin
  • helping the body rid itself of toxins
  • increasing circulation and energy
  • exfoliation
  • helping to break down cellulite”

Many people swear by dry brushing even though there isn’t a lot of data to back up the benefits of it. At the very least, you may find it relaxing and it’s unlikely to cause any harm. People with sensitive skin might want to speak to a doctor before trying it.

 

 

Tension Potion Aromatherapy Soy Candle

$22

Scent is closely linked to memory and mood, so when we stimulate our limbic system with aromatherapy candles and scents then we’re immediately tapping into a part of the brain that regulates emotions and can help us feel good. This Tension Potion Aromatherapy Soy Candle has a specific blend of essential oils to create high, medium and low notes in the fragrance. It’s complex but pleasing smell is sure to elicit a sense of calm on your at-home wellness retreat day.

 

 

KateandBelleCo Spa Care Package

$40

A close friend was the first person to get me a KateandBelleCo Spa Care Package last year when I lost a pregnancy and had emergency surgery. I was touched by the gesture but also surprised by how much I loved the products. Every scent was delightful (especially the bath salts) and I loved trying my first-ever shower steamer. I used the chapstick every day and it helped me take a deep breath each time. I also used the eye pillow at both cool and warm temperatures on my eyes and other aching body parts – to include my incision cite from surgery and extremely tense neck. It was so helpful! I have since gifted various versions of this set to friends. More options are on their Etsy site!

 

 

Pro Facial Steamer

$149 or 4 installments of $37.25

Some people are raving fans of facials. Personally, I don’t crave them quite like I do a good massage or pedicure. Nonetheless, this at-home facial steamer is a steal compared to the price of facials at a spa. Of course it doesn’t come with the scalp massage or face mask, but exfoliation through opening pores is one of the most essential things for clean and smooth skin. For the price of two facials you can have limitless access to this facial steamer in the comfort of your own home.

 

 

Infrared Sauna Blanket

$499 or 4 installments of $124.75

“All the celebrities are doing it!”

It’s true. This high ticket item is catching fire with those who can afford it. The Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Blanket is exactly as it sounds: an at-home sauna. The benefits of the infrared technology in the sauna blankets (think: giant adult sleep sack) include “deep relaxation, glowing skin, a mood boost, and better recovery.” Higher Dose’s clever tagline is “Get high naturally,” and they boast somewhat provocative marketing content on their Instagram handle. Their eye-catching strategy seems to be working because more and more people are slipping into these sacks and claiming they don’t want to return to the real world. If you’re a sauna junkie then this might be the best early birthday splurge ever.

 

Products or not, keep claiming your wellness! True well-being is free and already yours for the taking.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

10 Ways I Have Reduced Environmental Toxins in My Household

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

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

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

 

Why Reducing Environmental Toxins is Crucial  

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

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

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

 

My Main Takeaways About Toxins (in plain language)

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

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

The 10 Things I’ve Changed in My Household

1) No Dryer Sheets

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

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

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

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

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

3) Free & Clear Hand Soaps and Dish Soap

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

4) Bye-Bye Perfume!

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

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

 

5) Safer Body Lotions & Sunscreens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) Investing in Clean Beauty Cosmetic Products

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

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

8) Unscented and Plant-Based All-Purpose Spray

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

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

9) More Houseplants

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

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

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

10) Glass & Silicone Food Storage

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

 

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

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

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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

Spiritual Bypassing: Why it Hurts Wellness

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

According to VeryWellMind, other signs of spiritual bypassing include:

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

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

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

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

Spiritual bypassing hurts wellness. Big time.

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

 

 

True spiritual wellness is essential.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Personal Reflection

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

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

 

 

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

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

Do an Annual Blood Panel (right now!)

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

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

You Might Get Paid to Do Bloodwork!

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

Internal vs. External Health

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

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

What Can Different Blood Panels Evaluate?

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

What are the Most Common Blood Tests?

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

Complete Blood Count

What it measures:

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

Basic Metabolic Panel

What it measures:

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

Lipoprotein Panel

What it measures:

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

Other Tests:

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

Conclusion

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

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Will 2021 Be the Year? [we reclaim our health]

 

I’ve worked with throngs of individuals who feel the need to pay someone like me to get them in shape because doing it on their own feels impossible. I’m happy to oblige but if I’m being honest? My services are disposable. At least, I hope they are. I know that’s an odd thing to say but my heart’s desire for each of my clients is that they get this thing called “health” figured out for themselves for the long haul, joyfully parting ways with me when they’re ready and confident.

There are endless excuses and hurdles though. More work conferences to prepare for. Late evenings spent at the computer. Crappy nights of sleep that make things like exercise and nutritious food choices seem like mountains too big to climb. Task lists get longer. Soccer games and birthday party drop-offs swallow up whole weekend afternoons. Even Sunday church is followed by a brisk visit to the grocery store, weekly meal prep, and an hour at the desk to pay the monthly bills and tend to stray emails. There’s scarcely a chance to breathe let alone fit in the ever-popular “self-care” everyone raves about. Not to mention, all the hyped-up self-care can be darn expensive.

The cost of a gym membership is compounded with purchasing organic foods, slipping away for the occasional trip to a day spa, and finding the budget for weekend getaways with the spouse, after which…err…is there enough left to pay off the pile of student debt while adding to the children’s future college tuition? Maybe yes…maybe…gulp…no. Oops, did I forget to mention HEALTH INSURANCE?

Anyone else feel the room closing in?

Okay, okay, let’s just slow down for a second. Does it have to be this complicated?

As much as 2020 will be burned into our memories for all the bad things that have happened, all the loved ones lost, all the jobs and industries that have been damaged due to covid-19, what about the stuff that might actually be…dare I say it? Good for us.

The disastrous year we leave behind has established three facts that I hope people begin to embrace:

*Taking care of health is critically important, not optional.

 *Humans are social beings who need one another to thrive.

*Staying overwhelmingly busy and constantly on-the-go is not the only way to live and certainly not to thrive.

 

 

About that last one…let that sink in. Once it does, I would hope it becomes clear that there can finally be space in our lives for the ever-important acts of self-care. It’s a matter of priority and choice. And once we make room for these things, our health and well-being are finally where they ought to be: A part of our daily lives instead of always on the backburner.

Last year took a lot away from each and every one of us. There’s little doubt about that. During 2020, I lost my third son during pregnancy. A loss that I still grieve every day months later. Like many people, it’s getting lumped into my head as “2020…the year the world spun into chaos.” We each have our reasons for grief and longing even as they take different forms. But something that the interfaith pastor said during my son’s funeral stuck with me: 

That despite how powerless each family felt mourning a pregnancy or infant loss at the communal burial that day, we each got to decide how to move forward from this life-altering experience. We could let our losses turn us bitter or we could use them to change for the better, to be a source of light to a bleeding world, to allow empathy and compassion to be born from the trenches of despair.

I feel like her words ring true for all of us as 2021 begins. The hardships are not over and there is a long road of healing ahead, even as the pandemic rages on. There is no switch we can flip or button we can press that will immediately turn off the long-term effects of 2020. We simply have the opportunity of choice as we each move forward:

The choice to reclaim the good health we deserve.

 

 

Yes, covid-19 has dominated our lives for the better part of 2020, but what about the global chronic disease crisis? The latter has been on the rise for the last few decades, so much so that people seem numb to words like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Drug and alcohol use have also been on the rise, as has suicide.

The increasingly busy and interconnected world brings with it many advantages but it has tipped the scales away from wellness for far too long. My question is this: Will we continue to let it?

Will we allow the slower pace of our lifestyles during 2019 to be swallowed up by the rush to make up for lost time once a vaccination has been widely distributed? Or will we finally learn – and choose – to create space for exercise, healthy cooking and quality time with our families?

…I think of all the people we have been losing daily. There are no memorials for the covid-19 victims, only growing lists of names and death certificates to add to the pile. I think to myself…is this it? Will we allow 2021 to be the year we get a vaccine and a quick taste of “freedom” again before falling right back into our prior habits and unhealthy lifestyles? Is all we have to show for 2020 and the upcoming winter going to be loss, heartache and missed opportunities?

Or perhaps…perhaps…the way we build memorials to our loved ones and all the faceless strangers is to change. For the better. Starting now.

Let’s not let this long dark night of humanity be in vain. Let’s make the choice individually to reclaim our health and well-being, in their honor. So…

…Will it be the year? What do you think?

 

Psstt…if you have any burning questions for a fitness professional or would like advice on exercise form then please don’t hesitate to contact me (below) to take advantage of my best-ever rate on a fitness service:

Just $20 for a 15-minute consult to address your top fitness/wellness concern or question. I promise to give you lots of actionable advice and to point you in the right direction. Offers end 01/18/21. 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie