Category Archives: Wellness

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

 

 

Healing Requires Courage

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

-Ambrose Redmoon

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

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

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

 

 

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

I would like to leave you with this parting thought:

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

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

Oh, one last thing:

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

My Favorite Wellness Products Right Now

I’ve been averse to product pushing for years. I can’t tell you how many pyramid scheme companies and product rep opportunities I’ve turned down – it’s a lot. It’s just not me. I’m a writer and services girl – here for you always if you have fitness and wellness questions or needs! All that said, I recognize the value in trusted recommendations, especially as we collectively seek to improve our wellness and quarantine-life experiences. So, here are my favorite wellness products at the moment…

Molekule Air Filter 

This Molekule Air Filter might be the ideal solution for your seasonal allergy, dust & dander, mold, virus and bacteria concerns. The Molekule is designed to filter *and* destroy these particles, meaning that they won’t get recirculated in your living space. Molekule is designed to help you breathe easier thanks to its Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) nanotechnology. It even removes things like VOC fumes and odors from the air. The design in the photo below is for 250 sq ft but other models cover larger rooms (for a price). I think this is a really wonderful option for some people, and well worth the price – especially for city dwellers in apartment or condo buildings. 

 

Good Days Start with Gratitude

Five years ago I wrote a deeply personal blog article titled My Diary. Air France. A Happy Ending. It was about losing my self-made version of a gratitude journal in an airport in France and how it miraculously made its way back to me months later. I will confess that I’ve fallen out of the habit of keeping a gratitude journal and have substituted other forms of gratitude practice and self care in its place, but I will be the first to resume the daily habit should I ever find the need….and honestly, that timing might be soon. This Good Days Start with Gratitude journal might be the perfect thing for your mental health too. But feel free to start or end your day with it. As someone who used to struggle with sleep, I found that reflecting on positives at the end of the day helped me the most.

 

Booty Kicker

If you’re interested in sticking to your Barre routine but don’t want to venture away from the comfort of your bedroom then check out the Booty Kicker! My best friend (you know who you are!) is a hardcore Barre girl and swears by the Booty Kicker. It has a rack for dumbbells built in (weights sold separately) and is easy to mount a screen onto so you can follow along virtually with your favorite instructor. It also folds down for easy storage. I’ve found that many group exercise classes are relatively easy to simulate with props at home, with the exception of Barre, but that’s now a thing of the past!

 

Sports Research Collagen Peptide Powder

I guess I’m finally getting on board with the whole Collagen supplement thing. Although collagen can help with skin and hair health, that has never motivated me to use it. I generally find that my skin and hair are healthiest when my nutrition is well balanced and natural. But recently, I learned more about how collagen supplements might help joint pain thanks to helping the body rebuild cartilage. As someone who sometimes struggles from back pain due to an old accident, I’ve often wondered what my old age has in store for me with joint health. Collagen supplements just might be worth the cost! Plus, this Collagen Peptide brand is unflavored so it can be added to virtually any beverage – even hot coffee or tea!

 

SPRI High Density Foam Roller

I have and will always be a raging fan of foam rolling. I do it almost every day and the benefits are tremendous for my physical comfort. Foam rolling helps relax the myofascial tissue surrounding our muscles, reducing areas of restriction, tightness, discomfort, and aches. My favorite style of foam roller is high density like this one by SPRI and it comes in 3 sizes; 12 inch, 18 inch or 36 inches long. If you’re thinking of traveling with it then opt for the 12 inch, but if you want one for the house then I suggest the 36 inch. A long foam roller will allow you greater freedom of movement when rolling out and is a great tool to lie on vertically for chest-opening stretches.

 

URBNFit Pilates Toning Ring

Pilates circles like the URBNFIT Pilates Toning Ring are often overlooked by people stocking up on equipment for their home gyms. I’m here to get this magical prop on your radar! Not only are Pilates rings extremely versatile props but they are also one of a few pieces of home exercise equipment that’s excellent for targeting the inner thigh muscles. The URBNFIT ring comes in 3 colors and includes an accompanying smartphone app that guides both seasoned athletes and beginners through appropriate and effective Pilates exercises. This is a great combo for anyone looking to switch up their home workout routine. 

 

Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager

Are you as big of a fan of massage as I am? The fact that two products on this short list of favs include massage-like functions should tell you a little bit about me (and how often I pester my husband for foot and neck rubs). But *this* Zyllion Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager is a dream for anyone who has tight neck and shoulder muscles from uncomfortable work-at-home conditions and/or pandemic-related stress. Not only does the Zyllion massage sore muscles but it also helps them relax through heat. No more need to miss the spa! You can attach it to a high back desk chair or simply lean against it on the couch. Once you return to the traditional schedule of commuting to work you can even put it across your driver’s seat so you can decompress to and from the office! 

 

Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands

Leave it to a pandemic and social media to take resistance bands (which have been around forever) and make them look sexy. Almost everywhere you turn there are so-called fitness influencers using them in exercise video clip tutorials – because they work! These resistance loop exercise bands by Fit Simplify are a popular choice in the sea of options and come in 5 different levels of resistance. The bands are portable and easy to store. They can also be used for a wide range of exercises from physical therapy and stretching to strength training. 

 

What are your favorite wellness brands? Have you found anything to be especially useful or enjoyable during the pandemic? Please drop your favs in the comments so we can all help each other out!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

*Full disclaimer: I will receive a small sales commission for purchases from affiliated links in this post. Any and all proceeds will be used for the blog’s maintenance and future content. 

 

 

What You Need to Know About Wellness in 2020

This year is not going according to plan. We’re halfway through and needless to say, nothing is as we expected. First, a failed impeachment of the President of the United States followed quickly by a novel virus that has brought destruction and changed the way of life around the globe. Most recently, a brand new era for the civil rights movement has taken hold in America and other countries too. Change is in the air. It’s stressful and emotional for everyone involved, but there are promising whispers of a better future, if you listen closely. We are learning and growing every day, but it takes work, time and vulnerability. With our energy pouring out to so many different things right now, we must pause to ask ourselves:

How do I keep myself sound of health in body and mind during such a uniquely difficult time in history?

 

 

Well, here’s the thing…

Wellness can look and feel very different in one person’s life versus another’s. Our self-care routines and preferences all look different. Our spiritual desires and practices greatly vary. Some people love healthy home-cooked meals and invest in all-natural cleaning products while others scoff at spending $20 on a pound of organic wild-caught salmon, or flat-out can’t afford it.

I’m not here to prescribe a list of self care habits for your every day life, nor am I advocating that everyone should start a running program, eat flax seeds every morning, and add collagen to your smoothie mixes. And actually, wellness isn’t any of these things.

Wait, wellness isn’t a routine of working out five times a week? It’s not meditating for 10 minutes right after waking up at 5:00 am each day? It’s not a vegan diet? Or keeping track of my calories and steps with a FitBit?

Nope.

The components of wellness can vary according to person, age, time, place and situation. The only two things that consistently define wellness are flexibility and growth.

Wellness is an ongoing lifelong process, a never-ending journey of balancing mental/physical/spiritual health, and it takes vulnerability to see where we need to grow and change. It requires learning from our past, taking action in the moment, and moving forward with mindfulness. In a lot of ways, wellness is *exactly* the journey we must inwardly take through these uncertain times.

Take me for example…

I spent much of last week pouring over videos and social media posts of the heinous crimes committed against black people. I empathized and grieved every day, often finding myself distracted from caring for my children and full of despair. Like many white people, I finally fully identified my privilege for what it is and ran head first into my ignorance about just how systemic racism is. I can only imagine the tremendous grief abound in the black community given the weight of my small glimpse of it. The enormity of the emotions took a toll on my immune health. Yup, just one week of opening my heart to the raw pain fueling the civil rights movement caused me to go so high on the stress scale that my immune system tanked from excess cortisol, disturbed sleep and, admittedly, a few too many heavy pours of wine in an unhealthy attempt to calm my nerves. To think that some people must live in a high-stress state all the time is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.

(Note: I do NOT want to make this “about me” nor do I want to distract from black voices and platforms at this pivotal moment in history – please feel and listen with your hearts to the Black Lives Matter movement on matters of racism.)

Has anyone else shared my experience this year? The experience of fight-or-flight, adrenal overdrive, fear, anxiety, pain, confusion, guilt, shame, denial and so many other negative emotional experiences that drive our health off the road and into the gutter? I’m pretty sure most of us have experienced something profoundly hard at one point or another.

 

 

But here’s the invitation we have…

Bend and flex. Open up. Grow.

We can move through 2020 with our heads down, teeth gritted and foreheads stuck in a frown. Or…we can move through 2020 becoming increasingly aware of how to care for our mental, physical and spiritual health so that 2020 becomes a year marked by growth and strength in the midst of what sometimes feels like chaos.

When we look at our flaws constructively, with a vulnerable willingness to change, then we can start to take action on both a societal and personal level to better ourselves and the world around us.

Like I said, too often people define wellness by “the things” that are actually under its umbrella (ex: exercise, meditation, nutrition, sleep, etc) instead of taking a step back to see wellness for what it is; an evolving sense of self coupled with self-love actions.

Hear me when I say…

Your body wants your self-awareness more than it needs another broccoli floret.

Your mind craves peace more than scouring the web for answers to all your problems.

Your soul needs authentic love for growth more than a regimented meditation routine.

I have my moments of feeling anxious and slipping up too (read: too much wine), but we have a choice to move on from the 2020 weight gain and stress spirals. We have the opportunity to live bravely through uncertain times. We have the chance to stay flexible and GROW more than ever before.

 

 

And as a side note, if you want advice and resources for “the things” that fit under the wellness umbrella (ex: workout advice, product reviews, nutrition tips, discounts, etc) then I invite you to hop over here to sign up for my *free* monthly newsletter.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Are Clean Products Worth It?

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I began to wonder – Are the household cleaning products I’m using safe? Is the perfume I’m wearing potentially harmful to the baby? At the time, I had already committed to buying grass-fed, hormone-free meats and some organic produce at the grocery store but I worried: Is that enough to stay safe and keep harmful chemicals out of my body? 

I decided it couldn’t hurt to buy a plant-based everyday counter cleaner and I started using only one spritz of my favorite Chanel perfume on my shirt sleeve instead of several pumps directly to my skin. Eventually, my pregnancy nose got the best of me (and I realized the fragrance’s fumes were still very potent) and I stopped wearing perfume altogether. This was the beginning of my slow transition to “clean products,” which is still very much an on-going process. I’ve found that I can only bite off a little bit at a time, my beauty products coming in last in the multi-year transition. I like the cosmetics I already use and clean beauty products seem intimidating and expensive, leaving me with the question: Are clean products worth it? 

I’m no beauty expert so I decided to bring one on board for a Q&A about clean beauty and its impact on our wellness. Please welcome Morgan Adams to the blog to answer all our burning questions! Morgan represents Beautycounter and is a breast cancer survivor who has pledged herself to advocating for clean beauty. I’m truly grateful for the insightful information she shares below and I hope you find it useful too! 

 

   

1) What inspired you to work in clean beauty?

Clean beauty was something I’d never really planned on pursuing as a career. In November of 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was researching on how to heal, the information I was seeing was directing me to lower my toxic load. The toxins that seemed to be of biggest concern in my research were the toxins found in our everyday cleaning and personal care products. Being a makeup and skincare junkie most of my life, I decided to start there. I was disappointed to learn that most of the products I was putting on my skin contained unhealthy ingredients, many of which were linked to breast cancer. I had known about a company called Beautycounter for several years, but always dismissed their products. I didn’t think that products in the “natural” category would perform up to my expectations. But I decided to give it a try since they were the cleanest products I could find on the market. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the products and how well they worked. So in late 2018, I decided to join Beautycounter as a consultant.

 

2) How has your perspective of clean beauty evolved through the years?

I had never really heard of the term “clean beauty” until I found Beautycounter. I was more familiar with the terms “organic” and “natural.” The general consensus among many people I knew in the beauty world (makeup artists and estheticians) was that products in those categories didn’t perform as well as products you might find at your dermatologist’s office or Sephora. Beautycounter was the first clean beauty company I ever really gave a fair chance. Since I’ve jumped on the clean beauty bandwagon, I’m pleased to see other clean beauty brands popping up. Even some conventional beauty brands are developing products that are cleaner. It’s moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

 

3) Why is clean beauty so important?

Decades of studies have pointed to the fact that many serious health issues like cancer, infertility and asthma have increased. One of the reasons is due to our ongoing exposure to toxic ingredients we’re exposed to everyday. The cosmetics industry in the U.S. is, for the most part, a fairly unregulated industry. Only 30 chemicals are banned compared to 1400 that are banned in Europe. There hasn’t been a major federal law passed to govern the cosmetics industry since 1938. There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today, many of which don’t have any safety data. This is particularly true of those in the cosmetic industry.

 

 

4) What should consumers be careful about (or watchful for) when purchasing beauty, skincare, household and/or cleaning products?

There are thousands of chemicals that could potentially be harmful in our products. My recommendation is to download a free app called EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) Healthy Living App. You can scan the barcode to a product or type it in to see how it’s rated in terms of safety. Products are rated 1-10, with 1 being safest to 10 being the most potentially toxic. There is a special classification called “EWG Verified” (look for the small green circle) which means that a product/company avoids EWG’s ingredients of concern, provides full transparency, and uses good manufacturing practices. My general rule of thumb when selecting my own products is to choose products that are EWG Verified or between 1-3. When products are rated 4-6, I will dig deeper into each ingredient to determine if I want to use it. I don’t recommend using products ranked 7 or higher.

 

5) Does your passion for clean products extend beyond the beauty and skincare industry?

It does. I choose the safest cleaning products possible and have recently become a fan of Branch Basics. After my cancer diagnosis, I invested in an air filtration system (Air Doctor) and a water purification system (Berkey). I’m also a fan of eating as much organic food as possible.

 

6) What is your best advice for people seeking to change their skincare and beauty product routines in effort to be healthier and safer?

I would advise most people to transition slowly as it can be overwhelming to do it all at once. I made a really quick transition, but that was propelled by my cancer diagnosis. As you use up a product, look for a cleaner option. Prioritize anything that can be inhaled or eaten, such as powder products and lipsticks. Also prioritize products that sits on your skin for a long period of time like moisturizers and serums. I also recommend finding a couple brands you trust and sticking with them.

 

 

7) What’s your favorite clean product and why?

I would say the Overnight Resurfacing Peel by Beautycounter. It’s the company’s best-selling skincare product and a client favorite of mine. It’s a gentle but effective serum containing multiple botanically-derived acids. You use it at night to help fade any discolorations and brighten up your skin.

 

8) What’s the most dangerous ingredient consumers should keep their eyes open for?

It’s hard to limit it to one since there are so many, but the one that concerns me the most is the ingredient “fragrance/parfum.” When you see fragrance listed in an ingredient list, you should understand that it’s an engineered scent or flavoring agent that may contain any combination of 3,000 or more stock chemical ingredients, including allergens and hormone-disrupting substances. Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets, and therefore can remain undisclosed. When you spray a product in the air, it doesn’t only affect the person who sprayed it. It could potentially cause issues for anyone who’s close by. It could make their bodies react negatively with allergy symptoms, asthma and migraines. In some cases, exposure might not cause immediate symptoms, but the long-term effects remain unknown since many of the chemicals haven’t been properly tested.

One of the things that’s impressed me the most about Beautycounter is their advocacy efforts to change laws so that companies are charged with disclosing exactly what ingredients are lurking behind “fragrance.” Beautycounter’s CEO Gregg Renfrew provided witness testimony on December 2019 to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, urging the FDA to require more oversight over the personal care product industry. A bill called the Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act of 2019 was introduced that month, and in March the health subcommittee passed the bill which will be voted on by the full committee before it can be advanced to the House floor for a vote. This was a huge win for clean beauty advocates since the last federal law governing cosmetic safety was passed in 1938.

 

 

9) If you could give readers your best professional advice, what would you say?

I would urge folks to start to take closer look at the products they’re putting on their largest organ, their skin. The EWG Healthy Living app which I mentioned earlier is a great, free tool that’s accessible to everyone. Consider “voting with your dollars” and buying from companies that are committed to transparency and are making their products safer. On a personal note, when I became aware of all the unhealthy products in the marketplace I put a lot of pressure on myself to go 100% clean. This mindset has the potential to create some internal anxiety. It’s important to remember that this is about progress, not perfection. If you can aim to follow the 80/20 rule, with 80% of your products being clean then I think you’re definitely doing your overall health a huge favor.

 

10) Do you see or anticipate any trends towards clean ingredients? If so, which industries and products are making the switch?

The market has showed us lately that clean beauty is definitely not a trend. It’s really here to stay. In 2019, the beauty industry grew by 3% while the clean beauty segment grew by 18%. I’m pleased to see retailers like Target, CVS and Walmart starting to roll out more clean product lines so that people of all income levels are able to access cleaner and safer products.

 

Morgan Adams is a clean beauty advocate and educator who loves helping people make changes to enjoy healthier lives. Morgan’s desire to help others live healthier began after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. She thought she was doing “all the right things,” but the cancer diagnosis inspired a journey of knowledge, action and healing. Now Morgan teaches and helps others on their wellness journey. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband Stephen, a marketing consultant and rock and roll drummer, and their shaggy dog Ollie.

*If you’re interested in Beautycounter products click here

 

Please join me in thanking Morgan for sharing her wealth of clean beauty knowledge and professional advice here on the blog! This is very helpful information that informs many of our product decisions.

 

Yours in health & wellness,

Maggie