Category Archives: Wellness

How to Overcome Obstacles and Negative Thinking

Hands down, the biggest obstacle in my life sits right between my ears. The discouraging inner monologue and negative spiral my mind can go down at times is incredible (in a bad way, to be clear). Oftentimes, I dwell on the things I haven’t accomplished yet. I let mom guilt overwhelm me as I attempt to be present for my child but fret over a lack of productivity for my career. I feel it creep up again when I frantically play catch up on work during my son’s naps and days at school, not wanting the solitude and “me time” to end, yet simultaneously glancing at the clock every hour wondering when I can pick him up and snuggle him close again. Gosh, I need him just as much as he needs me. 

I know I’m not alone in being hard on myself because I’ve heard my clients and friends open up in similar ways; pouring out frustrations that are born primarily from internal strife. A lot of people who come to me for personal training frequently fall into discouraging self-talk. At first, they don’t admit it. But as our relationship and trust grow, they share their insecurities and reveal the ways they get trapped in their minds while pursuing things like exercise and professional goals. The fact that these people are accomplished CEOs, lawyers, celebrities and government officials shows me that this propensity to feel insecure is a common human experience. But just because something is common doesn’t mean it should be normal. I like to think that we DESERVE to feel empowered to overcome obstacles and negative thinking.

It can be scary to tackle our goals with confidence. It’s easiest to talk ourselves into all the reasons why things WON’T work out the way we dream. I’ve been there. I have recently shifted from the manuscript-writing phase of a book to the pursuing-publishing phase. The two couldn’t be more different. While I savor the feeling of sitting at my desk and writing for hours, I don’t necessarily feel exalted at the prospects of getting turned down by potentially a LOT of literary agents. Time will tell…I’ve only just started. EEeekk! If I allowed discouraging thoughts to run my decisions then I would freeze before ever moving forward.

How do we conquer such deflating feelings? How do we ensure we’re in charge of our own minds, in a positive way?

Whether you’re tackling a new professional endeavor or stepping into the gym during a vulnerable time for your body or mind, there are effective ways to coach yourself through the process. Here are some strategies you can try…

 

1) Get Out of Your Head

Avoid Comparisons

Women seem especially prone to comparing themselves against one another. I’ve done it, too. It’s such an awful trap to fall into. Unfortunately, there’s no way we can “win” doing this. When we compare our lows to other people’s highs (a.k.a. the world of social media) we feel that we are perpetually failing. We badger ourselves over our perceived inability to be as successful as the woman we know who is dominating her executive position at a fast-growing company. We feel deflated when we have children that are a mess (and who are showing us who’s the real boss) when we see images of moms with a whole brood of little ones who are pristine, groomed and on good behavior. We feel silly for being proud of ourselves for lacing up our sneakers on a Saturday morning for a brisk walk when we are confronted by women boasting photos of their sculpted bodies after hours of hitting the weights.

I’m already feeling a little depressed after writing that last paragraph. Yuck! The thing is, we have to stop with comparisons. We have to hold ourselves back from them because they get us nowhere. A pastor I know said “Just play your own position. Know your own role.” In other words, know your “lane” in life and own it. Be proud of what YOU bring to the table and remember that you can’t be or do everything at once. The world is blessed with people of diverse talents for a reason; it’s how we keep the whole thing moving.

Recognize Negative Thought Patterns

One of the most helpful things we can do for ourselves is to openly acknowledge negative thought patterns. These are repetitive and unproductive thoughts that leave us stressed and/or depleted. They don’t serve any purpose, yet they can fill our minds and bodies with disease. If we start to recognize these negative thought patterns then we can choose how we react to them. For example, one of my clients used to say “I’m sorry” any time I corrected her form during a workout. There was no need for her to apologize – my entire job was to help guide her towards better success and health! Yet every time “I’m sorry” escaped from her lips without her thinking. We talked it out over time and finally managed to keep her from going down a negative path in her mind. Instead of allowing thoughts of failure and inferiority to dominate any time she received constructive feedback, she took it in stride. She kept her head high and didn’t divert her gaze with a defeated sigh. It was a huge win for us in our training relationship. Thereafter, both her body language and communication exuded better confidence.

A good place to start improving your mental process is writing down your most obvious and common negative thoughts. Next, list out several positive reactions or thoughts you can counter them with. The reason this is important is because negative thoughts are like quicksand; the more we struggle in them, the faster we sink. We need something hopeful to turn to.

Address Discontent

Another way we need to get out of our heads is by getting rid of discontent. In order to move forward in a healthy and happy life, we can’t focus incessantly on what we don’t have or what we want more of. This way of thinking causes people to feel that their lives aren’t good enough. You can see how this is a negative thing, right?!?!

It seems painfully obvious that this kind of thinking leads up down a bad path, yet we do it anyway. ALL. THE. TIME. Often, we focus our energy on what we don’t have or what we crave to have without even thinking. To be questing after a status or promotion seems purposeful in life, maybe even positive and healthy! The challenge is where our mindset is rooted. If happiness hinges on your “not-there-yet,” “some-day-I-hope-to” aspirations, then there isn’t enough joy available in the present to fulfill you. Turn your focus to gratitude. What do you have right now that you’re grateful for? Who are you and why is that enough to sustain you here, today?

 

 

2) Gain Confidence

Act the Part

As we shed negative thinking and pursue our goals with the right intentions, we can gain confidence in simple ways. Acting confident (even if you don’t feel it at first) and expressing yourself with upright posture will impress upon those around you that you’re a force to be reckoned with. It can also affect your brain chemistry. Tall, confident posture can stimulate the release of hormones that keep you feeling good. Hence, if you act confident then you just might become confident.

Accept that Obstacles Happen

Obstacles happen. They do. In my fitness career I’ve had many; one major accident that made my body feel like it belonged to a 90-year old, numerous setbacks with fitness startup companies, managers telling me to pick a niche focus in fitness even though my passions encompass a lot of areas (apparently that’s not very conducive to creating a “brand”), and more. In writing, I had a professional offer me feedback on my first manuscript that made me take pause for the next decade. A whole decade while I waited for that “aha” moment when I could revisit the book with fresh, mature eyes.

We can look at obstacles as unfair or frustrating if we believe they shouldn’t happen, but obstacles are a part of life’s growing pains. We should anticipate them so that we can bounce back from the inevitable way they will trip us up. We don’t have to give them power to make us insecure.

Find Meaning

When you’re having trouble staying confident because of setbacks, try to find meaning in the tough times. This sounds full of cheese, I know. For example, getting hit by a car years ago helped me become a well-rounded fitness professional because I became more capable of addressing people’s old injuries and back pains. In the moment it wasn’t always evident that I was growing in a positive way from the pain, but in time it became crystal clear. In fact, over the course of my life I have grown and learned the most through hardships, not good times.

Random Aside… This is similar to trees when you bring them home from the nursery. Removing them from a supported environment causes them stress. They might look weak and lean over after you plant them. But in response to the stress of having to support themselves, the roots shoot out and create a broad base. This allows the tree to slowly right itself and shoot up towards the sky. Similarly, we can thrive if we respond to stress by growing our roots deep, making it harder for the next big storm to tip us over in its wind.

 

3) Tackle Your Goals

Break Things into Small Tasks

Procrastinators and perfectionists alike can benefit from taking broad, longer-term goals and breaking them down into simple, actionable steps. For example, if I’m training someone to run a marathon we can’t focus immediately on the long runs. We have to start with the short and intermediate runs to build up stamina and train the muscles for the stress to come. We can’t think for too long about the total mileage that will be logged over the course of the training program or we may never begin. It’s intimidating to go from running a couple times a week for fun to logging 30-50 miles per week! My runners simply need to trust that each run will have a cumulative effect as we head in the direction of the race.

STOP Method

Per Psychology Today‘s recommendation, we can use the STOP Method to effectively move past emotions of fear, shame and self-doubt when we’re tackling our goals. STOP stands for:

STOP

Take a Step Back

Observe

Proceed Mindfully

By taking a moment to calm our emotions, we can look at our feelings from a different perspective. For example, if someone else had a similar emotional reaction, what would it look like to you? What would advice would you give them?

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a way of approaching our life, goals and relationships with better appreciation, service and enjoyment. Mindfulness allows us to better discern what’s worth our time and effort. As we make better, more confident and healthful decisions, we become productive in the ways that matter and fulfill our authentic selves. When our goals are aligned with what we truly care about, there’s no stopping us.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Remedies for Neck Pain and Stiffness

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 20% of adults report that they experience some degree of neck pain. Many of us will encounter at least one bout of neck stiffness or discomfort in our lifetime, whether from a bad night of sleep or poor posture from computer work. Recently, I’ve heard a cascade of complaints from friends and clients that their necks are bothering them and it makes my insides squirm to see them in discomfort. Let’s try to change that, shall we? Here’s my experience with neck pain and why I empathize, followed by at-home remedies and an upper cervical chiropractor’s expert advice.

 

Benefits of Natural Posture

As a young child, I thought it was normal that I could tilt my head ever-so-slightly and relax my gaze into double vision. It wasn’t until high school, body bent forward over text books and SAT-prep exams, that I realized I couldn’t see clearly when I shifted my visual attention from close to far (ex: it was difficult to read the time on the clock when I looked up from studying). I thought I needed glasses. It turned out that my vision was just fine; however, I was diagnosed with a “convergence insufficiency.” This condition, while minor, has caused me to tilt my head to reduce eye strain since childhood.

In a perfect world, I should be maintaining a straight gaze and posture, and forcing my eyes to work together to see clearly. But our bodies LOVE to be lazy. Instead, I’ve compensated and caused myself neck problems and tension over the years, especially during graduate school and when I was a nursing mom. So for all of you in pain, I feel ya! Been there many times. Every time my neck is out of alignment it strikes me how much it affects my energy and overall well-being.

You see, the neck is like the gateway for the entire nervous system. When part of it is inflamed, tight or out of alignment, unexpected problems can happen in the rest of the body, too.

Ideal neck alignment results in a happy nervous system.

When the body is in “neutral” or “ideal” alignment there are three natural curves in the spine; the lumbar, thoracic and cervical curves. These three curves make an “S-shape.” This is considered natural, healthy posture.

Other benefits of natural posture include:

  • Reduced back pain
  • Less frequent headaches
  • Regular bowel movements
  • Improved attention and mental clarity
  • Corrected scoliosis
  • Healthy pregnancy and female organ function
  • Improvements in asthma
  • Improvements in arthritis and joint pain
  • Lower incidence of ear infections
  • Lower blood pressure
  • ….and more: http://bit.ly/28QsqHw

If you have a minute, check out this video, from Chiropractors Without Borders!, where a nonverbal, wheelchair-bound child goes from a near-vegetative state to walking after one simple neck adjustment that frees up his entire nervous system, allowing it to jump start for the first time in years:

 

 

How to Relieve Neck Tension and Prevent Future Problems:

First, it’s important to bring attention to the one thing we tend to overlook when it comes to spinal health; NUTRITION! 

Poor nutrition and inadequate water intake can result in inflammation which consequently places stress on the nervous system. So, hydrate well and eat REAL food! You may even try giving inflammatory stuff like processed foods and alcohol a big break for a few weeks to months and see if that alone makes a difference in your quality of life and neck comfort.

 

Other Remedies for Relief…

  • Make sure your computer monitor is at eye level and directly in front of you

 

  • Avoid long periods of consecutive driving or looking down at your smartphone

 

  • Sleep in a neutral position; avoid pillows that cause your head to tilt up in one direction and try to regularly alternate your sleeping position to avoid tight muscles on one side of the body

 

  • If you find that the tension radiates from your neck down to shoulders, try to sit more upright during your work day (better yet, stand!) and hug a pillow at night to keep shoulders “stacked” and from rounding forwards

 

  • Get your partner, a professional or YOUR OWN HANDS to massage tight areas of your head, neck and shoulders. Some pressure points you can target with your fingertips include:
    1. the middle of the back of the skull
    2. behind the middle of your ears
    3. top of the jaw
    4. eyebrow line
    5. on your face slightly down from your nose (both sides)
    6. your temples
    7. all 10 fingertips on top of your head to massage various aspects of the head/scalp
    8. the top of the neck, right below the occiput (i.e., back of the head/skull)
    9. the inside front of your shoulder/top of chest
    10. the back of your shoulder/rear deltoid
    11. space between the clavicle and shoulder
    12. several inches below the armpit on the side of the chest
    13. …and last but not least; INSIDE YOUR MOUTH! This is crazy to try but SO EFFECTIVE thanks to the complex relationships between your facial and neck muscles. With *clean hands* try pulling the inside of your cheek out to stretch/rub it. Try the same with the inside of your lower lip all the way into the bottom of the cheek.

 

  • Put your neck into a gentle extension stretch to correct poor posture – this is often done through the use of a special “pillow” for support: http://bit.ly/2jNvjRU

 

  • Try the following gentle exercises for your neck, recommended by the Cleveland Clinic:
    1. Roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times
    2. Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times
    3. Push your head backwards into your car head rest or hands and hold for 30 seconds
    4. Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side

 

 

  • Strengthen your posterior muscles for overall improvements in posture through the following exercises (note: these are best done for alignment maintenance and after knowing your body is in a neutral position. If you’re in pain or think you have a misalignment, seek a chiropractor first):
    1. Reverse flies
    2. High-to-low rows
    3. Lat pull downs
    4. Rotator cuff exercise
    5. Cable pulls in different angles for general back strengthening and endurance
    6. “Superman” back extensions
    7. Static cobra pose and/or cobra press-ups
    8. Back extensions from mat with gentle twist at top

 

  • Use heat or ice to provide relief from tension. A rule of thumb I tend to suggest for clients is to use ice if the pain is acute and heat if the pain lasts more than 48-72 hours. Note: Most professionals advise against sleeping with heat pads due to the risk of burns and interference with deep, quality sleep. Also, using ice for prolonged periods (over 15 or so minutes per application) can be bad for your nerves. So, use both in moderation and listen to your body for what it needs!

 

Misalignment in the Cervical Spine (i.e., neck)

A person’s neck can become misaligned due to one of the following reasons:

  • “A vertebra going out of place (‘misalignment’) because of a slip or fall (i.e., ‘macrotrauma’).
  • The entire spine misaligning globally due to poor posture.
  • Joint swelling caused by damage done to the intervertebral joint.
  • An inflammatory response caused by a poor diet, lack of pure water or psychological stress.
  • Osteoporosis or degenerative changes of the spine or intervertebral discs.
  • Trigger points and tight back muscles that pull the vertebrae out of place.”

Read more: http://bit.ly/28QsqHw

 

 

How to Identify Misalignment in the Spine

True misalignment can be present with or without pain. In both scenarios, misalignment lowers the optimal function of the body due to changes in internal health and physical performance. Note: Physical performance doesn’t just pertain to athletes. It can encompass how effectively one squats or stands up from a chair, and much more.

According to Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Lauren Dodds, when a spinal misalignment is present, the body’s level of function is altered. Its fight-or-flight response becomes dominant. Although the body is trying to help itself survive, the fight-or-flight response can actually hinder the body from healing and growing, perpetuating more stress to an already overtaxed system.

Dr. Dodds explains that “thoughts, traumas and toxins” can all cause spinal misalignment. In other words, our spinal health is impacted by our emotional/personal lives, physical state and external environment. Dr. Dodds adds that although the strongest motivating factor for people to visit a chiropractor is pain, that shouldn’t be the only reason since, as mentioned, the impacts of misalignment are profound.

So, how do you know if you’re misaligned if you’re not experiencing pain?

Dr. Dodds suggests looking in a full-length mirror to see if you notice any asymmetries. You might notice that one shoulder is a little higher than the other or that one side of your hips juts forward. You can also have a trusted personal trainer or Pilates instructor do a postural analysis for you. In short, if you find that you’re out of alignment (or even if you simply suspect that you are), it’s a wise idea to find a chiropractor near you to visit.

Good news… *most* insurances will cover the visit and *most* chiropractors will accept it, so cost shouldn’t be a giant hindrance in a lot of scenarios. Either way, when you take care of your health through preventative measures like visiting a chiropractor and getting hands-on about relieving your own neck tension, your WHOLE BODY feels better and you prevent future problems from arising!

Cheers to living with optimal function and health! You deserve it.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Where Does Belly Fat Come From?

Belly fat is both bad and good (yes, good!). Hoarding fat around the stomach is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the human race during times of stress and unpredictable food intake. Why is the stomach the place it’s stored? Here comes the “good” part… Because fat in the abdomen is the most metabolically active fat. This means that just as easily as a little extra pudge can accumulate, it can be rapidly recruited for energy and burned off. When you think about it, it’s really quite clever. It’s like a squirrel tucking some acorns into the fold of its cheek for safekeeping. Our caveman bodies do the same thing. But belly fat accumulation isn’t just about what we eat and how active we are. Let’s take a look at some of the ways it gets put on our waistlines…

The Usual Suspects for Belly Fat

You guessed it; the usual suspects for belly fat include nutrition, physical activity and genetics. Let’s do a brief review…

Nutrition

This is perhaps the most obvious source of stubborn fat in the tummy. It should come as little surprise that sugary foods, trans fats, low-protein diets and alcohol can be detrimental when it comes to keeping off this kind of fat.

What You Can Do: Eat lower-sugar, healthy, natural and unrefined foods that are high in fiber or protein, and keep alcohol in check.

 

 

Physical Activity 

You’re more likely to get a spare tire if you’re sitting at a desk all day and doing little to get moving during your free time. This is fairly obvious. But, what’s less obvious is that just 5-15 minutes of movement in small segments throughout the day can truly help keep your metabolism and calorie-burning engine going. So, formal exercise isn’t always a “must” if you’re leading a truly active and healthful lifestyle. Although it certainly never hurts.

What You Can Do: Be consistent and realistic about your exercise habits and goals. One of the worst things we can do to our bodies is workout like a dog for two or three weeks and then take a month off. Equally taxing on our bodies and minds is setting unrealistic expectations for the kinds of routines we should maintain. Over-lofty plans for exercise do us no good if they end in failure and guilt. Decide how you plan to lead an active lifestyle and/or get in formal workouts. Make sure your plan is integrated into the rest of your life’s priorities and schedules to ensure successful commitment.

 

Genetics

Body shape, appetite and metabolism can be strongly influenced by genes.  Some people are prone to being more “apple-shaped” (i.e., retaining weight in the middle) while others are “pear-shaped” (i.e., retaining more stubborn, less metabolically active, but less dangerous fat in the hips and thighs). Leptin levels, a hormone that controls hunger and calorie intake, can vary according to a person’s genetics. Cortisol regulation can vary family-to-family and influence weight, too.

What You Can Do: If you’re trying really hard on the exercise and nutrition front, and belly fat still refuses to come off, then your genes may be at play. But, this doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about to help your body. Focus on being holistic and putting more energy into the following…

 

The Sneaky Culprits of Belly Fat

Sleep

There have been lots of formal studies demonstrating the power of ZZZ’s on our health and weight. Both short and poor-quality sleep can lead to hoarding fat around the mid-section. Unfortunately, our busy-busy lives lend themselves all too easily to skimping on sleep, going to bed late and ignoring the snowball effect of increasing cortisol, inflammation and insulin resistance.

What You Can Do: Apparently, the later we go to bed the more we are skimping on deep, non-REM sleep, which occurs in the earlier part of the night. Pay attention, night owls! According to Time Magazine this is a serious problem that is linked to obesity and other health problems. So, go to bed earlier instead of only counting the total hours of sleep you get. Help yourself commit to this by creating a soothing bedtime routine for yourself about 45-60 minutes before you plan to fall asleep. Kids need a bedtime routine…and we do, too!

 

 

Stress

I can always tell I’ve had a few extra-stressful weeks because my stomach will start to feel a bit softer and fuller, even if I’ve been eating healthfully and exercising. Stress takes its toll on my body, and I know I’m not alone in this. Some people are more sensitive to stress than others by nature of their personality, goals and preferences, but none of us, even the most laid-back individuals, are 100% immune to its effects. Studies have shown that some women, with higher waist-to-hip ratios, may be more prone to the negative effects of cortisol production in response to stress than others.

What You Can Do: Sometimes we are in a stressful season of life and there’s not a ton we can do to move through it any faster. In these times, it’s especially important to care for your health through good nutrition, sleep and exercise so that the effects of stress on your waistline are minimized. Finding a relaxing or enjoyable activity to turn to on a daily basis can help release a bit of the tension and keep it from spilling over.

 

Gut Health

Brace yourselves…this one is pretty mind-blowing…apparently, there are different kinds of bacteria in your gut linked to obesity vs leanness, and overall gut health. In other words, obese individuals tend to have more of certain kind of gut bacteria that changes their energy absorption levels from food (i.e., causing them to absorb more calories from food). Say whaaa? This is part of the reason some experts blame baby formula for contributing to the obesity epidemic – the baby’s gut flora is not developed in the same way that a breastfed baby’s is and thus, energy absorption and overall inflammation may be different. This is also part of the push from some doctors who encourage both children and adults to use daily probiotics, to build up the good bacteria in the gut as a line of defense against a “hostile” gut environment and the damaging effect of processed and sugary foods.

What You Can Do: Probiotics can be expensive but worth it. You might be able to bargain hunt on brand prices online, or strike a better deal by buying them in bulk. Either way, search for a probiotic that has at least three of the five main helpful bacteria strains your tummy will appreciate: L. acidophilus, B. longum, B. bifidum, L. rhamnosus and/or L. fermentum. I have personally heard debate over whether the number of total bacteria in a supplement is important or not. Science is unsure just how helpful the total number is, but I figure it can’t hurt to have more. If you want to play it “safe,” I suggest a supplement with over 10 billion bacteria. For more information check out this article: How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement.

 

 

Hormone Changes

Here comes the miserable truth, ladies…menopause changes things. If you’ve been through menopause then I’m sure you know this firsthand. A dramatic drop in estrogen about a year after a woman’s last menstrual period triggers the body to shift from storing fat in the thighs and hips to the stomach. Gooooood times. There’s not much women can do to change the course of nature; HOWEVER…..

What You Can Do: Weightlifting is an excellent way to keep extra tummy fat and those pesky hormones in check. By increasing lean muscle mass, women can help their metabolisms stay sharp through peri-menopause and post-menopause. Bonus: Lower levels of estrogen might allow women to acquire lean muscle mass more easily in later age. With effort, of course.

Best of luck as you figure out how to battle the bulge! It’s something we ALL do throughout our lives so please don’t stress and feel like you’re alone, unattractive or unworthy if your pants are a little tight. No need to stress – just take action and express self-love through the process!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Stressful Life Events + Self-Sabotage

Many of us have heard mention of the “five biggest stressors” in life, to include:

Death of a loved one

Divorce

Serious illness/injury

Moving

Job loss

Lots of people live out the truth that these experiences and even happy life events can bring unusual amounts of stress and uneasiness. Brides balk in the face of too many wedding-planning details and recently-promoted employees experience a sense of urgency and unrest as they work to prove themselves in their new role. Personally, in the face of major stressors – both the bad and good – I tend to self-sabotage. It’s something I’ve done for a long time and I don’t think I’m alone in doing this. But, as the years have passed, I’ve learned not to. In the spirit of openness and evolving in wellness, here’s a little insight into my life right now, where I’ve come from and where I’m heading, and how you might relate.

If you hadn’t already noticed, it’s been a little over a month since my last blog post. Since having a kiddo and writing two manuscripts, I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to blogging, but I still make it a goal to get a couple posts out every month. So, why the recent delay? You guessed it. I’m going through one of life’s major stressful events; moving. My house hasn’t even hit the market yet and I’m already feeling like the process of buying/selling and moving to a new city is so dizzying that it should be over by now.

Past stressful events in my life have included launching my personal training career the month the American markets crashed in 2008, getting hit by a car in 2009, experiencing the deaths of loved ones, and moving after college to busy-busy Washington, DC from small town Charlottesville, VA. My stressors may pale in comparison to other people’s but they’re mine, and the ownership over my own drama and circumstances is what has helped me evolve into the woman, professional and mother that I am today. Here’s what used to happen to me when I got stressed…

When the markets crashed, I felt manic and the need to impress everyone around me, working double-time and internalizing other people’s misfortunes as my own. When I was hit by the car, I felt like I had to push as fast as humanly possible, turning on all engines and running on all cylinders, as if the harder I tried, the quicker I would physically recover and emotionally heal. When I experienced the loss of a close family member, I felt like it was my mission to work harder to prove that my life efforts were a worthy legacy. And when I moved to Washington, DC, I was too intimidated by the accomplished and city-smart colleagues and professionals around me to calm down and be unapologetically myself. As you can see, stress doesn’t slow me down. It speeds me up.

My inability to cope with stress has led to self-sabotage. The kind that isn’t intentional but nonetheless does a very good job of chiseling away at a person’s soul. I’ve seen the same kind of thing happen with countless personal training clients. People have sought out exercise as a means of escape, an effort to feel some kind of control as the world spins like a crazy twister around them. At first, it seems to help them. Over time, and without containment, it steadily wears them down.

This time around, on the frontier of the unknown and leaving my entire life from the past decade in Washington, DC with one large leap of faith, I refuse to repeat past mistakes. Wellness is about evolving. Figuring out how to better care for oneself in the many facets of the body, mind and spirit as each gently molds into new forms over time. Hence, no blog post for the past month and no pressure on myself to spit out new ones “just because.” I’m also not putting pressure on myself to tackle my crazy, sky-high “to-do list” this time (isn’t prepping one home for sale and planning contractors for another enough?!). Sending query letters to agents for my books shouldn’t be rushed just because I’d love to feel like all my big goals have been reached before leaving the area. Pushing myself to stick to my normal workout regime isn’t worth it when it takes too much of a toll on my already-taxed body. I swear, I’ve probably burned a million calories anyways, cleaning and running after my toddler to keep him from messing it all up! The things of the past, that I used to lump on top of stressful experiences, aren’t going to get the best of me. I deserve better than some unrealistic standard that I’ve set for myself. Self-sabotage has no place in this season.

Do you act as your own worst enemy at times, too? Other common forms of self-sabotage include:

People-pleasing

Addiction; alcohol, drugs, caffeine, overeating

Procrastination

Extreme Modesty

Dodging Emotions

Self-harm

These things may seem initially helpful to the person who is under stress but all of them are dangerous, even the ones like “people-pleasing” that don’t raise an immediate red flag like “self-harm” does. Somehow, a lot of us women tend to make things harder on ourselves during some of life’s most trying times. Instead of setting the bar super high or resorting to behaviors that aren’t helpful in the long run, here are a few things to consider trying to get you through turbulent circumstances:

1) Use exercise as a stress-release not as punishment

I see this happen ALL the time. Exercise is used as “punishment” without people even realizing it. They rationalize in their minds that if they can get into great shape to get up-and-over an ex-boyfriend or ex-husband that sadness can’t touch their hearts. They unknowingly make up their minds that because they lost their job, they must pound the pavement and hit the weights for hours every day, as though the harder they test their physical limits, the closer they will be to feeling invincible again. Exercise can build people up, but not when the intention behind the action is fraught with insecurity and a feeling of unworthiness.

2) Avoid over-caffeinating or drinking away your feelings

Sure, it seems like a good idea to push through the afternoon on a caffeine high and to unwind after a long day with a little wine buzz, but the more we repetitively consume these things in excess, or even in more-than-normal proportions, the more we tax our bodies. When our bodies get taxed, our minds get worn out, too.

3) Use food as comfort on occasion, but not all the time

I’m very different from some other health advocates out there who stick to the Whole30 Program or paleo diets year-round. I believe in eating healthfully most of the time, but I also strongly feel that food IS a very emotional experience. There’s no denying it. It’s part of our cultural and personal identities, and conjures memories and emotions. Enjoy a few comfort meals when you’re going through a tough time. It’s OKAY to emotionally eat once in a blue moon. Just don’t make a habit of it. For the record, I’m never going to only eat salads for a month. Not. Gonna. Happen.

4) Don’t let the bark be worse than the bite

Fear is a common reason for resorting to people-pleasing, procrastination, over-committing, and more. What if I’m not good enough? What if they don’t like me? What if my dreams don’t come true even why I try? If you hide “under a rock” and put off self-care, emotions and/or your goals, you’ll never overcome fear and you certainly won’t accomplish anything for your authentic self. For example:

My Situation: Afraid to hold back from blogging for a month while undergoing extreme stress. Fearful that people will judge me for not being committed enough. Guilt-ridden over not sticking to my commitment of producing content more often.

Action: No blog writing for a handful of weeks.

Result: Seemingly, no one has judged me, and I have had more time and energy for myself and my family during an important and unique time.

Bonus: No more fear.

5) Ingratiate YOURSELF

Too often, when life hands women lemons, we make lemonade, lemon meringue, roasted chicken with lemon and fennel, amaretto sour cocktails, and elderflower lemon cake (?!?!?). Instead of tasting life’s bitterness and adjusting to what that means to us, we try to make ourselves appear more likeable and put-together to everyone around us. Social media has only exacerbated this tendency. Been there – I tend to post way more often when I’m struggling than when I’m happy. Isn’t it time we ingratiate ourselves? What can you do to make yourself more likeable to the only person who truly matters – YOU?

These are just a few ideas for how to survive and stay healthy during life’s most stressful events. I will be trying to keep myself in check on ALL these fronts as I pack up my bags this summer and move on from the Washington, DC area after a decade of urban living. I may have experienced my childhood elsewhere, but I truly grew up after moving to DC. The people I’ve met – some of which are among the readers of this blog – have changed my life. But the relationships and the experiences are not over – no one said I can’t take my laptop and WellnessWinz with me! So, cheers to DC AND cheers to change!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Get Yourself Out of a Rut

I’ve noticed that a lot of people get stuck in a rut at the end of a season. The exciting anticipation of the holidays and snowflakes dwindles. The refreshing warmth of the summer becomes overbearing. Anyone else feel like August’s humidity can be relentless? The enthusiasm for a workout program fades. It can be hard to refocus or start fresh with goals and plans. So, how do you get out a rut? Here are just a few simple ways you can get back on your feet (metaphorically and literally).

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Move in New Ways

I’ve blogged about moving in all three planes of motion to enhance our body’s circulation, strength, flexibility and balance, but what does that look like in a workout routine? Now’s the time to shake off the stagnation and try a new workout (see below). Maybe it will inspire you to try some other new moves? Nothing like a good sweat to feel better…

Warm-up:

20 squats

12 alternating lunges

30-second straight-arm plank

Repeat 2-3x

Circuit #1:

14 alternating lunges with single dumbbell twist across front leg

V-sit with overhead single dumbbell press (total 30-45 seconds)

20 lateral squat jumps

Single dumbbell wood chop with side lunge (10 per side)

Repeat 2-3x

 

Circuit #2:

14 alternating backwards lunges with dumbbell lateral raise

Plank position with single dumbbell alternating arm row and body twist (8-10 per side)

15 lateral box jumps or step ups

15 sit-ups with oblique twists

Repeat 2-3x

 

Circuit #3:

14 alternating curtsy lunges with dumbbell bicep curls

12 double leg lifts with scissor open/closes at top/bottom

20 “speed skater” side-to-side jumps

10 prone back extensions with breaststroke arms as lift

Repeat 2-3x

 

*Feel free to message me or leave a comment

for more detailed exercise explanations!

 

Write Things Down

I saw this picture on a friend’s Instagram and thought “yes!!! What a great idea!” So, I wanted to share it with everyone in case writing some of these down cheers you up or brings inspiration to help you feel less stuck-in-a-hole or bored with daily monotony.

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Commit to a Daily Routine (and find an app!)

The simple daily actions we can take towards better health and happiness are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They may feel like the journey but they’re the destination. Apps are just one of many great ways to implement and stay on track with these habits – and find fresh inspiration to give us momentum! Here are three apps that may motivate or help you:

  • Productive habits & daily goals tracker – This app has an average of 5-stars from over 1,000 reviews! Its interface is straightforward and detailed. Whether you’re trying to be better about getting outside for some light exercise while walking the dog or setting aside five minutes a day for meditation and prayer, this app is for you!

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  • Holy Bible – If you’re feeling off track with your prayer and spiritual life then find an app that fits your religion and/or spiritual beliefs. Focus intently on its words and teachings during your lunch break, commute (assuming you’re not behind the wheel, of course!) or quiet time. For example, there are many Bible apps out there including some that allow you read a “verse of the day” or follow along with hand-selected reading plans.

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  • DailyArt – This app allows you to read daily short stories about famous pieces of artwork. Obviously, this is a fun find for art lovers but similar apps exist for other specific interests too. Finding even just a moment to lose yourself in something you love every day can help you stay centered. If it just takes a few minutes but can cheer you up for an hour, why not?

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These are just a few ideas to get you started. What are yours? Have you found anything helpful for feeling rejuvenated and motivated? Please share!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

 

Where Does Obesity Start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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I. Breastfeeding vs. Formula

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

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

Taste changes in milk

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

Ability to digest

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

Antibodies and gut health 

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

Bottle mentality

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

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

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II. Introduction of Solids

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

Sugary puree packets

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

Veggie resistance

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

Time Constraints

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

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

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III. Modeling Good Eating

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

Eat healthy foods (duh)

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

Mindless Snacking

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

Food as a tool

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

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

16 Health Lessons from 2016

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

6 Lesson #1: Expect the Unexpected

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

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

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Lesson #2: Our Bodies Are in Sync with Nature

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

Lesson #3: Sleep is Crucial

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson #5: Patience is Everything 

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

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

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Lesson #6: Isolation Hurts Health

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

Lesson #7: Weight Retention is a Choice

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

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

Lesson #8: Little Things Add Up

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

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

Lesson #9: Sometimes, Health Professionals Suck

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

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

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

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

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

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Lesson #11: Human Physical Development is Mind-Boggling

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

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

Lesson #12: Our Bodies Are All Insanely Unique

WARNING: TMI AHEAD. READ ON WITH CAUTION!

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

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

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

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

Lesson #14: Support Systems are Necessary

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

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

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Lesson #15: Good Health Takes Work

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

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

Lesson #16: Health is a Blessing

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


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

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Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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