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?
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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.
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.”
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:
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…
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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,
*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.
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?
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.
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.
Steve Jobs is a great example of the powerful benefits one can reap from daily meditation. Why? Well, because when Steve Jobs died at 56 his brain was only 27, thanks to daily meditation practice. (I highlighted these results back in my February newsletter.) By roughly the age of 45, symptoms of brain deterioration related to the aging process become apparent and measurable. Meditating for just 30 minutes a day can “reverse” the aging process of the brain, repairing cells and thickening areas associated with memory, emotional regulation, self-confidence, focus, empathy and more. In one study, these results were seen in as short as 8 weeks of regular meditation.
If that’s not fascinating enough, meditation can also help counter the negative effects many people experience from multitasking. Women are the ultimate multitasking pros who juggle work, home life, children, doctor appointments, cooking, social calendars and more, so this is especially compelling for us.
But wait, let’s backtrack for a second here…multitasking is a NEGATIVE thing?!?
That’s right, friends. This news stopped me mid-stride in one of my daily mental sprint sessions. I’m the queen bee of multitasking and I take pride in it! I juggle two young children as a stay-at-home mom, a daily breastfeeding schedule, part-time work squeezed into nap and late-at-night hours, and oh yea, self care…that ever-elusive concept. I literally sit down to nurse my baby with an agenda, my mind ramping up to full speed as I tackle 5 emails, respond to 3 texts and proofread an article…all in 15 minutes while nourishing a small human. I mean…yikes!!! Is anyone ELSE’s head going to explode? Mine sure is close…
Multitasking – attempting to do two or more tasks simultaneously
Ex: Computer work while making an unrelated phone call
Switching costs – switching back and forth between tasks
Ex: Prepping dinner for children and running to the living room to keep toddlers entertained (because they just love to run into the kitchen the second it’s time to take something out of the hot oven)
Attention residue – performing a number of tasks in rapid succession
Ex: The fast pace of western culture. End of story.
The Negative Consequences of Multitasking
According to Rescue Time, an app that “helps you understand the habits that make you productive,” multitasking leads to the following negative consequences:
Impacts short-term memory
Leads to increased anxiety
Inhibits creative thinking
Stops you from getting into a state of flow
Causes more mistakes and less productivity
Can drop your IQ by 10 points
Similar to losing a night of sleep
Okay, now it’s really clear that multitasking does harm to our minds and bodies! This is seriously such a game changer for me as a wellness blogger because I routinely wonder why I’m so exhausted at the end of every insanely busy day, even after a good night of rest and some healthy exercise in the morning. Anyone else feel like their *brain* needs some rest and rejuvenation? I can practically hear all the miscellaneous thoughts and agendas rattling around in my own as I write this, just waiting for me to give them attention. But this information really makes me pause and consider how I might approach each day a little differently. How about you?
Multitasking is part of what makes moms so worn out because it “comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing.” This may be why women need on average 20 minutes more sleep each night than men. Another aspect of multitasking is that it leads to decision fatigue – that feeling that once you’ve made so many decisions in a single day you simply don’t have the energy to make another one. This is a real phenomenon!
An article from the New York Times states that “decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.” This totally explains why I have a hard time making decisions after 5:00 pm. Anyone else in the same boat? I’ve used up all my decision making power right in time to cook a million different things for small humans with specific food needs, portions and cut-into-bite-size meals.
Different Types of Meditation
Still thinking about whether or not meditation is right for you? I have good news; there are lots of ways to meditate so it’s easy to find the right style for your personality and energy. There are four main methods that I will mention here:
Body-Scan Meditation – scanning your body top to bottom and becoming aware of different sensations as they arise, one body part at a time, bringing your attention back to the practice when your mind wanders. This allows thoughts to stay in the background and breathing and relaxation to take the main stage.
Breathing Meditation – in traditional ashtanga yoga this is called pranayama or breathing practice. There are lots of ways to do this (I will try to write a whole article on it some day) but the most basic is slowing down the breathing and silently counting inhalations and exhalations while quieting the mind and refraining from judging one’s own thoughts.
Observing-Thought Meditation – this is the same thing as what some call “mindfulness” meditation which allows for greater awareness of the nature of one’s own thoughts. It is sometimes done while picturing your thoughts as clouds passing or waves coming and going, acknowledging their temporary nature.
Loving-Kindness Meditation – repeating positive phrases about oneself then applying those phrases to another person, then to a person who you are in conflict with, then to all of humanity.
For what it’s worth, my personal favorite is breathing meditation because it creates a rhythmic pattern that helps me better establish flow. I also enjoy switching the type of breathing exercise midway. It helps hold my attention while remaining calm and peaceful.
The Good Stuff: Meditation Resources
Meditating just a few times a week can prove beneficial if it helps you calm down. I’ve personally found that my morning “meditation” of sorts is to listen to the Bible and to do yoga or meditation a couple times a week, when I’m diligent (let’s be honest, not every week is “perfect”). Other times I pray for a few minutes or try to close my eyes and just clear my head for a second. The point is that you can approach meditation with flexibility and openness rather than stress over how to fit it into every single day. Allow yourself to grow and get there gradually. After all, there’s no rush.
Below is a list of different apps and websites that you can use to help you establish a routine with meditation.
Headspace – mindful approach to improved happiness, health and sleep
Meditation Studio – various meditations that are led in [what I consider] a psychologist/counselor style so great for people who want a lot of guidance and discussion of emotions
Calm – app for “mental fitness” and has option to use its services within the workplace/for a team
Ten Percent Happier – meditations by some of the world’s leading experts, book and podcast by the same name
Mindful.org – podcast with free body scans ranging from 3-25 minutes long
Audible – free with subscription; “Morning Meditations for Daily Magic” & “Rise & Shine Yoga Flows”
Last but not least, if you’d like to take your practice to the next level I suggest you consider a personal growth journey through Mindfulness Certification Training for Individuals and Coaches. My experience getting trained to become a yoga teacher was one of the foremost challenges of my life. Pushing yourself, even for a short while, to become disciplined in meditation can be life changing. My experience was over a decade ago and I’m still learning from it to this day.
I was sitting on my couch shortly after the holidays, writing this list of life hacks in a note pad on my phone. I turned to my almost 4-year old son as he was playing on the floor and asked if he had any ideas for it. He replied that we should all “race around toy cars” if we want to move more. (Side note: It’s his favorite activity.) So yea, there’s that. But I’m guessing that’s not high on your agenda unless you’re a little boy or happen to have a young son of your own…
Here are some *other* ideas to help you keep your metabolism awake in between exercise sessions. I hope they help you kick off the new year on a healthy note and give you inspiration to maintain an active lifestyle outside of formal exercise time, especially since that’s where we spend most of our time.
1) Keep a Local Bucket List
I love bucket lists. Most people think of travel when they think of bucket lists. Agendas for overseas adventures that seem to get longer and longer every year. But I personally adore local bucket lists! Make a list of local things you want to push yourself to do and you will be getting out and about before you know it! I like to try something new once a month. Even if sometimes this means a local brewery or something less “active,” other months it means a scenic hike or a fun exercise class across town. Either way, a person who is enthused about discovering and experimenting will be motivated to keep on the move for years to come!
2) What Your Grocery Cart Habits Say About You
Answer this question in your head: “Am I the person who puts the grocery cart away in the cart receptacle – OR – am I the person who leaves it in the middle of the parking lot?
This is going to sound random but I feel like grocery cart habits say a lot about a person. The way you answer that question might say a lot about your willingness (or not) to engage in basic movement and physical effort throughout the day. Consider turning into the person who walks the few extra steps to put the cart away. If you want to go the extra mile, you can grab other stray carts on your way. I routinely organize grocery carts in parking lots. Major pet peeve over here, haha.
3) Don’t Waste Time Circling Parking Lots
One rule of thumb in life is to not waste time in your car doing what you can on your feet. That is all I have to say about that.
(Although when it’s raining and you’ve got multiple kids to haul in and out of the car, it’s a free pass to circle until the next day. I feel your pain.)
4) Grow a Green Thumb
I have a love/hate relationship with nature. I absolutely love spring blooms, mature evergreens, a manicured lawn, and tidy garden beds, but HEAVENS it takes a lot of work. The weeds in my mulch beds grow…well…like weeds. It takes a grand total of three sweaty hours every 3-5 weeks in the summer to pluck them all from the ground. I can’t stand it. I start weeding while cursing under my breath but somewhere in the midst of all the hard work I find my groove and it feels cathartic, kind of like a good workout. Same goes for watering and nurturing all 38 trees and plants we have put into the ground as a family in just 2.5 years. It’s tiresome work to weed and garden but it “keeps a girl young” and helps burn a lot more energy than you’d think.
5) Get Physical About Property Management
On the same note as #4, doing the manual labor around your property instead of paying someone for it will keep you honest about staying active. Anyone who owns a home on a semi-wooded property can attest to how long it takes to rake leaves just like residents of the Northeast know what it takes to keep their driveways and walkways cleared of snow in the winter. It’s a LOT of work…but it’s good for you!
6) Play with Kids
Am I the only one who gets completely exhausted from a day spent shuffling the kids around town and playing with them in the living room? I mean, come on! It’s seriously tiring. By their afternoon nap time I’m a hot mess and talking myself out of having coffee because it will keep me up all night…and who can afford to stay up late when you have needy 6 am alarm clocks? Playing with children definitely burns energy and requires all kinds of movement (twisting, bending, rolling, reaching, pulling, picking up, getting kicked down and pushed off the couch, the works).
7) Burn Calories Cooking (that’s right!)
I do NOT believe in working to burn every calorie consumed. Exercise is NOT a punishment for eating. It’s a celebration of our health and a way to connect our bodies to our souls. All that said, a long day in the kitchen can truly burn a lot of energy. It’s kind of incredible. Ever tried hosting a dinner party for eight? Ever prepared homemade finger foods for a holiday party? Or spent all day making several dozen birthday cupcakes just right, frosting and all? Then you know how much your feet and back can ache after that effort.
But honestly, don’t cook for the sake of anything but the love of good food. Put your heart into it and enjoy! Many cultures believe the food will taste bad or have negative energy if you’re not joyful while making it. So, think back on those cute little dwarfs from Snow White and “whistle while you work.”
8) Listen & Move
There are so many great podcasts and audio books out there these days. It’s not difficult to find them and they are usually pretty accessible (free or an affordable price). I love to put on a good audio book while folding laundry, getting ready for bed and doing chores. It motivates me to stay upbeat while I move through mundane tasks.
Do you feel like getting moving when you’re tired and grumpy? Not so much. More like sit on the couch and zone out to reality tv or sports. Dehydrated adults self report higher than average levels of fatigue, anger and confusion. Even mild dehydration can impact our mood, cognitive function, and overall physical health. Do yourself a favor and carry water with you throughout the day so you can feel your best and stay engaged in an active and fulfilling life.
10) Treat Your Furry Friend to the Great Outdoors
Have you ever seen a dog’s entire body shake with excitement at the mention of the word “outside” or “walk?” Take poor Fido outside for some exercise and watch your pup leap with joy (literally). Enjoy the fresh air yourself, while you’re at it.
11) Eat Energizing Foods
That post-Thanksgiving dinner feeling…you know it, right? Eating too much or eating heavy foods can slow us down and crash our energy. Healthy, fibrous foods like vegetables and fruits rarely ever tank us. Lean, heart-healthy proteins like salmon and chicken also seldom make us feel like we can barely lift a limb from the couch. There’s a truth to the saying “you are what you eat.” When we eat energizing foods our bodies are given nourishment that boosts the metabolism and supports internal health, leaving us with plenty of energy to “get up and go.” If you’re struggling to fit in more movement then take a close and honest look at how you’re eating.
12) Become a DIY Person
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it but the other month I made my forearm sore for a week after pressing down on a spray can for a DIY project. Our master bathtub jets were a dull yellowed color due to age and any time I walked into the room I couldn’t help but feel irritated by them. I know, I know…major first world problem here. I decided to take it upon myself to try a bright white plastic paint on them. The DIY project wasn’t very complicated yet it still took me a few hours. Holding the spray nozzle down for 20 or so minutes made my forearm seriously sore to the point that I couldn’t press down on buttons or turn knobs for days to follow. It was sort of pathetic…and sort of awesome because with all that effort I unintentionally gave my forearm the workout of a lifetime! In many cases, DIY projects require both creative and physical energy.
13) Take the Stairs
I made a commitment to myself that even though my gym is four stories tall that I would never take the elevator up and down. For the most part, I’ve stuck to that resolution – even during pregnancy! That’s right, I would trudge my big belly straight up eight flights of stairs (two per floor) to walk up to the cafe bar and breathlessly order my favorite post-workout smoothie. Walking the stairs is great for you! It trains your heart and glutes to be strong.
Four years ago I made a similar commitment after having my first son. I decided that even in his infancy I would walk up the stairs to change his diaper at the changing table instead of doing it on the same floor. I was lucky that my delivery was uncomplicated so I could do this safely. Those early months whipped me right back into shape because I was going up and down the stairs allllllll day long. On days that I couldn’t fit in any formal exercise I knew that I was still doing plenty simply from moving around my own house.
14) Actively Care for Others
Actively caring for someone can look a lot of different ways. It might be caring for an elderly family member or neighbor, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, coaching youth sports, performing acts of service for your significant other, or running errands for your children. When we’re caring for others we expend a lot of energy plus we address the needs of others in a selfless manner. If you want a thought-provoking article about the benefits of care giving you can read more. Just don’t forget about self care. It takes a lot of energy to be caregiver and we must prioritize and refill our energy tanks too!
15) Keep Slip-on Shoes Handy
Keeping slip-on shoes by the door makes stepping in and out of your house or apartment much easier. It’s a simple thing we can do to make everyday decisions easier. For example, keeping slip-on shoes by the door might help you choose to walk outside to get the mail every day instead of only a few times a week. My husband rolls his eyes at me because I actually get upset if he checks the mail before I have a chance to. I’ve come to really enjoy taking a few deep breaths of fresh air on the way to and from the mailbox. It wakes me right up from my late afternoon energy slump!
16) Organize Your Life
Organizing things is a great way to fit in more movement. Not only will you be bending, lifting and carrying but you will be clearing space for what’s important! A friend started her own home organizing business last year here in Richmond and she laughed one day that she “always sounds out of breath” in her video reveals of clients’ spaces following her services. I told her that it makes sense that she is out of breath – organizing requires a TON of energy! Which might be why so many people choose to use her!
17) Make Things Inconvenient
Remember I mentioned taking the stairs to change diapers? Nothing screams inconvenient like that! But I must confess that for my second child I put a diaper caddy downstairs because going up and down the stairs all day while supervising two kids wasn’t feasible. But diapering aside, my husband and I currently make our recycling inconvenient. It would be much faster to toss recyclable items into a bin inside our kitchen but we opt to walk them out to the larger bin in the garage each time. It seems like literally every time we’ve taken a few things out there is something new that needs go. Suffice to say, it helps us get in our steps!
Online shopping sure is easy but it doesn’t get us moving, does it? Sometimes it’s refreshing to get out the old-fashioned way and shop on foot! Make a nice afternoon of it and pick an outdoor shopping strip or city street with a cafe or lunch spot that you’ve been wanting to visit.
Despite the fact that we aren’t moving when we are resting, it’s an essential ingredient for an active lifestyle. The two [rest and exercise] reinforce one another quite nicely. Daily exercise helps us get restorative sleep at night and adequate rest helps us feel energized enough to exercise. Some combination of sleep, rest, relaxation and restoration is crucial if we want the necessary fuel to stay active.
20 ) Find something you enjoy
Finding a hobby or exercise class that you enjoy is one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle. This sounds like a no-brainer yet so many people commit to things they feel they “should do” instead of what they actually want to do. It’s time to stop thinking about what kind of exercise class you’ve been told you “should do,” and start asking yourself which type you will enjoy the most. Trust the answer you come up with and go for it. If you hate every minute of exercise or movement then it will never serve you well. So, forget about “the rules” and just have some fun. Do it for you!
Very pleased to introduce a blogosphere friend from the South Pacific today – meet Harper! She is from Auckland, New Zealand and is sharing her insights on how to create a zen at-home yoga and/or meditation space. Namaste!
How to Design Your Yoga Space at Home
One of the great things about yoga is that you do not need much space in which to practice. That means that even in a small home you can create a special area that is exclusively designed to please you and to provide an ideal setting for meditation and yoga.
Here are some tips for creating your perfect yoga space at home:
Where to create your home yoga space
If you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate, creating an inviting outside space is ideal. Ensure the ground is firm and level in the outdoor space you choose, as this is vital to being able to perform your asanas correctly. If you do not have an outside space available, try to find somewhere within your home that has plenty of natural light and good ventilation. Alternatively, if you have the room, you can create a fantastic yoga area at home from an empty shipping container. These are perfectly suited for creating a hermetic environment where you will not be distracted by the outside environment. If you can place it in your garden and open up one side, you can create a perfectly peaceful and relaxing place to practice yoga. Whatever space you choose, make sure that family members will respect your privacy and the intimacy of this special place.
Why have a designated yoga area at home?
Creating a designated yoga space will help you to maintain regular practice sessions. It means you won’t need to head out to the yoga studio or to have to rearrange the furniture to spread out your mat. Whether you convert the spare bedroom, create a whole new room, or just designate a corner in an existing room, having a dedicated yoga space lets you create an atmosphere of peace where everything you need to use is at hand to make the best use of your time for yoga practice. Also, practicing daily in the same space can increase your awareness by making you more conscious of subtle changes in your environment and in your own body and mind.
First, in whichever space you choose, remove everything that is not essential to practicing yoga or that is not beautifully inspiring. Getting rid of unnecessary distractions will allow you to be able to concentrate on your meditations and asanas.
If you are going to repaint, choose calm, muted colors and use non-toxic, eco-friendly paint. Pale blues and greens or warm tones of white that recede rather than call your attention, are ideal for creating a relaxing and calming environment.
Keep them minimal but inspirational. A plant or two, a handcrafted wall hanging, a dream catcher, a statue of Buddha. Only include items that you personally find exceptionally beautiful and pleasing to raise your spirit and to center your attention.
Natural light is best – but hang lightweight curtains so that you can control the level of light that enters. Dimmer switches are essential, and discreet soft lighting that can be changed to match your mood is ideal.
Make sure all the things you need for your yoga routine are easily accessible such as yoga mats and towels, or bolsters and meditation pillows. A strap, blocks, and a yoga sandbag can also be useful.
Scented candles, aromatic oil burners and incense are good accessories to create special atmospheres in your home yoga space. Our sense of smell greatly affects our mood and choosing different aromas can influence both your mood and your state of animation.
A little more about our guest writer:
Harper is a creative writer and adventurer who is fond of anything related to fitness, design, and travel. When she isn’t busy freelance writing, you’ll find her buried in classic novels or meeting up with friends in a neighbourhood café. Be sure come to say hi on her blog.
I was hit by a car 10 years ago. It changed my life. Not just because I lived in pain for five years but because while in the midst of recovery, every health care provider I saw had a differing opinion on how to care for me. It wasn’t like I had an internal health problem that was elusive or resulting in conflicting medical test results – I had herniated and fissured spinal discs… That’s ALL! I mean, yes, they were excruciatingly painful, but not rocket science. The anxiety that resulted from being tossed left and right by well-intentioned doctors, physical therapists, psychologists, acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors served to cripple me more than the pain itself. But being left adrift in the middle of the sea does have a way of forcing one to find a way to swim to shore all by themselves, doesn’t it?
I’ve been symptom free for five years now, not thanks to any one provider but because I learned, for the first time, how to advocate for my own health. Through the years I’ve come up with resources and tips for clients to help them do the same. My highest hope is that you can use this advice to find your own unique road map to better health. If you don’t find it for yourself, I can almost assure you that no one will try on your behalf. So, let’s get you started!
The road blocks that keep people from properly advocating for their own health are manifold. Let’s review a few main ones….
For starters, there’s SO much health information out there these days. You’ve heard the term “Dr. Google,” I assume? Alas, we can be sent down an unending virtual funnel of information overload that only serves to make us paranoid, confused and convinced we can self diagnose. Google can be equal parts friend and foe, just like all the blogs, magazines and social media sites. How does a person learn to advocate for their health when it’s so confusing how to even take the first step? Welcome to the world we live in!
Secondly, a large majority of health professionals (from fitness experts to surgeons) will have a “provider bias.” In other words, they have a specific perspective or approach that they trend towards as a solution for health concerns brought their way. Case in point: An extremely talented personal trainer I know would (unfortunately) put all of her clients, both male and female, on a similar bulking/cutting program involving specific nutritional parameters and weight lifting regimens. While it’s true that this style of training likely suited many of her clients, it’s highly unlikely that it was the best approach for every single one of them. Another example: A chiropractor who believes that spinal correction and releasing nervous system pressure is the cure-all for internal health ailments when, in fact, some individuals will continue to suffer even when in perfect alignment.
Lastly, many people simply don’t have the time, energy or confidence to actively pursue their health or to second-guess medical opinions. It takes a LOT of effort at times. For example, I’ve known of several people who have had to follow-up with doctors to get answers regarding sensitive medical tests when the doctors got the results weeks earlier and didn’t carve out a minute to call and inform the patient. It’s also very hard to trust our gut instinct that something is wrong when providers (and sometimes even scans) tell us otherwise. I know of multiple women whose breast cancers weren’t initially identified through scans and others who have been told to “wait and see” how ailments progress only to discover months or years down the line that action or treatment should have been immediately undertaken.
Alas, all of these challenges come up because people – both providers and patients/clients – aren’t perfect, and neither is medicine. We’re all just doing the best we can with the tools at our disposal. So, the real question becomes, “how can I better advocate for myself?”
Becoming our own health advocate involves several things. Here’s a short list:
Asking well-prepared questions of providers
Finding second, third and even fourth opinions
Knowing where to look online for credible health information
Balancing advice; traditional vs alternative, western vs eastern, etc.
Coming up with our own solutions
Finding the confidence to trust your gut
Let’s dive into more detail…
Asking Well-Prepared Questions of Providers
One sure sign of a good health professional is when they are willing to sit, listen and patiently answer your questions. We ALL have health questions (don’t pretend you don’t!), so it’s important that we seek answers through the professionals who are qualified to give them to us.
One of the most frustrating medical experiences I’ve had was when I was pregnant with my first son. I had so many questions and always felt rushed by the OBs at the office. I never felt that my questions were given thoughtful attention and it made me feel guilty for asking them. Not surprisingly, I remained pretty ignorant on many fronts and didn’t know that I could speak up for myself and tell them “no” when they started doing frequent internal cervical checks that I’m convinced led to my premature rupture of membranes and son coming into the world a month early. My current OB, though? Wow… WORLD of a difference. I just passed the point in pregnancy when I delivered my first child and feel confident that the second kiddo is staying put for at least a few more weeks – and most of it is thanks to my current, *new* OB! She takes the time to listen to me and answer my questions. She never insinuates that I’m taking too much of her time (which I totally know that I am, hah) and she is thoughtful in collaborating with me to come up with an individualized plan for my health and pregnancy (including ZERO internal checks that could throw me into preterm labor again).
Have your questions ready and find someone who will listen. Don’t hesitate to schedule follow-up appointments to seek additional answers. If the professional is available via phone, email or health portal then don’t be afraid – contact them! Especially if this saves you forking over another co-pay or deposit for an unresolved issue. Use the access points offered to you and don’t let up on communication until you feel comfortable doing so. There should be NO closed doors in the health realm and if you find yourself looking at one then it’s time to find a new professional to work with. Period.
Finding Second, Third and Even Fourth Opinions
There’s a reason that the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic and UCLA Medical Center are all highly reputed. It’s not just that they have the most technologically advanced tools for cancer screenings and treatments that makes them so great. Part of what makes these centers so well trusted and successful is the teamwork and collaboration efforts of the doctors who work there. It’s well understood that certain cancers can be confusing and need a multi-pronged treatment approach; one that is best found when multiple voices and experts weigh in to craft a custom treatment plan. Very few health professionals can claim to have all of the answers on their own.
One big reason to consult various professionals is so that you can try out different treatment options. This works best when you either have a gut instinct that your current treatment plan or program isn’t right for you (and therefore isn’t worth your time and investment) or when you have given your current program all of your earnest effort and are not seeing the desired results. Another big reason to shop around for different opinions? R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If you don’t have respect for the health professional – or they don’t express respect for you and your needs – then onward you go! There are other fish in the sea, I assure you.
Knowing Where to Look Online for Credible Health Information
There’s no denying that finding credible information online can be a doozy. Top this fact with the rise of fake news and it’s hard to know where to turn. Here are a few ideas to get you started in your virtual hunt for answers and solutions:
Ditch Dr. Google and opt for Google Scholar (!!!) This works just like regular Google except when you put in search terms you will get populated results from peer-reviewed journal articles (aka where the real research and findings are published – not someone’s subjective interpretation of them). It can be a tad overwhelming at first but with a little self-educating you will learn how to search for relevant terms and scan articles for key takeaways.
Trust the big guns (and occasionally your fav blogger, hehe); long-time established health websites are going to offer objective information over subjective or anecdotal. Examples: Mayo Clinic, Medscape, WebMD, Livestrong, to name a few. Wikipedia also remains a straightforward place to find information that has been combed through and objectively vetted by the masses. A couple of my lesser-known favorites (but highly credible and evidence-based): Precision Nutrition (this is one of the top nutritionist certification programs on the market and they have free articles in their blog section) and Evidence Based Birth (great articles AND podcast to inform mothers-to-be)
Find one or two sites you love and trust so you can avoid the temptation of reading articles from 10 different websites on a single niche subject (unless you want to…I’m admittedly a bit of an info junkie and do this often…). But be warned: Clinging to your subjective bias has downfalls at times, too. I could rattle off dozens of popular “health” Instagram handles that are highly subjective, ill-informed, and alas, being widely accepted as true and reputable, when in fact they’re not. This can be tricky territory and we’ve got to ask ourselves if the information is merely serving our subjective bias or is holistic and credible.
Balancing Advice; Traditional vs Alternative, Western vs Eastern, etc.
It can be daunting when one kind of health practitioner pushes pills our way while another insists that with the right kind of diet we don’t any prescriptions. Equally confusing is when we’re told by one doctor that we need surgery and by another that regular physical therapy is sufficient to pull us out of pain. Go to a western-trained doctor and you will likely be told that improving heart health depends on cardiovascular exercise and eating a heart-healthy diet…go to an eastern-influenced guru and he will tell you the key to improving cardiac function lies in specific yoga poses and pranayama (yogic breathing practices).
Who do you listen to? Whose advice do you give a fair shot? Who’s right?
Answer #1: It depends.
Answer #2: They all are.
Allow me to elaborate…most professionals have good reasons for taking the approach that they do. Under specific circumstances, some of them may be right on the money while others may miss the mark. This is largely because it depends on the person being treated, their lifestyle, mindset, commitment to a health plan, and unique health situation. So, that aforementioned person who needs help with heart health may be overweight, sedentary and have a family history of high cholesterol. This person should definitely get on a cardio exercise plan and begin eating a more heart-healthy diet. But what about someone who already eats pretty well and regularly exercises but has high blood pressure due to excessive stress and sleeplessness? She may benefit most from learning the recommended yoga poses and breathing practices. You can start to see how taking multiple angles and approaches to health solutions into consideration may be the wisest thing you can do. This will help you find your own way. Your own solution…
Coming Up with Our Own Solutions
Some of the best fitness, wellness and health plans are those that don’t fit into a program designed for the masses. As successful as she is, Kayla Itsines’ “Sweat With Kayla” program is NOT the fitness solution for every woman on the planet. And frankly, I’m sick of women thinking that it is! The paleo diet is NOT the holy grail for everyone’s health. And as wonderful as exercise is, it’s NOT the cure-all for the everyone’s blues just because it releases endorphins. This is where therapy comes in, friends.
I started healing from getting hit by a car when I decided to glean little bits of advice from each of the roughly dozen health professionals I worked with instead of committing to just one’s treatment plan. From one chiropractor, I learned that my upper back needed to be stronger to support my lower back (where the herniated discs were). From a physical therapist, I learned the power of muscular release through dry needling (my multifidus needed some TLC!). From an older-and-wiser fitness professional, I learned how to correct my foot alignment and strike so that both sides of my body balanced out again. From a psychologist, I learned the power of creating a safe, mental space for myself to overcome PTSD. From a nutritionist, I learned how to better craft my diet to become anti-inflammatory. And from an acupunturist, I learned how to harness vital energy while simultaneously letting go of toxic grief.
As you can see, my healing was not straightforward…at least not in the sense that I could turn to one person to reveal all the answers and solutions for me. It took time, patience and acting as my own personal investigator to solve the mystery.
Finding the Confidence to Trust Your Gut
If you feel that you need a second opinion, get it. Trust your gut.
If you find that a health professional just isn’t working for you – even if you think they’re a good person and you like them enough to maaaybe hang around longer – move on. Trust your gut.
If you find the best solution for a health problem is a combination of both modern medicine (aka prescription or over-the-counter drugs) and alternative medicine (ex: herbal supplements and an Ayurvedic diet) then enjoy the benefits of both. Trust your gut.
If you have the nagging feeling that something is wrong with your body even though not one but two doctors have said you’re in perfect health then keep searching until you find someone who will be your teammate in the investigative process. Trust your gut.
It’s not easy to learn how to speak up for ourselves in this impressively vast network of health professionals and insurance plans but it’s critical we start practicing. We all need to learn to trust and depend on our own voices for our health. The point isn’t to turn a blind eye to quality advice or completely distrust health professionals – the idea is to learn how to take proactive steps towards living our best lives.
I’m very honored to kick off the new year in conjunction with NBC News! The network has a “BETTER” news section on its website that covers Diet & Fitness, Careers, Money, Wellness and Relationships. I worked with journalist Nicole Spector to highlight what I feel is one of the foremost emerging trends in wellness this year: restorative exercises and experiences.
If this sounds intriguing to you, or if you’re finding you need a little more TLC this year, I encourage you to check out the article: