Tag Archives: Health

Spirituality and Physical Health

I’ve talked before about how wellness is a balancing act, in perpetual motion as elements of our lives swing left to right, into clarity and back to darkness. I’ve even gone so far as saying that people who are physically healthy but spiritually empty are out of sync, and people who are spiritually devout but negligent of their health are in disharmony, too. Ahem, not talking down on ANYONE here or speaking blasphemy. If you’re imperfect, raise your hand!! Mine is waving high. At first, this concept rubbed me the wrong way, but it gradually settled in my heart after listening to a sermon by Pastor David Stine, Founder and Lead Pastor of Metro Church, home to a congregation of thousands and the largest assembly space in all of Alexandria, VA (its “home base” for several locations).

You can imagine my surprise when Pastor David suddenly and unexpectedly said a choked-up goodbye to his congregation last week, admitting that his marriage and physical health were suffering. I was a bit shaken up, like many people. After swallowing the news, I realized that he isn’t all that different from the rest of us, even as a pastor. His relentless pursuit of “doing it all” [for God, in his case] is universal in American culture. Here’s what I have put together that he went through over the last few years and how it’s a warning to us all…

Photo Credit Instagram: @metrochurchdc

Eye on the Prize

Pastor David’s spiritual journey began when he was diagnosed with Leukemia as a young teenager. Doctors weren’t optimistic about his ability to survive and gave him his death sentence before he was old enough to have attended a prom and a healthy number of Friday night football games. Pastor David’s grandfather was a spiritual man, unlike young David, and he told his grandson that while he was praying for him, God gave him a vision. He said he saw David emerging from his hospital room a normal, happy boy. He felt confident this was a sign that God was going to heal him, in spite of the medical world’s ominous prognosis. The next day – yes, the next day –  David woke up in his hospital bed and felt great. The doctors were stunned when scans revealed that in less than 24 hours, the cancer had quite inexplicably vanished.

As you can imagine, this is one of many things in Pastor David’s life that ignited a fire under him to live out God’s word and spread it to as many people as possible. And he did. He did just that. He moved from the deep south to the Washington, DC area where more incredible divine interventions took place and allowed him to launch a thriving non-denominational Christian church community. His vision for expansion was aggressive, confident and, in a lot of ways, one might say “ordained.” For example, in just ONE weekend, he lead the effort of raising multiple MILLIONS of dollars from the congregation so that the church could build a new, larger main campus and new additional church homes across the region.

All this is the tip of the iceberg. Pastor David also has four beautiful children and has written and published several books. Wow. He has done A LOT. To me, it seemed there would be nothing stopping his relentless pursuit of his big dream; the vision he says God gave him, to establish over a dozen churches in the DC metro region. So, why is he having to step back? And what does this have to do with wellness or physical health? In a lot of ways, we sacrifice too much when we gives things our all…

Photo Credit Instagram: @metrochurchdc

Energizer Bunnies Come to Abrupt Halts

Pastor David hasn’t committed any moral wrongdoings and he is NOT a failure. No one can sustain momentum forever on only a few hours of sleep a night for several years as they pour all of themselves into their goals and work. I’m sure that this fact along with other unmentioned struggles caused turmoil in his marriage and home life. It also hurt his physical health. He has a surgery scheduled to remove his thyroid, after which he plans to spend time with a spiritual counselor.

Pastor David and his wife, Pastor Taryn courageously told their congregation that they couldn’t focus on healing their marriage and health the way they needed to while also pouring the energy required of them into leading the church. From the outside, it’s easy to quickly judge this as weakness. It’s convenient to separate ourselves from their situation and assume that they must be somehow very different from us; less strong, more sensitive, lacking thoughtfulness about their former life choices. But this is a lie. If we’re telling ourselves this, it’s because it’s hard to remember that we pour a lot of our own energy into some things at the expense of others. No one can “do it all.” We are all only human. And I’m personally so impressed they have the strength to publicly admit this, leading by example how to make the tough calls in life. 

 

 “No, You Can’t Have It All”

The news from last weekend came full circle [for me] when I read an article one of my friends posted on Facebook: “No, You Can’t Have It All” by Mark Manson. Manson writes about a man named Mohammed El-Erian who was the CEO of a $2 trillion bond fund, earning $100 million/yr. Like Pastor David, he abruptly stepped away from his company, explaining that family needed to come first. He realized that his relationship with his daughter was paper thin after missing out on so many important experiences in her first 10 years of life. She made him realize that he hadn’t really “fathered” her when she countered his attempts at discipline one day by proffering a list of 22 things that were important to her that he had missed due to work.

Manson writes that in America “we regularly celebrate people who become rich by doing ‘exceptional things.’ But the nature of those ‘exceptional things’ often requires extremely high opportunity costs.” He argues that work/life balance plagues us all and that we are constantly guilt-tripping ourselves over what we can’t do more of. More workouts at the gym. Higher promotion and pay at work. Home-cooked meals and quality time with family every day. Manson asks us to ponder if the answer is to say “this is what I choose to value more than everything else” and wholly embracing the decision.

 

Spiritual and/or Physical Brokenness

I’m not sure that I can say there is a perfect answer. Actually, I know there isn’t. But I think one of several solutions for spiritual and/or physical brokenness lies in Manson’s suggestion; being honest with ourselves about what truly matters to our hearts. Another possible solution is finding harmony in the different aspects of our lives – that elusive “work/life balance” that Manson and many people argue is impossible. I will counter that thought. I think that it IS possible. But that doesn’t mean that “balance” will look or feel like we expect it to.

For example, we may not be able to assume a role at work that brings more responsibility, even if it means a bigger paycheck. We can say “no” to climbing the ladder aggressively fast, especially when it means we keep sanity in check for our families and sleep a little more soundly at night. Likewise, we can bounce back and forth between feeling full and whole in different elements of our lives. This oscillation between almost-full and somewhat-empty doesn’t mean we are failures.

I’m betting even Pastor David feels confident that God has promised him nothing is impossible and that he can feel overflowing with purpose, health and joy, even after stepping back from his big dreams [the church he founded]. Even after feeling left empty and depleted.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

The Best Indoor Exercise for Winter

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When it comes to exercise, I’m wary of using overarching phrases like “the best” and “the ideal solution” because each person’s body has its own unique demands and needs. Forgive me for making an exception to my rule. Today, I’m going to tell you that I think this specific exercise can be enjoyed by the vast majority of people and can offer a plethora of benefits, especially during the more sedentary winter months. It’s quite simple to learn and has a variety of ways it can be done to offer you whatever you need in the way of stretching, toning and/or cardio. Bonus: No equipment needed! I’ve also included two 4-week workout plans; one for beginners and another that is more advanced. So, what is this mysterious exercise? Time to find out… sun salutation

…SUN SALUTATIONS!!! Whether you’re a yoga-lover or scared to death of spending time on the mat reaching for your toes (they seem so far away sometimes!), sun salutations are a great way to start or end your day. You can limber up with just a few rounds of sun salutations (also called Surya Namaskara in Sanskrit), a process that can take anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, or you can devote a longer amount of time to them for additional stretching, toning or cardio benefits. Yoga teacher Krishan Verma said, “It is better to practice daily for 20 minutes than to practice for an hour occasionally.” The beautiful thing about sun salutations is that you CAN reap benefits from them very quickly, so you can easily do them every day – no hour-long gym sessions or equipment needed!

What is Surya Namaskara?

“Surya” means “sun” to Hindus and is revered as the center of the physical and spiritual worlds. Sun salutations are a sequence of asanas (physical poses) intended to salute or show respect to the sun. Some texts claim that the sequence originates as far back as Vedic times, approximately 2,500 years ago. Western cultures adapted the practice in the early 1900s and now people of all different spiritual practices from around the world enjoy it as a physical exercise and outward expression of the desire to connect deeper within. Here is a quick video from a yoga school in Brooklyn which shows how to perform the poses…

Tutorial Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73sjOu0g58M

*I love this video because it takes people through the full traditional sun salutation and how to make each pose work for them. The only thing I don’t like about this tutorial is that it doesn’t show harder modifications of the lunge (with the knee lifted), full chatturunga and upward facing dog. Feel free to choose these harder modifications in the sequence if you are experienced and know them.

Why is Surya Namaskara so ideal for winter months?

  • It’s all about focusing on the warming energy from the sun – something we need to harness during the cold and dismal winter!
  • It doesn’t require equipment
  • It doesn’t require space
  • It can be done at different tempos to meet needs for relaxing, stretching or strengthening
  • It helps give a full-body stretch to weary limbs and rigid spines that are tight and fatigued from long hours inside and sitting
  • It can be done in just a couple of minutes or a longer stretch of time like 20-60 minutes
  • It helps clear the mind
  • It connects you with your breath – bringing awareness to the breath in general can help you calm down during tense moments of the day
  • It tones muscles that might be otherwise neglected while the tennis racquets, swim goggles, hiking boots and soccer shoes sit in the closet waiting for warmer weather

 

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BEGINNERS SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

This plan is ideal for anyone looking to limber and find a little energy to start the day. It’s simple and fast but just tough enough that committing to it takes effort.

Week 1: 5 Sun Salutations/day

Week 2: 10 Sun Salutations/day

Week 3: 15 Sun Salutations/day

Week 4: 20 Sun Salutations/day

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ADVANCED SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

This plan requires a lot of commitment and work but can leave a person feeling very accomplished and in great shape. I have built the plan around the goal of accomplishing 108 sun salutations on the final day. 108 is considered a holy number according to several religions and is meaningful in science, literature, martial arts, sports and more. For this reason, many schools of yoga will use 108 as a goal for the sun salutation practice.

                                                             Week 1: 10×2, 15×2, 20×2, REST

Week 2: 20×2, 25×2, 30×2, REST

Week 3: 40×2, REST, 50×2, REST, 60×1

Week 4: 70×1, REST, 80×1, REST, 40×1 REST 2-3 days

Final: 108 Sun Salutations

My highest hope is that in performing this practice you can find new energy and happiness! Connect with your breath, find the rhythm in your body and get lost in this sequence! Ommmm….

Namaste!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

The Pros/Cons of Meal Prep

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If you’ve ever been on Pinterest then you know that it’s pretty much impossible not to have stumbled across people’s personal pins displaying a dozen or so lovely, similar meals packed away into individual Tupperware containers for the week. If you’re not into social media, then maybe you’ve heard of someone who does this; cooks all their week’s meals on Sunday afternoon or evening so they don’t have to worry about what to eat during the work week. Sounds ideal, easy and cost-effective – and it is! But there are some things to consider about planning your meals for the week, whether you’re portioning them out into grab-and-go containers or not.

I will start with the pros of meal planning and prep, and then I will get into some of the downsides. To end, I will offer a couple of simple suggestions to help you make informed choices about your food.

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PROS OF MEAL PLANNING

Weekend meal prep is a useful strategy for people wanting to lose weight via portion control and people who track their macronutrients (think bodybuilders trying to ensure maximal protein and minimal carbohydrate consumption). It also makes things easier for time-pressed working professionals and even busy parents!   

It’s Cost-Effective

Planning and cooking your meals for the whole week at once means you’re armed and ready with a set grocery list when you hit the store, allowing you more time to scrutinize prices while you shop. You’re also more likely to buy bulk or cheaper high-volume, low-cost items since you know that no ingredients will go to waste. More money left over to treat yourself!

 

Takes Away Last-Minute Planning

With a plan in place, you’re never going to be the person scrambling to find their way to the office vending machine at lunch time. You don’t settle for less than your well thought-out meals. No last-minute pizza or overpriced takeout for you!

 

Portion and Calorie Control

It goes without saying that you’re in charge of portions and calories when you put effort into measuring out food for each meal. Casseroles, soups and lasagnas might be tricky to figure out calories for, but you can at least put reasonably size portions into containers and not be tempted to overeat come lunch. Meals that are easier to calorie count (if that’s your thing) include salads, sandwiches and proteins with veggies, rice, quinoa, beans or fruit on the side.

 

Reduces Time in the Kitchen

Although you’re going to be clocking in some major hours in the kitchen one day of the week, you’re ultimately saving a lot of time – a bonus if you work late hours leading up to dinner or often have to take lunch at your desk.

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CONS OF MEAL PLANNING 

My mom’s opinion on Sunday meal planning: “Here I’ve worked hard all week and Sunday is finally my day of rest, and you’re telling me I’ve got to spend the whole time in the kitchen?!? Forget it!!!” If you share this sentiment, then maybe you’ll be happy to hear some of the drawbacks of meal planning. But, even if you don’t meal prep on the weekend, you still need a plan in place for healthy foods and cooking during the week.

 

Calories Don’t Change

Meal planning allows for calorie control, presumably a great thing for those of us looking to trim our waist lines. But wait…is eating the same number of calories every day a good thing? Not necessarily, according to science. “Calorie shifting” is an approach to eating that aims for a total caloric amount every week (aimed at weight loss or management, depending on one’s goals), but with varying calories consumed every day. This helps keep the metabolism “sharp” and from adapting to a set daily intake. The good news is that this approach allows you to consume more on days you need it! Our metabolisms are not static and our activity levels change day-to-day, so don’t be surprised, if you’re a meal planner, if some days the meals are too much or too little.

 

Potential Lack of Nutritional Variety

If your meal plan is a PB&J with an apple for every lunch and a chicken breast with broccoli for every dinner, you’re probably saving some money and controlling your calories, but you’re majorly missing the mark on nutritional variety. Where are the dark, leafy greens? What about some foods with heart-healthy omega fatty-acids (like salmon)? Variety in all food categories (veggies, fruits, proteins, grains, etc.) is going to be best for packing in the nutrients your body needs. One idea: Change up the protein and/or veggie with your dinner for half the week. Another: Trade your apple for an orange or mango. Better yet, try a healthier alternative to the PB&J like avocado toast or smoked salmon and capers on multigrain!

 

Susceptible to Stress or Overeating on “Off” Weeks

If you’re the type of person who flails and flounders without a set plan then you may be prone to overeating or stressing out when you don’t have time for meal planning. Ultimately, meal planning is a tool to help you with your work week, but thoughtful eating and confidence approaching on-the-fly food selections is a skill.

 

Boredom

Meal planning is generally not as suitable for those with adventurous and varied palates. If you cook a lot of one thing in bulk and plan to eat it day after day, you may quickly tire of the taste and opt for something else. This means you’ve wasted time, money and food! “There are starving children in Africa!” Eat your leftovers!

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IMPROVEMENTS FOR MEAL PREP & PLANNING

A happy medium can be found if you’re a meal planner. Here are a few ideas to help ensure you’re able to have the best of all words – cost-efficient foods, nutrient density, variety and appropriate quantity!

 

Back-up Plan

It’s important to have a back-up plan for weeks when meal prep just isn’t feasible. There will be times when you’re too tired to do it, when you haven’t hit the grocery store in time, when special events or travel conflict with cooking, etc. Here are a few back-up plans to consider:

  • Create a budget for a week of every month to buy meals from a healthy, affordable restaurant for lunch or dinner. For example, once a month you could plan to buy salads for lunch from your favorite local café.
  • When you miss your weekend meal-prep, plan another day and time early in the week to tackle your shopping and cooking.
  • Try your hand at cooking every other night of the week and make enough for leftovers at lunch the next day.

 

Stash Meals in Freezer

When you meal prep, try making several large-volume dishes at once. Use your slow cooker, oven and stove top to prepare three separate meals so that you can both use and store some of each meal for optimal present and future variety!

 

Supplement with Snacks

If you’re lacking variety in your planned meals, try supplementing them with nutritious snacks. Snacks are also a way to implement “calorie shifting” into your week (see “Calories Don’t Change” above). A few ideas you can easily prep: Kale chips, sliced fruit, carrots and humus, cottage cheese or greek yogurt and fruit, ¼ cup nuts, a healthy nut or protein bar, apple or banana and a TBS of nut butter.

 

Meal Plan for 1-2 Meals Only

One way you can ensure that you don’t get bored with your food is to meal plan and prep for just lunches or dinners. This will allow you to take the most time-pressed, stressful or expensive meal of the day and make it easier. By sticking to just one or two meals, you still have room in your daily diet for nutritional variety and flexibility.

 

Hope this is helpful info as you kick-off 2017! Cheers to health and happiness!

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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12 Quick Fixes for Back Pain

I know how miserable back pain can be. But, I also know from years of personal experience managing injury, inflammation, misalignment and aching for myself and others that spinal health is largely about the little things that add up. Simple exercises, ways we approach our day, and healthy habits can make a big difference. Whether you have back issues on a regular basis or just some discomfort during less active winter months full of movie watching and holiday travels, these quick fixes for pain can work for you! A happy back = A happy body.

untitled-design-3Foam Roll

Foam rolling is the equivalent of taking a giant-sized rolling pin to your body and working it out like a ball of cookie dough. Rolling out the kinks in myofascial tissue will help you feel better than gobbling up a handful of those warm cookies. I’m totally serious, people! 

You see, our muscles are all surrounded by fascia which is strong, thin, connective tissue that responds best to pressure in order to release tension and knots (whereas muscles respond best to stretching). If part of our fascia is too tight because of one of two extremes; improper recovery from hard exercise or not exercising enough, then the muscles underneath will not be able to move as effectively as they should. Dehydration can also cause this tissue to become rigid and stick too tightly to underlying muscles. You might not immediately feel the negative repercussions, but over time tight fascial tissue can result in your hips getting out of alignment, IT-band syndrome, low back pain, and more.

The key is to use a foam roller much like a rolling bin when baking. Start with long rolls, using your body against gravity on the foam roller, and then find the areas that need a little more attention. It might hurt a lot at first if you’re really tight (just being honest), but that will subside the more you do it. Plus, the tighter you feel, the more your body is telling you that it NEEDS this! Onward you roll! 

Apply Hot or Cold

Using heat or cold-pack treatments is a classic and super easy way to deal with nagging discomfort. The key is to know when to use each temperature. There is some debate about this in the medical community at large, depending on what culture and philosophy your doctor comes from, so take my advice with a grain of salt if you want.

I generally advise clients to use heat for aches that are chronic and cold for acute injuries. For example, if you have an aching low back that gets worse over the course of a few weeks but you can’t pinpoint the exact cause of the pain, then I suggest using a heat pack on it overnight or while you’re lying down for a period of time. If you have a sudden onset of pain like waking up in the morning with a piercing pain radiating from your neck to your temples or a shooting pain in your shoulder after lifting something, then I suggest you use ice. In both scenarios, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned and the pain seems to linger or worsen.

Turn to the “McKenzie Method”

If you have low back pain that is chronic or acute (especially if you have sciatic pain), then finding a good physical therapist who can evaluate you via the McKenzie Method for low back pain is a great idea. The initial evaluation and first visits may not feel quick per say, but you will gain all sorts of fast, easy-to-perform-at-home exercises that will save you time and discomfort down the line.

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Stretch Hip Flexors and Hamstrings

Stretching these two muscle groups is one simple and effective way to rid yourself of tightness in your back. These muscles pull on the hips and spine and can thrown things out of whack when they are too tight. Both the hamstrings and hip flexors can get tight from sitting for long periods of time or exercising without enough follow-up stretching. Effective stretching can be done in less than five minutes. Hold each hamstring in a stretch for a full minute or slightly longer for maximal benefit (less than a solid minute of stretching may not help). Do the same thing for each hip flexor and you’re on your way to feeling sweet relief.

Correct Sitting, Lying and Standing Posture

The entire spine gets misshaped when we sit, lie and stand hunched over with our shoulders. The human spine’s curvature has specifically adapted to work with gravity, so when we take it out of its optimal position, it can no longer properly do its job. Also, when we are constantly tucked into a ball while sleeping or leaning forward at our desks, our musclces begin to develop a memory for being stretched out in the back and tight in the front. This will lead to all sorts of discomfort and issues down the line, plus it depletes from a tall, attractive posture (and by tall I mean upright – not necessarily sky-high height).

Correcting posture can actually feel uncomfortable, just like getting started with foam rolling. But, the more uncomfortable we are when standing with our shoulders back and heads held high, the more of a red flag our bodies are waving in front of us. Our bodies are screaming at us to get things back in order. It may be uncomfortable but it’s way easier than dealing with the fallout of bad posture over time. All it takes is reminding yourself to do it. Not too complicated, right?

Sleep with a Pillow Between Legs or Arms

Sleeping with a pillow between your legs or hugging it like a giant teddy bear in your arms can help “stack” your joints so they maintain better neutral alignment over the night. When you think about it, we are in bed for a long time every day. If we get 7-9 hours of sleep every night and are tucked into a ball, have one leg thrown over the other, or all our body weight on one shoulder the whole time, we are bound to eventually feel a little “off.” Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs can help alleviate some types of hip and low back pain. Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your arms can help some types of thoracic and shoulder pain. Plus, it just feels snuggly. 🙂 

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Perform Chest Openers

Chest opening stretches or “heart-opening poses” in yoga are wonderful ways to make sure that the muscles of the chest stay stretched out and the ones in our backs stay tight enough. A lot of back pain comes from poor posture and all the movements we do like reaching forward which create tight muscles in the front of our bodies and loose ones in the back. Tight muscles are not the same as strong ones and loose muscles are not the same as flexible ones. So, it’s important to balance out our forward-reaching activities with a simple opening of the chest for 30-60 seconds a few times a day. A great time to do this is when you need to take a deep breath to think at work or when you are in the middle of chores at home. It can be as simple as standing in a door jam, holding onto the frame, and moving the rest of your body forward a couple steps. This can make for a nice deep release in the chest.

Exercise Large Back Muscles

Large back muscles can be targeted through lat pull downs, rows, pull-ups, reverse flies and rotator cuff exercises. Just spending a couple minutes on these muscles every gym visit can add up to a lot. That is, if you aren’t already working them out. It’s best to perform these exercises once your back is in alignment so make sure you’re using other techniques if you’re experiencing a lot of discomfort or pain.

Exercise Long Back Muscles

The long muscles in our backs can be targeted through all sorts of spinal extensions, typically best done lying face down on a mat and lifting our limbs, or from a standing position using exercise bands or cables. Again, a little can go a long way. It’s tough to remember that exercises like these are just as important as the ones that produce a mega sweat session, but they are. Just as important. If you’re feeling at a loss for how to get started on these, attend a beginner’s Pilates class and make notes of the exercises they do for the back. Try to repeat them at home or hit up the class again!

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Adjust Lifting and Carrying Form

Everything we do, from carrying little ones and groceries to lifting our luggage and briefcases, impacts our spinal health. When we repeat the same motions again and again on just one side of the body we risk throwing ourselves off in terms of both alignment and strength. Try to remember to switch baby from that favorite hip to the lesser-used one. Try to walk to work with your purse on the opposite shoulder sometimes. Simple things like that. It’s what makes or breaks us.

Use Lateral Movement

Lateral hip movement (and rotation, by the way) helps to stabilize the hips and take pressure off of the back. We do a lot of forward movement but not a lot of side-to-side, and it’s just as essential for our health. One of the best ways to tackle this type of movement is via clam shells and other lateral hip lifts which target the outside of your booty (aka the glut medius and glut minimus). All you have to do is put yourself in a side-lying position and lift the top leg up and down in various ways to elicit a burn in the outer compartment of your rear end. When you feel the burn, keep going! It’s good for you.

Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation sucks. It just makes everything miserable, including our backs. So, try to help your joints by eating a balanced diet with all the good stuff; leafy greens, berries, other fruits/veggies, whole grains, healthy fish, lean proteins, beans, nuts, you get the idea. People who are trying to heal from illness or injury will especially benefit in the healing process by eating as healthy as possible.

Also, drink plenty of water to keep joints lubricated and get a balance of exercise and adequate rest. The healthy basics really do a lot reduce inflammation.


Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

 

Your Gut Health and Mood

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We often feel a bit hungover when we return home from holiday travels after too many glasses of wine and a tad too much pie (let’s not kid ourselves, sample bites and partial pieces of pie add up to a whole slice). We wonder why the food coma haunts us for days, leaving us lethargic and foggy-headed, perhaps even coming down with a touch of a cold. As the holidays approach and we begin to daydream about those heaping piles of mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce, it’s important to remember that a lot of our health and immune function lies in the gut. When we mess with our gut health, we impact our hormones, immune system, nervous system and mood. Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

Today, I’m going to take a plain-language approach to gut health so that you can quickly and easily understand what hurts it and helps it, and why it should matter to you. Disclaimer: There’s just a liiiiitttttle bit of scientific jargon included because at the end of the day, I’m a nerd. 

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Gut Health…The Bad News

Research over the last several decades has increasingly pointed to poor gut health as a major contributing factor in a variety of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, autism, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and more. Chris Kresser, named by Greatist.com as one of the 100 most influential individuals in health and fitness for his leadership in nutrition, functional and integrative medicine, helps people understand what contributes to gut dysfunction and what they can do to restore good health.

Kresser claims that gut health comprises 75% of the immune system and can be broken down by the following lifestyle and health factors:

  • Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
  • Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
  • Diets low in fermentable fibers
  • Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic infections                                                                 (Kresser, 2011)

While it’s easy to think that we may not have an issue with our gut health if our stomach and gastrointestinal function seems fine, an increase in bad gut flora and/or breakdown of the barrier of our gastrointestinal systems (i.e., leaky gut) can show up in all sorts of other forms. For example, gut health can be linked to depression, brain fog, eczema, psoriasis, diabetes, allergies, asthma, heart problems and more. Even simple things like falling victim to multiple colds, infections and/or inflammation in joints/muscles which leads to injuries can be linked back to what’s going on in the tummy. Holiday weekends packed with stressful travel, extra rich food and exposure to germs (gotta love when someone sneezes next to you on the airplane) can throw us off our game.

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Gut Health…The Good News

Some things that stress our bodies aren’t fully under our control, so don’t guilt yourself if you feel less than optimal. There’s no telling exactly what the cause is or whose “fault” it is. The only thing we can do to feel better is remove things from our diet and environment which stress our bodies and add in positive foods and habits that will help us. In this way, we slowly allow our bodies to restore good gut health. This will allow us to have better immune function and hormonal balance. As we become less prone to feeling “blah,” we will find new energy and have an uplifted mood.

Kresser recommends the following for boosting gut health:

  • Remove all food toxins from your diet
  • Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)
  • Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc., and/or take a high-quality, multi-species probiotic
  • Treat any intestinal pathogens (such as parasites) that may be present
  • Take steps to manage your stress                                         (Kresser, 2011)

If you take simple steps like these to feel better before the holidays, your gut health won’t take such a big hit from the stress you experience and the food you consume. You will be able to enjoy a few indulgent meals without making yourself overly inflamed and sick. After the holidays, gently steer yourself back on track with healthy habits and you’re good to go. There’s no stopping someone who feels GREAT!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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The Lighthouse Method for Fitness and Wellness

Stacy S. Kim, PhD and author of The Lighthouse Method, helps people navigate what she calls “life junctions” or times in your life when you feel stuck, frustrated and unfulfilled. While her book and speaking engagements usually revolve around helping women revamp or launch their careers, her coaching and suggestions are excellent and can be easily applied to the fitness and wellness space. So, what is this methodology? How do you apply it in your own life to get out of a rut? How do you use it to enjoy your body and health? Let’s explore together…

Lighthouse

When people come to Stacy they are often frustrated and lacking answers. They want a career change but they don’t know how to achieve it. Sometimes, they don’t even know where to start because they aren’t sure what they want to do. As a personal trainer, I can say that this happens to me a lot too. People come to me feeling like they need to try something new for their health and wellness, but they aren’t sure where to start. The sea of information is overwhelming and getting started feels daunting. As coaching professionals, it’s important to help people get “unstuck” and to navigate them towards answers. For this reason, I love Stacy’s approach…

Stacy encourages people to forget about drawing up a perfect roadmap for their career and happiness. In fact, she says to ditch the planning altogether! Shocker to all us Type A ladies, I know. The need for a perfect plan leaves many people in decision paralysis and/or feeling stressed out. They are unable to take the first steps of action because the timing or logistics of their “perfect” plan fall short. There is never a perfect way or time to get started on a perfect plan. For example, a mom wants to work with disabled children but doesn’t have experience to gain a job in special education. She starts planning out how to get a degree in order to become qualified, but the analytical planning (how to apply for schools, where they will be, the financial commitment, juggling study time with family time, etc) keeps her from feeling like she can take action. She gets stuck trying to navigate and her good intentions are so fraught with perfectionism that she pigeon holes herself into inaction.

Likewise, a lot of people wanting to change their health try to think of the perfect weight loss plan before getting started. They map out exactly how many days they want to be active each week, where they will work out, the times of day that work for them to exercise and even how they will start a diet plan. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. Before you know it, there are so many preconditions necessary for exercise and eating well that it becomes difficult to get “all the ducks in a row.” Before you know it, broccoli is spoiling in the fridge and guilt is piling up about the tennis shoes that are still stowed in the front hall closet.

So, how do you get unstuck? How do you move forward? 

Stacy suggests thinking of a lighthouse. The light may be barely visible, but it still has the power to help boats navigate. Similarly, think about whatever inkling of a feeling you have about what you want to do or what you enjoy the most. It might not be crystal clear, but whatever it is, that is your lighthouse. For example, a woman might really love crafting (i.e. “her lighthouse”) but she doesn’t understand how that could correlate to a career. She was formerly a lawyer before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Stacy would encourage this woman to find the time, in small ways, to do more crafting. Over time, it may evolve into an unexpected path or it may make her a more joyous person and bring clarity to other parts of her life.

I encourage readers and personal training clients to think of their health, fitness and wellness in a similar vein. For example, what do you enjoy the most when it comes to exercise? Maybe instead of thinking about your “need” to hit the gym five times a week you can become more active simply by allowing yourself to do something you genuinely enjoy? Perhaps participating in a tennis league twice a week will be so fulfilling that you find yourself suddenly willing to drop by the gym and eat more healthy! Another example; if you absolutely hate kale, why force yourself to eat a kale salad just because you hear it’s a super food and feel like you should fit it into your diet? That’s only going to make you gag! Although I love me some crispy kale chips. Instead, try eating veggies like you enjoy them on a holiday or special occasion. Maybe this is enough to make you get creative about other ways to eat them (and perhaps more healthy ways?!). In short, we are better at caring for ourselves when we come up with a “lighthouse” or some activity we know deep down will fulfill us.

What do we do after we discover our lighthouse?

Rowboat

Stacy points out the obvious: we will never get to our lighthouse if we don’t step in the rowboat and start rowing! In the process of rowing, we actually have to turn around backwards in the boat. In other words, we have to temporarily forget about our lighthouse/large goal or vision and focus on the task of rowing. If we focus too much on the lighthouse we will never get to it. We must take action and row the boat.

Cheers to Memorial Weekend, WellnessWinz readers! Discover your lighthouse and start rowing soon!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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