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.
Gyms are carefully reopening in some places, taking action under government guidelines to increase cleaning and sanitation procedures. Gyms are also implementing new social distancing measures to ensure members’ safety. Although it’s intimidating to get back into the gym, your health is paramount during this pandemic and exercise bolsters wellness in many ways. Getting back into the gym is a personal choice that must be carefully considered based on health risk factors, mental comfort, and the extent to which your gym has taken appropriate actions to protect its members.
Here are some things to look for when/if you return to the gym or consider doing so. I’ve included a few recommendations on how to improve your safety from the minute you step into the gym to the moment you walk back into your home. Lastly, check out the tips for how to make the experience time-efficient and effective.
Considerations When Returning to Your Gym
Before stepping foot in the gym, check its website for COVID-19 updates. There’s a decent chance that your gym will have adjusted hours of operation and updated check-in procedures that you will want to familiarize yourself with. Reinstating your membership may also be a step that you need to take with a membership director prior to walking in for your first workout. This is likely done over email or phone right now while membership directors are working remotely and social distancing.
If your gym doesn’t have clear COVID-19-specific policies and adjustments then I strongly urge you to freeze your membership until it is safe to return or they adopt new policies. Many gyms have responded professionally and appropriately to the new operational challenges because 1) they need to stay in business, and 2) they care about their members. To help with this, many are using advance online registration for group classes and capacity trackers like Club Automation. These capacity trackers use real time data to reflect how busy (or not) the gym or fitness facility is, so you can decide from the comfort of your home whether or not you want to pay the gym a visit.
Gym Safety Check List
Below is a list of COVID-19 safety measures you should check for at your gym. Please note, this list is not exhaustive.
Temperature and wellness checks at sign-in.
Masks required in busy corridors such as the entrance/exit, stairwells, cafe, locker rooms and restrooms.
At least 6 ft of social distancing required between all members. 10 ft is even better indoors.
“Out of Service” signage on alternating pieces of gym equipment to ensure social distancing and/or rearrangement of equipment to create more distance and open space.
Encouragement of wearing face masks in areas with cardiovascular exercise equipment (when you’re breathing heavily and fast you expel more viral and bacterial particles into the air).
Ample supplies of hand sanitizer at check-in and on the gym floor as well as stocked soap dispensers in restrooms.
Limited capacity in any and all elevators on site.
No gym towels allowed on the gym floor (reduces spread of germs).
Signage asking members to wipe down equipment before and after use as well as ample supply of equipment wipes.
Reduced capacity for gym classes and enforced social distancing during participation.
More outdoor exercise class options with social distancing when/where feasible.
Possible signage and floor markings indicating traffic flow/walking directions through hallways and corridors.
Possible reduced overall gym capacity depending on government regulations and directives.
Possible upgrades to air filtration systems (can’t hurt to ask if your gym has the ability to invest in one that eliminates viruses and bacteria in large spaces).
Use this check-list to gauge which safety measures your facility of choice is leaning on and let it inform your decision about returning for exercise.
Gym Childcare – Is it Safe?
This is a really tricky one to answer. Scientists have seen hints that children pass COVID-19 among themselves at a lower rate than adult-to-adult transmission; however, research is fledgling at best. Unfortunately, it may take seeing how transmission rates change once school is back in session in some places come fall (hopefully they don’t get worse). Part of what will weigh your decision about the gym childcare will be:
Age of your child; children who are under 2 years old and mobile are likely putting everything in their mouths…which is probably, unfortunately, not so ideal.
Age of children who are able to wear masks versus those who are too young, and whether or not these different age groups will be playing in close proximity.
Health status of your household and family members.
Enhanced hygiene measures of the gym’s childcare; additional temp and wellness checks, modeling covering coughs/sneezes, hand washing upon entering and exiting, routinely cleaning toys and floors, etc.
Type of flooring in childcare – for gyms that have wood, tile or otherwise non-carpeted flooring, the facility should be deep cleaning it daily. Unfortunately, gyms with carpeted childcare areas are likely unable to deep clean the carpet every day because of how long it takes to dry. This may affect your choice, especially for parents with babies who are crawling.
Again, as long as safety measures are in place, this must be a personal choice you make. Please note: Bringing a symptomatic child into the gym childcare for the sake of your workout is irresponsible both during a pandemic and otherwise. Let’s all agree on this…please!
Extra Measures You Can Take to Boost Your Safety
Here are a few extra steps that I personally take when coming and going from the gym. I’ve done most of it since years ago when my oldest son was 15 months old and came down with a nasty case of bronchiolitis that landed him in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. To see a loved one struggle for air is a horrible experience. I don’t wish it on anyone.
Leave wedding bands and rings at home to keep them both clean and safe – bleach-based gym wipes and cleaners can erode certain metals.
Bring and wear workout gloves or disposable gloves if you have sensitive skin and/or allergic reactions to the gym wipes, sanitizer, etc. Also not a terrible idea to help reduce overuse of hand sanitizer.
While exercising at the gym, consider wearing a face mask for your entire workout, even if it’s not required. Double-layer masks that include some type of air filter sandwiched in the middle and masks that fit snugly (but are breathable) are great options because they offer you a little bit of protection while also boosting safety for others.
Store hand sanitizer in the side pocket of your car door or in your hand bag/gym bag in case you forget to wash your hands when you leave.
Remove gym shoes before entering your home.
Immediately put your reusable gym water bottle into the dish washer or sink for cleaning.
If you used your phone during your workout then clean the phone with a phone-safe wipe, cleaning solution, portable UV sanitation device, or PhoneSoap container at home. I like to clean my keys with my PhoneSoap too.
Wash your hands for 20 seconds, even if you already used hand sanitizer.
Promptly remove your gym clothes and face mask and place them in the washer or laundry basket – then go take a shower!
Now take a deep mask-less breath in the safety of your home and be glad you kept yourself both healthy and safe at the gym!
Tips for Making Your Gym Experience Time-Efficient & Effective
Wiping down equipment before and after use combined with certain machine restrictions will force you to think outside of your normal gym routine. I hope these tips are helpful so that you can have an effective workout on day one. If you have any other tips to offer please drop them in the comments!
If possible, limit workouts without masks to less than 45-60 minutes since the viral load of COVID-19 is shown to increase in this amount of time in enclosed spaces.
Use machines that you don’t have at home; save body weight and mat workouts for home.
Instead of rotating weight machines between sets (because machines will be limited and in need of wiping), complete all sets on one machine with short breaks between sets or do stationary exercises like squats/lunges/push-ups/planks in front of the machine during rest periods.
Buy a few sets of affordable dumbbells for home and use props like the roman chair, bench press, squat rack, plated machines, etc. while at the gym.
Skip the treadmill and save running for your neighborhood – choose the Stairmaster or ARC trainer on an incline for a great low-impact glute workout to switch things up.
Set a goal to finish your workout in less than 45 minutes and plan it out in advance. Your determination and effort might surprise you when you’re working towards a time goal.
Focus on three main things: Building cardiovascular health, muscle, and a sense of calm. We could all use a bit more of these things right now.
I hope you have a GREAT workout whether it’s at the gym or at home. Remember, staying healthy and well is the only critical component here, and that can happen essentially anywhere.
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.
Before Mental Health Month concludes, I thought it best to bring on board one of my closest friends for some discussion. Please help me welcome Lauren Goldberg (MSW, LCSW), a mental health professional who owns a therapy practice in Colorado called Secure Base Mental Health LLC. Lauren will guide us through how our nervous systems respond to stress (especially amid a pandemic) and how we can become flexible and responsive to our emotional needs through daily grounding practices. Believe me: You should want to read her advice. I’ve already gained some extra wisdom for my wellness journey thanks to the insights Lauren shares here and I’m confident you will too. And now, passing the torch to Lauren (see below)…
A Therapist’s Perspective
As a therapist, I am often asked my opinion on major current events involving mental health. It makes sense; people want advice, insight, and maybe even answers. They want to feel better. There’s never been a harder event to weigh in on than the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Because I’m going through it with you.
Generally, there is some space between me, my family, and the major current event, but I am inundated as much as you are with the newest data, often conflicting information, and evolving requirements. Like everyone, I am constantly (daily, hourly, sometimes minute to minute!) adjusting the way I think about the world and how I interact with those around me. It is exhausting spending extra energy navigating tasks that used to be second nature. Plus, I can’t forget the ever-present message that the world is not a safe place. That’s enough to throw anyone’s nervous system into a tizzy!
When Maggie asked me to be a guest on WellnessWinz, I initially thought “what do I know?!” These are such unprecedented times. There’s no context from which to draw on to provide “magical insight.”
What I quickly realized is I do have insight. It may not be magical, but perhaps it can be useful. After all, the same principles can be applied to navigating a pandemic (wow, that word alone is charging!) as they can be to any stressful situation. There are key concepts that I apply to my work with every client, regardless of their circumstances.
The Autonomic Nervous System
My approach to therapy is based on the value of safe relationships and developing the capacity for autonomic nervous system regulation. My main goal as a therapist is to help my clients feel safe enough to connect to me and, as a result, connect to their own experiences. Let me break that down…
I’m sure everyone is familiar with the term “nervous system.” When I reference it here, I am referring to the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which responds to cues of safety and danger. It helps us know when it is safe to connect and when we must protect ourselves from a threat. There are three modes (or “neural circuits of regulation” if you want to sound fancy) that our ANS shifts into as it responds to the environment. Two of them are more commonly referenced – mobilization (fight/flight) and immobilization (freeze). Side note: There’s also the “fawn” response if you’re a nerd like me and want to do additional research.
An individual’s nervous system drops into fight, flight or freeze when a threat is perceived in the environment, whether the origin is internal or external. These threats do not have to be acute, life-threatening events but can also be chronic, low-level stressors, such as developmental trauma (i.e. not having basic emotional and/or physical needs met throughout one’s life). Responding to repeated threats of safety without the opportunity to re-regulate can decrease resiliency in one’s nervous system. I’ll explain this more in a bit.
The third circuit that is rarely talked about but just as important is called “safe and social.” This is the mode from which we feel safe enough to connect to ourselves and others. In this regulated state, we have access to logical thinking and can learn, communicate and engage with others.
A healthy ANS is flexible enough to respond to an incoming “threat” and recover quickly. However, many people lack this flexibility and end up spending more time in survival mode than in a safe and social state. Generally, this is a result of upbringing and life circumstances. Our nervous systems are so smart that they can be “trained” to look for threats. This can be advantageous when there are threats, particularly in childhood when we have no choice but to adapt to our circumstances.
The Disconnect Between Brain & Body
What happens when we logically know our environment is safe but our nervous system is still stuck in survival mode?
This disconnect between our logical brain (i.e. “mind”) and our survival brain (i.e. “body”) causes what we call dysregulation and brings with it some seriously unpleasant symptoms. A person with chronic dysregulation may experience anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, intensified autoimmune responses, irritable bowel, an inability to problem-solve, difficulty connecting with others, and a myriad of other symptoms.
Amidst the global novel virus pandemic (yikes!), some people are spending more time in survival mode as their nervous systems shift away from connection (safety) and towards protection (danger). The world as we know it no longer exists. Our way of moving through life with relative ease and predictability is now replaced with reminders to protect ourselves, stay vigilant in our interactions with others, and deal with the grave uncertainty of our future, not to mention financial stress, social isolation, and serious illness.
Mindfully Navigating a New & Stressful World
So what can we do to help ourselves navigate this new world, especially with the number of “danger” cues around us? It is difficult to manage the influx of advice and information and to integrate so many changes without access to critical thinking. Remember, our logical brain goes offline in survival mode. To bring it back online, we must show our nervous system it is safe to come out of protection and get back to connection.
While the concept is simple, it is not easy. It takes practice, but the good news is, the more we practice, the easier it becomes. We can literally show our nervous system a different way to “be,” one small step at a time. Even in the midst of a pandemic, our bodies can be trained to notice safety cues. This does not mean ignoring discomfort in our systems; it means learning how to experience comfort and discomfort at the same time. Mindful practice can help our systems move fluidly between the two. Remember, a healthy nervous system is one that is flexible.
There are certain things we can do to show our system signs of safety and even joy. If we focus on these cues instead of cues of danger, we can build our capacity for regulation. I’ve included some suggestions below. Figure out what works for you. You can do this by paying attention to your body’s response (i.e. “gut reaction”) as you read through them. You may find that you already do many of these things so the key now is to do them mindfully. (Helpful hint: Try them for the first time when you’re relatively calm. The idea is to reinforce and expand any amount of regulation rather than attempt something that feels too hard and end up reinforcing survival mode.)
Daily Practices to Regulate & Calm the Nervous System
1) Ground in all five senses. I lead my clients through an exercise in which I cue them to notice what they see, hear, taste, smell and feel. This orients them to time and place and reminds their bodies they are safe in the room with me. You can do this on your own, too. I have my clients use this video outside of therapy to continue their practice of nervous systems regulation. If this feels too challenging or if you find yourself in a very escalated state, try focusing on just one part of your body that feels good or even neutral. This can be anything from one toe to the tip of your nose. All you’re doing is reminding yourself there is a place on your body that’s okay. When you focus on the comfort rather than discomfort, you’ll be surprised by the shift you begin to notice!
2) Get moving. Any kind of movement or exercise, including dancing, is a great way to connect to your body and remind it of its power, health and strength. Try to stay connected to your experience. Overriding your body’s needs and doing too much will push you back towards dysregulation.
3) Listen to music and better yet, sing along. The reason is complex, but engaging vocal cords can do wonders for discharging emotions.
4) Put pen to paper. Journaling, especially the good old-fashioned way, can help you get acquainted with and reflect on your experiences.
5) Take a shower or bath. Water is grounding. Take the effects up a notch by noticing the water fall onto and off your body. Try integrating aromatherapy. Figure out what smells good to you by experimenting.
6) Breathe mindfully. Breathe in through your nose as you expand your belly and out through the mouth. Focus on the exhale, not the inhale. Contrary to popular belief, the exhale is what slows our heart rate. Focusing on the deep inhale can actually have a dysregulating effect. As you breathe out, trust your body will know when to bring air in again.
7) Cook or bake. These two nurturing tasks can help you focus on a basic human need, and the completion of them can feel so fulfilling.
8) Practice self-compassion by connecting to your emotional experience. Such a therapist thing to say, right? Well, there’s a reason – letting yourself feel your emotions allows them to discharge, and this can have far-reaching effects on regulation. Think about what you do for a kiddo when they’re upset – you acknowledge what they’re feeling before you try to apply logic. This is called co-regulation and you can do the same thing for yourself.
9) Take a nap. Rest may be just what your system needs to regroup. If you’re feeling up to it, see if you can tune into the heaviness of your body on the bed, couch or whatever supportive surface you’re using. This will allow your body to fully let go and lead to even more restorative benefits (you can also add a weighted blanket for more sensory input).
10) Restorative yoga poses. I am no expert on yoga but I do suggest using certain poses like laying on your back with your bottom all the way against the wall so your feet rest on the wall. Shivasana, child’s pose, figure eight/infinity pose and others that are “cooling” can help rest the body and elicit a parasympathetic nervous system response.
11) Connect to nature. Walk barefoot on the grass or sand, put your feet in a nearby body of water, notice the animals, plants and trees around you – really notice and even name them aloud or in your mind.
12) Listen to relaxing sounds. I have a playlist of ambient sound that I use as needed. My favorite is waves crashing onto a beach and rain falling. Soothing noises like this can be helpful when it’s hard to connect to your body. Engaging your auditory system provides a nice anchor.
13) Sunbathe! Good old vitamin D can most certainly aid in restoring vibrancy and positivity.
14) Pursue social interaction. There is no better way to regulate than by connecting with another safe person.
15) Do something creative, whether coloring, drawing, painting, molding or crafting. This is a great way to connect to yourself and discharge survival mode energy.
16) Hang with your pet. Spending time with them can be incredibly grounding. Intensify the grounding effect by engaging as many senses as you can. Notice how their fur feels on your hands, notice their color, the sound of their breathing, how they smell, how they feel if they are sitting on your lap, etc.
17) Do a puzzle or another game that supports problem-solving. Engaging your logical brain will in and of itself create space for more connection.
18) Watch comedy or light-hearted, feel-good shows. It’s important to screen out overwhelming and negative news. This is good practice when it comes to social media, too. Unfriend or unfollow people that seem to be stuck in survival mode. They will only serve to remind your system it’s not safe.
19) Visualization. Imagine being in a place that brings you comfort. For me, it’s sitting on the shore of the beach with my toes in the sand and my family nearby (but not close enough to disrupt my peace). Use ambient noise to intensify the visualization. You can find a lot of these on YouTube! As you begin to settle in, notice how your body feels. Don’t worry if your mind wanders. Just notice it is and gently bring yourself back.
20) Eat! You read that right. What’s more nurturing than a delicious meal, especially one that nourishes your body? It’s also okay to indulge. Just try to stay present while doing so. We run into problems when we disconnect and numb ourselves with food. Notice every bite as it goes into your mouth, notice the texture, the taste, and try to notice when you’ve had enough.
21) Pursue therapy. Especially if all of these suggestions feel like a challenge or if you know you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic dysregulation. Most therapists are trained to stay regulated so they can act as a regulating source for their clients. If you are interested in my style, seek out a somatic experiencing therapist. They are specifically trained to attune to the autonomic “conversations” in the therapy room, which can help you reconnect to your body and show your nervous system a more regulated way to be.
There are many more options to show your system signs of safety than what I’ve listed here. Do some experimenting! And I can’t say it enough – this is a practice. It’s not supposed to be easy. If it were, I wouldn’t have a job…
Thanks for reading, reach out with questions or comments, and best of luck on your journey to nervous system regulation. ~Lauren
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.
I’m doing a little something different today by offering up some ideas for at-home workouts (see videos & tutorials below). I feel it’s my job to do my little part to help others during this difficult time of uncertainty, fear and cabin fever. Globally, we are vulnerable to coming out of this pandemic more at risk for obesity-related issues. The time has come to figure out once and for all how to exercise at home. My sincere hope is that once we all figure it out, we won’t be so saddled with the age-old excuses like “I don’t have time to exercise.”
I’m no videographer so these shots from my home office are very basic, but they are educational. Hopefully they can help you learn how to combine exercise movements for time-efficient, full-body workouts. Side note – Please forgive the pop-up appearance of my curious little yorkie and the missing “pizzazz” of professional lights/music/editing. It’s the time to give each other some grace and keep it real, right? Feel free to do 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps per exercise. Even just one set can prove beneficial so no need to shy away or be intimidated! All you need is a mat (or the carpet) and a set of dumbbells. Quick heads up – it’s a little easier to view the instructions and videos simultaneously from your desktop instead of mobile.
Let’s battle this coronavirus the best way we can – with good health! Stay well, everyone!
Exercise Combo #1: Down Dog with Leg Tuck + Chaturanga + Upward Dog
Target Muscles: Lower – tightens quadriceps, lengthen hamstrings and calf muscles; Upper – lats, traps, deltoids, pec major and triceps; Core – rectus abdominus and transverse abs
Benefits: What doesn’t this exercise cover?! It’s a great warm-up but can also be quite challenging after enough reps. It stretches tight hamstrings, works the entire upper body and challenges the core.
Exercise Combo #2: Double Leg to Single Leg Crunches + Overhead Pull
Target Muscles:Lower – glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and abductors; Upper – pec major, traps and rhomboids; Core – obliques
Benefits: This is an excellent way to hit all three planes of motion in one sequence! The chest and obliques benefit from a nice stretch and the lower body muscles work isometrically during each twist.
Exercise Combo #4: Curtsy Lunge + Bicep Curl
Target Muscles:Lower – all major leg muscles including adductors and abductors; Upper – biceps; Core – transverse abs for stability
Benefits: Strengthens hips and soft tissues surrounding the knees. Challenges lower leg muscles and ankle stability, especially if you hold the low position for a slow bicep curl.
Exercise Combo #5: Plank + Alternating Single Arm Row + Alternating Single Arm Twist
Target Muscles:Lower – all muscles working for isometric support; Upper – deltoids, trap, rhomboids, biceps; Core – rectus abdominus, transverse abs, obliques, QLs and multifidus
Benefits: The entire body gets a great workout with a focus on stability, the core and muscles that support posture.
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!
We often hear that moderation is key to good health. In fact, I regularly preach this. But sometimes our definitions of “moderate” can vary, and what we think is a helpful amount of a food, beverage, supplement or form of exercise, is actually harmful. I love me a glass of wine, let me tell ya what. And right now, going into month six of pregnancy, I’ve got to confess that I miss it. So, trust me when I say that I’m just as disappointed as you may be to learn that a drink a day doesn’t in fact keep the doctor away. Read on for the latest research published earlier this month…
Before I dive into the findings, I want to say that I understand this is a niche topic finding its way onto my blog, but I think it’s important that we all stay current on relevant research. It can make a difference in our health habits and intentions.
For better or worse, it takes a while for new information to change our habits. Even when repeat studies are done it can be difficult for many of us to accept something that disproves our existing beliefs or biases. As an example of how long health information can take to impact the masses, let’s look at the history of cigarettes (which I feel parallels the history of alcohol use and research).
A Lesson from The History of Cigarette Smoking
Around the end of the 19th century, cigarette smoking became popularized. At the time, doctors were largely unfamiliar with lung cancer because it was such a rare condition for someone to have. Medical professors even often told students they would likely never see a case of lung cancer!
Around the 1940s to 1950s, cigarette manufacturers became aware that smoking had negative health consequences but, trying to protect bottom lines, worked to dispute such scientific claims. This wasn’t hard to do because the public was still trying to tease apart how many emerging cardiopulmonary issues were linked solely to cigarettes and how many were attributable to other issues of the era such as asphalt dust, air pollution, exposure to gas during WWI, and long-term effects of the 1918 influenza pandemic.
After multiple studies released undeniable evidence of the negative health effects of tobacco use, some of the American public began to buy into the idea that cigarette smoking should be avoided. Even still, with evidence on the table and a growing number of lung cancer patients, in 1960 only 1/3 of American doctors believed that cigarette smoking “should be considered a major cause of lung cancer.” In fact, 43% of all doctors were smokers themselves. Now, let’s pause for a moment to think about how this situation created a medical bias, misinformation for patients, and a preservation of a smoking culture for many more decades.
*Pause for contemplating*
To this day, cigarettes cause 1.5-2 million deaths per year, 95% of which are believed to be entirely preventable. And we know they’re bad for us.
Alcohol Consumption is up Against an Even Greater Public Challenge for Two Reasons:
1) Alcohol has been around much longer than cigarettes. Alcohol is frequently referenced as far back as the Bible; both its abuse and its use for celebratory and spiritual occasions. Alcohol is highly cultural and prevalent throughout human history.
2) Studies on alcohol render conflicting results. For a long time, it was difficult to determine how “moderate alcohol consumption” should be defined. Even then, moderate consumption has rendered differing results; correlated with positive cardiovascular health effects (to the extent that some doctors have recommended a drink a day for certain patients) but negative impacts on cancer rates and conditions.
This is confusing stuff!
How much is okay? How much can we drink in moderation? And if we drink in moderation, is it possible to do so without drastically raising the risk of getting cancer?
The Study that Addresses Many of Our Burning Questions:
The latest study on the pros vs cons of moderate alcohol consumption was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Researchers felt compelled to analyze the effects of moderate daily drinking (defined as 1-2 alcoholic drinks) on overall mortality rates because of conflicting research showing that moderate drinking is beneficial to cardiovascular health but simultaneously raises the risk of cancer.
The researchers analyzed two data sets; one of 340,000+ people from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and another of 93,000+ people from the Veterans Health Administration (VA). Both data sets were analyzed for associations between the frequency of moderate drinking (1-2 drinks at a time) and overall mortality.
Researchers found that moderate drinking (again, defined as 1-2 drinks) four or more times per week increases the risk of premature death by a whopping 20% across all age groups, both genders and non-smokers. These results were consistent across both data sets with very different populations (NHIS vs VA). This is fairly shocking because these findings refute what current guidelines say is healthy; 1-2 drinks/day. In other words, daily drinking cancels out the positive benefits for cardiovascular health and poses serious risks.
Moderate drinking with low levels of frequency is deemed safer than daily moderate drinking. The study discovered that moderate drinking (1-2 drinks) approximately three times a week or less is considered a safe range. With regards to overall cancer risk, abstinence from alcohol is the best bet.
Another recent study, published by The Lancet, evaluated over 700 studies on alcohol consumption from around the world and concluded that “no level of alcohol consumption improves health.” This study looked at both moderate and binge drinking.
Implications for the Future
It’s becoming more apparent that our culture’s enjoyment of alcohol is largely detrimental to our health. With these new studies emerging, doctors may suggest patients with heart health concerns have an occasional drink to help cardiovascular function but avoid daily drinking. More doctors will likely advise people to cut way down on alcohol consumption, especially patients with a personal or family history of cancer. Again, the safest consumption level is none followed by no more than three days a week consuming 1-2 alcoholic beverages at a time.
My personal stance:
I don’t plan on giving up my red wine entirely but I will definitely take this new information into consideration if I feel like I’m slipping into the habit of pouring myself a glass to unwind at the end of every day. I will keep myself in check and make sure I’m not drinking in moderation more than three days a week. Thankfully, this is fairly in line with my current alcohol habits. But, my eyes have been opened and I will be more cautious moving forward. That’s how I’m planning to use this information based on my individual health, family cancer risk factors, *and* enjoyment of a good Cabernet. But first, getting through my 9-10 months of sobriety in pregnancy.
How do you plan to adapt your drinking habits? What do you need to do?
I considered titling this post “What Everyone Who Wants to Lose Weight Needs to Hear” but that sounded harsh. And the point of this article isn’t to lecture, it’s to reassure. Consider it my love letter. The words from my heart for all those who’ve been disappointed by the fitness industry or guilt-tripped into buying a diet plan or product. I know you’re frustrated. I know you’re self-conscious at times (especially in the gym, if you ever set foot in that awful place, right?). But here are all the ways you can rise above the bull**** and take ownership of your health once and for all. And the best part? Not a single claim about “the right” kind of exercise or eating program. Because we both know chances are that they’ve already failed you.
Personal Trainers Won’t Judge You
I know it’s super intimidating to see well-sculpted trainers walking the gym floors but trust me, they get you more than you think. In fact, a lot of fitness professionals have been inspired to work in the industry because they’ve gone through personal health, weight or athletic struggles themselves. These people are full of empathy and are good listeners. If you’re willing to open up and be vulnerable, they’re sure to put their best foot forward to guide you on your weight loss journey. Please know that when you approach a trainer they will not judge you! We work with people every day who are dealing with the complex emotional and physical struggles that accompany weight loss.
Kiss Your Guilt Goodbye
I’ve worked with a lot of clients who will have a late afternoon slump at work or a late-night anxiety attack at home that sends them in search of the good stuff (i.e., the cookies, ice cream, chips). They tell themselves they will only eat a few bites of the yummy snack but before they know it, their desire to feel better has led them to consume the entire sleeve of cookies, pint of ice cream or bag of chips (or sometimes all of the aforementioned at once!). Guilt drives these actions, not hunger. So, it’s time to kiss your guilt goodbye.
It takes some practice but in the moments when you catch yourself at risk for mindless overindulging simply remind yourself that you’re not a bad person for wanting a treat. Enjoy it. Relish it. (That’s right – no food is off limits entirely and emotional eating is OK sometimes – yes – it’s OK!). Remind yourself of all the reasons you will feel better if you don’t let yourself spiral with the overeating. Remind yourself of how you have felt after episodes like this in the past and put the food down after you’ve had a little bit. Even when you’re tempted to guilt yourself over slip-ups for overeating (which will happen) – don’t! This practice in self-control and self-talk will eventually lead you to a place in life where you can enjoy a small dish of ice cream guilt-free instead of a whole pint with a side of self-shaming. Remember, there are chances every day to practice and you will get better in time. Guilt sends people backwards, not forwards.
When ANY of us humans are confronted by an uncomfortable situation we routinely have a knee-jerk, panicked reaction to try and rid ourselves of it right away. Similarly, the fear of our excess weight can startle us so badly that we are desperate to do anything to make it go away quickly. To feel better again. But the challenge with reacting in a panic is that we don’t choose very sustainable actions for feeling better.
You deserve better than short-sighted actions and measures that shed weight quickly. You deserve the luxury of taking your time to find better health. If it’s over the course of a few years of slow but sustainable change then so be it! Almost every program that has you shed weight really quickly is at VERY high risk of having you rebound in weight gain just a short stretch down the line. You can still see and feel incredible changes in your body and health without feeling the rush to do it in 90 days. Don’t panic, just commit to taking one step at a time.
Become a Well-Equipped Warrior
Weight loss is emotional. It’s tough. There can be a long story behind why someone hides behind her weight for security or why another person keeps losing and regaining that same 50 lbs. Oftentimes, healthy exercising and eating isn’t enough because your mind keeps playing hardball. It stays fixated on your past trauma or reminds you of cruel words or abuses from authority figures. Sometimes, our minds can’t stop playing “the comparison game,” looking at other people and social media highlight reels and wondering why our lives feel less happy and beautiful.
The weight loss journey is often undertaken as an individual process. But how many wars are won as a one-woman show? Warriors need a support system to win. Warriors need people who are willing to boost them up and support them through the mental and physical obstacles standing in their way of losing weight. These support systems can come from significant others, family members, friends, fitness professionals, nutritionists, life coaches, psychologists and doctors. Most people who struggle to lose weight or who have cyclical weight fluctuations will greatly benefit from seeking out the guidance and counsel of a mental health professional. Please don’t look at scheduling an appointment with a psychologist as a failure. It’s a MAJOR win and will probably be the missing element that will help you finally gain control over your body.
Your Health is More Valuable Than Any Product
I’m not a product person. I’ve had dozens upon dozens of well-meaning and passionate individuals approach me about the health/nutrition product lines that they sell. They want me to join their ranks and represent the line or help spread the word to my audience. I’m always happy to enlighten clients and readers about what different products are out there; HOWEVER, there isn’t a bone in my body that can endorse a product line as being an excellent be-all-end-all, go-to for weight loss (even well-deserving, scientifically-backed ones!).
There isn’t a single nutritional supplement, shake or meal plan that you’re going to be willing to consume in excess (and pay up for) for your entire life. That’s right. I’m a professional who wants to see you succeed long-term. I don’t give a rat’s *** about before and after photos for results people get in 30 days because you know what almost ALWAYS happens? The weight comes right back on when people abandon the short-term exercise program or “drink-this-shake-in-place-of-most-of-your-meals” plan.
YOU deserve to learn how to get control of your REAL life (ya know, the one that continues after the fad diet). YOU deserve to eat REAL food. YOU deserve to keep the weight off. YOU deserve to feel proud of your progress even if it’s not as dramatic as before/after pics from a 60-day plan. Remember, these photos aren’t the full story. How many of these people are posting a two-years later pic and boasting about it?
Your Mind is Powerful But it’s Not Always Right
A lot of people who want to lose weight feel like the whole room is staring at them – at their thick thighs or fleshy belly, vanishing waistline or double chin. They stand in the middle of parties and boardroom discussions feeling unworthy and self-conscious. Same thing goes for in the gym. But hear me on this one: YOU ARE WRONG. You’re not unworthy. And no, the whole room (or gym) is NOT picking apart your faults. You are your greatest critic.
The second we get out of our heads is the second we free ourselves of shame, blame and ridicule. Don’t you think you deserve that? Remind yourself of the many things you’re great at and the wonderful qualities that are deeper than the surface. These are your core. Not your physical appearance. When we place our confidence on those lasting qualities, we gain the power to approach our body transformations with a calm mind instead of a ridiculing one.
Remember, You CAN
The tagline for WellnessWinz is “Start Believing You Can.” I chose this years ago because so many people hit roadblocks in their mind that prevent their bodies from performing. The same can be said for people in their careers and relationships. Our minds can be powerful vehicles driving our energy and decisions.
Your weight CAN be lost. I know it doesn’t feel like it. Your mind is probably telling you that you’re stuck with it… but you’re not. The second you believe that you can commit yourself to the incremental changes that amount to permanent weight loss is the second that your life changes. The physical process of losing weight may take a little time but the mental shift required to jump start it all can happen today.
Perhaps it’s TMI…but this past summer after weaning my son, my hormones went bonkers. Not just for a month or two. For a while. And it drove me INSANE. Per usual, frustrating experiences with my health cause me to dig my feet into the ground a little harder and push like a bull-headed Taurus (which I am) to find information and natural remedies to help my body. The experience catapulted my understanding about several female hormones and how we can help them normalize.
Upon opening up about my own experiences, I discovered a trove of women dealing with equally pesky ups and downs with female hormones. And not all of them were moms who had recently stopped breastfeeding. Some of these women were trying to conceive and others were simply adjusting to new norms as they inched closer to 40 or 50 years old. Still others were feeling the uncomfortable symptoms of severe menstrual cramps, bloating and acne every month, or extremely long and heavy menstrual cycles. All of these women, in different walks of life, made me realize that very few of us actually know how to help our bodies find hormonal balance and wellness. While it’s true that we can’t control every aspect of our hormones, there’s still a lot we can do to take over the reigns. (Frequently, this kind of holistic advice isn’t readily available or discussed. We have to go hunting for it.)
So, here are the three hormones that can cause us woes and foods we can eat to help them find balance in our bodies:
These hormones play a major role “in a wide range of body functions such as the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle, the dilation and constriction of blood vessels, control of blood pressure, and modulation of inflammation.” Prostaglandins are also involved in the start of labor for pregnant women, causing the uterus to contract. In fact, semen contains a lot of prostaglandins in it and may be one of the reasons that sex around the timing of one’s due date is said to jump start labor for some women. Forgive me, I had to throw out that weird but interesting factoid. Lastly, prostaglandins play a major role in inflammation in the pelvic region, especially. An imbalance of the different types of prostaglandins (PgE1, Pg E2 & PgE3) can lead to increased local inflammation and heavy menstrual cramps.
Prostaglandins can become out of balance and cause pesky, painful PMS symptoms when fatty acid supplies are too low. Essential fatty acids include both Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids, and they operate best in our bodies when they’re in balance with one another. When fatty acids are available within the body, The Center of Genetics, Nutrition and Health (based in Washington, DC) has found additional benefits for the reduction of breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma! This is pretty mind-blowing and awesome (to me). So, even if your menstrual cycles are pain free and regular, there are still many benefits to eating a diet with plenty of fatty acids of both kinds. But note: Most people are deficient in Omega-3s and need to eat more foods chocked full of them. This begs the next question; Where can we find these foods?
If you’re hesitant about adding any of these important Omega-3 foods to your grocery list then you can check out one of two convenient options for an Omega-3 boost to your system:
Oatmega – a protein/snack bar full of fish oils that comes in a variety of flavors (don’t worry, you can’t taste the fish oil)
Daily Harvest – a monthly, smoothie-delivery company that has creative, delicious and healthy ingredients, and several smoothie flavors that include omega-rich foods (I’m debating stocking my freezer full of these yum-yums)
For a long time women have naturally assumed that the aging process is accompanied by a precipitous decline in estrogen as we creep towards menopause (or sometimes fall headfirst into it). We hear that the older we get the less estrogen we have. In fact, by about 50 years old, women have approximately 35% less estrogen than they did in their “younger years.” But that’s not the full picture of what’s happening in our bodies…
As the female aging process begins around 35 years old (i.e., when fertility shifts due to changing hormones), women experience a much more dramatic dip in progesterone than estrogen. Progesterone actually drops by approximately 75% (!!!!!!) in the same amount of time that estrogen drops by 35%. This creates an imbalance in the two hormones that unfortunately leads to estrogen dominance. And “ED” isn’t any fun. Trust me, after weaning my son my hormones swung hard one direction (low estrogen) and then right back the other way (high estrogen). Both ends of the spectrum feel pretty crappy. Let’s just be honest.
You see, estrogen is kept in check by progesterone, especially in the latter half of our menstrual cycles. When estrogen is allowed to “run rampant” it likes to take our bodies on a wild ride. Large spikes in estrogen (both right before ovulation and a handful of days after) can leave us experiencing all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms.
*Some* Signs of Estrogen Dominance:
Increased weight gain, especially around the middle
Insomnia or sleep disturbances
*Other Conditions That Science Suggests May Be Caused (in part) by Estrogen Dominance: Endometriosis, Fibroids, Fibrocystic Breasts, Cervical Dysplasia, Breast/Uterine/Ovarian Cancer.
(*remember, this is typically the opposite of what people need)
Farm-raised, non-organic eggs, meat, fish and dairy products
Sugary and processed foods – caloric overload in our diets increases fat mass in the body which leads to estrogen overload (same applies to overeating any foods but sugar and processed foods often have “empty calories” that add up quickly)
Produce that has been sprayed with heavy pesticides
Soy products, especially when processed
Drinking from plastic water bottles – a recent widespread study was conducted investigating major brands like Aquafina, Dasani and Nestle, and found on average 15 free-floating plastic particles in each bottle (I don’t want to drink plastic! If only I could find a crying emoji to put in here…)
For foods that help keep estrogen in check, read on to the next section…
If you read the section about estrogen, it becomes glaringly apparent why progesterone is so important for women’s health. You’ll also remember that we discussed how much progesterone drops at a ridiculous rate as we women age. Why must every stage of life be complicated as a woman? Seriously. But the good news is that there are LOTS of foods that can help boost progesterone – and they come with a plethora of other health benefits, too.
Please note that progesterone can be too high for some women, although this is a bit less common than estrogen dominance which afflicts many women who are overweight, over-stressed and/or between the ages of 35-60.
*Note: None of these foods contain progesterone per say, but they have the nutrients required for supporting the hormone’s production in the body, and many of us could use MORE of this particular hormone.
Olive oil & olives
Coconut oil or butter
Avocado – also on fruit list
Nuts, Legumes & Seeds:
I hope this is helpful information for you whether you’re a woman hoping to be expecting some day or a woman trying to understand the yo-yo of hormones that IS perimenopause. Godspeed to us all!