Tag Archives: healthy living

The Big Fat Lie in Fitness

I’m going out on a limb here, people…but I’m willing to do it for my readers. Yes, that would be you. There are plenty of fitness folks, pros and enthusiasts alike, who will disagree with this statement because it completely counters their marketing efforts and maybe even their lifestyles. But I’m doing it anyway because…well…I suppose because I’m finally sick of the phony, inflated, trying-to-get-your-money and, most importantly, FALSE claims out there.

In my professional opinion, what is the biggest, fattest lie being passed around in the fitness industry?

 

 

Answer: That working out EVERY DAY is the only way to be successful and see results.

Insert mega eye-roll from yours truly. 

This kills me. Clearly. Or else I wouldn’t be writing about it.

I hope this brings you a sigh of relief because honestly, YOU. DO. NOT. HAVE. TO. WORK. OUT. EVERY. DAY.

The best fitness professionals and athletes out there take days off. They have active recovery days of stretching or light movements. They take time-outs for massage, therapy and R&R. Why? Because it’s hugely important. I’ve elaborated on the importance of recovery one too many times already but if you’re thirsty for more reasons to enjoy tea time instead of treadmill time then you can read one of these articles…

When You Are Tired (of being tired)

Don’t You Deserve a Break?

Frenemies: Exercise Myths We Hold Onto

Recovery Time is Forgotten

Back to the point…the claims that you need to relentlessly work out to see results are plastered all over Pinterest and Instagram. “Fitspirational” messages assault people from bloggers, Twitter and Facebook, too. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all become a little numb to well-intended messages that sting our open wounds again and again.

Let’s take the following examples that make my skin itch…

WHHHAATTT??? The “Keep Calm and Move On” people are pestering us to work out every day, too?! *Gulp.* Whhhhhyyyyy? Maybe it’s just me, but there is nothing, nothing, nothing “calming” about this message. How are we supposed to stay calm when we’re being told by society that we’ve gotta get our adrenaline pumping every 24 hours? Geesh. Just in case this message speaks to you, don’t worry – you can buy sweatshirt, coffee mug and candle-adorned paraphernalia bearing the reminder. Because a soothing candlelit dinner with “WORKOUT EVERYDAY” staring you down sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? 

Okay. Enough. I actually really like most of the “Keep Calm” messaging, so I don’t want to drag them through the mud too much on this one. Maybe I’ll forgive them. Maybe.

On to the next glorious image. This one is reminiscent of a lot of generic Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter posts. Take a good hard look…

Okay…let’s spin this a little. I want to ask you the following question: “Is every day a good day to work out?”

Are you thinking about your answer???

If you’re still debating the answer then STOP!

Correct response: NO!

No, not every day is a good day to work out.

I mean…we get sick sometimes, don’t we? We all occasionally experience nasty shin splints, twisted ankles, broken bones, deflated energy, dry spells of motivation, and unexpected obstacles. I will argue, quite strongly, that these are all times when working out is put on the back burner, at least for a few days. And that’s FINE.

These are two simple examples hand-picked from the flood of “fitspiration” quotes out there that mean well but wear people down more often than they build people up.

The bar is set far too high by messages like this. People come to me all the time, totally intimidated to start an exercise program because unless they can commit to it every day, they feel like they’re not giving enough. This is SO upsetting to me. Seriously guys, this is the stuff I cry to my husband over.

Again, I’m here to set the record straight…

If exercising every day is something you WANT to do and have TIME to do, then great! But, be wary. Our central nervous systems can easily become overrun by relentless programs and our hormones can get thrown way out of whack from over-training.

Plus, once again, be encouraged because…

You DON’T have to exercise every day to see GREAT results.

*Official end of rant.*

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

*Image Sources: 

http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-workout-everyday-3/

http://www.coupons.com/thegoodstuff/6-ways-to-create-good-habits/

Where Does Belly Fat Come From?

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

The Usual Suspects for Belly Fat

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

Nutrition

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

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

 

 

Physical Activity 

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

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

 

Genetics

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

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

 

The Sneaky Culprits of Belly Fat

Sleep

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

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

 

 

Stress

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

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

 

Gut Health

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

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

 

 

Hormone Changes

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

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

When You Are Tired (of being tired)

Our bodies respond to various types of stress in the same way. Relationship tension, work overload, screaming babies (experiencing this one myself, at the moment), physical injury and illness, spiritual disillusion, chemical exposure, improper nutrition, and more, all take a toll and deplete our hormones. Chronic stress can result in adrenal fatigue, a place no one wants to be and where being tired is the status quo. It’s not surprising that millions of people suffer from this every year, to include exercise professionals like me seven years ago.

Here’s what you need to know to help yourself get unstuck from the spiral of exhaustion and how to get back on track with your wellness.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is a state of constant tiredness due to chronic stress overtaxing the adrenal glands. These glands impact hormones such as DHEA, epinephrine and cortisol, to name a few. Even sleep doesn’t seem to fully help people suffering from this type of fatigue. These people also have a hard time getting out of the bed in the morning (different from hitting the snooze button because it feels good), are tired all day, crave salty foods, have weakened immune systems, and have a difficult time managing stress in general.  For more information about the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue: Adrenal Fatigue Solution.

tired 2Should I Get Help from a Doctor?

If you feel that you’re suffering from a state of constant fatigue, you should do everything possible to set yourself back on the path of wellness. I know from experience that it isn’t always easy and that it takes a lot of dedication. Trust me though, it’s worth the effort. The tricky thing about adrenal fatigue is that it isn’t easy to diagnose, so much of the medical community will not readily recognize it as a condition, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consult your doctor about it.

Addison’s Disease is a form of severe adrenal insufficiency (cortisol levels are extremely, dangerously low) that has been recognized for a long time by both doctors and insurance companies. Adrenal fatigue is a lesser form of this serious disease, where hormone levels may very well fall into a “normal range” during a diagnostic test, but may not be in an “optimal range.” For this reason, adrenal fatigue isn’t easy to pinpoint and insurance typically won’t cover treatment. Additionally, antidepressants and other medicines that a doctor might prescribe to treat some of the symptoms aren’t fixing the underlying causes of fatigue, which are generally related to lifestyle.

I’m no doctor, but I’m a health professional who can say with certainty that just because someone doesn’t have a full-blown disease, doesn’t mean they don’t need a little help. Even if your doctor says you’re perfectly healthy, if you don’t FEEL that way, you need to take responsibility and action. For example, if a person has been through a traumatic accident but isn’t clinically suffering from PTSD, she can still endure quite a bit of subsequent stress and anxiety that can add up over time, especially if there are other areas in her life about which she is chronically stressed or overwhelmed. Similarly, if a woman is overweight but does not meet BMI standards for being obese, it doesn’t mean she should sit back and suffer from less-than-optimal health. Taking control of your life is possible and beating chronic fatigue is too. With or without doctor’s orders!

tired 1How to Feel Energized Again

Treating chronic exhaustion follows much of the same protocol as naturally balancing our hormones. Here are some things to try…

Quality Sleep

Getting at least 7 uninterrupted hours of sleep every night is essential for your wellbeing. A consistent bedtime routine and regular sleep/wake times help your overall “sleep hygiene.” To promote a relaxing transition into sleep, limit screen time for 30 minutes before bed (and DON’T check your phone or other screens during the middle of the night!), do something relaxing for an hour before sleep, adjust the bedroom temperature to your liking, and avoid sleep-reducing foods like alcohol, caffeine, spicy stuff, and dark chocolate.

If sleep is evading you, try distracting your mind with 20 minutes of enjoyable reading, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, a little stretching or a sleep-inducing snack like milk, bananas or turkey.

Specific Kinds of Regular Exercise

Regular exercise that isn’t too late in the day can help you sleep at night and get back into a place of feeling energized. I advise people suffering from chronic fatigue to avoid the following when it comes to exercise (at least until good, consistent energy has been reestablished for a while): HIIT workouts or anything that revs the heart rate up and down from near-maximal range, endurance performance training (marathon running or anything with extreme distances and hours upon hours of training involved), and aggressive weight loss programs.

Losing weight and exercising will certainly help you reduce exhaustion and balance hormones, but if you are already worn out, aggressive workouts and exercise goals can do more harm than good. Stick to a balanced routine of moderate cardio and resistance workouts for a while. It’s probably a good idea to cap your workouts between 30-60 minutes and to give yourself a couple days of light movement (i.e. walking, stretching, gentle swimming or biking) or full recovery every week to aid in overall energy restoration.

Healing via Nutrients and Nutrient Timing

Reducing the amount of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy and processed foods in your diet and replacing them with whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods is one of the best ways to fuel your body for adrenal recovery and hormonal balance. If you find that you are sensitive to any specific foods then avoiding them is also advised as this will help you reduce overall inflammation and stress on your body. Most people are aware that healthy fruits, veggies, fats, whole grains, and lean proteins are going to help their wellness; however, a lot of these healthy-eating people may accidentally mess up good nutrient timing.

Most of our daily energy and activity happens earlier in the day and gradually reduces towards nightfall. In American culture, a large dinner is a staple for the end of the day, but we need this energy from food earlier than we get it. “Front-loading” or eating more calories towards the beginning of the day and gradually tapering towards dinner and bedtime is a great way to get the energy from food when you need it most. This will help you stay fueled at the appropriate times of day and will keep your metabolism “awake.”

Other Lifestyle & Wellness Factors

It would be remiss of me to avoid mentioning that the social, emotional, spiritual, occupational, and intellectual components of your life that play into fatigue are important too. Unfortunately, there are too many factors to touch on in just one article, so suffice to say that if you’re overwhelmed or depleted in a certain area of your life, it’s important to be forthright and address it. It’s not always easy to get out of bad relationships or jobs, and it’s intimidating to confess spiritual emptiness and social isolation, but if we don’t meet these challenges head on, even proper sleep, exercise and diet may not be enough to help us feel great. We are WHOLE beings who need health, joy, love, faith and hope.

I hope you can feel energized and well for your entire life. It’s possible if you put in the effort, so never accept feeling less than you deserve to be! 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

Tuning into H.A.L.T.

H.A.L.T. is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These physical and emotional states can leave us feeling very vulnerable. For this reason, H.A.L.T. is often used in recovery groups such as Alcoholic Anonymous and Dual Recovery Anonymous. H.A.L.T. is relevant for all of us though. Women cope with stresses by turning to other forms of addiction: eating, shopping, watching TV, being on the computer, negative dialogues with friends, inappropriate sexual activity or attention-seeking behaviors, and more.

Today, in the spirit of wellness and self-awareness, we’re going to take a look at quick lists of healthy activities you can engage in so that hunger, anger, loneliness, and fatigue are nipped in the bud.

Prefacing these suggestions, I encourage you to do the following:

1) Identify which one or two parts of H.A.L.T. leave you feeling the most susceptible to making poor choices.

2) Write down two to three healthy actions you can engage in when you feel challenged by these physical or emotional states.

Now, a closer look at H.A.L.T. coping strategies…

 

HUNGRY

When was the last time you ate?! Have you worked through lunch? Have you been trying to deprive yourself of calories all day?

hungry

  • Carry small, healthy snacks in your purse or keep them in your desk drawer at work.
  • Make note of when you feel most hungry and cranky (ever heard of HANGRY?!) each day. Try to start eating a snack or meal 30 minutes before that time.
  • Take time to sit down and focus on your food. No computer. No distractions. If you fully taste the food then you will feel more satisfied, calm and able to control portion size.
  • Avoid mindless eating by putting everything you want to eat on a plate. Yes, that’s right! Pile it on. Some days you may eat it all, but there will be plenty of days when you don’t finish it all because you fill up or you realize that you just don’t need that food. If you keep mindlessly reaching into a bag of chips or tub of ice cream, you’re at greater risk for overeating. You are also likely to feel less satisfied by the food and what started as hunger may turn into anxiety.
  • Don’t skip meals thinking that you should save up calories for a decadent meal later. Chances are this will leave you hangry (yet again) and making poor choices later. Let yourself eat. Maybe consume a hundred calories or so less per meal leading up to your big night so that you can indulge a little.

NOTE: When I was a little girl my family always knew when I was hungry because I got SO cranky. It’s pretty funny in retrospect. I always protested, feeling like my frustration was rooted in something else, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. They were always right though. I just needed food.

 

 ANGRY

Are you experiencing a particularly stressful period in your life? Do you feel like you need an outlet for all that bottled up frustration?

angry

  • Recognize that it’s OKAY to feel angry, but taking it out on yourself or others isn’t.
  • Acknowledge that controlling anger takes practice. You’re not going to be great at it on day one, but it’s important to identify a time when you’re ready to start dealing with it.
  • Learn what makes you angry. Write it down. A journal identifying how you deal with anger is a good idea too, especially as you start to progress to healthier responses and actions and you can reward yourself for it! This is a great place to get some worksheets that will guide you through the process:  http://bit.ly/1APW2j3
  • Exercise! You will feel a lot better afterwards. Your body will have passed through the fight-or-flight phase and will feel more calm a little while after exercising versus when you initially feel angry and your heart starts to race.
  • Talk with someone you’re not feeling angry with. They will probably give you outside perspective and help you calm down. Plus, you will avoid escalating the issue with the person you really wanted to scream at.
  • Deal with your frustration later. It’s probably helpful to deal with the issue when a little time has passed – even if that’s counting to 10 slowly while taking deep breaths. Time can aid with perspective and healing.

 

LONELY

Have you had quality time with friends or loved ones lately? Do you feel isolated while you work at home or take care of your child? Do you experience feelings of isolation even though you’re surrounded by other people?

lonely

  • Join a class! This could be exercise related like a running group or bootcamp, or arts related like an acting or pottery making class. Or you may be interested in a group like a bible study group or a book club. Whatever spikes your interest, try to find a way to become engaged with people who share your passion.
  • Similar to joining a class or group; try volunteering! This is a great way to be around people and generate positive vibes for others and yourself.
  • Research has shown that loneliness and depressive symptomatology can act in a synergistic effect to diminish well-being, meaning the more lonely you are, the more depressed you feel, and vice versa.” Thus, consider looking into a cognitive behavior therapist. It can be a bit scary and vulnerable feeling at first, but it’s perfectly healthy and normal to lean into professional advice and support. You don’t have to wait until you feel like it’s the only option left.
  • Reach out to an old friend – sometimes even just writing an email that positively recounts your years of friendship and shares your current experiences can be therapeutic and heart-warming.
  • Try to use any of the above strategies to build towards three solid friendships with individuals who you can share life with you in this season. Your best friend may be across the country and your dependable mother may be just a phone call away, but relationships with other women who we can see in person, on a regular basis, is also important for relieving loneliness and feeling emotionally fulfilled.

NOTE: Getting a pet is another strategy but if you feel it will add a ton more stress to your life right now, then maybe hold off on going to the pet store…because once you see Fido’s cute little mug, you may not be able to say no! 

 

TIRED

Did you get enough sleep last night? Do you regularly skimp on sleep to get more done? Do you get enough sleep but still feel lethargic every day?

tired

  • If you’re feeling excessively tired but you get plenty of sleep, then you may not be moving enough! Yes, it’s true; exercise keeps our metabolisms going and helps improve alertness. Try gradually getting into the habit of exercising most days of the week or, at the very least, try standing up every 1.5 – 2 hours to walk around for 5 minutes.
  • If you’ve been sleep deprived or stressed lately, try lying down for a 15-20 minute power nap. Your body will wake up refreshed versus craving more sleep (as is the case with longer naps).
  • Set a bedtime and stick to it. It’s a good idea to do something calming like reading a book or stretching in a dim lit room for an hour before bedtime versus doing something that keeps you alert, like trying to manage stressful tasks or chores.
  • Enjoy caffeine here and there to perk you up, but try to keep consumption moderate. Approximately 300-400 mg of caffiene/day appears to be healthy for most adults, but individuals may vary in sensitivity so listen to your body and identify if this is too much for you (i.e. jittery feelings, racing pulse, increased anxiety or agitation). Also, be careful to keep caffeine consumption to the earlier half of the day, especially if you notice that it disturbs your sleep.
  • Try to take breaks from multi-tasking as this can wear you out. Short bouts of mindfulness or meditation are particularly helpful for re-energizing mentally and physically.
  • Eat healthy foods that have an even mix of protein and carbohydrates so that nutrients are properly absorbed and readily available for energy. (Oh yea – and don’t skip breakfast!)

I hope at least one or two of the aforementioned H.A.L.T.-health strategies speaks to you and feels like something you can implement right away! If you have any others that I haven’t mentioned then please share them in the comments section!

Lastly, as useful as these strategies can be, it’s important that I take a moment to acknowledge the need to sometimes seek professional intervention. Please reach out to someone in your area if you feel that you may need help. There is support out there that, along with eating well and exercising, can help you flourish. 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz logo 2

 

References:

http://www.addiction-recovery.com/HALT-hungry-angry-lonely-tired.php

http://www.chinnstreetcounseling.com/zomerland/zomerland_11.shtml

https://draonline.qwknetllc.com/relapse5.html

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678

http://www.innerhealthstudio.com/anger-management-worksheets.html

http://stress.about.com/od/psychologicalconditions/a/loneliness.htm

Mindfulness; It’s Not Just for Celebrities

I’m pleased to introduce you to Sarah Pike, our contributor for today’s guest post! Sarah and I share a lot of the same passions – women’s health, writing, health technology, volunteering, and working with children. Please enjoy the wisdom she has to offer. We’re SO happy to welcome her to WellnessWinz! 

mindfulness  only takes a moment

One thing you won’t find in a typical list of healthy “do’s,” is the use of mindfulness/meditation practices.

Before you roll your eyes at another “out-there” quack extoling the virtues of meditation, know that I too was once one of those eye-rollers. It’s hard to understand the benefits of something as intangible and difficult to measure as mindfulness. But after hearing Oprah, Deepak Chopra, and Arianna Huffington preach about the difference it made in their lives, I started to pay attention.

After all, if such successful people are advocates of this practice, then maybe there’s something to it. These days everyone from Katy Perry to Kobe Bryant sing the praises of meditation and mindfulness practices. But I wasn’t one to simply take a celebrity’s word for it. Neuroscientists have proven that there are real, positive effects to engaging in meditation.

Beyond a sense of calm and general well-being, a group of neuroscientists from Harvard were able to measure improvement in learning, memory, emotion regulation, and sense of self. They found that regular mindfulness practices can actually change your brain and increase overall well-being and even improve quality of life.

practicing mindfulness

Meditation for Beginners

Testing the waters of meditation can be intimidating. I had images of sitting cross-legged for hours, chanting strange words while Eastern music played in the background. But mindfulness doesn’t require uncomfortable positions or unfamiliar words.

The main goal is to practice focusing on one thing at a time. Usually the easiest way to start is to pay attention to your breath. You can follow Huffington’s advice and start with just a few minutes, and then work up to longer durations as it feels more comfortable. If your mind tends to race with non-stop thoughts, you can use that to your advantage in meditation as well.

Instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your thoughts. When you catch your mind wandering, instead of getting caught up in each thought, simply let them go. Over time, this practice will help improve concentration and your ability to be present in the current moment.

10 apps for mindfulness

The Top 10 Apps to Improve Mindfulness

The good news is that you don’t have to jump into meditation all by yourself. If the thought of counting your breaths or figuring out how to let your random thoughts go is intimidating, try an app to help you get into a mindfulness routine. And, contrary to what you might think, using technology to help you meditate isn’t contradictory. In fact, it’s been found that there’s a correlation between connectivity and happiness.

Here are my 10 favorite apps to help jump-start your meditative life and get you on the road to feeling more holistic, healthy, and happy.

  1. Emojiary

If you’re not quite ready to sit quietly and breathe, this app can help you get into the general mindset of meditation, which is increased awareness of how you’re feeling at any point in time. This app checks in with you throughout the day and asks you how you’re feeling. All you have to do is pause, consider, and answer with the appropriate emoji—a great way to get your mindfulness practice started.

  1. Stop, Breathe & Think

This is the perfect app for beginners. The whole idea is to teach you how to meditate with customized programs that help you identify how you’re feeling before you start. It also tracks your progress over time and helps you easily expand and extend your mindfulness practices as your comfort with the process grows.

  1. Centered

Another great resource for beginners, Centered helps you manage stress and increase mindfulness with daily reminders and meditation timers. It even syncs with Apple Health to help you track all of your healthful activities in one, convenient place.

  1. Lotus Bud Mindfulness Bell

If you’re ready to expand your meditation practices, this app is a great tool. In order to bring mindfulness to all of your daily activities, the Lotus Bud Mindfulness Bell sends you reminders in the form of bell tones throughout the day. When you hear the bell, you are reminded to breathe, pause, and take in the current moment.

  1. Calm

For those whose meditation level is intermediate, Calm offers a variety of guided meditations lasting anywhere from two minutes to half an hour. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, this app can also offer help to get you that restful night you’ve been craving.

  1. The Now

This app offers another great way to bring mindfulness into all of your daily practices. The goal is to help you live in the present moment. Using push notifications as cues, this app helps you remember to take in your environment, focus on what is currently happening, and look at people and situations with compassion and empathy.

  1. Athlete Minder

If you’re looking for a way to track the health of your mind, body, and spirit, this app might be your new best friend. Athlete Minder helps you keep track of your exercise habits and state of mind before, during, and after workouts. What you learn will let you make the right tweaks and changes to your routine to maximize the benefits.

  1. The Mindfulness Diet

Exercise isn’t the only aspect of your health routine that can benefit from mindfulness. This tool helps you add focus and awareness to your eating habits. And, thanks to helpful reminders, you will be encouraged to slow down and truly savor each bite.

  1. Guroo

For mindfulness pros, this app sends you random reminders to catch you off-guard and give you the chance to re-set your perspective throughout the day. Whether you need to knock their socks off in a presentation or be calm during a parent-teacher conference, this training app will help you fine-tune your mindfulness to make sure you’re at your best in every situation.

  1. Meditation Experience

This 21-day experience is designed for everyone. Whether you’re a beginner or have been meditating for years, this interactive program designed by Oprah and Deepak Chopra will quickly move you to a more tranquil state of mind.

With so many easy-to-use resources at your fingertips, now is the time to add meditation to your daily health regimen. Give one of these apps a try and see the difference a few minutes of mindfulness can make!

Thank you again, Sarah! I can’t wait to try a few of these out and I’m sure readers feel the same! Good luck being mindful, ladies! ~Maggie

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Contributor Bio:

Sarah Pike is a Community Outreach Coordinator for BusinessBee and a college writing instructor. When she’s not teaching or writing, she’s probably binge-watching RomComs on Netflix or planning her next vacation. She also enjoys following far too many celebrities than she should on Instagram. You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahzpike.

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Skinny Girls Who Eat Junk

You’re not alone if you’ve ever wondered how other girls can get away with eating junk, while also retaining a slim waistline. I’ve had dozens of women complain to me that their friends can seemingly nosh on cheeseburgers and fries, down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, or indulge in the bread basket on girls night out, without putting on a single pound. It’s time to solve the mystery! Here are a few ways that these girls-we-love-to-envy keep their weight in check.

Skinny Girls

1) They are burning calories through activity 

I can easily recall my super skinny days, back in high school, when I could chow down nachos, eat two plates of pasta, and a big bowl of Breyer’s chocolate ice cream every night, but this was only thanks to playing sports all year round. I was exercising for several hours every single day, and I was still growing. Could I get away with this now? No. Can I still get away with indulging here and there? Yes, because I exercise and practice portion control when eating. Good news, you can too!

It’s the same, simple answer we keep returning to: Calories Consumed = Calories Burned, for weight control.

2) This may just be a snapshot of their diet, not the way that they routinely eat

As I mentioned above, no one…and I mean no one, can get away with eating junky foods 24/7 that are calorie laden and fattening. Over time, it results in weight gain. If your skinny friend isn’t gaining weight, then she must be exercising portion control at other, less social and less visible, times of the day. She may be vocal in social settings, saying how she loves eating chips or hot dogs all the time, but she’s probably just being theatrical, or perhaps she’s trying to justify her indulgence out loud. It’s probably not meant to shame you or make you question your own weight and eating habits. Laugh it off and stick to the choices you want to make for yourself. If we tell teens to avoid peer pressure about drugs and alcohol, then certainly we can exercise a little self-control about food in social settings, right?!

3) They don’t beat themselves up for eating what they want

I have coached lots of women to stop self-shaming when they eat foods they desire. It’s one of the most important things that I help with women with, and many of them tell me that being easier, not harder, on themselves has helped them manage their health for the first time in years. Ironically, emotional reactions to food, and feelings of shame, often lead to MORE eating, not less.

An article from MyFitnessPal’s Hello Healthy blog states that “we usually end up getting mad at ourselves for overeating. This sets us up for a vicious cycle of stuffing feelings with food (and thus not dealing with them), possible weight gain or excessive exercise and self-recrimination … until the cycle starts all over again. How frustrating!”

So, if you have a late-night of eating the whole bag of popcorn, when you intended to only scoop out two handfuls, move on from it. Tell yourself that tomorrow is a new day and that you have the power to make good choices each with each and every meal and snack.

But, maybe your friend isn’t getting away with as much as you think…

“Smoke and Mirrors”

Although some girls enjoy their greasy and sugary foods without immediate weight gain, there may still be health consequences to their actions. They may not be getting all the essential nutrients that their bodies need. For example, if “Kelly” tends to eat instant oatmeal and a banana in the morning, a turkey wrap and chips at lunch, and a small dish of pasta at night, she is probably not getting enough protein in her diet.

Although Kelly’s portions are modest, allowing her to remain slim, she may have brittle hair and nails because of the missing protein. This, combined with a lack of fruits and vegetables, may also cause Kelly to have skin problems (skin that lacks luster, breakouts, is aging quickly, etc.). Additionally, if she isn’t getting all of the essential vitamins and minerals that her body craves, then Kelly may not have good energy throughout the day.

In short, what’s happening on the outside of our bodies (i.e., how we look) is not always reflective of what’s happening on the inside…

So, is it okay to eat junk or is “clean eating” the best practice for weight control?

what to eat

It depends. It’s important to figure out what is going to work best for you. While clean eating, i.e., focusing on a natural diet full of fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, is definitely a step towards a healthy lifestyle, WebMD explains that certain diet protocols for clean eating, like The Eat-Clean Diet, are “so structured, restrictive, and unrealistic” that they “may be difficult to follow long term.”

WebMD further suggests that any diet plan that is based more on opinion, than on scientific evidence, must be taken with a grain of salt. Although people love to share their personal triumphs, we should all be wary of professionals who base their dietary recommendations solely on their own experiences. We’re all a little different physically and emotionally, and that changes how we eat and what we want to eat.

If you feel like you’re only eating healthy because you “should” be, then you’re in a deprivation mentality, missing out on the experience of pleasureful eating. When kept in check, pleasureful eating can be a part of a healthy eating plan.

Once you’ve recognized that there is not a “good” or “bad” food persay, you can start to break the chains of a dieting mentality. As I alluded to in my Detox Diets: Do They Work? post, “including foods considered unhealthful in a healthful eating plan can foster satisfaction to ensure a healthful eating pattern over the long haul.”

Here is one defintion of normal eating provided by Human Kinetics:

“…being able to eat when you are hungry and continue eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to use some moderate constraint in your food selection to get the right food, but not being so restrictive that you miss out on pleasureable foods. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, or bored; or just because it feels good.”

Note: This is different from chronic emotional eating.

We’ll discuss that another day. 

This perspective implies that eating mostly nutrient dense foods will be helpful for your body, and that there is room to eat “forbidden foods” for pleasure here and there. An ice cream on a Friday night won’t spoil your waistline. Enjoying your favorite bubbly on a date night doesn’t mean you’ve ruined a healthful eating streak. If we stop fearing foods, we may just find that we don’t crave them as often, and we can start enjoying them in moderation alongside a balanced eating plan.

So, eat clean all the time if it works for you. If it doesn’t, don’t shame yourself. Just try to balance your intake of indulgent foods, and find ways to eat mindfully at every meal. The greens that once tasted bitter or repulsive can and will taste better once you take the time to think of ways to prep them to fit your palate. And, well…chocolate cake will always manage to taste amazing.

it's okay to indulge at times

 

Me + Lava Cake = Love

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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References:

Hudnall, M., & Kratina, K. (2005, January 1). Disordered Eating in Active and Sedentary Individuals.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/17/bad-hair-nails-diet-foods_n_2964618.html

https://blog.myfitnesspal.com/how-to-break-free-of-emotional-overeating/?utm_source=mfp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly20150330&mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRokuKvPZKXonjHpfsX66%2B0tUK6%2FlMI%2F0ER3fOvrPUfGjI4DTsVlI%2BSLDwEYGJlv6SgFSrTFMblm0LgLXhM%3D

http://www.webmd.com/diet/eat-clean-diet-review?page=3

Is Stress Bad…or Good?

We long for straightforward answers, and so rarely get them. What will my future look like? What job will make me the happiest? What exercise and eating plan will make me feel the healthiest version of myself? So many questions that demand a black and white answer. But, most answers fall into the grey. Even the impacts of stress fall into the grey.

It seems that stress can be both bad and good, but since the scenarios of when and how stress can cause us to stumble are more abundant, we will look at a few profound examples of how stress can actually benefit us. These are what I like to call “slingshot” scenarios. They are challenging times that cause us to move backwards and presumably, lose ground on our goals.

If you understand the simple principle of a slingshot, then you know where I’m heading with this…a slingshot pulls an object back to maximal tension before subsequently propelling it forward faster and farther than it would have traveled on its own. The slingshot effect is awesome. Truly, awesome. Unfortunately, it’s not always fun to be approaching that maximal point of tension…and, if that point of tension is held for too long, the slingshot will likely break.

Is stress bad or good

So, is stress bad or good? Below we look at two examples from nature and human experience that suggest that stress in moderation doesn’t fit neatly into a good or bad category. Stress in moderation is a necessity. It helps us become more resilient. It helps us thrive.

Scientists decided to examine the life cycle of trees grown in a fully protected environment, “Biosphere 2,” compared with trees encountering the varying forces of nature. The scientists found that the trees in Biosphere 2 grew more quickly than the other trees. This seems great – remove environmental stress and the trees flourish. Well, not quite.

Although the trees grew quickly, they fell over after reaching maturity. In an article called The Necessity of Stress, Travis Brownley explains that the scientists came to realize the following:

“…a lack of wind in Biosphere 2 caused a deficiency of stress wood. Stress wood helps a tree position itself for optimal sun absorption and it also helps trees grow more solidly. Without stress wood, a tree can grow quickly, but it cannot support itself fully. It cannot withstand normal wear and tear, and survive. In other words, the trees needed some stress in order to thrive in the long run.”

We see a similar phenomenon when we move from nature to human experience. Alison Levine, team captain of the first ever American Women’s Everest Expedition, encountered the forces of nature on Mount Everest and shared her experience with the world in a profound Tedx Talks. The 20 minute talk is absolutely mind boggling. You will take away far more than you imagined in that short time. Alison brings our attention to the fact that an expedition up Mount Everest actually consists of a lot of time climbing down!

the summit

 One of Alison’s many amazing quotes.

Alison’s team had to hike ten days just to make it to base camp. After several days acclimating to Base Camp, her team hiked up the mountain to Camp 1 and then back to Base Camp. After this, they hiked to Camp 2, before returning once again to Base Camp. Then, they hiked to Camp 1, Camp 2, and at last, Camp 3. And then? Yes, they hiked all the way back down the mountain to Base Camp. Hiking back down after each moment of triumph, reaching a higher altitude, was necessary to acclimate, recover, and climb higher.

While hiking back down the mountain is an obvious example of the aforementioned slingshot effect, Alison also brings up another form of stress; slow progress.

Alison takes us through what happens at the Death Zone on Mount Everest. The Death Zone is at 26,000 ft. altitude, where life can’t be sustained. Thanks to important gear, and taking five to ten breaths for every single step taken, Alison’s team continued to climb towards the summit. Think about it – in order to survive, you have to take ONE step, and then FIVE to TEN breaths, before lifting the other leg. Alison jests in her Tedx Talks presentation, “so…if you ever think you’re having a slow day…” For real, Alison. For real.

Clearly, a slow application of stress can be vital for success. If Alison’s team had tried to face to the top, they would have experienced certain defeat. As it turns out, Alison was just 300 ft. from the top of Mount Everest on her first expedition when she had to turn around due to weather conditions. She returns and conquers the mountain, but she remains more changed from the climb than actually reaching the summit. 

Stress, powerful force

So, how do you deal with “stress in moderation” when it feels tedious and frustrating? Alison suggests what worked for her; focus on what’s directly in front of you and just try to reach that milestone. Once you reach it, find the courage to tell yourself that if you made it that far, then you can try to reach the next milestone, and go for it.

For Alison, and many of us, it’s hard to understand the future. And yes, that can be stressful. But, as Alison says, “Sometimes, I think, you don’t have to have total clarity in order to just put one foot in front of the other.”

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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References:

https://travisma.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/the-necessity-of-stress/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hUybmqUVmM