Tag Archives: Women

Don’t You Deserve a Break?

There are many days when we women run on an empty tank, rushing around to take care of errands, a family, work, meals, and, on seldom occasion, a pedicure! If we’re lucky. No “Manual on Life” told us to keep the pressure on 24/7; it just kind of happened one day. It became the norm out of nowhere.

But, even with a full agenda…especially with a full agenda, it’s important to give ourselves a well-deserved break. A big part of wellness is knowing how to handle our energy. We must refuel and be “selfish” at times or we will, quite literally, go crazy. Been there!!!

So, in celebration of the upcoming holiday, Labor Day, I would like to leave you with some ideas on how to create boundaries and “me time,” so that you can finally catch your breath.

Take a break

Whether or not you have the day off on Labor Day is irrelevant. I went for years without standard weekday holidays off because that was when clients had time to get in the gym. People I had been trying to get on my schedule for months would finally show up! Hence, the Labor Day blog post will be a workout that you can do, should you choose to spend part of the holiday on your health. Whenever you have the opportunity to make time for yourself is great!

It may be that you have to hit the pause button in the middle of a busy time at work – in order to save your sanity –  or you may have too much time on your hands one month and, as a result, you feel like you have to keep a full schedule, making every minute count. Whatever the case, if you don’t make time for you, no one else will. Showing yourself love is just as important as loving others, especially for women who tend to be hard on themselves while simultaneously being incredibly generous to others.

This past week I found myself short-fused and exhausted. I’m almost 16 weeks pregnant and I had spent the entire month working my rear end off on events for other women in my life. I was super happy to do it and very honored to have such special ladies in my life that I would bend over backwards for. Still, I reached the end of August feeling physically and emotionally vulnerable. I had depleted myself because I didn’t take the time to reenergize and focus on my needs (especially during such a sensitive time in life). So, I decided to implement the following strategies (below) to create a little personal space and time for myself. It was only one day of the week that I gave in to all of my needs, but I savored in it. I finally felt like I took care of myself.

Maybe you can use these strategies to cut out a few hours of the day for yourself, or maybe you can find a way to turn it into a whole week! Enjoy the time and remember that you are worthy of it.

Strategies for Recharging

Katharine Hepburn

Carve Out Time

Although an impromptu “peace out” can be extraordinarily satisfying, I find that planning your personal time in advance has some benefits. If you plan your personal hour(s), day(s), week(s) or…gasp…month(s) (PS – I envy you) ahead of time, you have the ability to be really thoughtful about how you wish to spend it. One can easily get wrapped up in an agenda of personal errands during off days instead of giving time to activities that will be emotionally rejuvenating.

I think one of the biggest things that women need to remember is that there doesn’t need to be a justification for your time off. You don’t need to make up a lame excuse about your dog’s vet appointment or a family member from out of town. Just say that you need the day off. Simple as that!

Create Boundaries with Friends/Family/Co-workers

If you need the day off and someone is making you feel bad about it, that’s their issue, not yours. I know it sounds harsh, but there are likely few needs that will collapse the world or ruin your professional reputation if left unattended to for 24 hours (unless an individual’s actual life depends on you…which may be the case for babies, handicap and elderly individuals). Thus, it’s important to identify people who you anticipate may reach out to you during your time off. Politely let them know that you care about them and their needs, but that you’re going to be off the radar for a hot second and to please hold off on communication. You can promptly pick things up again when you return.

I was really intimidated to explain to a few close friends that I needed a break from talking about baby stuff for the week. As an expectant mother, I felt overwhelmed by the constant messages and requests to chat about how I was feeling, particularly when they came multiple times a day. I appreciate the outpouring of love and concern, but I just felt that it was holding me back from getting into a rhythm of focusing on myself (and ironically, by taking care of my own needs, being able to take care of my growing baby’s needs). I’m here today to say that these friends completely understood that I needed to mentally check out for a bit. I mean, once the baby arrives I won’t have that privilege! They are still my wonderful friends and no, it wasn’t as scary or offensive to bring up as I had imagined it. Life goes on!

Relaxation is who you are

Do Things That REALLY Make You Happy

I recently heard about famous Japanese home organizer, Marie Kondo. She tells people to take each item in their closet or home, depending on how much decluttering you need, into their hands. While touching the item, people are encouraged to ask the thoughtful question, “Does this spark joy?” If not, it’s time to get rid of it. Thus, for your personal time, I encourage you to do the same. Does the activity (or even lack of agenda) give you joy?

Some people hate Home Depot. Some people hate the gym. I happen to LOVE both. So, on my personal day off I hit them both up. I also decided that tracking down a hidden neighborhood dog park was on my agenda because watching my little puppy sprint across a wide open space makes my heart leap. Lastly, I decided to discard my backlog of American Marketing Association magazines in favor of a book that I will allow to remain nameless, lol. Let’s just say it’s a poorly written, trashy chick-lit novel that doesn’t deserve the $30 I spent on it…except that it kind of does because it provides mindless entertainment value. Gotta love that from time to time.

What makes you really happy? Do you allow yourself time for it? If the answer is no, create time. Out of thin air, if you must. Life is too short not to enjoy yourself here and there.

Remove “Should” From Your Vocabulary

I’m the queen of using my email inbox as my “To Do” list. In other words, if your email hits my main account, I’m responding to it ASAP. On my day off, a few emails pinged in that I felt compelled to respond to right away. But, that would be breaking my own rules. If you’re truly taking time for yourself, allow the “should” tasks to wash away from the world. They’re still going to be there after you relax. In fact, they will never go away because that’s just life. So, why allow them to insert themselves into your brief hiatus? Your Zen is way more important than vacuuming, emails, cleaning your closet, and running errands. For once, your only “should” is what you genuinely want; the thing that warms your heart.

Ladies, you have certainly added to the strength, posterity and well-being of our country and, the world at large. Don’t you deserve Labor Day or another day off, just for yourself? Listen to the little voice that is saying “yeesssssssss!”

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

 

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Fitness Advertising; Naughty or Nice?

The fitness industry often campaigns ads that meet “fitspo” criteria; images of women who are extremely thin, usually in just their underwear or sports bra, alongside a caption that is supposed to motivate consumers to work harder to achieve the same “ideal.”

Although there are many studies which suggest that women feel deflated by images like these, they must manage to entice them, right? Otherwise, companies wouldn’t be using sexy advertising images to their advantage. To test this assumption firsthand, I conducted a “social experiment” in digital advertising by placing one empowering image and one sexy image on a popular women’s fitness site. I couldn’t believe the shocking results!

fitness ads

The images above are the ones I used to test women’s engagement (i.e. click-through) with the ads. I had a feeling the traffic would be a little higher for the image on the right, but when it was 243% higher, I was dumbfounded. I thought certainly the image on the right might be provocative to men, but to women too? Did it allure them because of intrigue/curiosity, desire to look attractive, disgust, or what? I can’t say that I will ever have the full answers.

With all the attention the underwear ad gained over the image of a woman looking strong, it made me step back and contemplate my strategy for reaching a wider blog audience. Man, it was tempting to think about turning up the heat and plastering intriguing images left and right on the web, but I knew that in the end, that’s not the brand image I want to represent. I don’t want to get attention by falling in line with the thousands of other fitness professionals who post pictures of their midriffs to Instagram. No, I want to hold a higher, more professional, and classy standard. Here’s why…

There are a lot of women like Sheena Lyonnais, a woman who was 26 years old and trying to get in shape for her upcoming birthday. She started looking for inspiration on Tumblr and, of course, found herself fixating on “fitspo” or “fitspiration” images. She had good intentions for herself, but when you’re caught up in comparing your body to others, it’s sure to be a slippery slope.

Check out the #fitspo images (below) that I recently found on Twitter. You can see how the line between inspiring and unhealthy/dangerous can get hazy with some of these images.

controversial fitspo 2

 

It wasn’t too long before Sheena, who had the best of intentions at the outset, found herself relying emotionally on running and would eat only 1,000 calories a day. She admits that she wasn’t at the point of a full-blown eating disorder, but that she was on a precarious and unhealthy path. Just one bit of proof that exercising more and eating less does not always lead to success, health or happiness.

I understand where Sheena is coming from in her struggles. I had a similar experience when I was first formally learning about fitness and nutrition in undergrad at The University of Virginia. I became so particular about trying to do things a certain way with exercise and food, to be as “perfect” at it as possible, and wound up becoming somewhat malnourished during training for a marathon. I became severely ill towards the end of my training. It took a few weeks for me to fully recover after the marathon since my immune system had been trashed.

It’s this sensitive situation between disorder and health that a lot of women find themselves in – struggling to maintain control over their lifestyles while constantly coming across images like this tweet (below). Oy. “Marry” your workouts?!

controversial fitspo

There are plenty of women out there who find these images inspiring and they push harder because of them; however, the majority of women feel judged and ashamed as a result of them. It’s not okay to shake a finger at someone over not having rock hard abs, just as it’s not cool to “fit shame” and assume that because someone is extremely healthy looking that they are doing something extreme.

It’s really a personal decision. It’s YOUR decision whether or not you buy into this fitspo and sexy advertising/marketing. I won’t judge you either way! What’s important to realize is how the images impact you, and only you, emotionally. If they feel suffocating then by all means, stop the vicious cycle. Unfollow people on social media and avoid websites that you know make you feel less than worthy. You’re never going to reach a place of being healthy and happy with low confidence. Build that up first, perhaps even while hitting the gym here and there, and the rest will fall in line.

On the flipside, if you don’t mind these images then go for it, but proceed with caution. You never know when a good thing can become a bad thing.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz logo 2

 

References:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/17/fitspo-fitspiration_n_5574150.html

How to Keep Your Cool in the Summer Heat

beat the heatPoolside lounging, long bike rides and sunny picnics are the joys of summer. Unfortunately, spending so many hours outside basking in the summer sun may put an individual at risk for heat exhaustion, a serious condition with short and long-term side effects that no one wants to deal with during sunshine-filled vacation months. It’s easy to be susceptible to it, too. So how do you identify heat exhaustion and stay safe while exercising outdoors (or even when spending extra time by the pool)? Let’s find out…

According to WebMD, “heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures, and it often is accompanied by dehydration.” The symptoms of heat exhaustion may include dizziness, fatigue, headache, muscle cramps, nausea, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat and more. I think these symptoms would hamper my ability to feel good! Don’t you?

Outside of causing immediate discomfort, heat exhaustion may impact you for days or even weeks following the incident. In fact, people may be more sensitive to heat, light and smells after suffering from heat exhaustion, putting one at risk for a repeat episode OR a more serious condition: heat stroke! The later can actually cause organ and brain damage and even death! Things just got serious, people!

outdoor exercise

Obviously most fit people really love their warm weather workouts – not to mention a good sweat – so how does one stay safe and prevent this condition? Ahhh, there are many ways. Let’s unveil a few simple strategies:

  • Wear lightweight clothing that whisks sweat away from the skin so your body can cool itself down.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after an outdoor workout. Ever seen a water bottle carrier that wraps around your waist or a water carrying backpack? Drop the ego, strap on the H20!
  • Remove restrictive clothing that may be causing you to overheat. Note: This is NOT an excuse to be an exhibitionist…unless in DIRE emergency…
  • Place cool towels or ice near your pulse points to quickly cool your core temperature (side of neck, inside of wrists, crease of elbows, behind the knees, top of the inner thighs) or take a cool bath.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors on days that are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit since the risk of heat exhaustion rises above this temperature.
  • Check the heat index before choosing the trail or park over the gym. According to WebMD, a relative humidity of 60% or more prevents sweat from evaporating off your skin, leaving your body feeling like you neglected to leave the steam room within the advised time limit.
  • Be wary of exercising alone or in a remote outdoor environment since you will not be able to get help as quickly, if you need it. Better yet, get a workout buddy!
  • Avoid mid-summer workouts in urban areas that are full of concrete and asphalt since these materials trap heat and raise the temperature.
  • Schedule your workout for the early morning when the temperature is likely to be at its lowest.

hydrateNo one wants to spend summer tucked away in a dark room or gloomy feeling gym, and you don’t have to! Just stick to the simple strategies above and have the courage to cut a workout short if you feel that you’re in danger. Finish up indoors with core exercises – can never get enough of them!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz logo 2

 

 

References:

http://www.emedicinehealth.com/heat_exhaustion/page5_em.htm

http://www.livestrong.com/article/4133-need-heat-exhaustion/

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/heat-exhaustion?page=1

Boudoir Lessons for Bikini Season

Beach Body

So, I have a confession to make. Back in March, I decided to embark on a mission to discover how Victoria’s Secret models feel when they’re in a photo shoot wearing…not much. It started as a little oh-la-la present for my husband, who travels four days out of the week, but it turned into a full-fledged, top-priority operation [on behalf of my readers]. I sought to discover how on earth someone could feel comfortable in little more than a bikini’s worth of material, and learned way more than I bargained for. No, I’m not sharing pictures, those are for my hubby’s eyes only, but I will share the lessons learned along the way, and the ladies I encountered who are changing the world, one bikini-fearing, underwear-shopping-adverse woman at a time…

When I signed up for a photoshoot with Three Boudoir, I knew I would have to restrain myself from going crazy over the next few months. I’m the type of person who likes to have event specific goals to train for (weddings, bikini season, road races). It’s easy to be motivated by external pressures that have tangible deadlines attached. It gets us tying up our gym shoes a little faster, and choosing salmon and broccoli more often than steak and fries. But, I wanted to challenge myself to refrain from ramping up my exercise and trimming out a few hundred calories every day, in preparation for the photoshoot. I actually wanted to just feel like myself for once. I knew that if I could step into that intimidating environment, cameras flashing, feeling…normal…that I would really put myself to the test.

I have to tell you; I’m SO glad that I did. Upon signing up for the photoshoot, I anticipated that I would be plagued by major stomach cramps from pent-up anxiety and a ten-fold increase in nervous butterflies on the day of. Surpisingly, my tummy only did a small flip-flop or two.

Body Confidence Bobbi Brown

I was grateful to the Three Boudoir girls for the encouraging emails they sent me prior to the photoshoot. I was initially worried that I may have put myself into a queue to be objectified, but when I got their first email, I understood that they were all about empowerment, and that thrilled me. They incrementally boosted my confidence and made me feel reassured about just being my natural self. Here’s a little sample of their enthusiasm: “Give yourself a huge pat on the back. You are brave and fearless. You are about to take on a super fun boudoir shoot that is going to leave you feeling sexy and ready to take on the world.”

Every single email that the company sent me was full of positive language. I’m pretty sure they used “hot,” “sexy,” “gorgeoous,” “amazing,” “brave,” and “beautiful” dozens of times each. Even though I giggled and let the comments slide off of me at first, over time, I started to feel better about myself, and was more excited than nervous. I started to believe in my bravery and beauty. What an even grander benefit than having pretty pictures!

On the day of the shoot, I was overwhelmed by the warmth of the women who helped me pose and look my best. I give myself ZERO credit for being able to strike those poses on my own; it’s hard work! They were encouraging, natural and fun. The time actually flew by. I felt my long-standing intimidation of models, and the unnatural poses they’re photographed in, begin to melt away. I might not look exactly like a lot of models, but I’m me – and that’s pretty awesome. Likewise, for you! 

What made the biggest impression on me though, is that apparently lots of women are more accepting of themselves than I knew. Apparently, plenty of women prefer to leave their simple “imperfections” front and center rather than edited out of photos. The boudoir ladies told me that lots of women prefer to let birth marks and scars show in their pictures. For example, without naming names, they told me that even women who have undergone surgery following breast cancer may prefer to let their scars show, because it’s part of their identity. This fits exactly within a message, on Three Boudoir’s website, that all women can take to heart: “Every single person that comes through our studio has unique qualities that we know exactly how to draw out and capture in photos.” Oh man, I might as well be their spokeswoman with all this good PR! Haha. No, they did not ask me to write this. I prayed for the confidence to share this all on my own.

Done with Guilt, On with Life

Unfortunately, positive affirmations and mood-lifting information isn’t internalized very well by women. Glamour magazine polled 1,000 women, ages 18-40, and found that body image today is actually worse than 30 years ago.  Even though women have been dominating in many professional fields, proving to the world that we should have been taken more seriously long, long, long ago, we’re suffering from a lack of self-esteem more than ever. Why?!? Someone tell us why!!!

According to Glamour, modern women compare themselves more to the girl next door than celebrities. Instead of flipping through magazines a few times a month, as may have been the case 30 years ago, we’re now inundated by at least 1.8 billion, yes BILLION, new pictures posted to social media every day! Since we’re seeing a lot more normal people, we curiously scan the endless images until we find someone that looks like our “ideal body,” and then believe we should and can look like that too.

Nowadays, the thinking is a little like this:

“Oh, I know I can’t achieve a Cameron Diaz or Madonna body. It’s unrealistic because I’d have to be super rich and paying a personal chef and world-class trainer to sculpt that kind of bod. But, my friend Michelle’s recent pictures on Facebook and Instagram make her look super amazing and she’s not a celebrity. She has a child and a full-time job! If she can get a ripped stomach then I can do it. If I can’t look like her, there must be something wrong with me. I have to prove that I can be just as on-top-of-it and slim. Why not, right?”

I’m all for women feeling empowered because of other people’s successes, but comparing ourselves to others is apparently at the core of what makes us dissatisfied. Geesh. What to do?

Here are few simple steps towards feeling your best:

1) Quit comparing yourself to others. Easier said than done, I know. But, you should try anyways.

2) If looking at other people’s pictures makes you feel bad, then place a limit on yourself by monitoring your media browsing.

3) Reinforce positive language about your body whenever the urge to shame it creeps up – aka, fake it until you make it. Positive affirmations breed positive thinking.

4) Exercise – it’s a natural self-esteem, feel-good boost.

5) Give yourself some love. Think about what healthy actions make you happy and do more of them, instead of repeating negative habits or actions that lead to frustration and anxiety.

Bikini Joy

Another fun thing you can do to feel invigorated and ready for bikini season, is treat yourself to some new underwear that will make you feel great and build up your confidence! I recently met a fellow UVA alum, Katie Fritts, who started a company called UnderClub. Katie discovered that many women often don’t toss out their older pairs of underwear and are so pressed for time that they don’t have the mental energy to make a one-off trip to the mall for minor but necessary basics like underwear. Underclub offers women a way to turn this chore into a fun subscription-based service, delivering customized high-quality undies straight to their doorsteps. To accompany the cute packaging with every order, Underclub includes a personalized note for customers; a simple reminder of their beauty or a little something to make them feel good. Love it. 

Whether or not you’re planning to buy chic new undies or a fun seasonal bikini, I encourage you to remember what you love most about your body, mind and soul this summer. You don’t need to be in skimpy stuff to feel worthy or attractive, and you certainly don’t need to be objectified, but you can put on a sleek, sexy, feminine, bold, fun, or classy attitude that makes you outshine the sun. YOU make any little piece of fabric look good. Don’t forget it.  

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz logo 2

References:

http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/2014/10/body-image-how-do-you-feel-about-your-body/1

http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/2011/02/shocking-body-image-news-97-percent-of-women-will-be-cruel-to-their-bodies-today/1

http://www.threeboudoir.com/

http://www.underclub.co/

 

Two Sources of Pain for Women

At some point in life, lots of women experience pain in their stomach, back, hips and/or knees. The sources of these pain points may feel elusive, but in many scenarios, there are two culprits to blame. I’m here today to help you identify whether you, or a woman you care about, has one of these conditions.

Q Angle

 PAIN SOURCE #1: LARGER Q-ANGLE

Women have wider hips than men. This is not surprising information. In some women, a wider pelvis results in a steeper angle between two landmarks: the ASIS and the patella.

The ASIS stands for Anterior Superior Iliac Spine. Don’t be intimidated – this is easier to identify on your body than it is to pronounce. Place your hands on your hips, like you’re standing with a little sass (thumbs pointing back and fingers forward). Feel where your middle and ring finger fall on the front of your hips. Slide your fingers slightly inwards and you will feel a bony part of your pelvis if you push into your flesh. You found it!

Next, place two fingers on your kneecap. You found the patella! So much easier. 

The Q-Angle is an angle measured between these two landmarks. It’s best done by a physical therapist or qualified fitness professional using a goniometer. Yuck, so many dull scientific words.

For a great visual, check out the illustration on this website: http://bit.ly/1CWkk4X (scroll down just a little on the page)

Why is this relevant to you? 

If you’ve experienced knee pain or instability, ACL issues, pain with running or jumping, and/or hip pain, then you may have a “large” Q-Angle. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you, so don’t panic! It simply means that your kneecap tends to be pulled at a harsh angle, causing stress on the surrounding soft-tissue structures.

Although it’s super unfair that nature has made women more prone to knee pain than men, there are simple ways to ensure knee health. Here are a few:

1) Strengthen your quadriceps. Your quads are the large muscles on the front side of your thighs. These muscles are above the knee and help stabilize your kneecap’s movement. You can strengthen these muscles through controlled leg extensions, leg presses, and squats.

Leg Extension

2) Foam roll your IT bands. Your IT-bands are dense, connective tissue on the outside/lateral aspect of your thigh. Tight IT-bands can add tension and stress to the knee.  Since there is already a strong pull on your kneecap based on a large Q-Angle, it’s important not to add any unnecessary tension to the knee.

A foam roller is a cylinder made of densely packed foam. You can roll your body back and forth on the roam roller to relieve tension in any area. It’s like you’re a big ball of dough on a rolling pin! Not what a woman wants to imagine herself as, I know, but the analogy works!

If foam rolling hurts a lot, it’s a sign your connective tissue is really tense and needs this release. You can reduce discomfort by placing one leg in front of the other, distributing your body weight into the assisting leg.

Note: It’s really important that you don’t roll directly over joints. Ouch. 

3) Control knee stability during lower body exercises. If you watch yourself in a mirror, or even look down at your knees, while performing a lower body exercise, you may notice that your knees drift slightly inwards. When your knees drift towards one another, it creates stress on the joint capsule. Although this may improve with leg strengthening exercises, it may also be a factor of form.

You can increase your awareness by simply being mindful of your form. If you notice that your knees are drifting inwards, simply exert a little effort and move them wider. It doesn’t have to be excessive. It should feel more comfortable and will help you feel better balanced.

4) Strengthen your “outer thighs.” This may surprise you, but there aren’t any “outer thigh” muscles per say. When you perform exercises to target this area, you’re actually working muscles in the outer region of your hips/gluts. More specifically, muscles called your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. 

A wider Q-Angle means that these muscles are pulled and elongated a bit more than usual, resulting in them being less stable and strong. Since knee health depends a lot on ankle and hip stability, it’s a good idea to strengthen these oft-forgotten muscles. You can do this through side lunges, lateral movements, lying side leg lifts, clams, and more.

 

PAIN SOURCE #2: DIASTASIS RECTI

Even if your baby-making years are far ahead or behind you, this is relevant information because it may impact you some day, or it may have taken place during pregnancy without your awareness. For women who plan to have children soon, or who are currently pregnant, listen even closer.

Diastasis Recti

We’ve all admired another person’s six-pack at some time or another, right? Well, imagine that the rippled six pack has an enormous split down the middle, separating and pulling the two halves away from one another so that the abdomen looks a little more like two three packs. This is what Diastasis Recti looks like. For a great visual, click here: http://bit.ly/1JQoYaS

Why does this happen?

When a woman gains weight with pregnancy and extra pressure is placed on the abdomen as it stretches, the core muscles are under great strain. The six-pack muscle naturally stretches with a growing uterus, but in the case of Diastasis Recti, the connective tissue that coats your core (the linea alba) gets stretched to a greater degree. The split can sometimes appear as a ridge in the abdomen and can be felt by placing fingers into the crevice. Diastasis Recti is usually diagnosed when the space is two finger widths.

What are the consequences?

Diastasis Recti can compromise a woman’s overall core strength, leading to secondary conditions that challenge overall health and wellbeing. Some women also experience a post-pregnancy “pooch” that they just can’t seem to get rid of because it isn’t a factor of weight loss. Diastasis Recti may present with multiple other conditions such as:

  • Back pain and instability
  • Compromising posture
  • Pelvic floor dysfunctions Hernia
  • Pelvic pain and instability
  • Gas and Digestive problems
  • Fecal incontinence (Constipation)
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction (SPFD)
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Pelvic organ prolapsed

One of our readers shares her personal experience…

When Jenna knew something was wrong:

“Sometime in the middle of my third trimester (while pregnant with my first child), I realized that I had Diastasis Recti. I was only aware of the condition because of my background in nursing school. The particular activity that made me aware of my abdominal separation was trying to sit up in bed (the wrong way). As my stretched-out abs attempted to engage, I saw what looked like a mountain ridge down the middle of my abdomen. This was a little frightening to see and though I was not experiencing pain, I could tell something was not right. When I mentioned this event to my caregiver, I received no concern and no education was given regarding how to protect myself when bearing weight or how to properly exercise my core post pregnancy.

Roughly two years later, I gave birth to my second child and suffered three tears. Even after my injuries healed, my pelvic pain lingered. It was noticeable with long periods of standing at my kitchen counter or when taking long walks outside. The pain was especially acute when I would sit up from a reclined position in bed after nursing my newborn for night-time feedings. I made an appointment to discuss the pain with my provider. She recommended pelvic physical therapy for my ‘pubic symphysis dysfunction.'”

How Jenna got better:

“I am so thankful that I took this recommendation! My pelvic PT taught me about the anatomy of the female pelvis and how childbirth impacts and often compromises core strength. I learned how to measure my diastasis recti and what exercises I could practice to help approximate the abdominal muscles. I learned how to protect my core by creating a “pelvic brace” for exercising and weight lifting. I also learned the proper posture for carrying my baby, how to get in and out of bed, and safe body mechanics for lifting my car seat.

Over a five week period, my pain significantly improved and was rarely noticeable! Only after a two week period of not exercising did my pain return (minimally). I discovered the reason for this is because I’m still breastfeeding my baby and this allows the relaxin hormone to linger, thereby creating instability at the pubic symphysis and also making it difficult to build muscle. While breastfeeding, maintaining my core stability means that I have to exercise regularly (4-5 times a week) and practice Kegel exercises daily. If I can commit to these practices, I remain pain free!”

Thank you, Jenna, a million times over for sharing this personal journey!!! It takes a lot of courage to share it and no doubt other women will benefit from hearing it. 

How do I exercise to prevent or correct Diastasis Recti?

If you believe that you have diastasis recti, then I suggest you work with a reputable physical therapist for at least a few sessions, to get on the right track. As mentioned in the former testimonial, it’s important to learn proper biomechanics for sitting up in bed, lifting heavy objects, and bracing your core during exercises. A great place to start is by checking these exercises, performed by my lovely former colleague, Alison, and presented by my wonderful friend and former PT Cari: http://www.releasept.com/videos/low-back-core/ (The first nine videos work on core bracing in a gentle, but effective, way.)

Jenna’s PT, Stephanie Fournier, has also been extremely generous with her time, and has offered us some answers to important questions about this condition. See her interview below.

 

INTERVIEW WITH WOMEN’S HEALTH CLINICAL SPECIALIST

Maternal Health

1) How many women do you encounter postpartum who have severe pelvic and core instability, and/or a diagnosable condition?

First, I would define severe pelvic and core instability as any pain or dysfunction in the postpartum period that is affecting activities of daily living. This could include severe pain, restriction in activities, avoidance of activities, or slowing a woman down in her normal activities. That being said, the exact number is hard to quantify since I treat in an outpatient clinic where I am only going to encounter those women who do have problems (core instability and/or pain) and who are coming to me via doctor or self-referral. However, I do believe that pain and dysfunction in the postpartum period go largely under diagnosed. What I hear most often from patients is that they tried to talk to a friend, family member, or healthcare provider about their pain/instability/limitation and they are told things such as, “That is normal, you just had a baby,”… “It will get better after the pregnancy,”… “You just have to live with it.”

Some research numbers to reflect on:

  • Incidence of lower back pain and pelvic girdle pain (PGP) in pregnancy range from 68.5% to 76% in prospective studies (Wang, 2004; Kristiansson, 1996; Ostgaard, 1991). And the incidence of PGP alone in pregnancy was 20%, in one prospective ,study (Vleeming, 2008). Why the discrepancy? Most likely pain is under reported.
  • 70% of women experience some sort of lower back or pelvic pain during pregnancy.
  • 1/3 of women report severe limitations in activities of daily living as a result of back and pelvic pain (Ostgaard, 1991). The risk for back pain increases postpartum (Ostgaard, 1997).
  • Most importantly, women having back and pelvic pain are 3x as likely to have postpartum depressive symptoms than those without pain (Gutke, 2007).

2) How do most women identify that they have Diastasis Recti? What tips do you have for identifying it as early as possible?

Most women that I see in the clinic do not realize that they have a diastasis recti (DrA). Often, they are coming to me for pelvic pain (posterior pelvic girdle pain, pubic symphysis dysfunction, lateral hip pain, or abdominal pain) and it is something that we find during our evaluation. They might have noticed a tent or pooch in their abdominal area with sits ups, supine to sit (getting in and out of bed) but didn’t exactly know what it meant. For identifying early on, women can measure themselves with their fingers or a tape measure or just look at their tummy when they are rolling in bed or sitting up in bed.

To measure; the patient starts in supine with their knees flexed. They can place their fingers horizontally in the umbilicus and raise their head up. They are measuring how many fingers they can place inside the gap in the rectus abdominis. [It should be noted that this finger method is highly unreliable and it is better to use a tape measure, however the tape measure is hard to do on yourself]

Some more research numbers to be aware of:

  • 66% of women develop a DrA by their 3rd trimester.
  • 39% of women have a significant DrA several years after delivery. Significant is defined as separation of 2.5cm or more (Ranney, 1990).
  • More than 50% of women presenting for urogynecological examination presented with a DrA. These are postmenopausal women. Likely, the DrA developed during the child bearing years and never fully resolved postpartum, leading to poor core stability and pelvic organ prolapse (Spitznagle, 2007) .
  • DrA is associated with varying degrees of stress urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse (Spitznagle, 2007). This is why treating DrA early on in the postpartum period is so important to me. We could potentially be helping women to avoid major symptoms and even surgery.

Also, Parker (2008) found that women with DrA tend to have higher degrees of pelvic or abdominal pain.

3) How soon after pregnancy can women start working their core muscles again? How do you suggest they start?

I recommend that women return to activity postpartum as they feel comfortable. However, I do have a few recommendations for those women who do have a DrA [separation of 2.5cm or more at the umbilicus, 4.5cm superior to the umbilicus, and 4.5cm inferior to the umbilicus].

  • Avoid obliques, regular crunches/situps, and planks until the DrA is reduced to 2.5cm or less OR the woman can affectively activate a co contraction (transverse abdominis + pelvic floor muscle contraction)
  • When treating a DrA, I start with initiation of TrA (transverse abdominis) which they can start day one postpartum with or without a c-section
  • Progress to DrA curlup (Neville, 2008)
  • Various TrA stabilization activities or progressions, depending on the individual
  • Consider corset or elastic binder per the individual
  • Avoid bearing down (valsalva) and sitting straight up (in bed/jack-knife)
  • As always, ensure proper pelvic floor muscle activation (including power, endurance, and coordination)

Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your wisdom and expertise! You went above and beyond!

If you have any questions about this content and/or exercises to improve your health, then please don’t hesitate to reach out! Upon request, I’m happy to share the medical studies that Stephanie referenced too.

Being a woman can be tough stuff, but there’s no reason why we can’t feel amazing and pain free!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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References:

https://www.abdominalconnections.com/diastasis-recti/

http://gregnuckols.com/2013/07/17/do-women-need-to-train-any-differently/

http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/abdominal-separation-diastasis-recti

 

 

 

My Diary. Air France. A Happy Ending.

Starting in early 2015, the same week as the Charlie Hebdo shooting, several French citizens working for Air France made it their mission to embark on a two-month long, Sherlock Holmes style investigation to reunite a lost diary and its owner (me). This is the story of how the kindness of these strangers has impacted my life and how the power of positive thinking may have impacted theirs.

My Diary. Air France. A Happy Ending. Pic

January 10, 2015

It’s a full week after returning from vacation in Paris when I reach for my diary in the nightstand drawer and find that it’s missing. At first I stay calm and get out of bed to check the empty luggage, stowed away in the guest bedroom closet. It’s not there. Did I ask my husband to carry the diary in his briefcase on the way home from France? I check the brown leather briefcase that I proudly bought him two Christmases ago.  It’s not there either.

A tinge of panic sets in and I begin to investigate all sorts of places in my home where I never keep my diary, just in case. It has to be in this house. I have to find it. Please God, let me find it!

I desperately sort through all of the bookcases, check the storage ottoman in the den, and ravage all of the closets. But the diary isn’t anywhere.

I thunder up the stairs and into the master bedroom where my husband is lying peacefully. He always falls asleep first. I envy that of him. With complete disregard for his slumber, I say in a breathless voice, “Hun! I’ve lost my diary! It’s actually gone! I can’t believe it.”

My husband opens his eyes into half slits and peers at me. He knows my tone. He knows that this high octave is soon followed by tears. He waves me into the bed.

I lie down beside him with my heart racing, knowing that somewhere between DC and Paris my secrets and musings are vulnerable, available for any stranger to snatch up like hot cakes off a griddle. The thought of this is just too much to bear. I start to sniffle. My husband tries to console me and says that he will help me call the hotel we stayed at in France, near the Luxembourg Gardens. He says he will also call the airports that we traveled through, to check about lost and found items.

I appreciate his help and his attempts to console me, but I start to sob. I feel sorrow for losing nearly two years’ worth of recorded memories. I also feel fearful that whoever finds my diary will cast it aside like a day-old newspaper. Or worse, whoever finds it may actually read it! 

I try to rest but sleep stays just one step ahead of me for the next few hours…

This is the first diary I’ve lost out of dozens that I’ve kept over the years. Foolishly, I don’t have my contact information written in it. I never fathomed that I could ever misplace something so important. There is no hope in finding it.

Losing the diary feels more personal and upsetting than losing a wallet or expensive jewelry. Those possessions are not more valuable in my eyes. Plus, when you lose something of clear value, you feel like there’s 50/50 chance it will be found and turned in (or stolen). The precedence for returning a diary that doesn’t possess any contact information and is in a foreign language (given that I lost it in France)?! Well…I’ve never heard of it happening.

My Diary 8

January 28, 2015

Over the next few weeks after losing the diary, I wonder if I should start re-recording things. Every time I reach for the extra unmarked diary, that I happen to have on hand, I get a sense of unease. Something doesn’t feel right. I can’t come to closure over the loss. Instead, my mind runs over the countless memories I want to preserve, as though mentally rehearsing them feels more manageable than writing them down.

I wonder if my diary is at the bottom of a dumpster behind Charles De Galle airport or perhaps, has made its way into the trash in Amsterdam, where we had a layover. I wonder if someone picked it up, riffled through its pages, and tossed it aside, or if some curious stranger decided to read it, entertained by my ardent attempts to put even simple things into the silver lining of life. Will he or she think that I’m pathetic? Will there be laughter? Will it get passed around, for amusement’s sake, in the break room at work?

The diary that I lost in France has “Daily Positives” written plain and clear across the top of the first page. Albeit the rest of my handwriting is sloppy and atrocious by many standards…I’ve been told by more than one person that I don’t have a girl’s penmanship. My contact information should probably be written on the first page but nope, just Daily Positives, followed by hundreds of my daily activities.

So what are “Daily Positives?” They are simple notes that I write about the day’s happenings, both the “good” and “bad,” but each is given a positive spin. The practice is not to be unrealistic about life but rather, to find new energy in positive thinking and to move forward from each day choosing to look on the brighter side of things. It’s not always easy, as you can imagine.

I started this practice when I was in need of a little perspective shift. It was 2009, shortly after the American economy spiraled downward, when I was hit by a car. I was riding my bike to work and boom. It happened. My life was changed with no warning whatsoever, while birds chirped happily away in the early spring air. The pain I endured for the next few years was both physical and mental. I became an insomniac. I started to feel hopeless as each therapy and treatment I tried seemed to fail me. At long last, I decided that I would find a little something positive every single day, to write down in my diary at night. It helped me fall asleep a little faster. It began to improve my emotional stability. It started to heal me.

My Diary 12

February 6, 2015

I continue to wonder about the lost contents of my diary. Has someone read about my many attempts and failures at entrepreneurship? The shocking news my OBGYN dished out in August 2014? The young, doll-faced girl on the metro who hesitated and then said to me: “I promise, I usually never do this…and it might sound weird, but…err…okay, the thing is, I really feel like God wants me to tell you that everything is going to be okay.”?

Does the reader of my diary think I’m crazy for trying to put a silver lining to my encounters with people like the homeless woman I met in Chinatown, who was wailing, “Help me! Somebody, please help me! My God! Is everybody too busy? Everyone’s always so busy. Too busy to help me. Oh, please. Just somebody help!” Or my cab driver one night, whose young niece and nephew had been killed just hours earlier in a mid-December school attack in Pakistan?

There are so many memories that flash through my mind’s eye. As I remember each one, I feel raw anxiety…there’s no chance I can recapture these moments in all of their detail…

My Diary 4

February 25, 2015

I receive a message via WellnessWinz’s blog contact form. It’s from a man with Air France Customer Support who writes:

“Hello. Please contact me by mail about your “Daily Positives” which was found at Charles de Gaulle airport. Thank you.”

In that second, my mind starts running wild – someone actually FOUND my diary?! Should I be over-the-moon or terrified? How did someone figure out that the diary is mine? Then the obvious hits me: the blog!

Yes, of course! I wrote about starting the blog in the diary. But this means that someone must have read at least part of the diary in order to get it back to me! Who would take the time to do that? Who would scan the pages until finding the single incident in the diary where I mention the name of the blog?

I hesitate before deciding to swallow my pride. I embrace humility and gratitude.

My Diary 9

Feb 26 – Feb 28, 2015

Over the next few days, I learn that a female supervisor at Charles de Gaulle airport is the one who found my diary. She wrote to me via email that she held onto it because “it was so personal that it was just not possible to drop it.”

My new French friends at the airport apologized for the “necessary indiscretion” that enabled them to take on this “Sherlock Holmes investigation.Easily forgiven, of course.

These employees at Air France took it upon themselves to spend their valuable time trying to find me. They swallowed potential feelings of embarrassment for having to disclose that they perused the contents of my diary in order to find clues about its owner. When they finally found the only solid clue in the diary’s pages, they immediately searched online for WellnessWinz and contacted me.

Air France safely returned my diary to me, saying via email, “Air France is pleased to pay for this happy end story…a new positive item for your diary.”

This happy ending is indicative of the fine customer care at Air France, and also of the beauty of the human spirit. We feel less alone when we acknowledge the struggles and joys of others, akin to our own. In our own way, we all strive to discover the daily positives.

Kindness of Strangers

March 16, 2015

Part of this blog’s mission is to focus on various dimensions of wellness. Emotional wellness is definitely a piece of this journey.

So, my final words of gratitude: Air France…you just filled my emotional “love tank”…big time. Thank you.

DSC02917

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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The Latest Trends that Threaten our Fitness

There are some older fitness and dieting trends that women now understand are baloney. Others that have more recently emerged, however, threaten our health and fitness in new, unanticipated ways that throw us off our game. Today, we will take a magnifying glass to the unfortunate, latest trends in fitness that threaten our efforts to become fit. We will also discuss how to live your own life by rules that work for your body’s personal needs.

 

Post-Baby Expectations and Pressure

3

Almost every woman has an immediate interest in feeling like her “old self” again after having a baby. Whether you’ve given birth to children before (perhaps many years ago) or have a female relative or friend, you can empathize with the emotional and physical struggle that can ensue post-natal months of sleep deprivation, crying through the night, dirty diapers, and hasty efforts to satisfy family needs at meal times.

Recent pressures from the media, to lose 20-30+ lbs of baby weight in under 30 days, are unrealistic. While it’s helpful to lose the majority of the weight in under a year, it’s also a challenging prospect when hormones are experiencing a daily rollercoaster ride. Every woman’s body will respond differently according to oh, say, 1,000,000,000 factors during those initial post-natal months.

While it’s inspiring to see that baby weight CAN be lost and a flat belly CAN be regained (in some cases), weight loss should not be a measuring stick of maternal success nor an opportunity to shame one another for less successful efforts.

Maria Kang, a mother of three young boys turned social media celebrity, became famous for a picture she posted of herself in her underwear, posing on her knees with her three adorable sons alongside her. They’re all under the age of three…so at least they won’t remember this photo-opt with mostly naked mommy. Across the top of the professionally done, glossy photograph, and just above Maria’s perfect smile, perky boobs, and tight tummy, is plastered the question that spawned media attention, debate, admiration, and ridicule: “What’s your excuse?”

Maria, to her credit, intended to inspire women, not ridicule or shame them, and she has. Her latest mission is the “No Excuse Mom Movement” where women support one another through workouts and keep each other accountable to goals. The movement embraces ALL different body types. This is the important, critical point – women of all different body types have babies and women enter the motherhood journey with different obstacles in their paths.

Tips to encourage women (yourself or loved ones) to feel their best post-baby:

  • Be patient with your body and its terms – motherhood is tough.
  • Enlist a woman’s help to buddy up for gym/workout time – maybe even just a simple walk during lunch a few times a week.
  • Although day one is not the time for a tough workout, don’t delay the simple things like clean eating and minimizing stress – these will both go a long way towards your health and your baby’s health too.
  • Keep a journal of positive moments both for you and your growing family and for you on your personal journey of health – celebrate even the small feats like drinking more water, getting a few minutes of extra shut eye, and eating more vegetables.
  • Keep focused on your personal journey rather than comparing yourself to someone else’s experiences and “failing” before you start due to intimidation.

 

The Thigh Gap Controversy

Legs

I must be living under a rock because I only recently heard of the “thigh gap.” A friend asked me if this was something women can achieve through exercise or if it’s just something else to add to the long list of unrealistic standards women impose on their bodies.

When she asked me, my mind immediately jumped back to middle school when I was in a swimming pool with a friend one night. She compared her legs to mine in the underwater light that cast shadows of our lower bodies across the pool floor. She said “perfect legs have space in the middle like mine when my knees are touching.” I looked at my legs in the water…no space. I remembered in that moment, that when I was even younger, in elementary school, a friend commented that my legs were a lot bigger than hers.

Now, it will come to no surprise to you that I still have nice “sizable” thighs to this day and frankly, I’m okay with it. It’s how I’m built. My legs are muscular and have allowed me to work out for the majority of the days of my adult life. They also hold more body fat than my stomach and mid-section, which is my body’s way of staying fertile and protecting against disease.

For women with my body structure, pining after a “thigh gap” is a waste of time. Only through drastic, unhealthy measures will this be achieved. “Reportedly, some teenage girls have taken the view that the bigger the gap, the more beautiful the girl. However, some have resorted to extreme dieting and surgery in order to try to obtain it. Critics are concerned that young women may develop an eating disorder by trying to obtain a body shape that is unnatural for them.”

There are some women, however, who have this body structure naturally. That’s okay, too! Everything must be framed around the question “what is natural for my body?” Katherine Timpf wrote for the National Review, “I have a thigh gap. Guess what? I’m also a healthy weight for my height. I’m not disgusting or scary, and I don’t look this way because an industry oppressed me into believing that I have to. I look this way because of my body structure: thin legs and wide hips.”

Tips to know what is normal for your body:

  • Look at your family members’ bodies – yes, everyone is different and our lifestyles may differ somewhat but genetics do play in. For example: I’m pretty sure my dad appreciates my mom’s lower body “assets” and I have no doubt that probably 25% of why my husband married me is thanks to my similar body shape, haha.
  • Consider consulting with a fitness professional who can discuss what various measurements mean for your body and health – weight on the scale, circumference measurements, and body fat measurements.
  • Consider what your body type is – pear, apple, hour-glass, triangle, etc.
  • Ask yourself (and answer sincerely): “Can I feel better and be more confident in my body if I eat better and exercise?”  And next “What is a realistic size I want to be and can stay, healthfully, for years to come?” If you answer in truth, rather than based on societal pressure or an extreme body type, you will figure out where and if there is a difference lying between your actual body size and a size that will help you live happier and healthier years.

 

Exercising and/or Bulking too Much

Bulking

Just as women can go too far with dieting or overeating, we can also go too far with exercise. In the past 5-10 years I have noticed that more women are excited to demonstrate that they can hit the gym 7x/week, run marathons, or weight train for bikini or figure competitions. These efforts are awesome and show how far we’ve come as a gender – just decades ago women were criticized for working out if it gave them muscle because it “isn’t feminine.” Pssssh. On the flip side, these hardcore efforts also deplete our bodies and can be just as unhealthy as other extremes.

Over-exercising, overeating, or under-eating are all different faces of the same monster. It’s the same monster that kept our hunter-gatherer ancestors alive and supporting one another: dopamine. This hormone triggers us to repeat behaviors that we deem positive for our survival. In modern times, since we’re equipped with easy grocery store access, modern-day appliances, and fast ways to socially connect, we don’t fear survival so much…instead, we often fear not meeting modern day, self-imposed standards for what we “should” do and how we “should” look.

Here are a few examples of how this works:

  • A woman makes herself throw up to become thinner and feels good, like she is closer to her goal afterwards. Ding!! Shot of dopamine in her system.
  • A woman is stressed about her job and knows that the rich taste of gooey brownies makes life feel better so she decides to eat three at once. Ding!! Shot of dopamine in her system.  
  • A woman exercises regularly and feels she must set herself apart from the throngs of gym-goers, striving for higher excellence, so she decides to work out for twice as long as usual, taking creatine to power her workout, and fueling up on protein-powder based shakes afterwards. Ding!! Shot of dopamine in her system.

As you can see, dopamine makes us feel “safe” even when our behaviors are risky. Thanks to this feeling of safety and accomplishment, dopamine is the most addictive hormone in our bodies. We crave it more and more AND MORE. As you can imagine, this spirals into extremes that threaten our health if we aren’t careful.

Women realized years ago that amenorrhea (i.e., loss of a menstrual cycle) due to over-exercising (typically excess cardio exercise) and under-eating is dangerous. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet realized that losing a cycle because of weight-lifting may also be potentially dangerous for our long-term health. “Bulking” is increasingly popular in the fitness realm and involves regular heavy lifting and eating excess protein calories while minimizing carbohydrate intake. This causes stress to the kidneys, sometimes causes excess proteins to be present in our bloodstream (which they shouldn’t be), and may cause amenorrhea.

Amenorrhea indicates that you aren’t presently fertile and may be accompanied by such symptoms as milky nipple discharge, hair loss, headaches, vision changes, excess facial hair, pelvic pain, and acne. Developing this condition appears to be more about low energy availability for the body than being merely underweight. So, even women at healthy weights can develop it.

Focusing on intense goals such as running a marathon or bulking for a season or so is okay. Heck, I’ve done both before! But we must be careful that we’re not hurting our health or ignoring our optimal needs.

Finding a balance is tough. I get it. So, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help stay in check:

  • Have you been eating enough fruits and vegetables or are the majority of your calories coming from animal and plant proteins?
  • Have you given yourself a few days off from the gym over the past few weeks to month or do you feel like you “have to go” every day?
  • Are you feeling more sore and tired after your workouts and never “bouncing back?”
  • Is your sleep becoming disturbed or restless?
  • Are you exercising through physical ailments with the mentality; “no pain, no gain?”
  • Are you obsessing over your goal to the extent that it is hurting your personal life or your professional obligations?

I hope reading this article, and its many nuances, can help you and/or the women in your life find health and happiness! You deserve it. She deserves it. 

Have you ever had challenges with your health because of pressure you feel about how your body “should” look? Please share your story or share this article! Let’s all pay it forward.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amenorrhoea

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amenorrhea/basics/symptoms/con-20031561

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/395879/thigh-gap-shaming-not-body-positive-katherine-timpf

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/maria-kang-no-excuses-fit-article-1.1994785

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thigh_gap