Tag Archives: women’s health

My Plan to Reduce Toxic Masculinity and Improve Women’s Health

I turned to my husband one evening recently in tears. It wasn’t about any one thing in particular. Rather, I was crying about ALL the things afflicting women over the last few years. To name a few:

      • increased rates of domestic violence
      • declining rates of women in the workplace following the pandemic combined with overall lower pay
      • the formula shortage and lack of support for women to breastfeed at work
      • the overturning of Roe v. Wade and all the ramifications that ruling has for women’s reproductive health at large, and more.

The overwhelm of it all combined with my postpartum fatigue to push me past my limit.

Tears began to flow as anxiety and fear for my infant daughter’s future reached a peak.  I remember saying to my husband something along the lines of “It’s not right! None of this is okay! I’m SO sick of this – not just for me but for every woman out there, especially the ones who aren’t even aware that these issues WILL touch their lives at some point.”

After I spoke the words out loud it dawned on me that all of these issues are connected to unfair gender stereotypes, female oppression, and toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is defined as “cultural norms associated with men that are harmful to society and to men themselves.”

The traits of toxic masculinity include:

      • mental and physical toughness
      • aggression
      • stoicism, or not displaying emotion
      • discrimination against people who aren’t heterosexual
      • self-sufficiency
      • emotional insensitivity

Please allow me to share my experiences and explain why toxic masculinity affects each of the aforementioned issues that harm women’s wellness…

 

 

Domestic Violence

I first learned about domestic violence at the beginning of high school through a program that educated youth about which peer-to-peer actions fall under sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. The group performed a series of short skits to demonstrate real life scenarios and how to handle them from both a male and female perspective. The education was of the utmost importance and, unfortunately, it was already delivered too late.

Throughout middle school I can recall countless instances of being between 11-13 years old and verbally harassed or physically assaulted through unwelcome and inappropriate touches from ignorant boys my own age and grown men. Back in the 1990s when toxic masculinity was arguably at its peak (later leading to the #metoo movement), I was convinced that such actions were uncomfortable forms of flattery and used them to boost my body image confidence. This was an incredibly sad and unhealthy coping mechanism because I didn’t know what else to do.

Shortly after watching the program in high school I signed up to join the group of teens advocating for awareness and action to prevent sexual violence of all kinds. Alongside a few other teens who happened to share my comfort with public speaking, we petitioned the school board to have a modified version of education about sexual violence presented in middle schools. I’m pleased to say that the motion passed.

Unfortunately, programs like the one I was exposed to are few and far between. Leaders I’ve worked with in Washington, DC continue to be swamped with women coming to their non-profits looking for help to escape violent and dangerous situations. These unhealthy relationships create power dynamics and abuse that affect women’s individual and collective wellness, and the future mental and physical health of any children involved.

Trauma is generational and women who suffer abuse under toxic masculinity are more stressed during pregnancy when abuse typically heightens and are at increased risk for poor health outcomes for the fetus. These women are sometimes less able to offer healthy emotional attachment patterns for babies in the first 18 months of life to no fault of their own, leading to long-term mental health and self-image repercussions into adulthood for those children.

One of the keys to getting women out from under the control of abusive partners is to help promote their financial independence so that they can afford to step away from the situation. Despairingly, women’s workforce participation has taken a dramatic downturn due to the pandemic. Coupled with the abysmal gender wage gap, this is a health and wellness crisis that many women are suffering through as we speak.

 

 

Lower Workforce Participation and Wages

Women have been leaving the workplace in scores since the beginning of the pandemic due to increased workload on the job combined with family demands. The pressure on women to perform in both the work and home sectors but with minimal support, lower wages than men, and gender discrimination is abominable.

A lack of work-life balance has resulted in a depressing four in five women reporting that their employers don’t help them create clear boundaries between work and personal time, especially amid the unusual circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, less than half of women in the workforce are happy about their job situation.

What does toxic masculinity have to do with women in the work force? Just about everything…

Not only does gender discrimination result in lower wages but according to survey data from Deloitte, the majority of working women have experienced “non-inclusive behaviors in work situations over the past year—everything from unwanted physical contact and disparaging remarks about their gender to questions about their judgment.”

I can’t think of anything as toxic as a workplace that suffocates the positive attributes and unique needs that come with being a woman. Men who are domineering seem to forget where the debt of gratitude is owed and whose body shaped their own for nine months. Unfortunately, this lack of respect for all that women do results in poor workplace support for maternity leave, childcare needs, flexible scheduling, breastfeeding/pumping while being a working mother, and more.

 

 

The Formula Shortage and Breastfeeding Hurdles

It pained me to see the effects of toxic masculinity affecting women in the initial days and weeks following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. All the heated debates about women’s bodies and potential future children have been happening parallel to a formula shortage crisis. The women who can least afford to move forward with unplanned pregnancies are also in a position to struggle to pay for nutrition for their babies if they are unable to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding itself is a full-time job and many working mothers understandably struggle to manage its demands alongside their jobs. I understand this firsthand because I gave up some career pursuits years ago when I realized I couldn’t breastfeed and start a business I had planned. It was simply too much for me. I was in a place of privilege where I could afford to step away from the workplace to be with my baby. Many moms can’t afford to lose their income or wouldn’t wish to step away from their careers for a period of time. For these moms, supportive workplaces that allow flexibility and space for nursing/pumping are essential.

The injustice hit me when not only Roe v. Wade was overturned but also a law to protect the breastfeeding/pumping needs of 9 million working moms was shot down by Senate. Did they not get the memo that there is a formula shortage? Do they not know how biology works for nourishing offspring? Do they really think failing to pass a helpful law will enhance women’s workplace commitment and productivity?

I’m left shaking my head.

I’m a breastfeeding mom and woman who has experienced two pregnancy losses and five pregnancies. I can’t help but feel like women just like me are under direct attack by our leaders – and for what? For going through the trials of doing our best to bring healthy little people into this world. It’s absolutely dumbfounding.

The emotional insensitivity and use of power to harm women and children’s health outcomes without question falls under the umbrella of toxic masculinity. The reality of life is that women and children need social support in a myriad of ways that the toxic masculinity mindset of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency fails to meet.

 

 

Women’s Reproductive Health

I learned firsthand what happens when you think you know how your life will play out and usually, reality goes a different way. I was pregnant with my third son when I got a poor prenatal diagnosis at the inception of the pandemic. I openly confess that I was unsure whether I should continue or end my pregnancy.

At the time I had two beautiful sons and had experienced an early pregnancy loss too. I never imagined considering a pregnancy termination but it weighed heavily on me before I lost my child. I wanted to do anything possible to protect my child from pain and suffering. I loved (and still love) the son I lost with all my heart.

With Roe v. Wade overturned I’m horror stricken over the pregnancies that will be forced to term despite being incompatible with life or a myriad of other complications that will result in suffering for the baby and a heightened risk of medical complications for the mom.

As many news sources have cited, the overturning of Roe v. Wade will affect training for medical professionals for both abortions and routine pregnancy losses, enhancing the risk of poor outcomes for women to come. I also lament this reality because during my late pregnancy loss removal I unexpectedly hemorrhaged and was minutes away from my uterus being removed to save my life. If I had been anywhere but a hospital then I likely would have died but instead, I have a four-inch scar on my stomach and a beautiful baby girl.

My story is hard and complicated but it sheds light on the many ways that reproductive choices and care are delicate and nuanced. Most importantly, they are best left between a woman, her medical team, and her faith.

I can’t help but see the ways that Christian nationalism and the rise of toxic masculinity within it has shaped a movement that has its jaws deeply embedded in our messed up, increasingly polarized political and legal systems. Toxic masculinity is behind the cherry picking of biblical texts used out of context to force women into submission, sexual abuse, and inferior roles, and it’s behind the inflexible thinking about reproductive rights that opts for power, control and force instead of compassion, assistance, and mercy.

There are “Godly men” out there saying that women who end their pregnancies should be sentenced to death. I’ve watched the videos of these men defiantly and angrily saying such things. They don’t care that their words alone do great damage to women’s wellness.

These men haven’t sat with an open heart and listened to the complicated stories from women who have endured hardships during years of TTC, being pregnant, enduring loss, and more. These men haven’t seen my tears, heard my sobs, or understood my torment. And they don’t care.

Theirs is a world to be conquered and women to be tamed.

 

 

My Plan to Reduce Toxic Masculinity

My feelings of helplessness kept increasing this summer as one assault after the next against women’s health took its turn. I can’t personally reduce unwanted pregnancies through violent rapes or end domestic violence from behind closed doors. I can’t reach into millions of women’s homes and help them navigate the early days of breastfeeding that are so crucial. I can’t afford to buy formula to help each and every mom in need of her next can. There are so many things I want to do on a grand scale and yet only small steps that I can reasonably take like listening with compassion to women’s abortion stories or donating modest amounts of money to help feed children in need. These small things matter but still leave me yearning for something more that I can do.

Until recently, it didn’t occur to me that there is in fact one HUGE thing I can do…

I can raise my sons well.

I can focus my energy on raising sons who are allowed to be sensitive and who are in touch with their emotions. Sons that grow into men who demonstrate compassion and respect for women as equals. Men who know their own strength but never use it to harm or intimidate others. Men who treat their partners with care. Who approach society and bettering the world with a collective mindset. If these attributes are increasingly displayed through more and more men in the future then they have the power to dismantle oppressive hierarchies and give birth to redemptive healing.

The future of women’s wellness rests on the innocent shoulders of one small boy at a time. It relies on them having safe caregiver attachment relationships. It depends on how they are treated and nurtured through the choppy waters of their emotions and learning how to cope with them. It hinges on them having a healthy sense of worth without arrogance. It needs them to accept and embrace the diverse world we live in and to humbly pause when they feel offended that others don’t agree with their perspectives.

My two sweet sons rely on my patience, energy and effort as their mother. I’m far from perfect but I believe that if I stay mindful and raise them well then those two sets of dark brown eyes looking up at me for guidance will some day look out into a world that is better for their mother, sister, wives, daughters, and friends. That world will undoubtedly be better for men too.

If you believe in collective prayer then I ask you to pray for this future with me.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Leaning into Limitations: A New Era of Wellness

When I initially sat down to write this first article following maternity leave, my infant decided to wake up wailing after no less than five minutes. Eventually, I was able to get through writing the first half. The second day I expected to carve out some time to write was the same day as my youngest’s 6-month check up, which turned into a sick visit because my toddler’s classroom had a Covid exposure. The day got turned upside down from there, masking to grab groceries in the event of a quarantine, picking up test-to-stay kits from my child’s school, and so on. Such is the nature of the season that I’m in as a parent with limited childcare for the summer. This state seems to mirror the pandemic-era world of canceled events, last minute changes in plans, and constant iterations for how we live. All of it leaves me (and I assume many of us) feeling limited.

 

 

No one likes feeling limited, least of all Americans. We are so completely entrenched in our own ideas and plans going exactly as expected that the fast moving trains we set in motion are bound to run off track. But when they do, we fuss and complain. We dig our heels in harder and claim that grit and perseverance are our best assets. The ones that will win us the race, earn us the promotion, get our waistline back, buy us the house, and fill us with full satisfaction. Limitlessness is the dream and beyond the sky is the destination, but we remain forever bound by skin, neediness, hunger, sleep, and a desire for connection.

I’ve worked with not hundreds but thousands of individuals, some in depth and some more surface level. I’ve witnessed nearly every one of them (and myself) pine for achievement, a sense of completion, and – most noteworthy – the ability to do more. The opposite of living limited. The bedrock of Western culture in a word is MORE. Consumerism is defined by more, as is the fitness industry in which I have spent many years of my professional career. More reps. More sets. More weights. More distance. More speed. More strength.

Even places of worship are tempted into the deliciousness of “more” by trying to gain additional members and achieve greater things in the name of their God. As a woman of faith, I see a great danger emerging as certain Christian denominations and groups threaten America’s collective wellness with their desire for more power and control. The entire crisis of the war in Ukraine has been driven by one individual’s bloodthirsty desire for more – more land, control, power, dominance, and fear. The poison of more even impacts gun violence. Automatic weapons are especially deadly because of the greater potential number of victims in each assault on human life. And so it would seem, this thirst and hunger for more is quite universal but perhaps, when we sit with its reality, we can see how dangerous it is. Not just for dictators and fringe extremists but for all of us.

For the past half year I’ve been tending to the needs of my third child in the first months of her life. I’m constantly feeling the pressure of “more.” I wish I could divide myself into five parts at once – one of me to tend to my oldest child, one for my middle child, another for the breastfeeding babe, one for my work, and another to collapse in a heap of exhaustion and *finally* get that nap that I so desperately need. But I too am bound by my own skin. My own limitations. God, help me to accept them.

 

 

The problem isn’t that we are limited creatures in this existence. The problem is that we resist limitations even when they are a part of our very makeup. Denying them and trying to play the more, more, more game breaks us. Yes, we hear stories about executives who start at the bottom and work 20 hour days to make it big and athletes who train eight hours a day year round to win the Olympics (I just watched the “Untold: Caitlyn Jenner” documentary on Netflix), but let’s face it – none of us can outrun the exhaustion forever. There is always a price to pay either mentally or physically. Sometimes we can recalibrate and reverse the damage and other times, it leaves its mark.

Pushing myself past the limit always follows the same pattern:

Life gets busy yet I pressure myself to do even more during already maxed-out daily schedules. The overwhelm of this traps me in a state of anxiety which only serves to drive me forward harder and faster, more determined to get everything done quickly – and done well. My body enters into sympathetic nervous system overdrive, feeling on edge, hyper and anxious most hours of the day. Eventually, an acute stressor enters the equation such as something traumatic happening in the nation or world or my toddler bringing home a nasty virus. This added mental or physical stress is enough to tip my system past its breaking point and I burn out and crash (usually with a head cold).

Do you have a vicious cycle too? One where you know you’re past your limits but keep pushing anyway?

Time and maturity have helped me identify this harmful pattern of pretending and trying to do more than I can. I’m not perfect at avoiding or fixing it though. It’s a gradual process and I constantly have to remind myself that the rat race and nose-to-the-grindstone mentality are no way to live in true wellness. Both tear down the individual and the collective in very tangible and harmful ways. I find myself in a much healthier place when I openly and lovingly acknowledge my limitations.

 

 

Here are a few things that limit me:

Breastfeeding all three of my children has limited me for the better part of the past decade. It’s time consuming, forces me to slow down, and means that I opt for less help with childcare for the first year of their lives due to the frequency of nursing and sub-optimal pumping output in substitute of direct breastfeeding.

My back limits me. I used to be a marathoner but I was hit by a car while riding my bike in DC and ever since have dealt with ongoing spinal instability. Long mileage doesn’t work with my body anymore and I have to heavily favor foam rolling and strength training despite wishing I could run days upon days in a row without issue.

My scar limits me. It’s from an emergency C-section from a pregnancy loss and then the planned C-section for my third child. The underlying tissue is still healing and I’m actively working to keep the fascia from forming tight adhesions that could some day cause me problems. This whole process sets off the instability in my back. The visual scar challenges me mentally and emotionally in many ways too, although less than it used to.

The list is longer but you get the idea. We all have things that challenge us to slow down or do things differently than we would ideally choose to. Again, that’s okay. This is human. Normal. The thing that’s NOT okay is allowing our limitations to steal our joy or question our worth, and yet so many people fall prey to these fear-based mentalities, as though not being able to do more means our inherent value is less. But that’s a lie.

 

 

I cope best with my limitations when I remind myself that I’m enough as I am – and that I’m not all things. Sometimes, it can help to run through a list in your head or write down all the traits you possess and are proud of while also making note of a few things you’re not the best at but beat yourself up about. If you do this, I would ask you to thoughtfully sit with the things you feel guilt, frustration, anxiety, or sadness about and consider if you might be able and willing to accept them with love or let them go in such a way that they can’t allow you to feel shame anymore.

Living limited can lead to a beautiful and flourishing wellness. When I embrace living this way I’m able to breathe deeply and rest peacefully. My priorities become clearer and I let go of the voices in my head threatening to measure my worth based on productivity and accomplishment. In the next few months I will share with you all what one of those crystal clear priorities is and how it’s taking shape but for now, let’s part ways after repeating these affirmations a few times silently:

 

My limitations are where I can find my strength.

My worth is not based on appearances or output.

I am enough.

I am not all things. And that’s okay.

I can find peace in the moment.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

How to Manage Chronic Fatigue with Exercise

I’ve long preached that exercise is a double-edged sword. It can help or hurt our bodies depending on an individual’s health status at the time of exercise combined with the mode and intensity of the workout. We must remain mindful of how and when we workout, especially when battling fatigue. When used improperly, exercise can be EXTREMELY harmful for a person battling chronic fatigue syndrome.

Data shows us that women suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome far more than men. So, let’s explore how to identify if you’re suffering from regular fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome, and then what kind of exercise is appropriate under each circumstance. Every woman is worthy of feeling healthy. Let’s make sure we equip ourselves – and each other – for this worthwhile endeavor.

(Please be patient while the video loads – thanks!)

For more videos and content while I’m on maternity leave, you’re welcome to follow along on Instagram:

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

The Healthier My Relationship with Fitness, The Less I Exercise

Confession: I’m a fitness professional who used to ignore her personal boundaries and physical needs. (Yikes.) It’s true though…I used to be oblivious to the ways that I would abuse my body through too much exercise and physical stress while simultaneously coaching clients on how to find balance. These days, I practice what I preach but it has been a journey to get here and find peace. Sharing my story via video below and wishing everyone the best of physical wellness and balance.

(Please be patient while the video loads – thanks!)

For more videos and content while I’m on maternity leave, you’re welcome to follow along on Instagram:

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Every Woman is Worthy

Out with the old and in with the new!

I’m excited to (verbally) introduce the new slogan for WellnessWinz: Every Woman is Worthy!

In the video below, I dive into why this slogan gets to the core of wellness and the heart of the site’s content over the past seven years. Included in our discussion are the four aspects of wellness covered through long-form content on WellnessWinz – physical wellness, emotional/mental wellness, spiritual wellness, and most recently, social wellness. There are a handful of other dimensions of wellness that are important such as occupational, intellectual, creative, environmental and financial, but I will leave other more qualified experts to dive into those.

So, for now…let’s explore what “Every Woman is Worthy” means, how judgement of the self and others holds us back, and why living this message out is so important for women from diverse backgrounds.

(Ps – An alternative to watching me through the whole video is to start playing it but listen as though it’s a podcast while you cook, clean, exercise, etc.)

(Please be patient while the video loads – thanks!)

I would love to hear what you think every woman is worthy of. Fill in the blank in the comments:

Every woman is worthy of ______.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

5 Tips For Women to Get Better Sleep

Today, WellnessWinz is hosting Morgan Adams as a guest writer to discuss insights about women’s sleep needs and solutions. Morgan recently launched a new website for her Sleep Coaching services. Check it out and read on. Sweet dreams! Yours in health and wellness, Maggie

 

5 Tips For Women to Get Better Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 67% of women say they’ve had a sleeping problem at least a few nights during the past month—and 46% said they had problems almost every night. The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, fewer than two thirds of women (according to the CDC) actually get that much sleep each night.

This pre-pandemic data clearly speaks to the fact that many women are getting suboptimal sleep. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I would argue that women’s sleep situation is actually worse than these statistics suggest. Pandemic-related anxiety, lack of boundaries between work and family life, and women often shouldering more of the household duties have created the perfect storm for sleep struggles.

While many of these issues seem beyond our control, I want to share 5 strategies I’ve been helping my clients implement:

 

 

  1. Avoid starting prescription sleep medications

In my mid-30’s, I had a personal crisis that caused insomnia. I sought a prescription for a popular sleeping pill which I became dependent on for almost a decade. The downsides for me were late-night binges without any recollection of these episodes the next morning and feeling extremely foggy the next day up until close to lunchtime. 

According to Dr. Matthew Walker, author of the best-seller Why We Sleep, “Sleeping pills do not provide natural sleep, can damage health, and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases.” While prescription sleep drugs can help you become unconscious, sedation isn’t the same as sleep. These drugs can actually restrict the deeper brain waves that happen during REM sleep, which is why so many people experience grogginess the next morning.

So what should you do if you’re already on prescription sleep medicine and no longer want to be taking it? Work with your healthcare provider on coming up with a plan to gradually reduce your dose. 

 

  1. Pay close attention to what you consume in the evening

Avoid eating a heavy dinner 3 hours before bed. This could help you avoid potential heartburn or indigestion, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Have an alcohol curfew. If you’re going to enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine, it’s better to do so at Happy Hour as opposed to an after-dinner drink. I’ve personally found that I (and my clients) sleep much more soundly when we stop drinking about 3 hours before bed. While alcohol can help you get to sleep faster, the downside is that it impairs your REM sleep which you need for consolidation of memories and processing of emotions.

If you’re going to chill with Netflix before bedtime, consider the type of content you’re watching. Shows that are disturbing and overstimulating could impact your sleep. So go for “Ted Lasso” instead of “Handmaid’s Tale.”

 

 

  1. Track your sleep

Tracking your sleep is important because you want to 1) identify whether or not you’re getting enough of it and 2) make sure it’s quality sleep. You can opt for logging your sleep data in an online or paper tracker. My preference for really drilling down to get some hard stats is to use a sleep tracking device.

In a recent study in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep, several popular wearable trackers were evaluated. The findings concluded that there were large variations between devices and that the greatest amount of confidence was measuring Total Sleep Time, Total Wake Time, and Sleep Efficiency. Where all the devices fell short with regard to accuracy was measuring sleep stages (eg. REM and deep sleep). Fitbit and Oura were both noted as being the most accurate devices.

Personally, I’ve had an Oura ring for a year and a half and have gained so many insights from using it nightly. Its ability to measure your body temperature could be of interest to women who are closely tracking their fertility or menstrual cycle. One piece of advice I’d offer to those who are using wearable sleep trackers is to pay more attention to your weekly trend lines than what data the tracker reports each day. If you lean toward perfectionism you don’t risk developing an unhealthy obsession with achieving perfect sleep (AKA “orthosomnia”).

 

  1. Practice relaxation techniques

A common sleep complaint I hear from women is not being able to fall asleep because you’re having worrisome thoughts OR waking up in the middle of the night with random things running through your brain. 

If that’s you too, here are a few strategies that could be helpful. I’d suggest choosing one that resonates with you. If that doesn’t seem to help then try another strategy. The same techniques aren’t going to work for every person.

  • 4-7-8 breathing: Rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth. Breathe in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds. Exhale forcefully through your mouth, pursing your lips (make a “whoosh” sound) for 8 seconds. Then repeat this cycle up to 4 times.
  • Meditation: Research has backed up that mediation is an effective strategy to help those who struggle with sleep. In a 2015 study published in JAMA, researchers analyzed how meditation affected 49 adults who had moderate sleep problems. The participants were randomly assigned 6 weeks of meditation or sleep hygiene education. The study concluded that the meditation group experienced fewer symptoms of insomnia. There is an abundance of free meditation apps on the market these days, with dedicated sections devoted to sleep meditations. I’ve found that the Insight Timer app has the most meditations for sleep. Other apps to check out include Calm and Headspace.

 

 

  1. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary

When I’m coaching my clients, one of the first things we address is their bedroom environment. This is what I call the “low hanging fruit” because most tweaks in your sleeping environment are super simple to address. For example, adjusting your thermostat to 65-70 degrees can help you sleep better. Why is this? Studies have shown that we need to lower our core temperature by 2 to 3 degrees to prepare our bodies for sleep. Another simple tweak is to put electrical tape on any bright lights. Fun fact…your bedroom should be so dark at night that you shouldn’t be able to see your hand if you put it in front of your face. 

 

DO THIS NEXT!

Make sure your bedroom is optimized to help you sleep better. I put together a handy and SIMPLE guide to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Click here to download my Better Bedroom checklist today!

 

 

Random Things Every Woman Should Learn About Women’s Health

I learned a lot more about women’s health over the past year for two unexpected reasons: 1) a medical emergency that resulted in deeper understanding of female reproductive anatomy, and 2) being drawn to a book titled The XX Brain by Lisa Moscani, PhD. My takeaways from both were so unexpected and enlightening that I started bringing up these newfound facts in conversation with friends, family members, and my book club circle. I was surprised to find that these very basic facts about our bodies and health aren’t common knowledge.

So, here I am today as a wellness coach and fitness professional trying to shed light on some startling facts about women’s health. Bear with me if these seem unrelated to your personal situation at the moment…you never know when they might become relevant for you or a woman you know. Knowledge is power and women are worthy!

 

 

Reproductive Organs & Health

Fact 1: Removal of a single fallopian tube only reduces fertility by about 10%, not 50% as many women assume. (I told you this was random stuff.) But this is great news for those of us women with a single tube! I was surprised to learn this fact after losing one of my tubes last year. It gave me tremendous hope.

Fact 2: The ovaries sit closer together, somewhat behind the uterus, not far apart as shown in textbooks and anatomy diagrams. It’s odd to me that women are taught so little about their reproductive organs! We’re seldom taught how they really work sexually despite the basic education in sex ed. class, and conceiving a baby doesn’t seem like complicated stuff until a woman starts meaningfully tracking her cycle and figuring out peak fertility signs and symptoms. And lo and behold – now I realize that we don’t even really know what we look like “down there” without a mirror for the outside or a kind doctor explaining the intricacies of all the stuff on the inside. (Did you know your uterus has 3 layers?! My point exactly!)

Fact 3: Fallopian tubes are flexible and mobile. You heard me right – those skinny little suckers can move! This is why you can still get pregnant while having only one tube, assuming it’s healthy and undamaged. A single fallopian tube figures out how to intelligently move to the ovulating ovary, even if it’s on the opposite side, to suck up or “catch” the egg that is released. The next month, it will move to the opposite side in preparation for the next ovulation cycle.

This. Absolutely. Boggles. My. Mind.

Women are complicated and magnificent. Thanks to this phenomenon, I’m currently pregnant with a baby girl whose egg came from my ovary on the side *without* the fallopian tube. I’m still in shock.

 

 

Fact 4: Most aggressive forms of ovarian cancer start in the fallopian tubes, not the ovary itself. This is really eye-opening information to me. I hadn’t thought much about ovarian cancer and internal female reproductive anatomy until a year ago when my world tilted. Now, I’m processing the fact that my paternal great-grandmother died from ovarian cancer. I believe that the reason ovarian cancer is so deadly is because of its frequent origin in the fallopian tubes. You see, the tubes are wide open to the abdominal cavity on one end, meaning that cancer originating in the tubes can quickly and easily spread to any number of internal organs.

When I went to a fertility clinic to check if my remaining fallopian tube was healthy, the doctor did a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) procedure where dye was injected through my uterus up and into my fallopian tube to check for obstructions. I saw the thin line of ink on the screen and was told that was my tube. But then I also saw a fanning out of the dye as though it were spilling into open space. The doctor explained that’s exactly what it was doing – it was spilling from the open side of my tube into my abdomen (the doctor called this a “blushing effect” and sign of a healthy tube). While this was encouraging at the time, I must consider my family history of ovarian cancer and its risks for me. Which leads me to the decision to have my remaining tube removed after this pregnancy because research shows…(see fact 5)

Fact 5: Removal of fallopian tubes can reduce ovarian cancer risk by over 40%. Ovarian cancer has been shown to have a genetic component in some cases and is worth discussing with a genetic counselor if your family has a history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. If you’re a women intrigued by genetic testing then this is a good thing to check genetic risk for too, even in the absence of a family history.

 

 

Hormones & Brain Health

Fact 1: Did you know that the X chromosome is much larger than the Y chromosome and contains over 1000 more genes? And women have two X chromosomes at that! That’s a lot of genetic power, if you ask me. According to The XX Brain these genes primarily support hormone production and brain activity.

Fact 2: Men’s brains produce more serotonin (mood, sleep, appetite, “feel good” hormone) whereas women’s brains produce more dopamine (drive and reward-motivated behavior). Does this make a light bulb go off in anyone else’s mind? This fact produces such an “aha!” moment for me. It makes so much sense.

My husband sleeps like a log, has a fairly level mood every day, and seems generally content to watch football on the tv while playing a mindless video game on his phone. My day is much different. Sleep is easily thrown off by hormones, my mood is much more subject to fluctuations, and some evenings I battle feeling “unproductive” if I’m being a zoned-out couch potato. I wonder what life would feel like as a man for just one day…but then I remember that women have more brain power, so I quickly forget the notion 😉

Fact 3: Women’s Alzheimer’s risk is an emerging health crisis. According to Lisa Moscani, “two out of every three Alzheimer’s patients are women” and “a 45 year old woman has a one in five chance of developing Alzheimer’s during her remaining life.”

Does this startle anyone else? I’m mind blown and saddened by these statistics but also encouraged from reading The XX Brain because it helps dive into preventive actions, risk assessments and more, so that women can be proactive about their health.

 

 

Fact 4: Pregnancy-related gestational diabetes and preeclampsia may predispose a woman to develop heart disease around the time of menopause. This was a bit of a side note in Moscani’s book but one that really jumped off the page to me (page 49, for those interested). According to studies, women who experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a 26% higher risk of heart issues after menopause. Women with former preeclampsia are at a 31% elevated risk. If you suffered from one of these two prenatal health conditions it’s worth filing this note away for the future so that you can speak to a trusted medical professional about managing menopause and taking actions to boost and monitor heart health (good news – you can start ALL of these things well before menopause).

Fact 5: Removing a woman’s ovaries (or just one) before menopause can increase her risk of dementia by up to 70% (page 53, The XX Brian). If you’ve had one or both of your ovaries removed for medical reasons then please consider reading The XX Brain to learn what you can do about Alzheimer’s prevention. I was very alarmed by this data and hope that women will spread the word and get the preventative help they deserve.

Fact 6: While some aspects of menopause are out of our control, we have the ability to adapt our lifestyle behaviors before and during the process to help ease the intensity of the fall in estrogen. Although I’m still somewhere in my “fertile years” I know that I will inevitably hit menopause one day. For the longest time I thought menopause was just something that “happened” to you, like you step unexpectedly onto a roller coaster with no way off until it stops. Thank goodness this isn’t entirely the case! There are steps you can take to help your body manage the intense downshift in estrogen and the brain/body’s process of adapting to functioning on far less of it.

 

Thanks for hanging in with me and diving into the random, unexpected world of women’s health!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

The Best Diet for Optimal Immune Function

As we head into winter 2020-2021 with the coronavirus pandemic hovering over our heads, rearranging the American lifestyle, and threatening many individuals’ well-being, let’s consider what we can control in a world that feels very much the opposite. Let’s equip our bodies with the best medicine that nature provides: nutrient-dense food.

That’s right, I’m voting for food over exercise, if I’m forced by sword to choose one, and only one, to focus on this winter.

Here’s why…

 

 

Exercise routines have been altered for many people through this pandemic and while at-home exercises are excellent alternatives to gym machine and group exercise favorites, it can be difficult to exercise at home with nonstop work and children demands or equipment that isn’t ideal. Others who have been exercising outdoors through walking, running and biking might find themselves sidelined from their cardio routines due to winter weather. Plus, too much exercise isn’t a good thing for an overstressed and exhausted person…or even a healthy, happy person…the right balance is essential for immune health.

Likewise, food impacts our immune function by raising or lowering inflammation levels and can even impact our mood, brain health and risk for chronic disease. In a perfect world, we will always rely on both fitness and nutrition for our health.

But right now, we’re not living in a perfect world…

With the threat of lockdowns, quarantines and snow storms abound this winter, I think it’s wise to get ahead of things by adjusting your meals and snacks to focus on inflammation-fighting foods so that your body has a strong immune system in place if/when your exercise plans have to change. 

I’ve worked with many personal training clients who hail from Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, Brazil, Argentina, India and the Philippines, to name a few. These individuals have varied in gender, age, ethnicity and race, but nearly all of them have lamented to me about their struggles with weight gain and fatigue since moving to America. Even when they try to control portion sizes and calories, many of them complain that they’re still bigger than ever before. The short answer to their weight gain challenges is wrapped up in one word: inflammation.

 

 

Western diets are rife with refined white carbohydrates like breads, pastries, crackers, cereals and bars, all of which promote inflammation. Western diets also center on red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fried foods, not to mention bouts of alcohol consumption exceeding healthy limits for men and women.

(Need proof? Check out how alcohol consumption has changed since the pandemic began: Yikes.)

Many people try to beat the fat-hoarding that our bodies do on a western diet by resorting instead to popularized diets like low-fat, low-carb, keto, intermittent fasting, and more. Although weight loss is possible on any diet through caloric restriction alone, the aforementioned diets tend to miss out on certain essential vitamins and minerals that are optimal for health, hormonal balance and immune function.

For instance, consider the intermittent fasting diet known for improving metabolic health. The diet is more about timing of eating rather than quality of eating. Misinformed individuals might start out on this diet and presume that their “feeding windows” can be filled with as many calories as they want or whatever foods they crave. In some cases, an individual cutting calories might lose a large amount of weight while consuming mostly nutrient-poor foods. Although they are dropping weight on the scale there can still be underlying inflammation and overall poor health.

Weight loss is not always correlated with good internal health.

 

 

According to Lisa Mosconi, author of Brain Food and The XX Brain, the only diet that has been scientifically proven to improve women’s brain health is a Mediterranean diet. If you’re wondering why brain health is important to overall body health, let’s just say that Mosconi makes countless compelling, evidence-based, scientific arguments demonstrating that brain health is the epicenter of women’s hormonal health and regulation (and thereby also largely influences inflammation). In fact, according to Mosconi, more women over the age of 60 will be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s than with breast cancer.  

The brain is the dashboard for our bodies and when we eat in ways that promote its health we are also reducing inflammation and equipping our immune systems for disease prevention over the entire lifespan. Mosconi’s evidence-based research points to a Mediterranean diet full of omega fatty acids found in nuts, fatty fish and legumes as being crucial for women’s brain health. Fresh vegetables and fruits along with nutrient-dense whole grains and extra virgin olive oil are also staples of the Mediterranean diet. 

Two of my favorite examples of how nutrition can play a role in our inflammation levels, brain health and hormonal balance come from Mosconi’s The XX Brain:

Mosconi cites studies that demonstrate how increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy can help reduce incidence rates of postpartum depression in women. She also discusses how whole cow’s milk contains more estrogens than skim or low-fat cow’s milk and thus promotes better hormonal balance and fertility for women. Mosconi explains that the skim and low-fat cow’s milk consumption promotes a higher level of male-dominant hormones in women’s bodies, tipping the scales towards fertility challenges for some.

 

 

Personally, I find this fascinating and eye-opening. Nutrition plays a huge role in the complicated web of inflammation, hormones and immune function. For that reason, I encourage any curious woman out there to pick up The XX Brain and spend some time in Chapter 9: Food Matters for Your Grey Matter and Chapter 10: Eight Steps to a Well-Nourished Brain. You will come away with a ton of new knowledge to help you improve both immune function and hormonal balance, even if you’re already well versed in women’s health.   

In summary, a Mediterranean diet has been scientifically proven to focus on all the nutrients we need for optimal health and low levels of inflammation. The great news is that you can consume these foods in whatever “style” of eating you wish; intermittent fasting programs, three big meals a day, six small meals a day or whatever works best for you! 

If you’re not sure where to start then check out drool-inspiring recipes on Pinterest or any one of 500 go-to Mediterranean recipes in this cookbook: The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. Remember, just because this cuisine has been proven to improve health and reduce levels of inflammation doesn’t mean you have to throw out your other favorite foods and styles of cooking. There’s still plenty of room in a week of cooking to enjoy healthy meals of all kinds; Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian, you name it. Just keep the focus on nutrient density this winter and into the future; we’re living in an era when our natural defenses against bacteria and viruses, not to mention chronic diseases, is even more crucial. 

To your health and safety, 

Maggie

 

 

8 Reasons Why Running Hurts

More people than ever are turning to outdoor running as a safe option for exercise during the pandemic. Whether you’re new to running or a regular runner, it’s likely that you’ve experienced pain associated with running at some point. This is extremely common. We tend to believe that running is something everyone can and should be able to enjoy since it’s one of the most natural forms of exercise. Unfortunately, the reality is that running without pain is not always the norm. Regular running takes a toll on the body and requires proactive measures for it to remain pain free. 

Below are eight commons reasons that running might cause pain, along with exercises, stretches and actions you can take to keep yourself healthy and ready to hit the pavement.

Please note: I will be posting videos on my IGTV over the next few weeks to help people better understand the exercises and stretches under “actions to take” for each issue. Join me on Instagram for the latest updates.

   

1. IT Band Syndrome

Pain Location: Lateral aspect of knee, top of hip or both

What it is: Overuse of the connective band of tissue that runs from the hip to the knee on the outside of the thigh. Although most commonly associated with overuse from running, the IT band can also get excessively tight from weak muscles in the glutes, hips, legs and low back. If you feel pain or tightness on the outside of your knee when your heel hits the ground during running then your IT band is in need of stretching and/or cross-training for injury prevention.

Actions to Take: A balance of flexibility and strength training is usually key for preventing IT band syndrome. Foam rolling is a great first action to take even though it may feel uncomfortable on the outer thigh if your IT band is especially tight. It will get easier the more you do it. (I recommend a high-density roller by SPRI.) Stretching the IT band can also be done by crossing the tight leg behind the other and leaning the torso away from the affected side. Lastly, strengthen weak muscles and replace a couple days of running with strength training for a while. Two great exercises to start with are clam shells and hip bridges while squeezing a medicine ball, pilates ring or yoga block between the thighs. 

 

2. Weak Transverse Abdominus

Pain Location: Low back, hip flexor tightness, sometimes achilles pain too

What it is: The transverse abdominus (TA) is a muscle that wraps around the core and stabilizes it. Subsequently, it also helps stabilize the pelvis and the spine. When the TA is strong, it helps prevent low back pain and keeps the pelvis in the correct position. When it’s weak, the pelvis drifts into an anterior tilt and places strain on the lumbar spine. The TA can become weak from lack of use, incorrect use or improper pelvic and spinal posture. 

Actions to Take: Physical therapy and Pilates training are both great options for learning how to properly engage the TA. If these options are inaccessible then simply start with supine pelvic tilts, dead bugs, and planks drawing the belly button to spine so that the stomach flattens.  

 

 

3. Large Q-angle

Pain Location: Medial aspect of knee; can result in patellofemoral pain syndrome, chrondromalacia or ACL injuries

What it is: The q-angle is a measurement from the patella (knee cap) to a point on the pelvis. This measurement tends to be larger for women due to greater pelvic width (“them birthing hips!”). The larger the q-angle, the greater the stress on the knee due to the patella tracking more laterally instead of smoothly up and down.

Actions to Take: Although structural width of the pelvis is obviously out of our individual control, women can take proactive measures to strengthen the medial aspect of the knee and to keep the lateral aspect from being too tight. This might include wall squats and glute strengthening for enhanced stability as well as isolated quadricep extension with rotation to target the vastus medialis obliqus (VMO) – i.e. the most medial muscle fiber in the quadriceps group. Stretching tight muscles such as hamstrings, calves and the lateral aspect of the quadricep can also prove helpful.

 

4. Unstable Ankles

Pain Location: Ankle pain or weakness and/or plantar fascia pain. Can also impact higher joints resulting in knee, hip and/or low back pain. 

What it is: Unstable ankles result from weak muscles in the feet and/or lower legs. Core stabilization also impacts how stable the ankles are. If you notice discomfort in the ankles or feet when running then you might need to improve stability, especially if you are prone to ankle sprains.   

Actions to Take: Balancing exercises can be useful for improving ankle stability. It’s easy to get creative with how these are done too (single leg reach, balancing side leg lifts, dancer’s pose, warrior III, and more). Towel grabs and other foot strengthening exercises can also prove useful. Rolling out the plantar fascia with a pin roller or on a lacrosse ball can help release tight areas that compensate for weakness. 

 

 

5. Improper Footwear

Pain Location: Pain usually begins in the foot but higher joints can eventually become painful if footwear is not corrected

What it is: Improper footwear can be the result of shoes that are worn out, tied too tight or loose, or are not correctly fitted to your foot shape, length and/or width. Running shoes that fit properly should have approximately 1/2-inch room after the toe before the end of the shoe. They should not cut off circulation when laced up and also should not slip down the heel. A proper fit for your arch is extremely important too. Whether you have a neutral, high or low arch matters a lot for running comfort and shoes should be fitted according to your individual needs. You know you’re ready for a new pair of shoes when you’ve run between 300-500 miles and the tread of the shoe is worn down. If you’re not sure how many miles you’ve run then a good rule is to replace shoes every six months.  

Actions to Take: I like to tell people to visit smaller, local running stores to get fitted. Most have die-hard, passionate runners working in them and they are often trained in basic gait analysis so they can get you the right shoe.

 

6. Weak Abductors

Pain Location: Weak abductor muscles (think the lateral part of your glutes that stabilize your hips, low back and outer thighs) can result in IT band syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome and/or abductor tears. Most of these injuries are from overuse of the muscles while running and/or jumping during sports. Overuse doesn’t always mean that a muscle is strong. As is usually the case with abductors, these injuries stem from weak muscles.   

What it is: Weak abductor muscles can be identified in one of several ways: 1) Perform a squat and note if your knees drift inward. This is a telltale sign that the abductors are weaker than the opposing muscle group (the adductors). 2) Make note of your foot’s arch. Many people who are flat-footed and excessively pronate tend to have weak abductors. 3) Perform a clamshell or side lying leg lift with the leg that is lying on top. If this feels difficult right away or quickly after starting, your muscles may need strengthening.

Actions to Take: Clamshells and side-lying leg lifts are two of the first exercisees I recommend to clients, as well as supervised side lunges with correct form. Once a baseline of strength is established therabands are a great way to ramp up resistance and build on progress. 

 

 

7. Poor Running Gait

Pain Location: Poor running gait can impact any joint or muscle in your body from head to toe depending on what the issue is. 

What it is: Normal running is smooth and not “jumpy” looking. When there is excessive up/down movement that places extra stress on the joints. There should be a brief “flight phase” when both feet are off the ground but it shouldn’t look like a person is jumping rope or doing jumping jacks. Posture should be upright, not slumped, and arms should be bent at roughly 90 degrees at the elbows, staying relatively close to the body and swinging gently forward and back with slight rotational movement. If you notice that you’re bending forward in your torso while running or that your arms swing really low, high or wide then you may experience some upper body discomfort as well as lose energy efficiency in the exercise. Feet should be landing and rolling from mid-foot to forefoot smoothly, not striking hard with the heel first. Lastly, stride length should be appropriate for your size and athleticism. For most people, a large stride length reduces hip extension and causes issues. If you feel that you’re a “heel striker” then correcting your stride length might be the place to start. 

Actions to Take: It’s extremely hard to analyze your own gait. As you may be able to tell, gait analysis is complicated and takes an expert’s experienced eyes and feedback. You can start by filming yourself running outdoors or on a treadmill and seeing if anything stands out as appearing unusual – sometimes you might surprise yourself! But your best bet is to get with a running coach or personal trainer who specializes in running. You could even test your luck at a local running store when you get fitted for your next pair of shoes. Sometimes these stores have treadmills set up so that experts can help offer feedback on your shoe and running gait needs. 

 

8. Poor Running Posture & Thoracic Weakness

Pain Location: To be fair, I already mentioned poor running posture in the last section about running gait, but it warrants more attention. Nearly every week I see a handful of runners in my neighborhood alone who are in dire need of postural help. You may consider improving your posture while running if you feel pain in your upper back, neck and/or shoulders afterwards. Poor posture can translate down your body and result in weak glutes, tight hip flexors and improper foot strike. 

What it is: When thoracic and spinal extension muscles such as traps, rhomboids, lats, rear delts, erector spinae, multifidus and more are weak then it becomes difficult for the torso to maintain an upright position during running. As the body slumps forward the lungs close off, making breathing more labored, and the hip flexors take over work that hip extensors should be driving. 

Actions to Take: Strength training several times a week is critical to correct posture so that you can run pain free and so that you can *live* pain free. Posture impacts quite a lot. One of the most important places to start is with thoracic extensions. In other words, teaching your body to isolate and lift tall from the upper back. Trunks lifts from a mat or prone on a bosu ball are great options. Also, it will be important to do full spine extensions from a mat. Quadruped exercises and supermans are great beginner exercises. Dumbbells and weight machines might also come in handy to target the rotator cuff, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, lats, etc. To sum, kick-start a strength training program focused on the back and/or find one to follow along with.

 

Run and be happy (& pain free)!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

5 Health Buzzwords in 2018

Every year there’s a new flurry of health and fitness buzzwords that give rise to a mix of curiosity and anxiety. We’re tossed into the sea of second-guessing and confusion as trends ebb and flow, and the definition of wellness races forward in a new direction. Our minds spin over how to incorporate all the new information. Detox is out and “pretox” is in? Wait…what’s a mitochondria and why should I care? Sometimes, we’re sidetracked for months trying the latest trend in fitness or nutrition.

We’re going to break down five of the latest buzzwords in health today; Femtech, Microbiome, Mitochondria, Pretox and Recomposition, and we’re going to cover practical, non-intimidating ways they can fit into your lifestyle. Begone stress in 2018! Begone!

Femtech

Am I the only woman who is starting to think she may never become pregnant (again) without the help of the Ava Bracelet? Some time around the holidays, when social media was already blowing up with engagement and baby announcements, I started seeing numerous Facebook and Instagram ads featuring well-known Bachelor and Bachelorette stars with their spouses (“casually” lounging around in their pjs at home…while filming ads for millions of viewers, of course). The stars raved to cameras about getting pregnant thanks to the Ava Bracelet. The wearable device helps women track their cycles and become familiar with the timing of ovulation. Is it just me, or is that not what peeing on the stick is for? One Ava customer says:

“I had migraine headaches randomly throughout the month. With Ava, I realized that I always get them like clockwork right after I ovulate. Ava didn’t solve my headaches (if only!) but it does help me be more prepared for them, so they never take me by surprise anymore.”

This is the first of many examples of technology aimed specifically at women. And all of our many complex, men-suck-because-they-don’t-have-’em hormonal and physiological ebbs and flows. Fun, fun, fun. 

Femtech is becoming a billion dollar industry and encompasses technology designed to help women with “fertility solutions, period-tracking apps, pregnancy and nursing care, sexual wellness, and reproductive system health care.” According to Wikipedia…and who doesn’t trust Wiki? All I can say is: IT’S ABOUT TIME. Finally, we’re living in an age where public dialogue over women’s health isn’t quite as taboo. I’m not talking about women’s fitness and weight loss, I’m talking about the tough stuff. Miscarriage. Incontinence. Prolapse. STDs. IVF. Breastfeeding. Egg freezing. Cysts. Fibroids. Menopause. You name it. We’ve likely all dealt with something a bit sensitive and felt like we didn’t have *quite* as much support as we needed at times. With femtech, that just might change.

Not only are there apps and gadgets helping you learn more about your body’s rhythms but there are also some that help you troubleshoot and improve them. For example, MyFlo is a mobile app that helps with menstrual cycle tracking. It goes a step beyond telling you when to expect ovulation and “The Flo,” and offers up interesting tips for how to exercise and eat to nourish your body through the four unique hormonal changes a woman experiences in each cycle. This is what we call “functional medicine.” In other words, lifestyle changes that can impact your health all the way down to the hormonal and cellular level.

Lifestyle Fix:

Don’t worry about trying to track every single aspect of your health through Femtech products because 1) you may break the bank, and 2) you might not need to go overboard. Hone in on the one thing you care about most; fixing PMS headaches, tracking your baby’s heart rate while pregnant, improving your sex life, or curing pelvic pain and dysfunction. You may find that by tackling just one aspect of your health, many other components of wellness fall into place too.

 

Microbiome

What IS this thing called the “microbiome?” So scientific sounding but I promise it’s not an untouchable topic for us common folk. The simplistic definition for microbiome is: “a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body.” In short, “microbiome” encompasses the bacteria/fungi/viruses that colonize your skin, gut, colon, mouth and more.

There are emerging, evidence-based theories that the microbiome develops during the birthing process. MICROBIRTH, a film released in 2014, explains that a baby is exposed to its mom’s vaginal bacteria (cough cough, and sometimes fecal bacteria, cough cough) followed by skin and breastmilk bacteria at birth. The exposure to all this foreign stuff ramps up the baby’s immune system and sets them up for fewer non-communicable diseases later in life, such as Type-I Diabetes, Celiacs Disease, Asthma, etc. This is considered a “seed-and-feed” theory for how our microbiome gets its start.

While the diversity of the microbiome has been studied since as early as the 1600s, we’re still learning about it. Scientists are discovering new revelations that change the way they approach the use of molecular techniques and the study of the microbiome. They understand that there are differences in the microbiome between healthy individuals and those with diseases, and that the makeup of bacteria/fungi changes from site of the body to the next, just as it can from one individual to the next. Perhaps most compellingly, scientists now believe that the microbiome is extremely plastic, not just diverse.  In other words, it can change over time. Thank goodness…because my tummy is still a wreck from the flu last week.

Most recently, “microbiome” has been at the edge of every health fanatics’ lips because it has been discovered that gut fungi serve a very important role in our overall health. That’s right, fungus is officially good. Apparently, the growth of good bacteria in our gut is aided by the good fungus in it. Moving forward we’re going to hear a lot more about probiotic supplements that incorporate fungus and “prebiotics” (supplements and foods containing fiber that properly nourishes gut bacteria). Stay on the lookout! 

Lifestyle Fix:

I’m not going to tell everyone to go out and buy the next probiotic overstuffed with prebiotics and fungi (might not hurt, though). But what I will say is that we can all take a moment to consider how out gut health impacts our mood, energy and overall health. So, a simple lifestyle fix is asking yourself which foods/beverages/supplements you regularly consume which might hurt vs aid your gut health. Making simple adjustments in your dietary choices is easy and it might change the makeup of all those bacteria/fungi that you’d rather not think about on a daily basis.

 

Mitochondria

I’ve talked about mitochondria more than any of my clients and friends know. If you’ve studied kinesiology or exercise physiology then you have too. If you stretch your mind back to high school biology class and can remember anything about the Krebs Cycle or ATP, then you’re getting warm. To refresh your memory; the mitochondria are organelles (had to look it up to remember that word, haha) in the cell which regulate cellular metabolism. Think of them as tiny power generators in every cell of your body.

“Mitochondria” rarely comes up during coffee break. But that’s all starting to change. Prominent doctors such as Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Frank Lipman and Dr. Vincent Pedre are educating the public on how these organelles impact all aspects of our health. According to these doctors, when people suffer from “Feel-Like-Crap Syndrome,” their mitochondria aren’t functioning well and aren’t receiving proper support.

Lifestyle Fix:

So how do we support these microscopic organelle thingys? Answer: Healthy fats. This is part of what spurred the popular ketogenic diet in 2017. But I’m not telling you to start counting macros and making every dietary choice a high-fat one. If you reeeeaaalllly want to go down that path, talk to a registered dietitian about your options (don’t come to me – I’m not a raving fan of any extremist diet). If you want to help nourish your mitochondria through simple but powerful ways, just stock up on healthy fats in your weekly meals. Don’t worry about counting macros or eating all fats, just make sure you’re eating some or all of the following on a regular basis:

Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Olives, Nuts, Seeds, Avocados, Salmon/Fish, Eggs, Edamame, Ground Flaxseed, Chia Seeds, Lean Grass-Fed Beef & Pork, Full-Fat Milk, Full-Fat Yogurt (And guess what?! Dark Chocolate and Parmesan Cheese make the cut, too. YAAAAAASSSS!)

 

Pretox

“Pretox is the new detox.” Apparently. Instead of focusing on detoxifying one’s body from all the bad junk one ate and drank, some health professionals [and supplement companies] are recommending that people “pretox.” It sounds very oh-la-la, fancy, elusive and, like many health trends, expensive. But it’s not! For once. 

“Pretoxing” is simply giving your healthy lifestyle a gentle makeover. It’s getting those extra hours of sleep, exercising, drinking enough water, cutting back on processed foods, caffeine and alcohol, and all those tried-and-true steps towards a healthier lifestyle. These measures are called a pretox because they’re given even more attention and focus preceding a big event or vacation where one knows overindulgence will be involved. Supposedly, these measures make the detox phase of getting back on track easier.

While I certainly haven’t seen any scientific studies backing up these assertions (i.e., that the detoxing after partying is easier done if pretoxing has taken place), these steps certainly can’t hurt. If anything, they probably make someone more aware of the negative effects of too much alcohol or too little sleep, and cause the individual to curb their behavior mid-wedding reception or beach vacation.

I’ve often found that the healthier we are, the more sensitive we are. What I mean by this is that we are more aware of the negative effects of toxic substances and choices. For example, someone who strips common food allergens like soy, alcohol, gluten, eggs and dairy out of their diet will be more capable of telling whether or not they have a negative reaction after reintroducing them. The body’s reaction will be more loud and clear versus when they’re immune suppressed and experiencing the aforementioned Feel-Like-Crap Syndrome due to assaulting their body with things they’re sensitive to.

Ironically, this goes hand-in-hand with the urban dictionary’s definition of pretox: “When you know you’re going have a ridiculous amount of alcohol over the weekend and you decide to go out for a few drinks the night before as preparation – it’s the drinking equivalent of stretching.” The fact that this is a real definition kind of kills me. But to sum, drink more = less sensitive to effects of alcohol. Drink less = more sensitive. And so it can go with other things, too. 

Lifestyle Fix:

There’s no need for anyone to get their feathers ruffled over this buzzword. Just stick to the health basics for “pretoxing” and “detoxing.” Get sleep. Eat plenty of fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, antioxidant rich fruits and veggies. Drink a crap ton of water every day. Exercise and get out of your desk chair from time to time. Reduce stress. Overcome and banish negative thought patterns like guilt and shame. Curb caffeine and alcohol. Stuff like that. Please don’t feel the need to overspend on some fancy supplement or juice diet that boasts it can reclaim your youth. Just don’t. 

 

 

Recomposition

I was recently interviewed by Shape on the ins-and-outs of this buzzword. Definitely check that article out for a full explanation of “recomp.” A few highlights:

Recomposition is a fancy term for losing fat at the same time as putting on muscle. This is done to achieve a “lean and strong” body with overall improved fat:muscle ratios. The fat loss and muscle acquisition processes are very different but can be achieved together. The rate of muscle acquisition will not be quite as fast for someone trying to simultaneously lose weight but that’s okay.

For general nutrition, we need around .8 grams of protein per kg body weight every day (1 kg = 2.2 lbs). When trying to acquire muscle, this amount should be closer to 1 gram or higher. If someone is trying to lose weight by cutting calories at the same time as trying to gain muscle then they should aim even higher for protein intake; 1.5-2.0 grams protein per kg body weight a day. This amount of protein is easiest achieved through animal sources such as lean meats, fish and eggs since they have a high quality and quantity of amino acids. But a balanced diet incorporates a variety of whole foods so yogurt, quinoa, beans, lentils and other foods are healthful and contribute to the grams of protein, too. To sum, protein is essential for muscle growth and thereby altering body composition. A low-protein diet will not yield impressive muscle-gain adaptations, especially if there is a lack of exercise.

As for the exercise component to recomp, strength training via machines, free weights or body weight is an important part. This is not to say that cardiovascular exercise can’t add muscle to a person’s body (have you ever seen how impressively strong and dense an Olympic sprinter’s thighs are?!) but that strength training is a surefire way to add lean mass thanks to tapping into Type II muscle fibers (ironically, the same muscle fibers utilized by the aforementioned sprinters). Type II fibers are highly responsive to overload and will quickly adapt in size and contractile efficiency. These muscle fibers are best stimulated through reps in the range of 6-12, with muscle failure happening in that range. Muscle failure is a key element to building muscle. If you could keep going for a few more reps above the 6-12 rep range then you need to increase the amount of weight. True muscle failure is often accompanied by the inability to maintain form or continue working. So, when you reach that point, it’s the end of the set. Don’t compromise form for a few more reps because 1) you might hurt yourself and 2) there actually isn’t much of a point if your target muscle has reached fatigue.

There are a lot of ways to train for strength; supersets, circuits, alternating upper/lower body days, super slow or eccentric training, explosive exercises, and more. What’s important is that there is both a frequency to the training and adequate recovery. Muscle regeneration isn’t very effective when the body is chronically stressed (this can apply to mental stress or a lack of sleep, too!) so recovery days are critical. As for frequency of training, three times a week for strength is typically sufficient for the general population with basic weight loss and toning goals. For women looking to really lean down below 16-18% body fat, it will take a lot more dedication. Typically, women with these goals are athletes and/or competing in bikini or bodybuilding competitions. These individuals are usually on tight regimens, lifting 4-6 days/week and carefully monitoring their macronutrients with “bulking” and “cutting” phases built in.

Lifestyle Fix:

If you want to put on lean muscle in an effort to improve body composition then simply try to gradually increase the amount of protein you consume and increase strength training volume, frequency and/or intensity. If counting macro-nutrients isn’t your thing then just focus on getting some quality protein at least two out of your main three meals. If strength training isn’t your favorite, try some explosive sprints or HIIT exercises that push your muscles to the point of fatigue. Even just two workout days a week that focus on explosive or strength movements will guarantee some margin of results and health improvements!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie