Tag Archives: women’s health

Where Does Belly Fat Come From?

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

The Usual Suspects for Belly Fat

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

Nutrition

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

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

 

 

Physical Activity 

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

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

 

Genetics

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

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

 

The Sneaky Culprits of Belly Fat

Sleep

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

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

 

 

Stress

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

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

 

Gut Health

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

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

 

 

Hormone Changes

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

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

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

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Stressful Life Events + Self-Sabotage

Many of us have heard mention of the “five biggest stressors” in life, to include:

Death of a loved one

Divorce

Serious illness/injury

Moving

Job loss

Lots of people live out the truth that these experiences and even happy life events can bring unusual amounts of stress and uneasiness. Brides balk in the face of too many wedding-planning details and recently-promoted employees experience a sense of urgency and unrest as they work to prove themselves in their new role. Personally, in the face of major stressors – both the bad and good – I tend to self-sabotage. It’s something I’ve done for a long time and I don’t think I’m alone in doing this. But, as the years have passed, I’ve learned not to. In the spirit of openness and evolving in wellness, here’s a little insight into my life right now, where I’ve come from and where I’m heading, and how you might relate.

If you hadn’t already noticed, it’s been a little over a month since my last blog post. Since having a kiddo and writing two manuscripts, I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to blogging, but I still make it a goal to get a couple posts out every month. So, why the recent delay? You guessed it. I’m going through one of life’s major stressful events; moving. My house hasn’t even hit the market yet and I’m already feeling like the process of buying/selling and moving to a new city is so dizzying that it should be over by now.

Past stressful events in my life have included launching my personal training career the month the American markets crashed in 2008, getting hit by a car in 2009, experiencing the deaths of loved ones, and moving after college to busy-busy Washington, DC from small town Charlottesville, VA. My stressors may pale in comparison to other people’s but they’re mine, and the ownership over my own drama and circumstances is what has helped me evolve into the woman, professional and mother that I am today. Here’s what used to happen to me when I got stressed…

When the markets crashed, I felt manic and the need to impress everyone around me, working double-time and internalizing other people’s misfortunes as my own. When I was hit by the car, I felt like I had to push as fast as humanly possible, turning on all engines and running on all cylinders, as if the harder I tried, the quicker I would physically recover and emotionally heal. When I experienced the loss of a close family member, I felt like it was my mission to work harder to prove that my life efforts were a worthy legacy. And when I moved to Washington, DC, I was too intimidated by the accomplished and city-smart colleagues and professionals around me to calm down and be unapologetically myself. As you can see, stress doesn’t slow me down. It speeds me up.

My inability to cope with stress has led to self-sabotage. The kind that isn’t intentional but nonetheless does a very good job of chiseling away at a person’s soul. I’ve seen the same kind of thing happen with countless personal training clients. People have sought out exercise as a means of escape, an effort to feel some kind of control as the world spins like a crazy twister around them. At first, it seems to help them. Over time, and without containment, it steadily wears them down.

This time around, on the frontier of the unknown and leaving my entire life from the past decade in Washington, DC with one large leap of faith, I refuse to repeat past mistakes. Wellness is about evolving. Figuring out how to better care for oneself in the many facets of the body, mind and spirit as each gently molds into new forms over time. Hence, no blog post for the past month and no pressure on myself to spit out new ones “just because.” I’m also not putting pressure on myself to tackle my crazy, sky-high “to-do list” this time (isn’t prepping one home for sale and planning contractors for another enough?!). Sending query letters to agents for my books shouldn’t be rushed just because I’d love to feel like all my big goals have been reached before leaving the area. Pushing myself to stick to my normal workout regime isn’t worth it when it takes too much of a toll on my already-taxed body. I swear, I’ve probably burned a million calories anyways, cleaning and running after my toddler to keep him from messing it all up! The things of the past, that I used to lump on top of stressful experiences, aren’t going to get the best of me. I deserve better than some unrealistic standard that I’ve set for myself. Self-sabotage has no place in this season.

Do you act as your own worst enemy at times, too? Other common forms of self-sabotage include:

People-pleasing

Addiction; alcohol, drugs, caffeine, overeating

Procrastination

Extreme Modesty

Dodging Emotions

Self-harm

These things may seem initially helpful to the person who is under stress but all of them are dangerous, even the ones like “people-pleasing” that don’t raise an immediate red flag like “self-harm” does. Somehow, a lot of us women tend to make things harder on ourselves during some of life’s most trying times. Instead of setting the bar super high or resorting to behaviors that aren’t helpful in the long run, here are a few things to consider trying to get you through turbulent circumstances:

1) Use exercise as a stress-release not as punishment

I see this happen ALL the time. Exercise is used as “punishment” without people even realizing it. They rationalize in their minds that if they can get into great shape to get up-and-over an ex-boyfriend or ex-husband that sadness can’t touch their hearts. They unknowingly make up their minds that because they lost their job, they must pound the pavement and hit the weights for hours every day, as though the harder they test their physical limits, the closer they will be to feeling invincible again. Exercise can build people up, but not when the intention behind the action is fraught with insecurity and a feeling of unworthiness.

2) Avoid over-caffeinating or drinking away your feelings

Sure, it seems like a good idea to push through the afternoon on a caffeine high and to unwind after a long day with a little wine buzz, but the more we repetitively consume these things in excess, or even in more-than-normal proportions, the more we tax our bodies. When our bodies get taxed, our minds get worn out, too.

3) Use food as comfort on occasion, but not all the time

I’m very different from some other health advocates out there who stick to the Whole30 Program or paleo diets year-round. I believe in eating healthfully most of the time, but I also strongly feel that food IS a very emotional experience. There’s no denying it. It’s part of our cultural and personal identities, and conjures memories and emotions. Enjoy a few comfort meals when you’re going through a tough time. It’s OKAY to emotionally eat once in a blue moon. Just don’t make a habit of it. For the record, I’m never going to only eat salads for a month. Not. Gonna. Happen.

4) Don’t let the bark be worse than the bite

Fear is a common reason for resorting to people-pleasing, procrastination, over-committing, and more. What if I’m not good enough? What if they don’t like me? What if my dreams don’t come true even why I try? If you hide “under a rock” and put off self-care, emotions and/or your goals, you’ll never overcome fear and you certainly won’t accomplish anything for your authentic self. For example:

My Situation: Afraid to hold back from blogging for a month while undergoing extreme stress. Fearful that people will judge me for not being committed enough. Guilt-ridden over not sticking to my commitment of producing content more often.

Action: No blog writing for a handful of weeks.

Result: Seemingly, no one has judged me, and I have had more time and energy for myself and my family during an important and unique time.

Bonus: No more fear.

5) Ingratiate YOURSELF

Too often, when life hands women lemons, we make lemonade, lemon meringue, roasted chicken with lemon and fennel, amaretto sour cocktails, and elderflower lemon cake (?!?!?). Instead of tasting life’s bitterness and adjusting to what that means to us, we try to make ourselves appear more likeable and put-together to everyone around us. Social media has only exacerbated this tendency. Been there – I tend to post way more often when I’m struggling than when I’m happy. Isn’t it time we ingratiate ourselves? What can you do to make yourself more likeable to the only person who truly matters – YOU?

These are just a few ideas for how to survive and stay healthy during life’s most stressful events. I will be trying to keep myself in check on ALL these fronts as I pack up my bags this summer and move on from the Washington, DC area after a decade of urban living. I may have experienced my childhood elsewhere, but I truly grew up after moving to DC. The people I’ve met – some of which are among the readers of this blog – have changed my life. But the relationships and the experiences are not over – no one said I can’t take my laptop and WellnessWinz with me! So, cheers to DC AND cheers to change!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

The Best Indoor Exercise for Winter

sun-salutations-1

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

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

What is Surya Namaskara?

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

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

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

Why is Surya Namaskara so ideal for winter months?

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

 

sun-salutations-2

BEGINNERS SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

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

Week 1: 5 Sun Salutations/day

Week 2: 10 Sun Salutations/day

Week 3: 15 Sun Salutations/day

Week 4: 20 Sun Salutations/day

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ADVANCED SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

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

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

Week 2: 20×2, 25×2, 30×2, REST

Week 3: 40×2, REST, 50×2, REST, 60×1

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

Final: 108 Sun Salutations

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

Namaste!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

16 Health Lessons from 2016

2016. Oh man. What a whirlwind. The world is still feeling a little dizzy from a heated American presidency race, a slew of terrorist attacks, Brexit, ZIKA and chasing after Pokemon. Who wouldn’t be? But, 2016 had its highlights too. If nothing else, we can always learn from the ups and downs alike. Here is what I learned in my year, for better or worse.

6 Lesson #1: Expect the Unexpected

It was a month before his due date when my son decided to make his debut to the world, He was supposed to be an on-time Valentine’s Day baby. Instead, he showed up on January 19th after my water broke and membranes simultaneously ruptured (which in truth made me think I was bleeding out or losing the baby…terrifying). Thus began my education in one of the biggest lessons you have as a parent: Don’t ever think you have it all figured out.

A baby is a person. It has its own mind. And probably shouldn’t be referenced as “it.” This lesson can also apply to the body and our health. Both can take unexpected twists and turns. We may get hit by a car (ahem, been there) or fall unexpectedly ill. Or we may become marathon runners at the age of 50 after a lifetime of avoiding sneakers and gym shorts. You just never know. The unlimited potential in the unexpected is actually a beautiful thing when we learn not to be afraid of it.

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Lesson #2: Our Bodies Are in Sync with Nature

The only reason I can think of for why my son arrived a month early into this world is that there were barometric changes in the atmosphere as the January 2016 blizzard made its way to the east coast. There is actually evidence of changes in atmospheric pressure increasing the number of women who have their water break. Kind of like hospitals getting flooded by pink-skinned, squealing babies when the new moon comes around. It’s pretty incredible that we are linked so inexplicably to nature.

Lesson #3: Sleep is Crucial

This seems pretty obvious but it’s worth mentioning sleep for the millionth time on this blog. When you lose sleep, things get cray cray. I had the WORST mom brain for months when my son was under six months old, waking up lots and suffering from reflux. Now that he has slept through the night for almost five months, I can still feel the impact of restless nights. My body has become programmed by maternal instincts to wake up at the slightest noise from him. Add in weird hormonal things, a need to pee once every night around 2:00-3:00 am, and my husband snoring (sorry to call you out, love) and there ya have it. Still kind of tired. Not miserably, but just that slightly worn-thin feeling that a lot of parents live with for all 18 years their children are under their roof.

Sleep impacts the way we think and feel. An earlier bedtime can be tough to stick to when the evening hours are oh-so peaceful, quiet and MINE, but it’s so important. I would advise anyone reading this to think very carefully if the quality of their entire life could be improved by minor changes to sleep schedules. Again, it’s important stuff for our mental and physical health.

Lesson #4: Being a Nursing Mom is a J.O.B.

Being a mom is tough. Being a nursing mom is even harder. Yes, it’s a wonderful and beautiful bonding experience but it’s also incredibly challenging to juggle life around the schedule (or on-demand needs) of a nursing baby. We’re talking sprinting in and out of stores and cutting meetings short in order to feed or pump for the little one. Life is a revolving door of boobs in, boobs out. It’s no wonder so many women quit breastfeeding or don’t even initiate it! In fact, according to the CDC, the national average for initiating breastfeeding from birth is under 80%. At six months of age, less than 50% of infants are breastfed and under 20% are exclusively nursed, meaning they have to be supplemented by formula. For more info check out the CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card.

But the thing about nursing is that it’s your child’s best chance at optimal nutrition and health. I’m not saying it’s the only way or shaming moms who have to do formula or supplement. There are lots of cases where that’s necessary, appropriate and life-saving. But, mama’s milk has everything in it that a baby needs and changes composition over time to meet those needs. Mama’s milk even produces antibodies to help baby get over specific illnesses and build up positive gut bacteria. So, even though it certainly feels like a job to breastfeed, it’s definitely worth trying to for as long as possible from a health perspective. Think of your paycheck as baby’s lifelong health!

Lesson #5: Patience is Everything 

Patience is not an easy virtue to abide by. I think it’s why many people quit their workout and weight-loss programs, and why some mothers give their kids food to appease them when they are fussy. It’s hard to deal with frustrations or a lack of desirable results, but almost always, if we hang in just a little longer, the scales will tip in our favor. Things will change.

Nothing has taught me this as profoundly as waiting for my son’s gut health to mature. He was a gassy, fussy baby in the first three months so I cut out dairy from my diet and we did everything we could to keep the little guy comfortable. In months three to six, he developed GERD (gastrointestinal reflux) and was in extreme pain. While medicine eventually helped keep things under control and we took every precaution we could to help reduce instances of reflux, there was still not a lot we could do except give his body time. Right when we thought we couldn’t handle it any more, our hearts so distraught over a baby who was chronically exhausted, reacting to pain, and having troubles with constipation, his body did a 180. Around six months of age he started going to the bathroom regularly, sleeping more soundly, weaning off his meds, and becoming the happy baby we had caught glimpses of. My patience definitely wore thin many times, but the fragment of it that I clung to kept me going. It kept me aware of the truth in the statement new mothers hear all the time: “This too shall pass.”

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Lesson #6: Isolation Hurts Health

I’ve learned firsthand that isolation is most definitely no fun. I spent lots of long days home alone while my husband traveled for work and I cared for my son in his early infancy. He was very sensory sensitive as a newborn so I wasn’t exactly able to be one of those new moms toting her baby around to Starbucks, Target and happy hour. I discovered from experience that no amount of Facebook, Instagram, texting or phone calls can equate to being with people in person, seeing their facial expressions, sensing their warmth, and hearing their laughter. “LOL” just isn’t the same. We are inherently social creatures. Our wellness is immediately improved by quality human interactions.  

Lesson #7: Weight Retention is a Choice

I think because I grew up in a small town that I saw a lot of mothers with young children who were overweight. Something about the culture of a small town and rural America seems to lend itself to this a bit more. Anyways, I had this idea that once I became a mom my body would never be the same. But, when I moved to Washington, DC in my early 20s I saw so many older women taking care of themselves through healthy eating and exercise that I was inspired to change my perspective.

Neither age nor motherhood means an inevitable decline into being overweight or less healthy. You can absolutely lose the baby weight instead of retaining it, with some effort. I could too, I realized. And I did! I’m no supermom and I’m not out accomplishing amazing physical or culinary feats every day for my health. I’m simply a woman who is reminding herself that she is the one in control of her weight and health. Not anybody or anything else. I stay on track by simply following my choice to be healthy, day after day after day. With the occasional wine and chocolate. Okay, fine. I eat chocolate every day. Anybody else is capable of just the same.

Lesson #8: Little Things Add Up

One of the ways that I lost the majority of my baby weight during the first few months postpartum was by staying gently active and keeping myself in check so that not every day was pancakes and scrambled eggs day for breakfast. Although for the record, if calories didn’t count, I would probably do that all the time. In the same way, little things that we do for our health can snowball and help us overcome a suppressed immune system, a chronically aching lower back, high blood pressure or any number of conditions.

If we try to do too much too fast, it can backfire. For example, if someone with cardiac issues tries to go out and strengthen their weak heart in a single exercise session, they might quite literally kill themselves. Similarly, we can hurt ourselves if we skip over all the small details and actions that contribute to better health. If we pay those obnoxious little details just a smidge of attention, they will add up and take care of us so well that suddenly we are enthused instead of annoyed by them.

Lesson #9: Sometimes, Health Professionals Suck

Confession time. I was going to a pediatrician at a trusted peds office in my neighborhood. I liked her when I scoped her out as a prospect. She seemed to-the-point, candid and knowledgeable. In the early weeks of parenthood, when it was so critical that our late pre-term baby gain weight, thrive and recover from jaundice, I hung on every one of her scary-sounding words. As he got a little older I started to notice that her bedside manner wasn’t as good as it originally seemed, and wasn’t always contextually appropriate.

At several check-ups she made me genuinely nervous about my son’s perfectly healthy development, all because of how she chose her words. One appointment, she mixed up my son’s weight chart with another parent’s baby. It had been a couple months since I saw her and she whisked through the door in a huff and said very frankly, without so much as a “hello,” that she had bad news about his weight. I hemmed and hawed and said I thought he had been doing okay but that as a new parent with a baby who came early, I was always nervous since he was consistently “behind” his birth-age peers. Which is totally normal and to be expected. I was holding my breath to hear her next words. My heart had started racing. I felt like I was failing at motherhood. Then she said, “Oh, whoops! I completely got you mixed up with another patient. Carter is doing great!” On numerous other occasions, instead of giving me professional advice, she gave me advice based on her own child’s preferences and routines as a baby. That’s just out-of-the-ballpark unprofessional and subjective. Period.

There is a certain way that health professionals can make you feel, even when they have to deliver bad news. Their tone and demeanor is everything. It can change lives just as much as their diagnoses, programs and scalpels. And sometimes, even when a professional is smart and trustworthy, they can suck at communicating the right way. Be it a doctor, nurse, physical therapist, personal trainer, OBGYN, or any other health professional, you know when they are out of line. For example, there’s a right and a wrong way for personal trainers to motivate people who are dangerously overweight to get back on track. Should the overweight client be shamed? Absolutely not. Should they be reprimanded? No, of course not. Should they be made to feel afraid? Ideally, no. That behavior on behalf of any health professional is unacceptable in my book. Which brings me to my next point…

Lesson #10: Fire and Rehire (your health professional)

If your health professional acts in a way that makes you uncomfortable (see Lesson #9), you fire them. Period. You don’t let them drag you through the mud. You don’t let them make you feel unworthy or paranoid. Again, you fire them. You find someone who can take care of you in the right way. Simple as that. Don’t hesitate or be afraid to do it.

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Lesson #11: Human Physical Development is Mind-Boggling

I know everyone is all crazy about babies learning to crawl, walk and talk, but I find the little details that my son discovers about his body to be just as fascinating. Okay, once he walks I will probably be ecstatic like every other normal parent. Recently, he has discovered that he can intentionally shake his head side-to-side like a “no” except he is super happy doing it, can touch his tongue with his fingers, can pinch his belly fat (haha), can scratch surfaces with his nails (eek!), can carefully stack objects on top of one another, and can play peekaboo with doors, blankets, curtains and anything he can hide behind. Believe it or not, this is the short list. 

I’ve been totally baffled as he has discovered things like lateral and rotational movement, balancing on two feet without support, and how to feed himself using his hands, So many things that we take for granted and don’t even think about are exploding like fireworks into his awareness. Every single one of these little things makes us human. Every one of the little things we can do so effortlessly as adults helps define our physical experience in the human body. It’s truly incredible and we are truly lucky to have such amazing vehicles to transport us from cradle to grave. Sorry if that’s a touch morbid to you, but to me it’s a thing of pure beauty. 

Lesson #12: Our Bodies Are All Insanely Unique

WARNING: TMI AHEAD. READ ON WITH CAUTION!

I’ve always heard that exclusive nursing is a form of birth control, for the most part. But a mere six weeks after having my baby, I got my period. Yup. Undeniably, my period. And I was breastfeeding around the clock. This is one very simple example of what tends to be a universal truth: There are no hard and fast rules that apply to all of our bodies. We all have some fundamental needs as humans like air, food, water and shelter, but we are each so uniquely designed that we can’t assume that what happens to one person’s body will happen to ours. This is why I much prefer to personalize workout programs rather than assume that one program meets the entire populations’ fitness needs. It doesn’t. It never will. 

Lesson #13: Doing Things Too Fast Will Slow You Down

When we push ourselves too hard for too long, it hurts our health. I know this firsthand because it’s something I have to work hard to keep myself in check about. In fact, just this holiday season I’ve found that I’ve reached a point of “burned out” because I ran on all cylinders for several weeks straight. I was working to finish writing a book, take care of my 10-month old while my husband traveled for work, get holiday shopping and wrapping done, host a party and do all the cooking, and manage normal chores, dog walking, errands, etc. I’m completely worn out. But, it’s not just that I’m tired.

Like other instances in the past when I’ve been a touch too hardcore, my body is now suffering from inflammation and stress. My joints ache, my stress-response is out of control (think heart racing over something stupid and minor like hearing a dog barking for a while next door), my tolerance for indulgent foods is zero, and my sleep is a bit wrecked. These are just a few examples of how our bodies break down when we chronically stress them. When we get to a place like this we must go back to basics; eat well, sleep well, rest, keep blood flowing with light exercise, focus on things that balance us mentally and spiritually. Sounds like a good recipe for the holidays anyways!

Lesson #14: Support Systems are Necessary

Without support systems, health inevitably suffers. I mean, we can all claim to be super woman (or at least try to be), with minimal outreach to others for emotional and physical support, but then we suffer. Big time. Our health thrives when we have the opportunity to lean in to others for help when we need it. It allows us to have recovery time and to build our strength back up so that we can face the world.

I take a lot of pride in being a go-getter who goes and gets things done. But when the going gets tough, I can get exhausted. This year I had to learn to swallow my pride and ask for more help to get simple things accomplished. And ya know what? I’m living to tell the tale. It wasn’t so bad after all. The help of others has gotten me through 2016. It has been paramount to my health. And sanity.

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Lesson #15: Good Health Takes Work

This probably seems so obvious. It kind of is. But so many of us KNOW the things we need to do for our health and yet, we don’t take action. We understand how to feel better but living out that lifestyle seems really difficult. Honestly, sometimes it can be. Buying fresh foods and preparing them takes a lot more effort than zapping something in the microwave. Going for a brisk walk or hitting the gym obviously requires more energy than sitting back and scrolling through social media. Although I’ve found that fingers can get tired too.

As my child has gotten older I’ve been challenged for the first time in a while to figure out how to stick to healthy choices and put in the effort to take care of not just him, but ME! Mama’s health matters, too! A few things that have helped me are walking into the grocery store with a list and a plan, acknowledging that efficient 30-minute workouts can be just as beneficial as lackadaisical 60-minute ones, and making sure that I’m in bed at the exact same time every night to ensure enough sleep. Maybe some of these simple things will help you too.

Lesson #16: Health is a Blessing

It’s a bit of a cliché, I know. But. HEALTH IS A BLESSING. Drop the mic.


Without further ado, I wish you all a very healthy, very happy holiday season! See you in 2017!

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Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

Slow Results

In today’s world where everything is a swipe, tap or click away, it can be excruciatingly difficult when results are slow to come. I’m not just talking about fitness results either. Delays and setbacks in successful romance, job promotions, having children, saving for retirement, and many other areas of our lives challenge us to the core. The waiting game is not easy. But, I’ve noticed through my time as fitness professional that there is much to gain from slow results. In fact, you should delight in the delay! Let’s talk about what you gain through overdue gratification and feeling like you’re in a place far from your goals.

endurance

Endurance

People who exercise realize that reaching your goals can take a lot of time. There are long sweat sessions after which you feel like a champion. There are also days and weeks when you feel like a failure because you sit at your desk thinking about how you should hit the gym but instead waste time procrastinating on social media. Ringing any bells? The ups and downs are all a part of building up endurance and grit as you push onwards through both the accomplishments and setbacks, driving incrementally harder towards your goals.

Anyone who has tried to shed pounds can tell you that there are usually times in the process when a little bit of weight is actually gained. It’s during those times of gain that a person has to reevaluate how they are moving forward in the weight-loss journey. Are they fully committed? What can they learn from the weight gain? If a person can recommit themselves to exercise, healthy eating and self-care during this time, they haven’t lost anything from their weight making a small rebound. In fact, I will argue that they have gained endurance by understanding that losing weight, or any goal for that matter, isn’t just a one-time decision. It’s a recurring decision to get up and work towards it every day in spite of challenges. For example, sticking to the goal even through a messy breakup, the holiday season or an injury. The definition of endurance is “enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.”

character

Character

One of my favorite things about personal training is that I can see individuals’ personalities and perspectives slowly transform as they undergo the process. For example, one woman I trained used to think that she should push herself really hard all the time in workouts or there was no point in showing up to the gym. If she missed the first 10 minutes of a training session she felt like she should give up and not come at all. Any time she was tired or needed to take a break from exercise she felt like it was a free pass to overeat, feel guilty and wallow in despair about her body, love life and work. Over time, I helped her to see that you can lose pace with your goal for results without completely falling off the wagon. She could let herself have a couple days of feeling a little blue and taking care of her emotional health without sabotaging herself through junk food or drinking too much.

Over the years (yes, years), I saw this woman go from self-loathing during times of slow results to confidence and composure. She knew that she would achieve her goals even through the setbacks. This wisdom helped her mentally and emotionally. Suddenly, long hours at the office didn’t stress or burn her out so quickly. Her dreams of marriage in spite of lacking a romantic relationship didn’t feel quite so pressing. Her small ebbs and flows in her fitness and weight didn’t drown her in guilt. She became a more empathetic and self-loving individual. In my book, not even running the world’s fastest marathon can compare to achieving that.

faith

Faith

This blog post was inspired through my own experiences as a personal trainer and also as a woman of faith. The theme “delight in the delay” was inspired by a sermon I listened to which encouraged people to see the positive aspects of waiting for their dreams to come alive. The biggest thing that I took away from this spiritual message was that dreams WILL come true. As hokey as that sounds. When you have a confident hope that you will see your dreams come to fruition, you will continue to put yourself in a position of passionate pursuit, no matter how long it takes. Very few dreams worth achieving come easily.

Hang on tight whether you’re chasing after better fitness or a bigger paycheck, and don’t turn away from the lessons available to you during the wait. Life happens in them. They are the foundation for hope.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

When You Are Tired (of being tired)

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

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

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

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

tired 2Should I Get Help from a Doctor?

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

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

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

tired 1How to Feel Energized Again

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

Quality Sleep

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

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

Specific Kinds of Regular Exercise

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

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

Healing via Nutrients and Nutrient Timing

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

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

Other Lifestyle & Wellness Factors

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

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

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

Bulky vs. Long and Lean

People are often concerned that they will get “bulky” when starting a workout program. I hear something like this a lot: “I want to get lean and toned, not big and bulky.” Packing on bulky muscle isn’t likely something you have to worry about though. Here’s why you don’t have to stress about bulking (unless you want to!) and how you can adjust your workouts to feel “long and lean.”

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Why You Don’t Have to Stress About Getting Bulky

Bulking takes a LOT of effort

I hate to say it but you will probably have a harder time increasing muscle size and strength than having an overabundance of voluminous muscle suddenly added to your frame. A couple months of hitting the gym is not likely to make you truly bulky. Even regular exercise only does so much to build up muscles in a “bulky” manner. This is especially the case for women due to differences in hormones that prevent us from being able to acquire muscle in the same way that men do. Not fair, Mother Nature. Not fair.

The truth is, bodybuilders spend a ton of time hitting the weights (we’re talking potentially hours every day of the week) and follow a very strict diet (much more protein than the average person consumes). So don’t sweat it if you’re trying to avoid your pants feeling too tight or your suit jackets not fitting. Although, in my opinion, if this results from healthy muscle gains then you’ve got a GOOD “problem” on your hands! Your exercise program will probably not be vigorous or specific enough to bulk you up.

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Heavy weightlifting does not necessarily result in bulky muscles

Heavy weight training and light weight training aren’t all that different. If you exercise, with any weight range, to the point of fatigue, you will get micro-tears in your muscles which repair and allow you to become stronger and more toned. Building muscle can result from any kind of physical exercise, weight training or endurance activity. This is a good thing, just to be clear! Heavy weightlifting tends to get a bad rep though (among people concerned about bulky muscle), but heavier weights are one of the most efficient ways to spend your time exercising since they give you great results. The more you progressively overload your muscles with heavier resistances, the more muscle you will gain. The more muscle you have, the higher metabolism you create for yourself and the more calories you burn overall throughout the day. Greater calorie burn = greater potential for becoming lean. When coupled with a balanced diet that is…sadly, you still can’t eat cake every night and get away with it.

To sum, building muscle strength through light or heavy weight training (although the latter is generally more efficient) is not synonymous with the specific training for maximal muscle acquisition that comprises the process of bulking.

What ACTUALLY Makes Someone Look “Long and Lean”

We’ve all seen that person walking into the gym with muscles so puffed up that their arms barely look like they will touch their sides. Clearly, this is not a physique that screams long and lean. More often, images of ballerinas and thin Pilates instructors come to mind. In reality, there isn’t a lot these individuals are doing to “lean out” their muscles though. They often look “long and lean” because they are themselves thin and toned. Sometimes this is the result of hard work and sometimes it’s simply genetic.

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While it’s true that stretching helps elongate muscles, stretched out muscles don’t aesthetically look a whole lot different than tight muscles. There’s no major discernable visual difference in spite of what many Pilates, Barre and yoga instructors might preach. Yup, the “long and lean results” claims are mostly marketing ploys. I haven’t met a single person who is 5′ 4″ that has done Pilates three times a week and looked “longer.” Have you? Someone doing Pilates, Barre or yoga might look lean (although typically cardio exercise and weight training produce a leaner physique thanks to burning more calories), but they aren’t suddenly looking like some sky-high beanpole. They probably feel longer thanks to muscles that are nicely stretched out throughout these exercise formats. Balancing strength and cardio exercise with stretching is the ideal way to help you feel longer, relax tight muscles, speed recovery and avoid injury.

As an exercise professional, I can tell you that the only way to *potentially* look “longer” is simply by being leaner – and maintaining tall posture. Perhaps less bulk on your frame (from shedding fat, not muscle) will help you look in the mirror and say “aha! I look taller!” If so, wonderful! Whatever helps ya sleep at night and, of course, stay healthy.

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Here’s how you get and stay lean:

  • Burn calories. Through whatever exercise modality you love and can do regularly, workout to burn energy and shed fat. As you lose a layer of fat your muscles will emerge. Ever seen a young skinny boy with a six pack? He didn’t work for those ripped-looking abs at the ripe age of 10, he just doesn’t have much fat to cover them up! Yes, a six-pack lies within all of us. Literally. 
  • Do a variety of exercises. That’s right, not just Pilates or yoga. If you continue to stimulate your body through new exercise types and challenges, you will avoid a training plateau and continue to reap calorie-burning and muscle-building results. This will lean you out. As mentioned earlier, don’t forget to stretch!
  • Switch up the way you work each muscle. One of the ways that bodybuilders achieve bulk is by repeatedly doing the same exercise over and over again at heavier and heavier weights. There are lots of benefits to this, don’t get me wrong! You can achieve great strength gains, burn fat and boost confidence as you master your technique, but you are also more likely to hypertrophy specific muscle fibers that will get larger over time and *may* result in a little bulk. To avoid this, try rotating what type of equipment and angle you use to work each muscle group. For example, try doing chest fly instead of push-ups to work the chest muscles. After mastering the chest fly, try an incline bench chest press with dumbbells. Keeping the muscles stimulated in this manner will help them stay strong and balanced. It will also help you achieve an overall toned look.
  • Eat clean. There is no way to get lean without controlling caloric intake and the best way to do that is to limit junky foods which are laden with calories. Eat clean, get lean. It rhymes!
  • Drink lots of water. Our muscles swell or hypertrophy after tough workouts, retaining fluids during the healing process. Help your body out and drink lots of fluids to keep things moving and avoid feeling puffy. Sometimes people quit effective workout routines before they’ve had a chance to see results because this post-workout muscle swelling can feel bulky. But it’s not! It’s a sign of progress! 

Get long and lean, or get bulky if that’s what you want! Whatever your fitness aspiratoins, just stay YOU in the process. And have a little fun while you’re at it!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea