Tag Archives: women’s wellness

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

 

“Women Can Have It All” [the myth that hurts our wellness the most]

I was reading a news article recently and was caught off guard by how angry it made me. I get worried, stressed, fearful, and frustrated but seldom truly angry. Now, before going on, I *don’t* want to get political here. That’s never been what WellnessWinz is for or about. So please discard that idea as you read on. It’s not my agenda.

The article that made me angry was about a triggering topic that just doesn’t seem to stop making headlines lately: Abortion rights. I’ve heard allllll the arguments from both sides and from activists that are secular and faith-based. Trust me when I say I know a lot more about this topic than the average woman due to a medically complicated pregnancy just over a year ago that left me torn as to what I ought to do to protect my unborn child from suffering. It opened my eyes to the torment that so many women endure when considering ending a wanted pregnancy and the underrecognized struggles of many women considering ending unplanned pregnancies, not to mention the plight of women at large.

(If you want to read more about my experiences feel free to check out one of several articles I’ve written about pregnancy loss, grief, healing and being pregnant again after trauma: Glimmers of Joy Amid Grief, My Emergency C-section Recovery, Mental Health Support for Mothers, Pregnancy After Loss Is…)

 

 

So, what made me angry in the article that I read?

Answer: The idea that abortion, chosen or not, legal or illegal, is about empowerment.

 

The arguments go something like this:

Pro-choice: Women’s bodily autonomy = empowerment to choose timing of children, career, education, etc. (this is a long-standing stance).

&

Pro-life: “Women can have it all these days” (the exact words from the article) = empowerment to both raise children and hold down a job.

 

In my honest opinion, politics aside, empowerment has nothing to do with the difficult decision to end a pregnancy, wanted or unwanted. Empowerment is the farthest thing from explaining why many women feel so disadvantaged and under supported that they don’t have the choice to keep their unborn child. Empowerment also doesn’t begin to scrape at the struggles that lie ahead for women who keep their babies against the odds. Empowerment? No.

Allow me to explain the weak points of both sides here:

Bodily autonomy is an important thing, even as people on both sides of the abortion debate have varying definitions of what that ought to mean; however, the idea that it’s empowering to be forced to choose between a child and career, single and/or young motherhood or higher education, putting food on the table for older children or adding a starving mouth to a hungry household is in no way, shape or form accurate, in my humble opinion. It’s incredibly damaging to women’s wellness. No matter the choice, a woman must make a sacrifice.

On the flip side, the notion that “women can have it all” is a long-standing myth that actually means “women must find a way to DO it all.” This is the way our society continues to place heavy burdens squarely on the shoulders of women while disadvantaging and under supporting them along the way. This harms our collective wellness as women too. Big time. It’s entirely out of touch with reality and how much women’s health suffers in nearly every way from an unequal society.

My mom has told me for years that she felt frustrated by pro-choice claims decades ago that abortion “allows women to have it all” (she recognized the oppressive nature of this myth long before I came to terms with it) and now, quite ironically, we’re beginning to hear the exact same argument used against abortion from pro-lifers. What gives?!?!

Let’s move on from abortion debate “highlights” and talk about the most pressing thing:

The reality that women are vastly underserved by our society and are paying a steep price for it, monetarily, personally, and with their health. As a women’s wellness advocate, I can’t turn away from this disheartening data even as I confess that I don’t have many answers for solutions. But perhaps continuing to shine a spotlight on these things is a start…

 

 

The Proof That Women Are Far From “Having It All”

A major gender pay gap exists in many developed nations, not to mention third world countries. In the U.S., women earn 83 cents to every man’s dollar, and this trend of earning less is true across nearly every occupation. In the U.K., women earn a whopping 40% less than men. Unequal pay most certainly means fewer options and opportunities for women despite their hard work.

Earning an advanced degree doesn’t help advance women very much in their earning potential, not to mention the student debt it accrues. On average, most women with advanced degrees (master’s, Ph.d., etc.) earn less than white men with only a bachelor’s degree do, and this pay gap is especially disproportionate for black and Latina women. Again, these disparities persist across nearly every occupation with some small exceptions. Check it out for yourself with this interactive tool that allows you to compare wages (and gives you fuel to ask for a raise).

Not only are women earning less money but they’re shouldering the caregiving load in both married and single parent households. In the U.S. alone, most single parent homes are overseen by moms (8.5 million) compared to dads (2.6 million). According to an article on Parents.com, single mothers feel firsthand all the weight they’re carrying for their careers, families and society’s expectations of them: “Single mothers confirm they’re facing these pressures and high expectations every day and are even shamed when their abilities don’t match up to the ideal.”

Indeed, women are expected to do SO much and with a smile on their worn out faces. Add these struggles to the high cost of childcare, inequitable healthcare coverage, and lack of paid maternity leave, and you have a society that is telling women they can have it all while denying them of all the support for fulfilling that dream.

One example of how women are intensely under supported is the steep decline in breastfeeding rates from infancy to one year of age (84% of women initiate breastfeeding their babies but only 57% still are at 6 months and 35% are at one year). Breastfeeding is arguably one of the most physically natural roles a mother has and yet in our society it’s nearly impossible for most women to stick with due to pressures to return to work, a lack of support for breastfeeding logistics, low help with childcare for older children, and only half of employers offering lactation support programs and on-site nursing/pumping rooms. Not only that, but depending on where you live geographically in the U.S. there are varying degrees of cultural support and importance placed on this healthy maternal-infant relationship: see here.

 

 

How else is our culture expecting too much and offering too little for women? Ohhh, let me count the ways…

I have seen within my own family the toll that caregiving can take. My mother was working full-time, raising three kids, helping support three aging relatives and her disabled younger brother, all while going through menopause. The weight of all these responsibilities is not unique to her. It’s a common, untold story of middle-aged women at large. Right when women’s self-care needs must be addressed to manage menopause in a healthy manner, life demands reach a crescendo and minimize a woman’s ability to focus on her own wellness.

Roughly 66% of caregivers for aging relatives are female, averaging 49 years old and working outside of the home while simultaneously providing 20 hours of unpaid elderly care per week. During this phase of life, the demands placed uniquely on women’s backs has the following repercussions:

    • “33% of working women decreased work hours
    • 29% passed up a job promotion, training or assignment
    • 22% took a leave of absence
    • 20% switched from full-time to part-time employment
    • 16% quit their jobs
    • 13% retired early
    • In total, the cost impact of caregiving on the individual female caregiver in terms of lost wages and Social Security benefits equals $324,044″…read more

This data only reflects the challenges of caregiving for elderly loved ones, let alone the percentage of women who quit work and/or struggle with demands to caretake for disabled or sick children. I think most of us can agree that these numbers do NOT match up to the mythical ideal of “women can have it all.” These struggles are seen generation after generation and unfortunately, the future for women looks somewhat bleak. According to the U.S. Department of Labor:

“The pandemic has set women’s labor force participation back more than 30 years.” 

 

By early 2021, women’s participation in the work force fell to less than 56%, matching rates as far back as 1987. Women of color and those working in low-wage occupations have been the most impacted.

I know, I know…this isn’t a feel good article. But it’s important that we get to the core of why the myth “women can have it all” just isn’t adding up to reality.

 

 

The Ripple Effects of Gender Inequality on the Average Woman’s Wellness

A Statement from the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report:

“In no country in the world is the amount of time spent by men on unpaid work (mainly domestic and volunteer work) equal to that of women; and in many countries, women still spend multiple-folds as much time than men on these activities. Even in countries where this ratio is lowest (i.e. Norway or the United States) women spend almost twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work.”

This global gender gap contributes to higher mental health challenges for women versus men. The World Health Organization shows that women outpace men on rates of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and somatic complaints, to name a few. Within the U.S. alone, one study demonstrates disheartening findings stating that “by many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.”

Women’s mental health suffers gravely because of how much we are tasked with. Mental health is further complicated by the following factors that contribute to social insecurity:

  • gender-based violence
  • socio-economic disadvantage
  • income inequality
  • low social status and rank
  • responsibility for the care of others

As long as so many women suffer from mental health challenges, the collective wellness of society suffers too. Our bodies suffer. Our families suffer. Our workplaces suffer. Our healthcare systems suffer. And so on.

 

 

Is There a Path Forward that is Better for Women’s Wellness?

I don’t have the answers for pay equity, changes in government policies and benefits,  and normalizing caregiving for men, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that ALL of this information compels me to scream from the rooftops that we are hurting women’s wellness with the myth that “women can have it all.” We’re far from that reality becoming manifest. So for now, this myth continues to be synonymous with “women must do it all,” and I can’t think of anything more suffocating, oppressive, sexist, and damaging to women’s collective wellness than that.

I hate to end on such a negative statement. That’s seldom my style. But I find myself realizing that passive complacency or putting a positive spin on these complicated circumstances is no longer acceptable as it allows that myth to gain in momentum and harm.

Women deserve better.

Perhaps it’s time we should accept that having it all (ahem, doing it all) is an impossible standard for a person of any gender? Just a thought.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

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

 

 

How to Overcome Obstacles and Negative Thinking

Hands down, the biggest obstacle in my life sits right between my ears. The discouraging inner monologue and negative spiral my mind can go down at times is incredible (in a bad way, to be clear). Oftentimes, I dwell on the things I haven’t accomplished yet. I let mom guilt overwhelm me as I attempt to be present for my child but fret over a lack of productivity for my career. I feel it creep up again when I frantically play catch up on work during my son’s naps and days at school, not wanting the solitude and “me time” to end, yet simultaneously glancing at the clock every hour wondering when I can pick him up and snuggle him close again. Gosh, I need him just as much as he needs me. 

I know I’m not alone in being hard on myself because I’ve heard my clients and friends open up in similar ways; pouring out frustrations that are born primarily from internal strife. A lot of people who come to me for personal training frequently fall into discouraging self-talk. At first, they don’t admit it. But as our relationship and trust grow, they share their insecurities and reveal the ways they get trapped in their minds while pursuing things like exercise and professional goals. The fact that these people are accomplished CEOs, lawyers, celebrities and government officials shows me that this propensity to feel insecure is a common human experience. But just because something is common doesn’t mean it should be normal. I like to think that we DESERVE to feel empowered to overcome obstacles and negative thinking.

It can be scary to tackle our goals with confidence. It’s easiest to talk ourselves into all the reasons why things WON’T work out the way we dream. I’ve been there. I have recently shifted from the manuscript-writing phase of a book to the pursuing-publishing phase. The two couldn’t be more different. While I savor the feeling of sitting at my desk and writing for hours, I don’t necessarily feel exalted at the prospects of getting turned down by potentially a LOT of literary agents. Time will tell…I’ve only just started. EEeekk! If I allowed discouraging thoughts to run my decisions then I would freeze before ever moving forward.

How do we conquer such deflating feelings? How do we ensure we’re in charge of our own minds, in a positive way?

Whether you’re tackling a new professional endeavor or stepping into the gym during a vulnerable time for your body or mind, there are effective ways to coach yourself through the process. Here are some strategies you can try…

 

1) Get Out of Your Head

Avoid Comparisons

Women seem especially prone to comparing themselves against one another. I’ve done it, too. It’s such an awful trap to fall into. Unfortunately, there’s no way we can “win” doing this. When we compare our lows to other people’s highs (a.k.a. the world of social media) we feel that we are perpetually failing. We badger ourselves over our perceived inability to be as successful as the woman we know who is dominating her executive position at a fast-growing company. We feel deflated when we have children that are a mess (and who are showing us who’s the real boss) when we see images of moms with a whole brood of little ones who are pristine, groomed and on good behavior. We feel silly for being proud of ourselves for lacing up our sneakers on a Saturday morning for a brisk walk when we are confronted by women boasting photos of their sculpted bodies after hours of hitting the weights.

I’m already feeling a little depressed after writing that last paragraph. Yuck! The thing is, we have to stop with comparisons. We have to hold ourselves back from them because they get us nowhere. A pastor I know said “Just play your own position. Know your own role.” In other words, know your “lane” in life and own it. Be proud of what YOU bring to the table and remember that you can’t be or do everything at once. The world is blessed with people of diverse talents for a reason; it’s how we keep the whole thing moving.

Recognize Negative Thought Patterns

One of the most helpful things we can do for ourselves is to openly acknowledge negative thought patterns. These are repetitive and unproductive thoughts that leave us stressed and/or depleted. They don’t serve any purpose, yet they can fill our minds and bodies with disease. If we start to recognize these negative thought patterns then we can choose how we react to them. For example, one of my clients used to say “I’m sorry” any time I corrected her form during a workout. There was no need for her to apologize – my entire job was to help guide her towards better success and health! Yet every time “I’m sorry” escaped from her lips without her thinking. We talked it out over time and finally managed to keep her from going down a negative path in her mind. Instead of allowing thoughts of failure and inferiority to dominate any time she received constructive feedback, she took it in stride. She kept her head high and didn’t divert her gaze with a defeated sigh. It was a huge win for us in our training relationship. Thereafter, both her body language and communication exuded better confidence.

A good place to start improving your mental process is writing down your most obvious and common negative thoughts. Next, list out several positive reactions or thoughts you can counter them with. The reason this is important is because negative thoughts are like quicksand; the more we struggle in them, the faster we sink. We need something hopeful to turn to.

Address Discontent

Another way we need to get out of our heads is by getting rid of discontent. In order to move forward in a healthy and happy life, we can’t focus incessantly on what we don’t have or what we want more of. This way of thinking causes people to feel that their lives aren’t good enough. You can see how this is a negative thing, right?!?!

It seems painfully obvious that this kind of thinking leads up down a bad path, yet we do it anyway. ALL. THE. TIME. Often, we focus our energy on what we don’t have or what we crave to have without even thinking. To be questing after a status or promotion seems purposeful in life, maybe even positive and healthy! The challenge is where our mindset is rooted. If happiness hinges on your “not-there-yet,” “some-day-I-hope-to” aspirations, then there isn’t enough joy available in the present to fulfill you. Turn your focus to gratitude. What do you have right now that you’re grateful for? Who are you and why is that enough to sustain you here, today?

 

 

2) Gain Confidence

Act the Part

As we shed negative thinking and pursue our goals with the right intentions, we can gain confidence in simple ways. Acting confident (even if you don’t feel it at first) and expressing yourself with upright posture will impress upon those around you that you’re a force to be reckoned with. It can also affect your brain chemistry. Tall, confident posture can stimulate the release of hormones that keep you feeling good. Hence, if you act confident then you just might become confident.

Accept that Obstacles Happen

Obstacles happen. They do. In my fitness career I’ve had many; one major accident that made my body feel like it belonged to a 90-year old, numerous setbacks with fitness startup companies, managers telling me to pick a niche focus in fitness even though my passions encompass a lot of areas (apparently that’s not very conducive to creating a “brand”), and more. In writing, I had a professional offer me feedback on my first manuscript that made me take pause for the next decade. A whole decade while I waited for that “aha” moment when I could revisit the book with fresh, mature eyes.

We can look at obstacles as unfair or frustrating if we believe they shouldn’t happen, but obstacles are a part of life’s growing pains. We should anticipate them so that we can bounce back from the inevitable way they will trip us up. We don’t have to give them power to make us insecure.

Find Meaning

When you’re having trouble staying confident because of setbacks, try to find meaning in the tough times. This sounds full of cheese, I know. For example, getting hit by a car years ago helped me become a well-rounded fitness professional because I became more capable of addressing people’s old injuries and back pains. In the moment it wasn’t always evident that I was growing in a positive way from the pain, but in time it became crystal clear. In fact, over the course of my life I have grown and learned the most through hardships, not good times.

Random Aside… This is similar to trees when you bring them home from the nursery. Removing them from a supported environment causes them stress. They might look weak and lean over after you plant them. But in response to the stress of having to support themselves, the roots shoot out and create a broad base. This allows the tree to slowly right itself and shoot up towards the sky. Similarly, we can thrive if we respond to stress by growing our roots deep, making it harder for the next big storm to tip us over in its wind.

 

3) Tackle Your Goals

Break Things into Small Tasks

Procrastinators and perfectionists alike can benefit from taking broad, longer-term goals and breaking them down into simple, actionable steps. For example, if I’m training someone to run a marathon we can’t focus immediately on the long runs. We have to start with the short and intermediate runs to build up stamina and train the muscles for the stress to come. We can’t think for too long about the total mileage that will be logged over the course of the training program or we may never begin. It’s intimidating to go from running a couple times a week for fun to logging 30-50 miles per week! My runners simply need to trust that each run will have a cumulative effect as we head in the direction of the race.

STOP Method

Per Psychology Today‘s recommendation, we can use the STOP Method to effectively move past emotions of fear, shame and self-doubt when we’re tackling our goals. STOP stands for:

STOP

Take a Step Back

Observe

Proceed Mindfully

By taking a moment to calm our emotions, we can look at our feelings from a different perspective. For example, if someone else had a similar emotional reaction, what would it look like to you? What would advice would you give them?

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a way of approaching our life, goals and relationships with better appreciation, service and enjoyment. Mindfulness allows us to better discern what’s worth our time and effort. As we make better, more confident and healthful decisions, we become productive in the ways that matter and fulfill our authentic selves. When our goals are aligned with what we truly care about, there’s no stopping us.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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

 

Spirituality and Physical Health

I’ve talked before about how wellness is a balancing act, in perpetual motion as elements of our lives swing left to right, into clarity and back to darkness. I’ve even gone so far as saying that people who are physically healthy but spiritually empty are out of sync, and people who are spiritually devout but negligent of their health are in disharmony, too. Ahem, not talking down on ANYONE here or speaking blasphemy. If you’re imperfect, raise your hand!! Mine is waving high. At first, this concept rubbed me the wrong way, but it gradually settled in my heart after listening to a sermon by a pastor who founded a large DC-area church with a congregation in the thousands.

You can imagine my surprise when this pastor suddenly and unexpectedly said a choked-up goodbye to his congregation last week, admitting that his marriage and physical health were suffering. I was a bit shaken up, like many people. After swallowing the news, I realized that he isn’t all that different from the rest of us, even as a pastor. His relentless pursuit of “doing it all” [for God, in his case] is universal in American culture. Here’s what I have put together that he went through over the last few years and how it’s a warning to us all…

Eye on the Prize

The young pastor’s spiritual journey began when he was diagnosed with Leukemia as a young teenager. Doctors weren’t optimistic about his ability to survive and gave him his death sentence before he was old enough to have attended a prom and a healthy number of Friday night football games. Pastor Robert’s* (name changed for privacy) grandfather was a spiritual man, unlike young Robert, and he told his grandson that while he was praying for him, God gave him a vision. He said he saw Robert emerging from his hospital room a normal, happy boy. He felt confident this was a sign that God was going to heal him, in spite of the medical world’s ominous prognosis. The next day – yes, the next day –  Robert woke up in his hospital bed and felt great. The doctors were stunned when scans revealed that in less than 24 hours, the cancer had quite inexplicably vanished.

As you can imagine, this is one of many things in Pastor Robert’s life that ignited a fire under him to live out God’s word and spread it to as many people as possible. And he did. He did just that. He moved from the deep south to the Washington, DC area where more incredible divine interventions took place and allowed him to launch a thriving non-denominational Christian church community. His vision for expansion was aggressive, confident and, in a lot of ways, one might say “ordained.” For example, in just ONE weekend, he lead the effort of raising multiple MILLIONS of dollars from the congregation so that the church could build a new, larger main campus and new additional church homes across the region.

All this is the tip of the iceberg. Pastor Robert also has several beautiful children and has written and published multiple books. Wow. He has done A LOT. To me, it seemed there would be nothing stopping his relentless pursuit of his big dream; the vision he says God gave him, to establish over a dozen churches in the DC metro region. So, why is he having to step back? And what does this have to do with wellness or physical health? In a lot of ways, we sacrifice too much when we gives things our all…

Energizer Bunnies Come to Abrupt Halts

Pastor Robert hasn’t committed any moral wrongdoings and he is NOT a failure. No one can sustain momentum forever on only a few hours of sleep a night for several years as they pour all of themselves into their goals and work. I’m sure that this fact along with other unmentioned struggles caused turmoil in his marriage and home life. It also hurt his physical health. He has a surgery scheduled to remove his thyroid, after which he plans to spend time with a spiritual counselor.

Pastor Robert and his wife courageously told their congregation that they couldn’t focus on healing their marriage and health the way they needed to while also pouring the energy required of them into leading the church. From the outside, it’s easy to quickly judge this as weakness. It’s convenient to separate ourselves from their situation and assume that they must be somehow very different from us; less strong, more sensitive, lacking thoughtfulness about their former life choices. But this is a lie. If we’re telling ourselves this, it’s because it’s hard to remember that we pour a lot of our own energy into some things at the expense of others. No one can “do it all.” We are all only human. And I’m personally so impressed they have the strength to publicly admit this, leading by example how to make the tough calls in life. 

 

 “No, You Can’t Have It All”

The news from last weekend came full circle [for me] when I read an article one of my friends posted on Facebook: “No, You Can’t Have It All” by Mark Manson. Manson writes about a man named Mohammed El-Erian who was the CEO of a $2 trillion bond fund, earning $100 million/yr. Like Pastor Robert, he abruptly stepped away from his company, explaining that family needed to come first. He realized that his relationship with his daughter was paper thin after missing out on so many important experiences in her first 10 years of life. She made him realize that he hadn’t really “fathered” her when she countered his attempts at discipline one day by proffering a list of 22 things that were important to her that he had missed due to work.

Manson writes that in America “we regularly celebrate people who become rich by doing ‘exceptional things.’ But the nature of those ‘exceptional things’ often requires extremely high opportunity costs.” He argues that work/life balance plagues us all and that we are constantly guilt-tripping ourselves over what we can’t do more of. More workouts at the gym. Higher promotion and pay at work. Home-cooked meals and quality time with family every day. Manson asks us to ponder if the answer is to say “this is what I choose to value more than everything else” and wholly embracing the decision.

 

Spiritual and/or Physical Brokenness

I’m not sure that I can say there is a perfect answer. Actually, I know there isn’t. But I think one of several solutions for spiritual and/or physical brokenness lies in Manson’s suggestion; being honest with ourselves about what truly matters to our hearts. Another possible solution is finding harmony in the different aspects of our lives – that elusive “work/life balance” that Manson and many people argue is impossible. I will counter that thought. I think that it IS possible. But that doesn’t mean that “balance” will look or feel like we expect it to.

For example, we may not be able to assume a role at work that brings more responsibility, even if it means a bigger paycheck. We can say “no” to climbing the ladder aggressively fast, especially when it means we keep sanity in check for our families and sleep a little more soundly at night. Likewise, we can bounce back and forth between feeling full and whole in different elements of our lives. This oscillation between almost-full and somewhat-empty doesn’t mean we are failures.

I’m betting even Pastor Robert feels confident that God has promised him nothing is impossible and that he can feel overflowing with purpose, health and joy, even after stepping back from his big dreams [the church he founded]. Even after feeling left empty and depleted.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

The Pros/Cons of Meal Prep

meal-prep-3

If you’ve ever been on Pinterest then you know that it’s pretty much impossible not to have stumbled across people’s personal pins displaying a dozen or so lovely, similar meals packed away into individual Tupperware containers for the week. If you’re not into social media, then maybe you’ve heard of someone who does this; cooks all their week’s meals on Sunday afternoon or evening so they don’t have to worry about what to eat during the work week. Sounds ideal, easy and cost-effective – and it is! But there are some things to consider about planning your meals for the week, whether you’re portioning them out into grab-and-go containers or not.

I will start with the pros of meal planning and prep, and then I will get into some of the downsides. To end, I will offer a couple of simple suggestions to help you make informed choices about your food.

 meal-prep-4

PROS OF MEAL PLANNING

Weekend meal prep is a useful strategy for people wanting to lose weight via portion control and people who track their macronutrients (think bodybuilders trying to ensure maximal protein and minimal carbohydrate consumption). It also makes things easier for time-pressed working professionals and even busy parents!   

It’s Cost-Effective

Planning and cooking your meals for the whole week at once means you’re armed and ready with a set grocery list when you hit the store, allowing you more time to scrutinize prices while you shop. You’re also more likely to buy bulk or cheaper high-volume, low-cost items since you know that no ingredients will go to waste. More money left over to treat yourself!

 

Takes Away Last-Minute Planning

With a plan in place, you’re never going to be the person scrambling to find their way to the office vending machine at lunch time. You don’t settle for less than your well thought-out meals. No last-minute pizza or overpriced takeout for you!

 

Portion and Calorie Control

It goes without saying that you’re in charge of portions and calories when you put effort into measuring out food for each meal. Casseroles, soups and lasagnas might be tricky to figure out calories for, but you can at least put reasonably size portions into containers and not be tempted to overeat come lunch. Meals that are easier to calorie count (if that’s your thing) include salads, sandwiches and proteins with veggies, rice, quinoa, beans or fruit on the side.

 

Reduces Time in the Kitchen

Although you’re going to be clocking in some major hours in the kitchen one day of the week, you’re ultimately saving a lot of time – a bonus if you work late hours leading up to dinner or often have to take lunch at your desk.

 meal-prep-2

 

CONS OF MEAL PLANNING 

My mom’s opinion on Sunday meal planning: “Here I’ve worked hard all week and Sunday is finally my day of rest, and you’re telling me I’ve got to spend the whole time in the kitchen?!? Forget it!!!” If you share this sentiment, then maybe you’ll be happy to hear some of the drawbacks of meal planning. But, even if you don’t meal prep on the weekend, you still need a plan in place for healthy foods and cooking during the week.

 

Calories Don’t Change

Meal planning allows for calorie control, presumably a great thing for those of us looking to trim our waist lines. But wait…is eating the same number of calories every day a good thing? Not necessarily, according to science. “Calorie shifting” is an approach to eating that aims for a total caloric amount every week (aimed at weight loss or management, depending on one’s goals), but with varying calories consumed every day. This helps keep the metabolism “sharp” and from adapting to a set daily intake. The good news is that this approach allows you to consume more on days you need it! Our metabolisms are not static and our activity levels change day-to-day, so don’t be surprised, if you’re a meal planner, if some days the meals are too much or too little.

 

Potential Lack of Nutritional Variety

If your meal plan is a PB&J with an apple for every lunch and a chicken breast with broccoli for every dinner, you’re probably saving some money and controlling your calories, but you’re majorly missing the mark on nutritional variety. Where are the dark, leafy greens? What about some foods with heart-healthy omega fatty-acids (like salmon)? Variety in all food categories (veggies, fruits, proteins, grains, etc.) is going to be best for packing in the nutrients your body needs. One idea: Change up the protein and/or veggie with your dinner for half the week. Another: Trade your apple for an orange or mango. Better yet, try a healthier alternative to the PB&J like avocado toast or smoked salmon and capers on multigrain!

 

Susceptible to Stress or Overeating on “Off” Weeks

If you’re the type of person who flails and flounders without a set plan then you may be prone to overeating or stressing out when you don’t have time for meal planning. Ultimately, meal planning is a tool to help you with your work week, but thoughtful eating and confidence approaching on-the-fly food selections is a skill.

 

Boredom

Meal planning is generally not as suitable for those with adventurous and varied palates. If you cook a lot of one thing in bulk and plan to eat it day after day, you may quickly tire of the taste and opt for something else. This means you’ve wasted time, money and food! “There are starving children in Africa!” Eat your leftovers!

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IMPROVEMENTS FOR MEAL PREP & PLANNING

A happy medium can be found if you’re a meal planner. Here are a few ideas to help ensure you’re able to have the best of all words – cost-efficient foods, nutrient density, variety and appropriate quantity!

 

Back-up Plan

It’s important to have a back-up plan for weeks when meal prep just isn’t feasible. There will be times when you’re too tired to do it, when you haven’t hit the grocery store in time, when special events or travel conflict with cooking, etc. Here are a few back-up plans to consider:

  • Create a budget for a week of every month to buy meals from a healthy, affordable restaurant for lunch or dinner. For example, once a month you could plan to buy salads for lunch from your favorite local café.
  • When you miss your weekend meal-prep, plan another day and time early in the week to tackle your shopping and cooking.
  • Try your hand at cooking every other night of the week and make enough for leftovers at lunch the next day.

 

Stash Meals in Freezer

When you meal prep, try making several large-volume dishes at once. Use your slow cooker, oven and stove top to prepare three separate meals so that you can both use and store some of each meal for optimal present and future variety!

 

Supplement with Snacks

If you’re lacking variety in your planned meals, try supplementing them with nutritious snacks. Snacks are also a way to implement “calorie shifting” into your week (see “Calories Don’t Change” above). A few ideas you can easily prep: Kale chips, sliced fruit, carrots and humus, cottage cheese or greek yogurt and fruit, ¼ cup nuts, a healthy nut or protein bar, apple or banana and a TBS of nut butter.

 

Meal Plan for 1-2 Meals Only

One way you can ensure that you don’t get bored with your food is to meal plan and prep for just lunches or dinners. This will allow you to take the most time-pressed, stressful or expensive meal of the day and make it easier. By sticking to just one or two meals, you still have room in your daily diet for nutritional variety and flexibility.

 

Hope this is helpful info as you kick-off 2017! Cheers to health and happiness!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

Your Gut Health and Mood

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We often feel a bit hungover when we return home from holiday travels after too many glasses of wine and a tad too much pie (let’s not kid ourselves, sample bites and partial pieces of pie add up to a whole slice). We wonder why the food coma haunts us for days, leaving us lethargic and foggy-headed, perhaps even coming down with a touch of a cold. As the holidays approach and we begin to daydream about those heaping piles of mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce, it’s important to remember that a lot of our health and immune function lies in the gut. When we mess with our gut health, we impact our hormones, immune system, nervous system and mood. Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

Today, I’m going to take a plain-language approach to gut health so that you can quickly and easily understand what hurts it and helps it, and why it should matter to you. Disclaimer: There’s just a liiiiitttttle bit of scientific jargon included because at the end of the day, I’m a nerd. 

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Gut Health…The Bad News

Research over the last several decades has increasingly pointed to poor gut health as a major contributing factor in a variety of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, autism, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and more. Chris Kresser, named by Greatist.com as one of the 100 most influential individuals in health and fitness for his leadership in nutrition, functional and integrative medicine, helps people understand what contributes to gut dysfunction and what they can do to restore good health.

Kresser claims that gut health comprises 75% of the immune system and can be broken down by the following lifestyle and health factors:

  • Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
  • Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
  • Diets low in fermentable fibers
  • Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic infections                                                                 (Kresser, 2011)

While it’s easy to think that we may not have an issue with our gut health if our stomach and gastrointestinal function seems fine, an increase in bad gut flora and/or breakdown of the barrier of our gastrointestinal systems (i.e., leaky gut) can show up in all sorts of other forms. For example, gut health can be linked to depression, brain fog, eczema, psoriasis, diabetes, allergies, asthma, heart problems and more. Even simple things like falling victim to multiple colds, infections and/or inflammation in joints/muscles which leads to injuries can be linked back to what’s going on in the tummy. Holiday weekends packed with stressful travel, extra rich food and exposure to germs (gotta love when someone sneezes next to you on the airplane) can throw us off our game.

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Gut Health…The Good News

Some things that stress our bodies aren’t fully under our control, so don’t guilt yourself if you feel less than optimal. There’s no telling exactly what the cause is or whose “fault” it is. The only thing we can do to feel better is remove things from our diet and environment which stress our bodies and add in positive foods and habits that will help us. In this way, we slowly allow our bodies to restore good gut health. This will allow us to have better immune function and hormonal balance. As we become less prone to feeling “blah,” we will find new energy and have an uplifted mood.

Kresser recommends the following for boosting gut health:

  • Remove all food toxins from your diet
  • Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)
  • Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc., and/or take a high-quality, multi-species probiotic
  • Treat any intestinal pathogens (such as parasites) that may be present
  • Take steps to manage your stress                                         (Kresser, 2011)

If you take simple steps like these to feel better before the holidays, your gut health won’t take such a big hit from the stress you experience and the food you consume. You will be able to enjoy a few indulgent meals without making yourself overly inflamed and sick. After the holidays, gently steer yourself back on track with healthy habits and you’re good to go. There’s no stopping someone who feels GREAT!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

 

How to Stay Fit as a Busy Lady

 Thank you to our guest blogger, Natalie! Her contribution in the wellness industry, particularly for women, is awesome. Natalie helps remind us how easy it can be to stay fit in spite of a packed schedule (see below).

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When you have endless tasks and days, it can be hard to find time to focus on your health and fitness. It needs to be a priority for everyone, but finding the time to go to the gym or make healthy meals can be difficult with thin margins. Sacrificing time with our family isn’t the right choice every day. Staying up late to exercise isn’t a good idea either; sleep is crucial for fitness. So, how can ladies stay fit when we are so busy?

The answer is preparation and focus. Staying fit just doesn’t take place during certain hours of the day. Staying fit is a lifestyle that should encompass our entire day. Also, healthy living should be a goal for our children. If you have kids, you want to make sure they understand living a healthy life and are exercising on a regular basis. Start them off early so living a healthy life becomes the norm.

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Here are some great tips for staying fit as a busy lady:

Take the Stairs: So long as you don’t need to climb 50 flights of stairs, take the stairs instead of the elevator. It is an excellent way to get your blood pumping and burn some calories. Plus, taking the stairs is a great way to increase your number of steps per day. This is just a simple strategy.

Plan Quick Workouts: There is no rule that workouts have to be one session per day. You can break up your workouts throughout the day to fit your schedule. Make a quick, cardio workout for when you first get home. You will want to sit down and rest, but if you get it out of the way, you will feel even better. Another idea is to keep your gym bag with you. If you find yourself with extra time, you don’t need to run home for clothes. You may find a day a week when you can take a longer lunch break for a quick workout. Being prepared will give you more opportunities.

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Meal Plan and Prep: Part of staying fit is eating the right foods. There is no way to stay healthy and eat candy and chips all day, every day. One of the best ways to combat this is to make a weekly meal plan. Decide ahead of time what to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meal prepping can cut hours of cooking out of your week and makes eating healthy easier. Select one day out of the week when you can invest two to three hours in the kitchen. One tactic I use is pre-making slow cooker meals in freezer bags. Later in the week, I can dump the bag in, turn the slow cooker on, and come home to a great meal. For easy lunches, one idea is to cook up a large batch of freezer meals. You need some containers that are freezer friendly. Cook salmon or chicken breasts. Then add a rice or potato side with a vegetable.

Invest in a Home Gym: When your time margins are thin, going to the gym will be the last thing on your mind. Instead of spending money each month on membership, consider investing in a piece of equipment or two so you can workout at home. Don’t forget; you can count things such as sweeping and vacuuming into your daily workout!

Carry the Right Snacks: Throughout your day, you are going to want a snack or two. Instead of grabbing something out of the vending machine, bring a few snack foods with you. They will help keep away cravings and eating junk food. Try things such as portioned out trail mix, granola bars, or fruit like apples or oranges.

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Drink Water: It is important to drink water every day. Your body needs water to stay healthy. Set a daily goal and try to reach it. Keeping water on hand will curb your desires for soda and other sugary beverages. Eliminating those drinks will decrease your calories each day. Plus, staying hydrated is one of the best ways to stay awake and energized.

Workout Schedule: Besides your quick, sporadic workouts, it is a good idea to make an exercise plan. Going to the gym or spending an hour working out each day won’t work when you are a busy lady. However, if you make it a priority and pencil it in on certain days, you won’t have to find the time to make it work. One idea is to head to the gym in the morning instead of after work. Bring your work clothes and change at the gym before going to work.

Try Interval Workouts: When you are short on time, you need the most efficient way to workout. You want to work all of your muscle groups while burning as many calories as possible. An interval workout is the best way to accomplish this goal. You do a movement for a given period, take a short rest, and repeat. Intervals can burn more calories than steady cardio in the same amount of time, if you really give them full effort and intensity.

Thanks again for sharing these tips, Natalie! Now ladies, get your game face for working out ON! 

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Guest Bio: Natalie Michele is a busy lady who is balancing parenting two toddlers and working as a pregnancy consultant. You can visit her blog at http://Maternityathome.com or follow her on Pinterest(http://pinterest.com/maternityathome) and Twitter(http://Twitter.com/maternityathome)