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Bringing Your Body Into Balance

My 100+ pound weight loss is what grabs people's attention. However, my weight loss was merely a side effect of finally taking my health and happiness into my own hands and finding that perfect balance. Body, mind, spirit. It all matters.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Intermittent Fasting: How I Am FINALLY Controlling My Weight Naturally



When I first set out on my weight loss journey, I was very much an "eat before you get hungry" gal. I was constantly grazing throughout the day. And it worked! I was able to lose weight this way. But I always felt unstable. I would dutifully count calories and try to make myself stop eating my frequent little unfufilling snacks when I reached my limit. 

I always felt like a ticking time bomb. And sometimes I would explode....metaphorically. I would break down and go way past my calorie limit. 

Often, even after I had exceeded my calorie limit for the day, I would have a protein shake at night because I worried that my body would go into "starvation mode" in the middle of the night, shutting my metabolism down and eating my muscle. 

Then, a couple years ago, I started learning about Intermittent Fasting. At first I was very dismissive thinking, "There is absolutely no way I can go long periods of time without eating. I will literally die." 

However, the more I learned, the more compelling this concept seemed to me. So, finally I thought I'd try it. For the past 6 months or so, I have been pretty religiously following a 16/8 plan. What this means is that I eat all my meals within an eight hour window of each day. Usually the times that work out best for me is eating my first meal at 11am and my last meal around 6-7pm. I don't always do this. And if I have a day when I'm just ravenous, I don't do it at all! 

Here's what I've experienced so far:

  • Reduced hunger. I was born hungry! Seriously. My dad likes to talk about the time they put a nipple on a gallon milk jug and let me drink from it because I came out of the womb starving. The more I stick with my 16/8 schedule, the more I notice that I'm simply not hungry outside of my eating window! This is absolutely HUGE for me!
  • Increased energy during fasting. This is the one that really blows my mind! I always assumed that trying  to attempt anything of importance (working  out, intense concentration on an important task) in a fasted state would end up in disaster. However, some days I deliberately wait longer to break my fast because I feel so good and energetic and I've learned that my focus and energy will actually decline once I eat that first meal. I've heard many other IF fans claim this as well. 
  • Almost effortlessly controlling my weight. I say "almost effortlessly" because I still have to be aware and make tweaks. For instance, if I've edged my eating window up all weekend and maybe consumed a little too much wine, I know I need to extend my fasting periods or reduce my food intake slightly to compensate. However, these efforts can't even compare to the constant calorie counting and extremely long exercise sessions that I used to use to control my weight. Now, I don't count calories at all. I try to be mindful of not eating too much in one sitting and I focus on consuming lots of good, healthy food but I also cheat on a daily basis and refuse to ever give up all the good tasty things that put more flavor and happiness into my life. And now I don't have to! I have consistently maintained the lowest body weight I've seen in about six years with the smallest effort so far!

So here's some common myths about Intermittent Fasting that I'd like to put to rest:

  • If I go long periods of  time without eating I will be starving and binge: What I've found is that the longer I consistently fast, the smaller my appetite gets. There's actually a very good reason for this. In the short term, our bodies will start to turn off the hunger signals when they don't receive food and switch to metabolizing fat, which is a healthy, clean form of energy (and one of the reasons for the high energy levels and mental clarity one experiences when in a fasted state). Also, going the longer periods of time without insulin present  in the body, helps us to become more insulin sensitive which can help reduce/prevent binging not to mention reverse the risk of Type II Diabetes!
  • Skipping meals will put my body into starvation mode and lower my metabolism. This is the one that really freaked me out! However, there are plenty of studies emerging that prove this isn't true. "Starvation mode" is absolutely a real thing but it appears to occur after about 48-72 hours in a fasted state and only temporarily lowers metabolism. The opposite has actually been found to be true. Fasting can actually increase your metabolism because, again, you don't constantly have insulin present in the body from eating frequently as the presence of insulin temporarily slows metabolism.
  • But breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Wrong. This is a myth. Period. Look it up. The one and only seemingly compelling argument you will find is that studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are, on average, healthier with lower body weights. However, this is actually correlation not causation. We've been told for a long time that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That means, someone is more likely to take this advice of eating a nice, big breakfast if they are health conscious. However, these same people are also more likely to exercise, eat their veggies and get a good night's sleep for the same reason. You can't isolate this one variable. (When reading scientific studies, always be on the lookout for the correlation vs. causation flaw.) Besides, breakfast by definition is "breaking a fast" so I have breakfast every day....I just have it at 11am. Furthermore, if you think about our prehistoric ancestors, do you think they casually rolled out of bed each morning and cooked up some eggs, bacon, toast and a big bowl of oatmeal? Then they continued to snack all day? Heck no. When the sun came up, they hit the ground running. They gathered food, hunted animals, ran from predators. They more than likely ate their biggest meal of the day as the sun was going down....or maybe they grabbed a squirrel while they were busy with their daily tasks. 
Bottom line, I am absolutely convinced that humans, for the most part, are not "grazing" animals, especially if we are leading fairly sedentary lifestyles where we spend a large portion of our day sitting still. We eat way too much and too often as a society and our bodies are suffering because of it! 

A couple of things to be mindful of before starting IF:

  • Be mindful of your relationship with food. There are some suggestions that IF can cause eating disorders. I can kind of see how this could happen as being in a fasted state can make you feel so good at times. Also, focusing on that meal when you break your fast could cause an unhealthy relationship with food. However, I think this potential pitfall is avoidable by simply making sure you have a healthy attitude about your body. Don't fast to punish yourself for what you ate the day before. Don't have a free for all gorge when you break your fast (most of the time anyway!). Instead, learn about the health benefits of fasting. It helps strengthen your cells and gives your digestive system a  break. It increases the amount of human growth hormones present in your body. Of course we are all going to cheat occasionally. But make sure you are focused on putting lots of good, living foods in your body in the meantime!
  • IF might not be right for you if you're pregnant, nursing or have diabetes or some other metabolic disorder. Pregnant and nursing women especially. In fact, if you look at cultures who fast for religious reasons, these two groups of women are often excluded from fasting. If you have any concerns about your current state of health, find a knowledgeable health professional to help guide you into IF.
  • Also, ladies, be mindful of how IF can affect your hormones. My schedule of 16/8, I am quite certain, has positively  affected my hormones. My menstrual cycle is the most regular it's ever been, I've had zero pimples and my midsection has finally been reduced significantly. However, some women may experience different hormonal results. Especially depending on if they find fasting to be liberating and energizing (like I do) or if they find it to be stressful and exhausting, which will cause cortisol levels to spike. There are tons of different ways to fast. I have one client who simply reduced her food intake time from a whopping 6am-10pm window to a 6am-7pm window and saw results. 


Most of all, I'll say what I always say,  Educate yourself! Don't take my word for it. Don't take the word of Big Mike at the gym. Don't even take just your doctor's word for it. When it comes to your health, trust no one but yourself! You know your body more than anyone else does. Everyone else is just a resource,  a guide, in your journey to better health!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

What You Should Eat



I have spent a large portion of my adult life trying to find all the "keys" to health and maintaining an easy, natural weight. I've read countless books, watched many talks and combed studies on nutrition until I've gone cross-eyed at times. All in search of "The Perfect Diet."

By far, the #1 question I get both in my career and via this blog is "what should I eat?" 

Here's the short answer...."I don't know!"

Here's the long answer...."What you should eat depends on everything from your genetics and epigenetics to how old you are, what ratio of hormones your body is producing, how much activity you get, the current state of health in your body and what you've done with your body up until now." 

I am absolutely convinced that there is no such thing as a perfect diet. As humans, we have evolved in many different extreme circumstances and somehow still survived. For example, Inuit (who have survived cold, harsh temperatures in often barren conditions for over 6000 years) have a diet that consists mainly of meat! Fatty meat at that. They may eat a little bit of roots and berries in the warmer months but that's about it! 

However, it is questionable just how healthy they are in their later years. There is much debate on this as they appear to age faster and have higher rates of osteoporosis and heart disease. People from the low fat/high carb camp will isolate their diet as the cause. People of the high fat/low carb camp will argue that you can't isolate this one variable because they live in some of the most extreme regions of the world which would be very taxing on their bodies. 

I belong to neither camp but I have to agree with the high fat people on this one, you can't isolate this one variable. In fact, you can't even reproduce this one variable in the general population to form a study because,  after 6000+ years, the Inuit have genetics that are different from ours. The Inuit who didn't thrive from this specific diet were more likely to die and not perpetuate their genetics (genetics that maybe would've thrived on a lower fat/protein diet). This is evolution folks. Evolution isn't some crazy "we came from apes" sci-fi stuff. Evolution is genetic selection. Nature weeds out genetics that are considered weak and do not serve the overall species in whatever environment they are trying to survive. 

Another example of this genetic selection (or, some will argue, genetic mutation) is seen in people who are truly not lactose intolerant into adulthood. By nature, it would appear that early after weaning, something "shuts off" inside of us that makes us lactose intolerant into adulthood. However, there are some adult individuals who truly can digest dairy and appear to thrive off of it. This is called lactase persistence. Although there are many theories surrounding the "why" of this, one that seems to be most widely embraced (and makes the most sense to me) is that these people descended from Nomadic herders. There were times when the herders may have had little other sources of food except the milk being produced from their animals. The herders that were able to thrive from consuming this milk (whether it was because they naturally could already consume it or because of a genetic mutation) were more likely to pass on their genetics to the next generation. The ones who didn't  thrive, often died before reproducing. 

Less dramatic versions of this genetic propensity to thrive on certain diets can be seen all around the world. So, I believe that can be your first clue: find out what your ancestors ate. Not your grandma but the indigenous people of the land(s) from which your ancestors came. 

Leaving genetics behind, let's also talk about Ayurveda. Although, I could easily believe the argument that Ayurveda is closely linked to genetics and possibly a better map to follow since a large portion of us would be hard pressed to narrow down all the places of origin from which we descended. 

Without getting too deep into this, I'll break it down in the most simple terms I can and then I encourage you to seek out your own answers in this field. Ayurveda is a form of holistic "health care" that was developed in India thousands of years ago. One of the foundations of Ayurveda is determining your doshas. There are three. Pitta, Vata and Kapha. We are all a combination of these three doshas but in drastically different amounts. Some people may be predominantly Kapha (this is usually marked by people who struggle with their weight, have large round features, oily skin and are slow and sluggish) while others are predominantly Vata (struggle to keep on weight, anxious, dry chapped skin). No one person will fit perfectly into any one description but learning what balance of doshas you have in your body can help you to understand what you need to eat, what kind of exercise you need to do, etc. in order to bring your body into balance and thrive. 

The key is to balance these doshas. An interesting thing I have observed in myself is that over the past couple of years, I've managed to tip the scales in a different direction within  myself. Years and years ago when I learned about Ayurveda, I was a straight-up, hardcore, card carrying Kapha. I was slow, round and mellow. However, I somehow managed to tip myself into Vata territory a few times. Now is actually a perfect example of that. I suddenly am not struggling to keep my weight down, which sounds great, but I am also struggling with bouts anxiety and frenetic energy and dry, chapped skin. And, understanding what I do about Ayurveda, it makes perfect sense to me. I've been eating a diet and doing extreme forms of exercise that tip my scales out of balance in the direction of Vata. To counterbalance this, I know I need to do more slow forms of exercise (more yoga, less Crossfit) and eat more warm foods containing healthy fats. 

This may sound like pseudo-science to many but I encourage you to learn about the doshas and how they apply to your life. I have yet to have a friend or a client to learn about their own doshas and not become a believer. Not once! 

The next thing we have to consider is what you've done with your body up until now. Maybe your body could, by nature, tolerate a large amount of carbohydrates but you've eaten them in excess to the point where your pancreas is no longer functioning the way it should. Maybe your liver could handle a lot of fructose and/or alcohol but you drank yourself stupid for all of your 20s. Our bodies and each organ therewithin have a certain amount of mileage and then that's pretty much it. We can do some things to restore health to our bodies but someone who has gorged on desserts their entire lives to the point that they develop type 2 diabetes by the time they are 40 (or, like me, just have a general state of insulin resistance as a result) won't ever be able to consume the natural amount of grains and fruits that they were originally born with the capacity to handle. 

Which leads me to my final and, by far, most important determinant of what YOUR specific and unique diet should consist. Ask yourself this one question and nothing else will matter:

"How does this food make me feel?"

And you ask this question throughout the entire eating process. 

Do I have a strong craving for it? (Often times, we have strong, blinding cravings for foods that we actually have an intolerance to!)

How do I feel immediately after eating it? 

How do I feel 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 2 hours after eating it?  Do you feel light, satisfied or energetic or sluggish and kind of hungry again? Does your stomach feel comfortable or are you gassy and/or nauseated?

Also pay attention to the fact that some foods will trigger strong cravings for that same food later that day or the next day.

And that neatly leads me into the advice that I feel 100% comfortable giving everyone!

Refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, excess alcohol and processed foods are not good for any of us. If it has an ingredient label it's automatically suspect because that means it's not straight from nature which makes it, by definition, unnatural. Clean water in amounts appropriate for your body (which also varies) is vital. Making vegetables the cornerstone of our diet is important for almost all of us (there are a few--a VERY small few--who may not be able to tolerate vegetables but they are extremely rare and you're almost definitely not one of them so don't even try it my friend!). 

Bottom line, tune into your body and the rest will unfold naturally for you. If you watch cows eating grass, you will start to notice that some seek out clover while others seek out wild onion grass. When dogs are sick, they will eat grass at times to correct some digestive issue they are having. We are born with an internal compass that will guide us toward the best food choices. However, our modern lifestyle has us so removed from nature that we can't hear that little voice of intuition. So tune in and, ultimately, let your body be your guide.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving Damage Control


The mentality of most of my clients, and probably most Americans at large, is that tomorrow is a day to throw down. People everywhere will be eating themselves into a stupor in a few short hours. And I totally get it! Thanksgiving has turned into a festive day of never-ending feasting and I've definitely viewed it as such myself in the past.

However, let me ask you, how do you feel after a day of eating like this? Even an afternoon. Are you glad you did it? That's what's ironic about our resolutions to just "enjoy the day." It often ends with us feeling absolutely horrible. Our bellies hurt and we are too tired to think. People like to blame it on the tryptophan in turkey but, I assure you, people who eat ham in lieu of turkey can often be found snoozing on the couch later that afternoon too. 

The problem is, our bodies can only handle so much food at a time. We shovel in massive amounts of various types of food (eating a variety of foods at one time regardless of the quantity can, alone, be very taxing on our system) and then we sit or lay down and allow that traffic jam of food to accumulate like a rock in our bellies. We go to bed that night often feeling anything but festive. 

So I want to challenge everyone to start approaching Thanksgiving the way I have the past few years. Changing my view of what Thanksgiving is has completely changed my holiday experience. 

First, did you know that each and every bite of food you put in your mouth you taste a little less than the bite before? It's the law of diminishing returns. So, instead of piling your plate high with gobs of everything, start with a small selection of your very favorite foods, including dessert. Keep in mind this law of diminishing returns and remember that each bite you take will deliver less flavor and pleasure than the bite before. Savor each and every bite knowing it is literally the best bite you're going to have from there on out. 

This does a couple of things. First, it takes a certain amount of time, that is different for each person and can average anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, for the stomach to start sending the brain messages that it is starting to feel full. By eating slowly you are sending less food down to create that full feeling.

Also, when we chew our food well, not only do we increase feelings of satiety (mouth pleasure is an important and often overlooked part of satiety) but we are also producing digestive enzymes in our mouth in addition to breaking the food down into smaller pieces, both of which are going to help us more easily digest our food, avoiding gas and other digestive discomforts.

I have found since I started being mindful of this that I enjoy my food much more than trying to see how much I can shovel in before I start getting full. Keep in mind that, in addition to not enjoying the food as much, once those gobs of mashed potatoes and bread hit our stomach, there's no turning back. You'll start out with a slightly full feeling but over time it turns into a horrible PACKED feeling! 

So, in addition to slowing down and savoring my food (and, therefore, eating less of it), here are other shifts in my mindset I have made regarding Thanksgiving:

  • It's no longer a "food" holiday. Yes, it's a time for tasty eats but my new focus is on my family and friends gathering together to enjoy each others company. At the end of the day, it's become a tradition for my son and I to put up the Christmas decorations. 
  • I never sit down after eating my Thanksgiving feast! Instead of being the selfish, overgrown child after the meal, I help in the kitchen until everything is clean. Not only do the women folk who assumed this chore a long time ago appreciate this but it also creates necessary movement which aids in the digestive process. 
  • I try to get people to go on a walk with me. After everything is clean, I try to rally some of the lazy, overstuffed troops to take a walk. This is another nice, non-eating tradition that can be created for Thanksgiving. In addition to creating closeness and helping everyone digest their rocks, it is such a beautiful time of year to get out and see the brilliant colors of fall that will soon turn to gray.

But before any of this, I do something so crazy that I don't even know myself at times. First thing that day....

  • I exercise.

I know I probably lost about 7/8 of my readers just now. But here's what exercising on major holidays (yes, I also exercise on Christmas) can do...

  • It reminds you of your goals. "Energy flows where attention goes." Working out on Thanksgiving morning sends the very clear message to your subconscious "I even value my health and my goals today, on Thanksgiving."
  • It does the obvious of offsetting some of the extra calories you're consuming. Although don't get carried away with this mentality, you often burn way less calories than you believe. However, if you work out hard, it depletes your glycogen stores which means less of those simple carbs will be converted to fat.
  • It makes you enjoy your entire day more. There's something about starting ANY day with a workout that makes your eyes a little brighter and your step a little peppier. You will be more focused and positive the entire day and, thus, more able to enjoy the non-food elements of the holiday....the non-food elements being those other people sitting around all that food.

Thanksgiving used to always end with me feeling sick and depressed. It was the epitome of irony when I would look forward to it so much. Now I know I really can look forward it and I'll go to bed that night feeling fit, satisfied and happy. My day will be active, full of laughter and precious moments with the people I love most in the world and moderate amounts of tasty treats that I don't usually indulge in. And I will have savored every single moment and bite of the day. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

I'm Taking the Weekend Off

I'm giving myself the weekend off...from my "monkey mind."
I vow to walk through this weekend with awe and joy for every small thing.
I will not pick apart and criticize myself or those around me.
I will attempt to live this entire weekend beginning today until my head hits the pillow Sunday night, completely immersed in the beauty that is this existence...and then hopefully it will overflow into the rest of my life.
I hope that anyone who reads this will do the same. When we operate from a place of gratitude and joy, the world opens up to us, we just have to get out of our own way.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Recipe for Your Best Day Ever


Let every single moment count with no idle, thoughtless activities that don't contribute to your well being.

Go through your day looking at everything with the wonderment and glee of a child.

Love those around you like you won't wake up tomorrow.

Leave everything better than you found it. Not just for the good of the world but so that when you DO wake up tomorrow, life is a little easier, more organized than it was today.

Approach your workout like a warrior.

Resolve right here and now that when you lay down tonight you will be unable to resist smiling to yourself because you are certain that you are going to bed a slightly better person than when you woke up this morning.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

You Are a Badass: Finding Inconsolable Sobbing Awe In Everyday Life


I've been doing a lot of self-work and soul searching lately. However, after a bunch of heavy, HEAVY audiobooks and some intense and frequent introspection in a very short amount of time, I decided yesterday it was time for something a little more lighthearted. 

I've wanted to listen to "You Are a Badass" for a while now. The reviews are mostly good but quite a few people complain that it's not based in science and it's too "new age" which I generally don't go for. However, I decided to give it a try yesterday because it seemed like it might be just a really good, long pep talk. And that's exactly what it is! So far my favorite quote is the following. It's not just my favorite quote so far, it's becoming a mantra. I shared it on Facebook with my friends and I find myself pulling up my page to read it over and over again. 

It never ceases to amaze me the precious time we spend chasing the squirrels around our brains, playing out our dramas, worrying about unwanted facial hair, seeking adoration, justifying our actions, complaining about slow Internet connections, dissecting the lives of idiots, when we are sitting in the middle of a full-blown miracle that is happening right here, right now. 
We're on a planet that somehow knows how to rotate on its axis and follow a defined path while it hurtles through space! Our hearts beat! We can see! We have love, laughter, language, living rooms, computers, compassion, cars, fire, fingernails, flowers, music, medicine, mountains, muffins! We live in a limitless universe, overflowing with miracles. The fact that we aren't stumbling around in an inconsolable state of sobbing awe is appalling ” ― Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass"

Wow.

Regardless of what you believe or don't believe, how can you not step back in absolute awe and think how amazing it is that we even exist?! That everything is synced up so perfectly that we are certain the sun will rise and set every day. How beautiful and magical life is when seen in this light. 

So that's what I've really made an effort to do for the last day. I have been walking through life in awe. Yesterday evening I sat on my back patio with my son and we just chatted. I try to always appreciate my time with him but this time was extra special. I was so unbelievably tuned in. As he talked about Minecraft (one of only about three topics he has in rotation in that sweet little head of his right now) I noticed the perfect little slope of his button nose, his china dolls lips, how amazingly cute he sounded when he kept using the word "unfortunately." I thought about how he grew inside of me. His body literally came from my body! Talk about magic!!

This is just one example of how my perception is shifting. And I don't want to lose it. 

I recently met a very unique person who has a weight loss story similar to my own. He reached a low point in his life and decided to change himself and used that desire for a better version of himself to transform his body completely in just one year. Yesterday he celebrated one year since the day he began. He began on Summer Solstice. He said it was meaningful to him because it symbolizes new beginnings. I kept thinking all day after he told me that that I should come up with some big change to implement on that day. I couldn't think of anything.

This morning I woke up and realized I did something very different yesterday! I walked through life with awe. I embraced pretty much every moment. This morning I did the same. I tasted my coffee like never before, I enjoyed my morning meditation in a totally different way. Yes, right now it's coming naturally to me but I know there will be days when I need to remind myself to look at life this way. So that is my resolution. I am going to post notes around my house and set reminders on my phone. 

One of the very best things about going through life this way is something I discovered yesterday and it's what made it instantly so addictive to me. When I am truly immersed in the moment and finding joy and amazement in simply being alive, I am incapable of dwelling on silly, meaningless things that have been bothering me. When I'm contemplating the synergy of nature as I watch a bee buzz around some flowers and grass, I can't seem to care whether or not that person who said that thing that kind of sounded not nice was trying to disrespect me. When I'm truly completely immersed in playing chutes and ladders with my funny, quirky son, and we are laughing about my absolutely horrible luck, the fact that I'm an almost 40 year old woman living in a youth obsessed culture doesn't register as anything more than some mathematical equation and observations of the society I live in. Being fully engaged in MY MY MY life, makes me incapable of caring about the opinions of people who are not relevant in my life or the silly details of what's going on in their life (yes, this is an ex reference...notice they are getting fewer and further between). 

I feel that resolving to remember to view life this way is yet another step toward being the vessel of peace and love that I long to be. And, in the meantime, it's simply making life happier!

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