Spring is around the corner, but for now the days still seem short and it’s important to take note of how this affects your health and state of mind. Here are some tips I recommend to my patients to combat the dreariness of the winter season.
Transition physical activity from season to season, don’t abandon it!
Use inside equipment or a DVD; I like to recommend Leslie Sansone walking DVDs.
Find a friend or social component to physical activity.
Move more throughout your day – 10% (6 minutes/hour).
Invest in clothes to make it comfortable.
Develop a repertoire of healthy, ‘hearty’ foods for the season.
New Year’s is a time where many people make resolutions. “I’m going to lose weight,” or “I’m going to quit smoking” are two of the popular resolutions, but what about mental health? Less commonly do people make resolutions for their mental health beyond a simple phrase such as “be happier.” But, if you are one of the 43.8 million adults in the United States who experiences mental illness (NAMI, 1999), you might benefit from some resolutions toward improving your mental health.
Here are some possible changes to pursue:
Make sleep, diet, and exercise a priority. Snickers has a popular series of commercials where a celebrity is acting in an angry, irritated, or frustrated manner until they are given a Snickers because they become emotional when they are hungry. After taking a bite of the Snicker bar, the person returns to his or her typical self. While I (and I’m sure our dietitians) would agree that sugar isn’t the answer, these commercials do have a point: our physical health impacts our mental health. When we are tired, hungry, fatigued, or inactive, our mental health suffers. Resolve to make simple changes to your habits this year: get more sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, go on more walks. Try to build on choices you make that are already healthy.
Think positive. This sounds cliché, but there is evidence to suggest that optimism improves our life. The Mayo Clinic reports on their website that optimism has been connected to longer life span, decreased depression, decreased distress, reduced cardiovascular disease, and improved coping skills. Unsure of how to start thinking in a positive manner? Begin with creating a daily affirmation for yourself. Waking up and saying “Today is going to be a good day,” can lead you to viewing the day in a more positive light. If you have a specific stressor you are worried about, trying envisioning how that problem will go well instead of how it can go wrong.
Seek help. In 2012, ABC News reported that only about 60% of people with mental illness received professional help. Professional help is available in a variety of ways, from counseling to medication to support groups. If you are unsure where to go or what method is best for you, start with speaking with your doctor about the issue.
Mental illness is a difficult challenge for many people, but the New Year is a great time to make positive changes. Even if you aren’t dealing with mental illness, perhaps pursuing one of the above resolutions can make your 2017 a more positive and enjoyable year.
As we start a new year, we think about setting New Year’s Resolutions and so many of these resolutions focus around “perfecting” ourselves. Well, let me tell you perfection is quite a funny thing because IT DOESN’T EXIST!!! When we try so very hard to reach the unattainable it can wreak havoc on our bodies and cause anxiety, tension, headaches, depression, etc. Thus, causing a destructive relationship around food.
How many times have you tried diet, after diet, after diet? You lose the weight and then gain the weight back, you know the old adage ‘yo-yo dieter’. We try to be perfectionist on the diet, but find we are trying to reach the unattainable and give up after a while because those food rules and deprivation aren’t working. Then the weight comes back on and the anxiety, tension, depression, etc. accelerates because we couldn’t be PERFECT.
So let’s try this year to let go of the perfectionistic thoughts and regain our relationship with food.
Ask yourself why. Why do I want to fill in the blank?
What is the underlying perfectionistic tendency with this question? Is the WHY because of a life transition like children, spouse, marriage, divorce, career/career change, medical diagnosis, friendship, etc.? You can’t always have control over life events, so because of this are you trying to take control somewhere else, such as with food.
2. Embrace your diet imperfections.
I know this is hard, I struggle with it too, but I’m giving you permission this year to not be perfect. It’s okay to fail and give in from time to time allowing foods you desire to bring enjoyment and pleasure to eating. When you do this, your relationship with yourself and food will be that much more joyful.
3. Focus on mindful eating.
By being mindful of your eating, this allows you to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through your food selections. Using your senses can be both satisfying and nourishing. Thus, acknowledging your response to food without judgment and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to help guide your food decisions.
Recently, I was asked about the importance of recovery snacks after a workout and if they help with weight loss. Refueling after a workout is important regardless of your exercise or fitness goals and in some cases, it may be the difference between making huge gains in the gym or not. Whether your focus for working out is on weight loss, muscle building or even improved body composition, a post-workout snack can complement all of these goals.
Why is it important to eat after a workout?
While we know how important exercise is for fitness, many of us are unaware of how significant the recovery process is for health and weight loss. It is important to re-nourish your muscles and metabolism following a workout as this will allow you to A) refuel your engines and repair muscle tissue and B) obtain the capability to exercise just as hard for your next workout.
Think of your body and muscles in terms of how you treat your car. Eating frequently throughout day is equivalent to making pit stops and refueling your gas tank. Just like your vehicle, constant refueling keeps your metabolism going. You wouldn’t run your car out of gas, so why would you run your body out of fuel? When you exercise, you are revving up your metabolic engine and this can cause your body to burn up gas even faster. Missing that opportunity to refuel post-workout puts you at risk of draining your metabolic gas tank. Remember, it doesn’t matter how expensive, how brand new or how many options your car has. A car without gas is useless to you. Unfortunately, the same can be said about our metabolisms. Lack of fuel and drained metabolic gas tanks can lead to decreased functioning and performance.
If you’re a science nerd like me, you’ll want a more in-depth explanation. Having a greater understanding on what happens to our bodies on a physiological-biochemical level can help motivate positive dietary behaviors. When you work out, tiny microscopic tears occur in the muscle tissues as a result from repeated muscle contraction. Exercised muscle tissue is constantly adapting, meaning it is breaking down and rebuilding itself. Having a post-workout shake or snack can help initiate the repairing process. Ideally, this snack should be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing your workout, when your “metabolic window” is at its peak. During this time, one experiences increased blood flow to muscles, creating a faster delivery of nutrients. Insulin sensitivity and enzyme activity required for rebuilding and refueling tissue are also heightened after exercise. Consuming your post-workout snack during this increased hormone and enzyme-activity time frame will ensure you are properly refueling your body.
What makes a perfect post-workout snack if you’re trying to lose weight?
Regardless of your goal, the best type of snack to have post-workout is a lean protein source with quick digesting carbohydrates. The combination of the two preps your muscles to act like a sponge so they more properly absorb amino acids (proteins) and glucose (carbs). Amino acids will help rebuild and repair your muscles and glucose will refuel them with energy. Protein shakes make great post workout snacks for this reason. One could also focus on whole foods such as egg whites, lean meats or other desired lean protein source coupled with fruit, sweet potatoes or preferred starchy food. While fat is incredibly important in the diet, your post-workout snack is not the time to take a lot of it in merely because of the fact that it slows down digestion and can hinder the rapid absorption process needed to initiate protein synthesis after a workout.
Should you modify your next meal because of the post-workout snack?
Yes and no. Your first actual meal after your workout should contain a higher amount of healthy carbohydrates as compared to your other meals throughout the day. This is when I would recommend eating items such as rice, sweet potatoes and squash or whatever your favorite starch is with your protein and veggie sources. Save the salads and lower carb menu items for meals that are farther away from your workouts. In terms of calories, there is no reason to cut nutrients away from your meals to save up calories for your post-workout snack. I know it sounds counter-productive to eat what you technically just burned off, but properly re-nourishing your muscles and body will help keep your metabolism lit up all day long. Remember, a healthy metabolism is one that burns more calories overall than one that is being underfed.
If you know me, then you know how much I love exercise. My passion for fitness led me to study exercise and metabolism in college. Obtaining a degree in Exercise Science and earning 3 different fitness certifications allowed me to share this passion with others and provide guidance for leading healthier, more-fit lifestyles. Over the past 12 years, I have learned a lot about the body, metabolism and fitness capacities through research, practice and personal experience. During that time I have learned what works and what works better.
First and foremost, you should always start with an activity that you love. This is especially true for those who are just starting out on their fitness journey. The most basic principle to remember about exercise is that your body was designed to move and any form of physical activity accomplishes that objective. Nature never intended for us to sit for 8 hours a day at work, drive umpteen hours during the week and engage in sedentary activities such as watching TV and playing on our smartphone devices. Do what you love and be happy, because if you’re not, it’s highly unlikely that you will stick to your exercise routine. This recommendation is for general health, not necessarily for those wanting to push their fitness to the next level.
That being said, some forms of exercise may not be best-matched for our fitness or physique goals. All throughout college and even into my mid-20s, I was a cardio junkie. Because nothing burns a ton of calories like a good hour of sweat, right? Sure, I would strength train and teach a variety of classes, but my workouts were still dominated by long, aggressive cardio sessions. To the untrained eye, I appeared “healthy” but looking back, old photos of me reveal I had skinny, cardio-arms and a cortisol-provoked pooch. Overdoing it on cardio workouts left my body chronically inflamed and extremely sensitive to changes in my normal routine. I would gain weight very easily which would in turn drive me to add extra workouts to burn off more calories. This cycle repeated itself over and over and over.
I began journaling my workouts and recorded how I felt after using different training methods. Surprisingly, I would always feel the best after a good weight lifting session, but it would still be years before I made strength-training my primary form of exercise. It’s easy to think that the longer your workouts, the healthier you’ll be.
In 2013, I finally entered the world of Crossfit, fell in love with it and we’ve been happily married ever since. Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program that focuses on functional movements such as weight lifting, running and rowing that are performed at various levels of load and intensity. It can be applied to individuals of all ages and fitness levels. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, when I started Crossfit I merely wanted the aesthetic benefits of it. My goals were purely extrinsic, like they had always been with exercise. As I became more immersed in the Crossfit culture, something unexpected happened. I found myself surrounded by a group of people who all shared the same passion for hard work as I did and these people are now my fit family. A Crossfit gym is unlike any other gym you will ever experience. It separates itself by the presence of spirit and camaraderie. As I continued with my training in this new environment, my goals became more fitness-oriented and less and less about my looks.
Today, I am constantly striving towards a new challenge and to make myself a better and smarter athlete than the day before. What’s crazy is that when I finally let go of the whole “gotta look good” concept of exercise, my body naturally transformed on its own. My metabolism has never been healthier. I eat twice as much as what I used to, have excellent energy levels, more positive moods and have never felt more beautiful and confident in my body. I also learned that my rest days are just as valuable as my training days. It all happened when I traded in the treadmill for a barbell.
Many would agree that Crossfit has a “less is more” approach to fitness. Some days, all I do for a workout is perform 5×5 back squats. The old Amanda would think, “That is hardly a workout” while the new Amanda says, “I can’t wait to see what my body can do today”!
I know what you’re thinking. Can you get injured doing Crossift? Sure can. You know what else you can get injured doing? Zumba, running or picking a toy off the ground. Crossfit is not injury-prone, people are. When skillfully guided by a certified trainer, Crossfit can be a safe, effective and motivating way to train the body and metabolism.
This whole concept of high intensity interval training has caught on like wildfire in the research world. What was once considered a form of training for the elite athlete is now being applied to our clinical population. Numerous studies have shown that not only is HIIT safe for the clinical population, it has shown to have greater benefits in both cardiorespiratory fitness and physiological parameters (weight, BMI, blood sugar and insulin control, blood pressure to name a few) when compared to older standards of recommended exercises such as moderate-intense cardio prescriptions. This further strengthens the need for health practitioners to be not only educated but exposed to alternative forms of exercise that includes strength and interval training.
So, if you feel like you are stuck in your exercise routine, hopefully this article will help generate the idea of pursuing alternative fitness goals. Become comfortable with the uncomfortable. For me, Crossfit served as a gateway to deeper wellness: teaching me to nourish my body better with whole food ingredients, rest, and recover properly. And I now surround myself with people that make me a better person, both inside and outside of the gym. The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do. It’s a very simple formula. Love. Laugh. Lift.
There are some things that you just don’t quite fully understand until you experience it yourself. Many of you would agree that having a baby is at the top of that list. Like many women, I faced several challenges throughout my pregnancy including nausea, heartburn and intense cravings. When we came home from the hospital with our sweet Oliver, I practically had Google on speed dial since I had questions about EVERYTHING! About a month later, I finally began to feel like myself again and had the same thought that every new mom has eventually…how will I get my pre-pregnancy body back? Here are some things I have learned about body after baby.
photos by Kaitlin Powell Photography and Designs
For starters, I would encourage you to let nature take the lead. Counting calories can be stressful. Counting calories with a newborn would be a nightmare, so I highly recommend that you do not take this route (unless you are having difficulties maintaining a healthy weight). Women who are breastfeeding also have increased nutrient needs and many calorie counting apps do not take this into consideration when estimating calorie goals. Most resources agree that breastfeeding requires an extra 300-500 calories above what resting metabolic needs are but it’s not uncommon for a breastfeeding mom to require even more calories than this. Mom’s activity level, body fat percent and baby’s feeding intake (think how this changes with growth spurts) can all influence how many additional calories are needed.
Try to return to your normal eating habits as quickly as possible. This took a couple of weeks for me. I found that I had Oliver glued to my chest and struggled with balancing time for grocery shopping, cooking and meal planning. I was relying more on processed foods with added sugars which ultimately made me feel like garbage. Once my eggs, fish, chicken and veggies found their way back into my belly, my mood, energy level and tummy all became much happier campers.
Make sure that you are not comparing yourself to other post-partum women. One of my guilty pleasures is those celebrity magazines you find at the check-out lane at the grocery store. New mom celebrities always make headlines with how great their bodies look just weeks after delivery. Access to personal chefs, full-time nannies and in-home training sessions is simply not a reality to us ‘everyday Janes’. Believe me, you can still achieve bikini-bod results again, it may just take a little while longer than our celeb gal pals. In addition to celebs, try your hardest not to compare yourself to your other new-mommy friends. How you carried your baby, when you gained your weight during pregnancy, energy level and hormones are just a few of the hundred factors that affect how the pregnancy weight comes off.
Be smart about returning to exercise. If you know me, you know how much I value physical activity; however, early postpartum Amanda didn’t have one lick of interest in going back to the gym. I have friends who were back to jogging a couple weeks postpartum and here I found myself sore for a whole day after taking a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. You have got to listen to your body and understand that now is not the time to push it. It just performed a miraculous feat for you and pushing it too hard, too soon can delay your recovery time. On the flip side, once my body had completely recovered (after about 8 weeks), I did make it back to the gym and boy did that endorphin rush feel good again!
Everyone told me that a baby will change you. They’re right. A baby does change a lot of things, but it didn’t change my core values of health. I know how valuable my kitchen and barbells are in my life and once they became part of my routine again, my body began to bounce back to its original shape. To maximize time with my family, I switched up my gym routine and even purchased more equipment to do workouts at home. Sundays became big meal prep days so I could spend more of my weeknight evenings playing with my little guy. While body after baby is a little softer and curvier, I remind myself of the great story it now tells.