Sleep tips for health & wellness

It’s a fact that most of us don’t get enough sleep and we know that insufficient sleep can have a variety of negative impacts on our health. So now, with the threat of a novel coronavirus and the stress caused by the pandemic situation, getting enough sleep is even more important. Sleep is essential to the proper functioning of our immune systems and helps mitigate the effects of stress on our body and mind. We’re here to provide you with some of our best tips to help you get enough sleep to support your mind and body.

1. Limit screen time

There is no shortage of scientific evidence showing that the blue light generated by electronics like tablets, smart phones, laptops, and TVs disrupts our sleep even for a while after we’ve turned them off. The best ways to eliminate that threat to our sleep is to keep all screens out of the bedroom and limit the time you spend on them before bed time. Ideally, it’s best to turn those screens off at least 30 minutes before bed – an hour is even better.

2. Create a bedtime routine

Try to create a bedtime routine for yourself. Start it at the same time each night and repeat the same steps. It doesn’t have to be complicated but you need to do it consistently. Having a consistent bedtime routine over time primes your body and mind for sleep. Your body and mind know sleep is coming when you start this routine and they’re ready for it. This makes it easier for you to fall asleep at night.

3. Practice good sleep hygiene

Removing the screens is part of this but there is more to good sleep hygiene, which essentially refers to keeping an appropriate sleep environment. For example, our bodies are programmed to sleep best in the dark. So getting your bedroom as dark as you are able to is important. The climate in your room also makes a difference. Our bodies prefer cooler ambient temperatures for sleeping – between 60 & 67 degrees F. That doesn’t mean that you can’t snuggle up under some fluffy blankets, it just means that you shouldn’t have your room super warm as well. Keeping an appropriate room temperature makes it less likely that you will wake up because you are uncomfortable.

4. Practice gratitude

One of the exercises that I give my clients who often struggle to get to sleep at night is writing a nightly gratitude list. Each night before bed, simply write down 5-10 things you are grateful for that day. The practice of doing this takes your mind out of the muck and mire of stress and puts you in a more relaxed place so it’s easier to get to sleep.

5. Get all the junk out of your head

Another exercise I give my clients who struggle with sleep is a to-do list brain dump. If you are the type who lies down and finds their mind racing or wakes up at 2 am worrying about forgetting to do something tomorrow, this is a great trick for you. Before you head to bed for the night, write down everything you need to do the next day – even down to the little stuff like washing the dishes. This will take all of those things out of your head and will remove that anxiety around forgetting to do something. You could also keep that list nearby on the off-chance that you do wake up in the middle of the night remembering something else you need to do.

Following these tips should help you get a better night’s sleep, leaving you feeling more energized, your immune system working better, and your body and mind more resilient.

Foods to Support Immunity & Stress Relief

As we’ve seen over these past several weeks, people are flocking to the grocery store to stock up on supplies for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing social distancing policies. Toilet paper and sanitizer are obviously at the tops of people’s lists, but have you considered the food you’re buying? In times like this, the inclination is often highly-processed foods with a long shelf life, but these aren’t the best options for supporting your immune system and mitigating the effects of stress on your body. 

We’re here to discuss some of the food items that you may want to consider purchasing during this time of crisis, rather than just bread, milk, eggs, and pasta. Obviously these items may vary depending on any dietary needs or restrictions, but hopefully it will give you some ideas for foods that can really support the health of you and your family.

But first, let’s give you some general information about what makes the following foods so beneficial.  

The Power of Plants

When it comes to the best foods to be eating right now, plants are where it’s at. Fruits and veggies are loaded with beneficial compounds called phytonutrients, which act as antioxidants and support healthy body function, including immunity. Phytonutrients are what give the produce its bright colors, so the more different colors you eat, the greater variety of phytonutrients you’re consuming.

Low Stress Foods

We are currently under a tremendous amount of stress, which means that our bodies are experiencing very high levels of the stress hormone cortisol consistently. Cortisol is not only the stress hormone, but is also involved in a wide range of other processes such as the body’s inflammatory response, blood sugar regulation, sleep cycles, blood pressure, and memory function. Because of its involvement in these other processes, having it chronically sitting at high levels can have far-reaching health impacts.

Eating a lot of processed foods, sugar, alcohol, and simple carbohydrates can exacerbate the effects of stress by triggering cortisol responses in our body. Eating mostly low-stress foods, such as fresh produce, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates (ie whole and minimally processed foods) can help mitigate those effects and won’t have the same dramatic impacts on cortisol levels.

What’s on Our Grocery List

Frozen Fruits

Frozen fruits and veggies are nearly identical nutritionally to fresh ones.  Some frozen fruits that we recommend are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and mangos. You can get big packages of these pre-frozen fruits, which will keep for about 6-9 months. Be sure to check the expiration dates on the packages you are buying, though. You can also freeze sliced bananas for use in smoothies. Simply cut it into slices and store in a sealed container. 

Ideas for use: 

  • Smoothies are a great way to make sure you’re eating enough fruits and veggies. Here are a couple of our favorite recipes:
    • 1 cup mixed berries, 1/2 frozen banana, 1 handful baby spinach, 1 cup frozen cauliflower rice. Add water and blend to desired consistency.
    • 1/2 cup frozen mango, 1/2 frozen banana, 1/2 cup old fashioned oats, 1/2 cup frozen cauliflower rice, unsweetened almond milk. Blend to desired consistency.
  • Use as a topping for overnight oats or cooked oats.

Frozen Vegetables

As with fruits, frozen vegetables will keep for a long time and pack a nutritional punch. Some frozen vegetables that we recommend you pick up are cauliflower (florets or riced), peas, broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, and spinach. Again, keep an eye on expiration dates, but pre-frozen veggies are expected to keep for 8-10 months.

Ideas for use:

  • Add frozen cauliflower to your smoothies
  • Cauliflower rice & quinoa tacos – use the cauliflower-quinoa mixture in place of meat
  • Toss frozen bell peppers into a fry pan and cook to add them to an omelette.

Potatoes

Need a break from all the frozen veggies? Potatoes have got your back. They can be kept raw for up to 2-3 months in the proper conditions. They are also one of the most versatile vegetables, and have several different variations, so you never get sick of them! (At least, we never do.)

Ideas for use:

  • Sweet potato toasts with almond butter and cinnamon
  • Roasted sweet potato with over-easy eggs
  • Sweet potato mash with shredded coconut and maple syrup
  • Make your own veggie burger – it’s surprisingly simple: just cook the potatoes until soft, then toss them into a food processor with some seasoning and other veggies. Form them into patties and cook!

Dried or Canned Beans

Dried and canned legumes are also a great option for long-term storage. Dried beans are good for up to 2-3 years if stored properly. And canned beans can last 3-5 years. Just be sure to look for BPA-free cans when you’re shopping. These foods are a good source or fiber and protein. 

Ideas for use:

  • Rice & beans
  • Soups
  • Black bean dip

Nuts

Nuts are a great source of healthy fats and protein, and properly stored will keep for 6 months or longer. These make a great snack and can be used in meals as well.

Oats

Another great source of energy and fiber that can be kept dried for a significantly long period, oats are a versatile option that can be stored dry for up to 2 years.

Ideas for use:

  • Overnight or hot oats
  • Process in a food processor to use as flour in muffins
  • Make-your-own crazy granola recipe
  • Toss them in the blender with your smoothie ingredients to make a thicker, more satisfying smoothie

Quinoa

Quinoa is another nutritious food that you should stock up on. Unlike other plants, quinoa is a complete protein. It’s also a great source of fiber. Quinoa is simple to prepare and can take on almost any flavor profile. Dried quinoa can keep for 2-3 years when stored properly.

Ideas for use:

  • Sweet quinoa breakfast porridge
  • Quinoa pizza crust
  • Quinoa pilaf

Heartier Fruits and Veggies

You should also consider picking up some produce with a slightly longer shelf-life than less hearty options. For example, cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) can keep for a good chunk of time stored properly in the refrigerator. Citrus fruits and apples also tend to keep longer than fruits like bananas and berries, so those are options to consider as well.

 

It is a stressful and unprecedented situation that we have all been thrown into. While most of what is going on is far out of our control, we do get some say in the matter of our health and the way eat is a fantastic starting point. Try to remain calm and take precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe.  

 

*Please keep in mind that the time periods suggested to keep these items are general and you should always follow the product’s specific expiration dates*

3 Self-Care Tips for Social Distancing

We’ve all heard about how self-care is important for our health, but it’s particularly critical right now in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. This is a particularly stressful time for many of us and chronically high levels of stress can decrease our immune system function, increase inflammation in our bodies, disrupt our sleep, and more. Self-care is an essential step in mitigating the effects of chronic stress on our bodies.

First, it’s a misconception that self-care is just about relaxing and spa days. Yes, self-care can be about recharging and doing things you enjoy, but it’s also about protecting yourself and setting boundaries. In a time when a 1 minute scroll through your Facebook feed is enough to incite panic over toilet paper supplies, protective boundaries now are critical.

Self-Care Tip 1: Limit your news (and fake news) exposure

Now is a great time to either take a break from social media or limit how much time you spend on it. Likewise, limiting how much time you spend reading or watching the news is also a good idea. All of these headlines circulating and posts from your neighbors are draining, stressful, and depressing. While you need to stay informed, you also need to balance that with your mental and emotional health. Some options short of full-out cold turkey: Give yourself 30 minutes on social media a day, watch the morning or evening news and avoid reading news sites during the day, choose just one outlet to follow for news, or for every news article you read about coronavirus, read one fun thing (here are the Google Search results for funny kitten videos – you’re welcome).

Self-Care Tip 2: Re-focus on you

During this time of social distancing, we can become hyper-focused on the feelings of isolation…or on feelings of stress over having your children home from school for 2 weeks. Try to instead focus on finding ways to use this time to your benefit. Maybe it means sleeping in, taking advantage of the time to get outside and get some fresh air and Vitamin D, or working on a fun project you never have time for. This is a really stressful time and we can’t ignore the very real impacts that this is having on us, mentally, physically, financially. It’s important to carve out what turf we can for our well-being at this time.

Self-Care Tip 3: Energy flows where attention goes

Pay careful attention to how much energy you are giving to this pandemic situation. Is it the topic of all your conversations? Are your thoughts being taken over by worries? What is your motivation for the things you are doing daily – is it fear? We only have so much energy to go around and it has to come from somewhere, so ask yourself: where is it being drained from if you’re dedicating most of it to this stressful situation?

I suggest setting limits on how much you talk about this situation. Honestly, saying “I’d rather talk about something else” will probably be a relief to your conversation partner as well! If your thoughts are being overrun by worries, then taking a break or setting time limits on social media/the news will definitely be helpful. Practicing mindfulness activities will also help bring more awareness to those thought patterns and help you redirect.

 

We want to hear from you! How are you practicing self-care these days? Leave it in the comments! 

Fitness Industry Sayings that Need to Go

I didn’t get into health and nutrition coaching because I wanted to create weight loss plans. I got into it because I spent most of my younger years obsessing over my weight  and I had a horribly unhealthy relationship with food and my body. I saw how much harm the diet and “wellness” industries caused myself and others and I wanted to help other people embrace healthy eating and balance. This isn’t an easy mission when the giant diet industry is spamming all of our feeds with toxic messages. My intern, Nicki, is totally on the same page about these messages, so we put our heads together on what language we think the industry needs to ditch.

1. Get your beach/bikini body

“Bathing suit season is coming.” “Get your body bikini-ready!” “Time to work on your summer bod.” UGH! We need to stop promoting the notion that only certain types of bodies are worthy of a bikini. This kind of mentality not only is harmful by driving people to extremes to lose weight, it also encourages the policing of other people’s bodies. As the meme says, “the only way to get a bikini body it to put a bikini on your body” and it’s true. Stretch marks? Cellulite? Jiggle? Rolls? Put a bikini on it. I’m no more worthy of a bikini than you or your neighbor and vice versa. 

2. Toxic “motivation”

You’ve definitely heard it or maybe been told it yourself, “motivational” sayings like: “sweat is fat crying,” “pain is weakness leaving your body,” “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” “unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going” (looking at you, Jillian Michaels). This is the kind of garbage that lands people hurt or ill. Exercise should not be punishment and ignoring your body’s warning signs is a recipe for disaster. What we need to be focusing on is positive encouragement, tuning into one’s body, and finding balance. It’s the imbalance that this mentality promotes that keeps people pumping money into the diet industry for unsustainable tactics. Also, have you ever had pizza? It definitely tastes better than skinny feels.

3. Good Food vs Bad Food, Healthy Food vs Unhealthy Food

As humans, we like having opposite categories, I will give us that. But, when it comes to applying blanket classifications to foods, we run into some problems. Are some foods healthier than others? Yes, obviously. But that doesn’t mean that one food is good and another is bad. As the saying goes “the dose makes the poison.” It’s about proportionality. You should eat more nutritious foods than less nutritious, caloric foods. But focusing on completely avoiding “bad” foods is unsustainable and can lead to disordered eating habits.

4. Superfood

And while we’re at it, we need to 86 this “superfood” label we are giving to a new fruit or vegetable every 6 months. Say it with me: there is no such thing as a superfood. This is a buzzword created by the food industry (yes, even agriculture is an industry) to increase sales of certain products. Fruits and vegetables are rich in highly healthful compounds called phytonutrients as well as vitamins and minerals. This is what makes them so good for us. But cauliflower is not more super than kale which is no more super than blueberries. They just have different amounts of different nutrients. What you really need to focus on is eating a wide variety of different plants so your body can reap the benefits of those nutrients.

5. “Get your body back”

There are few things that frost my cookies as much as seeing an ad for some program directed at new moms promising to help them “get their body back.” Here’s the thing, there is no body “lost” in the process of carrying a child. Does your body change? Yes. Is that a problem? It shouldn’t be, but in our sexist society some think it is. Until we can stop telling women that they need to “get their bodies back”, women will continue to belittle themselves, resort to varying, sometimes extreme, measures to lose weight, and internalize that hatred towards their own bodies. You body just did an amazing and incredibly difficult thing. Of course it’s going to change and it’s that change that makes it so amazing. What the message needs to be is that the postpartum body is amazing and beautiful and that new moms can focus on caring for themselves and their newborn. 

 

We’re not so naive as to think that this kind of talk is going to go away – it isn’t. But what we do want to encourage through this post is more dialogue around the effects of this kind of language. We want to encourage everyone to become more aware of how this mentality slips into their daily lives and focus on reframing those words into more positive, healthy, encouraging thoughts.

 

8 Thing I Wish I Knew before Starting My Fitness Journey

This is another guest post from our fabulous intern, Nicki. While she is currently a certified personal trainer, she had to start somewhere, too, and she knows what it’s like that first time you step into the gym and contemplate picking up a pair of weights. Here is some of the advice she wishes had been shared with her back then.

I started seriously lifting when I was just a sophomore in high school, which puts me at about 6 years now. When I started, I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I’ve been through many phases in my endeavors: sport-specific training, powerlifting, body-building, swimming, physical therapy, and more.

Now, I am a Certified Personal Trainer and an (almost) graduate with a degree in Exercise Science. Through my education and a lot of trial and error, I have learned a lot, and there’s still plenty more to learn. I want to pass along some information to the beginners out there who are just now starting their fitness journey. Here are a few bits of advice that I wish I had been given when I first started. 

1. No one is looking at or judging you

I know one of the main concerns that most people have when starting to go to the gym is that they are afraid of being judged. As an anxious person, I 100% understand this fear. But take it from a veteran lifter, we all know that everyone starts somewhere. Most of the individuals you encounter in the gym are too focused on their own goals to worry about yours. Take your time, challenge yourself, educate yourself. It gets easier!

2. Not every exercise has to be 3×10 or 4×12 to be effective

I feel like the most common training parameters I hear about are 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Those are fine, don’t get me wrong. Those are the parameters that are typically used to achieve gains in muscle size. If those are your goals, then great! But I often see people who are training for strength using these parameters and seeing little results. So if your goals are more strength oriented, I would recommend switching it up every now and then. The parameters for strength are sets of 2-6 of 6 or fewer reps. Keep in mind, you should be using a weight that challenges you, so you should be using a heavier weight for 6 reps than you do for 12.

3. Start at a light weight while learning proper form

This kind of coincides with number 1: no one cares what weight you are using. It’s much more important to be using proper form than using heavier weights. If you cannot perform the weight with proper form, reduce the weight. Once you get the hang of the form, then definitely challenge yourself. But don’t hurt yourself trying to look like the strongest person in the gym. It’s not worth it. It can be helpful to watch YouTube videos or talk to a trainer if you are unsure about the form. If you are comfortable with it, try filming yourself as you perform the exercise so you can watch it back and see what you need to work on. 

4. You will notice things getting easier before you notice your muscles growing

In the first couple of weeks of training, you will notice that you are moving weights easier, without noticing a huge difference in your body composition. This is because your muscles “learn” to move heavier things faster than they can grow in size. Be patient, it takes several weeks to notice serious changes in muscular hypertrophy.

5. You will most likely see a lot of change right away, and then not so much.

If you are a real beginner to the gym and getting proper nutrition, you are probably suddenly burning a lot more calories than you used to. If one of your goals is weight loss, you will probably experience a lot of success in your first few weeks. Eventually, your body will adapt, and it will be more challenging to continue seeing big results. Continue to challenge yourself by gradually increasing the load and/or repetitions.

6. No amount of donkey kicks or bodyweight squats will get you a bigger butt. I’m sorry.

I know I’m spilling some major tea here on some popular fitness accounts, but the best way to grow your glutes is by resistance training and eating plenty of protein and carbs. So don’t waste your time doing a million of the exercises that are actually made to be warm-ups. Some of the best exercises for growing your glutes are compound movements, such as hip thrusts and split squats. If you perform these at a weight that will safely challenge you and fuel your body properly, you should see some changes.

7. You cannot get bulky by accident

I hear a lot of people ask how they can get in good shape without getting “too bulky”. They see pictures of bodybuilders and are afraid that by following a standard training program, they will look like that too. I’m here to tell you that getting ripped biceps and shoulders takes some serious hard work, is not sustainable for a normal lifestyle, and certainly doesn’t happen by accident. Please, train your upper bodies, it is super important for functional fitness, injury prevention, and posture. 

8. You CANNOT spot reduce fat 

More tea to be spilt here. I don’t care how many fitness influencers try to sell their “arm fat burning” or “stomach toning” exercise programs. Say it with me: you cannot spot reduce fat. Which means, no matter how many curls you do, you cannot train away the adipose tissue in your upper arms. No matter how many crunches you do, you cannot immediately get abs. Only by training under a caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn) can you lose fat. And when you do lose fat, you cannot pick and choose where it goes first. 

Being a newbie in the gym can definitely be intimidating. Just remember that everyone is there to better themselves, and they were all beginners once, too. You may be surprised that most people in the gym are actually very respectful and supportive. 

If you are unsure how to start, talk to a professional. A CPT can help you to shape your workouts to best achieve your goals. A health/nutrition coach can work with you on your dietary habits to best fuel your body for energy and recovery. Take your own experience and learn what works for you, and soon you will be an seasoned gym-goer too!

 

 

20 Self-Care Ideas that Aren’t Face Masks or Manis

Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword recently, evoking images of candles and spa settings. But there is very good reason for self-care to be becoming all the rage – it’s critical for your mental and physical health. It doesn’t have to be all sauna sessions, ayahuasca retreats, and overpriced merchandise from The Goop though. Self-care is much simpler and more practical than that. Self-care means giving yourself the space to recharge, the time to rest, the opportunity to break the monotony with something you truly enjoy. Most importantly, self-care is anything but selfish. Without it, it’s impossible to show up at your best for yourself and for those you care about.

What Self-Care is Not

One thing about self-care is that if it’s something you do because you have to as a responsible adult, then it’s not really self-care. Whenever I have a client say, “well I really like cleaning so that’s my self-care” or “I really enjoy cooking,” I ask them if it’s really enjoyable when they’re doing those things out of obligation even if they don’t feel like it. When you’re exhausted from a long week but you’re still cooking dinner for 3 other people when you’d prefer to order takeout, that’s not really caring for yourself and it sure as hell takes all the pleasure out of it. Self-care is not obligatory activities.

Some Ideas for Self-Care

If you are new to self-care (hello, rundown, busy, stretched-too-thin moms!), it can seem really difficult to come up with a self-care routine, especially if cleaning and cooking don’t cut it. But, as I said, self-care is much simpler than you think. Here are some ideas for self-care activities you can start engaging in right away.

    • Meditation – even just 5 minutes 
    • Read your favorite book
    • Journal
    • Art – whether it’s painting, knitting, drawing, coloring etc. (and, no, you don’t have to be good at it!)
    • Listen to your favorite song – especially helpful when you’re in a time crunch and need that pick-me-up
    • Listen to your favorite podcast – reserve some time away from your work to really enjoy it!
    • Watch your favorite show – I am the queen of horrible TV and it makes me so happy
    • Play an instrument/make music/sing
    • Bake – I see this as different from cooking because it’s rare that you HAVE to bake…unless you’re a baker
    • Go shopping
    • Call your best friend (yes, call, like on the phone)
    • Get some fresh air – go for a walk or sit outside and just enjoy the sunshine and air
    • Go for a drive (unless road rage is your thing)
    • Practice positive affirmations – another one that’s helpful when you’re in a pinch and only have a few moments. Check out these examples to get you started
    • Get your favorite workout in
    • Make time for some physical activity, like hiking, biking, etc. You can also share this with those you care about
    • Take an extra long, hot shower
    • Enjoy a cup of tea
    • Take a cat nap
    • Do a puzzle

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Exercise vs Physical Activity – What you need to know

Well & Simple is proud and excited to be presenting our first blog post from our new intern, Nicki Thurston! Nicki is a student at Endicott College and you’ll be seeing some more content for her here over the semester. 

People often use “exercise” and “physical activity” interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Essentially, exercise is a more structured and organized means of physical activity created around specific goals. However, regardless of that difference, both are important to your physical and mental health and you should try to work both in. 

Physical Activity

Physical activity does double duty, helping you work towards your health goals through calorie expenditure and heart health while also being fun. Physical activity can be the perfect opportunity to enjoy some family time and get your family active. Studies have shown that participating in family physical activity can be beneficial for mental and physical health and family communication. Some ideas you can try with your family include: swimming, recreational sports, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and so many more. (Check out these tips for how to get your family motivated to get healthier)

Finding physical activity that you enjoy is an awesome self-care act as well. It can be a good excuse to take time out of your day for a hobby. Maybe you enjoy gardening, or playing pickup basketball with friends. Regardless, you are doing something that you enjoy, while reaping all the healthful benefits of physical activity – from soaking up some Vitamin D, to getting some fresh air, to improving your cardiovascular health.

Exercise

Compared to physical activity, exercise is going to give you more specific, targeted health effects. 

Let’s take weight-bearing exercises as an example, like lifting, running, and working with resistance bands. These exercises can improve bone density, which is especially important for young women in order to have a healthy skeletal system later in life. Weight bearing activities are also good for building muscle. Having ample muscle mass is  important for lifting and moving things safely in everyday life. Strengthening your muscles can prepare your body for difficult tasks, while also preventing injury.  

Incorporating cardio into your exercise routine can improve your cardiovascular health and help with calorie burn if you are seeking to lose weight. For optimal health impacts, you want to be doing a combination of cardio and weight-bearing/resistance activities.

What is even greater is that the benefits of exercise go beyond the physical. Even if you don’t love to do it, exercise triggers the release of all sorts of “happy” chemicals in your brain, known as neurotransmitters. These are responsible for feelings such as motivation, satisfaction, alertness, and happiness. So you get some physical benefits and a little pick-me-up.

 

So there you have it! Physical activity and exercise both serve really important roles in our lives. Ideally, you are fitting both in (because it’s all about balance), but you are still reaping benefits from either.

 

Looking for some tips on how to fit in more exercise? Check out what to do when you don’t have time to exercise and how to stay motivated to exercise.

 

 

Jillian Michaels is part of the problem

Content Warning: Fat shaming, disordered eating, verbal abuse

Fat shaming takes many different forms and is everywhere – from blatant insults to shaming thinly veiled as concern about someone’s health. No matter its form, fat shaming creates and perpetuates harmful cycles of self-hatred, poor body image, and unhealthy diet and exercise habits. Jillian Michaels has built her career on fat-shaming and profiting off of dangerous, unhealthy habits.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you heard about her comments this week on Lizzo’s weight, which she then backpedaled on to use as false concern about Lizzo’s health, citing that obesity creates higher risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. OK, well since we are so concerned about people’s health, let’s talk about the health problems Jillian’s approach in The Biggest Loser, which has contributed to her ~$14 million net worth (source), creates.

Before we even dig into the physical problems created by excessive calorie restriction and exercise, let’s talk about her brand of “coaching” and “encouragement.”

  • “I don’t care if people die on this floor. You better die looking good.”
  • “I don’t care if one of your legs fall off or if one of your lungs explode.”
  • “The only way you’re coming off this treadmill is if you die on it.”
  • “Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going.”

And let’s just generally mention the screaming and name-calling from the show as well.

Sounds like a coach you’re itching to work with, right?

You may say those things were just stunts for the show to increase viewership, but you’re taking all of this in complete isolation, which is not how it occurs. When you are already struggling with self-esteem, body image, and negative self-talk like the contestants and many in the audience, words like these stay with you, regardless of their intent. They can become part of the self-hatred soundtrack playing in your mind engendering further negative self-talk, obsession, unhealthy habits, and extreme dietary measures not to mention depression and anxiety.

They also create unrealistic, dangerous standards for how you should be working out and eating. This kind of “encouragement” pushes over-workouts and tuning out your body’s internal cues that could be telling you that you’re in danger and need to stop. You begin to think things like “if I’m not in pain or struggling to breathe, then I’m not working out hard enough and it’s not effective,” particularly if you’re someone who is new to physical fitness.

And while we’re on the topic of physical fitness, let’s talk about the actual physical measures she has promoted. The show’s weight loss plan is based on extreme calorie restriction and excessive exercise designed to create a large calorie deficit which, in turn, leads to weight loss. It pays no mind to nutrient balance or food quality, just the calories in: calories out ratio. Our bodies simply are not designed for this.

A 2016 study following 14 contestants found the following after their stint on The Biggest Loser:

  • Extremely low levels of the satiety hormone leptin, leaving them feeling constantly hungry
  • Drastically slowed metabolism
  • And ss many as 6 years after the show, contestants’ leptin levels and metabolisms had still not recovered which led them to regain much of the weight.

The thing is our bodies are incredibly smart and will always tend towards a certain homeostasis. This means that whenever you make changes, your body will make internal changes to counter them to an extent. The decrease in leptin and metabolic rate seen in these contestants is their bodies’ response to extreme weight loss measures.

And these aren’t the only problems with the weight loss tactics espoused by the show. The exercise regimens prescribed to contestants greatly exceed what is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (source) and pose a significant threat to the health and well-being of someone who is not accustomed to strenuous workouts and is carrying a significant amount of excess weight.

As for the calorie restriction, anyone who has ever tried dieting or fasting knows that you might be able to do it for a bit but then you swing back to the other extreme. This is because humans don’t respond well to deprivation psychologically or physiologically. We need a certain amount of fuel and nutrients to keep our bodies running efficiently and that amount increases with several factors including physical activity. If that deficit is too great then there comes a breaking point.

All of this is to say that Jillian Michaels has a history of espousing weight loss tactics that put clients at risk of a number of health threats including eating disorders, heart failure, body image issues, depression, anxiety, and more. Given all of this, doesn’t it seem a bit hypocritical that she is suddenly so concerned about Lizzo’s health?

The fact of the matter is that Jillian Michaels is concerned about aesthetics and her version of a physical ideal. That ideal is so important to her that she is unwilling to examine her own contributions to health issues. She refuses to acknowledge that you can be fat and not have chronic illnesses. You can be fat and be very physically active (have you SEEN Lizzo onstage). You can be fat and happy. She refuses to acknowledge that her brand is not coaching; it’s abuse. And she refuses to acknowledge her contributions to a culture of fat shaming.

At this point, you may be asking, as a nutrition coach, who am I to be calling Jillian Michaels out for promoting weight loss tactics. As a nutrition coach, I help people make dietary changes so that they’re eating healthier foods that nourish their body and often weight loss comes with that either as a motivating factor for clients or as a side effect.

I struggled with a poor body image for years and I still do. I’ve said things to myself about myself that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. It’s a struggle every day. And I’ve struggled with disordered eating and exercise habits. At one point when I was 19-20, I was eating yogurt for breakfast and a plain salad with no dressing for lunch and dinner every day (snacks were rare) and I was exercising for 2-3 hours a day 5-6 days a week. At nearly 5’5″, I was down to 112 lbs and was convinced I still had further to go. I’ve nearly passed out in lecture hall and I’ve curtailed my social life so I wouldn’t have to eat anything I saw as “fattening.” This is what happens when weight loss becomes an obsession, when your self-image is skewed, when unhealthy habits are promoted as acceptable.

While I’ve recovered in terms of eating and exercise habits, I still struggle with my negative self-talk and body image. My goal as a nutrition coach is to help other women silence that negative self-talk and use healthy eating as a way to nourish and celebrate their bodies. I don’t want people to live the way I used to live and I don’t want people to feel about themselves the way I once did.

As long as people like Jillian Michaels are out there parading themselves around as authorities on health and fitness and policing other people’s bodies, people will continue to resort to extremes to silence that voice of criticism from within and without. If you want to be role model and a coach, don’t comment on other people’s bodies, don’t fat shame, don’t speculate about other people’s health, don’t belittle and degrade. If you do, you are part of the problem.

 

 

Managing Holiday Stress

It’s impossible to talk about health or healthy eating without also talking about stress. It’s behind so many of our unhealthy habits and it’s also fueled by them at the same time. And we all know how bad stress is for our health, not just because of those habits, but because of how chronically high cortisol (stress hormone) levels can affect the way our bodies function. Here are a couple facts about stress and our health:

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey:

  • 38% of adults surveyed said they engaged in stress eating in the last month
  • Half of those adults said they engage in stress in weekly or more
  • 27% of adults say they eat to manage stress
  • 30% of adults report skipping meals due to stress

According to the NIH, anywhere from 60-90% of doctors visits are due to stress-related conditions

Stress contributes to chronic illness, inflammation, sleeplessness, weight gain, and performance issues and it can also impact our personal relationships. This time of year especially, stress management is particularly important.

So…what should you do?

Stress Management Routine

My biggest piece of stress management advice is to make time for yourself every single day. Yes. Every. Single. Day.

That’s not the tall order it might seem to be. I promise. Because it doesn’t have to be 3 hours at a spa (but if you can pull that off, go for it). It can be just 5 minutes to do something you enjoy.

Just taking 3 deep breaths has been scientifically shown to decrease stress levels on a physical and emotional level. So imagine what taking a 20 minute hot shower while listening to your favorite music can do!

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count. Even if you find cleaning to be soothing, that’s not doing something for yourself because it’s still something on your too-long to-do list that you would have done anyway. So you can count cooking, cleaning, or dishes as self-care.

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count.

Stress management is as deeply personal as the things that are stressing you out, so you need to find what works for you and those things will change situationally. Some people haven’t ever considered a stress management plan and that’s OK – it’s never too late to create one. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:

  • 5-minute mindfulness meditation
  • knitting
  • take a walk
  • journal it out
  • listen to your favorite song
  • take a long hot shower

Stress management doesn’t have to be complicated or involved – it just has to make you feel better. There’s no reason not to make it a priority – whether it happens just before bed on your lunch break or in between errands. Just make it happen every day.

Set Boundaries

The other biggest piece of advice I have with regards to holiday stress is to set clear, strong, and consistent boundaries. This time of year, the ones we care about can also become one of our biggest sources of stress as we struggle to balance competing interests, demands, and to-dos. If you focus on trying to please everyone, you’re going to end up burned out. Saying “no” and not feeling guilty about it can be your greatest gift this holiday season.

No, I can’t bring a side dish to that party. No, I can’t host your kids at my house today. No, we can’t go to both parties. No, I’m not buying that toy. No, you can’t invite your 3 friends from high school to my dinner party.

Obviously, there are things that you won’t be able to say “no” to. But for those things that you can, that are causing you more stress than they’re worth, that you dread doing – practice using that magic little word.

On Feeling Selfish

Sometimes setting boundaries is going to create a little backlash. Sometimes taking time for yourself will make you feel like you’re being selfish. To that I say this: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

By this I mean that you can’t possibly show up at your best for others if you don’t care for yourself first. In light of that, there is nothing selfish about taking a few minutes or an hour to yourself today and for saying no to something you don’t want to do.

What to do with leftover Halloween candy

Is the thought of being haunted by leftover Halloween candy leaving you stressed out? For anyone who has struggled with healthy eating habits and a sweet tooth, this can be a very challenging time of year. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As with most things, the answer to the question of what to do with leftover Halloween candy is BALANCE.

One of the major reasons why we tend to binge on foods like Halloween candy is because we allow ourselves to consume it so rarely. Because of that rarity, our natural inclination is to enjoy as much of it as we can because we won’t be able to again for a long time. We think “well it’s just this time of year so why not?” or “diet starts next week!” or “well I’ve already fallen off the wagon, might as well go all in!”. Do these sound familiar? These are the thoughts that come with deprivation.

So how do you solve that mindset? Give yourself permission to enjoy those sweet treats. Knowing that you can have it whenever you want it, will help quell that urge to get as much as you can while you can. And, as you are able to enjoy your Skittles and Milky Ways in moderation, you will learn to trust yourself with those foods more. The fact is that there is room in any and every healthy diet for candy.

Obviously, this isn’t a change that happens overnight. It’s a process. So here are some tips about what to do with that leftover candy to help you along the way.

1. Give yourself permission

Sometimes when we feel like we’re doing a bad thing, we eat even more than we would have normally. It’s a natural defiant reaction to a perceived threat to our boundaries and autonomy – having our food choices dictated by an arbitrary rule someone else created. Give yourself permission to have the candy you want and remind yourself that you are free to have candy whenever you want to. Having that reminder will help keep you from eating candy until you don’t feel well because you will know it’s an option later on if you want it. Think of it like reversing a scarcity mindset.

2. Enjoy your candy mindfully

If you are going to treat yourself to some much-loved candy, you should actually get to enjoy it, right?! Well, eating it mindfully is the way to do that. What does that mean? In the simplest terms, it means being present while you eat. Not watching TV, not scrolling through Instagram, not driving in your car. It means allowing yourself to focus on the act of eating so that you can notice and appreciate things like: how the candy smells (a critical component of how it tastes!), how it tastes, what the texture is like, etc. This will also help slow down your eating so that you can close that brain-belly gap we experience when we eat too quickly and don’t realize we’re full until it’s too late.

3. Go easy on yourself

Avoid creating rigid rules to follow and beating yourself up for eating candy. It bears repeating: there is room in every healthy diet for candy. And what if you eat the whole bag? So what? It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a weak person. And it doesn’t mean all is lost. The best thing that you can do is move on from it and avoid that downward spiral of self-defeating thoughts.

The bottom line is: it’s OK to eat candy and you don’t have to banish it from your house. Empowered eating comes from granting yourself permission to enjoy the foods you love, trusting yourself to do so without going overboard, and remembering that your favorite foods are always an option because you’re not subjecting yourself to arbitrary diet rules.