The Trouble with the Diet Mentality

More than any of the junk food on the market, I think the biggest obstacle to having healthy balanced eating habits, a good relationship with our body, and a healthy relationship with food is the diet mentality. In order to start truly making lasting changes to your eating habits, you have to start working on curbing that mentality from the outset.

What is the Diet Mentality

The diet mentality is a deeply ingrained way of thinking in our culture that emphasizes black-and-white thinking about eating habits. You hear it in the on-the-wagon-off-the-wagon notion and the idea of “good” foods versus “bad” foods. You hear it in the way we talk about our eating behaviors: “I was bad today because I had chips and dessert.” And it’s behind our negative self-talk when we pick apart our physical appearance, berate ourselves for not following our diet, and say cruel things about our bodies.

The diet mentality is critical for the survival of the commercial diet industry because it supports their unsustainable programs which focus solely on the food, counting calories, carbs, and points, and the number on the scale and ignore balance, the reasons behind our eating habits, and food quality.

Why the Diet Mentality is a Problem

The diet mentality is a big problem for a whole number of reasons. First and foremost, all of that negative self-talk and those unrealistic goals that it emphasizes throw us into a self-defeating, self-berating spiral.

Let me explain. Commercial diets rely on one common ingredient for all of their programs: self-control. Here’s the thing about self-control, it’s a finite resource for every single human being out there. It erodes throughout the course of the day, with stress, with lack of sleep, and the longer we rely on it. However, we are conditioned to believe that when we run out of the ability to exercise self-control, it’s a failure on our part. We are simply not good enough, not strong enough, not cut out for this. Have you ever had those thoughts about yourself?

Pretty much anyone who has withstood the diet cycle has had those thoughts. And what those thoughts ultimately lead to are beliefs that we are simply not good enough so why bother even trying. “Well, I already blew it today, so why not just go all in for dinner, dessert, and wine?” “I just can’t do it. What’s the point in even trying?” “I didn’t have the self control for no carbs….but maybe if I’m counting points instead that’ll be easier”.

This is the diet mentality at work. It make you feel bad about yourself, warps your self-image, and keeps you coming back for more and more diets.

Here’s the thing…

The diet mentality does not reflect reality. There are no good foods and bad foods – just food. There are foods you shouldn’t eat as often because they aren’t as nutritious, true. But eating those foods certainly doesn’t make you bad any more than eating a carrot would make Charles Manson good. See what I’m saying?

The goal that we all need to be working towards is BALANCE so that we can enjoy those treats that we like but also eat plenty of the more nutritious foods that our bodies need. The goal is BALANCE so that we can enjoy food without equating it with our worth, so that we can stop berating ourselves and heal our relationships with food and with our bodies.

Releasing the Diet Mentality

Only by working on quelling those diet mentality thoughts and beliefs can we focus on achieving that balance that we need. But it takes time because that mentality is so deeply ingrained not only in ourselves but also in our society. It’s all around us and we don’t even notice it most of the time. So it takes practice noticing those patterns and then flipping the script on them.

So here’s a homework assignment if you’re willing: grab a journal and write down the diet mentality thoughts and feelings you have today on one side of the page. On the other side of the page, flip the script on them, turn them into something constructive or more observational and not judgmental. For example “I was bad today because I ate a whole bag of chips” could be flipped to “I ate a bag of chips today and they tasted really good.” “I can’t eat bread because carbs are bad” could be flipped to “bread isn’t falling in line with the nutritional goals I have today but I can have it if I want it.”

To get you started: your worth is not dictated by the foods you eat. Your body is beautiful and amazing. You are not defective or weak.

Tips for Working Out at Home

Since the COVID-19 social distancing policy has taken effect, many, many of us have taken our workouts into our home. This is a great move since exercise can serve as valuable stress relief and it also helps support a healthy immune system. At Well & Simple, we’re lucky that our intern, Nicki, is a personal trainer and she wants to offer some valuable advice to those of you bringing your fitness routines home.

Mindset

First and foremost, we need to address the mental and emotional components here. Be gentle with yourself during this time. It’s important that you not put excess pressure on yourself and set reasonable goals and expectations, especially during this difficult period. There are going to be days when you just can’t bring yourself to workout. That’s OK. There are going to be times when you feel like you’re not performing the way you want to or used to. That’s OK too. And there will be days when you’re feeling awesome and nailing your goals. That’s great! Your worth as an individual is not tied to how much you work out or how well you stick to your diet plan. You’re also not required to lose weight or hit a new PR while in quarantine. 

In terms of athletic performance, most people can’t get the same workout at home that they can at the gym. That’s just a fact and that’s totally fine. It doesn’t mean you can’t get a lot of benefits from it though. Set new goals for yourself and be open to trying new exercises. 

Form

Safety first! When you’re working out alone in the comfort and privacy of your home, you’ll naturally feel more comfortable since no one is watching you. This can be a good thing as you may feel more confident and more bold when it comes to trying new exercises. However, this comes with a risk when it comes to form. Having good form isn’t just about getting the most out of your workout, it’s also about protecting your body from injury. Without an instructor or someone else there to check your form, it can be easy to let it slip. If you can, do your workouts in front of a mirror in order to keep an eye on your form and take your time through each exercise so you can take stock of your body positioning. 

Equipment

Want to do some at-home workouts but worried you don’t have the equipment you need?Not a problem! There are plenty of things that you can still do with just your body or with ordinary objects.

  • Towels and a smooth surface
    • This can act as a homemade “slider” and you can do many things with it! Knee tucks, mountain climbers, lateral lunges, etc. These are used in all kinds of fitness classes and workout videos.
  • Water jugs/laundry detergent
    • If you don’t have any weights, you can improvise with heavier objects with handles. Save your water gallons, milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, or similar containers to fill with water. You can do lots of weighted exercises with these such as rows, lunges, squats, farmers carries, etc. What’s great is you get to adjust how heavy they are!
  • Stable furniture as a bench or otherwise elevated surface
    • Having a stable elevated surface adds more depth to bodyweight exercises. You can do step ups, incline or decline pushups, elevated bridges, etc. These are also great if balance is not your strongest skill or if you’re doing a workout class, like barre. 
  • Stairs
    • Stairs can act as your elevated surface, or you can do things like stair runs, or even create a whole leg workout on them. The possibilities are endless.
  • Canned goods
    • If you’re looking for lighter hand weights, using canned goods or 16-oz water bottles are a great option. They fit easily into your hand and offer some added resistance to your movements.
  • Old panty hose or leggings
    • If you’re looking to workout with resistance bands but don’t have any, old panty hose or leggings will work in a pinch. You can use these as a regular resistance band or you can tie them together to create a loop band to add resistance to your legs exercises.

Focus on Endurance and Basics

When in doubt, just keep it simple! Now may be a good time to work on your muscle endurance by doing high reps of low weights. This will improve your strength down the line. Working out at home is also a great time to work on “the basics” like core strength and functional fitness to keep you moving better and getting stronger. 

 

Remember, we are all just doing the best we can with what we have. Just getting moving in general is awesome. So, please, do what you can, listen to your needs, and hang in there.

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*

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.

 

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.

 

 

Why Do I Get Sick When I Start a New Gym Routine?

You’ve started hitting the gym regularly. You get 3-4 good workouts in a row in and then you get sick. Why does it seem like you get sick when you start a new fitness routine? You’re not alone and this is an actual thing – it’s not just your body betraying you, though it may seem like it.

So let’s look at what’s going on when this happens and the steps you can take to stop it from happening to you next time.

Stress on Your Body

While exercise is really good for your body, it is also a stressor on your body, especially if it’s different or more vigorous than you’re used to. That stress on your body can temporarily run down your immune system, making you more susceptible to germs and viruses. It’s similar to how your immune system can get run down if you’re lacking in sleep for too long. Think of it this way: your body only has so many resources to allocate. If it needs to move more resources to exercise and recovery, it has fewer resources to allocate to your immune system. So if you’re already sleep-deprived or exposed to a lot of pathogens, then you could get sick when you start a new intense fitness routine.

Gyms are a Germ Pit

I’m not being dramatic- they are a germ pit. Unfortunately, most people do not thoroughly wipe down their equipment after use. This means you’re sharing whatever they left on the treadmill before you. Free weights in particular are the dirtiest piece of gym equipment. In fact, one study found that free weights contain more than 300 times the germs found on a toilet seat. Sorry, but you needed to know. It makes sense when you think about it – how many times have you seen someone actually wipe down the weights before they re-rack them? Exactly. Never.

Your fitness classes are also very germy places. Yoga mats in particular are fantastic incubators for a number of infection-causing bacteria. And you can’t count on your neighbor wiping down her equipment as diligently as you do.

Add to this germy mix a rundown immune system and you have a perfect equation for a fitness de-railing illness.

Getting Enough Rest

For many of us, early mornings are the only times we can fit a workout into our busy schedules. Your body needs enough sleep to maintain all of its critical functions, including your immune system and healing. If you are just starting out with a 4 or 5 am alarm to get your workout in, that adjustment period can make you more vulnerable to getting sick if your body is accustomed to getting more sleep. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep each night when you begin cutting into that morning snooze to help prevent yourself from getting sick when you start your new fitness routine.

So what can you do to end the vicious exercise-sickness-exercise cycle?

Tips for Keeping Healthy

  • Wipe down your equipment BEFORE and after use.
  • Avoid touching your face until you’ve washed your hands thoroughly.
  • Bring your own towel . Some gyms transport their dirty and clean towels in the same bin, thereby recontaminating the clean towels with bacteria.
  • Try to make sure you wipe your face with the side of the towel that hasn’t touched the equipment. You can do this by putting a mark on one side of your towel or using a towel that has a pattern on one side.
  • Ease into your new workouts instead of running headlong in so it’s less of a strain on your body. You can do this by taking more modifications in your first class or starting your runs shorter or at a slower pace, for example.
  • Do what you can to support your immune system – drink lots of water, take your vitamins, get enough rest, and eat lots of fruits and veggies.
  • Make sure you are fueling your body. Eat healthful, whole foods rather than overprocessed, prepackaged foods lacking in nutrition.
  • Make sure you clean off your own personal yoga mat regularly as well. It could be carrying germs from the last time your were sick and all that sweat on it can breed bacteria. Plus, it goes on the floor where people’s dirty shoes have been as well.
  • Listen to your body – rest when you feel tired, give yourself enough time between workouts, don’t push it if you feel like you’re overdoing it.

Once you’ve gotten over this hurdle, be sure to check out my tips for keeping yourself motivated to workout so you can keep up the good work!

Kick that Cold Naturally

Cold and flu season is here and it seems like it is hitting everyone pretty hard this year. All anyone wants to do when they’re sick is feel better. The fact is that there are over 200 different viruses that cause the common cold and there is no cure for any of them. However, there are ways that you can support your body as it fights them off. Here are a health coach’s simple suggestions for natural cold relief.

Eat the Rainbow

Fresh produce is loaded with immune system-supporting compounds call phytonutrients (“phyto” means “plant”). These nutrients give plants their vibrant colors and distinct flavors. There are many, many phytonutrients – so many that we don’t yet know them all nor what they do for our bodies. One thing that we do know is that phytonutrients are rich in antioxidants and other immune-system supporting compounds. They also include anti-inflammatory compounds as well. Inflammation continues to be linked to more and more illnesses and chronic diseases.  To experience the benefits of phytonutrients, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. An easy way to think of this is eating the rainbow – the more different colors you can eat, the more phytonutrients you’re eating as well!

If you’re feeling under the weather, whipping up a vegetable soup with carrots, onion, celery, sweet potato, and zucchini can help you get those phytos in while soothing your throat and helping with congestion. If the cold feels good on a sore throat, whip up a smoothie with berries and spinach or cauliflower. (Check out this recipe for cauliflower caraway soup!)

Avoid Alcohol

While that hot toddy might sound good, drinking while you’re sick is no way to get better faster for a number of reasons. For one, it can dampen your immune system, making your body less able to fight off that bug. It can also leave you dehydrated, making your congestion worse and leaving you feeling awful. Another reason to skip out on the alcohol is that it disrupt your sleep when your body needs rest to help you recover. Finally, alcohol is inflammatory which can make you feel worse and make your symptoms persist longer.

If you’re sick, stick with water and herbal tea with honey. The honey in it will help soothe your throat and cough. Plus, there is some evidence that certain herbal teas may help alleviate some of your symptoms. When I’m sick, I like a peppermint tea to support my stomach and a lemon-ginger tea for my throat and congestion. Plus, having no caffeine means it won’t disrupt your much-needed sleep. These options will also help keep you hydrated.

Move!

Our blood vessels are lined with special cells called the endothelium. The endothelium is like your body’s own pharmacy in that it releases a number of different medicinal compounds into your bloodstream as is needed. When you exercise, it increases the blood flow through your blood vessels and over the endothelium, thereby prompting it to release more of those medicines. This is why sometimes when you feel a cold coming on, you feel better after going for a walk. Additionally, regular exercise can help produce new blood vessels further improving your circulation and your health.

Obviously, there is a balance needed here. If you’re sick, going for an intense run or taking a HIIT fitness class is probably going to make you feel sicker. Remember, exercise, while beneficial, is also a stressor on your body. Keep this in mind and listen to your body. If you’re feeling terrible, skip that walk and stay in bed.

Rest Up

In the simplest sense, our bodies need just 4 things: nutrition, movement, water, and rest. Sleep deprivation suppresses your immune system, so the more exhausted you are, the more likely you are to get sick and the harder is will be for you to recover. In today’s fast-paced busy world, rest is one of the most important factors for natural cold relief.

To make sure you are getting sufficient and quality sleep, avoid simple carbohydrates and big meals in the evening. As we said before, that glass of wine before bed might help you fall asleep, but it will disrupt your sleep later in the night, so skip out on the alcohol as well. It’s also important that you sleep in a dark room and keep all devices out of the bedroom – just looking at your cell phone screen in the middle of the night will disrupt production of your sleep hormones.

Avoid Sugar and Processed Foods

Added sugar and the additives found in processed foods can act as inflammatories on your body making you feel worse and your symptoms persist longer. They are also lacking in the nutrients that your body needs to recover while being heavy in calories. Focus on keeping it simple with whole foods. Some lighter options if your stomach is bothering you are: dry whole grain toast, brown rice,  oatmeal, soup/broth and sweet potato. If you’re feeling well stomach-wise, dark leafy greens, broccoli, and fruit are great options.

Very often, people resort to orange juice when they’re sick thinking they’re getting a megadose of Vitamin C that will magically cure them. You’re better off avoiding the juice since there is no fiber in it, leaving you with just sugar. If you want to have Vitamin C, opt for whole foods before juice.

*Please note that I am not a doctor and the above information is not to be construed as medical advice. Always consult a doctor when you are concerned about your symptoms.